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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Getting Rid of Bad Examples – An Analysis (02 May 2016) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Provisional Heroes

It seems as though some of the heroes of the United States are losing their bright reputations. It’s just as well, for they are really bad examples for us all. Of course, you might ask, if that is the case, why were they heroes in the first place? Part of the reason might be that the negative nature of their attitudes and actions was simply not widely known, owing to both the primitive state of communication and the prevailing racist ideologies of their times. Because conditions and outlooks change, the status of many heroes is provisional – admired in a specific place and a relatively limited time. The American heroes I am thinking of may well have seemed exemplary for their day. However, by today’s standards those times were marked by open bigotry and imperial/colonial ambitions. Let’s hope that we are outgrowing such attitudes.

Consider past luminaries associated with political office and the exercise of power. Despite their celebrated actions, their social attitudes are anathema by modern standards. Thus, while some may still see them as heroes, others certainly have come to see them as scoundrels. That is not the sort of balance that promotes a permanently heroic reputation. Standards change and so does the balance of perceptions.

Against this background let’s take up the recent challenges to the hero status of two past U.S. presidents: Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson.

Part II – Andrew Jackson (aka Old Hickory)

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was the 7th U.S. president, serving from 1829 to 1837. His fame is based on misleading legends and the fact that his face has been on the $20 bill since 1928 (which is ironic, because Jackson always opposed the issuance of paper money). There two deceptive beliefs about Jackson that have fostered his “great man” image. One is that he was the “common man’s” president, a notion that grew up largely because he was the first president to come from west of the Appalachian mountains – an area that was then thought of as the “frontier.” Actually, while born poor and orphaned during the Revolutionary War, Jackson became a wealthy man by the age of 30, lived in a rural mansion on his Tennessee cotton plantation and owned hundreds of slaves, from whose labor his wealth derived. This made him the sort of “self-made man” Americans love to admire.

The second deceptive belief is that he was a great soldier. This is based on his bloody victory at the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812, and his brutal campaign against the Indian tribes along the Florida border. Actually, Jackson’s victory at New Orleans had much more to do with his opponent’s misjudgments and fatally out-of-date tactics than his own military skills. The British marched their men straight toward the American defenses in an open fashion developed for the Napoleonic Wars. They allowed themselves to become overly exposed and this led to the disproportionate number of British casualties when compared to those of Jackson’s forces.

Jackson’s subsequent behavior as the officer leading the campaign against Seminole and other Indian tribes was characterized by genocidal brutality and insubordination. He consistently disobeyed the orders of his superiors.

Nonetheless, all of this helped earn him the presidency in 1829 and, a hundred years later, a place on the $20 bill. However, the real Andrew Jackson was a racist and the 19th century equivalent of a “thug in a suit.” He saw himself above the law, which is always particularly dangerous for a democratic leader. This was most clearly seen in his very public disregard of the Supreme Court’s decision favoring the right of the Cherokee Indians to remain on their land in the state of Georgia. Jackson ignored the decision despite its having the force of law, and used the U.S. Army to forcefully remove the Cherokees – not the last time a president would make himself a criminal to much popular acclaim.

There are still some today who protest against any public airing of these accusations, calling them “libels against Old Hickory.” However, that has not prevented a reexamination of Jackson’s hero status, and as a result, the man’s true nature and actions are being met with the condemnation they deserve. By 2020 Jackson’s face will no longer appear on the front of the $20 bill. He will be demoted to the bill’s reverse side.

Part III – Woodrow Wilson (aka The Schoolmaster)

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was the 28th president of the United States, serving from 1913 to 1921. He was also president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910 and governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913. His fame is based on the flawed notion that he was a great champion of democratic government. After all, he led the United States into World War I to “make the world safe for democracy.”

There was only one very big problem with Wilson’s conception of democracy – it was a deeply racist one. As it turns out Wilson was a southerner transplanted to the U.S. north. He was born in Virginia and spent a good part of his formative years in Georgia and South Carolina. Not all white southerners of his time and class were racists, but Wilson certainly was.

There is plenty of evidence for Wilson’s racist state of mind. Here are some examples: as president of Princeton, he refused to allow the admittance of African American applicants; as president he refused demands to desegregate the U.S. military (desegregation was finally achieved under Harry Truman in 1948); also, while attending the Paris Peace Conference he restricted his famous World War I pledge to support national independence and democratic government for all the peoples of the defeated Central Powers (the German and Ottoman empires) to the white populations of eastern Europe. He thus abandoned the peoples of the Middle East to the imperial rule of Britain and France.

But times have changed. In November of 2015 Wilson’s racist legacy finally broke into the open when Princeton University’s African American students, seeking an improved racial atmosphere on campus, occupied the university president’s office. Among their demands was that Wilson’s name be removed from campus buildings, a mural depicting him in one of the university dining halls be removed, and that the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs be changed. So far, Princeton has agreed only to remove the mural. But that at least is a beginning.

Part IV – New Heroes

There are plenty of other U.S. heroes of political renown and aggressive poor judgment, such as Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the U.S., who, while founding U.S. national parks and wildlife preserves, managed to find time to help engineer the Spanish-American War and the imperial seizure of Cuba and the Philippines. More recently there was John Kennedy, the 35th president of the U.S. He was handsome and young and, in the early 1960s, inspiring of the nation’s youth. However, he initiated the catastrophic U.S. intrusion into Viet Nam and, taking up Teddy Roosevelt’s mantle, launched his own invasion of Cuba.

You might argue that all of the above were men of their times, and you would have a point. However, conditions have changed and with them laws and mores. Today’s professed standards of behavior really demand that we start questioning the appropriateness of these figures as national heroes. Their demotion will, hopefully, help us maintain a more humane and principled standard for our times.

All this means that we are in need of newer, more culturally and historically relevant heroes. Men and women such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Albert Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, Rachel Carson, Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, Daniel Berrigan, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, to name but a few. Certainly one may be able to find skeletons in the closets of these people, but they will not override the humanitarian achievements which make them relevant heroes for our time.

Each of us should give serious consideration to the promotion of new heroes. And, the resulting lists can be easily customized to one’s own ideals and goals. With such an effort we help define ourselves and help make our time better than a very flawed past.

Who is Right in Syria? – An Analysis (29 November 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Here is the situation in Syria as I see it: Russia is taking a long-range view and wants stability in post-ISIS Syria. France and the United States are taking the short-range view and really have no achievable plans for Syria’s future stability. Turkey appears to have given little thought to Syria’s future. Ankara may be willing to see indefinite chaos in Syria if it hurts the Assad regime on the one hand and the Kurds on the other.

Part I – Russia

The Russians may be the only party interested in the long-term political stability of Syria. There is certainly no doubt that President Putin is more determined than Western leaders to act on the fact that the various so-called moderate parties standing against the Assad regime cannot work together, and that this fault cannot be corrected by enticements from the United States. For the Russians, this fact makes the Damascus government the only source of future stability.

This understanding, and not Soviet-era nostalgia, has led Russia to support the Assad regime, which possesses a working government, a standing army, and the loyalty of every religious minority group in the country.

Some might object that both Assad and Putin are dictators and thugs (by the way, thugs in suits in the U.S. government are all too common). However, this cannot serve as a serious objection. The only alternative to Damascus’s victory is perennial civil war fragmenting the country into warlord zones. With the possible exception of Israel, this scenario is in no one’s interest, although it seems that the leaders of in Washington and Paris are too politically circumscribed to act on this fact.

Part II – U.S. and France

Thus, it would appear that neither the U.S. nor France really cares about Syria as a stable nation. Once the present military capacity of ISIS is eliminated, Washington and Paris may well clandestinely continue to support a low-level civil war against the Assad regime. In this effort they will have the help of Turkey, the Kurds and Israel. The result will be ongoing decimation of the Syrian population and fragmentation of its territory.

As if to justify U.S. strategy, President Obama, with French President Hollande by his side, recently boasted that the United States stood at the head of a “65-country coalition” fighting terrorism in Syria. However, this is a hollow claim. Most of these countries are coalition members in name only, and some of them, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf state governments, play a double game. And then Obama dismissed Russia and Iran as “outliers” and “a coalition of two.” Yet those two countries are the Syrian nation’s best hope for future stability.

The fact is that U.S. policy in Syria has been a losing proposition from the beginning just because of its hostility to the Assad government. Despite its air campaign against ISIS, Washington has no ground component nor any answer to the political vacuum in Syria. Both missing parts are to be found in an alliance with Damascus.

Refusal to make that alliance has also opened Washington to building neoconservative political pressure to increase U.S. military presence in the area. However, American “boots on the ground” in Syria is both a dangerous option as well as an unnecessary one. Syrian government boots can do the job if they are properly supported. The support has come from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. It is the United States and its coalition who are the “outliers.”

Part III – Turkey

It is not easy to explain Turkey’s animosity toward Damascus. Prior to the civil war in Syria, the two countries had good relations. Then something changed. It may have been something as foolish as President Erdogan’s taking personal offense against President Assad because the latter chose to heed the advice of Iran rather than Turkey at the beginning of the war. Whatever happened, it sent Ankara off on an anti-Assad crusade.

That anti-Assad mindset is probably the backstory to the recent reckless Turkish decision to shoot down a Russian warplane operating in support of Syrian government troops close to the Turkish border.

 

The Turks say that the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace. The Russians deny this. The Turks claim that they tried to communicate with the Russian plane to warn it away. When it did not respond, they destroyed it. Of late the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has said that Ankara “didn’t know the nationality of the plane that was brought down … until Moscow announced it was Russian.” This statement is frankly unbelievable given that Davutoglu followed it up with an admission that Turkey had complained to Russian about military flights in this exact border area. He also asserted that both Russian and Syrian operations in this region of northern Syria should stop because ISIS has no presence there. This assertion makes no sense, since Damascus’s aim is to reassert government authority by the defeat of armed rebels regardless of their organizational affiliation.

It is hard to say whether the Turks are telling the truth about an incursion into their airspace. Most of their evidence, such as recorded Turkish warnings to the Russian plane, is easily fabricated. However, in the end it does not really matter if the plane crossed the border. There was no need to shoot it down.

If the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace, there would have been a range of options. The Turks could be very sure that the Russian plane had no hostile intention toward their country, and they should have assumed, for the sake of minimizing any consequences, that no provocation was meant on the part of the Russia. In other words, they should have acted as if the alleged overflight was a mistake. The Turks could have then shadowed the Russian plane in a way that coaxed it back into Syrian airspace and followed the incident up with a formal protest to Moscow. Instead they made the worst possible choice and shot the plane down. Now both Ankara and Washington are shouting about Turkey’s right to defend its territory despite the fact that the Russian plane never posed any threat.

Part IV – Conclusion

In all of the bloodshed, population displacement and terror that has accompanied the Syrian civil war, the least-considered party has been the Syrian people and their future. ISIS, or at least its present infrastructure, will ultimately be destroyed. However, while that destruction is necessary, it is an insufficient outcome because it fails to provide long-term stability. Right now that vital ingredient can only be supplied by the reimposition of order by Damascus. The folks in Washington, Paris and Ankara might not like that, but they are not the ones facing a future of anarchy. And indeed, the more they stand in the way of Damascus, the more chaos they will help create.

Australia and the Fight for Justice in Palestine – An Analysis (9 October 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Spreading Awareness

 

Even before Palestine was “officially” partitioned by the November 1947 vote of the UN General Assembly, Zionist forces on the ground were on the offensive and, consequently, creating refugees. It could be no other way, given their ideologically driven desire to seize Palestinian land and reserve it solely for Jewish use. Palestinians out and Jews in became the equation that has dominated the conflict ever since. And, of course, from the beginning, the Zionists had the military power to make the equation play out. The result was millions of displaced Palestinians.

 

Most of these refugees stayed in the Middle East, as can be seen by the multitude of refugee camps that still dot the landscape in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The Zionists often point a finger at these camps as evidence of the cruelty of Arab regimes, most of which refuse to absorb Palestinian refugees. Simultaneously, they praise Israel’s active absorption of Jewish refugees. But making this comparison displays faulty logic.The refugee policies of some Arab regimes, cruel or otherwise, is different in kind from the ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians by Zionists.

 

Given the situation in those camps, tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees eventually moved out of the Middle East and scattered around the Western world. In this way the consequences of Israel’s conquests were exported and the Palestinian plight made physically real to the West. Thus, no one should be surprised that the struggle for justice for the Palestinians, and therefore opposition to Israeli practices, is to be found in far-flung corners of the globe.

 

Part II – Australia and the Palestinian Cause

 

Take, for instance, Australia, more than half a world away from the Palestinian homeland. I recently boarded a very large airplane and spent 17 hours flying from Philadelphia to Sydney, Australia. After that I spent three weeks on a lecture tour addressing both university and public audiences on the Middle East in general and the Palestine-Israel conflict in particular.

 

Of the 23 million people living in Australia, over a quarter million are from Arabic-speaking lands. Newer Arab immigrants have been arriving ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the region’s subsequent ongoing chaos. As these newcomers enter the Australian milieu, their memories, and their grivances, came with them. Soon the injustices they suffered became a concern for Australians who encounter them and are sensitive to the issues of human and civil rights as well as violations of international law. The result has been the rapid growth of pro-Palestinian organizations in many Australian cities.

 

The cities I visited and groups I addressed were located in Adelaide, Canberra and Byron Bay. (Active pro-Palestinian groups are also to be found in Sydney and Melbourne). All the groups I encountered, such as the Australian Friends of Palestine, are involved in both educational and protest work. Demonstrations against Israeli policies and for the boycott of Israeli sold products go hand-in-hand with pamphleteering and the sponsorship of lectures and discussions. And, as is the case in the U.S. and Europe, Australian doctors travel regularly to the Palestinian Occupied Territories – lands impoverished by their occupier in violation of international law – to deliver charitable medical care. These activities show high levels of energy and determination on the part of those supportive of justice for the Palestinians. They will be on the scene in Australia as long as Israeli injustice persists.

 

Within the Australian universities, one also sees an active interest and concern about Palestine, which often goes along with concern for the social and legal well-being of Australia’s Arab and Muslim citizens and residents. There is a sense that the Zionist representatives of a people who suffered horribly during World War II have betrayed the moral lessons of that experience by adopting the practice of colonial conquest. At the same time the Zionists impose on the West a skewed picture of the Middle East. As a result one debated question is which model should guide Australia’s domestic and foreign policies: the one reflecting its own tradition of civil liberities as a Western nation, or the fear-driven model presented by Israel that depicts every Palestinian, and indeed every Arab, as a potential terrorist.

 

Part III – Reactions

 

Not all Australians are concerned about injustice in the Middle East and how its violent consequences may impact civil rights in the West. Australia’s present prime minister Tony Abbott (head of a badly misnamed Liberal Party), is a strong supporter of Israel. That means he accepts the Israeli vision of the West beset by Middle Eastern terrorists. Indeed, Mr. Abbott has told the citizens of Australia that such terrorists are “coming after us.”

 

Such scare tactics both exaggerate the threat from the Middle East while creating a counter threat to the rights of Australians. This is because fear can lead to government undermining an entire population’s liberties in the name of security.

 

On a more positive note the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has recently adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state using the 1967 armistice line as an Israeli-Palestinian border. There is much still wanting in the ALP position, but its recognition of the need for at least a modicum of justice for the Palestinians is certainly preferable to aping the Israeli position. And, the ALP might become ever more supportive of the Palestinians as Israel predictably continues its barbarian ways.

 

Australian public opinion also appears to be growing more critical of Israel (a general Western trend). If this trend continues it too could be used to pressure Australian politicians to act in a more pro-Palestinian way.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

The scattering of Palestinian refugees throughout the Western world has challenged the image Israel presents of itself as a modern, civilized nation living according to ethical Western values. Joined now by increasing numbers of people who have visited Palestine to see conditions for themselves, the refugees are providing an alternate picture and message. As a result it is ever more difficult for those responsible for the victimization of Palestinians to silence their grievances. Simultaneously, the true nature of Zionist Israel is increasingly highlighted and its isolation becomes a greater possibility. The situation in Australia shows this process in action.

Does Egypt have a Government? – An Analysis (31 May 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Military Despotism is not Government

 

Military officers often take over countries, but only a fool would call the result a government. Governments do not have to be democratic, but they do have to be rule-based. The rules can come in the form of generic laws or customs, but in all cases they have to be promulgated, that is, be publicly set forth. In addition, obedience to the rules has to rest on something more than fear. If whatever system is running the show is subject to the whim of an individual or group of individuals, or operates through rules known only to the police, or relies mostly on terror, it is not a government. It is a despotism of some sort. Most instances of military rule fit the description of despotism. Speaking of such regimes as governments is just so much nonsense.

 

By the way, dictionary definitions of government are usually inadequate, restricting themselves to vague statements like “a particular system used to control a country.“ If the mafia took over Italy, would you understand their form of control as government?
There has been progress over the years as to what really constitutes government, and the rule of the condottieri no longer fits.

 

Historically the United States and the politicians who create its foreign policy do not bother with such distinctions. Often they seem to prefer despotisms. Be it for ideological or economic reasons, the U.S. has indulged in regime change for almost two hundred years, and a good number of times the beneficiaries of such change are the local military bosses. This history has had a cumulative effect on U.S. credibility: today, when Washington proclaims its mission is to bring democratic government to an otherwise benighted world, almost no one outside of the USA believes it. This is a fact never mentioned by the mainstream American media.

 

Part II – The Case of Egypt

 

An example of a current military despotism that has been, and is now again, the recipient of U.S. military largess is the one in Egypt. The military has run things in Egypt since 1952, when a group of officers overthrew King Farouk and emasculated the Egyptian parliament. That situation lasted until 2011, when a popular revolt forced the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, an air force officer who had, for over thirty years, masqueraded as Egypt’s “fourth president.”

 

Mubarak’s fall was followed by a brief hiatus of democracy. During this time the Egyptian people actually engaged in a relatively free and fair election in which they selected a legitimate president in the person of Mohamed Morsi. The fact that Morsi was a religious Muslim did not make his election any less legitimate, though it did present those who did not vote for him with a choice. Would they accept an elected government led by a devout Muslim, with the implied possibility of altering its orientation though future elections, or would they reject the electoral results and revert back to military despotism, with the explicit awareness that changing that form of rule would require another popular revolution? We now know that a good number of those who did not vote for Morsi chose to return to military control.

 

Part III – Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Despotism

 

That sizable minority certainly has gotten what they wished for. Egypt is now back under the control of a military dictatorship, this time led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a “field marshal” who became the “sixth president” of Egypt by pulling off a coup in 2013, followed by a rigged national election.

 

What have “President” el-Sisi and his lieutenants been busy doing since putting aside their uniforms for tailored suits? Here is a list of items based on recent news reports as well as anonymously released recordings, which (shades of Richard Nixon) the Egyptian strongmen were at once arrogant and stupid enough to make.

 

They have been busy manipulating the Egyptian news media so as to construct a cult of personality in which el-Sisi is promoted as a heroic figure “carrying the responsibility of the country in an existential crisis.” The media have been instructed to describe el-Sisi as a “brave, special, free and patriotic Egyptian.” To criticize him is to “slander this beautiful thing we have found in our lives.” One can’t help wonder who dreamt up this terminology.

 

They have been busy funneling money into special accounts controlled by the military. It is of particular interest that one of these accounts is named the “Tamarrod” account. Tamarrod was the name of a supposedly independent secular and “democratic” youth movement that was very active in calling for the removal of Mohamed Morsi. This raises the question of whether significant elements of Egypt’s so-called democratic movement opposing Morsi were no more than fronts funded and manipulated by the military.

 

They have been busy manipulating the courts and legal system. This should come as no surprise, because at least since Mubarak’s time the Egyptian courts have been stacked with supporters of military rule. The elected Morsi government ran headlong into a so-called legal barrier when almost everything it attempted was overruled by a court system loyal to the deposed Mubarak dictatorship. Subsequently one of the charges being brought against Morsi by the restored military despotism is “insulting the judiciary.”

 

They have been busy destroying any person or group who would oppose them, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared “a terrorist organization.” For the Egyptian military to call the Muslim Brothers terrorists is like Israel calling the Palestinians terrorists. At the very least it is an example of projecting onto your foes tactics that you yourself practice. The el-Sisi cabal has also imprisoned and tried Mr. Morsi on a long list of manufactured charges, some of which may result in his execution. Last but not least, members of the truly independent secular democratic movement have been harassed and imprisoned.

 

And, of course, el-Sisi, this “beautiful thing” that has come into the lives of all Egyptians, has allied with Israel to oppose Palestinian resistance to occupation. As a result he and his cabal are now actively complicit in the ruination of every Palestinian trapped in Gaza.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

There are many names you can give the present nature of rule in Egypt. You can call it a dictatorship, a despotism, a tyranny, a garrison state, unlimited rule, or even a reign of terror carried on by thugs in suits. All of these would be relatively accurate. What you can’t call it is a government. To do so would slander the centuries-long struggle against all forms of despotism that have taken place both in the West and in the East. And, even more to the point, it would slander all those Egyptians who have, at great personal risk, stayed loyal to the goal of democracy for their country.

Censorship at Southampton University – An Analysis (24 April 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Censorship

 

Here is the situation: the threat of aggressive public protests against those assembling to critically discuss the behavior of Israel has become an excuse to shut down such gatherings. The latest example of this tactic, which is really a form of blackmail to impose censorship, took place last week at the University of Southampton in the UK.

 

An international conference entitled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” was scheduled for 17-19 April 2015 at the University of Southampton. It was to bring together lawyers and scholars to examine the legal basis for the establishment of the State of Israel and the rationales (or lack thereof) for its historical treatment of the Palestinian people. The standard by which these issues were to be judged was international law. The conference would also have examined the issue of exceptionalism when it came to the inadequate legal and diplomatic response to Israeli policies and behavior. Conference participants were to include both those critical of Israel and those who would present a defense of Israeli practices.

 

This conference had been planned for over a year, yet days before its opening Southampton University announced that it would not allow the gathering to go ahead on its campus because there were “risks to safety and public order.” This was due to expected protests against the conference. Where did these risks come from? They originated with Zionists and their allies. Specifically, the Sussex Friends of Israel were ready to bring out as many as 300 peaceful protesters. In addition, there was likely to be a very small number of English Defense League members, who are anti-Muslim, pro-Israel, and potentially violent.

 

Certainly the Zionist rhetoric was aggressive and emotionally charged. The conference was described as a gathering of “Israel-haters,” “a rally of bigots,” a gathering of “toxic speakers,” and an “anti-Israel carnival.” It made no difference to these ideologically driven zealots that what was really planned was a sober investigation of historical patterns of behavior against the backdrop of internationally recognized legal norms.

 

Though the negative emotional energy ran high, the actual danger from the planned protests was probably quite minimal, and the local police declared themselves capable and ready to handle the situation. Nonetheless, instead of acting resolutely against those who would threaten free speech, the university simply gave in. It essentially ran scared not only from exaggerated threats of violence but, as seems always to be the case, from the wrath of a small number of financial donors who threatened to stop supporting the institution if it provided a forum for open discussion of issues that cast Israel in poor light. Essentially, Southampton university allowed itself to be blackmailed by Zionist censors.

 

One can speculate on what would have been the case if the situation were reversed. That is, if pro-Palestinian demonstrators had implied a “risk to safety and public order” at a Zionist conference upholding Israeli practices. The army would have been called out before such a conference was canceled.

 

Part II – An Ongoing Tactic

 

This is not the first time this sort of scenario has been played out. Back in 2001 the president of the University of South Florida, Judy Genshaft, forced Dr. Sami Al-Arian, then a member of the faculty, to stay away from the campus because of negative and slanderous media publicity and Zionist threats against him. This all stemmed from his vocal support of Palestinian rights. Here too a university administration allowed itself to be blackmailed by ideologically driven zealots. In the process it abandoned the principle of free speech and allowed censorship to prevail through threats of disruption.

 

There are other suspicious occurrences that may have been brought about by quieter forms of the same censoring pressures. For instance, in March this writer was invited to address the prestigious Oxford Union in London on a topic that would, in part, cover U.S. foreign policy in support of Israel. Within five days the invitation was withdrawn. The quick turnaround called into doubt the Oxford Union’s claim that the cause of the withdrawal was scheduling problems. While it is not possible to say for sure that the reversal was due to Zionist pressure, the present atmosphere of aggressive Zionist efforts to stymie all criticism of Israel and its supporters, makes this sort of occurrence appear suspicious.

 

Part III – Undermining the Rule of Law

 

What is going on here is not only the censoring of those critical of Israel, but the undermining of the rule of law, particularly international law. The irony is that much of this body of law was promulgated because of the savage persecution experienced by Europe’s Jews and others during the World War II. However, the Zionist element among Jewry (not all Jews) decided that their future lay not in the support of law, but in the creation of a state through a process of imperial invasion and colonial settlement. They pursued this objective just at the time when both classical imperialism and colonialism were going out of style and the European empires were falling apart. Thus, even at the moment it succeeded in establishing the State of Israel, Zionism was already an anachronism – an ideology that could only prevail through aggression and racist policies in a world that was trying to outlaw both types of behavior.

 

That Zionism has, to date, gained its goal is largely due to its having achieved for Israel an “exceptional” status in the West that has allowed it to escape the rule of law. In other words, Israel has evolved into a “rogue” state that is being protected by Western powers, particularly the United States. It has achieved this “exceptional” status by two means: first, the Zionist corruption of Western governments through a lobby process involving the bribing of politicians, and second, through the exploitation of the Western fear of the Arab and Islamic world.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

The Zionists always complain that Israel is being singled out. For instance, one of the gambits used to attack the Southampton conference was as follows: “no academic conference on Pakistan, for instance, founded just a year before Israel, would consist solely of discussion on whether it should have been created and how to end it.” Putting aside the fact that this is an overly simplistic, and thus distorted, description of the Southampton conference, the comparison with Pakistan is off base. Pakistan was created as part of a process of decolonization. Israel was created in defiance of that same process. Zionist ideology, like any form of dogmatic thinking, ends up skewing history to its own needs.

 

Actually, as long as Israel insists on being “a Jewish state” instead of a democratic state of all its citizens, it must walk the path of apartheid. And, it can only get away with that through successfully maintaining an exceptional status – a status that puts it above international law. The Southampton conference would have exposed this situation in a factual and sober way – in a way that would be hard for any fair-minded person to doubt. That is why the Zionists went to such lengths to shut it down.

Palestine at the International Criminal Court: Potential and Problems – An Analysis (25 February 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Going to the ICC

 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was designed as a vehicle for the prosecution of the most heinous of crimes committed by individuals in positions of state authority – those military officers and politicians at the top of a national chain of command. Until recently ICC prosecutions have been limited to leaders of small and weak states. This is not because the leaders of powerful nations are not sometimes culpable, but rather because no member state of the ICC has yet brought a relevant complaint.

 

This situation is about to change. In November 2012 Palestine achieved official observer status within the United Nations and this position allowed it to join the ICC.

 

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) hesitated to take this next step as long as “peace negotiations” with Israel were ongoing. But by the spring of 2014, the latest round of such talks had proved as fruitless as their many predecessors. And so the Palestinians went ahead and signed the treaty that would make them a member nation of the Court – a status that becomes official in April 2015. Palestine has already requested the Court to begin a preliminary investigation of Israel’s actions within Palestinian territory (the Occupied Territories) during the 2014 invasion of Gaza. It is looking for indictments of Israeli leaders on war crimes charges.

 

This has made the Israeli government and its patron in Washington very angry. The U.S. Congress has sworn to defund the PNA, and the Israelis have sworn to “dissolve the ICC.” The reason for the anger rests on the fact that the evidence for the commission of war crimes by Israel is overwhelming.

 

Part II – Evidence

It is to be noted that even as the ICC begins its own formal investigation into Israeli behavior, the United Nations Human Rights Council has appointed a three-member independent commission of inquiry into possible violations of international law and human rights during the 2014 invasion. Its report is due this March. In the meantime Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem have all brought out their own independent reports.

 

Roughly, here are the facts as they are presently known:

 

– About 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the period between July 8 and August 26. According to United Nations estimates 1,473 of these were civilians, including 527 children and 299 women. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 11,100 were injured, including 3,374 children, 2,088 women, and 410 elderly. This high casualty rate has been attributed to Israel’s “reckless and disproportionate use of deadly force in densely populated urban areas.”

In comparison, 71 Israelis were killed, of whom 4 were civilians; 469 Israeli soldiers were injured, as were 261civilians.

 

– The UN estimates that Israeli action destroyed 18,000 housing units, permanently displacing around 108,000 Gazans. In the process Israel specifically targeted the civilian homes of Palestinian political and military leaders.

 

– The Israelis also targeted the Gaza electrical grid, indefinitely knocking out the Gaza Strip’s only community-wide power plant.

 

– The destruction of the power plant caused the water treatment facilities to shut down. Thus 450,000 people were cut off from the municipal water system. Israeli tank fire also targeted reservoirs and individual wells. By the way, it doesn’t take a war for the Israelis to deny water to Palestinian communities. On 11 February 2015 it was reported that Israeli soldiers destroyed a thousand-meter pipeline supplying water to Palestinian communities in the northern Jordan Valley.

 

– Israeli tank fire destroyed Gaza’s largest sewage treatment plant.

 

– The UN reports that 22 schools were destroyed and 118 damaged, including UN schools sheltering displaced civilians. To this must be added the fact that an estimated that 373,000 children have been traumatized to the point of needing professional “psychosocial support.”

 

– Israel also targeted Palestinian factories, agricultural land and
facilities such as greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal
farms, and fishing boats.

 

– Israel targeted hospitals and medical clinics: 24 medical facilities were damaged as a result.

 

Part III – The Embedded Enemy Argument

 

The Israelis make the case that Hamas fighters embedded themselves within the civilian population and that is the reason for the high number of civilian casualties. This excuse does not account for their widespread and obviously purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure.

 

Even if there is some truth to claim of an intermingling of fighters and the general population, one can ask why the resistance fighters would do this? Is it a voluntary, and therefore a callous and uncaring act? Or do they really have no choice? The latter is actually more likely because the Israelis have made Gaza into one of the most crowded places on the planet. Repeated expulsions of Palestinians from Israel into the Gaza Strip as well as the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, which prevents people from leaving, has resulted in 1.8 million Palestinians crammed into a 139 square mile area. The place is often referred to as an open-air prison or ghetto. It can argued that it is Israeli policies that have forced Gaza’s resistance fighters into civilian areas.

 

More damning still is the fact that there is a historical pattern to Israeli attacks on civilians, as well as civilian infrastructure. In other words, there is a conscious, purposeful strategy designed to produce the high civilian casualties through the practice of collective punishment. This strategy is as old as the state of Israel itself and is based on a hard-line, indeed an extremist interpretation of the concept of an Iron Wall – first propounded by the neo-fascist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky. The purpose of an Iron Wall strategy was, and still is, to make the cost of resistance so high that the Palestinians will simply give up. This tactic has actually worked when it comes to some Arab governments, such as those in Jordan and post-Nasser Egypt. It may have also influenced the position of Mahmoud Abbas and the PNA. However, it has never worked on the Palestinian population in general or resistance groups such as Hamas.

 

Whether the Iron Wall strategy works or not is not the issue for the UN or ICC. Collective punishment and the purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure are acts in contravention of international law. They are war crimes.

 

Part IV – The Argument of Self-Defense

 

The Israelis have always said that their wars are defensive ones and that, of course, they have a right to defend their country and people. It is within that context that they interpret the Palestinian decision to go to the ICC. As Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserts, the move “only aims at attempting to impact Israel’s ability to defend itself.”

 

Leaving aside the question of the legitimacy of Israel within the pre-1967 borders, the consensus of the vast majority of world governments is that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied territories and that Israel has certain obligations under international law toward the people of those lands. Placing settlements of Israeli citizens into these territories and the purposeful impoverishment of their indigenous populations are illegal acts under international law.

 

Also, as a point of sheer logic, Israel’s violent and punitive reactions to what is actually Palestinian resistance to an occupation illegally administered, cannot accurately be called “self-defense.” Put another way, if you break into your neighbor’s house and he resists you, whereupon you shoot him, you cannot claim you did it in self-defense.

 

Most Zionists will protest that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not occupied territories but rather are biblically parts of Israel proper or, perhaps, “contested territories.” However, beyond the Zionists’ own ideological circle, no one else believes these are credible arguments and it is highly unlikely they would be taken seriously by the ICC.

 

Part V – ICC Actions: Potential and Problems

 

The possibility of finally breaking through the facade of Zionist justifications and U.S. obfuscations, and actually branding Israel’s policy makers for the aggressors they are, is very encouraging. And, given the evidence, actual indictments should be returned. This outcome would give a big boost to the Boycott movement against Israel and, one would hope, undermine Zionist influence in the U.S. Congress and other Western governments.

 

However, it remains doubtful that any Israeli will be successfully brought to trial. Indeed, the dilemma such indictments will cause Western governments that are member states of the Court will be acute. For what happens if an indicted Israeli travels to France, the United Kingdom or Germany? After all, it could well be that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be charged. Will these governments honor their treaty obligations and comply with outstanding warrants issued by the ICC? Or will the prevailing Zionist influence in these countries lead them to defy the Court and thereby undermine the rule of law? It is by no means guaranteed that any of them will opt for the law.

 

Palestine’s request that the ICC take up Israeli behavior during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza is a seminal cry for justice. It is also a seminal challenge to the Court and all its member states to see that international law applies to the strong and influential. As goes the judgment on Israel, so goes international law in our time.

 

The Mess in Iraq – An Analysis (19 June 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – George W. Bush’s Invasion

 

Back in November 2003 President George W. Bush told the country that the invasion of Iraq was the part of an effort to “spread democracy throughout the Middle East.” Initially, of course, the president had declared that the U.S. attacked Iraq to fight terrorists who possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). This specific claim could be fact-checked and indeed it was. Bush’s claims, both about terrorists in Iraq and WMDs, turned out to be false. The follow-up claim about spreading democracy could not be fact-checked. We can’t even be sure if Bush and his neoconservative allies themselves believed in this radical goal of spreading democracy by the sword. Given that most of the regimes the U.S. has backed in the Middle East, including at one time that of Saddam Hussein, were autocracies of one sort or another, one can legitimately have doubts.

 
However, one thing we can be sure of – the Americans are not the only ones who can launch a crusade based on an age-old idea. Islamic radicals, who may think they are replicating the spread of Islam as it took place in the 7th and 8th centuries, can do it too. And, thanks to the George W. Bush, who opened the floodgates for them, these Islamist radicals are doing just that.

 

Part II – Saddam Hussein’s Culpability

 

Bush and the neocons could not have created today’s disastrous dilemma in Iraq all by themselves. There had to be preconditions, and for those we can look to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the Sunni-Shiite divide he encouraged to further his power.

 

Worldwide, the Sunni sect of Islam is the majority one. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis. However, in Iraq the opposite is the case. Only 9 percent of the Iraqi population are Sunni. The rest are mostly Shiites. Nonetheless, Saddam Hussein was of Sunni background and under his rule the Shiite majority was not trusted and often discriminated against, and their leaders were killed if they showed any signs of political resistance.

 

The hatred that built up among the Shiites during this period of dictatorial rule came to the surface with the American invasion. Shiite leaders now took over and, with American compliance, turned on the Iraqi Sunnis. That helped spark a civil war that goes on to this day. The present Iraqi government’s anti-Sunni policies are, of course, very unwise, but they are not unexpected, nor are they unpopular among the Iraqi Shiites.

 

In the current outbreak of violence, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the name of the radical fundamentalist group that has invaded Iraq from Eastern Syria and recently captured the city of Mosul, is also Sunni. My guess is that its commanders imagine they are acting in the tradition of the first Caliphs – God-approved and -inspired. Thus, the nom de guerre taken by the present ISIS leader is Jihadi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Abu Bakr was the Muslim world’s first Caliph).

 

Part III – Current Problems

 

The U.S. now has two problems when it comes to Iraq: one is how to respond to the ISIS invasion. The other is how to face up to American culpability for the mess in Iraq.

 

Regarding the first, President Obama has announced that American ground troops will not go back into Iraq except to protect the U.S. embassy. As a consequence it is more likely that Iraq will find substantial assistance from Tehran than Washington. Nonetheless, this is a wise decision. Obama has also urged a political solution. It is hard to know what that means when it comes to the ISIS – like hard-core ideologues of all stripes, they are not compromising types. Probably Obama is trying to pressure the Iraqi government to make amends with its Sunni citizens. That is a very good idea. Reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq is the key to the defeat of ISIS and the country’s future stability.

 

Then, there is the second matter: how do we face up to American culpability? Pointing fingers at the current president might be politically convenient for repugnant Republicans and neocons, but it is thoroughly ahistorical. The Republican charge is based on the notion that Obama pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq too quickly. The Iraqi army wasn’t ready to stand on its own and we abandoned them.

 

The charge is simply wrong. The Iraqi parliament itself had voted against allowing American troops to stay in the country beyond the end of the so-called Status of Forces Agreement. Obama wanted to leave a contingent of U.S. advisers in Iraq but decided against it when the Iraqi government refused to grant the advisers legal immunity. There was also the fact that the U.S. withdrawal came as a response to the will of the majority of the American people.

 

The fact that the Iraqi armed forces were not in good shape at the time of withdrawal was not Obama’s fault. After all the U.S. military, its trainers and advisers, had been in Iraq for years under the Bush administration. And, it can be argued that even if U.S. advisers had stayed during Obama’s time in office it would have made no difference. Take, for instance, the case of Iran under the Shah. From 1954 to 1979 the U.S. supplied and trained the Shah’s military forces. In 1979 that military force collapsed almost immediately in the face of popular revolution.

 

For U.S. forces to stay in control of Iraq until the indigenous military were professionally capable was to commit to decades of occupation – a scenario unpopular both in Iraq and the U.S. Even then the issue would be in doubt if the political context undermined Iraqi military morale and loyalty to the government. The political situation is key in these matters.

 

Part IV – War Criminals

 

If you want to look for those Americans who have real responsibility for this mess you have to go to those who put American troops in Iraq in the first place. You have to turn to George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies. Those are the less than brilliant minds who concocted the destruction of Iraq and left it in shambles.

 

Former President George W. Bush invaded Iraq on the basis of what he now claims was faulty intelligence. But this is disingenuous. He himself insisted upon and then arranged for that faulty information – a fact now conveniently forgotten by himself, his neocon allies, and the media. As usual, the only way the Republicans can blame their opponent – Obama – is by maintaining a purposeful ignorance of past events.

 

The truth is that George W. Bush and his accomplices are war criminals chargeable with the same indictment brought against the German and Japanese leaders after World War II. I am not talking about genocide, as that was not the charge against these leaders. I am talking about the waging of unnecessary and offensive war – launching an invasion without proper legal cause. Today’s mess in Iraq is a direct consequence of that same sort of criminal act.

 

Parti V – Conclusion

 

If you want to blame President Obama and his cohort for something, blame them for letting his criminal predecessor off the hook. No doubt Obama’s advisers told him that all presidents commit acts that may be criminal in nature and to indict Bush and his team was to set a precedent that might eventually turn around and be applied to Obama himself.

 

Thus, after a meaningless statement about “no one being above the law,” Obama decided not to pursue a criminal investigation into the murderous operations of George W. Bush and the neocons. “I … have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. …I don’t want them [government officials] to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.”

 

The problem is that “looking forward” only works if you take the past seriously. And in Iraq you can’t understand either the disastrous present or the likely horrid future without acknowledging the past actions the Bush administration. At the very least the media – those responsible for informing the American people of what is going on in the world – might realize this, stop castigating Obama and start telling the unvarnished truth about George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies – the men and women who really brought you the current mess in Iraq.

 Saudi Arabia Fexes Its Fanaticism – An Analysis (26 March 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – An Aggressive Anachronism

 

Saudi Arabia is one of a handful of Middle East anachronisms: a family-based monarchy that believes it sits at the right hand of God. The Saud clan that rules in Saudi Arabia is both insular and fanatic. It is devoted to the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, perhaps the most strict and intolerant manifestation of the religion. 

 

Except for the religious details, there is really not much difference between the respective outlooks of a Wahhabi true believer, a hard-core Christian fundamentalist, and the Jewish extremists in Israel. Like their Christian counterparts, the Saudis are proselytizers who spend huge sums every year supporting fanatical preachers pushing their message in far-flung parts of the world. And, like their Jewish counterparts, the Saudis have an army equipped with more advanced American weapons than they know what to do with. This, if you will, mechanizes their fanaticism.

 

Recently, there are suggestions that this is indeed the case. In 2011 the Saudi monarchy came to the rescue of another Middle East anachronism, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family monarchy in Bahrain. The Al-Khalifa were in trouble because for decades they had been systematically discriminating against the country’s Shiite Muslim majority until, in the atmosphere of the short-lived Arab Spring, the Bahraini Shias decided to stand up and demand a bit of democracy for their homeland. When the Bahraini police, mostly imported from Pakistan, could not handle the evolving situation, the Al-Khalifa called in U.S.-armed Saudi troops to put an end to any hopes of a better, more democratic Bahrain. Even though the Saudi incursion violated the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, there was no protest from Washington. 

 

In the meantime the Saudis have also been busy funneling money and weapons to the Sunni opposition in places like Iraq and Syria.You might not like the governments in Baghdad and Damascus, but the groups the Saudis are underwriting are often worse. Be they the suicide car-bombers of Iraq or the self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, Saudi money, both private and government funds, along with the guns they buy, have been making their way into the hands of people who seemed to have the same callous disregard of non-combatant life and limb as do, well, the guys who operate U.S. drones in Yemen. 

 

There have been repeated protests about this sort of Saudi behavior. The Russians have complained about it in relation to Syria, and the Iraqi government has directly accused the Saudis of sponsoring terrorism in their country. Has this given any pause to the zealots in Riyadh? No, it has not, because, like the Israelis, they know that they have God on their side and, ultimately, Washington D.C., as well.  

 

Now the Saudis have turned their bullying ways toward their neighbor Qatar. In early March the Saudi foreign minister declared that Riyadh would “blockade Qatar by land and sea” unless that country ceases its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a mostly non-violent Muslim organization that the Saudis have illogically designated a “terrorist” group – probably because the Brotherhood proselytizes a rival interpretation of Islam and has been outlawed by the Egyptian military dictatorship, which is an ally of Saudi Arabia. They also want Qatar to close down Al Jazeera and evict several U.S.-based research organizations with offices in Doha because they have all been critical of Riyadh. Considering that most of Qatar’s fresh food comes across its only land border with Saudi Arabia, the threat must be taken seriously.

 

Part II – Lack of a U.S. Response

 

There is no indication that the United States will stand by relatively liberal Qatar any more than it supported the democracy advocates in Bahrain. As far as Washington is concerned, the oil that comes out of Saudi Arabia to America’s trading partners (not much of it comes to the U.S.) is more important than the independent broadcasting of Al Jazeera, the American research centers and, without a doubt, the ideology of democracy. And it is the Saudi monarchy that keeps the oil flowing. Thus, despite some complaining, the U.S. acquiesces in the behavior of the Saudi fanatics, just as it does with the Israelis.

 

This means that Washington can sanction the Russians for protecting their security interests and the Russian-speaking population in the Crimea. They can sanction the Iranians for developing nuclear energy. And, they can acquiesce in the utter destitution of 1.76 million Gazans. But you will hear no talk of sanctions due to Saudi aggression or its sponsorship of terrorism.

 

Part III – Strange Bedfellows

 

At present the Saudis and Israelis are acting in unlikely unison on a range of issues such as support for Egypt’s military dictatorship. This makes them strange bedfellows. What can they possibly have in common? Well, besides adhering to arrogant and aggressive notions of manifest destiny, they both fear democracy in the Middle East. And, believe it or not, we can make the duo into a trio by adding the United States. Why should all three governments fear democracy? It’s really very simple. What often happens when there are free and fair elections in that region of the world? One gets leaders and governments that are (1) almost by definition wary of monarchies and other forms of dictatorship, (2) anti-American, because Washington is an historic supporter of Middle East dictators, (3) pro-Muslim, but not receptive to the strict Wahhabi or Salafi versions of Islam, and (4 ) more active in their support for the Palestinian people.

 

At this point these strange bedfellows are having their way. The Arab Spring and its aspirations of a more tolerant and democratic Middle East are, with the possible exception of Tunisia, rapidly fading memories. In its place we have the fanatics: the military style in Egypt, the religious style in Saudi Arabia, and an aggressive mixture of the two in Israel. 

 

And what about the U.S.? Well, its style is to arm fanatics and dictators and then preach democracy. In Washington, the name of the game is hypocrisy.

Planning for the Future of the BDS Movement – An Analysis (24 February 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Norman Finkelstein 

 

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 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.

Egypt Gone Bad – An Analysis (3 January 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – Going from Bad to Worse

 

This past week the confrontation between Egypt’s ruling regime and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood intensified. In an act that should make anyone familiar with this ongoing struggle sit up and shake their head, the “military-backed government” in Cairo declared Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization.” In case anyone is inclined to get the sides mixed up, it is the Muslim Brotherhood that is defending democracy in this confrontation, and the media’s use of the euphemism “military-backed government” is to be understood as whitewash for military dictatorship.  

 

The truth is that the Muslim Brothers have behaved in a civil fashion. Indeed, they have shown great restraint in the face of the violent, sometimes terrorist-style provocations of the Egyptian military and police. Always advocating nonviolent demonstrations against the military coup that brought down Egypt’s first honestly elected government in modern times, the Brothers and their supporters have been met with murderous official violence that has killed, wounded and jailed thousands. Thus, when the generals brand the Muslim Brothers “terrorists,” they are using an Orwellian propaganda ploy. As is so often the case, it is the dictatorship that practices terrorism and many of those who are resisting are destined to be its victims.

 

This doesn’t mean that there has not been violent resistance to the dictatorship. There have been steadily increasing instances of this, such as car-bombings of government buildings and attacks on police and military posts. The violent resistance started in the Sinai region of Egypt and has now spread across the Nile into the country’s heartland. For instance, on 25 December 2013 the police headquarters at Mansoura, a city northeast of Cairo, was destroyed and 15 people died. However, it was not the Brotherhood that launched this or other attacks like it. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (roughly translated as “Defenders of Holy Jerusalem”), a group unaffiliated with the Muslim Brothers, has taken responsibility. None of this matters to the dictatorship in Cairo. It has taken advantage of the violence to attempt to destroy the Brotherhood. This is probably an impossible goal and its pursuit risks civil war.

 

It is interesting that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’s violence has been described in the Western media as “extremist.” Violence can be considered extreme by definition and this group’s violence is spreading. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has warned that police, soldiers and anyone else associated with the dictatorship is now a target. On the other hand,  rarely have the actions of what now passes for a government in Egypt been labeled “extremist” in the media, although the generals have repeatedly killed and maimed nonviolent protesters. In truth it is the dictatorship itself which has set down the options for those who resist it: either give up entirely or pick up the gun. This stands as a lesson in ends and means – the means employed by dictatorial regimes usually don’t allow for peaceful protest and thereby steer the end that is resistance in the direction of violence.

 

Part II – Abandoning the Democratic Road

 

There will be many who rationalize Egypt’s military dictatorship by pointing to the flaws of the deposed Morsi government. Some will point out that, even though freely and fairly elected, the Morsi government was soon rejected by growing numbers of Egyptians. Thus, before the coup there were large demonstrations against the elected government. This is true, though the assertion that the protests represented a majority of the population is a politically motivated exaggeration. The problem with this rationale is that, unlike conditions under a dictatorship, there were democratic options open to the those who disliked the elected government. They likewise could have kept up the demand for broader input into government policy until the government compromised. Just before the coup, there were signs that this point was being reached. They could have waited until the next election cycle to attempt to turn the Morsi government out. There is no evidence that Morsi would have prevented future free and fair elections. It is to be noted that one thing the elected government did not do is shoot down protesters in the streets.

 

It might be that, except for a relatively small youth movement, most of the anti-Morsi coalition were never seriously interested in democracy. From the start of the demonstrations against the elected government, there was little or no hesitation by this coalition to abandon democratic practices. The regulations and procedures put in place by the prior Mubarak dictatorship were repeatedly used to stymie Morsi’s administration. Prominent in the use of this tactic were the courts and judges appointed by Mubarak. It soon became apparent that the anti-Morsi coalition did not have the patience to follow a democratic/electoral route to settling the question of Egypt’s ultimate character. Theirs was an all-or-nothing attitude which quickly led them to call on the military to “save the nation.” What was salvation to look like? One thing that is certain is that the Egyptian military lacks the skill to save, and indeed any interest in saving, Egyptian democracy.

 

What did this strategy get the anti-Morsi coalition? Did it get them a secular government that respects civil and human rights? Did it get them a government that can be trusted to hold free and fair elections? Certainly not, for the means they employed could not lead to such ends. It got them relief from the maybe of Sharia law in exchange for the certainty of a military coup and the violence through which all military dictators rule.  

 

What do the military dictators of Egypt think their arbitrary and violent use of power will accomplish? Do they think that the country will return to the situation under Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak when authoritarian intimidation kept religious organizations under control and civil society quiet? Do they think that anyone will really be fooled by the rigged elections they are planning for 2014? If so, they have failed to consider the possibility that the democratic election of Mohammad Morsi may well have changed the historical equation. In terms of history, what they should be referencing is not their own dictatorial past but the events of Algeria in the 1990s. In that place and time, another military regime shut down the pro-Islamic results of a democratic election and triggered a decade of savage civil war. This is an end that is quite consistent with the means used by the Egyptian generals in 2013.

 

Part III – The Evolving U.S. Response

 

The United States government had been a consistent backer of Egyptian dictatorships ever since Anwar Sadat made his historic peace with Israel in March of 1979. From that time on the U.S. treasury has been paying out at least $1.55 billion dollars (the publicly used low figure) in mostly military aid to Egypt. That aid has helped sustain a corrupt Egyptian officer corps that now controls a good part of the Egyptian economy and has no one to fight except its own people. 

 

In February 2011 a genuinely popular and mostly nonviolent revolt forced the collapse of the Mubarak dictatorship. This led to Egypt’s first internationally monitored, free and fair election. For a while it looked like the Egyptian military would be forced out of politics, and U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to accept this turn of events. Even when the Egyptian generals returned to form and pulled off their coup in July 2013, the Obama administration reacted with displeasure and cut off some of the annual aid payments. The only ones in the Middle East who found this objectionable were other U.S.-supported dictatorships such as those in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates.

 

However, now the U.S. government might be considering to  once more support an Egyptian dictatorship. Suggestions that this might be the case came recently from Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech delivered on 20 November 2013 to the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council. Here Kerry showed an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the events that brought down the Mubarak dictatorship and a remarkably naive notion of what it takes to make and sustain a revolution.  Thus: 

 

“Those kids in Tahrir Square, they were not motivated by any religion or ideology. They were motivated by what they saw through this interconnected world, and they wanted a piece of the opportunity and a chance to get an education and have a job and have a future, and not have a corrupt government that deprived them of all of that and more. And they tweeted their ways and Facetimed [sic] their ways and talked to each other and that’s what drove that revolution. And then it got stolen by the one single most organized entity in the state, which was the Brotherhood.”   

 

The fact that Kerry could make such a diagnosis to a group of allegedly knowledgeable security advisers is chilling.  Kerry is way off the mark and here is why:

 

– The very brave youths of Cairo and Alexandria who began the 2910-2011 protests against the Mubarak dictatorship laid the basis for the conditions that eventually brought down that regime. But they alone could not and did not achieve that goal.

 

– These youth were not devoid of either religion or ideology. Most were Muslims of varying degree of practice and almost all of them believed in a democratic ideology.   

 

– Despite their use of social networking and other technologies, the youth groups were too small to make a revolution. 

 

– The revolution became possible only when much greater numbers were introduced into the streets to transform the demonstrations from large to massive. The decision to bring out those numbers was taken by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is religious but was also willing to follow a democratic path.

 

– The Brotherhood could manage to bring out the large numbers not just because it was “the most organized entity in the state” but because for decades it has also been the most effective and popular social service organization in Egypt. 

 

The truth then is that the Brotherhood did not “steal” the revolution, it made it possible.  

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

Today’s Egypt is a mess. It is an economic mess thanks to decades of military dictatorship, corruption and greed. It is a political mess for the same reason. Whatever faults might be laid at the feet of the elected Morsi government, none of them warranted a return to thuggish military rule – an action which, for all practical purposes, brought the ideals of the Arab Spring to a tragic end.

 

One can only hope that the U.S. government, rising above the historical ignorance of John Kerry and his speech writers, will hold to principle and have as little as possible to do with the regime in Cairo. It is a nasty regime, brutal to its own people, barbaric in its policy toward the imprisoned population of Gaza and, not surprisingly, in bed with the Zionists and autocratic Gulf monarchs. As for Egypt’s democratic revolution that almost was, one can hope that it survives as a precedent for the future.