Monday, March 25, 2013

What was Wrong with Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem

Mar 25 2013 / 7:21 pm
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In retrospect, worse than speech was the visit itself.

By Richard Falk

It was master-crafted as an ingratiating speech by the world’s most important leader and the government that has most consistently championed Israel’s cause over the decades. Enthusiastically received by the audience of Israeli youth, and especially by liberal Jews around the world. Despite the venue, President Obama’s words in Jerusalem on March 21st seemed primarily intended to clear the air somewhat in Washington. Obama may now have a slightly better chance to succeed in his second legacy-building presidential term despite a deeply polarized U.S. Congress, and a struggling American economy if assessed from the perspective of workers’ distress rather than on the basis of robust corporate profits.

As for the speech itself, it did possess several redeeming features. It did acknowledge that alongside Israeli security concerns “Palestinian people’s right of self-determination, their right to justice must also be recognized.” This affirmation was followed by the strongest assertion of all: “..put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.” To consider the realities of the conflict through Palestinian eyes is to confront the ugly realities of prolonged occupation, annexationist settlement projects, an unlawful separation wall, generations confined to the misery of refugee camps and exile, second-class citizenship in Israel, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, and a myriad of regulations that make the daily life of Palestinians a narrative of humiliation and frustration. Of course, Obama did not dare to do this. None of these realities were specified, being left to the imagination of his audience of Israeli youth, but at least the general injunction to see the conflict through the eyes of the other pointed the way toward empathy and reconciliation.

Obama also encouraged in a helpful way Israeli citizen activism on behalf of a just peace based on two states for two peoples. A bit strangely he urged that “for the moment, put aside the plans and process” by which this goal might be achieved, and “ trust between people.” Is this not an odd bit of advice? It seems a stretch to stress trust when the structures and practice of occupation are for the Palestinians unremittingly cruel, exploitative, and whittle away day after day at the attainability of a viable Palestinian state. But this farfetched entreaty was coupled with a more plausible plea: “I can promise you this: Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.” There is some genuine hope to be found in these inspirational words, but to what end given the present situation.

In my opinion the speech was deeply flawed in three fundamental respects:

– by speaking only to Israeli youth, and not arranging a parallel talk in Ramallah to Palestinian youth, the role of the United States as ‘dishonest broker’ was brazenly confirmed; it also signaled that the White House was more interested in appealing to the folks in Washington than to those Palestinians trapped in the West Bank and Gaza, an interpretation reinforced by laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl but refusing to do so at the tomb of Yasir Arafat. This disparity of concern was further exhibited when Obama spoke of the children of Sderot in southern Israel, “the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live.” To make such an observation without even mentioning the trauma-laden life of children on the other side of the border in Gaza who have been living for years under conditions of blockade, violent incursions, and total vulnerability year after year is to subscribe fully to the one-sided Israeli narrative as to the insecurity being experienced by the two peoples.

– by speaking about the possibility of peace based on the two state consensus, the old ideas, without mentioning developments that have made more and more people skeptical about Israeli intentions is to lend credence to what seems more and more to be a delusionary approach to resolving the conflict. Coupling this with Obama’s perverse injunction to the leaders of the Middle East that seems willfully oblivious to the present set of circumstances makes the whole appeal seem out of touch: “Now’s the time for the Arab world to take steps towards normalizing relations with Israel.” How can now be the time, when just days earlier Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of the most right-wing, pro-settler government in the history of Israel, selecting a cabinet that is deeply dedicated to settlement expansion and resistant to the very idea of a genuine Palestinian state? It should never be forgotten that the Palestinian Liberation Organization announced back in 1988 that it was prepared to make a sustained peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. By doing this, the Palestinians were making an extraordinary territorial concession that has never been reciprocated. The move meant accepting a state limited to 22% of historic Palestine, or less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan contained in GA Resolution 181. To expect the Palestinians to be willing now to accept less than these 1967 borders to reach a resolution of the conflict seems unreasonable, and probably not sustainable.

– endorsing the formula of two states for two peoples was consigning the Palestinian minority in Israel to permanent second-class citizenship without even being worthy of mention as a human rights challenge facing the democratic Israel that Obama was celebrating. As David Bromwich has pointed out [“Tribalism in the Jerusalem speech,”] Obama was also endorsing a tribalist view of statehood that seem inconsistent with a globalizing world, and with secularist assumptions that the state should not be exclusivist in either religious or ethnic character. The core Zionist idea of a statist homeland where all Jews can most fully embrace their Jewishness: Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.”

Such a regressive approach to identity and statehood was also by implication attributed to the Palestinians, also affirmed as entitled. But this is highly misleading, a false symmetry. The Palestinians have no guiding ideology that is comparable to Zionism. Their quest has been to recover rights under international law in the lands of their habitual residence, the exercise of the right of self-determination in such a manner as to roll back the wider claims of settler colonialism so grandiosely part of the vision and practice of the Netanyahu government. Indeed, Obama’s speech was also an affront to many Israeli post-Zionists and secularists who do not affirm the idea of living under in a hyper-nationalist state with pretensions of religious endowments.

In my view, there are two conclusions to be drawn: (1) Until the rhetoric of seeing the realities of the situation through Palestinian eyes is matched by a consideration of the specifics, there is created a misleading impression that both sides hold equally the keys to peace, with both being at fault to the same extent for being unwilling to use them. (2) It is a cruel distraction to urge a resumption of negotiations when Israel clearly lacks the political will to establish a Palestinian state within 1967 borders and in circumstances in which the West Bank has been altered by continuous settlement expansion, settler only roads, the separation wall, and all the signs are suggesting that there is more of the same to come. Making matters even worse, Israel is taking many steps to ensure that Jerusalem never becomes the capital of whatever Palestinian entity eventually emerges.

In retrospect, worse than speech was the visit itself. Obama should never have undertaken such the visit without an accompanying willingness to treat the Palestinian reality with at least equal dignity to that of the Israeli reality and without some indication of how to imagine a just peace based on two states for two peoples given the severe continuing Israeli encroachments on occupied Palestinian territory that give every indication of permanence. Obama made no mention of the wave of recent Palestinian hunger strikes or the degree to which Palestinians have shifted their tactics of resistance away from a reliance on violence. It is perverse to heap praise on the oppressive occupier and then call on both peoples to move forward toward peace by building relations of trust with one another. On what planet has Mr. Obama been living?

- Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, most recently editing the volume, International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008). He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. (This article was posted to Prof. Falk’s blog. Visit:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My reply to Mondoweiss: what is it that Obama "gets?"

On Sunday March 24th Phil Weiss wrote in his blog, Mondoweiss that during his trip to Israel Obama showed that he "get it." Phil apparently was wowed by Obama's words about fairness and seeing things from the Palestinian's point of view along with the Israelis'. Anyway, you can read what he said at What struck me about Obama's visit was that he let it be known that he no longer thinks the Israelis have to stop building new settlements as a pre-condition for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on two-states.

How can you be so deluded? There is less here than meets the eye.
What Obama “gets” is that he had to spread some confusion during his trip to Israel, so that people like you will not understand that he has just caved-in and won’t even whisper that the settlements are, in fact, making any negotiated two-state solution impossible. He is now on board with Netanyahu’s expansionist plans.

His talk is hot air; he wants to be seen by the world as caring about the Palestinians, while he aids the Israeli government in their theft of land, ethnic cleansing and routine killings of Palestinians.

Obama supports everything Israel does and will do. He’s got their back. He’s not a neutral arbitrator ready to get both sides to deal. He is– by his DEEDS– on Israel’s side and against the Palestinians. Don’t be mislead by his WORDS.

Is Netanyahu’s new post-election government weaker, and open to pressure? His Likud Party isn’t as dominant as before the last Israeli election, but the so-called center party of Lapid and the settler-nationalist party Bennett are in his government and they both loathe the Palestinians and won’t yield anything to them, just like Netanyahu.

Obama wants to eat his cake and have it too. He’ll keep AIPAC at bay, satisfy Netanyahtu, hope he’s placated Abbas with some sweet talk, and throw rhetorical bones to soft-headed critics of his policies, figuring that they might chew on these phoney words, vainly seeking something good in them, thus making them shut up and not criticize him.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Even Democratic Party Loyalists Starting to Wake Up to the Fact that Obama Is As Bad As Bush … Or Worse

From George Washington's blog on 03/17/2013 03:10 -0400

Glenn Greenwald notes that even Democratic party loyalists are getting fed up with Obama’s Bush-like actions:

Even the most loyal establishment Democrats are now harshly denouncing the president for his war on transparency ….

This secrecy has become so oppressive and extreme that even the most faithful Democratic operatives are now angrily exploding with public denunciations.

(Greenwald gives numerous examples.)

The Hill reported last month:

A majority of voters believe President Obama has been no better than his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, when it comes to balancing national security with the protection of civil liberties, according to a new poll for The Hill.

Thirty-seven percent of voters argue that Obama has been worse than Bush while 15 percent say he has been “about the same.” [In other words, a total of 52% think Obama is just as bad as Bush. That was before the drone controversy - discussed below - went viral.]


The results cannot be fully explained as party line responses. More than one in five self-identified Democrats, 21 percent, assert that the Obama administration has not improved upon Bush’s record. So do 23 percent of liberals.

Indeed, more and more Democrats are waking up the fact that Obama is doing a lot of the same stuff Bush did.

Bush was a horrible president. His warmongering, disrespect for civil liberties, redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the super-elite, and obsession for secrecy were all abysmal.

But how does Obama stack up by objective measurements?

Let’s compare …
Favoring the Super-Elite the Expense of Everyone Else

Income inequality has increased more under Obama than under Bush.

Under Obama, the richest Americans have captured more than 100% of all income gains (and see this).

Liberal Nobel prize economist Joseph Stiglitz said in 2009 that Obama’s toxic asset plan “amounts to robbery of the American people”.
Bailing Out the Big Banks

While everyone knows about the $700 billion “Tarp” bailout which started under Bush, a top banking analyst puts the current bailouts under Obama at more than $780 billion each year. (Background here.)
Protecting Financial Criminals

Obama has prosecuted fewer financial crimes than President Reagan, Clinton or either of the Bush presidents.

Obama’s chief law enforcement officer – the Attorney General of the United States – has publicly stated that he won’t go after big banks.
Targeting Whistleblowers

Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.

Obama – even more than Bush – is protecting criminal activity by prosecuting and harassing whistleblowers.

Indeed, the Obama administration is are literally treating whistleblowers as terrorists.
Using Government Secrecy

In March 2010, AP documented that – under Obama – 17 major agencies were 50 percent more likely to deny freedom of information requests than under Bush.

An ACLU staff attorney puts it:

In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration.

A new AP investigation published last week shows that the Obama administration has recently become more secretive than ever.
Trampling Liberties and the Constitution

Liberals rightfully hate Bush for trampling liberties. Bush even called the Constitution a “God Damn Piece of Paper”.

But Obama has gone much further than Bush ever did by:

(1) Declaring the right to assassinate Americans living on U.S. soil (no … this was never disclaimed) without any due process of law

(2) Declaring that he can indefinitely detain Americans on U.S. soil without any due process of law

(3) Spying on Americans more widely than Bush (the former head of the National Security Agency’s global digital data gathering program – William Binney – says that he pervasiveness of spying under Obama has only “gotten worse”)

(4) Bush destroyed much of the separation of powers which made our country great. Under Obama, it’s gotten worse. For example, the agency which decides who should be killed by drone is the same agency which spies on all Americans

(5) Otherwise shredding the Bill of Rights

Starting Military Conflicts In New Countries

Liberals rightfully lambast Bush for getting us into the disastrous Iraq war.

But Obama has in fact launched wars in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan … and up to 35 African nations (and see this).

Obama – citing a Nixon administration official’s justification for invading Cambodia – has claimed his power extends into every country in the world … well beyond those where we are engaged in hostilities.

Obama has dramatically escalated the use of drone assassinations, which are creating many more terrorists than they are killing. The former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo says that Obama’s drone surge is as damaging to our country as Bush’s torture program. I think he’s actually underestimating damage from the program, as drones have become the number 1 recruiting tool for Al Qaeda (especially since children are now being targeted for drone assassination … Oh, and torture is still happening on Obama’s watch...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pass Over Passover

by R.Congress

Hold the charosis!
Lose the afikoman...Elijah is not coming!

Once again I get to harangue against Seder. It's not just another fictional religious observance (and as an equal opportunity atheist, I'm against all religious fairy tales). It is the core myth that Zionism hangs its hat on: the Jews were slaves in Egypt and then along came Moses & his traveling plagues to lead his people out of bondage into the promised land with a permit from god to kill everyone who made the mistake of living in the land that was promised to the Israelites.

While the founders of Zionism were secular and a large number of today's Zionist are the same, they hijacked religious tales from the Bible to try and give some legitimacy to their colonial project. However, the Bible and the stories of Moses, Queen Esther, Purim, et al are not historical; they are invented.

Not only is there no evidence to support the historicity of the Exodus, there exists evidence that refutes it. For example, the territory of Canaan to which the Jews allegedly fled was part of the Egyptian empire during the historical time frame in which this exodus could have happened. So they ran from Egypt into...Egypt!

So it's not literally true. Therefore, if you consider yourself a progressive Jew don't celebrate a bogus holiday that plays a key role in justifying Israel's ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Stop! Don't do it!

If you do, you are giving a “progressive” veneer to oppression. This “national liberation” story of the Jews fleeing bondage to achieve self-determination is false. It didn't happen and the tale is used to prove Jewish ownership of Palestine (this includes the blue-eyed, pale skinned Ashkanazi of Russian ancestry who just moved from Brooklyn to a west bank settlement. Upon arrival he's automatically a citizen and is returning “home” after a 2000 wait).

Not that I expect anyone to listen to me....everyone is free celebrate whatever they want. But as
an atheist who shed any and all Jewish self-identification as part of my reaching the age of reason, I think Jewish religion is just as wrong as all other religions and I'm just indicating my disapproval of religious practices (and Passover is not only religious, it's political).

And besides all of the above, the food at a Passover celebration is really crummy.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

After his death, the USA stil has a Chavez Problem

Notice how the main stream media propagandists are referring to the late President of Venezuela as a "strongman," or "authoritarian," or that his "anti-americanism" was his most notable trait?

Normally they would have said "good riddance" to a tyrant, a dictator who oppressed his people. But Chavez empowered the people and raised their standard of living and educational opportunities. Denouncing Chavez as an oppressor of bankers and real estate agents doesn't get much mileage these days.

They know that he was democratically elected three times in elections that were subject to international monitoring. It's also known that the "democratic" opposition who couldn't win a free election met with members of Bush's State Department in Miami, went home and tried to organize a military coup, which fell apart in 24 hours after the population turned out en mass for Chavez and soldiers went against the coup directed by rightist military officers and politicians (and egged on by major radio and TV stations--to those who complain about free speech being trampled by Chavez's post-coup measures: wouldn't any nation consider what the opposition media did as treason? And still, not all of the offending media outlets were banned from the air.)

It's also known that Citgo, part of Venezuela's state oil industry, donated home heating oil to poor and elderly people in the USA, while Washington was cutting support for home heating aid. A real problem... how can the media carry out its assigned task of demonizing Chavez and the revolutionary process? Poor guys...reality is actually impinging on their ability to do what they do best--lie.

Note -- when there are news clips of the rallies for Chavez and then the rallies of the opposition, what's the biggest thing that strikes you (well, me, anyway)? The Chavezistas are mestizo, brown and black, dressed in work a day clothes. The opposition's rallies are composed almost entirely of European,white looking, stylishly dressed people.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Israel, the "Jewish (only) Democratic State one ups the 1950s Jim Crow laws of Montgomery, Alabama

Story below from Mondoweiss.

At least the white power structure of segregation-era Montgomery, Alabama let Rosa Parks actually ride on the bus. They told her to sit in the back and didn't throw her out into the street. But that's not good enough for the Israeli Jewish power structure...noooo...they can't be contaminated by even the close proximity of non-white people. RC

Now it’s ‘Palestinians Only’ buses (60 years after Montgomery)
by Philip Weiss on March 2, 2013

Shocking story, from Ynet: "Ministry Launches 'Palestinians Only' Buses." In the occupied territories, so that Jews don't have to ride on buses jammed with Palestinians. I believe this is worse than conditions in Montgomery that Rosa Parks felt intolerable in the 1950s. When will this make the New York Times? Or J Street's blog?

The Transportation Ministry announced that starting Sunday it will begin operating designated lines for Palestinians in the West Bank.

The bus lines in question are meant, according to the ministry, to transport Palestinian workers from the West Bank to central Israel. The ministry alleges that the move is meant to ease the congestion felt on bus lines used by Jews in the same areas, but several bus drivers told Ynet that Palestinians who will choose to travel on the so-called "mixed" lines, will be asked to leave them..

The Transportation Ministry defended the plan, saying it was the result of reports and complaints saying that the buses traveling in the area were overcrowded and rife with tensions between the Jewish and Arab passengers.

A ministry source said that many complaints expressed concern that the Palestinian passengers may pose a security risk, while other complaints said that the overcrowded buses cause the drivers to skip stations.