Monday, January 28, 2013

Why the ideas of Karl Marx are more relevant than ever in the 21st century

Marxism enjoys new currency in economic crisis. But as Marx said, the point is not just to interpret the world, but to change it

Bhaskar Sunkara, Friday 25 January 2013 10.34 EST

German Political Philosopher Karl Marx Sitting
Although he did not explicitly use the phrase, Karl Marx is credited with explaining the 'creative destruction' of capitalism. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Capital used to sell us visions of tomorrow. At the 1939 World's Fair in New York, corporations showcased new technologies: nylon, air conditioning, fluorescent lamps, the ever-impressive View-Master. But more than just products, an ideal of middle-class leisure and abundance was offered to those weary from economic depression and the prospect of European war.

The Futurama ride even took attendees through miniature versions of transformed landscapes, depicting new highways and development projects: the world of the future. It was a visceral attempt to renew faith in capitalism.

In the wake of the second world war, some of this vision became a reality. Capitalism thrived and, though uneven, progress was made by American workers. With pressure from below, the state was wielded by reformers, not smashed, and class compromise, not just class struggle, fostered economic growth and shared prosperity previously unimaginable.

Exploitation and oppression didn't go away, but the system seemed not only powerful and dynamic, but reconcilable with democratic ideals. The progress, however, was fleeting. Social democracy faced the structural crisis in the 1970s that Michal Kalecki, author of The Political Aspects of Full Employment, predicted decades earlier. High employment rates and welfare state protections didn't buy off workers, it encouraged militant wage demands. Capitalists kept up when times were good, but with stagflation – the intersection of poor growth and rising inflation – and the Opec embargo, a crisis of profitability ensued.

An emergent neoliberalism did curb inflation and restore profits, but only through a vicious offensive against the working class. There were pitched battles waged in defense of the welfare state, but our era has largely been one of deradicalization and political acquiescence. Since then, real wages have stagnated, debt soared, and the prospects for a new generation, still wedded to a vision of the old social-democratic compact, are bleak.

The 1990s technological boom brought about talk of a light and adaptive "new economy", something to replace the old Fordist workplace. But it was a far cry from the future promised at the 1939 World's Fair.

The 2008 recession shattered those dreams, anyway. Capital, free of threats from below, grew decadent, wild, and speculative.

For many in my generation, the ideological underpinnings of capitalism have been undermined. That a higher percentage of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 have a more favorable opinion of socialism than capitalism at least signals that the cold war era conflation of socialism with Stalinism no longer holds sway.

At an intellectual level, the same is true. Marxists have gained a measure of mainstream exposure: Foreign Policy turned to Leo Panitch, not Larry Summers, to explain the recent economic crisis; and thinkers like David Harvey have enjoyed late career renaissances. The wider recognition of thought "left of liberalism" – of which the journal I edit, Jacobin, is a part – isn't just the result of the loss of faith in mainstream alternatives, but rather, the ability of radicals to ask deeper structural questions and place new developments in historical context.

Now, even celebrated liberal Paul Krugman has been invoking ideas long relegated to the margins of American life. When thinking about automation and the future of labor, he worries that "it has echoes of old-fashioned Marxism – which shouldn't be a reason to ignore facts, but too often is." But a resurgent left has more than worries, they have ideas: about the reduction of working time, the decommodification of labor, and the ways in which advances in production can make life better, not more miserable.

This is where what's evolving, however awkwardly, into the 21st-century socialist intellectualism shows its strengths: a willingness to present a vision for the future, something deeper than mere critique. But intellectual shifts don't mean much by themselves.

A survey of the political landscape in America, despite Occupy's emergence in 2011, is bleak. The labor movement has shown some signs of life, especially among public sector workers combating austerity, but these are at best rearguard, defensive struggles. Unionization rates continue to decline, and apathy, not revolutionary fervor, reigns.

Marxism in America needs to be more than an intellectual tool for mainstream commentators befuddled by our changing world. It needs to be a political tool to change that world. Spoken, not just written, for mass consumption, peddling a vision of leisure, abundance, and democracy even more real than what the capitalism's prophets offered in 1939. A socialist Disneyland: inspiration after the "end of history".

Friday, January 25, 2013

Normal racism: Election over, “centrist” kingmaker Yair Lapid shuns Palestinian citizens of Israel

from the electric intifada
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 23:05

A day after the Israeli general election, Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) list that won 19 seats, making him the kingmaker in coalition talks, hit the ground running with a direct attack on Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Responding to talk (video in Hebrew) that Israel’s so-called “center-left” parties would join forces to block the reappointment of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, Lapid ruled out the possibility of working with Arab parties:

“I heard talk about establishing a preventative bloc – I want to take this option off the table,” Lapid said Wednesday. “We will not establish a preventative bloc with (Balad MK) Hanin Zuabi,” Lapid said, referring to the fact that if he were to try to form his own center-left government he would have to include the Arab parties.

Lapid also said Israelis had voted for “normality.” Indeed the normality he was endorsing with this statement was to continue the racist exclusion of Arab parties from political power in Israel.
Israeli Jewish public overwhelmingly supports exclusion of Arabs

Reflecting the populism that fueled his rise, Lapid was expressing mainstream sentiments. The Israeli Democracy Institute found in an October 2012 survey (PDF) that “a considerable majority of the Jewish public (64%) opposes the inclusion of Arab parties in the coalition to be formed after the elections.”

Haneen Zoabi was one of three members of the National Democratic Assembly (Balad) reelected yesterday. She has been frequently vilified, attacked and threatened by Israeli politicians for challenging their racism and calling for all citizens to have equal rights, a demand that contradicts Israel’s self-definition as a “Jewish state.”

The electoral commission initially banned Zoabi from standing because she traveled aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010, and later banned a TV election broadcast from her party, but both decisions were overturned by the high court.

While four million Palestinians living under Israeli rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip cannot vote in Israeli elections, 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are eligible to vote, but because they are shunned by Zionist parties that form the government, they are almost as powerless as the rest of the Palestinian population.
Arab parties hold their ground

As Palestinian citizens of Israel face increasing hostility and racist laws many feared their turnout at the polls would fall even lower than the 53 percent it hit in 2009.

But in the end Arab parties won 12 seats in the 120 Knesset; 3 went to Balad, 4 to Hadash, the Communist Party – both unchanged from 2009, and the United Arab List gained one seat for a total of 5.

Leaders of Balad said their party had won more than 95,000 votes, an increase of 11,000 from the 2009 election and that 8,000 of those new votes were in the southern Naqab (Negev) region where the indigenous Bedouin population faces intensified ethnic cleansing by Israeli authorities and the Jewish National Fund.
Tags: 2013 Israeli e

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Christopher HItchens, boorish poser, shallow court jester for neocons

from Jan 17 web edition of In These Times
Christopher Hitchens Stands Trial

With great vim and gusto, a new book dissects the ever-controversial Christopher Hitchens.


What emerges is a picture of Hitchens as an intellectually lazy poseur and a huffy racist—a man who, despite the remarkable breadth of his reading, “often lacked depth” and was “either unable or unwilling to cope with the sorts of complex ideas that he occasionally attempted to criticize.”
By the time of his death in December 2011, Christopher Hitchens had built a status perhaps outstripping that of any contemporary intellectual: His passing was considered worthy of the New York Times’ front page, and he was mourned by Tony Blair, Sean Penn, David Frum and Patrick Cockburn, among others. It is from this altitude that he is yanked down by Richard Seymour in the clever, incisive Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens. The slim critique of Hitchen’s ouevre focuses on his engagement with British politics and literature, his work on religion and his double-armed embrace of American imperialism.
Though only 35, Seymour has made a name for himself as a thoughtful political analyst, notably in his book The Liberal Defence of Murder, on how the language of humanitarianism helps camouflage imperialism, and on his blog Lenin’s Tomb, an indispensible source for analysis of neoliberalism, the War on Terror and Islamophobia. Ironically, Seymour’s literary style often evokes that of Hitchens at his best. Some of Seymour’s turns of phrase are positively Hitchensian, such as his opening salvo in the introduction toUnhitched: “This is unabashedly a prosecution. And if it must be conducted with the subject in absentia, as it were, it will not be carried out with less vim as a result.”
And when writing in the prosecutorial mode, Seymour has, like his subject, a gift for reeling off an entire firing squad’s worth of bullets in a single sentence: “Hitchens was a propagandist for the American empire, a defamer of its opponents, and someone who suffered the injury this did to his probity and prose as so much collateral damage.” Seymour is also a Trotskyist, as Hitchens once was. But there the comparisons end, because Seymour is plainly a caliber of intellectual that his subject is not.
Accuracy, Seymour demonstrates, was not a major hang-up for Hitchens. Hitchens referred to Hugo Ch├ívez as “the General” even though the Venezuelan never held that rank; said that Muammar Gaddafi turned over a “stockpile of WMD” although Libya never possessed even one such weapon; claimed in February 2003 that an invasion of Iraq would be justified because Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s presence in that country demonstrated a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda even though Zarqawi was an opponent of al-Qaeda at the time and it wasn’t clear that he was in Iraq at all; and asserted that Tunisians revolted against the Ben Ali regime because they did not have to fear violent repression on the same scale that Iranian protestors face despite the fact that 224 Tunisians were killed in their uprising as compared to the 72 killed in the Iranian dictatorship’s crushing of the Green Movement in 2009.
What emerges is a picture of Hitchens as an intellectually lazy poseur and a huffy racist—a man who, despite the remarkable breadth of his reading, “often lacked depth” and was “either unable or unwilling to cope with the sorts of complex ideas that he occasionally attempted to criticize.” Here Seymour adduces Hitchens’ gross misreading of Edward Said’s Orientalism, his travestying of Marx’s view of history, and his crude theological discussions: for example, Hitchens interprets the biblical Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as divine endorsement for the murder of children, an unpersuasive claim given that the story had precisely the opposite function in the historical context in which it was written and received.
Hitchens’ record on intellectual honesty is also rather blotchy. Seymour is not the first to note this; he points to John Barrell, who argued in the London Review of Books that sections of Hitchens’ Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man were lifted from other sources without proper attribution. Seymour contends that Hitchens’ The Missionary Position was a re-write of research done by an Indian author who does not receive credit in the original hardback, and demonstrates convincingly that Hitchens’ essay “Kissinger’s War Crimes in Indochina” borrows from Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s The Political Economy of Human Rights without crediting the authors.
If Hitchens was a serial plagiarist who failed to get even the simplest of facts right, was allergic to nuance, and made no scholarly contributions, one might reasonably conclude that he ought to be ignored, and that a reader’s time and Seymour’s considerable talents be put to better use. But Hitchens matters precisely because of the inverse relationship that the quality of his work has to his status. His career reveals much about the function of the public intellectual.
The familiar narrative of Hitchens’ career has it that he made an abrupt turn from Left to Right in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but Seymour complicates this, noting that traces of Hitchens’ sympathy for empire could be detected much earlier in his career. As an example, Seymour cites Hitchens’ 1992 claim that European colonization of the Americas “deserves to be celebrated with great vim and gusto.” While Seymour notes that Hitchens did some important writing prior to his ideological shift, particularly in his opposition to the 1991 Gulf War, he says too little about the high-quality work Hitchens did in the 1980s on Palestine and Reagan’s wars in Central America.
That said, Hitchens’ later years and the enormous celebrity he enjoyed during that period are a case study of just how handsome the rewards are for those willing and able to serve as attack dogs for the dominant powers of their place and time. Hitchens’ main service to the American elite was to employ a combination of innuendo and character assassination to cast aspersion on virtually every high-profile figure critical of American foreign policy after 9/11—a roster that includes Julian Assange, Noam Chomsky, George Galloway, Michael Moore, Harold Pinter, Edward Said, Cindy Sheehan, Oliver Stone and Gore Vidal.
Hitchens could never have amassed such a large following—and perhaps more importantly, such apowerful following—had he not so entirely embraced American power and its corresponding ideologies after 9/11. Would Hitchens have been invited on as many talk shows if, rather than writing fawning biographies of safely institutionalized figures like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, he had taken as his exemplary subjects two others he professed to admire even near the end of his life, C.L.R. James and Rosa Luxemburg? If, instead of levying facile criticisms of organized religion primarily at the United States’ enemies, Hitchens had selected neoliberal capitalism for his most ferocious late-career critiques, is it likely that 60 Minutes would have profiled him when he was ill with cancer, or that his audience would have been extended to readers of Newsweek, much less the Weekly Standard?
Seymour’s book makes clear that Hitchens provides the best evidence one can find for Chomsky’s hypothesis that as intellectuals achieve increasing degrees of power, “the inequities of the society will recede from vision, the status quo will seem less flawed, and the preservation of order will become a matter of transcendent importance.” Nor is there a more perfect embodiment than Hitchens of Said’s argument that “Nothing disfigures the intellectual’s public performance as much as … patriotic bluster, and retrospective and self-dramatizing apostasy.”
To put the matter another way, consider Seymour’s justifiable revulsion at Hitchens’ revealing shifts in political friendships after 9/11: “It is one thing to sell out Sidney Blumenthal to the GOP, but to exchange Edward Said for Ahmed Chalabi? To smear Noam Chomsky yet endear oneself to Paul Wolfowitz?” Hitchens’ is the logic of an intellectual opportunist, of a man who has figured out the benefits of taking a clear stance with the established order: Relationships with Said and Chomsky will impress in certain circles, but they won’t get you the ear of the President of the United States or help you become chummy with the Prime Minister of England.
Hitchens was what Antonio Gramsci called an “organic intellectual”: a person who claims to speak for the interests of either a hegemonic or counter-hegemonic class. And, despite Hitchens’ protestations and pretensions of working-class sympathies, Seymour’s book makes clear Hitchens sided manifestly with the ruling class, particularly those factions of it that are concerned with foreign affairs. The most concrete expression of this was probably his joining the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which was initiated and headed by Bruce Jackson, a former vice president of Lockheed Martin. However, the primary task that Hitchens took up for America’s elite was to attempt to de-legitimize its opponents. In addition to his vicious but generally insubstantial attacks on critics of American empire, this took the form of him repeatedly asserting that all anti-capitalist movements were dead and that market forces are the world’s truly revolutionary force; of his sliming the alter-globalization movement and his justifying Arizona’s racist immigration laws (though these last two are among the few points that Seymour overlooks).
Hitchens thus stands in contrast to an organic intellectual of the counter-hegemonic kind—one who practices what Chomsky sees as the responsibility of intellectuals in Western democracies: to utilize “the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.”
By no means is Seymour the first to call Hitchens a hack and a sell-out. In the aftermath of his full-throttled embrace of gunboat diplomacy post-9/11, unmasking Hitchens became almost a cottage industry for Left intellectuals. Among the finest of these are Tariq Ali’s chapter on his former comrade in Bush in Babylon, Clare Brandabur’s “Hitchens Smears Edward Said,” Norman Finkelstein’s “Hitchens as Model Apostate,” Glenn Greenwald’s counter-obituary, and more work by Alexander Cockburn and Terry Eagleton than I could list. But Unhitched offers a more thorough and in-depth discrediting of Hitchens than anything previously published. And in doing so, Seymour has made an important contribution to understanding the political role of the intellectual celebrity in our time.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Palestinian citizens wearily eye Israeli elections


Jonathan Cook
The Electronic Intifada
18 January 2013

As Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority, gears up for the country’s general election next week, the most common poster in the city features three far-right leaders noted for their virulently anti-Arab views.

The posters, paid for by one of the largest Palestinian parties, are intended to mobilize the country’s Palestinian citizens to vote.

The most prominent of the faces staring down from billboards is that of Avigdor Lieberman, the recently departed foreign minister who is under police investigation for fraud but still heads Yisrael Beiteinu. His party wants to strip some of Israel’s 1.4 million Palestinians of their citizenship by redrawing the boundary with the West Bank, while the rest would be forced to take a loyalty test.

Alongside him, wearing his trademark grin, is Michael Ben Ari, a former leader of the outlawed Kach movement, which demands the expulsion of Palestinians from both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel. He won a parliamentary seat at the last election for the similarly racist Strong Israel party (Otzma LeYisrael).

Between them is the bearded Baruch Marzel, also a former Kach official who leads the extremist settlers occupying the center of the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. He has repeatedly made headlines by organizing provocative far-right marches through Palestinian towns inside Israel. (He staged a special election one this week in the village of Musmus, close to Umm al-Fahm.) Marzel is expected to enter Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, for the first time, joining Ben Ari in Strong Israel.

The posters around Nazareth pose a blunt question in Arabic: “Who are you leaving it [the Israeli parliament] to?”

Polls suggest that on 22 January, Israel’s Jewish majority will elect the most right-wing Knesset in Israel’s history, returning prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power in a coalition packed with ultra-nationalists. For Israel’s Palestinian citizens, comprising nearly a fifth of the total population, the dilemma has been how to respond to this all-but-inevitable outcome.

Lieberman, Ben Ari and Marzel are part of ever-widening circle of right-wing politicians who want an “Arab-free” Knesset.

The share of the Palestinian electorate prepared to cast a ballot for one of the Zionist parties has shrunk dramatically over the past 15 years. In 1999, 31 percent still voted for a Zionist party; by 2009 the figure had fallen to 17 percent, with more than half that number accounted for by Druze and Bedouin communities that serve in the army.

Instead, the overwhelming majority vote for one of three Arab or Arab-dominated parties (two other Arab parties are not expected to pass the threshold). Over the past 15 years these Palestinian parties, though without influence in the political system, have grown increasingly noisy in demanding equal rights for their constituents. They may not be able to effect change, but they have shown a talent for embarrassing their Jewish colleagues by using the Knesset — and platforms outside it — to express truths Israeli Jews would prefer remained unspoken.

The continuing presence of Palestinian representatives in the Knesset is threatened by two related developments: a consensus among the dominant right-wing parties that the Arab factions are a “fifth column”; and an internal debate among the Palestinian electorate about the value of taking part in national politics given the current climate.

The Zionist parties, especially on the right, have been formulating ways to silence the Arab parties, along with human rights groups and what is seen as the too-liberal Israeli high court. On the issue of the Arab parties, they have found support from Israel’s domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, which has warned that the Palestinian minority’s demands for equal rights — encapsulated in its program for a “state of all its citizens” — constitutes subversion and that Israel should act in accordance with the principle of a “democracy defending itself” (“Democracy for Jews only,” Haaretz, 30 May 2007).

The three main parties vying for Palestinian votes can be described as loosely representing the communist, nationalist and Islamist streams, with each party historically winning three or four seats in the 120-member Knesset.

All have faced attacks from the Zionist parties and more widely from the media for what is seen as their “treasonous” behavior in supporting the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But even in pursuing their domestic agenda — the campaign for equal rights — they have found themselves accused of acting as a “Trojan horse”: that is, seeking to undermine Israel as a Jewish state on behalf of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza. It has been this paranoid perception by the security establishment that has increasingly fueled demands from the Israeli government that the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for peace talks.

In the increasingly hostile climate in Israel, the Communist Front has fared best, even though its leader Mohammed Barakeh has been subjected to a series of dubious legal actions by the state and is currently on trial for allegedly assaulting a soldier during a West Bank demonstration.

The Communists have gained some protection from their status as a joint Jewish-Arab party, one that includes a Jew among its current four Knesset members. However, in line with the long-term collapse of the Israeli Jewish left, the overwhelming majority of the Front’s members are Palestinian; the rump Jewish caucus almost operates as a party within the party.

The Islamist stream, known as the United Arab List, includes, in practice, not only the southern wing of the Islamic Movement but socially conservative factions and the one-man Taal party of Ahmed Tibi, long vilified by Israel for his close connections to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the focus of Israeli politicians’ outrage has been the National Democratic Assembly party, which was established in 1995, in the wake of the signing of the Oslo accords. Its original leader, Azmi Bishara, who popularized the slogan of a “state of all its citizens,” treated the Knesset principally as “an arena of confrontation,” using it to expose the limits of Israel’s democracy.

Bishara has been living in exile since 2007, when the Shin Bet accused him, improbably, of having helped Hizballah target sites in Israel with its rockets during the Israeli attack on Lebanon a year earlier.

His place as Zionism’s public enemy number one has been usurped unexpectedly by Haneen Zoabi, who was elected to the Knesset on the NDA ticket at the last election, in 2009. She is the first Palestinian woman to sit in the Knesset for a Palestinian party.

Her main crime in the eyes of the Jewish parties was her participation in the aid flotilla that tried to break the siege of Gaza in May 2010. The lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, on which Zoabi sailed, was attacked by the Israeli navy in international waters, and nine humanitarian activists were killed.

Zoabi returned to Israel with an eye-witness account of Israeli brutality aboard the ship that gave the lie to Israel’s account of what took place and helped stoke international criticism of Israel’s action. As a result, she has been relentlessly hounded in the Knesset chamber; demonized by politicians and the media; and subjected to a wave of death threats from the Israeli public.

Questioning the right of the Palestinian parties, especially the NDA, to contest national elections has become an established feature of each campaign of the past decade. But the Zionist parties have been able to move beyond mere threats into concerted efforts to disqualify the parties and individual candidates.

This has been possible because a highly partisan body called the Central Elections Committee is charged with overseeing how the campaign is conducted. The committee, dominated by representatives from the main Zionist parties, is given a facade of legitimacy by having a high court judge sit as chairman.

In the 2003 and 2009 elections, the committee tried to ban the NDA, both times with the open support of the Shin Bet, and also targeted elements of the United Arab List. The committee’s decisions have always been overturned on appeal to the high court. But it is widely assumed that, were one of the Arab parties to be disqualified, the others would pull out of the running too.

It looked as though this election would run according to the same script. But while several motions from the right were proposed to ban the NDA and the United Arab List, they were ultimately rejected by the committee, narrowly in the case of the NDA.

Instead, the committee singled out the NDA’s Haneen Zoabi, barring her from running again for the Knesset. The decision was reached despite an advisory opinion from the attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, that there was “no sufficient, exceptional critical mass of evidence” to disqualify her.

The Basic Law on the Knesset makes disqualification of a party or individual candidate possible if they have: incited racism; denied Israel’s Jewish and democratic character; or supported armed struggle or terrorism against Israel.

The committee pointed both to Zoabi’s participation in the 2010 aid flotilla to Gaza, declaring it “support for terrorism,” and to her rejection of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The case against Zoabi was so insubstantial that few observers doubted it would be overturned by the high court.

NDA officials pointed out that she had not personally chosen to take part on the Mavi Marmara. The High Follow-Up Committee, a body representing the whole community, had decided that the Palestinian minority should be represented, and her party had selected her. Similarly, her ideological positions about Israel’s character simply reflected the NDA platform.

The party vowed to boycott the election should she be banned.

There were other obvious problems with the case. The attorney-general had closed the investigation into her participation on the Mavi Marmara in 2011, having found no evidence she broke any law. Furthermore, Israel had not declared the IHH, the Turkish group behind the Mavi Marmara, a “terrorist” organization at the time of the flotilla. In fact, one of her lawyers, Hassan Jabareen of the human rights group Adalah, surprised the court by revealing that the IHH had not been designated as such until a few weeks before the court hearing.

But as a Haaretz editorial noted, evidence was beside the point: “what we’re dealing with is a political crusade against all the Arab political parties” (“The Zuabi test,” 30 December 2012). An opinion poll in December showed 55 percent of Israeli Jews thought a ban on Zoabi would be justified.

The high court overturned Zoabi’s disqualification and did so unanimously. Following the decision, Zoabi observed that “this ruling does little to erase the threats, delegitimization and physical and verbal abuse that I have endured – in and outside the Knesset – over the past three years” (“Supreme Court: MK Zoabi can run for Knesset,” Ynet, 30 December 2012).

For dramatic effect, she had hoped to make her statement to the waiting media as she left the courtroom. But instead she had to be ushered out of a back door to safety as more than two dozen right-wing extremists, led by Michael Ben Ari, blocked her path and started shoving and threatening her escorts. Ben Ari and his Strong Israel party activists were left in charge of the courtroom to denounce the judges’ decision.

Legislators from other right-wing parties criticised the decision too. Yariv Levine of Netanyahu’s Likud party said: “Unless MK Zoabi blows herself up in the Knesset, the high court justices won’t understand that she has no place there” (“Right lambasts court after Israeli Arab MK cleared to run,” Israel Hayom, 30 December 2012).

The joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party issued a statement saying it would introduce yet more legislation to restrict the rights of the country’s Palestinian citizens and their representatives: “any expression of support for terror should be grounds for disqualification for running for election in the Israeli Knesset. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu will immediately act during the next Knesset to fix the existing laws” (“Supreme Court allows MK Zoabi to run for election,” +972, 30 December 2012).
Center-left’s flip

The Central Elections Committee’s decision not to ban the whole NDA list came as a surprise to observers, especially given the dominance of the right. Tel Aviv law professor Aeyal Gross suggested that committee members realized from their previous efforts that they were doomed to failure (“The Supreme Court has again rescued the shards of Israeli democracy,” Haaretz, 30 December 2012).

However, it is fairly difficult to believe that most of the committee members were capable of thinking so dispassionately. In any case, disqualifying Arab parties, whether ultimately futile, has other benefits for the right: it reinforces the message to Jewish voters that the Palestinian public is a fifth column, and it reminds them that the high court needs to be radically overhauled to make it more accountable to public opinion.

Awad Abdel Fattah, secretary-general of the NDA, offered a different reading of the committee’s behavior. He noted that the right-wing parties voted as feverishly for a ban of his party as ever. It was saved by a switch of positions among what has been termed the “center-left” bloc.

The so-called “center-left” — a term the bloc has embraced to signify its ability to become a genuine alternative to Netanyahu and the right — might in countries other than Israel be described as the “center-right.” Its three principal parties – Shelley Yacimovich’s Labor, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, and former TV anchorman Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – are still heavily influenced by neoliberal economic doctrine; they have not challenged the ballooning defense budget or proposed a way to plug the resulting record deficit; and they have kept the Israeli-Palestinian conflict well in the background of their platforms.

In this case, the parties’ claim to left-wing or centrist credentials derive from their emphasis on reducing the tensions that Netanyahu has allowed to escalate between Israel and its sponsors, the US and the European Union. The center-left is concerned about Israel’s image abroad and making the necessary concessions — including reviving an endless peace process with the Palestinians — to prevent a further deterioration in Israel’s strategic position.

According to Abdel Fattah, the “center-left” is starting to panic, fearing that the momentum of the shift rightwards may soon prove unstoppable. Without concerted action to shore up a credible opposition to Netanyahu, Israel is hurtling towards full-blown fascism at home and pariah status abroad.
Far-right coup

The lurch to the right is discernible in two key developments during the election campaign.

The first was an effective coup by the far-right in the Likud’s recent primaries. The party’s last few “moderates” have now been replaced by ultra-nationalists, including religious settlers. Moshe Feiglin, this latter group’s controversial figurehead, won the 23rd slot on the joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu, ensuring his place in the parliament for the first time.

The second is the rapid rise during the campaign of the Jewish Home party, under its new leader Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff. Bennett has reinvented the faction, shedding its image as simply a settlers’ party. A hi-tech entrepreneur, Bennett has injected political glamour and won converts from the center by emphasising a “return to Jewish values.”

According to recent polls, Jewish Home, which has been plundering votes from Likud, could become the second or third largest party, after Likud-Beiteinu. Unlike the deceitful equivocation of Netanyahu on Palestinian statehood, Bennett is plain-speaking: “I want the world to understand that a Palestinian state means no Israeli state. That’s the equation.” He demands that Israel immediately annex most of the West Bank. (“Naftali Bennett interview: ‘There won’t be a Palestinian state within Israel’,” Guardian, 7 January 2013).

Faced with these trends, the so-called “center-left bloc” appears to have wavered. In the 2003 and 2009 elections, it voted with the right in the Central Elections Committee to ban the NDA. This time it switched to opposing disqualification. Rather than wanting a Knesset empty of Palestinian representatives, the “center-left” appears to have decided that a Palestinian presence may be in their interests.

This possibly explains the unorthodox, and patronizing, editorial in the liberal Haaretz newspaper this week that urged Palestinian citizens to participate in the election – and did so in Arabic. Its headline ordered them to: “Get out and vote!” (“Get out and vote!”, 15 January 2013).
Boycott calls

The cause for the concern expressed by Haaretz has been a steady decline in the Palestinian minority’s turnout at each election over the past decade. In 1999, amid the greater optimism of the Oslo period, three-quarters of the Palestinian electorate voted; 10 years later, in 2009, that figure had fallen to 53 percent, the lowest in the community’s history.

Surveys taken by Asad Ghanem of Haifa University indicate a likely scenario in which, for the first time, less than half the Palestinian electorate vote in a Knesset election (“What’s the point?” The Economist, 12 January 2013).

The falling interest in voting reflects various developments within the Palestinian minority.

Some of it can be attributed to a formal boycott movement initiated in 2006 by the small secular Palestinian nationalist movement the Sons of the Village (Abna al-Balad). The Popular Committee for Boycotting Knesset Elections has attracted backing from academics and intellectuals.

This weekend boycott activists were due to lead a day-long motorcade spreading their message through dozens of Palestinian villages and towns, starting in the central Galilee, passing through Nazareth and then ending in the Triangle area south of Umm al-Fahm.

A boycott has also been the default position of the northern Islamic Movement, led by the popular figure of Sheikh Raed Salah, since the movement split in 1996. The southern wing contested the election in the belief that an Oslo-inspired two-state solution was at hand. Salah has been the chief beneficiary of the gradual discrediting of the Oslo process.

But according to Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Arab Association for Human Rights in Nazareth, more significant than the boycott movement has been the much wider assumption in popular discourse that voting is a pointless activity and that the Arab parties are ineffective.

The alienation of Palestinian citizens from the political system was highlighted in a survey presented at Haifa University in December. It showed 79 percent had little or no faith in state institutions, including the Knesset, and 67 percent lacked confidence in the Arab parties (“On my mind: Arab voters,” The Jerusalem Post, 24 December 2012).

Zeidan pointed to a lack of campaigning in Palestinian communities, apart from the billboards. “It’s almost as if the [Palestinian] parties themselves are too embarrassed to show their faces by electioneering.”

He also noted a frankness among people stating that they would not be voting. “Among the youth this trend is especially strong. They are clear that the Knesset and the [Palestinian] parties do not represent them.”

This is an assessment even the parties themselves are prepared to concede. Jamal Zahalka, head of the NDA’s Knesset faction, said: “We’re trying to encourage Arabs to vote because it’s important, but you can’t blame them when they see how little power we have in parliament” (“Israeli Arabs unenthusiastic about Jan 22 vote,” The Huffington Post, 19 December 2012).

Mostly out of view, the parties have been deliberating how to deal with the rapid decline in turnout. The posters featuring Lieberman, Ben Ari and Marzel – part of the NDA’s campaign – were intended to play on the community’s fears of the far-right.

But according to surveys, the most likely way to increase voting would be for the parties to present a joint list for the Knesset. Back in October, when the election was announced, a campaign on social media was launched urging the parties to cooperate more closely so that they could win a larger number of seats and have a greater influence.

However, the Communist Front is reported to have vetoed the move, apparently worried that a union with the two other Arab parties would drive away Jewish support and end its tradition of being a Arab-Jewish party.

A more radical solution, again opposed by the Communist Front, would be to abandon the Knesset and set up an Arab parliament with direct elections. One of its first acts would be to demand cultural and educational autonomy.

The idea of a separate parliament has been under discussion, so far fruitlessly, for more than a decade. But a very low turnout this time may push it higher up the Palestinian parties’ agenda.
Center-left’s anxiety

It is not only the Arab parties that are anxious about the expected low rate of participation. The Jewish “center-left” appears to have realised that it may harm them too, even though few Palestinian citizens now vote for Zionist parties. The damage is possible in two ways — one strategic, the other pragmatic — according to Amal Jamal, a politics professor at Tel Aviv University.

The first is that, if the Knesset no longer represents Palestinian citizens, either through a successful boycott or because of a ban by the right, Israel’s rule over its Palestinian minority will look increasingly illegitimate, and more like a variety of apartheid. In such circumstances, the center-left’s role in defending Israel’s standing abroad — its chief selling-point to its shrinking constituency at home — is in danger of becoming irrelevant. The center-left could quickly find itself in vicious spiral of political and diplomatic marginalization.

The second, deeper concern for the center-left is one of “cold political calculation,” says Jamal. A low turnout by Palestinian voters will be reflected in a low number of seats. And that in turn will make the chances of building a credible Knesset bloc to challenge Netanyahu and the right even more hopeless.

Without a strong showing by the Palestinian parties, the center-left has no hope of tasting power. Instead they are more likely to end up squabbling with each other to be allowed to sit meekly on the margins of his coalition.

Jamal said: “Plenty of the members of the center-left parties have no real love of the Arab parties but still they understand that they need these parties strong to reduce Netanyahu’s power.”

Two weeks before polling day, the center-left parties made what looked suspiciously like a desperate, last-minute gesture towards Palestinian citizens to encourage them to vote. They signed a covenant committing to end inequality between Jews and Arabs within 10 years. Of the Arab parties, only the Communist Front attended.

The meeting received little coverage in the local Arab media. Of the few in the minority who were aware of it, most expected the covenant would become another quickly forgotten promise.

Ramez Jeraisi, Nazareth’s mayor and a member of the Communist Front that signed the document, summed up the mood: “We have experienced talk and declarations that were never implemented, and I don’t expect a change in reality.”

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His new website is

Friday, January 18, 2013

Don’t You Dare Conflate MLK and Obama

from Black Agenda Report
Wed, 01/16/2013 - 15:22 — Glen Ford

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

If Dr. King were alive today, there might be a Black president, but he or she would certainly not get MLK’s support if he behaved like Barack Obama. Dr. King would oppose Obama’s wars, “make Wall Street scream, and attempt to render the nation ungovernable under the dictatorship of the Lords of Capital.”

“Had King survived, his break with Obama would have come early.”

Back in 1964, under prodding from a BBC interviewer, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. predicted that a Black person might be elected president “in 25 years or less.” Four years later, shortly before his assassination, King confided to actor/activist Harry Belafonte that he had “come to believe we're integrating into a burning house." We now see that the two notions are not at all contradictory. At least some African Americans have achieved deep penetration of the very pinnacles of white power structures – integrating the White House, itself – while conditions of life for masses of Black folks deteriorate and the society as a whole falls into deep decay.

The fires lit by the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” that Dr. King identified in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam: Breaking the Silence” speech are consuming the world, now stoked by a Black arsonist-in-chief. Domestic poverty hovers only a fraction of a percentage below the levels of 1965, with “extreme poverty” the highest on record. Black household wealth has collapsed to one-twentieth that of whites. Today, more Black men are under the control of the criminal justice system than were slaves in the decade before the Civil War, according to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow.

The intervening years have shown that Dr. King’s 1960s visions were not in conflict: the rooms at the top floors of the national house may have been integrated, but the building still burns.

The deepening crisis of capitalism, the triumph of Wall Street finance over industrial capital, the increasing imperial reversion to international lawlessness in a desperate bid to maintain global supremacy – all this was predictable under the laws of political economy. Had the assassin’s bullet not found him, Dr. King would have continued his implacable resistance to these unfolding evils, rejecting Barack Obama’s invasions, drones and Kill Lists with the same moral fervor and political courage that he broke with Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War. Absolutely nothing in King’s life and work indicates otherwise.

“The very notion of a grand austerity bargain with the Right would have been anathema to MLK.”

One school of thought holds that corporate servants like Obama could not have taken root in Black America if Dr. King, Malcolm X and a whole cadre of slain and imprisoned leaders of the Sixties had not been replaced by opportunistic representatives of a grasping Black acquisitive class. In any event, had King survived, his break with Obama would have come early. Surely, the Dr. King who, in his 1967 “Where Do We Go from Here” speech called for a guaranteed annual income would never have abided Obama’s targeting of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the weeks before his 2009 inauguration. Forty-five years ago, King’s position was clear: “Our emphasis must be twofold: We must create full employment, or we must create incomes.” The very notion of a grand austerity bargain with the Right would have been anathema to MLK.

Were Martin alive, he would skewer the putative leftists and their “lesser evil” rationales for backing the corporatist, warmongering Obama. As both a theologian and a “revolutionary democrat,” as Temple University’s Prof. Anthony Monteiro has described him, MLK had no problem calling evil by its name – and in explicate triplicate. His militant approach to non-violent direct action required him to confront the underlying contradictions of society through the methodical application of creative tension. He would make Wall Street scream, and attempt to render the nation ungovernable under the dictatorship of the Lords of Capital. And he would deliver a withering condemnation of the base corruption and self-serving that saturates the Black Misleadership Class.

He would spend his birthday preparing a massive, disruptive action at the Inauguration.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making history in Bab Al Shams

Diaries: Live from Palestine

Abbas Sarsour
The Electronic Intifada
15 January 2013

The establishment of Bab Al Shams is a direct action against Israel’s settlement enterprise.

A group of local activists, Palestinian and international, informed me of a protest camp we would set up to help community members in Jericho and give support to the surrounding areas. We were told to be prepared to face armed Israeli soldiers. But even so, the instructions were vague. None of us knew exactly where we were going.

At 5am on Friday morning, 11 January, 50 activists took a bus to an area we called Bab Al Shams. One of the group leaders of the camp told us that we were on private Palestinian land termed by Israel as “E-1.” Israel was planning on constructing settlements here, he told us, and our mission would be to camp out in defiance of the occupation forces.

He told us that we were all informed that we would be heading to Jericho, but this was only meant to keep the plan as secretive as possible. “If you’d like to stay, you can. If not, we understand, and you can return with the buses,” he told us after explaining the risks associated with what we would soon be doing.

We started to build tents. After a few hours, four more busloads of activists arrived at the scene. Together, we erected even more tents. By noon, after finishing with the tents, we held Friday prayers for the first time in Bab Al Shams.
Eviction notices

Not long after, we were met by Israeli border police and soldiers who arrived at the location to hand out eviction notices to the residents of this new village. Bab Al Shams, having been founded just hours earlier, had already posed a risk to the Israeli government. The police threatened to return and demolish the tents shortly if we didn’t take them down ourselves. Needless to say, we stood our ground.

Luckily, we had already been prepared for such an occasion. We petitioned against the threatened demolitions to the Israeli high court which then issued a warrant delaying any eviction or demolition for six days. The court would use this time to further assess the situation there. It is important to remember, though, that Bab Al Shams was erected on private Palestinian land.

So there it was. The village of Bab Al Shams with a Palestinian flag standing tall at the highest point of the village.

But the village was quickly put under lockdown. Nothing was going in and nothing went out. We were short on mattresses, blankets and food. Everybody understood the situation and shared whatever they could with one another.

The night was cold and people were freezing in their beds. Thank God for the paramedics who were on site to help us. We also our own security guards in the village who stayed up all night protecting everyone and making sure nothing happened. Bab Al Shams was looking more and more like a village.

The second day, a little after noon, some of the activists who were feeling unwell made the decision to return home for treatment and rest. They walked to the nearest streets where Israeli occupation forces quickly escorted them away from Bab Al Shams. But at the same time, another hundred or so activists arrived from another set of buses to bolster our presence. They brought with them supplies and helped renew our spirits in the cold weather.

As the population grew in size, so did the imminent threat of an Israeli raid designed to stop all activity in Bab Al Shams. At 11pm on Saturday, more than 500 Israeli forces — soldiers and police — surrounded the village. We could see them approaching from all sides as they aimed their bright lights at us.

The armed Israeli forces climbed the hillside up to us and completely encircled us. They were ordering us to leave. Many of the activists tied themselves to the tents. Others put their hands together and sat down in the middle of the small village while chanting in Arabic, “With soul, with blood, we’ll protect Palestine.”

We were outnumbered. Plus, we could see the soldiers burning various items in the village. Soon enough the Israeli forces began their assault on us specifically. Everyone in the village was rounded up and arrested. Many were hit with the butts of Israeli weapons. Others, including myself, were dragged through the sand and dirt and thrown back onto buses.

The buses started their engines about an hour after they were filled. We didn’t know where we were going but we assumed we were going to an Israeli prison.

But we later found that Israeli hummers were escorting the buses to the Qalandia checkpoint, where we were greeted by other Palestinians and activists in high spirits. We had made history with Bab Al Shams and we continue to refuse to let Israeli construct settlements on Palestinian land.

Abbas Sarsour is a 21-year-old Palestinian from Ramallah currently living in the United States. He is active in various student and community organizations dedicated to Palestinian rights. He can be followed on Twitter at @iFalasteen.
Tags: Bab Al Shams E-1 Israeli settlements settlements

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bab al Shams, turnabout is fair play

Palestinian activists have set up their own "settlement" in the West Bank area known as "E1." Israel had announced its intention to build more illegal colonies on this land to consolidate and extend its stealing of Palestinian land east of Jerusalem. Unlike the Israeli government sponsored settlements, Bab al Shams is actually legal and involves the legitimate inhabitants of the region. --RC

By Haggai Matar
|Published January 12, 2013
Army closes in on Palestinian outpost, activists promise to resist evacuation

Less than two days after the new Palestinian outpost-village, Bab Al-Shams, was set up in the E1 area outside Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered authorities to evict the activists and dismantle the tents.

Following Netanyahu’s order, police forces arrived on the scene and told activists that the High Court warrant actually only protects the tents from dismantling, but does not forbid eviction of their residents. The activists, who were warned to leave before force would be used against them, vowed to stay put, stating that they would resist eviction non-violently. The state is also expected to ask the High Court to reconsider its temporary warrant, on the premise that the land where Bab Al-Shams was erected is privately owned by Palestinians, and that the village is meant to serve as a tourist attraction which teaches visitors about Bedouin culture. The court is likely to look into the case tomorrow.

Furthermore, journalists have been barred from entering Bab Al-Shams by Israeli security forces. Haaretz is planning to appeal the decision to the High Court of Justice.

Bab Al-Shams has been at the center of the news in Israel– an event which is quite out of the ordinary considering the Israeli media’s treatment of Palestinian popular non-violent resistance. Netanyahu’s swift call to action on the matter has also gained much attention, and has been described by critics as racist due to the government’s ongoing support for settlement building.

Facebook persona John Brown has illustrated the bias inherent to Israel’s official policy by posting [a] picture, with following caption: ”Today: PM orders to evict the Palestinian outpost in E1. Tuesday: PM visits illegal ‘Rachelim’ outpost after legalizing it to compensate settlers for another theft gone wrong.”

At around 10:00 p.m. security forces were reportedly assembling outside Bab Al-Shams. Activists fear a nightly attack.

"Five Broken Cameras" story of Palestinian village's struggle against the apartheid wall

Is Oscar-nominated 5 Broken Cameras an Israeli or a Palestinian film?
Submitted by Asa Winstanley on Fri, 01/11/2013 - 16:45

The film 5 Broken Cameras has been nominated for a Oscar in the best feature-length documentary category, it was announced yesterday. I reviewed the feature, the product of years’ worth of footage of demonstrations shot by Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat, for The Electronic Intifada back in October.

As a film, 5 Broken Cameras works on both an artistic and a political level. It’s a deeply personal film to Burnat in many ways, while also being a chronicle of the struggle of his village, Bilin, against Israel’s apartheid wall and policies of dispossession.

In a press release from the production company, Burnat responded to the news: “This is one of the happiest moments of my life. The village of Bilin is celebrating because of international support of my film. As a child I remember watching the Oscars on TV … I don’t recall seeing films about Palestine, the occupation or our struggles. Times have changed.”
Israeli appropriation

But despite being a deeply Palestinian story about a collective Palestinian struggle, told by a Palestinian, the Israeli press almost immediately began referring to it as an “Israeli film,” along with some US media, and boasting of it almost as a national product.

Even the Israeli embassy in Washington tweeted out a headline from The Forward claiming Burnat’s effort as an “Israeli film”:
Embedded rich on Twitter

Embassy of Israel


Two Israeli films are among the five nominated for best documentary for the Academy Awards via @jdforward
11 Jan 13


But Burnat today denied this. On his Facebook page, after being alerted as to how the Israeli press is describing it, Burnat said it was actually a “Palestinian film … My story, my village story, my people’s story, seven years I was working on the film.”

Guy Davidi, the film’s other director, said in a statement released on his Facebook page that “it’s first and foremost also a Palestinian film,” as well as an Israeli film. In the statement (which you can read in full below), Davidi reflects on some of the complexities surrounding the film – which did receive some Israeli funding. (Davidi has also told me that a report about him and the film by Israel National News was totally invented, and they had not even spoken to him.)

Expanding on this point Davidi told me in an online chat: “the film is considered a Palestinian-Israeli-French production since there is finance from these countries and I’m Israeli, Emad is Palestinian, personally I don’t think films should have citizenships.”

In some ways, this debate recalls the Academy’s spurning of Elia Suieiman’s Divine Intervention over a decade ago, on spurious grounds. But this time with a different result.

As far as the Oscars go, however, the two cases are different, because 5 Broken Cameras has been nominated in the documentary feature category, not the foreign language category. In the latter, in-country committees formally nominate films on behalf of the country. So in this case, that issue does not arise in a formal sense – unlike the issues around funding, talent and “nationality” (if films even have one).

The fact of Israeli funding may, for some, raise of the specter of boycotting this Palestinian film. Indeed, last year celebrity academic Norman Finkelstein once again attacked the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for “flagrant hypocrisy” for not calling for a boycott of 5 Broken Cameras.

But this is just another sign of Finkelstein’s sad degeneration, with more frequent attacks on the solidarity movement in recent years, including slandering the BDS movement as a “cult.”

In fact, the movement has strict, detailed and specific criteria for applying the cultural boycott, and 5 Broken Cameras does not meet them. According to the official cultural boycott guidelines published by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI):

Individual cultural products that receive [Israeli] state funding as part of the individual cultural worker’s entitlement as a tax-paying citizen, without her/him being bound to serve the state’s political and PR interests, are not boycottable

Before I wrote my review of the film, I wrote to PACBI and the Palestinian BDS National Committee to confirm my reading of the guidelines that this applied to 5 Broken Cameras. Both confirmed it was the case, and that the film is not boycottable as part of the BDS movement.

Activists in Arab countries may, however, apply a stricter standard than this as part of anti-normalization campaigns.

But PACBI cautioned that certain showings of the film “could be boycottable if it is sponsored by any brand Israel type funding,” citing the film’s screening at the Canadian Hotdocs festival last year, which had received money from the Israeli consulate.

Davidi responded that Hotdocs had made a request for this funding without his knowledge. “The festival got sponsorship, not us. The whole thing happened without us knowing so I found that only after the showing,” he explained.

The festival indeed appears to have hushed up this funding, as it does not appear on its website sponsors page, nor on copies the page made at the time.
Guy Davidi’s full statement

I wanted to write a few words for this very complex day. When a film succeeds, you’re supposed to sit back and enjoy, but when a film like 5 Broken Cameras succeeds, a whole box of complex challenges opens up. Every side immediately has its interpretation of the filmmakers or the film. Some are Israelis who immediately appropriate the film for national pride or pride over the national arts, but obscure or completely omit the fact that it’s first and foremost also a Palestinian film. Not that a film should have a citizenship at all. On the other hand, there are also activists who are in turn offended by this appropriation and expect harsh statements in response; the kind of statements that would obliterate the possibility of having the film connect with a slightly broader audience. There are dear Israelis, some of them also inside the establishment itself, who supported and lifted up the film, such as the New Fund for Cinema and Television, who were the most incredible and supportive partners for the making of the film, and who are facing an established system that is threatening their existence and independence. And there are the Palestinians and the Arab World, for whom this detail makes it difficult to accept the film, and the film can’t even be screened there because of that.

There is a nonviolent struggle that faces challenges not only from the Israeli occupation but also from within, and the portrayal of partnership with Israelis is a complex challenge, and a Palestinian director may find himself under attack for that. And then there are journalists and headline editors who are looking for half a sentence, a quarter of a sentence that they can wave around, and situate the left wing director in a provocative and nonthreatening space, and the Palestinian director in a nationalistic and nonthreatening space. And then there will be lots of talk-backs for a short while, and the whole matter will be forgotten and the audience will be happy that there is nothing new under the sun and they can continue their lives without disturbance or worry. And in that place, any achievement that was reached is crushed. This is a day with joy and sadness. Joy – it’s clear why, but sadness – about the ability of a delicate and complicated conversation to come ou

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Isn't this what Marx wrote about capitalism's endpoint?

By Karl Wilson
OpEdNews Op Eds 1/8/2013 at 10:21:02
Become a Fan
(cross posted at Bluehawaii)

I am pleased, if that is the right word, to see a growing chorus of criticism about not just the direction this country is headed, but the very specific reasons why. Some point to the eroding infrastructure, and characterize it, too vaguely I believe, as "economic decline." It is, but without detailing why such decline is happening, such assertions have limited utility.

Others are closer to the point when they talk of the US becoming "third world." They don't mean a lack of technology or development, but instead point to economic inequality and a political economy dominated by a well-entrenched landed-gentry-cum-oligarchs; e.g., an aristocratic overclass.

Those who know their American history, the history we did not learn in high school, are well aware this country was built on cultural fault lines from the very beginning. Talk of secession was in the air, and has remained there, from the earliest days of the Republic. If you didn't hear much about secession growing up, and thought it was just that one flare-up called the Civil War, it's probably because you were not born in the south, or in Texas.

But this is not about secession; it's about southern economics, or Dixiefication. A recent article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times takes an important leap in fleshing out what has gone wrong in the US in the last 30+ years.

Kristof writes of the last 30+ years of conservative influence as a "failed experiment."

...In upper-middle-class suburbs on the East Coast, the newest must-have isn't a $7,500 Sub-Zero refrigerator. It's a standby generator that automatically flips on backup power to an entire house when the electrical grid goes out.

In part, that's a legacy of Hurricane Sandy. Such a system can cost well over $10,000, but many families are fed up with losing power again and again...

...the lust for generators is a reflection of our antiquated electrical grid and failure to address climate change. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our grid , prone to bottlenecks and blackouts, a grade of D+ in 2009.

Kristof notes that demand for household generators has surged. Most of them are being scooped up by upper-middle class families that can afford the generator and the gas that goes with it.

That's how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

But our political system is dysfunctional: in addressing income inequality, in confronting climate change and in maintaining national infrastructure.

Indeed it it dysfunctional. But government is not a mess because people do not know what to do. We are being purposefully pushed in one direction because of deeply held ideological beliefs and the policies that reflect that ideology. That belief system is familiar to those raised in the deep south. It is based on class, race, hierarchy, tribalism, and an obsequious allegiance to authority. The result is that the plantation mentality of the colonial south, where cruel slave masters from Barbados established themselves far from the prying eyes of Yankee do-gooders, and created a feudal society dominated by a privileged few. In other words, a society much like the old one they left behind in Europe, one structured on wealth, privilege, and class. Democracy and equality before the law had nothing to do with it. Mouth breather Ted Nugent, who appears increasingly unstable these days, epitomizes this brutally undemocratic attitude when he says that poor people and those on welfare should be denied the right to vote .

Slavery may be gone, but much of the rest of Dixie model not only has remained, it has spread to other states, mostly in the Midwest and Appalachia. A sense of where I am coming from on this can be found in Democracy Heading South: National Politics in the Shadow of Dixie, (2001) and Dixie Rising: How the South is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Culture, (1996) by Peter Applebome. A study I have mentioned before, Colin Woodward's American Nations, provides an invaluable historical backdrop to explain how we got this way.

A sense of that Southern model, what I am calling Dixiefication, can be seen in a litany of examples. Kristof provides a few:

So time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.

Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!

Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.

Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!

Are public parks -- even our awesome national parks, dubbed "America's best idea" and the quintessential "public good" -- suffering from budget cuts? Don't whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!

Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind -- just join a private tennis club!

I'm used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney's call to end financing of public broadcasting.

You got it, Kristof. At its core, Dixiefication means disdain for the public sector, but also low wages, low regulations, and low taxes. It calls for a dominant class run by corporations, the modern version of the plantation's boss man; land owners and sharecroppers, feudal overlords and a peasantry.

Recent data shows just how badly the middle class has been squeezed. As CNNMoney just reported (my emphasis):

Corporate profits hit their highest percentage of GDP on record in the third quarter.

Just four years after the worst shock to the economy since the Great Depression, U.S. corporate profits are stronger than ever.

In the third quarter, corporate earnings were $1.75 trillion, up 18.6% from a year ago, according to last week's gross domestic product report. That took after-tax profits to their greatest percentage of GDP in history.

But the record profits come at the same time that workers' wages have fallen to their lowest-ever share of GDP .

Welcome to Dixie.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Can we find compassion for Israelis in 2013? by Illan Pappe

The Electronic Intifada
4 January 2013

(Illan Pappe is a more forgiving man than I am, but...this is a very good article--RC)

I have just spent the last few days of 2012 in the city of Haifa. Accidentally, I met a few of my acquaintances who in the past deemed me at best as deluded and at worst as a traitor. They seemed more embarrassed today — almost confessing that mine and my friends’ worst predictions about Israel’s future seemed to be materializing painfully in front of their very eyes.

In fact, our predictions came very late in the day. Already in 1950, with unsettling accuracy, Sir Thomas Rapp, the head of the British Middle East Office in Cairo, foresaw the future. He was the last person sent by London to decide whether or not Britain should establish diplomatic relations with Israel. He approved but warned his superiors in London:

“The younger generation is being brought up in an environment of militarism and thus a permanent threat to the Middle East tranquillity is thereby being created and Israel would thus tend to move away from the democratic way of life towards totalitarianisms of the right or the left” (Public Record Office, Foreign Office Files 371/82179, E1015/119, a letter to Ernest Bevin the Foreign Secretary, 15 December 1950).

It is the totalitarianism of the right which is going to be the hallmark of the Jewish state in 2013. And some of the liberal Zionists who were once willing to devour me and like-minded Jews in Israel now realize we, like Sir Thomas before us, may have been right. And maybe because of their more benign attitude I would like to reciprocate by attempting, for a very short while, a different approach in 2013.
Compassion towards Israelis?

Those of us who write frequently for the Electronic Intifada have shown in the past — and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future — our utmost solidarity with the Palestinian victims of Israel’s existence and policies. But can we, and should we, show compassion to the Israelis themselves? Obviously, one cannot ask the Palestinians to do this while the dispossession continues in full force. But maybe we who belong, ethnically at least, to the victimizers can ponder for a moment in the beginning of the New Year about our compatriots.

Let me begin with a more personal touch. During this visit I had the opportunity to watch my former colleague, the historian Benny Morris on television and to read some of his interviews. His anti-Arab and anti-Islamic racism is now of the rawest kind possible: a naked and rude discourse of hate, venomously spat out in the most disgusting way possible. So why show any empathy? Because his first book on the refugees was an eye-opener for me and others. It was not a great history book, but it was an eloquent survey of the truth to be found in the state archives about the 1948 Israeli crimes.

Yet his transmutation into an arch-racist is not surprising — it follows the same trajectory of many of the so-called liberal Zionists in Israel. He and his friends had an epiphany in the 1990s: discovering the immoral foundations of the state. This could have opened the way to a genuine reconciliation but it was also a frightening moment that demanded brave personal decisions. Most of them opted instead to deny the truth and the guilt, covering it up with a born-again Zionism of a far more extreme and obnoxious kind. This particular group of Zionists are not likely to go through another epiphany, but maybe their children will. One can only hope.
Israel’s Arab Jews

Compassion of a kind can be shown also toward the Arab Jews of Israel. I noticed during this visit how many of them are wearing — almost crouching under the yoke of — huge Star of David medallions of a size I have never seen before. They are frightened that the police or members of the public might mistake them for “Arabs,” hence these huge pendants that cry out: I am a Jew, not an Arab, even if I look like one! (As if any of us living between the River Jordan and the sea look that different from one another.)

This is sad and pathetic but maybe the academic Ella Habiba Shohat was right when she asked us to recognize Arab Jews as victims of Zionism as much as the Palestinians were. It is hard however, with the risk of generalization of course, to buy into their victimization for too long as they have by now endorsed wholeheartedly the formula that the more racist their anti-Arabism would be, the more Israeli they would become.

Back in the 1970s, Arab Jews rebelled against their discrimination. The right-wing parties in Israel capitalized on this frustration to build an electoral base that brought theLikud party to power and associated Arab Jewish politics of identity with anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian positions. But if there is any future for the Jews in Palestine, it will have to go through the organic and intrinsic connection of these Jews to the region, its past, its civilization and future. There are still enough among them who may show the way for the European settlers to learn to reconcile with whatever season the Arab world would happen to be in.

My third message of compassion is for the ultra-Orthodox Jews. The idea of a state in Judaism is a travesty – they know it best. There is no foundation in Judaism for a state based on the religion. So they opted either for clear anti-Zionism, for which they are persecuted, or embarrassingly spearheading Zionism by colonizing the West Bank and leading the racist choirs in the state. For a moment one should empathize with their predicament — they are a sizable part of the Jewish population and could be part of a new and better Palestine and the Middle East.
Cultural ghettoes

My fourth flickering moment of compassion is directed towards the Russian Jews (many of whom I see praying piously in the Orthodox churches all over Haifa and the north). They are a first generation of settlers in a colonialist project that still goes on. They are aliens in this country — as were the early Zionists — and they are lost. So they either create cultural ghettoes, or like the Arab Jews they try to integrate by offering to be the signifiers of the most fascist and racist pole of the Israeli political scene. Either way, this must be very unpleasant and unfulfilling.

My final sense of empathy is directed to the Jewish students in the West who still insist on acting as Israel’s ambassadors on university campuses. Here too, the pathetic human condition triggers the compassion. They could have played a vanguard and leading role — as their predecessors did when they spearheaded the struggles for equality in the United States and the movements against apartheid in South Africa and imperialism in Vietnam — in one of humanity’s greatest campaigns for peace and justice: the solidarity movement with the Palestinians. But they find themselves confused and disoriented, representing the oppressor, the colonizer and the occupier. The end result is parroting slogans prepared by the Israeli diplomacy that make little sense I suspect even to those who chant it unconvincingly along with hysterical allegations of anti-Semitism and terrorism.

I thought of adding the aging Zionist veterans of 1948 who opened their secrets to filmmaker Eyal Sivan and myself (their testimonies were exhibited on a special displaywe put on in the heart of Tel Aviv at the end of 2012) and told us bravely about the crimes they committed against the Palestinians during the Nakba. But that would have been too much.

Maybe when peace is nearer I could follow the in the footsteps of Desmond Tutu and show compassion of the kind displayed in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee. But until this time comes I will try to keep an open door for the others in the settler colonialist society I belong to and with which the Palestinians hopefully will one day build a democratic and free Palestine.

The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Left is Moving Right. What to do?

By Rob Kall (about the author) Permalink
OpEdNews Op Eds 12/28/2012 at 13:15:14

The left has been moving further and further right and it has to stop. Here are some thoughts.

Australian Salvatore Babones has written a thought provoking article, There Is no American Left. He writes,

"Over the past forty years America has become much more politically correct with regard to gender and sexually...

On every other issue America -- or at least American politics -- has swung violently to the right. The more social class is involved, the further to the right America has swung. Poverty was once a social disease to be cured; it is now an individual crime to be punished. Put it down to individualism, conservatism, neoliberalism, or whatever -ism you want, America is now the world's greatest reactionary force.

Unfortunately, all the evidence is that the rest of the world is following America down the road to perdition. Nowhere are national health-insurance schemes, access to free education, and old-age pensions being expanded. Nowhere is the world moving forward. Everywhere the social gains of the twentieth century are either being eroded or destroyed."

Babones is correct. American is sliding, and dragging the rest of the world, into a corporatist pit that puts corporations before people-- which looks sort of like conservatism, but is really a collection of lures and attractions that move the remaining voters-- since so many have been lulled and disgusted into non-voting-- to vote against their own self interest.

People keep voting in Democrats who, ten or twenty or thirty years ago would have been to the right of the average Republican.

And the two party system is also a big part of the problem, of course. It offers up next to no choice. The last election was a prime example. The GOP presidency was basically sold to the highest bidder. Fortunately he, Romney, was a loser. And the Democratic party is run by a handful of the most powerful. Obama beating Hillary was an anomaly, but now, things are back to normal-- no Democracy, no decisions made by the people.

There was talk, close to ten years ago, of the need for progressive think tanks like the right has-- organizations that support progressives when they are out of power, that feed the echo chamber and generate policy ideas and strategies that support ideology. The answer was the Center for American Progress (CAP.) it had Soros backing and a more than $10 million budget. CAP's problem was it was headed by DLC John Podesta, former Bill Clinton Chief of Staff. CAP does some good work, but it is a purely pro-democrat, Democrat enabling org that does not challenge or push the Democrats. We still, ten years later, need a truly progressive organization-- a policy promotion tank, not a think tank-- pseudo-progressive liberals have plenty of THEM.

So we are almost on our own.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on solutions-- on what we need to do to turn things around.

I have a few thoughts.
1- call a spade a spade-- people like Rahm Emanuel are fascists, not liberals or progressives. The Democratic party is one of two corporatist parties. Liberals are enablers of Democrats who are enablers of corporatists.

2-Find some serious money, committed for the long haul, to create a true progressive policy envisioning and promotion organization, like there are dozens of on the right. Surely there must be a few Billionaires and very wealthy millionaires who are not right wing sociopaths and who can see that what the left has is not even close to enough.

3- define a vision of a progressive future, something that we can aim for-- and we should aim high, so high that people call us unrealistic, because there are always compromises along the way.

And think outside the box-- coming up with ideas that people call crazy and unrealistic, because the best ideas are described that way until they are discovered to be brilliant, revolutionary and life changing.

For example:
-single payer healthcare for all

-free college education for all

-end corporate personhood. Establish death penalties for corporations. Establish laws that lead to prosecution and incarceration of corporate leaders who violate laws.

-equal rights and equal pay for women and all minorities

-marital rights for all

-legalize Marijuana and stop release all marijuana related prisoners from jail with a clean record.

-protect the commons in all aspects-- make privatization much harder and more costly to do, with no profit motive.

-teach activism in schools, at all grade levels. Establish university departments that study and support activism, like the arts and science are supported.

-fund protests. Yes. Protests keep democracy healthy. Invest in supporting all kinds of protest. And protect protesters-- from police, homeland security.

-Fund investigative journalism-- at least $100 billion-- and develop a way to do it so those funded are not unduly influenced by those who provide the funds.

-end lifelong appointments to the supreme court

-end gerrymandering and make congressional districts as compact and uniform in size as possible.

-end the Fed

-public banking for every state, for the federal government and major cities and counties.

-Shrink the most out of control part of big government-- Cut the US military budget by 70%

-withdraw troops from 80% of the locations we now have them based.

-shut down and end our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan NOW.

-Re-assess all aspects of government and cut it in half-- while beefing up regulation of corporations and support for citizens.

-include the costs of damage to the environment in all products

-publicly finance elections-- take all money out of politics

-pass strong whistleblower protection laws that reward and support whistleblowers

-destroy all electronic voting machines and require recountable paper ballots. Re-establish the US voting and election system as the gold standard for the world.

-allow on-site voting registration for all elections

-criminalize vote corruption, criminalize intentional voter disenfranchisement

-make it so it costs more to live if people don't vote. Charge higher taxes to those who pay taxes. Give less social security or medicare or medicaid or VA aid, or food stamps to those who don't pay taxes-- with reasonable outs for those with health excuses.

-re-instate bank regulations like Glass Steagall and others. Support local banks over centralized ones.

-apply bottom up, non-hierarchical, de-centralized approaches to as many aspects of government and funding as possible. Use the Cash for Clunkers project as an example of how to spend large amounts of money from the bottom up. Require big money contracts to be bottom up-- with disbursement to local, decentralized recipients, not directly to top-down organizations.

-cancellation of legislation making it a crime to protest

-legislation that makes it a crime to treat or characterize protesters as terrorists.

-elimination of homeland security and other funding that has encouraged turning police into robo-cops and a police state

-cancellation of legislation making it legal to spy on citizens without cause.

-return to a tax system like we had under Eisenhower

-make it illegal for billionaires to exist

-tax exotic purchases at the 50% 95% level-- homes over $2 million, art over $2 million, cars over $100,000, pleasure boats over $50,000, dresses and suits over $2000, shoes over $500, cosmetic surgery that is not medically necessary, exotic travel, private jets,

-make it illegal for corporations to get too big to fail

-eliminate all corporate welfare

-fund research and development that supports finding ways to keep companies small.

-make it illegal for any corporate executive to make more than 10 times what any worker makes-- base policies on Mondragon... or tax corporations that pay executives massive salaries.

-give tax breaks to genuine worker owned cooperatives.

-fund research and development on how to bring neighborhoods and communities back to life

-eliminate the policy of measuring economic health based on growth and consumption and switch to one based on sustainability

-take aggressive steps to reverse global warming

-lower the retirement age, reduce hours worked per day and week, increase weeks of vacation-- all to open up more jobs so more people can find meaningful work.

-tax digital outsourcing.

-require all companies outsource work outside the US to declare the contracts visibly and in easy to see and find ways.
-invest heavily in diagnosing and treating the mentally ill, including identifying causes like violence in media and games, pharmaceuticals that create dangerous patients.

-Ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Limit magazines to six rounds.

-put liberal arts back into the school curriculum-- art, music, dance.

-bring back media ownership restrictions that we used to have that prevented massive media conglomerations
from forming.

-End all existing global trade agreements-- they are designed for multinational corporations, not people.

-require competition for drug pricing for medicare

-require the educational system to build compassion, so Americans embrace the value that we are as good as the way we care for the weakest and most vulnerable-- that could include showing how Ayn Rand's ideas are very wrong for America.

-re-write the history books ala Howard Zinn and describe how pre-literate tribal people are just as good and wholesome and natural and maybe more so than those of us in the "civilized"world. Teach the values of tribal culture as a way of seeing how people in real communities treat ea

ch other and function with integrity.

-research and devise ways to change our economic model so it optimizes work opportunities for all, rather than profits for corporations.

-add measure of intelligence that reflect Howard Gardners model of multiple intelligences... and add one for awareness of the world-- not delusions like Fox News produces-- but actual awareness of facts.

I'll stop there. I'm leaving a lot out. Some of the ideas are far outside the box. Please add to the list in your comments. Dream big. We really need it now.