Thursday, April 30, 2009

Abe Foxman's ADL thought police at it again.


Professor's comparison of Israelis to Nazis stirs furor
The UC Santa Barbara sociologist, who is Jewish, sent images from the Holocaust and from Israel's Gaza offensive to students in his class. He has drawn denunciation and support.
By Duke Helfand
April 30, 2009
Controversy has erupted at UC Santa Barbara over a professor's decision to send his students an e-mail in which he compared graphic images of Jews in the Holocaust to pictures of Palestinians caught up in Israel's recent Gaza offensive.

The e-mail by tenured sociology professor William I. Robinson has triggered a campus investigation and drawn accusations of anti-Semitism from two national Jewish groups, even as many students and faculty members have voiced support for him.

The uproar began in January when Robinson sent his message -- titled "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis" -- to the 80 students in his sociology of globalization class.

The e-mail contained more than two dozen photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis, including those of dead children, juxtaposed with nearly identical images from the Gaza Strip. It also included an article critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and a note from Robinson.

"Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians," the professor wrote. "We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide."

Two Jewish students dropped the class, saying they felt intimidated by the professor's message. They contacted the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which advised them to file formal complaints with the university.

In their letters, senior Rebecca Joseph and junior Tova Hausman accused Robinson of violating the campus' faculty code of conduct by disseminating personal, political material unrelated to his course.

"I was shocked," said Joseph, 22. "He overstepped his boundaries as a professor. He has his own freedom of speech, but he doesn't have the freedom to send his students his own opinion that is so strong."

Robinson, 50, who is Jewish, called the accusations and the campus investigation an attack on academic freedom. He said his former students, the Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League had all confused his criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.

"That's like saying if I condemn the U.S. government for the invasion of Iraq, I'm anti-American," he said. "It's the most absurd, baseless argument."

Robinson said he regularly sends his students voluntary reading material about current events for the global affairs course, and that no one raised questions when he subsequently discussed his e-mail.

"The whole nature of academic freedom is to introduce students to controversial material, to provoke students to think and make students uncomfortable," said Robinson, a UC Santa Barbara professor for nine years.

As the dispute over his e-mail plays out, UC Santa Barbara has become the most recent U.S. university to confront campus unrest over issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In recent years, Jewish and Muslim groups have quarreled repeatedly at UC Irvine about the Holocaust and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Professors and students at Columbia University have also argued over issues of intimidation and academic freedom amid debates on the Mideast.

In Robinson's case, reaction has been strong -- on both sides.

Shortly after hearing from the two students in January, the Wiesenthal Center produced a YouTube video titled "Jewish Students Under Siege from Professor at UC Santa Barbara." The clip shows one of Robinson's former students, her face obscured to protect her identity, reading from his e-mail.

The head of the ADL's Santa Barbara region sent Robinson a letter in February calling on him to repudiate his statements about Israel. Last month, the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, in a meeting with faculty members at the campus, urged the university to conduct an investigation into Robinson. He was told that an inquiry was already underway.

"You can criticize Israel; you can criticize the war in Gaza," Foxman said. "But to compare what the Israelis are doing in defense of their citizens to what the Nazis did to the Jews is clearly anti-Semitism."

Robinson's supporters say the professor is being maligned for exercising his right to challenge his students to think critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Students on campus have formed a group, the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB, which is chronicling the saga on its website.

Letters of support also have arrived from academics across the country, including one from California Scholars for Academic Freedom, which says it represents 100 professors at 20 college campuses. The group argues that the allegations have been raised against Robinson to "silence criticism of Israeli policies and practices."

Some UC Santa Barbara faculty members also are speaking up for Robinson. History professor Harold Marcuse, who attended the March meeting with the ADL's Foxman, said the pictures e-mailed by Robinson were "well within the bounds of appropriateness on campus. It's something I could have used in a course."

Marcuse, who is Jewish and teaches about the Holocaust in his world history and German history classes, said he would not have injected his own views into such a message to students, but added: "I don't think Bill Robinson's e-mail is anti-Semitic in any way. I think criticism of Israel is OK."

One UC Santa Barbara official has already looked into the allegations against Robinson, and a faculty committee is being formed to decide whether to forward the case to UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang. A university spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Robinson has hired an attorney, and the student committee supporting him has scheduled a May 14 campus forum on the matter. Joseph and Hausman, the students who filed the original complaints, said they plan to attend. So do Hausman's parents from Los Angeles and Rabbi Aron Hier, director of campus outreach for the Wiesenthal Center.

"I just want to bring awareness," said Hausman, 20. "I want people to know that educators shouldn't be sending out something that is so disturbing."


Wednesday, April 15, 2009



Johann Hari: You are being lied to about pirates

Some are clearly just gangsters. But others are trying to stop illegal dumping and trawling

Monday, 5 January 2009

Who imagined that in 2009, the world's governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labelling as "one of the great menaces of our times" have an extraordinary story to tell – and some justice on their side.
Related articles

* US captain held by Somali pirates is freed

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the "golden age of piracy" – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage Bluebeard that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often saved from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can't? In his book Villains Of All Nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence.

If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London's East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O' Nine Tails. If you slacked often, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively, without torture. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls "one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century".

They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed "quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal Navy." This is why they were romantic heroes, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age, a young British man called William Scott, should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: "What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirateing to live." In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the "pirates" have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a "tax" on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent "strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence".

No, this doesn't make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: "We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas." William Scott would understand.

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We won't act on those crimes – the only sane solution to this problem – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world's oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarized by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know "what he meant by keeping possession of the sea." The pirate smiled, and responded: "What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor." Once again, our great imperial fleets sail – but who is the robber?

Sunday, April 12, 2009



The talking heads and commentariat are getting hysterical about Iran becoming a nuclear power. From the neolithic Limbaugh and the aptly named Krauthammer to the editorial board of the New York Times, all are worried about what would happen if the crazed Ahmadinejad got hold of a nuke. Well, actually the President of Iran doesn't have control of the armed forces. The top Islamic cleric does. He hasn't necessarily exhibited overt signs of insanity, but maybe he's covering it up.

For a while the CIA thought they had the goods on him when they got secret recordings of him saying "god will guide us when we eradicate all the nonbelievers with atomic fire." But then it turned out they had been given tapes of a conversation an inebriated Christian Zionist leader was having with his dog, spot. Someone had translated it into Farsi as a joke.

Democrats and Republicans, Senators, Representatives, Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe the Plumber, Sarah Palin have all declared that: "Iran can't' be permitted to have nuclear weapons."

Shouldn't someone ask: "why not?"

"We must have a nuclear-free Mideast!" has been one oft repeated refrain. Israel has roughly 300 or 400 nuclear warheads. They've been producing nukes for many decades without any criticism of upsetting the balance of power or wantonly defying anti-proliferation treaties. Rather, no one who is listened to has pointed out Israel's mass production of atomic bombs and it's possible consequences.

In Iran's neighborhood India, Pakistan, Israel, China and Russia all have nukes. What's the problem with Iran having a few? Who is the U.S. to lecture anyone about having too many weapons of any kind? Especially nukes. What is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons?

The counter argument goes: Only responsible, civil, peaceable powers can have nukes. A good argument. Take Israel and the USA, they haven't invaded anyone lately, well, at least this week.

Kim Jong Il seems awfully weird and he's got nukes. Well, a few anyway and they don't seem to work very well, but he has them. Has he dropped them on any one yet? No. So the USA is the only country that's ever used atomic weapons.

How uncivilized and wacko is the current Iranian regime? They are so far from our Western values that they have yet to invade another country since they took power in 1979. What is with these guys? Don't they have a military/industrial complex like all reputable countries have? Actually, Iran as a country under any kind of government hasn't invaded any other country for more than 200 years. More evidence of their unsuitability to be a nuclear power.

People who like to run governments don't usually do thing that will lead to their obliteration. Whoever lobs a nuke at the US (if they can get it that far) will be obliterated. Period. If Iran lobs a nuke at Israel ditto. Would Israel nuke Iran if they knew that nukes would come back at them?

Look at Pakistan. Could their nukes fall into the hands of radical Sunni fundamentalists? Perhaps. Sunni fundamentalists hate the Shia (which the Iranians are) as infidels. Maybe they would be crazy enough to use nukes against Iran. Unless Iran had a deterrent. If Iran had nukes then maybe the US or Israel can't attack them with impunity. The 50 years of cold war "balance of terror" the "Mutually Assured Destruction" of both the USA and the USSR in a nuclear exchange did keep the peace. There was no winning a nuclear war. And there is still no winning a nuclear war now, especially if the country you want to attack has atomic weapons.

So, I don't see a problem with Iranian nukes. But if Newt Gingrich ever gets one we are all in trouble.

Monday, April 6, 2009

71% of Americans don't want US to take sides in Israel/Palestine Conflict


This is an excerpt from Glenn Greenwald's article in

Glenn Greenwald
SUNDAY JULY 20, 2008 08:35 EDT
Rendering public opinion irrelevant

One of the most striking aspects of our political discourse, particularly during election time, is how efficiently certain views that deviate from the elite consensus are banished from sight -- simply prohibited -- even when those views are held by the vast majority of citizens. The University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes -- the premiere organization for surveying international public opinion -- released a new survey a couple of weeks ago regarding public opinion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including opinion among American citizens, and this is what it found:

A new poll of 18 countries finds that in 14 of them people mostly say their government should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just three countries favor taking the Palestinian side (Egypt, Iran, and Turkey) and one is divided (India). No country favors taking Israel's side, including the United States, where 71 percent favor taking neither side.

The worldwide consensus is crystal clear -- citizens want their Governments to be neutral and even-handed in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, not tilted towards either side. And that consensus is shared not just by a majority of American citizens, but by the overwhelming majority. Few political views, particularly on controversial issues, attract more than 70% support among American citizens. But the proposition that the U.S. Government should be even-handed -- rather than tilting towards Israel -- attracts that much support. That's not an "anti-Israeli" view -- to the contrary, it's a position that America can and should resolve that violent, four-decades-long dispute by being even-handed rather than one-sided.
Similarly, when asked "How well do you think Israel is doing its part in the effort to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict," citizens around the world, by a large margin, believe that Israel is doing either "not very well" or "not well at all" (54% -- compared to 23% that say it's doing "very well" or "somewhat well"). And there, too, that worldwide view corresponds to American public opinion as well. 59% of Americans say Israel is doing either "not very well" or "not well at all" -- compared to only 30% that say it's doing "very well" or "somewhat well." And Palestinians don't fare much better worldwide (38-49%) and fare worse in the U.S. (15-75%).
Yet not only is the view of "even-handedness" completely unrepresented among mainstream political figures in the U.S., it's deemed political death to go anywhere near expressing that view. Back in 2003, then-presidential-candidate Howard Dean expressed the exact position favored by an overwhelming majority of Americans, yet triggered an intense and even ugly controversy by doing so:

Dean's Israel troubles began at a Sept. 3 campaign event in Santa Fe, N.M. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that day, "It's not our place to take sides." Then, on Sept. 9, he told the Washington Post that America should be "evenhanded" in its approach to the region.
That's all Dean said. It's a view held by more than 70% of Americans. It ought to be completely uncontroversial -- if anything, it ought to be that view that is deemed a political piety. But what happened? This, according to an excellent account of that "controversy" in Salon by Michelle Goldberg:
The media and the Democratic establishment reacted as if Dean had called Yasser Arafat a man of peace. On Sept. 10, 34 Democratic members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, wrote Dean an open letter. "American foreign policy has been -- and must continue to be -- based on unequivocal support for Israel's right to exist and to be free from terror . . ." they wrote. "It is unacceptable for the U.S. to be 'evenhanded' on these fundamental issues . . . This is not a time to be sending mixed messages; on the contrary, in these difficult times we must reaffirm our unyielding commitment to Israel's survival and raise our voices against all forms of terrorism and incitement."

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Dean had badly damaged his own campaign. "Sources in the Jewish community say that Dean has wrecked his chances of getting significant contributions from Jews . . ." the paper wrote. "Many believe Dean's statement will drive more Jews toward Lieberman and Kerry, enabling Kerry to take the lead again."
Dean was roundly attacked by the political elite for uttering "anti-Israel" comments, notwithstanding the fact that Dean is married to a Jewish woman, raised his children as Jews, and, most amazingly of all, had a campaign that was managed by Steve Grossman, a former President of AIPAC. But no matter: Dean had uttered a Forbidden Thought -- forbidden even though it is embraced by the vast majority of Americans -- and thus Grossman and Dean had to subject themselves to abject Apology Rituals:

According to the Dean campaign, the uproar involved semantics, not substance. "Here's what I think happened," says Grossman, Dean's campaign co-chair. "Howard made some comments in someone's backyard in New Mexico that were shorthand, if you will, for some of his Middle East views. In the course of those remarks and some others in the subsequent days, he used some language that gave people consternation, and it was immediately jumped on by Joe Lieberman and John Kerry that somehow Howard Dean was breaking faith with this 55-year tradition of the United States' special relationship with Israel, which is patently absurd". . . .
f Dean's Israel position really puts him far out on the left, it proves that not showing unequivocal support for the Jewish state remains a political poison pill -- for members of either political party. . . .
After all, according to Grossman, the candidate remains in sync with the goals of Bush's Israel policy. . . . No serious candidate took a position to the left of Bush. Indeed, it's precisely because there's no real leftist alternative that Dean's been cast in that role. . . . . But a campaign is always more about images and impressions than carefully formulated positions, and that's where Dean has blundered.

It was conventional wisdom that that Dean had committed some grave mistake even though, as The Nation's John Nichols highlighted at the time, Dean was expressing the overwhelming majority view even back in 2003:
More troubling is the condemnation by Pelosi and other party leaders of even a hint of "evenhandedness." That smacks of the old game of positioning Democrats to the right of the Republicans on Middle East policy -- in a perceived contest for Jewish-American votes and contributions. The problem with this approach, as Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes points out, is that "this suggests you cannot be firmly committed to Israel and question [Israel's hawkish Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon's policies. If that's where Democrats put themselves, they don't leave room to debate Bush on the issue." They'll also have a tougher time appealing to American voters -- 73 percent of whom, according to a recent University of Maryland poll, prefer that the United States not take sides.

It's pretty extraordinary that in a democracy, the political elite is able to render completely off-limits a view that the vast majority of Americans support. They actually render majority-held views unspeakable and then remove the issue entirely from what is debated. No matter what one's views are, there is no denying that our policy towards Israel is immensely consequential for our country. Yet, by virtue of the fact that presidential candidates are required to affirm essentially the same orthodoxies, there's very little difference in their positions towards Israel and therefore our current policy approach towards Israel will simply not be part of anything that is debated, even though most Americans overwhelmingly oppose that course.
Indeed, as soon as he secured the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama made a pilgrimage to AIPAC in order to avoid the "Howard Dean mistake" and to vow that there would be no such debate over Israel in this election:
I have been proud to be a part of a strong, bi-partisan consensus that has stood by Israel in the face of all threats. That is a commitment that both John McCain and I share, because support for Israel in this country goes beyond party. . . .
And then there are those who would lay all of the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East's only democracy for the region's extremism. They offer the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength. It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.

Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us. Israel has always faced these threats on the front lines. And I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security.
That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage. I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat -- from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened. As President, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade -- investments to Israel's security that will not be tied to any other nation.
In fairness, Obama did attack what he called the "failed status quo"; disputed that "America's recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure"; and pointed to "eight years of accumulated evidence that our foreign policy is dangerously flawed." Moreover, Obama -- to his great credit -- spent the primary season making some important and unorthodox points about Palestinian suffering and pointing out that the President should not be blindly supportive of everything Israel's right-wing does, that being "pro-Israel" doesn't mean a refusal to oppose Israeli actions.
But by uttering such Forbidden (though quite mainstream) thoughts, Obama was mercilessly attacked as anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic, and with the nomination secured, the crux of his June AIPAC speech was an affirmation of our political establishment's mandated Israel orthodoxy: the continuation of America's one-sided alliance with Israel, as highlighted by commitments such as this:

Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation. . . . That is the change we need in our foreign policy. Change that restores American power and influence. Change accompanied by a pledge that I will make known to allies and adversaries alike: that America maintains an unwavering friendship with Israel, and an unshakeable commitment to its security. . . .
As members of AIPAC, you have helped advance this bipartisan consensus to support and defend our ally Israel. And I am sure that today on Capitol Hill you will be meeting with members of Congress and spreading the word. But we are here because of more than policy. We are here because the values we hold dear are deeply embedded in the story of Israel.

Again, the point has nothing to do with one's views of the best policy towards Israel. The point is that a position which the vast majority of Americans embrace is one that, simultaneously, is forbidden to be expressed, and the election consequently will involve no debate over that issue....