Friday, April 24, 2015

Truth-teller Cornel West stands up to Israel lobby bullies

from electric intifada
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 12:26

Cornel West (Bradley Siefert/Flickr)

Cornel West has hit back at criticism from anti-Palestinian organizations and Obama supporters who have tried to smear and silence him – including by citing a fabricated quote.

This comes as the Jewish studies center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has rejected calls to cancel a high-profile lecture by West because of his support for Palestinian rights.

“The escalating deaths and sufferings in Black and poor America and the marvelous new militancy in our Ferguson moment should compel us to focus on what really matters,” West, a celebrated public intellectual and professor emeritus of African American studies at Princeton University, wrote in a message on his Facebook page: “The life and death issues of police murders, poverty, mass incarceration, drones, TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] (unjust trade policies), vast surveillance, decrepit schools, unemployment, Wall Street power, Israeli occupation of Palestinians, Dalit resistance in India and ecological catastrophe.”

“Character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo,” West continued in an apparent, though indirect, reference to recent attacks that have targeted him personally.

These have included, most prominently, an essay in the conservative magazine The New Republic, by Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, accusing West of being too harsh in his criticism of the administration of President Barack Obama.

Rather than refuting West’s often searing critiques of Obama’s policies, Dyson pathologizes West in personal terms for “narcissism” and “self-destructive hate.”

Targeted by Israel lobby

It is notable that West, unlike the overwhelming majority of public figures in the United States, has been forthright in criticizing Obama’s support for Israel’s massacre in Gaza, and recently urged Princeton University to divest from companies complicit in Israeli human rights crimes.

“[Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal not because he’s Jewish but because he has chosen to promote occupation and human annihilation,” West said at a mass rally during the Israeli attack on Gaza, in Washington, DC, last August.

“Barack Obama is a war criminal, not because he’s Black or half African and white but because his drones have killed 233 innocent children and because he facilitates the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank,” West added.

It is precisely because of his support for the Palestinian struggle that West has also become a target of Israel lobby groups.

Pressure to cancel UCLA lecture

UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies has rejected pressure to disinvite West from giving a lecture on the legacy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on 3 May.

“It is with dismay that we have been confronted by the outrageous pronouncements of Cornel West, a keynote speaker at the Heschel Conference,” Hillel at UCLA said in a statement that called West’s views on Israel “an affront to Rabbi Heschel’s pursuit of truth.”

Hillel, a national network of campus centers for Jewish students, staunchly opposes the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and works to silence critics of Israeli policies in Palestine.

“No matter how eloquent your speech and how crafty your words, the audience you will face at UCLA will not be able to take them too seriously in light of your recent decision to become a leading propagandist for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement,” Judea Pearl, a UCLA professor and president of the pro-Israel Daniel Pearl Foundation, wrote in an open letter to West in Jewish Journal.

But Todd Samuel Presner, director of the Center for Jewish Studies, rejected the attacks and affirmed that the invitation to West would not be withdrawn.

In an article in Jewish Journal, Presner took issue with some of West’s views and affirmed that neither he nor his center supports the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

on Twitter

“At the same time, the center does not apply a political litmus test to potential speakers, faculty, students or members of the general public,” Presner wrote. “At a university committed to academic freedom, we do not insist that our speaker’s views be aligned with our own.”

Presner also noted West’s long engagement with the work of Heschel, a leading twentieth century American Jewish philosopher.

Both Presner and West have recently canceled appearances at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over its firing of Steven Salaita.

Fabricated quote

Presner also points out an apparently fabricated quote that has been used to attack West.

“The Israeli occupation of my Palestinian brothers and sisters is a crime against humanity,” The Times of Trenton claimed West said at a Princeton panel where he endorsed divestment, “They are killing hundreds daily – but where are the voices?”

“To the best of my knowledge, the claim appears to be invented by Kevin Cheng, a reporter who covered West’s participation in the 8 April 2015 event,” Presner writes.

Presner points to a video of the panel at which “West speaks of his ‘moral outrage’ against what he sees to be ‘a crime against humanity,’ referencing the deaths of 500 children during the fifty-day Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014.”

“Yes, this is highly impassioned language, but the facts are not, according to many credible accounts, inaccurate,” Presner states.

The false claim that West accused Israel of killing hundreds daily – and Dyson’s hit piece – were both cited in another Jewish Journal article denouncing UCLA’s invitation to the professor.

Cornel West, Princeton Professors Support Divestment

At about 2:00 into the video of the Princeton panel, West says: “The Israeli occupation, the vicious Israeli occupation of my Palestinian brothers and sisters, for me, is a crime against humanity. Killing two thousand folk within fifty days, 500 babies. Something is not just wrong, but where are the voices?”

The panel, organized by Princeton Divests, also featured Princeton professors Robert Tignor, Molly Greene and Max Weiss, alumnus and anti-apartheid campaigner Larry Hamm and Goliath author Max Blumenthal.

“Neither saint nor prophet”

“I am neither a saint nor prophet, but I am a Jesus-loving free Black man in a great tradition who intends to be faithful unto death in telling the truth and bearing witness to justice,” West says in his Facebook posting.

“I am not beholden to any administration, political party, TV channel or financial sponsor because loving suffering and struggling peoples is my point of reference. Deep integrity must trump cheap popularity. Nothing will stop or distract my work and witness, even as I learn from others and try not to hurt others.”


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Three asylum-seekers who left Israel were killed by ISIS in Libya

from mondoweiss
Middle East Philip Weiss on April 22

Three African asylum seekers who left Israel were among those killed by ISIS in Libya on Sunday, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said yesterday. Reports suggest that the asylum seekers were urged to leave Israel by the Israeli government– “coerced,” by one account.


The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants reported on Tuesday that three asylum seekers who left Israel for a third country over the past year have been executed by the Islamic State in Libya. According to the report, the victims were identified by family members and friends.

Ilan Lior of Haaretz spoke to a relative of “T,” the man in the photograph.

“He had been in Israel since the end of 2007. He decided to go back after the [Israeli] Ministry of Interior told him he would be better off.”

According to Mesi, T. “went back to Uganda or Rwanda – I think Rwanda – where they are not accepted. From there he went on to Sudan, and from Sudan to Libya.” She said that he was not able to remain in Libya, and tried to reach Europe by boat. “I understood that the boat was returned to Libya,” she said, “where they were arrested. Rumors have it that the extreme Islamic group snatched them from the jail itself.”

Elisabeth Tsurkov says the asylum-seekers were coerced to leave and she reports virulent racist comments by Israelis on the plight of these three men.

Racist Israelis on Facebook cheer the death of asylum-seekers who were coerced to leave Israel by threat of prolonged detention….

Some Israelis on Facebook rejoiced at the news (these responses were curated by the Israeli Facebook page “Racists Depress Me”).

Responses from right-to-left, top-to-bottom, punctuation added for clarity:

Etzion Shchori: Good news. Now we understand how to deal with the problem, bring here ISIS and they will take of the Eritreans and Palestinians

Amit Zohar: I would send all the Sudanese including Eritreans to ISIS now even in some deal with ISIS

Amit Sabag: I don’t understand why all of you are mad ISIS just euthanized them they would have died of AIDS anyway at some point

Moshe Vinokor: The infiltrators are a cancer [echoing the statement made by Israeli member of Knesset, Miri Regev] with a smell of sewage.

Aviv Elfassi: LOLLLLL they deserved it

Eti Salem: let them kill all of them, this is not a problem of Israel

Max Esterkin: Either way most of the Eritreans in this country are rapists or criminals [echoing statements made former Israeli Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, and several other Israeli politicians] this is not a big loss.

Barel Cohen: One less is better [comment received 11 likes]

Batel Abarjil – If ISIS wants we can send them a lot more we have so many of these work migrants [echoing lies by the Israeli government, including the Prime Minister, that people escaping genocide, ethnic cleansing and slavery in Sudan and Eritrea are not refugees] except hurting our economy and drinking alcohol and running wild and taking over Neve Shaanan [neighrhood in south Tel Aviv where many asylum-seekers reside] they don’t contribute anything. I want to be a migrant in the US too. We just can’t [keep them here] we kick them out to their fucked mother [2 likes]

Mor Hajaj: Let ISIS come take all the Eritreans left in Israel ..
They have nothing to do with Israel ..They should hang them too .
We should have a law here that allows to massacre infiltrators :) [2 likes]

Avi Swisa: It’s good, it’s ISIS

Revital Bar-El: Now there’s a real solution to the infiltrators.

Naor Elmalich: Disgusting and ugly leftists when the Jewssss are killed and their blood is spilled like water you don’t jump and protest like this. You should be returned to Poland and Germany you deserve to be burned and slaughtered just like ISIS slaughters people, This is how you should be deal with enemies of Israelll

Shosh Bashiri: Let them all die Amen!!Our pain over our soldiers is great, no forgiveness.
Leroy Kaufman: To all the Capo children of Holocaust survivors miserable whores may your names be erased [addresses Leftists] Europe doesn’t interest anyone [how asylum-seekers are treated better there] Hitler didn’t finish the job you are the cancer of the world anddddd Israel didn’t transfer the infiltrators to Libya, they just went to Europe to make the lives of Europeans because in Israel they are border criminals, another lie of the Capo [that they’re refugees].
Micha Avitan: Let us hope for more [death], may their names and memory be erased

Rachel Levi: You can mark a thousand more with a circle they all look the same.

Michael Goman: It’s a shame [ISIS] doesn’t catch them before they reach Israel

- See more at:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Haneen Zoabi talk at NYU Friday

NYU Students for Justice in Palestine shared their event.
21 hrs ·
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Because of the huge interest in this event, we have moved it to a new location! Please join us on Friday in NYU's Global Center for Spiritual and Academic Life, at 238 Thompson Street, Room C95 (bottom level auditorium) and bring a friend! Looking forward to seeing you all then.

Israeli Racism and Apartheid: An Insider's View with Haneen Zoabi, MK
Friday at 7:30pm
NYU- Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, 238 Thompson Street, Room C95
466 people are going

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Liberals’ Attacks on Cornel West Expose Their Political Bankruptcy

from Counterpunch
APRIL 21, 2015

Ignoring the Political for the Personal

In her 1987 autobiography, Assata Shakur characterized liberalism as a politically and morally bankrupt ideology, writing

I have never really understood exactly what a ‘liberal’ is, since I have heard ‘liberals’ express every conceivable opinion on every conceivable subject. As far as I can tell, you have the extreme right, who are fascist racist capitalist dogs like Ronald Reagan, who come right out and let you know where they’re coming from. And on the opposite end, you have the left, who are supposed to be committed to justice, equality, and human rights. And somewhere between those two points is the liberal.

As far as I’m concerned, ‘liberal’ is the most meaningless word in the dictionary.

Liberals’ constant attacks on Cornel West—one of the most important leaders in the US anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and economic, social, and environmental justice movements of today—serve as a reminder as to just how accurate Assata was in her assessment, made almost three decades ago. The Democratic commentariat seem to take pleasure in heaping scorn on the principled iconoclast, never failing to include as a header image on their articles a photo of the professor scowling, in a cheap attempt to portray the amiable, peace-seeking public intellectual as angry and impetuous.

In the latest of such shameless attacks, MSNBC analyst and avowed Obama defender Michael Eric Dyson published a 9,600-word article excoriating Dr. West. Instead of attacking white supremacy, the Georgetown University professor invested a great deal of time and energy in carrying out a public attack on one of the few leaders on the contemporary American Left.

Misrepresenting Obama

In a parenthetical statement in the essay, Dyson recalls a private discussion he had with Obama in the White House. Later on, he writes that, “Throughout his presidency I have offered what I consider principled support and sustained criticism of Obama,” and states he has “expressed love for Obama and criticized him for not always loving us back.” A quick look at the White House visitor records helps paint a picture of this cozy relationship.

Dyson’s affection for Obama certainly shines through the work; even the scantest of criticisms is hard to come by. In perhaps the most ludicrous, topsy-turvy moment in the extended work, Dyson claims “Obama talks right … but veers left public policy,” whereas “West, on the other hand, talks left but thinks right.” In the real world, the exact contrary is true: Obama talks center-right and veers decidedly right on policy. Obama is and has always been a conservative. The Obama the Conservative project meticulously detailed his right-wing policies for years.

The evidence overwhelmingly shows that Cornel West is absolutely correct in his insistence that Obama “posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency.” This presidency is also built upon the expansion of murderous imperialism in the Middle East, upon the adoption of neoliberal trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (often described as “NAFTA on steroids”), upon the mass deportation and inhumane and illegal internment of millions of Latin@ immigrants and refugees, upon the privatization of prisons, upon the McCarthyist crackdown on whistleblowers, and more.

According to Dyson, West “derides” Obama as a “neoliberal opportunist.” This is not derision. This is an objective fact. Obama is a neoliberal through and through. He has made it his singular mission to pass the TPP and gut regulatory and labor laws, using secretive, anti-democratic methods in order to do so.

In the words of Chris Hedges:

The Democratic Party in Europe would be a far-right party. It’s pro-war, it’s anti-union, it’s anti-civil liberties. I mean, Obama’s assault on civil liberties is worse than Bush. It’s an enemy of the press. It’s used the Espionage Act to shut down whistle-blowers, which are the lifeblood of a free press. It has assassinated American citizens. I mean, at what point do you say enough?

Obama’s actions are what matter, not his rhetoric. Dyson concedes this, averring that it “is a sad truth that most politicians are serial rhetorical lovers and promiscuous ideological mates.” And, yet, Dyson dabbles mostly in rhetoric, utterly failing to engage in these serious political concerns.

In the overture to the protracted piece, Dyson claims he is “just as critical of the president as” West, yet proof of such an assertion is certainly hard to come by—and he spends the next several thousand words detailing why exactly the opposite is true.

Defending Corporate Civil Rights Figures

While shielding Obama from West’s criticisms, Dyson elevates corporate civil rights figures Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, among others. The two men’s names appear constantly (Sharpton 16 times and Jackson eight).

Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford describes Al Sharpton as “a crook who is always for sale,” with strident “amorality and infinite capacity for corruption.” Sharpton, Ford says, is a “celebrity locked in the embrace of the rich and powerful.”

Sharpton’s ostensible civil rights organization the National Action Network is sponsored by the world’s largest corporations, including Walmart, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, AT&T, Verizon, and more. He clearly seeks real, systemic change and justice with those kinds of progressive backers.

Jackson is a reactionary pro-imperialist proponent of “black capitalism” who destroyed the Rainbow Coalition, co-opting its legacy as an internationalist, multi-cultural revolutionary organization created by the socialist Black Panthers and turning it into a neoliberal nationalist “coalition.”

Young black Americans recognize that Sharpton and Jackson are not fighters for liberation. When the two reactionary public figures tried to exploit the Black Lives Matter uprisings in Ferguson and elsewhere, they were booed off stage. Cornel West, however, unlike these corrupt corporate celebrities, has been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, getting arrested at demonstrations, constantly attending and speaking at rallies, tirelessly working from the bottom up, in true grassroots fashion.

Dyson essentially writes off the import of these actions as mere “highly staged and camera-ready gestures.” In Dyson’s view, West “hungers for the studio, and conspicuously so.” It is implied that his civil disobedience is part of a fa├žade for attention. Dyson even admits he, at least for a time, entertained the preposterous notion that West is motivated to do so because he is “consumed with jealousy of Obama” and firmly maintains that “West’s deep loathing of Obama draws on some profoundly personal energy that is ultimately irrational.” In a similarly superficial moment, Dyson speculates that West may “hate” Obama because he was unable to get a ticket to the president’s inauguration.

For starters, the idea that West loathes Obama is incredibly misguided. West is the polar opposite of a hate-filled person; he constantly speaks of love, and firmly opposes Obama’s reactionary policies, not his being. In a 2014 interview on Democracy Now, West in fact remarked of Obama, “when I say when I love the brother, it means we have to tell the truth about him.”

The fact that West does not hold any kind of deep hatred of Obama aside, this is the kind of puerile argument liberals regularly construct to defend their untenable positions. They personalize critiques of political figures, turning political argumentation into apolitical beauty pageants that are fueled on “irrational personal energy,” not substantive material concerns about existing systems of oppression.

Ignoring the Political for the Personal

Dyson makes no serious critiques of West’s actual political positions. His entire essay reads primarily as a very long-winded ad hominem (which is all the more ironic considering Dyson accuses West of “biting our ears with personal attacks”). Dyson focuses almost entirely on how West speaks and presents himself, but largely glosses over West’s political criticisms of society.

He harshly writes “West is a scold, a curmudgeonly and bitter critic who has grown long in the tooth but sharp in the tongue when lashing one-time colleagues and allies,” yet fails to enunciate why this is purportedly the case. He furthermore claims West has become “an unintentional caricature of his identity” and accuses the scholar of “delusion and exegetical corruption.”

Borrowing from what one might hear in a high school breakup scene in a John Hughes film, Dyson pillories West for being “crushed that Obama had ideologically cheated on him”—as if it were a petty thing to be frustrated at a president who campaigned on promises of progressive “change” but turned out to be just another neoliberal warmonger.

Much of the article is devoted to dissecting West’s characterization of himself as a prophet, which one gets the impression is overstated. Dyson also writes extensively about “West’s diminished scholarly output” and what he feels to be a “paucity of serious and fresh intellectual work,” then proceeding to conflate these criticisms with West’s activism and criticisms of the status quo, implying the latter are equally “vain and unimaginative.” In a problematic selective reading of West’s work, Dyson accuses the professor of propagating a “conservative view of ghetto culture as deeply pathological, and as the chief source of the problems that beset African Americans.” Again, however, he does not spend a single sentence acknowledging West’s politics. No mention whatsoever is made of West’s work on Marxism, nor is his involvement with the Democratic Socialists of America ever brought up.

Absent from the essay—in spite of its prolixity—is any attempt to engage with, let alone refute, West’s critiques of Obama and the US political establishment. Dyson does raise warranted concerns about gaps in West’s scholarship, noting, for instance, that the professor failed to clearly define what exactly makes a person a prophet, yet, to a large extent, Dyson avoids the political. He illustrates the liberal tendency to emphasize that the personal is political to such a degree that the non-personal, systemic political is ignored.

Dyson even goes so far as to write off West’s critiques of Obama as “a species of antipathy that no political difference could ever explain.” Instead of engaging in the political, Dyson reduces it to a mere “shrill and manic dispute.” He classifies West’s denunciation of Obama as the sign of “the loss of a brilliant black mind,” as if criticizing a president who won an election thanks to the financial backing of some of the world’s most powerful banks and corporations were only something a “maniac” would do.

In a bout of full liberalism, Dyson concludes the essay averring that West’s problem ultimately lies with his own self, not with any politician or political system. This is the kind of vacuous political perspective that dominates the intelligentsia today.

One wishes that Dyson would get as worked up about the victims of Obama’s drone war, which Chomsky calls “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”; about Obama’s steadfast support for Israel during its summer 2014 massacre of over 2,300 Gazans, in which itintentionally targeted civilians; or about Obama’s mass deportations of over two million people—to name just a few of his positively reactionary policies—as he is about West’s supposed hatred of Obama.

The fact of the matter is West’s heated criticisms of Obama are the logical result of a morally consistent human being seeing the horrors for which the Obama administration has been responsible. The problem does not lie with West’s admittedly provocative denunciations of Obama, but rather with the fact that more self-identifying progressives are not standing up for their values and opposing their government’s obscene crimes.

Siding with Larry Summers, the ‘Toxic Colonialist’

In his criticisms of West, it should be pointed out that Dyson favorably cites neoliberal economist Lawrence Summers, former Chief Economist at the World Bank and President of Harvard University, a figure who has occupied many important positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations and has a long history frequenting the corporate elevator and revolving doors between powerful economic and political institutions, including hedge funds like D. E. Shaw & Co. Summers, who has come under attack for blatant misogyny, is the kind of liberal who helped former Soviet countries privatize their economies—leading to enormous increases in poverty—and oversaw the deregulation of the US financial system.

Summers, on whose authority Dyson relies without trepidation, signed an internal World Bank memo in 1991 that called for Western countries to dump toxic waste in the Global South, because, in his view, from a capitalist economics perspective, the value of the lives of people in Africa, Asia, and more is less than the value of the lives of people in North America and Europe. Summers’ defense of “toxic colonialism” was of little importance to liberals like Obama himself, who relied on the former World Bank economist as the White House United States National Economic Council and the principle economic decision-maker during the Great Recession.

The ultimate irony lies in the sharp contrast between Summers’ belief that (presumably white) Western lives are more valuable than black and brown ones in the so-called Third World and Cornel West’s antithetical adamant insistence that all lives are equal. In his condemnation of killer drone strikes, West often implores listeners to consider whether they truly do consider all lives to be equal, whether they truly care about the young Pakistani children killed in Obama’s drone program—which Amnesty International has accused of war crimes.

Whitewashing MLK

As is common among the liberal intelligentsia, Dyson also exploits the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to defend and lionize the war criminal (according to Amnesty International) Obama.

The irony is that many of the criticisms Dyson levies against West were equally true for MLK—a “prophetic” leader who, like West, was not a “moderate” toer of the party line, but was rather a radical, a relentless critic of not just racism but also of imperialism and capitalism, someone who alienated many supposed allies in his indefatigable and intersectional quest for justice.

Dyson predictably whitewashes MLK’s radical legacy, claiming the civil rights icon “was arguably more beneficial to the folk he loved when he swayed power with his influence and vision”—that is to say, when he worked within the system and did not step on the toes of the powerful.

Throwing Progressive Leaders Under the Bus

Do West’s claims of prophethood go overboard? Yes. Does Dyson exaggerate these claims? Also yes. Is Cornel West immune from criticism? Absolutely not. He is not perfect. And I concur with Dyson; he is not a prophet.

Yet, by siding with a criminal presidential administration over one of the leading purveyors of justice in the world today, figures like Michael Eric Dyson demonstrate, once again, how politically and morally bankrupt liberalism is.

The MSNBC analyst’s essay “The Ghost of Cornel West” exemplifies what is precisely the problem with liberals. They will side (and gleefully, at that) with neoliberal leaders who consider the lives of people in the Global South less valuable than those of Westerners, who wage genocidal wars, and who destroy economies with structural adjustment programs and odious debt, over radical justice-seekers because, in their myopic, ahistorical, and frankly ignorant view, it is “arguably more beneficial” to do so.

Liberals should be much more concerned about the innumerable ghosts of the victims of their leader’s policies than they are about the ghost of one of his most strident critics.

Cornel West is a hero—absolutely, unequivocally a hero. And he is one of the few heroes the Left has today. Unfortunately, that has never stopped liberals from throwing them under the bus.

Ben Norton is a freelance writer and journalist. His website can be found at

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Israeli Racism and Apartheid: An Insider's View A Talk with Parliament Member Haneen Zoabi

Friday, April 24 at 8pm in Kimmel Room 804

NYU Students for Justice in Palestine is honored to host Haneen Zoabi for a discussion about Israeli Apartheid from the perspective of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Haneen Zoabi MK, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a feminist parliamentarian. She was first elected to Israel’s parliament as a Balad party representative in 2009, and rose to international prominence following her participation in the 2010 Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. She is the first woman to represent a Palestinian party in Israel, and is one of the state’s most outspoken and eloquent critics of Zionism and of Israeli Apartheid.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

When it comes to untrustworthiness, the U.S. trumps Iran

from mondoweiss
Eoin Higgins on April 15
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The treaty of Canandaigua, in 1794, was signed between the US government and six Indian nations. The US government has violated almost every term in the deal. The treaty of Canandaigua, in 1794, was signed between the US government and six Indian nations. The US government has violated almost every term in the deal.

The news of a framework for an impending deal between the P5+1 and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program has been met in the United States media with skepticism. Leading pundits of the right say with relative uniformity that trusting Iran to keep its word on nukes after sanctions have been lifted is foolish, while those on the American “left” couch their optimism about the deal with warnings about Iran’s inherent untrustworthiness. In short, the American mainstream punditry is rather united in warning that Iran cannot be trusted to uphold its end of a deal.

It’s true that one of the major parties to the agreement should not under any circumstances be trusted when dealing with issues relating to international law. This nation has broken treaties with impunity in the past. This nation has funneled arms and funding to terrorists. This nation, which should not be trusted, does not follow the same international laws and conventions that it demands others do. This nation, of course, is the United States.

The US has never been too concerned with upholding treaties or laws when its interests have been antithetical to them. Whether the treaties are, for example, with the Native American nations or weapons agreements with the international community, the US regularly disregards the agreements it finds problematic to its geopolitical aims. The rationale has changed over the years- from manifest destiny to the Global War on Terror- but the end result is the same. Again and again, the US has proven it will violate law and treaties if it deems fit.

For a good example of the duplicity of the US on the world stage, Iran need look no farther than across its western border, to Iraq. Iraq is a good example for two reasons. One, US involvement in the country, especially over the past two decades s, shows the ugliest side of the US’s interactions with countries it regards as not deserving the protections afforded by international law (read: not strong enough to fight back). Two, it would encompass the rest of the post if I were to attempt to list all the violations of international law and treaties by the United States.

The US pillaging of Iraq is well known at this point. Here is an abridged list of the crimes over the years perpetrated there by the US:
• Likely involved in coup of 1963 against Abd al-Karim Qasim
• Slaughtered retreating army forces after repelling them from Kuwait
• Invaded in 2003 without support from international community
• Invaded in 2003 after Iraq allowed in inspectors to inspect possible WMDs- when nothing was found, US invaded anyway (this is likely the most damning in the context of this post)
• Used depleted uranium during daily bombing sorties on civilian population from 1992-2003
• Violated Geneva Conventions in treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib
• Operated black sites in Iraq for torture and murder of prisoners of war during insurgency

You get the picture. Given the impossibility of trusting a nation with a record like the US, it’s a miracle Iran has engaged in negotiations, period. Given the history of the US in Iraq, why should Iran trust that things would be any different for them? After all- the US media and chattering class has, as usual, conveniently forgotten this little historical tidbit- the US is the same nation that engineered the Iranian coup of 1953, deposing Iran’s Prime Minister and restoring the sadistic Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to the throne.

When one looks at the actions of the US on the international stage, it’s obvious that the world’s lone superpower is the least trustworthy of the parties negotiating in Lausanne, Switzerland. A history of consistency in doing whatever it wishes with no consequences for violations of international norms and laws has created an unstable id at the center of American foreign policy. For the US punditry to harangue Iran for its alleged untrustworthiness and future imagined violations of the treaty being negotiated is laughable. The US can’t trust Iran? No. Iran can’t trust the US.

- See more at:

Teju Cole: Slow violence, cold violence – Teju Cole on East Jerusalem

Not all violence is hot. There’s cold violence too, which takes its time and finally gets its way. Children going to school and coming home are exposed to it. Fathers and mothers listen to politicians on television calling for their extermination. Grandmothers have no expectation that even their aged bodies are safe: any young man may lay a hand on them with no consequence. The police could arrive at night and drag a family out into the street. Putting a people into deep uncertainty about the fundamentals of life, over years and decades, is a form of cold violence. Through an accumulation of laws rather than by military means, a particular misery is intensified and entrenched. This slow violence, this cold violence, no less than the other kind, ought to be looked at and understood.

Near the slopes of Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem is the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Most of the people who live here are Palestinian Arabs, and the area itself has an ancient history that features both Jews and Arabs. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are in a special legal category under modern Israeli law. Most of them are not Israeli citizens, nor are they classified the same way as people in Gaza or the West Bank; they are permanent residents. There are old Palestinian families here, but in a neighbourhood like Sheikh Jarrah many of the people are refugees who were settled here after the nakba (“catastrophe”) of 1948. They left their original homes behind, fleeing places such as Haifa and Sarafand al-Amar, and they came to Sheikh Jarrah, which then became their home. Many of them were given houses constructed on a previously uninhabited parcel of land by the Jordanian government and by the UN Relief and Works Agency. East Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, and since then, but at an increasing tempo in recent years, these families are being rendered homeless a second or third time.

There are many things about Palestine that are not easily seen from a distance. The beauty of the land, for instance, is not at all obvious. Scripture and travellers’ reports describe a harsh terrain of stone and rocks, a place in which it is difficult to find water or to shelter from the sun. Why would anyone want this land? But then you visit and you understand the attenuated intensity of what you see. You get the sense that there are no wasted gestures, that this is an economical landscape, and that there is great beauty in this economy. The sky is full of clouds that are like flecks of white paint. The olive trees, the leaves of which have silvered undersides, are like an apparition. And even the stones and rocks speak of history, of deep time, and of the consolation that comes with all old places. This is a land of tombs, mountains and mysterious valleys. All this one can only really see at close range.

Another thing one sees, obscured by distance but vivid up close, is that the Israeli oppression of Palestinian people is not necessarily – or at least not always – as crude as western media can make it seem. It is in fact extremely refined, and involves a dizzying assemblage of laws and bylaws, contracts, ancient documents, force, amendments, customs, religion, conventions and sudden irrational moves, all mixed together and imposed with the greatest care.

The impression this insistence on legality confers, from the Israeli side, is of an infinitely patient due process that will eventually pacify the enemy and guarantee security. The reality, from the Palestinian side, is of a suffocating viciousness. The fate of Palestinian Arabs since the nakba has been to be scattered and oppressed by different means: in the West Bank, in Gaza, inside the 1948 borders, in Jerusalem, in refugee camps abroad, in Jordan, in the distant diaspora. In all these places, Palestinians experience restrictions on their freedom and on their movement. To be Palestinian is to be hemmed in. Much of this is done by brute military force from the Israeli Defence Forces – killing for which no later accounting is possible – or on an individual basis in the secret chambers of the Shin Bet. But a lot of it is done according to Israeli law, argued in and approved by Israeli courts, and technically legal, even when the laws in question are bad laws and in clear contravention of international standards and conventions.

The permanent residency of a Palestinian in East Jerusalem is anything but permanent

The reality is that, as a Palestinian Arab, in order to defend yourself against the persecution you face, not only do you have to be an expert in Israeli law, you also have to be a Jewish Israeli and have the force of the Israeli state as your guarantor. You have to be what you are not, what it is not possible for you to be, in order not to be slowly strangled by the laws arrayed against you. In Israel, there is no pretence that the opposing parties in these cases are equal before the law; or, rather, such a pretence exists, but no one on either side takes it seriously. This has certainly been the reality for the Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah whose homes, built mostly in 1956, inhabited by three or four generations of people, are being taken from them by legal means.

As in other neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – Har Homa, the Old City, Mount Scopus, Jaffa Gate – there is a policy at work in Sheikh Jarrah. This policy is two-fold. The first is the systematic removal of Palestinian Arabs, either by banishing individuals on the basis of paperwork, or by taking over or destroying their homes by court order. Thousands of people have had their residency revoked on a variety of flimsy pretexts: time spent living abroad, time spent living elsewhere in occupied Palestine, and so on. The permanent residency of a Palestinian in East Jerusalem is anything but permanent, and once it is revoked, is almost impossible to recover.

The second aspect of the policy is the systematic increase of the Jewish populations of these neighbourhoods. This latter goal is driven both by national and municipal legislation (under the official rubric of “demographic balance”) and is sponsored in part by wealthy Zionist activists who, unlike some of their defenders in the western world, are proud to embrace the word “Zionist”. However, it is not the wealthy Zionists who move into these homes or claim these lands: it is ideologically and religiously extreme Israeli Jews, some of whom are poor Jewish immigrants to the state of Israel. And when they move in – when they raise the Israeli flag over a house that, until yesterday, was someone else’s ancestral home, or when they begin new constructions on the rubble of other people’s homes – they act as anyone would who was above the law: callously, unfeelingly, unconcerned about the humiliation of their neighbours. This two-fold policy, of pushing out Palestinian Arabs and filling the land with Israeli Jews, is recognised by all the parties involved. And for such a policy, the term “ethnic cleansing” is not too strong: it is in fact the only accurate description.

Each Palestinian family that is evicted in Sheikh Jarrah is evicted for different reasons. But the fundamental principle at work is usually similar: an activist Jewish organisation makes a claim that the land on which the house was built was in Jewish hands before 1948. There is sometimes paperwork that supports this claim (there is a lot of citation of 19th-century Ottoman land law), and sometimes the paperwork is forged, but the court will hear and, through eccentric interpretations of these old laws, often agree to the claim. The violence this legality contains is precisely that no Israeli court will hear a corresponding claim from a Palestinian family. What Israeli law supports, de facto, is the right of return for Jews into East Jerusalem. What it cannot countenance is the right of return of Palestinians into the innumerable towns, villages and neighbourhoods all over Palestine, from which war, violence and law have expelled them.

Teju Cole Teju Cole. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images
History moves at great speed, as does politics, and Zionists understand this. The pressure to continue the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem is already met with pressure from the other side to stop this clear violation of international norms. So Zionist lawyers and lawmakers move with corresponding speed, making new laws, pushing through new interpretations, all in order to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestinian presence. And though Palestinians make their own case and though many young Jews, beginning to wake up to the crimes of their nation, have marched in support of the families evicted or under threat in Sheikh Jarrah – the law and its innovative interpretations evolve at a speed that makes self-defence all but impossible.

This cannot go on. The example of Sheikh Jarrah, the cold violence of it, is echoed all over Palestine. Side by side with this cold violence is, of course, the hot violence that dominates the news: Israel’s periodic wars on Gaza, its blockades on places such as Nablus, the random unanswerable acts of murder in places such as Hebron. In no sane future of humanity should the deaths of hundreds of children continue to be accounted collateral damage, as Israel did in the summer of 2014.

In the world’s assessment of the situation in Palestine, in coming to understand why the Palestinian situation is urgent, the viciousness of law must be taken as seriously as the cruelties of war. As in other instances in which world opinion forced a large-scale systemic oppression to come to an end, we must begin by calling things by their proper names. Israel uses an extremely complex legal and bureaucratic apparatus to dispossess Palestinians of their land, hoping perhaps to forestall accusations of a brutal land grab. No one is fooled by this. Nor is anyone fooled by the accusation, common to many of Israel’s defenders, that any criticism of Israeli policies amounts to antisemitism. The historical suffering of Jewish people is real, but it is no less real than, and does not in any way justify, the present oppression of Palestinians by Israeli Jews.

A neighbourhood like Sheikh Jarrah is an x-ray of Israel at the present moment: a limited view showing a single set of features, but significant to the entire body politic. The case that is being made, and that must continue to be made to all people of conscience, is that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is criminal. This case should also include the argument that the proliferation of bad laws by the legislature and courts of Israel is itself antisemitic in effect, to the extent that they fuel the ancient calumnies against Jewish people. Nothing can justify either antisemitism or the racist persecution of Arabs, and the current use of the law in Israel is a part of the grave ongoing offence to the human dignity of both Palestinians and Jews.

• Teju Cole’s books include Open City. He is a contributor to Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation, edited by Vijay Prashad (Verso).