To The Reader,
In the Spring of 2010 I began writing short essays, one to three pages, which were sent out to a relatively short list-serve. Almost all of these essays dealt with one of three general topics: the behavior of the United States government, the tribulations of the Middle East, and the difficulty of enforcing international law. These brief essays were well received and often redistributed by those who read them. Occasionally they were picked up by news and commentary sites. Thus something of a demand actually grew for the essays and that led me to construct To The Point Analyses. In this endeavor I was aided by Glow Touch Technologies. Glow Touch did a very good job and I recommend them to any ambitious writer seeking a web based audience.
The site is divided as follows:
1. A Home Page on which appears the most recent five or six essays.
2. An Archival section where the interested reader can find all past essays divided by topic.
3. A Featured Essays section where more recent essays can be found on individual pages. In this section readers can also leave comments. To all those readers who take the time to send along a comment, please be assured that I appreciate your doing so and that I read them all.
4. A Cartoon section with political cartoons I find both humorous and meaningful.
5. An Other Opinions section that holds some particularly insightful essays by other bloggers, journalists and academics.
6. A Biography section in case anyone is interested in who I am and where I came from.
7. An RSS feed.
8. A Twitter access (at bottom of the home page).
9. And, finally, a contact tab (at bottom of the home page).
Not all readers will find these essays congenial, but then the Web is a vast arena that accommodates just about all views. And here you will find mine.
ANNOUNCEMENT: LAWRENCE DAVIDSON (RESIDING IN THE PHILADELPHIA AREA) IS AVAILABLE FOR TALKS AND DISCUSSIONS ON THE TOPICS FOUND IN THIS BLOG AS WELL AS RELATED SUBJECTS. FOR THIS PURPOSE PLEASE CONTACT HIM AT email@example.com.
Disturbing Democracy – An Analysis (7 February 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Disturbing Democracy
In the past couple of years a disturbing political phenomenon has arisen. To put it simply, groups espousing democracy have caused their countries to politically self-destruct by violently turning against the results of free and fair elections. Apparently, they act this way because the elections did not go their way and/or the elected officials adopted policies they oppose. They do so even when there is a possibility that changes in policy, and even changes in constitutions, can be had peacefully through legal means.
Admittedly this is happening in states both new to democratic politics and deeply divided along ideological lines. A tradition of compromise and sensitivity to minority rights are not yet manifest.
Part II – The Egyptian Example
As I have explained in a previous analysis, this is what happened in Egypt in 2012-2013. In this episode, the country’s democracy movement, led on by such groups such as Tamaroud, turned against the democratically elected government of Mohammad Morsi because of its Islamist orientation.They boycotted the government’s constitutional convention, claiming that their demands were not being met, allied themselves with authoritarian forces, and went back into the streets to bring the government down.
These ersatz democracy advocates believed that the Morsi government was going to create a “dictatorship of the majority,” that is, an Islamist majority. They were frightened that their minority rights, be they in reference to religion, lifestyle, or gender, would not be protected. This was a palpable fear rather than an assured fact. Thus, the real question for them should have been whether the constitution the Morsi government was creating was open to amendment by democratic actions over a reasonable period of time.There was some debate over this but no definitive evidence that this would not be the case. Nonetheless, instead of allowing Morsi to serve out his term of office and test out the proposition that political evolution was possible within the newly won democratic environment, the “liberals” showed no patience. They simply abandoned the democratic road. There was something strange about this, for given their ability to bring massive numbers of people into the streets to demonstrate against Morsi, one would think that, come the next election, their chances to exact meaningful compromises from the Morsi forces was very good. Worse yet, they conspired with the starkly undemocratic military officer corps to overthrow the government. In this they succeeded and now find themselves under a brutal military dictatorship.
Part III – The Ukrainian Example
Now we have the situation in Ukraine. Like Egypt, the Ukraine is deeply divided, this time between those who identify with western Europe and those who identify with Russia. Driven by both economics and anti-Russian sentiments, the former group wants to join the European Union, and some go so far as to call for Ukraine to become part of NATO – a really provocative move given Russian sensitivities. The latter group for its part is mostly made up of large numbers of ethnic Russians.
In 2004 Ukraine experienced its “Orange Revolution,” in which a campaign of non-violent popular protest overturned a presidential election tainted by widespread vote rigging. Under the circumstances, this action was both appropriate and necessary. In the reelection that then took place, Viktor Yushchenko, a Western-oriented leader, won the presidency. However, for the next four years political power within Ukraine’s parliament shifted back and forth between the various ideological blocs.
In 2008, the global financial crisis caused a severe downturn in the Ukrainian economy. That situation no doubt influenced the outcome of the 2010 elections, which brought the Russian-oriented Viktor Yanukovych to power. Yanukovych proceeded to negotiate an extension of Russia’s lease on the naval base at Sevastopol in return for favorable prices on imported natural gas. All efforts to join NATO were abandoned.
Yanukovych adopted other policies orienting Ukraine toward Russia. He may have felt ideologically comfortable in doing so, but he also had good economic reasons for his actions. Ukraine needed financial support, and the West, in the form of the European Union, was offering an economic package with many neoliberal economic strings attached. So Yanukovych decided to go with the Russians, who offered to buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainain bonds and again reduce gas prices. Yanukovych for sure is no angel, and unless he is watched carefully he may well play fast and loose with democratic rules. However, his decision to negotiate a deal with Russia, announced in November of 2013, was legal and economically prudent.
Before the end of November, the Western-oriented opposition, the ones who allegedly were most supportive of keeping things within democratic parameters, put hundreds of thousands people in the streets of Kiev. The demonstrations were started by students supporting a turn toward the West, but they were soon joined by right-wing nationalist groups whose rhetoric and actions have unsavory fascist overtones. The protestors were soon taking over government buildings – behavior which spread to regional cities by early in 2014. Soon the risk of civil war was real.
I have seen no evidence of a formal alliance between the democratic protestors and those of fascist leaning. On the other hand, I have seen no evidence that the democrats sought to distance themselves from the fascist right. They seem to have informally been brought together by the common objective of destroying the Yanukovych administration.
In the face of the growing protests, Yanukovych agreed to a compromise agreement with opposition leaders that would have paved the way for a new “national unity government,” a reduction in presidential powers, and early new elections. It was at this point that the protest movement made a truly fatal mistake. The opposition forces in the streets refused the negotiated compromise and stormed the presidential palace, forcing Yanukovych to flee the country. The opposition also took control of the parliament and issued an arrest warrant for him as well. As in Egypt, the forces of democracy had aided and abetted in staging a coup.
All of this predictably aroused Russian concerns not only for their naval facilities and personnel in the strategic Crimean Peninsula, but also for the fate of the Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population. It has also
opened the door to ethnic inspired separatism that could well pull the Ukraine apart. Recent events in the Crimea and eastern regions of Ukraine are just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible.
Part IV – The U.S. Response
The United States, the self-proclaimed head of the “international community” and (at least in its own eyes) a democratic model for the world, has not reacted to these events in an inspiring fashion. In the case of Egypt, the Obama administration refused to call the overthrow of the democratically elected president a “military coup,” even though that was the case. Avoiding the obvious meant that there would be no automatic cutoff of the bulk of American aid to Egypt. For its part, Congress made no move to deprive the new military regime of the statutory aide doled out to the Egyptian army each year. In fact, the U.S. has had an all-too-muted response to the demise of democracy in Egypt.
When it comes to the Ukraine, there is some evidence that neoconservative holdovers in the State Department encouraged the Ukrainian opposition in its defiance of the elected government. Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who repeatedly showed up at Kiev demonstrations to hand out cookies to both demonstrators and police, was caught discussing, on an open telephone line, who should be the new leader of the country. Her favorite candidate turned out to be a 39-year-old Ukrainian adherent to neoliberal economics, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was willing to “cut subsidies and social payments” along the lines of an IMF aid plan. These are just the sort of policies that would guarantee that Yatsenyuk would never win an honest election.
Part V – Conclusion
The behavior of the Egyptians and Ukrainians may not be all that surprising. Neither people comes out of a democratic political culture. Nonetheless, there is something particularly disturbing when those who present themselves as champions of democracy betray their own alleged principles and violently refuse to accept free and fair electoral results. It is the old scenario where you will play the game only if you win, otherwise you fly into a rage and upset the whole board. The situation gets even worse when one realizes that representatives of the U.S. government might be encouraging such anti-democratic behavior.
Liberal democracy (with a strong, tempering dose of social democracy) may be the best, or perhaps the least worst (it depends on how you look at it), form of government there is. However, to create it and keep it requires tolerance and willingness to make reasonable compromises. It also precludes making deals with authoritarian forces whose ambitions are dangerous to democracy itself. Will others learn from the mistakes of Egyptian and Ukrainian democracy advocates? Somehow I doubt it.
Planning for the Future of the BDS Movement – An Analysis (24 February 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Norman Finkelstein’s Predictions
Much has been made of the rising influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Indeed, there is a growing sense that the boycott power of civil society, particularly as it is manifesting itself in Europe, is on track to repeat history—to do to Israel what it once did to South Africa. Simultaneously, there is the persisting assumption that the latest effort at negotiating a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now being managed by Secretary of State Kerry, will go down the same ignoble path as all its predecessors.
However, not everyone agrees with this. In an interview given to the New Left Project, posted on-line on 11 January 2014, Norman Finkelstein (a well published critic of Israel) presents a different scenario. Finkelstein firmly believes that Kerry’s efforts will bear fruit and thus, before the end of President Obama’s term in office, Israel and the frankly unrepresentative Palestine Authority (PA) will come to terms.
Finkelstein explains that the classic debate over Israel’s illegal settlement blocs is over and, on this issue, Israel has won. It will be allowed to absorb the major settlements and thus render any Palestinian entity geographically dubious. The right of return so dear to Palestinian refugees will also be abandoned by the PA.
As a consequence, what is now being “negotiated” are the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and the final status of the Jordan Valley. Finkelstein predicts that the first issue will be solved by describing Israel as “the state of the Jewish people and its citizens,” thus affording alleged legal protection to Arab-Israelis, and correspondingly, Palestine will become “the state of Palestinians and its citizens.” As to the Jordan Valley, Israel will slowly withdraw from the area. Finkelstein’s comment on this is that “Israel is adept at ‘conceding’ things to which it has no title in the first place.”
Finkelstein describes the “Palestinian leadership” as “irredeemably corrupt, incompetent and stupid.” He is only slightly kinder in his description of “Palestinian supporters abroad,” who, he says, are “not acting smartly.” He discounts boycott achievements in the U.S. and believes that those in Europe should be thought of as pressure tactics in support of Kerry’s efforts. Palestinian solidarity groups “carry on as if the Kerry process is a meaningless sideshow, something that can safely be ignored.” He thinks that this is a big mistake and that the possibility of real Palestinian self-determination will be gone before these supporters know what has hit them.
Part II – What If He Is Right?
Whatever one might think of Norman Finkelstein and his prognostications, it would be wise for those supporting BDS and Palestinian rights to consider how they might react if, against all odds, Secretary of State Kerry succeeds. So let’s think about this.
Such a settlement (at least as described by Finkelstein) would transform a good part of the West Bank’s occupied territory into “sovereign” Israeli land and set up a truncated Palestinian entity to which Palestinian refugees could “return.” Some might question whether there would remain a rationale for continuing to boycott Israel. The BDS movement could lose steam, at least temporarily. However, would it and its goals dissipate all together?
Probably not. What would ultimately save the BDS movement is Israel’s leadership itself, driven as they are by the inherently racist nature of the Zionist ideology. In other words, Israel’s policy makers can be safely relied upon to be true to character. Take the “politically moderate” finance minister Ya’ir Lapid ,who recently told an Israeli audience, “the issue [is] we need to get rid of the Palestinians. It threatens us, it chokes us.” As a result of this commonly shared attitude, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (and other non-Jews such as asylum seekers from East Africa) within Israel’s territory will continue apace. To put it another way, the 67-year-old effort to harass most non-Jewish citizens and residents out of the country will greatly intensify. The BDS campaign conducted against South Africa was a reaction against that society’s racist culture and policies. There is no reason why a powerful BDS movement cannot be sustained against Israel on the same basis.
Part III – What If He Is Wrong?
However, Norman Finkelstein may be wrong. It might be that the well-informed journalist Jonathan Cook is correct when he observes that “despite outward signs … [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu [is] far from ready to compromise.” Cook claims that Netanyahu has “the bulk of the Israeli public behind him. … But most importantly he has a large chunk of the Israel’s security and economic establishment on his side too.” As a result, “These negotiations may not lead to an agreement, but they will mark a historic turning-point nonetheless. The delegitimization of Israel is truly under way, and the party doing most of the damage is the Israeli leadership itself.”
Part IV – The Fate of the Movement
I think that the BDS movement, and more generally the movement for Palestinian rights, should be able to survive either way. If Cook is right, not only survival but rapid growth of the movement can be expected. If Finkelstein is correct, the situation will prove more complicated. Cook is certainly right about one thing: we are at a crossroads. Where exactly the situation might lead us is not as clear as either he or Finkelstein make it out. This means that those who support the Palestinians no matter in what format should think about these possibilities. There is as yet lead time to formulate suitable contingencies. Let’s make the most of it.
Stereotyping In Congress, Then and Now (14 February 2014) – An Analysis by Lawrence Davidson
Representative Duncan D. Hunter
Part I - Stereotyping in Congress 1922
In the year 1922 the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on a joint resolution in support of the Balfour Declaration. The committee chairman, the pro-Zionist representative from New York, Hamilton Fish, called an array of witnesses, including a few who did not favor a “Jewish home” in Palestine. This did not mean that the committee’s support for the Balfour Declaration was ever really in doubt, but rather their apparent openness resulted from the political influence of certain academics, as well as American Christian missionary societies, who were sympathetic to Arab nationalist aspirations.
Among those who testified against the resolution was Fuad Shatara, a Palestinian-born American citizen and successful physician who led an organization called the Palestine National League. Among the points he made to the committee was that a good number of Palestine’s Zionist community were devoted socialists. This information, given to congressmen who feared leftist “red scares” in the U.S., was dynamite. If accepted, it could have scared the committee members enough to derail the resolution.
But Shatara’s quite accurate assertion was not accepted by Fish and his committee. It was not even investigated, because it appeared utterly counterintuitive. Why so? We learn the answer from committee member Representative Henry Allen Cooper of Wisconsin, a successful lawyer with a college education, and also an imperialist who had supported the retention of the Philippines as an American colony following the Spanish-American War. According to Cooper, the assertion that socialists were active among the Zionists in Palestine could not be true, because all the world knew that the Jew is “proverbially a believer in private property.” In other words, at least some members of the U.S. Congress had bought into the stereotype that a capitalist orientation is a congenital part of Jewish culture.
There was, of course, a racist undertone to this stereotype, and in Europe such a belief, conjuring up the figure of Shylock, had contributed to widespread anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, there it was coming out of the mouth of a U.S. politician with a seat on the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Part II – Stereotyping in Congress 2013
We now fast-forward 91 years. Representative Duncan D. Hunter of California, a college graduate holding the rank of major in the Marine reserves, is a member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities. He appeared on 4 December 2013 on C-Span, a cable network that largely concentrates on government affairs. The program concerned the negotiations of the P5 + 1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) with Iran seeking a limitation on that country’s nuclear energy program in exchange for a lessening of international sanctions.
Representative Hunter, a “tea party” Republican, is suspicious of these negotiations because he feels that even if there is a positive outcome, Iran cannot be trusted. Why so? Iran is part of the Middle East and, according to Representative Hunter, “In the Middle Eastern culture it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible, no matter what it takes, and that includes lying.” In other words, at least some of members of the U.S. Congress have bought into the stereotype that lying is a congenital part of the Middle Eastern personality.
Once more we can readily identify the racist undertone of this stereotype. It presently feeds into an islamophobia that has led to hysteria and violence among some elements of the American population. And now we see it coming from the mouth of a U.S. politician with a seat on the Congressional Subcommittee for (of all things) Intelligence.
Part III – Consequences
These beliefs reflect ignorance bordering on stupidity and, despite their wide spacing in time, they both feed into behaviors with large destructive potential. In1922 Henry Allen Cooper probably gave little or no thought to the fact that his endorsement of the Balfour Declaration would contribute to the displacement of millions, the destruction of an entire culture, and all the death and misery that goes along with such a process. If he thought about this at all he would probably have agreed with his fellow committee member Representative W. Bourke Cockran of New York, who saw Jewish immigration into Palestine as akin to the white man’s arrival in the New World.
Representative Hunter, on the other hand, is much more a conscious militarist. His vision of the Middle East is not overlaid with misplaced idealism. The Iranians are liars and if their their duplicity results in a face-off on the battlefield, the United States should use “tactical nuclear devices” so as to “set them back a decade or two or three. …That is the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.” Hunter has done several combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows what dead and maimed Middle Easterners look like and it apparently does not bother him. Indeed, with his glib reference to the use of tactical nuclear weapons laid alongside his stereotype of all the region’s people as congenital liars, who knows what horror the baby-faced Representative from California is capable of.
Part IV – Conclusion
The Greek poet Homer, who lived around the 8th century BCE, once bemoaned, “Would that strife might perish from among gods and men.” I don’t know about the gods, but today among men there seems little hope of Homer getting his wish.
The ignorant, the ideologues, and the stereotypers call out to each other decade after decade, and Henry Allen Cooper and Duncan D. Hunter thus belong to the same dangerous fellowship. As they echo their menacing ideas, the rest of us, mostly ignorant of all that is not local, bend our ears and listen intently. Indeed, presently it may only be the weariness of 70 years of off-and-on war that has led us to a momentary reluctance to buy into Representative Duncan’s warmongering nonsense.
Momentary reluctance or not, I’ll take it. Unmasking the disastrous consequences of the Balfour Declaration on the one hand and on the other, achieving that elusive comprehensive settlement with Iran, can’t help but be good for the planet. Even if the next slippery slope to conflict is around a near corner, these are rational, sensible, sane goals for the present.
Is Iran the Real Problem? – An Analysis (4 February 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Setting Up Iran
The investigative reporter and author Gareth Porter has recently published a book entitled A Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. An impressively written and researched work, it is also frightening in its implications. For if Porter’s allegations are accurate, it is not Iran that the American people should fear – it is their own politicians, bureaucrats and an “ally” named Israel.
According to Porter, there has never been a serious nuclear weapons program undertaken by Iran. By the way, this is a conclusion that is supported by the heads of all American intelligence agencies reporting annually to Congress. Unfortunately, this repeated determination has been scorned by the politicians and poorly reported by the media. As a result the American people lack the knowledge to independently judge Iranian actions as regards nuclear research, and so can be led to erroneous conclusions by those pursuing their own political or ideological ends or, as in the present case, the intrigues of a foreign government.
Part II – Needing an Enemy
Following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. foreign relations, military and “defense” bureaucracies quickly focused on the issue of terrorism. And well they might, for their own policies of backing all manner of right-wing dictatorships had identified the U.S. as an enemy of almost every resistance movement on the planet. These wrongheaded policies provoked violent responses, including the attacks of September 11, 2001. From that point on, the threat of terrorist attacks, particularly involving “weapons of mass destruction,” or WMDs, became the main selling point of every bureaucrat, politician and soldier looking for a bigger “defense” budget. President George W. Bush was the main promoter of this line of thinking and the invasion of Iraq the major corresponding catastrophe. Memories of that disaster, so expensive in lives and treasure, along with the lingering war in Afghanistan, have caused a war-weariness among the American people that may be their ultimate saving grace.
Part III – Enter the Zionists
With Iraq in shambles and no longer a “threat,” the attention of American policy makers turned to Iran. Forgetting all about the horrible blunder our neoconservative President Bush and his advisors had made over Iraqi WMDs, an even larger coalition of political forces started a slow buildup of popular anxiety over Iranian nuclear research. But where was the evidence? For this, one can always rely on the Israelis.
Porter describes how successive Israeli governments exaggerated the threat of Iran in order to, among other things, rationalize their own expansionist ambitions and bind the United States government ever closer to Israeli interests. In 2004 a laptop, allegedly taken from an Iranian scientist, was given by the Israelis to U.S. intelligence agents. Since 2008 much of the so-called evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons program has come from material on this computer. Porter makes a convincing argument that these data, as well as additional material, are Israeli forgeries.
Despite the fact that Iran has satisfied both the American intelligence services and the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons development, U.S. politicians and media refuse to let the matter go. Hence the recent spectacle of the U.S. Senate presenting an almost veto-proof bill demanding yet more sanctions on Iran, despite the likelihood that such an act would ruin diplomatic negotiations and make hostilities all the more likely. One has to ask in whose interest is such an obsessive anti-Iranian stance? Not the interest of the United States. Indeed, the Senate gambit started to unravel when President Obama implied that the demand for more sanctions on Iran threatened U.S. national interests.
Part IV – On the Ground in Iran
I recently spent eleven days in Iran as part of group of Academics for Peace (a subdivision of Conscience International), returning to the U.S. on January 29. On the ground in that country is a mix of optimism and anxiety. Some Iranians feel persecuted by the U.S. government. They can’t understand why sanctions have been imposed upon them.They like American people and look forward to a return of the tourist trade, but the behavior of the U.S. government is often a mystery to them.
As is so often the case, U.S.-sponsored sanctions have hurt ordinary people with no influence on policy. The sanctions have resulted in inflation, higher rates of pollution, less-safe civilian aircraft, shortages of some medical supplies, the isolation of Iranian banks, and the reduction of exports. A Gallop poll taken in Iran in late in 2013 showed that 85% of respondents felt that sanctions had hurt their standard of living. On the other hand, other countries, such as China, have taken advantage of the Western refusal to deal with Iran. Presently the country is full of Chinese businessmen and their inexpensive imports.
The Obama administration’s willingness to finally take up Iran’s offer to negotiate differences (one should remember President Khatami’s spurned offer made in 2003) has raised great hopes. Many Iranians are simply holding their breath hoping for that elusive final comprehensive agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).
One should also note that there are a minority of Iranians, mostly technicians, scientists and some businessmen, who are of a mixed mind when it comes to sanctions. On the one hand, banking and export limitations are a real economic hindrance. And, for all of those in the West concerned with the free flow of information, there seems to be an ongoing ban against Iranian scholars by American scholarly journals. On the other hand, there are Iranians who find at least some of the sanctions genuinely beneficial. The fact is that Iran has become a lot more self-sufficient under the sanctions and these people don’t want to see the country lose that edge. The government is developing industrial and research parks to keep its R&D pace going. But what will happen when and if the sanctions go away? Will the Iran’s economy get sucked into the neoliberal vortex of the Western marketplace?
While there are sanction-related problems, the Iranian economy has not been stilled. In the capital of Tehran, along with the traffic congestion and air pollution, there are a myriad building projects. These are not signs of a society shriveling on the vine. To go beyond the present level of sanctions and impose the ever more draconian measures proposed by the U.S. Senate comes close to an act of war.
Iran is not like the United States. The women cover their hair in public and men do not wear ties. Most of the time men do not shake hands with women, nor is affection shown between sexes in public.The government is different too. While there is an elected president and parliament, there is also a Supreme Leader who has the last say on most matters. However, unlike those leaders in the U.S., Iran’s leadership has not yet misled their people into foreign wars.
Part V – Conclusion
The “Iranian problem” is really a U.S. problem. It points up very deep flaws in the U.S. political system, where money is legally considered “free speech” and policy formation often follows the wishes of the highest bidder. We have too many built-in incentives for war in this country: a military-industrial complex that employs millions, both Democratic and Republican politicians who find political success in supporting “defense” contractors, neoconservative ideologues who want the U.S. to militarily dominate the globe, self-interested bureaucrats whose budgets depend on an endless array of alleged threats, and special interest lobbies tied to foreign powers seeking to turn American aggressiveness toward targets of their own choosing. The outcome is often policies that kill and maim millions. It is only the present war-weariness of the American people that, for now, holds all of this destructive influence at bay.
The only reasonable conclusion is that Gareth Porter’s portrayal of the conflict with Iran stands true. And, as a consequence, the American people have far less to worry about with Iran than they do with the machinations of many of their own leaders.
Whose Academic Freedom Are We Talking About? An Analysis (14 January 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – An Inevitable Controversy
The controversy that broke out over the American Studies Association’s December 2013 vote to adopt an academic boycott of Israel was inevitable.The ASA’s academic boycott is a just a part of a much larger effort – the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – which has been growing worldwide over the last decade. In fact the movement’s progress in the United States has been relatively slow, but this is changing, and the ASA controversy is an indicator of this shift. That being the case, the reaction on the part of Zionist supporters of Israel in and out of academia came as no surprise.
On 5 January 2014 the New York Times reprinted a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education more or less summarizing the reaction to the ASA move. It noted that “the presidents of more than 80 United States colleges have condemned the vote.” In addition five of these institutions of higher learning “have withdrawn from ASA membership.” The Chronicle piece concludes that the ASA has become “a pariah of the United States higher-education establishment.”
That is a rather premature judgment. There are roughly 4,500 colleges and universities in the U.S. Being condemned by the administrations (which is not the same as the faculties and student bodies) of 80 represents condemnation by less than 2 percent. Over one hundred institutions of higher learning have ASA membership. Losing five is again a small percentage. All of this hardly makes the ASA a “pariah.”
There are also other ways of judging the impact of the ASA action. If one goal of the ASA boycott move is to stimulate debate about Israeli behavior and policies within a society (the U.S.) that has long been dominated by Israeli propaganda, then the move is certainly a success. It has brought to the surface many statements and charges that demonstrate just how decontextualized attempts to defend Israeli behavior are. If insightful counterarguments are spread about because of the ASA resolution, then the “pariah” has done quite well.
Part II – Charges and Responses
Let’s take a look at some of the public charges and possible responses:
Damaging Academic Freedom:
- Carolyn A. Martin, president of Amherst College: “Such boycotts threaten academic speech and exchange, which is our solemn duty as academic institutions to protect.”
- Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council of Education: “Such actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom.”
Response: It is hard to argue against the ideal. Everyone associated with higher education does, or should, value academic freedom and the free flow of ideas. The problem is, people such as Dr. Martin and Dr. Broad and many others are directing their criticism at the wrong party. The ASA resolution, which one suspects has not been read by many of its critics, is not directed against individual scholars, researchers or teachers. It is quite explicitly directed against Israeli institutions – institutions that have abetted in the destruction of the Palestinian right of academic freedom for decades. The Israelis have just done this largely out of sight of the American academic community, to say nothing of the American people.
The fact is that the Israeli government, assisted by many of the country’s academic institutions, runs an illegal occupation that has long impeded education in the PalestinianTerritories. One wonders just how aware of this historical fact are those who criticize the ASA. The facts in this regard are not a secret, although one does have to go out and look for them. Just do a thorough on-line search of the subject and all kinds of reports, analyses, and documents show up. For instance, here is a link to a report about the complicity of Israeli universities in maintaining the occupation. Here is another on the impact of occupation on Palestinian education, and yet another on the struggle for Palestinian academic freedom.
It should also be mentioned that the Israeli government is embarked on an effort to enforce its own version of history on Palestinian schools. This may soon appear as an Israeli priority in its ongoing negotiations with the Palestine Authority. And, right now in the U.S., the Zionist student organization Hillel has laid down rules restricting any free discussion about Israel in their chapters on American college campuses. These facts should raise questions about the sincerity of Zionist concern over academic freedom and the free flow of ideas. It is policies and actions such as these, which have multiplied themselves out many fold, that are part of the context of the BDS movement and the action taken by the ASA.
Damaging Institutional Reputations and Solvency:
- William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University and president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: “Boycotts are a bad idea. … It is dangerous business … for institutions to become embroiled in these kinds of debates. The consequences for institutions are just too serious.”
Response: What might this mean? I don’t think that Dr. Bowen is implying that what the ASA did is “dangerous” because it allegedly put the institution on the wrong side of a moral question. Here is another possible answer:
- Leon Botstein, president of Bard College: “Calls from alumni to take a stand against the boycott had played a role [in Bard College’s withdrawal of its institutional membership in the ASA]. … I recognize that the American Jewish community is disproportionately generous to American higher education. For the president of an institution to express his or her solidarity with Israel is welcomed by a very important part of their support base.”
Response: Dr. Botstein is suggesting that if one wants to know why “the presidents of more than 80 United States colleges have condemned the vote,” one should follow the money, and not necessarily the ideal of academic freedom.
- Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, on the Charlie Rose show of 10 December 2013: “I regard them [boycott efforts against Israel] as being anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” That is because these efforts “single out Israel.”
Response: Dr. Summers can say this only because he and other Zionists take the position that Israel and the Jews are one. This is factually wrong. There are many Jews in the U.S. (and elsewhere) who do not identify with Israel and, in fact, a good number who publicly oppose Israeli behavior and the notion of a Jewish state. As to the singling out of Israel, it is certainly warranted given the influence Zionist supporters exercise over U.S. politicians and foreign policies and the resulting inordinate amount of aid and assistance given to Israel.
Part III – Conclusion
A lot more has been written about the ASA position, and below I list a small number of articles in support of the academic boycott position by thoughtful Americans.
Henry Siegman, former director of the National Jewish Congress, “There is no bigotry in the boycott.”
- M. J. Rosenberg, former longtime aide to various congressmen and senators, Propaganda vs. History.
- Joan W. Scott, scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, N.J., “Changing My Mind about the Boycott.”
- Eric Cheyfitz, professor at Cornell University, “Why I Support the Academic Boycott of Israel,”
Sydney Levy, director of advocacy for Jewish Voices for Peace, “Academic Freedom.”
If the academic freedom of Palestinians was not being destroyed as part of an overall policy of ethnic cleansing and apartheid, there would be no need for an institutionally centered academic boycott of Israel. As it is, however, the Zionists in their relentless drive to create a Jewish-only state in historic Palestine have created the conditions for resistance, and the boycott in its many forms is part of that effort. It is not going to go away.
Israel’s future is one of increasing isolation. The Zionists recognize this possibility and that is why they are kicking and screaming. They even want to outlaw aspects of the boycott effort. It might be easier if they joined the twenty-first century by giving up their racist ambitions. However, ideologues rarely give up their ideologies willingly, so we will all have to do this the hard way.
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