Archive for April, 2014
The New York Times Declares the Peace Process Futile – An Analysis (27 April 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
In 1988 Yasser Arafat declared independence for Palestine based upon the notion of two states living in peace in historic Palestine. The border between those two states was to be set roughly at the armistice line established at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Palestinian state’s capital was to be located in East Jerusalem.
That was 26 years ago. Then on14 April 2014, the editorial board of the New York Times (NYT) decided that Arafat was correct and the “principles” that “must undergird a two-state solution” are those he had proposed. Of course the board did so without ever referencing the great Palestinian leader.
Not only does the NYT declare the pre-1967 border and a shared capital at Jerusalem necessary and valid, but it calls on the U.S. government to do the same: “It is time for the administration to lay down the principles … should the Israelis and the Palestinians ever decide to make peace.”
Before anyone gets too excited over this seeming miracle on Eighth Avenue (where the paper is headquartered), it should be noted that the NYT editorial board made this pronouncement at a point when its fulfillment was impossible. And the editorial board knew this was the case. “The pointless arguing over who brought the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the brink of collapse is in full swing. The United States is still working to salvage the negotiations, but there is scant sign
of serious purpose. … President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry should move on and devote their attention to other major international challenges like Ukraine.”
Having reached this point in the editorial board’s text one starts to suspect that the board is being disingenuous. First of all, why is it “pointless” to discuss the reason these talks are collapsing? Secretary of State Kerry’s explanation (the famous “poof” heard around the world), made before Congress, lays blame right where it has always belonged – with Israeli acts of sabotage of those very principles the NYT now espouses. Why does the NYT say that stating this increasingly obvious fact is “pointless”?
It is also interesting that the editorial board suggests in what direction the subject should be changed – toward the “major international challenge” of Ukraine. I am not sure the board thought this suggestion through. After all, what is the core Western complaint about happenings in Ukraine? It is the Russian land grab in the Crimea as well as the alleged threat of more such moves in eastern Ukraine. Yet just how different is Russian behavior in this regard from that of Israel in the West Bank and Golan Heights? Obviously the NYT editors do not think it is “pointless” to to discuss land grabs when the Russians do it. It is only pointless when the Israelis do it.
The editorial board also surrounds its declaration of principles with an archaic effort to present Israel and the Palestinians as equally at fault. It is not only the Israelis who have decided against making peace, it is both the “Israelis and Palestinians.” It is not just “the obstinacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” that is a problem. That “obstinacy” has to be coupled with “resistance from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.” It is not just Israel which is unwilling to “move on to core issues,” it is “the two sides” that are unwilling. This insistence on dualism is an illusion hiding the fact that the two sides are not at all equal and, with the exception of the red-herring issue of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, ninety-nine percent of the obstinacy and all the resistance has been on one side – the Israeli side.
The NYT editorial board has the same problem as the Obama administration: they both know the truth but are unwilling to do something about it. They both know the problem is that the Israeli government is not interested in genuine peace (actually, has never been interested in it). Israel is only interested in continuing its conquest of Palestinian land. And thanks to the West, most particularly the United States, Israel has the military wherewithal to ignore not only the Palestinian protests but also those of the rest of the world.
Both the U.S. government and the U.S. “newspaper of record” refuse to act on their knowledge of Israel’s history of sabotage and call for punitive action against a nation that is hurting U.S. national interests in an important part of the world. Their main concern is to avoid a confrontation with Zionist lobbyists and NYT advertisers whose devotion to Israel is wholly uncritical. This appears to still be the most favored position even though standing firm over negotiations with Iran has proved the Zionists are not omnipotent.
It’s that old two steps forward, one step backward shuffle: heading in the right direction while ensuring we never reach the proper destination.
Free Speech Or Bribery? – An Analysis (15 April 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Legalizing Bribery
On Wednesday 2 April 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court took another step toward the destruction of campaign finance reform with a five to four decision known as McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. One gets the feeling that this is part of a general campaign, waged by class-biased, ideologically committed conservatives, against government regulation, which they see as somehow a violation of their constitutional rights. As if to suggest that this is so, the Court majority rationalized their decision in the name of “free speech.”
What does this ruling do?
First, the ruling removes limitations on overall campaign donations given in an an election cycle. The wealthy can now sit down and write checks to unlimited numbers of candidates and political organizations and thereby make themselves indispensable in an electoral process dependent on the raising of large sums, particularly for television advertising. Indeed, in this way the influence and demands of wealthy donors continue to be more powerful and persuasive than the solicitations of ordinary constituents whose interests the elected official is pledged to serve. In other words, McCutcheon vs. FEC pushed forward the process of legalizing bribery within our political system – a phenomenon which already is well along in its development.
Second, the ruling corrupts the notion of free speech by equating it with the use of money. Thus, the Court majority confuses free speech with that very act of bribery noted above. They seem to be pretending that we are dealing with the transparent efforts of constituents seeking to convince their political representatives of a certain point of view. This is an illusion. We are dealing with donor individuals and organizations funneling millions of dollars to politicians in need of small fortunes just to maintain their professional positions, and to do so in exchange for political and legislative favors. That is the exercise of free speech only if you equate it with the suborning of elected officials. It is hard to believe that the five Supreme Court Justices who voted in the majority do not know this. And if they do, they are guilty of using the Constitution to rationalize criminal behavior.
Part II – The Specific Arguments and Their Flaws
Argument One – “Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association.”
In taking this line of argument the justices ignore an established principle that operates in the social (as well as physical) realm: that is that quantity can shape quality and in so doing “act as a causal mechanism in social behavior.” For instance, you can say that contributing of money to campaigns and parties is an inherent part of the right to political participation. However the quality of that right, that is, its consequence, is dependent on the quantity of the donation and its source.
Thus, this form of political participation has different consequences if a multitude of citizens give small amounts to various candidates and parties than if a few citizens, cleverly bundling their donations, give millions. The former is unlikely to skew an election through overwhelming, and often distorting, media advertising or to compromise the integrity of the candidate once elected. The latter is almost certain to do these things. In other words, so much money coming from a few sources into an electoral process dominated by the need for money transforms donations into bribes and payoffs. This transformation is exactly what effective campaign finance reform is designed to prevent.
Argument Two – Restricting contributions is like restricting the number of endorsements a newspaper can make. “Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”
The problem with this assertion is that newspapers do not usually trade in favors. Big donors almost always do. Newspapers usually do not expect those they endorse to change the regulatory environment in which the newspaper operates. Big donors almost always do. By making the comparison between newspaper endorsements and the actions of large donors, the Justices are making a false analogy. They are mixing apples and oranges.
Argument three – “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties.”
This statement contains one dubious assumption and one misstatement of fact. First, assuming that “spending large sums of money in connection with elections” is not done in an “effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties” and therefore does not result in “quid pro quo corruption” is, at best, dangerously naive.
Do these Justices really believe that the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and a host of corporations and special interest organizations would spend millions of dollars in an election cycle apart from “an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties”?
The claim that “an individual who spends large sums” does not “garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties” is just wrong. What do these Justices think the American Rifle Association or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are doing if not buying influence and access?
It is odd that these Justices, who undoubtedly recognize that they live in a capitalist country where just about everything is up for sale, would so blatantly pretend that politicians and elections are not also available for purchase.
Part III – A Formula for Disaster
Senator John McCain, one of the sponsors of the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, predicts that the recent Supreme Court decision will result in “major scandals in campaign finance contributions” and these in turn “will cause reform.”
Scandals there are sure to be. However, I am not sure about reform. Past “major scandals” have not necessarily led to reform. In the United States numerous school shootings have shocked the public but not resulted in the reform of the nation’s gun laws. Recent financial crises have led to recession and government bailouts for savings and loans, banks and mortgage houses, but have not resulted in sufficient regulatory reform to prevent a recurrence of these problems. Therefore, campaign finance scandals may not yield the reform Senator McCain foresees. All these scandals do indicate one thing, though, and that is that the Supreme Court justices don’t know what they are talking about when they assert that big money contributions are not corrupting.
Let us keep in mind that the U.S. citizenry is largely estranged from politics and ignorant of the workings of their national economy. Such
indifference and ignorance allows power to default to the minority who are unethical enough and wealthy enough to not only buy politicians, but to buy public opinion through the manipulation of the media – a particular specialty of people like Rupert Murdoch.
This concentration of power usually results in periods of wholesale deregulation of business and politics leading inevitably to political unrest and economic ruin of one degree or another. Yet it is only when these consequences become so disastrous (I am talking here on the scale of the 1929 depression or the race riots of the 1960s) that the public’s backlash brings about significant reform. And even then the nature of such events is cyclical. We have forgotten the corruption of the Gilded Age and the hardship of the Great Depression. Some of us have even forgotten the racist nature of our politics prior to the Civil Rights Movement. So you should let your children know they may see these troubles again in the near future. Maybe they will be able to handle them better than we are.
Mr. Rosenberg’s Conundrum – An Analysis (3 April 2014 ) by Lawrence Davidson
M. J. Rosenberg
Part I – Down with BDS, Up with the Two-State Solution
Michael Jay Rosenberg is a well-known, sharp-minded critic of the Israeli government. But he is also a “liberal Zionist” who believes in the legitimacy and necessity of a Jewish state. This point of view has led him to attack the BDS (Boycott Israel) movement in a recent piece, “The Goal of BDS is Dismantling Israel”. In the process he seriously underestimates the movement’s scope and potential in an effort to convince himself and others that BDS has no chance of actually achieving the goal he ascribes to it. However, the only evidence he cites of the movement’s weakness is the recent failure of the University of Michigan’s student government to pass a divestment resolution. At the same time he fails to mention an almost simultaneous decision by Chicago’s Loyola University student government to seek divestment. Rosenberg also makes no reference to BDS’s steady and impressive efforts in Europe.
Rosenberg continues by asserting that the reason the boycott movement “keeps failing” is because its goal is to destroy Israel rather than to attack the occupation and pressure for a two-state solution. “The BDS movement is not targeting the occupation per se. Its goal is to end the State of Israel itself.” What does that mean? Well, according to Rosenberg it means “replacing Israel itself with a state” that would be “in theory, hospitable to Jews [but] would no longer be Israel.”
At this juncture there are several points in Rosenberg’s thinking that warrant scrutiny. First of all his emphasis on “in theory” in the comment above implies that, in his view, only a Zionist state can really be “hospitable to Jews.” Take the Zionism out of Israel and you really have to take the Jews out as well. One can understand his concern, since he is aware of the wrongs committed by the Israeli government and knows that reconciliation with the Palestinians will not come easily. However, given the right sort of compromises, his fear for the well-being of Jews in a non-Zionist Israel does not have to necessarily translate into fact. Secondly, he is still arguing that a two-state solution is possible. “The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states for two peoples.” Maybe “in theory” that is the case. However, “in the real world” (to use Rosenberg’s words) it is almost impossible to envision this happening given the make-up of the Israeli power structure and its worldview.
Most of those who organize and participate in the movement to boycott Israel know that the two-state solution is dead in the water. Even if the present negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry produce some pale imitation of a Palestinian state, it is hard to see it amounting to anything but a Bantustan. The fact is, even now, there is only one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and that is Zionist Israel. Having realized this, the boycotters have two choices: to give up the cause or to pressure for the transformation of Zionist Israel into a democratic, religiously and ethnically egalitarian state – a new Israel. This is what Mr. Rosenberg calls “dismantling Israel.”
Part II – The South Africa Precedent Plus the Right of Return
Those seeking a genuine democratization of Israel are encouraged by the past dismantlement of apartheid South Africa. But Rosenberg will have none of this either. He points out that in that case it was “the South African apartheid regime that was abolished, not the country known as South Africa.” Here he is not clearly thinking his point through. The boycott movement helped destroy an apartheid ideology and its institutionalized manifestation as the government of Republic of South Africa. That, perforce, altered the essential character of the country. There is no difference between that and the present boycott goal of the destruction of the Zionist ideology and its institutionalized manifestation as the government of State of Israel. That also must result in a change in the character of that country.
Finally, Rosenberg points to the demand embodied in UN Resolution 194, and supported by the BDS movement, which calls for the return of Palestinian refugees evicted in 1948. This really scares him and understandably so. From the Zionist perspective, the demographics of Israel are precarious enough as it is. Allow back a sizable number of non-Jewish refugees and the maintenance of a Jewish majority in Israel becomes impossible. On this note I have a Palestinian friend who asserts that one refugee should be resettled in pre-1967 Israel for every Israeli settler living beyond the Green Line. Would Mr. Rosenberg think this fair?
When it comes to Palestinian refugees, what Rosenberg appears not to take seriously is the long-recognized fact that, when and if the implementation of the Right of Return ever takes place, it will certainly be the result of negotiations aimed at minimizing social disruption.
Part III – Conclusion
None of this analysis of Rosenberg’s position is meant to deny that he does raise a very serious question: can justice be achieved for the long-suffering Palestinians while preserving Israel as an exclusive Jewish state? He wants to answer this question in the affirmative and he thinks a two-state solution will allow him to do so. Unfortunately, that is “not how the real world works” (his phrase again) in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. The truth is that this solution has been taken off the table by the Israelis themselves. We are left with a unitary Zionist state. The answer to the question of whether such a state is compatible with justice for the Palestinians is simply no. Zionism, like apartheid before it, has to go – for the sake of the Palestinians and also for a more promising future for the Jews.