Thursday, July 2, 2015

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”



From Truthdig
Posted on Jul 1, 2015

By Amy Goodman


This image of Frederick Douglass dates to the 1860s. (Wikimedia Commons)

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” asked Frederick Douglass of the crowd gathered at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, N.Y., on July 5, 1852. “I answer,” he continued, “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham.”

Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and became one of the most powerful and eloquent orators of the abolitionist movement. His Independence Day talk was organized by the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Sewing Society. Douglass extolled the virtues of the Founding Fathers, those who signed the Declaration of Independence. Then he brought the focus to the present, to 1852. He said:

“I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

Of course, the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Sewing Society had no intention of mocking him. Proceeds from their events were devoted primarily to supporting Douglass’ newspaper. They championed Douglass, and saw the need to take action, whatever action they could muster. The United States was, at the time of the speech, less than a decade away from a brutal civil war. The war would formally start with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, just off the coast of Charleston, S.C.

Independence Day is a fitting time to reflect on the role that grass-roots organizing for social change has played in building this nation. The horrific massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, S.C., also compels us to question just how far we have progressed toward the ideals enshrined in that document signed on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence.

It was in Charleston that a man named Denmark Vesey, a former slave who had won his freedom, had planned an expansive slave rebellion, slated to take place in 1822. The plot was exposed, and Vesey, along with 34 alleged co-conspirators, was hanged. Vesey was one of the founders of Charleston’s AME church in 1818, which became Emanuel AME Church, where Dylann Roof is alleged to have murdered nine people this past June 17, among them the church’s pastor, who was also a state senator, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. The storied church, called “Mother Emanuel,” has been central to the lives of African-Americans in Charleston and beyond for close to two centuries.

So, when evidence pointing to Roof’s racist motivation surfaced, including an Internet-posted manifesto along with numerous photos of him with the Confederate flag, pressure mounted to remove that flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state Capitol in Columbia, S.C. The movement was swift, with companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon pulling Confederate memorabilia from their shelves. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley immediately ordered all Confederate flags be removed from Alabama Statehouse grounds. But as the U.S. and South Carolina flags on the Capitol Dome flew at half-mast after the massacre, the Battle Flag of the Confederacy, at a Confederate war memorial on the Statehouse grounds, continued to fly at full mast.

On Friday, June 26, more than 5,000 mourners crowded into an arena in Charleston for the funeral of the Rev. Pinckney. President Barack Obama gave a moving eulogy, ending by singing “Amazing Grace” as the congregation joined in. The next day, at dawn, Bree Newsome, a 30-year-old African-American woman, scaled that 30-foot flagpole in Columbia with helmet and climbing gear, and took down the Confederate flag. James Tyson, a fellow activist who is white, spotted for her from the base of the pole.

After unhooking the flag, Newsome said from her perch, “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” After she descended, the two were arrested, and the flag was back up within an hour. But their action went viral, with prominent civil-rights leaders and organizations endorsing the nonviolent direct action. Newsome and Tyson face up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Not only does the flag still fly, but since the Charleston massacre, at least half a dozen African-American churches have burned down throughout the South. Investigations have begun, but whatever the cause of the fires, they have ignited fears of a recurrence of a brutal history.

Frederick Douglass’ words on that distant July 4th holiday have been given new life by Bree Newsome, 163 years later: “It is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.

What Happened to War?


Tomgram: Engelhardt,
Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 8:00am, July 2, 2015.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

The Superpower Conundrum
The Rise and Fall of Just About Everything
By Tom Engelhardt

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries. It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet. So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up. Is the U.S. or isn’t it? Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train -- that is, any train -- anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline. The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail? Really? And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable. What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation -- bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like -- is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble? That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively? I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished. How improbable is that? And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists? And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure? Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlessly thank our troops (as would the citizenry) for... well... never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens' army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. Today, its repetitive presence marks the moment of doubt. Are we really so “exceptional”? Is this country truly “indispensible” to the rest of the planet and if so, in what way exactly? Are those troops genuinely our heroes and if so, just what was it they did that we’re so darn proud of?

Return my amazed parents to their graves, put all of this together, and you have the beginnings of a description of a uniquely great power in decline. It’s a classic vision, but one with a problem.

A God-Like Power to Destroy

Who today recalls the ads from my 1950s childhood for, if I remember correctly, drawing lessons, which always had a tagline that went something like: What’s wrong with this picture? (You were supposed to notice the five-legged cows floating through the clouds.) So what’s wrong with this picture of the obvious signs of decline: the greatest power in history, with hundreds of garrisons scattered across the planet, can’t seem to apply its power effectively no matter where it sends its military or bring countries like Iran or a weakened post-Soviet Russia to heel by a full range of threats, sanctions, and the like, or suppress a modestly armed terror-movement-cum-state in the Middle East?

For one thing, look around and tell me that the United States doesn’t still seem like a unipolar power. I mean, where exactly are its rivals? Since the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, when the first wooden ships mounted with cannons broke out of their European backwater and began to gobble up the globe, there have always been rival great powers -- three, four, five, or more. And what of today? The other three candidates of the moment would assumedly be the European Union (EU), Russia, and China.

Economically, the EU is indeed a powerhouse, but in any other way it’s a second-rate conglomeration of states that still slavishly follow the U.S. and an entity threatening to come apart at the seams. Russia looms ever larger in Washington these days, but remains a rickety power in search of greatness in its former imperial borderlands. It’s a country almost as dependent on its energy industry as Saudi Arabia and nothing like a potential future superpower. As for China, it’s obviously the rising power of the moment and now officially has the number one economy on Planet Earth. Still, it remains in many ways a poor country whose leaders fear any kind of future economic implosion (which could happen). Like the Russians, like any aspiring great power, it wants to make its weight felt in its neighborhood -- at the moment the East and South China Seas. And like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Chinese leadership is indeed upgrading its military. But the urge in both cases is to emerge as a regional power to contend with, not a superpower or a genuine rival of the U.S.

Whatever may be happening to American power, there really are no potential rivals to shoulder the blame. Yet, uniquely unrivaled, the U.S. has proven curiously incapable of translating its unipolar power and a military that, on paper, trumps every other one on the planet into its desires. This was not the normal experience of past reigning great powers. Or put another way, whether or not the U.S. is in decline, the rise-and-fall narrative seems, half-a-millennium later, to have reached some kind of largely uncommented upon and unexamined dead end.

In looking for an explanation, consider a related narrative involving military power. Why, in this new century, does the U.S. seem so incapable of achieving victory or transforming crucial regions into places that can at least be controlled? Military power is by definition destructive, but in the past such force often cleared the ground for the building of local, regional, or even global structures, however grim or oppressive they might have been. If force always was meant to break things, it sometimes achieved other ends as well. Now, it seems as if breaking is all it can do, or how to explain the fact that, in this century, the planet’s sole superpower has specialized -- see Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere -- in fracturing, not building nations.

Empires may have risen and fallen in those 500 years, but weaponry only rose. Over those centuries in which so many rivals engaged each other, carved out their imperial domains, fought their wars, and sooner or later fell, the destructive power of the weaponry they were wielding only ratcheted up exponentially: from the crossbow to the musket, the cannon, the Colt revolver, the repeating rifle, the Gatling gun, the machine gun, the dreadnaught, modern artillery, the tank, poison gas, the zeppelin, the plane, the bomb, the aircraft carrier, the missile, and at the end of the line, the “victory weapon” of World War II, the nuclear bomb that would turn the rulers of the greatest powers, and later even lesser powers, into the equivalent of gods.

For the first time, representatives of humanity had in their hands the power to destroy anything on the planet in a fashion once imagined possible only by some deity or set of deities. It was now possible to create our own end times. And yet here was the odd thing: the weaponry that brought the power of the gods down to Earth somehow offered no practical power at all to national leaders. In the post-Hiroshima-Nagasaki world, those nuclear weapons would prove unusable. Once they were loosed on the planet, there would be no more rises, no more falls. (Today, we know that even a limited nuclear exchange among lesser powers could, thanks to the nuclear-winter effect, devastate the planet.)

Weapons Development in an Era of Limited War

In a sense, World War II could be considered the ultimate moment for both the narratives of empire and the weapon. It would be the last “great” war in which major powers could bring all the weaponry available to them to bear in search of ultimate victory and the ultimate shaping of the globe. It resulted in unprecedented destruction across vast swathes of the planet, the killing of tens of millions, the turning of great cities into rubble and of countless people into refugees, the creation of an industrial structure for genocide, and finally the building of those weapons of ultimate destruction and of the first missiles that would someday be their crucial delivery systems. And out of that war came the final rivals of the modern age -- and then there were two -- the “superpowers.”

That very word, superpower, had much of the end of the story embedded in it. Think of it as a marker for a new age, for the fact that the world of the “great powers” had been left for something almost inexpressible. Everyone sensed it. We were now in the realm of “great” squared or force raised in some exponential fashion, of “super” (as in, say, “superhuman”) power. What made those powers truly super was obvious enough: the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union -- their potential ability, that is, to destroy in a fashion that had no precedent and from which there might be no coming back. It wasn’t a happenstance that the scientists creating the H-bomb sometimes referred to it in awestruck terms as a “super bomb,” or simply “the super.”

The unimaginable had happened. It turned out that there was such a thing as too much power. What in World War II came to be called “total war,” the full application of the power of a great state to the destruction of others, was no longer conceivable. The Cold War gained its name for a reason. A hot war between the U.S. and the USSR could not be fought, nor could another global war, a reality driven home by the Cuban missile crisis. Their power could only be expressed “in the shadows” or in localized conflicts on the “peripheries.” Power now found itself unexpectedly bound hand and foot.

This would soon be reflected in the terminology of American warfare. In the wake of the frustrating stalemate that was Korea (1950-1953), a war in which the U.S. found itself unable to use its greatest weapon, Washington took a new language into Vietnam. The conflict there was to be a “limited war.” And that meant one thing: nuclear power would be taken off the table.

For the first time, it seemed, the world was facing some kind of power glut. It’s at least reasonable to assume that, in the years after the Cold War standoff ended, that reality somehow seeped from the nuclear arena into the rest of warfare. In the process, great power war would be limited in new ways, while somehow being reduced only to its destructive aspect and nothing more. It suddenly seemed to hold no other possibilities within it -- or so the evidence of the sole superpower in these years suggests.

War and conflict are hardly at an end in the twenty-first century, but something has removed war's normal efficacy. Weapons development has hardly ceased either, but the newest highest-tech weapons of our age are proving strangely ineffective as well. In this context, the urge in our time to produce “precision weaponry” -- no longer the carpet-bombing of the B-52, but the “surgical” strike capacity of a joint direct attack munition, or JDAM -- should be thought of as the arrival of “limited war” in the world of weapons development.

The drone, one of those precision weapons, is a striking example. Despite its penchant for producing “collateral damage,” it is not a World War II-style weapon of indiscriminate slaughter. It has, in fact, been used relatively effectively to play whack-a-mole with the leadership of terrorist groups, killing off one leader or lieutenant after another. And yet all of the movements it has been directed against have only proliferated, gaining strength (and brutality) in these same years. It has, in other words, proven an effective weapon of bloodlust and revenge, but not of policy. If war is, in fact, politics by other means (as Carl von Clausewitz claimed), revenge is not. No one should then be surprised that the drone has produced not an effective war on terror, but a war that seems to promote terror.

One other factor should be added in here: that global power glut has grown exponentially in another fashion as well. In these years, the destructive power of the gods has descended on humanity a second time as well -- via the seemingly most peaceable of activities, the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change now promises a slow-motion version of nuclear Armageddon, increasing both the pressure on and the fragmentation of societies, while introducing a new form of destruction to our lives.

Can I make sense of all this? Hardly. I’m just doing my best to report on the obvious: that military power no longer seems to act as it once did on Planet Earth. Under distinctly apocalyptic pressures, something seems to be breaking down, something seems to be fragmenting, and with that the familiar stories, familiar frameworks, for thinking about how our world works are losing their efficacy.

Decline may be in the American future, but on a planet pushed to extremes, don’t count on it taking place within the usual tale of the rise and fall of great powers or even superpowers. Something else is happening on Planet Earth. Be prepared.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

It’s Greek to Goldman Sachs

Robert Scheer

Posted on Jun 30, 2015

Editor’s note: This column, which was originally published on Truthdig on Feb. 17, 2010, is reposted here as a reminder of a moment in Greece’s recent history that contributed to that nation’s current crisis.

“What is this Goldman Sachs and why has it caused us so much grief?” is a question they must be asking in even the most remote of Greek villages, as they are throughout much of this economically troubled world. The Greek financial scandal in which Goldman Sachs stands accused of selling dubious derivatives that concealed enormous government debt has sent the Greek economy and European markets into a tailspin. But that’s just part of a made-in-the-USA banking hustle that has haunted folks at home and abroad.

At the heart of the worldwide banking meltdown are those mysterious unregulated derivatives that Goldman and JPMorgan led the way in selling. But Greece’s case did not involve the usual questionable mortgages packaged into derivatives with credit default swaps backing them up, but rather expected revenue on airport fees and other potential sources of the cashed-strapped government’s future income.

As The New York Times headlined it: “Wall St. Helped to Mask Debt Fueling Europe’s Crisis.” The story described the scam succinctly: “As in the American subprime crisis and the implosion of American International Group, financial derivatives played a role in the run-up of Greek debt. Instruments developed by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and a wide range of other banks enabled politicians to mask additional borrowing in Greece, Italy and possibly elsewhere. ... Critics say that such deals, because they are not recorded as loans, mislead investors and regulators about the depth of a country’s liabilities.”

As a result of such shenanigans back in 2001, Greece was allowed to join the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union while running up enormous debt that went undetected. Greece’s neighbors will now be forced to bail it out, much as U.S. taxpayers have done for banks as a result of the scams Goldman and other financial houses pulled off in this country. The common denominator is that the packagers of the collateralized debt securities, be they based on subprime mortgages or government airport fees, have no real interest in the integrity of the packages, for they will balance them out with credit default swaps that pay off when the assets prove toxic. And they will make their lucrative commissions coming and going, no matter what goes wrong. Even after all the trouble in Greece, Goldman President Gary D. Cohn was back in that country last November with a new derivative scam based on potential revenue from Greece’s health care system.

Just as it did with mortgages in the U.S., Goldman in effect bet against the collateralized Greek debt obligations. The basic issue is the same. The thing being sold need not be understood or correctly assessed as to its value. In his recent memoir, former Goldman Chairman Hank Paulson confesses that as late as August 2006 when as the newly appointed treasury secretary he briefed George W. Bush on the impending derivatives crisis he did not even know that the packages that Goldman and others had sold were based on mortgages. “I misread the cause, and the scale, of the coming disaster,” he admits, adding, “Notably absent from my presentation was any mention of problems in housing and mortgages.” In recalling when an obviously perplexed President Bush asked him “How did this happen?” Paulson says in his memoir: “It was a humbling question for someone from the financial sector to be asked—after all, we were the ones responsible.”

He got that right. The financial sector was and is responsible, but it still resists increased transparency and other necessary regulations over the derivatives that gamblers like Paulson themselves don’t understand. As Peter Eavis writes in The Wall Street Journal: “How many more crises will it take? The Greek emergency is a reminder of how little has been done to fix large, potentially unstable parts of the financial system. ... The banking lobby is resisting efforts to overhaul the $605 trillion market for derivatives that don’t trade on exchanges.”

The U.S. comptroller of the currency estimates that Goldman Sachs has a derivative “credit exposure” that is a whopping 858 percent of its risk-based capital and that JPMorgan Chase is in second place at 290 percent. That statement calls into question the savvy of President Obama, who crowed just last week in defense of Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon, his old Chicago buddy who heads JPMorgan Chase, “I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen.” Tell it to the Greeks.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

REFUSAL TO CALL CHARLESTON SHOOTINGS “TERRORISM” AGAIN SHOWS IT’S A MEANINGLESS PROPAGANDA TERM

The Intercept
Glenn Greenwald
In February 2010, a man named Joseph Stack deliberately flew his small airplane into the side of a building that housed a regional IRS office in Austin, Texas, just as 200 agency employees were starting their workday. Along with himself, Stack killed an IRS manager and injured 13 others.

Stack was an anti-tax, anti-government fanatic, and chose his target for exclusively political reasons. He left behind a lengthy manifesto cogently setting forth his largely libertarian political views (along with, as I wrote at the time, some anti-capitalist grievances shared by the left, such as “rage over bailouts, the suffering of America’s poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants”; Stack’s long note ended: “the communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed”). About Stack’s political grievances, his manifesto declared that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

The attack had all of the elements of iconic terrorism, a model for how it’s most commonly understood: down to flying a plane into the side of a building. But Stack was white and non-Muslim. As a result, not only was the word “terrorism” not applied to Stack, but it was explicitly declared inapplicableby media outlets and government officials alike.
The New York Times’s report on the incident stated that while the attack “initially inspired fears of a terrorist attack” — before the identity of the pilot was known — now “in place of the typical portrait of a terrorist driven by ideology, Mr. Stack was described as generally easygoing, a talented amateur musician with marital troubles and a maddening grudge against the tax authorities.”

As a result, said the Paper of Record, “officials ruled out any connection to terrorist groups or causes.” And “federal officials emphasized the same message, describing the case as a criminal inquiry.” Even when U.S. Muslim groups called for the incident to be declared “terrorism,” the FBI continued to insist it “was handling the case ‘as a criminal matter of an assault on a federal officer’ and that it was not being considered as an act of terror.”

By very stark contrast, consider the October 2014, shooting in Ottawa by a single individual, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, at the Canadian Parliament building. As soon as it was known that the shooter was a convert to Islam, the incident was instantly and universally declared to be “terrorism.” Less than 24 hours afterward, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared it a terror attack and even demanded new “counter-terrorism” powers in its name (which he has now obtained). To bolster the label, the government claimed Zehaf-Bibeau was on his way to Syria to fight with jihadists, and the media trumpeted this “fact.”

In his address to the nation the day after the shooting, Harper vowed to learn more about the “terrorist and any accomplices he may have had” and intoned: “This is a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world.” Twitter users around the world en masse used the hashtag of solidarity reserved (for some reason) only for cities attacked by a Muslim (but not cities attacked by their own governments): #OttawaStrong. In sum, that this was a “terror attack” was mandated conventional wisdom before anything was known other than the Muslim identity of the perpetrator.
As it turns out, other than the fact that the perpetrator was Muslim and was aiming his violence at Westerners, almost nothing about this attack had the classic hallmarks of “terrorism.” In the days and weeks that followed, it became clear that Zehaf-Bibeau suffered from serious mental illness and “seemed to have become mentally unstable.” He had a history of arrests for petty offenses and had received psychiatric treatment. His friends recall him expressing no real political views but instead claiming he was possessed by the devil.

The Canadian government was ultimately forced to admit that their prior media claim about him preparing to go to Syria was totally false, dismissing it as “a mistake.” Now that Canadians know the truth about him — rather than the mere fact that he’s Muslim and committed violence — a plurality no longer believe the “terrorist” label applies, but believe the attack was motivated by mental illness. The term “terrorist” got instantly applied by know-nothings for one reason: he was Muslim and had committed violence, and that, in the post-9/11 West, is more or less the only working definition of the term (in the rare cases when it is applied to non-Muslims these days, it’s typically applied to minorities engaged in acts that have no resemblance to what people usually think of when they hear the term).

That is the crucial backdrop for yesterday’s debate over whether the term “terrorism” applies to the heinous shooting by a white nationalist of nine African-Americans praying in a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Almost immediately, news reports indicated there was “no sign of terrorism” — by which they meant: it does not appear that the shooter is Muslim.

Yet other than the perpetrator’s non-Muslim identity, the Charleston attack from the start had the indicia of what is commonly understood to be “terrorism.” Specifically, the suspected shooter was clearly a vehement racist who told witnesses at the church that he was acting out of racial hatred and a desire to force African-Americans “to go.” His violence was the byproduct of and was intended to publicize and forward his warped political agenda, and was clearly designed to terrorize the community he hates.

That’s why so many African-American and Muslim commentators and activists insisted that the term “terrorist” be applied: because it looked, felt and smelled exactly like other acts that are instantly branded “terrorism” when the perpetrator is Muslim and the victims largely white. It was very hard — and still is — to escape the conclusion that the term “terrorism,” at least as it’s predominantly used in the post-9/11 West, is about the identity of those committing the violence and the identity of the targets. It manifestly has nothing to do with some neutral, objective assessment of the acts being labelled.

The point here is not, as some very confused commentatorssuggested, to seek an expansion of the term “terrorism” beyond its current application. As someone who has spent the last decade more or less exclusively devoted to documenting the abuses and manipulations that term enables, the last thing I want is an expansion of its application.

But what I also don’t want is for non-Muslims to rest in their privileged nest, satisfied that the term and its accompanying abuses is only for that marginalized group. And what I especially don’t want is to have this glaring, damaging mythology persist that the term “terrorism” is some sort of objectively discernible, consistently applied designation of a particularly hideous kind of violence. I’m eager to have the term recognized for what it is: a completely malleable, manipulated, vapid term of propaganda that has no consistent application whatsoever. Recognition of that reality is vital to draining the term of its potency.

The examples proving the utter malleability of the term “terrorism” are far too numerous to chronicle here. But over the past decade alone, it’s been used by Western political and media figures to condemn Muslims who used violence against an invading and occupying force in Afghanistan, against others who raised funds to help Iraqis fight against an invading and occupying military in their country, and for others who attack soldiers in an army that is fighting many wars. In other words, any violence by Muslims against the West is inherently “terrorism,” even if targeted only at soldiers at war and/or designed to resist invasion and occupation.

By stark contrast, no violence by the West against Muslims can possibly be “terrorism,” no matter how brutal, inhumane or indiscriminately civilian-killing. The U.S. can call its invasion of Baghdad “Shock and Awe” as a classic declaration of terrorism intent, or fly killer drones permanently over terrorized villages and cities, or engage in generation-lasting atrocities in Fallujah, or arm and fund Israeli and Saudi destruction of helpless civilian populations, and none of that, of course, can possibly be called “terrorism.” It just has the wrong perpetrators and the wrong victims.

Then there is all the game-playing the U.S. does with the term right out in the open. Nelson Mandela, now widely regarded as a moral hero, was officially a “terrorist” in U.S. eyes for decades (and the CIA thus helped its allied apartheid regime capture him). Iraq was on the terrorist list and then off it and then on it based on whatever designation best suited U.S. interests at the moment. The Iranian cult MEK was long decreed a “terror group” until they paid enough influential people in Washington to get off the list, coinciding with the U.S. desire to punish Tehran. The Reagan administration armed and funded classic terror groups in Latin America while demanding sanctions on the Soviets and Iranians for being state sponsors of terrorism. Whatever this is, it is not the work of a term that has a consistent, objective meaning.

Ample scholarship proves that the term “terrorism” is empty, definition-free and invariably manipulated. Harvard’s Lisa Stampnitzky has documented “the inability of researchers to establish a suitable definition of the concept of ‘terrorism’ itself.” The concept of “terrorism” is fundamentally plagued by ideological agendas and self-interested manipulation, as Professor Richard Jackson at the the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Zealand has explained: “most of what is accepted as well-founded ‘knowledge’ in terrorism studies is, in fact, highly debatable and unstable” and is “biased towards Western state priorities.” Remi Brulin is a scholar who specializes in the discourse of “terrorism” and has long documented that, from the start, it was a highly manipulated term of propaganda more than it was a term of fixed meaning — largely intended to justify violence by the West and Israel while delegitimizing the violence of its enemies.

What is most amazing about all of this is that “terrorism” — a term that is so easily and frequently manipulated and devoid of fixed meaning — has now become central to our political culture and legal framework, a staple of how we are taught to think about the world. It is constantly invoked, as though it is some sort of term of scientific precision, to justify an endless array of radical policies and powers. Everything from the attack on Iraq to torture to endless drone killings to mass surveillance and beyond are justified in its name.

In fact, it is, as I have often argued, a term that justifies everything yet means nothing. Perhaps the only way people will start to see that, or at least be bothered by it, is if it becomes clear that not just marginalized minority groups but also their own group can be swept up by its elasticity and meaninglessness. There is ample resistance to that, which is why repulsive violence committed by white non-Muslims such as yesterday’s church massacre is so rarely described by the term. But that’s all the more reason to insist on something resembling fair and consistent application.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

From Stalinist Proletarian Culture to Zionist Occupation Culture


Artists in the Israel of Netanyahu: The 1970s Soviet intelligentsia of today

The messianic ideology on behalf of which Minister Miri Regev acts to oppress contemporary Israeli culture and art and to replace it with Jewish-settler culture, is now at the height of its power.
By Dmitry Shumsky | Jun. 17, 2015 | 3:35 AM | Haaretz


It’s tempting to compare Miri Regev to Yekaterina Furtseva, the legendary Soviet culture minister in the days of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, notorious for wielding an ideological truncheon in the cultural world of the late Soviet era.

Regev found herself in the Israeli culture ministry after years of service in the IDF Spokesperson Unit, Israel’s elite propaganda institution. Furtseva came to her influential post in the world of Soviet culture and art after years in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, famous for turning out the ideological cadres of the Communist regime.

Regev made her way to national leadership from the periphery, and has appointed herself the representative of the ordinary people in the struggle against the “elites.” Furtseva, daughter of menial laborers, climbed the ladder of power to an unprecedented level for a Soviet woman, and looked down with condescension and self-satisfaction upon “the bespectacled intelligentsia” that are far removed from the people.

In Regev’s view, culture is meant to provide “bread and circuses” for the nation and not to upset it, heaven forbid, amid the never-ending war against Israel’s enemies who are constantly rising up to destroy us. Furtseva thought that art should speak to the people in plain and accessible language so as not to befog its patriotic consciousness and not to obscure the most important thing – the all-out war against the enemies of the Soviet state from within and without.

Also, like Regev, Furtseva thought that artists should toe the line with the state’s ideology not just in the content of their work, but in how they go about their lives: Regev went after actor Norman Issa not due to any particular theater repertoire, but because he refused to heed her messianic-nationalistic ideology and perform in the occupied territories. Furtseva made life miserable for cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich not because of his art, but because he gave shelter in his summer home to anti-Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

But when it comes to sociopolitical conditions, the Furtseva era in Soviet culture and the Regev era in Israeli culture are more different than alike. In the 1960s and early 70s, the Communist ideology in the Soviet Union, in whose name Furtseva oppressed certain artists and encouraged certain others, was entering its death throes. In contrast, the messianic ideology on behalf of which Regev acts to oppress contemporary Israeli culture and art and to replace it with Jewish-settler culture, is now at the height of its power. Many openly and proudly tout it, such as Habayit Hayehudi voters and the ideological Likud voters, and many others – who consider themselves secular – identify with it less openly, perhaps with some embarrassment. These are the “pragmatic” Likud voters, as well as a significant chunk of Zionist Union and Yesh Atid voters, not to mention those of Kulanu.

The challenge facing artists and writers in the Israel of Netanyahu, Bennett and Regev is harder than that which the anti-Soviet intelligentsia faced in the Soviet Union of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Furtseva. Granted, unlike the Soviet state, in Israel-the-occupier artists who don’t toe the line with the state’s ideology are not deprived of their personal liberty. And yet, unlike the Soviet Communist ideology, which steadily lost some of its value in the eyes of the people, the distorted version of Zionist ideology that unabashedly portrays an exploitative Israel as a just Israel, is winning more and more hearts in this country.

And this is precisely why those who have a deep aversion to Israel-the-occupier’s ideology and propaganda mustn’t fall into despair and collectively slander whole swaths of the Israeli citizenry. No, right-wing voters are not “beasts,” as theater director Oded Kotler asserted; rather, what is beastly is the ideology that lends justification and approval to the oppression and enslavement of another people – and this is something that the artists and creators of culture in Israel must state loud and clear.

If the humanists and liberals among Israeli cultural artists would cease escaping from “the political” into unfortunate derogatory remarks that are destined to be followed by base groveling before “the people,” and instead declare clearly and consistently that culture and the oppression of national rights do not go together – as their counterparts among the opponents of the Soviet regime did not hesitate to declare that culture and the oppression of individual rights cannot coexist – they would be making a real contribution to liberating Israel from devolving into bestiality. And who knows, perhaps they could even help hasten the end of the occupation, just as the determined stance of the anti-Soviet dissidents eventually contributed its small but important part to bringing down the Soviet regime.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Israel and the politics of boycott

OPINION

Zionism and Israel will continue to support any boycott that seeks to institutionalise racism and racial separatism.
19 Mar 2013 08:45 GMT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University.


“Boycott” is a term as old as political Zionism. As is commonly known, it came into circulation in 1880, starting out as an Irish peasant action to prevent peasant evictions from the land by landlords and their agents - in that inaugural case an agent named Charles Boycott. This is not to say that this was the first time such a tactic had been used. Indeed, half a century earlier, in 1830, in the United States, the National Negro Convention supported a boycott of slave-produced goods, a movement which had started among White Quakers at the end of the 18th century and which would spread among White and Black abolitionists during the 19th century until the American Civil War.

These auspicious beginnings of the boycott to
"Boycott" is a term as old as political Zionism. As is commonly known, it came into circulation in 1880, starting out as an Irish peasant action to prevent peasant evictions from the land by landlords and their agents - in that inaugural case an agent named Charles Boycott. This is not to say that this was the first time such a tactic had been used. Indeed, half a century earlier, in 1830, in the United States, the National Negro Convention supported a boycott of slave-produced goods, a movement which had started among White Quakers at the end of the 18th century and which would spread among

White and Black abolitionists during the 19th century until the American Civil War.
These auspicious beginnings of the boycott to restore the land and freedom of peasants and slaves would inspire movements in the 20th century that would range from anti-colonial tactics (as in the Indian boycott of British goods beginning in 1919 to end the British occupation of India) to anti-colonial-settler tactics (including the Arab League boycott of the Jewish settler-colony since the mid-1940s and the anti-South African Apartheid boycott beginning in the 1960s) to anti-racist tactics (including the anti-Nazi Jewish boycott of 1933 to end Nazi racial separatism and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by African Americans in the mid-1950s to end American white colonial settler apartheid in Alabama and the rest of the American South).
Boycotting the Palestinians

There is however a different history of the uses of the boycott. In contrast with its uses to force the end of race, class and colonial injustice, boycott would also be deployed as a tactic to bring about colonial and racial injustice. Zionism would be a pioneer in this regard. Upon the formalisation of Zionist settler colonialism in the 1897 First Zionist Congress, Jewish colonists were incensed that earlier Russian Jewish agricultural colonists who had settled in Palestine since the 1880s would employ Palestinian labour in their colonies, on account of its availability and cheapness. It was in this context that Zionism would develop its racially separatist notion of "Hebrew labour", insisting and later imposing its regulations on all Jewish colonists in Palestine, namely that Jewish labour should be used exclusively in the Jewish settler-colony.

Realizing the difficulty of imposing its racialisation project on Palestine, a country which Zionism did not control yet, the movement developed the idea of the first racially separatist planned community for the exclusive use of Ashkenazi Jews, namely the Kibbutz, which would develop in the first decade of the 20th century. Lest one mistake the idea of the Kibbutz as a commitment to socialism, Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion, who came up with the exclusive "Hebrew labour" idea to boycott the Palestinians, set the record straight: The Kibbutz was set up to "guarantee [separatist] Jewish labour" and not as an application of socialist theory.

As a racially separatist Jewish economy and colony established on the lands of the Palestinians continued to be the primary goal of Zionism, the principle of boycott of Palestinian labour and products would become more aggressive as time passed. Like its parent Zionist movement before it, which used the tactic of boycott to effect racial separation and discrimination rather than end it, the Zionist labour Federation, the Histadrut, would begin in 1927 to use the time-honoured act of picketing. Picketing is traditionally used by workers and unions to end practices involving the exploitation and unfair treatment of workers. In the case of the Jewish colonists, they used picketing to bring about discrimination against Palestinian workers and to deny them employment in their own country. The Zionist picketing campaign sought to boycott Jewish businesses which continued to employ Palestinian labour as well as the goods the Palestinians produced. This was not only confined to the agricultural Jewish colonies in the Palestinian countryside, but also included urban settings where Jewish businesses employed Palestinians in the area of construction.

The Zionist campaign would continue until 1936 when the Great Palestinian Revolt would erupt threatening both the Zionist settler colonial project and the British occupation safeguarding it. In these nine years of picketing, not only did the workers among the Jewish colonists join the picket lines, but so did the professionals and the middle class of Jewish colonial society, including actors, teachers, librarians, as well as Histadrut officials. In addition to the major picketing campaign of the citrus groves of Kfar Saba in the 1920s, the Histadrut would organise "mobile-pickets" where picketers would travel from one construction site to the next in the cities, including Tel Aviv, where Palestinian workers were employed in the building of the first racially separate Jewish city.

If labour picketers around the world would harass scabs who were coopted by exploitative employers at the expense of union workers, colonial Jewish picketers in Palestine would harass Palestinian workers who were violating the racially separatist project of Zionism. Picketers would attack and beat up Palestinian workers and steal their tools and destroy their work. The picketers would also destroy the produce of the Jewish colonies that employed Palestinian peasants and workers. This was hardly an exception but harked back to Zionist colonial practices in the first decade of the 20th century when the racist principle of "Hebrew labour" was first put into action. When Jewish colonists found out in 1908 that the saplings in a forest that was founded in memory of Zionism's founder Theodor Herzl in Ben Shemen near Lydda were planted by Palestinians, they came and uprooted them and then replanted them again, thus preserving the Jewish character of the forest.

Breaking the anti-Nazi boycott
Unlike the Zionists who were pioneers in their use of boycotts to effect racial separatism, the Nazis would be latecomers to the tactic. The Nazis would begin to boycott Jewish businesses in Germany starting in April 1933 in response to the American Jewish call for a boycott of Nazi Germany, which had started a month earlier in March 1933. In view of the racist Nazi regime's targeting of Jews, American Jews and other European Jews started a campaign in March 1933 to boycott Nazi Germany until it ended its racist campaign and political targeting of German Jews.
Whereas American Jews, including Zionists, began to lobby US politicians and organisations to join the boycott, the Zionist leadership in Palestine and Germany saw the matter differently. It was in this context that the Zionists signed the notorious Transfer (Ha'avara) Agreement with Nazi Germany, whereby Jews leaving Germany to Palestine would be compensated for their lost property, which they were not allowed to transfer outside the country, through the transfer of German goods to the Jewish colonies in Palestine.

The official parties to the agreement included the Zionist Federation of Germany, the Nazi government, and the Anglo-Palestine Bank (which was founded in 1899 as the financial arm of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) under the name "The Jewish Colonial Trust", and renamed in 1950 as "Bank Leumi"). Bank Leumi is today the largest bank in Israel. The Ha'avara Agreement, which was signed in 1933, not only broke the boycott against Nazi Germany, but also entailed the selling of German goods by the Zionists to Britain. Sixty percent of all capital invested in the Jewish colonies of Palestine between 1933 and 1939 came from German Jewish money through the Transfer Agreement. This infuriated not only American and European Jews who were promoting the boycott, which the WZO was breaking, but also the right-wing revisionists within the Zionist movement itself who assassinated the major Zionist envoy to the Nazis, Chaim Arlosoroff, in 1933 upon his return from Nazi Germany where he had been negotiating the Agreement.

Not only would Zionism break the boycott, but its local German branch would also be the only German Jewish organisation that would support the Nazi Nuremberg laws that were issued in 1935 to separate German Jews from German "Aryans" racially. The Zionists, like the Nazis, agreed that German "Aryans" and German Jews were separate races and people. Here Zionist thinking becomes clear on the question of boycotts. Wherein Zionists were using boycotts to bring about racial and colonial separatism in Palestine to privilege colonising Jews and separate them from Palestinian Arabs, they opposed the Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany which sought to end Nazi racial separatism in the country targeting Jews. For Zionism, what mattered most was its commitment to racial separatism, whether in Germany or Palestine, and it supported only those boycotts that would bring it about. Indeed, as the Nazis in the 1930s sought to deport Jews and render Germany Judenrein (the Nazis proposed Madagascar as a destination for German Jews), the Zionists were proposing Palestine as the destination for German Jews, whose deportation they ultimately supported and were using the boycott and picketing campaigns to render the Jewish State-to-be in Palestine Araberrein.

Inside Story: On the road to Israeli apartheid?
The Palestinians countered Zionist separatism with boycotts of their own, targeting the Zionist colonies and their products during the British Mandate years. The Arab League of States would issue its own boycott of Zionist and Israeli goods that would go into effect in 1945. Like the American Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany in 1933 which sought to end Nazi racial separatism, the Palestinian boycott of the 1930s and the ongoing Arab League boycott were imposed precisely to end Jewish colonial and racial separatism and discrimination against the Palestinians.
Supporting French settler-colonialism
From 1948 until 1967, the Israelis would become the major ally of France, which was the chief colonial-settler European enforcer of racial apartheid on another Arab people, namely Algerians. Not only would France become Israel's major arms supplier and ally during this period, the fact that the two countries shared the status of being the only two European settler-colonies on Arab lands was paramount in its calculations.

When the Algerian revolt started in November 1954, the French decided to increase their arms sales to the Israelis. French Generals explained the intensification of their military alliance with Israel as part of the fight against the Algerian revolutionaries, as well as against the anti-imperialist Arab leader Gamal Abdel Nasser who supported the Algerian Revolution. The alliance and friendship between the two colonising states was so strong that Israel would also carry out military manoeuvers with the French on occupied Algerian territory and would enlist Algerian Jews (who were granted French citizenship in 1870 by France to separate them from their compatriot Algerian Muslims and grant them the privileges of White French colonists) to spy on the Algerian National movement that was seeking to end French colonialism and racism.
A few months after the end of his 13-month stint as Governor General of French Algeria, the French colonial politician and later terrorist, Jacques Soustelle, helped to create and presided over the pro-Israel lobbying group Alliance France-Israel in November 1956. This followed Israel's collusion with France to invade Egypt that year and destroy the regime of Abdel Nasser. In 1958, Soustelle would enjoin not only Israel but the world Jewish communities to support French colonial apartheid in Algeria: "We believe that given the influence which not only Israel but above all the Jewish communities throughout the world exert on international opinion, this alliance would produce happy results for us." Soustelle's anti-Semitism and Nazi-like views concerning the alleged power of the world Jewish communities did not bother Israel one bit. Indeed, Soustelle would join the terrorist group Organisation de l'armee secrete (OAS) in 1960 to fight against Algerian independence, which was by then increasingly becoming the accepted vision in French government circles for the future of Algeria.

The military alliance with Israel did not only provide arms and impart military training to the Israelis, but also made it possible for the French themselves to learn a few Israeli tricks, including "convoy bombing", which the French would use in Algeria. This was not all. French officers would be dispatched to Israel to learn new techniques in psychological warfare from the Jewish colonists. French General Maurice Challe, Commander-in-Chief of the French forces in Algeria (1958-1960), insisted in an interview with Sylvia Crosbie that the Israelis were "consummate artists" at dealing with the Palestinian natives. Challe went further and hoped to use the Kibbutz as a model for his pacification program in Algeria, but the triumph of the Algerian Revolution would prevent his plan from being executed.

Israeli study missions in Algeria were also welcomed as the Israelis were keen to learn from the French the use of helicopters to fight the Algerian guerrillas. Challe, like other generals who were friends of Israel, would participate in the failed coup of April 1961 against the French government in Algeria and would be tried by a military tribunal. Testimonies by at least one participant in the failed coup stated that the coup leaders were expecting support from a number of settler colonial powers: "Portugal, South Africa, South America, and perhaps Israel."
"For Zionism, what mattered most was its commitment to racial separatism, whether in Germany or Palestine, and it supported only those boycotts that would bring it about."
Israel's alliance with colonial France would sour when the French opted to end their war against the Algerian people and acceded to their independence. Not happy with its isolation as the only remaining European settler colony in the Arab world, Israel rushed to support the right-wing French terrorists who opposed their government and began to fight against Algerian independence. Aside from conscripting a number of Algerian Jews, who had joined the terrorist OAS, into Israel's spy network, the Israelis provided logistical support to the French terrorists. This included support for Jacques Soustelle himself, who was supported by Ben Gurion and was financed by rich right-wing pro-Israeli American Jews who opposed de Gaulle and Algerian independence. Algerian Jewish commandos organised themselves in Oran against Algerian Muslims and sought partition of the colony along racial lines. They were said to be inspired in their quest by Israeli government policy. Thus, just like its support of Nazi racial separatism and refusal to join the Jewish anti-Nazi boycott, Zionism and Israel opted to support French colonial racism and separatism, and indeed to fight actively against its final dissolution in Algeria, rather than join the international condemnation of French colonial policies.

Breaking the boycott against apartheid
But the story of Zionism and boycotts would not end there. Zionism would stay true to its principles of supporting boycotts that promote racial apartheid and denouncing boycotts that oppose racial apartheid to the present. When the United Nations imposed mandatory sanctions against the racist settler-colony of Rhodesia in 1966, Israel supported the sanctions at the UN but in reality never abided by them. Israel would provide arms and helicopters to be used in counterinsurgency by the Rhodesian government against the anti-racist independence movement seeking to overthrow the regime (a tactic, as we saw, which it learned from French colonial forces in Algeria and which it was now imparting to Rhodesian white supremacist colonists). Indeed the Israelis, breaking the international boycott, would provide the racist Rhodesians in the 1970s with a 500-mile separation fence along the border with Mozambique and Zambia. The fall of the Rhodesian settler colony in 1980 and the rise of Zimbabwe did not bode well for the future of Israel.

When the African National Congress (ANC) and progressive allies, who would also be joined by the United Nations, began to call for and effect different forms of boycott against apartheid South Africa beginning in the early1960s, Israel would be a central breaker of the boycott, becoming the apartheid state's major political and economic partner. Indeed Israel's strategic alliance with South Africa would be built in the late 1960s as the boycott campaign against the apartheid regime became more vociferous.
Here again, Zionism was true to its principles. One of its founding fathers, Chaim Weizmann, was a close friend of none other than the Afrikaner leader Jan Smuts, one of the central founders of modern South Africa. Smuts was such a big supporter of the Jewish settler colony that Jewish colonists named a Kibbutz after him: Ramat Yohanan. It was both ideological proximity and structural positionality that led to the alliance between the two settler colonies. In November 1962, The UN General Assembly resolution 1761 was passed and called for a voluntary boycott, requesting member states to break off diplomatic relations with South Africa, to cease trading with South Africa (arms exports in particular), and to deny passage to South African ships and aircraft. In August 1963, the United Nations Security Council established a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa. Finally in November 1977, the Security Council adopted a mandatory arms embargo. Under increasing domestic and international pressure, the Carter administration finally voted in favour of the embargo.

As international consensus was mounting against the apartheid state, Israel would strengthen its alliance with it, not only in military, including nuclear cooperation, but also in providing it with training, arms and equipment to put down the ongoing anti-apartheid demonstrations and uprisings. Support for the apartheid state would come from Israel's quintessential racist and separatist institution, the Ashkenazi-Jewish Kibbutz. For example, Kibbutz Beit Alfa would provide the apartheid security forces of South Africa with anti-riot weapons to put down the demonstrations. One of Beit Alfa's main industries is indeed riot control equipment, including water cannons, which it would provide to the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s in a "secret pact". Kibbutz Beit Alfa, it should be mentioned, was established by the Jewish National Fund partly on lands purchased from absentee landlords and partly on confiscated lands belonging to Palestinian villages.

Israeli settlers take part of Palestinian city
Israel would also provide South Africa, as in the case of Rhodesia, with hundreds of miles of mined electric fences to protect the racist state's borders from ANC guerrilla infiltration. It would also build a thousand-mile fence on the Namibia-Angola border to protect South Africa's occupation of Namibia. Its expertise in separation fences and walls would be put to productive use with the massive "Apartheid Wall" that Israel would build on Palestinian lands beginning in 1994 and continuing into the 21st century. Israel's breaking the boycott against the apartheid regime would continue until the latter's demise in 1994. With the fall of colonial Algeria, Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel remained alone as the last European settler-colony across Asia and Africa.
The Palestinian Authority and boycott
Since the beginning of the so-called "peace process", all diplomatic solutions which Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have signed on to are engineered to preserve Israel's racially separatist project of a "Jewish state" and of racial partition. Indeed, not only does Israel and US president Barack Obama insist on preserving Israel as a separatist and racist Jewish state as a precondition to all peace talks, but also on Israeli policies of racial separation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which continue unabated with the construction of Jews-only settlements and Jews-only highways on stolen Palestinian lands.

In Israel itself, Israel's state-appointed rabbis have been incensed that Israeli laws do not fully ensure racial separatism. In light of Safad's chief Rabbi's call urging Israeli Jews not to sell or rent houses or apartments to non-Jews, dozens of Israel's municipal rabbis signed onto his rabbinical ruling in December 2010. The Rabbis issued a letter to announce their call to "urge neighbours of anyone renting or selling property to Arabs to caution that person. After delivering the warning, the neighbour is then encouraged to issue notices to the general public and inform the community… The neighbours and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracise] him until he goes back on this harmful deed".
Unlike the Palestinian anti-colonial resistance which sought to boycott colonial goods in the British Mandate years, and unlike the Arab League which mandated an Arab boycott of Israel, the PA has a different view of economic relations with Israel. Like the World Zionist Organization and the German Zionists who saw the fight against anti-Semitism as self-defeating and saw collaboration with anti-Semitism as crucial to the success of Zionism, the Oslo Palestinian leadership has followed a similar strategy of collaboration with Zionism and of prohibiting resistance to it.

Calls for boycotts by Palestinians are constantly assailed by PA operatives, who only recently, in 2010, and under public pressure heeded a minimalist call to boycott the Jewish colonial settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In December 2012, unelected PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an erstwhile opponent of a boycott of Israel, issued a call to West Bank Palestinians to boycott all Israeli goods for the first time ever in retaliation for the Israeli government decision to sequester PA tax revenues, an action that bankrupted PA coffers. His government, however, never provided any mechanisms or logistical support for such a boycott nor has there been any official follow-up. In fact, when Fayyad announced the boycott of settlement goods in May 2010 as a publicity stunt, it was accompanied with assurances from unelected PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the PA was not boycotting Israel at all and would continue trade cooperationwith it.
"Israel's attempt to rebrand itself as a just and egalitarian society comes up against its actual and stark racist reality."

BDS, Obama, and pinkwashing
Today, it is the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and its international solidarity network that is the champion of a boycott of the racist Israeli settler colony. Like its noble predecessors, from African American boycotts in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Indian boycott of British goods, the Jewish anti-Nazi boycott, and the international boycott of Rhodesia and South Africa, the BDS movement insists that its call for a boycott should be heeded until Israel sheds all its racist laws and policies and becomes a non-racist state.
Israel has expectedly mobilised much of its political power to defeat the BDS initiative and has solicited the help of its formidable ally, Barack Obama, who has publicly expressed hostility to the BDS movement and shamelessly threatened the Palestinian people with dire consequences were they to dare to dismantle Israel's racist institutions. Israel's campaigns have included what some have called "pinkwashing", portraying itself as a democratic country that safeguards the rights of homosexuals unlike its allegedly oppressive Arab neighbours. In this regard, it is important to mention Zionism's prehistory of "pinkwashing".

The first European Jew that the Zionist movement assassinated in Palestine was the Dutch Jewish poet and novelist Jacob Israel de Haan. De Haan, whom the Zionists assassinated in 1924, was not only a fighter against Zionist racism and oppression of the Palestinians, but was also known in Zionist circles to engage in homosexual activities, and that he had a special fondness for young Palestinian men (he wrote a poem about the theme). His assassin, Avraham Tehoni of the official Zionist army, the Haganah, was given the orders to assassinate him by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who would become Israel's second president (1952-1963). The Zionists tried to pin de Haan's murder on the Palestinians who were allegedly motivated to kill him on account of his homosexual activity with Palestinian boys. While Zionist propaganda failed, and de Haan's Jewish murderer would confess decades later publicly to his assassination, some evidence suggests that de Haan's homosexual activities might have been an important factor on the mind of Zionist decision-makers when they ordered his assassination, though his assassin denied that this was a motive.
Israel's attempt to rebrand itself as a just and egalitarian society comes up against its actual and stark racist reality. Its opposition to the Palestinian BDS movement is often framed as an opposition to all boycotts as a form of struggle. But as the historical record shows, this is not a time-honoured Zionist position. As they have done throughout their history, Zionism and Israel will continue to support any boycott that seeks to institutionalise racism and racial separatism and will denounce any boycott that seeks to end racism and racial separatism. Their campaign and that of Obama against BDS should be understood in this context of their commitment to apartheid as a principle of organising human life.
Joseph Massad teaches Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question published by Routledge.

Friday, June 12, 2015

For the Sins of Occupation, Boycotts Are a Light Punishment

By Gideon Levy

June 7, 2015
Haaretz (Israel)

Orange or SodaStream, academic or artistic boycott, the penalties will grow worse the longer Israel persists in settling, exploiting and stealing Palestinian land.

What are you defending? What are you fighting for? Over what are Israelis entrenching themselves now, with the assaults of the nationalist politicians and the populist media fulminating against the world. Why are they patriotically covering up the orange flags of Orange with the blue-and-white national flag? Has anybody asked why? Why is the boycott starting to gnaw at Israel now, and is this all worth it?

As usual, there are questions that are not even asked. Soul-searching, after all, is a clear sign of weakness. And so an explanation has been invented that absolves us of responsibility: The boycott fell out of the sky, an unavoidable force majeure of Israel hatred, and the only way to fight it is to fight right back at them. Israel always has an abundance of fitting (and sometimes violent) Zionist responses, but it's always about the outcome, never about the reasons. That's how was with terror, that's how it was with the position of the world that Zionist Union chairman MK Isaac Herzog, of all Israeli ultranationalists, rushed to label with the ridiculous name "terror of a new kind" (referring to the statements by Orange SA CEO Stephane Richard). Never give in. That's fine, but why? We are fighting the boycott, but why did it break out?

Israel is now defending the preservation of the status quo. It is fighting against the whole world to preserve its advanced school of brutality and cruelty, in which it is educating generations of young people to act brutishly toward human beings, old people and children, to tyrannize them, to bark at them, to crush and humiliate them, only because they are Palestinians.

Israel is defending the continuation of apartheid in the occupied territories, in which two peoples live, one of them without any rights. It is defending its entire system of justification for this - a combination of Bible stories, messianism and victimhood, accompanied by lies. It is defending "united Jerusalem," which is nothing but a territorial monster where separation also exists. It is fighting for its right to destroy the Gaza Strip for as long as it cares to do so, to maintain it as a ghetto and to be the warden of the biggest prison in the world.

The Israelis are fighting for their right to persist in settling, exploiting and stealing land; to continue breaking international law that prohibits settlement, to continue to thumb its nose at the whole world, which does not recognize any settlements. They are now defending their right to shoot children who throw stones and helpless fishermen pursuing the crumbs of a livelihood in the sea off the coast of Gaza, their right to continue snatching people from their beds in the middle of the night in the West Bank; they are fighting for the right to detain hundreds of people without trial, to hold political prisoners, to abuse them.

That is what they are protecting, that is what they are fighting for - for an area that most of them have not been to for years, and don't care what happens there, for conduct that is shameful even to some of them. These are the sins and this is the punishment. Does anyone think that Israel can go on without being punished? Without being ostracized? And to tell the truth, doesn't Israel deserve to be punished? Hasn't the world been unbelievably tolerant so far?

Orange or SodaStream, academic boycott or artistic boycott, these are light punishments. The penalties will grow worse the longer Israel avoids drawing the necessary conclusions. As opposed to attempts by Israel and the Jewish establishment to divert the discussion, at its heart is not anti-Semitism. At its heart is the occupation. That is the source of the delegitimization.

The nation can fight against the position of the whole world. It can stand up for its rights (which are not its rights) and think that it is fighting for its survival. But do the Israelis know what they are defending now? What they are not willing to surrender? Is all this worth it to them? That discussion has not even begun here.

[Gideon Levy is a Haaretz columnist and a member of the newspaper's editorial board. He joined Haaretz in 1982, and spent four years as the newspaper's deputy editor. He is the author of the weekly Twilight Zone feature, which covers the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza over the last 25 years, as well as the writer of political editorials for the newspaper.
Levy was the recipient of the Euro-Med Journalist Prize for 2008; the Leipzig Freedom Prize in 2001; the Israeli Journalists' Union Prize in 1997; and The Association of Human Rights in Israel Award for 1996. His new book, The Punishment of Gaza, has just been published by Verso Publishing House in London and New York.]

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