Thursday, October 31, 2013

US Political Dysfunction and Capitalism’s Withdrawal

By Richard Wolff

October 28, 2013 "Information Clearing House - After 200 years of concentrating its centers in western Europe, north America, and Japan, capitalism is moving most of its centers elsewhere and especially to China, India, Brazil and so on. This movement poses immense problems of transition at both poles. The classic problems of early, rapid capitalist industrialization are obvious daily in the new centers. What we learn about early capitalism when we read Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Maxim Gorky and Jack London, we see now again in the new centers.

What the October 2013 shutdown of the US government teaches us are new lessons about what is happening to the increasingly abandoned old centers of capitalism. Similar lessons flow from the long, painful economic crises now besetting western Europe and Japan. In simplest terms, these old centers of capitalism are suffering the effects of capitalism’s withdrawal.

The causes of withdrawal are well known. In the century before 1970, it became quite clear that the long history of class struggles inside the old centers of capitalism had produced a basic compromise. Capitalists retained their nearly total control over enterprise decisions: what to produce, how to produce, where to produce, and what to do with the profits. Employees, in exchange for ceding that control, obtained rising real wages. Over the same period, capitalists reorganized the world economy (via formal and informal colonialisms) to serve as the “hinterland” for the capitalist centers in western Europe, north America, and Japan. That hinterland provided the food, raw materials, migrant laborers and part of the market for those old capitalist centers. Real wages in that hinterland stagnated or fell.

In the 1970s, the gap between real wages in the old capitalist centers and those in the hinterland had become enormous. At the same time, the development of jet engines and modern telecommunications opened new opportunities for capitalists in the old centers. Their response is transforming the world. Those capitalists realized that they could manage production and distribution facilities almost anywhere in the world as easily as before they had managed facilities within their town, cities, and countries. The more competitive among them moved quickly to take advantage of the much lower real wages in the hinterland by moving old facilities or establishing new facilities there. The laggards are quickly following to avoid competitive destruction.

Capitalism is establishing new centers and withdrawing from many of the old. Indeed, “withdrawal” does not capture the extent of the movement. For example, Detroit, Michigan, was the center of the US automobile industry in 1960 with a population just under 2 million. Today it is a bankrupt city with a population of under 700,000. Its decline since the 1970s mirrors that of Cleveland, Ohio, Camden, New Jersey, and many other formerly thriving capitalist centers where “withdrawal” needs to be replaced by “abandoned.”

Among the social effects of capitalism’s withdrawal from many old capitalist centers in the US are rapidly widening wealth and income inequalities there. These in turn provoke rising tensions within and between the two major political parties and a growing disaffection of the population with political leadership in general. The US government shutdown in October 2013, and the acrimony afflicting US politics reflect capitalism’s withdrawal and its social effects.

The consequence of political dysfunction (on top of the crises that punctuate capitalism’s withdrawal) is to reinforce that withdrawal. The October shutdown and the ongoing stalemate over the national debt ceiling and federal budgets are events that force corporations, wealthy individuals, and central banks to rethink the proportions of their portfolios held in US-based assets. Comparable rethinking affects the proportions allocated to western Europe and Japan. The last half-century’s net flows of wealth into the old capitalist centers – that supported their economies – is being and likely will continue to be cut back or reversed.

Those old centers simply can no longer function as the safest havens for the world’s wealth. However problematic the new capitalist centers, diversifying risk prompts the continuing withdrawal of capitalism from the old centers. Economic conditions in those old centers will suffer.

Beyond the economic consequences of continuing withdrawal, the political effects will likely be more pronounced and visible. The old political compromise will no longer be honored. Capitalists withdrawing from the old centers need not and will not pay rising real wages there. Indeed, they have not done so for several decades. For a while, household and government debt increases postponed the effects of those stagnant or falling real wages. Because the credit bubble built on that debt burst in 2007, north America, western Europe, and Japan now face the full force of a withdrawing capitalism without the debt cushion. That means fewer and/or poorer jobs at shrinking pay levels with fewer benefits and reduced government-provided services. Will workers accept a capitalism that preserves all the power and income ceded to capitalists while ending the workers’ compensation of rising real wages?

Europe has had more general strikes in the last 3 years than at any time since the Great Depression. The Occupy Wall Street movement grew very quickly and commanded majority mass support. Its activists are learning the lessons of their movement and will respond to conditions that are mostly worse now than when Occupy began in September of 2011.

The withdrawal from so many of its old centers and establishing so many new centers – on a global scale – is a new experience for the capitalist system. It homogenizes the conditions for workers across countries even as it sharply deepens inequalities in both the old and new capitalist centers. It differs from such experiences when they happened within countries or regions. It is an open question whether and how the system can manage the process. New contradictions are emerging that promise new crises, political as well as economic.

Richard D. Wolff is Visiting Professor, Graduate Program in International Affairs, New School University, New York City. His latest books are Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian (with S. Resnick). Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012, and Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012). His work is available at

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism Ilan Pappe


The Electronic Intifada
18 October 2013

Jews in today’s Israel must reconnect to Jewish heritage before it was distorted by Zionism.

When the Zionist movement appeared in Eastern Europe in the 1880s, it found it very difficult to persuade the leading rabbis and secular Jewish thinkers of the day to support it.

The leading rabbis saw the political history in the Bible and the idea of Jewish sovereignty on the land of Israel as very marginal topics and were much more concerned, as indeed Judaism as a religion was, with the holy tracts that focused on the relationship between the believers themselves and in particular their relations with God.

Secular liberal or socialist Jews also found the idea of Jewish nationalism unattractive. Liberal Jews hoped that a far more liberal world would solve the problems of persecution and anti-Semitism while avowed socialists and communists wished peoples of all religions, not just the Jews, to be liberated from oppression.

Even the idea of a particular Jewish socialist movement, such as the Bund, was a bizarre one in their eyes. “Zionists fearful of seasickness” is how Leon Trotsky called the Bundists when they wanted to join the international communist movement.

The secular Jews who founded the Zionist movement wanted paradoxically both to secularize Jewish life and to use the Bible as a justification for colonizing Palestine; in other words, they did not believe in God but He nonetheless promised them Palestine.

This precarious logic was recognized even by the founder of the Zionist movement himself, Theodore Herzl, who therefore opted for Uganda, rather than Palestine, as the promised land of Zion. It was the pressure of Protestant scholars and politicians of the Bible, especially in Britain, who kept the gravitation of the Zionist movement towards Palestine.
Map of colonization

For them it was a double bill: you get rid of the Jews in Europe, and at the same time you fulfill the divine scheme in which the second coming of the Messiah will be precipitated by the return of the Jews — and their subsequent conversion to Christianity or their roasting in hell should they refuse.

From that moment onwards the Bible became both the justification for, and the map of, the Zionist colonization of Palestine. Hardcore Zionists knew it would not be enough: colonizing the inhabited Palestine would require a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing. But portraying the dispossession of Palestine as the fulfillment of a divine Christian scheme was priceless for galvanizing global Christian support behind Zionism.

The Bible was never taught as a singular text that carried any political or even national connotation in the various Jewish educational systems in either Europe or in the Arab world. What Zionism derogatorily called “Exile” — the fact that the vast majority of Jews lived not in Palestine but communities around the world — was considered by most religious Jews as an imperative existence and the basis for Jewish identity in modern time.

Jews were not asked to do all they can to end the “Exile” — this particular condition could have only been transformed by the will of God and could not be hastened or tampered with by acts such as the one perpetrated by the Zionist movement.

One of the greatest successes of the secular Zionist movement was creating a religious Zionist component that found rabbis willing to legitimize this act of tampering by claiming that the very act itself was proof that God’s will has been done.

These rabbis accepted the secular Zionist idea to turn the Bible into a book that stands by itself and conceded that a superficial knowledge of it became a core of one’s Jewishness even if all the other crucial religious imperatives were ignored.

These were the same rabbis who after the 1967 War used the Bible as both the justification and roadmap for the judaization and de-Arabization of the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.
Extreme nationalism

In the 1990s the two movements — the one that does not believe in God and the one that impatiently decides to do His work — have fused into a lethal mixture of religious fanaticism with extreme nationalism. This alliance formed in the Israeli crucible is mirrored among Israel’s Jewish supporters around the world.

And yet this development has not completely eclipsed the very same Jewish groups that rejected Zionism when it first appeared in the late nineteenth century: those who are called in Israel the Ultra-Orthodox Jews — abhorred and detested in particular by liberal Zionists — and purely secular Jews who feel alien in the kind of “Jewish State” Israel became.

A small number of the former — for example Neturei Karta — even profess allegiance to the Palestine Liberation Organization, while the vast majority of the Ultra-Orthodox express their anti-Zionism without necessarily offering support for Palestinian rights.

Meanwhile, some of the secular Jews try to relive the dreams of their European and Arab grandparents in the pre-Zionist era: that group of people made their way as individuals, and not as a collective, in the various societies they found themselves in; more often than not injecting cosmopolitan, pluralist and multicultural ideas if they were gifted enough to write or teach about them.

This new, and I should say inevitable, religious-nationalist mixture that now informs the Jewish society in Israel has also caused a large and significant number of young American Jews, and Jews elsewhere in the world, to distance themselves from Israel. This trend has become so significant that it seems that Israeli policy today relies more on Christian Zionists than on loyal Jews.

It is possible, and indeed necessary, to reaffirm the pluralist non-Zionist ways of professing one’s relationship with Judaism; in fact this is the only road open to us if we wish to seek an equitable and just solution in Palestine. Whether Jews want to live there as Orthodox Jews — something that was always tolerated and respected in the Arab and Muslim worlds — or build together with like-minded Palestinians, locals and refugees, a more secular society, their presence in today’s Palestine is not by itself an obstacle to justice or peace.

Whatever your ethnicity is, you can contribute to the making of a society based on continued dialogue between religion and secularism as well as between the third generation of settlers and the native population in a decolonizing state.

Like all the other societies of the Arab world this one too would strive to find the bridge between past heritage and future visions. Its dilemmas will be the same as those which are now informing everyone who lives in the Arab world, in the heart of which lies the land of Palestine.

The society in Palestine and present-day Israel cannot deal with these issues in isolation from the rest of the Arab world, and neither can any other Arab nation-state created by the colonialist agreements forged in the wake of the First World War.

For the Jews in today’s Israel to be part of a new, just and peaceful Palestine, there is an imperative to reconnect to the Jewish heritage before it was corrupted and distorted by Zionism. The fact that this distorted version is presented in some circles in the west as the face of Judaism itself is yet another rotten fruit of the wish of some of the victims of nationalist criminality — as the Jews were in central and Eastern Europe — to become such criminals themselves.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are what believers choose them to be. In pre-Zionist Palestine, the choice was for living together in the same towns and villages in one complete existence. In the turn of the twentieth century, it was even moving faster towards a more relaxed way of living. But alas, that was the path not taken.

We should not lose hope that this is still possible in the future. We need to reclaim Judaism and extract it from the hands of the “Jewish State” as a first step towards building a joint place for those who lived and want to live there in the future.

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, October 17, 2013

Exchanging hand wringing for truth telling: A review of Max Blumenthal’s ‘Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel’ Oct 16, 2013 10:35 am | Rayyan Al-Shawaf


Israel should withdraw from the West Bank (and possibly East Jerusalem, depending on one’s perspective) because continuing its occupation of these Palestinian-populated lands would undermine the country’s “Jewish and democratic” character.

This is a common refrain among liberal Israelis (and Americans). Yet aside from the unsettling fact that it treats the occupation as a hindrance to the full expression of Israel’s self-defined character, as opposed to a threat to the welfare and even lives of the Palestinians, the formulation rests on faulty logic. For if Israeli rule over millions of Palestinians erodes Jewish demographic superiority, thereby necessitating the undemocratic practice of depriving the Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and (theoretical) equality with Jews, wouldn’t Israel have ceased to be democratic in 1967? After all, that is when Israel seized control of the territories in question and plunged their Palestinian inhabitants into existential limbo, preventing them from establishing an independent state even as it withheld Israeli citizenship from them. (The residents of East Jerusalem, exceptionally, were offered citizenship, though most declined it.) Why, over four decades later, is Israel considered merely in danger of eventually losing its democratic character? How many more decades before the world recognizes that Israel has already subverted its democracy for the sake of maintaining its Jewishness?

In the (unlikely) event Israel withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as it did from the Gaza Strip, perhaps Israelis could better endure the anguish this causes by reminding themselves that they got away with ruling another people for so long without the international community ever calling into question their country’s democratic credentials. In fact, as far as Gaza is concerned, this has already come to pass, though technically Israel remains an occupying power there, as it controls most of the territory’s borders and decides to whom and what to grant passage, a fate likely to befall the West Bank and East Jerusalem should Israel withdraw from them.

Blumenthal-GoliathErudite, hard-hitting, and with the potential to influence American public opinion on Israel, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, by Max Blumenthal, avoids mainstream liberals’ hand-wringing about the extent to which the occupation may at some point in the future adversely affect Israel’s much-vaunted democracy. Instead, Blumenthal, the investigative American journalist who authored the bestselling Republican Gomorrah, focuses on how the ongoing occupation has, since its inception, destroyed Palestinian lives – and already whittled away much of Israel’s brittle democracy. Goliath, the title of which implies that Israel resembles the giant Philistine warrior felled by the Jewish David in the Bible, also demolishes positive Western stereotypes about Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens (so-called Israeli Arabs), a subject that rarely receives media coverage in the West. Today, Israeli Palestinians face rising popular and violent anti-Arab agitation on the part of large segments of the Jewish majority, accompanied by Knesset legislation curbing their rights, ominous phenomena the author thoroughly examines. Blumenthal also shows how national chauvinism and racism on the part of many Israeli Jews extends to African asylum seekers, who have endured physical attacks in south Tel Aviv and detention and deportation by the authorities.

The author spent lengthy stretches of time in Israel between mid-2009 and early 2013. Though a journalist, he has a historian’s command of his material, including the seminal Nakba (Arabic for “Catastrophe”) of 1948, when, during the war over Israel’s creation, Zionist militias drove out or caused to flee over 750,000 Palestinians, destroyed over 400 Palestinian villages, and permanently seized homes and lands from their “absentee” owners. He has also clearly studied the effects of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza following the short and blindingly successful “Six-Day War” Israel initiated in 1967. All this helps him put events he describes or reports on within their proper historical context.

Goliath’s mix of journalism and history is periodically augmented by its author’s anecdotes. Several of these relate directly to his work. For example, he recounts his role – alongside other journalists – in debunking the Israeli army’s risible attempts to portray its killing of 9 Gaza solidarity activists from Turkey on the Mavi Marmara ship (part of the “Gaza flotilla”) as self-defense against “a ‘hate boat’ bringing ‘Global Jihad’ to Israel’s shores.” [115] And he details the circumstances surrounding the now-famous video he and Israeli-American journalist Joseph Dana made of American Jews in Israel spewing venom against President Barack Obama. Other anecdotes are of a more personal nature. Blumenthal is Jewish, and often points out where and how, beginning with “ethnic profiling experts at Ben Gurion International Airport,” [xv] this makes life in Israel easier for him than a Palestinian, even one who is a citizen of the country. All he has to do is avoid openly sympathizing with the Palestinians, or, worse yet, acting in solidarity with them; to do so would invite social ostracism and possibly surveillance, harassment, and (since he is a foreigner) even deportation by the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service. Instead of taking that route himself, Blumenthal writes about people who have. His profiles of Israeli Jews who risk their friendships, jobs, social status, and sometimes even lives to confront the Israeli army in the West Bank, demonstrate against its policies within Israel, and call for international boycotts are both necessary and heartening.

One of the best features of Goliath, setting it apart from so many books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, comes in the form of something it doesn’t do: take a position on whether the long-term solution to the conflict is one state or two. That would have necessitated enumerating the perceived merits of whichever option the author prefers, and, if other books on the subject are any indication, playing down or even ignoring its dangers. Blumenthal eschews such an approach, keeping the focus entirely on Palestinian suffering – both within and without the Green Line – at the hands of Israel. By steering clear of the one state/two states debate, he denies his potential critics the chance to ignore discrimination against the Palestinians in favor of ridiculing his proposed solution as naïve.

The specifics of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank would outrage (almost) anyone. They include subjecting Palestinians to military rule, arbitrarily seizing their land for the construction or enlargement of Jewish settlements, and dividing water rights in such a manner that a settler receives several times the amount of water a Palestinian receives. As have other journalists, Blumenthal shows how Israel has used its recent construction of the separation barrier not only to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel, but to confiscate land (the barrier was not erected on the Green Line but within the West Bank), and to incorporate Jewish settlement blocs into Israel while dividing Palestinian towns and villages from one another. This continues an Israeli plan to permanently split the West Bank, which comprises the territorial bulk of an envisaged Palestinian state, into three areas:

In the long term [explains Blumenthal], the Israeli administrators of the West Bank aimed to coerce much of the Palestinian population out of Area C, the vast area [60 percent of the West Bank] placed by the Oslo Accords under full Israeli control. They would be relocated to Area A, the population clusters overseen by the Palestinian Authority, thereby establishing an encircled, disjointed quasi-state that left the majority of the West Bank’s land for the use of Jewish settlers. Through home demolitions, the denial of building and work permits, and general repression in Area C, Israel implemented a strategy Palestinians called “the silent transfer. [368]

Within the Green Line, Israel admittedly is a democracy – though a flawed one. Israel has no constitution (a series of “Basic Laws” functions in its stead) and has never declared its borders. Religion plays an official and legal role unseen in Western democracies to which Israel likes to compare itself, beginning with the fact that eligibility for the “Law of Return,” which entitles any Jew in the world to Israeli citizenship, is determined by Orthodox rabbinical courts, which hold that a Jew is either someone born to a Jewish mother or a person who has undergone a formal conversion at the hands of an Orthodox rabbi. Orthodox rabbinical courts also enjoy exclusive jurisdiction over matters relating to marriage and divorce of Jewish citizens (there is no civil marriage, even for non-believers, though such unions are recognized if performed abroad), and parallel jurisdiction with secular courts in matters such as child custody and support, alimony, and inheritance and division of property. Israel has granted the religious courts of Sunni Muslims, various Christian denominations, and the Druze, who together make up the country’s Arab minority, even greater sway; their exclusive purview extends beyond marriage and divorce to include many of the aforementioned issues for which, in the case of Jews, rabbinical and secular courts enjoy parallel jurisdiction.
Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal

Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens, a community consisting of those Palestinians who managed to remain in their country despite the Nakba, and who, together with their descendants, now make up 20.5 percent of Israel’s population (with Jews at 75.4 percent), constitutes the strongest rebuke to its democracy. At one point, Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) representing the Israeli Palestinian party United Arab List – Taal, repeats to Blumenthal a quip he often makes about Israel’s character: “democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward the Arabs.” [62] Although Israeli Palestinians’ hardships have been well documented, beginning with Sabri Jiryis’s The Arabs in Israel (first published in Hebrew in 1966, the year Israel lifted 18 years of military rule for its Palestinians citizen, and later translated into other languages), Western media have paid scant attention to the issue. Blumenthal’s chief contribution to the public discourse on Israel is arguably his meticulous and examination of recent anti-Arab social and legal discrimination that complements a history of such practices.

Even with a declining Palestinian birthrate, a consistently high one among ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union following its dissolution, Israel continues to obsess about its Palestinian population’s demographics. This obsession is everywhere manifest. For example, it lies behind the Israeli authorities’ stripping of Palestinian East Jerusalemites of their Jerusalem identification cards (most do not have Israeli citizenship) if they move elsewhere even temporarily (say, to study abroad) or take up residence in a Palestinian Authority-run area of the West Bank where they do not need the difficult-to-obtain building permits. Once their Jerusalem identifications cards are revoked, they can no longer live in their city.

Through spotlighting the travails of one such East Jerusalemite, a woman married to a man from the West Bank, Blumenthal deftly captures this agonizing saga. And in between pulling back the veneer of happy coexistence that masks Jewish-Palestinian relations in Haifa, and probing the fate of Palestinian residents of Jaffa’s Ajami quarter, which is being subjected to gentrification aimed at pushing them out and bringing Jews in, he consistently reveals the extent of Israel’s demographic mania. For even Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from the denial of building and renovation permits, as well as the demolition of buildings for which the difficult-to-obtain permits were never issued.

The “Judaization of the Galilee” campaign, launched because this northern region of Israel was nearly half Palestinian, offers a larger view of Israel’s demographic obsession. Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) was constructed specifically as a Jewish town meant to inhibit the growth of Nazareth, an Arab city. (In an unforeseen complication, some residents of overcrowded Nazareth have moved to Nazareth Illit, causing resentment among many Jewish residents, and, as Blumenthal shows, prompting the mayor to prohibit Christian Palestinians from publicly displaying Christmas trees.) Sakhnin, though a good deal smaller than Nazareth, has arguably fared worse. “By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Sakhnin was flanked on all sides by military installations and Jews-only mitzpim,” [82] writes Blumenthal, referring to Jewish “watchtower” settlements built around Arab towns. Relying in part on the work of Jonathan Cook, a British journalist who lives in Israel, he continues: “The town’s double-digit unemployment rate reflected decades of aggressive dispossession. Sakhnin controlled only the land inside its town limits – 10,000 acres for 25,000 people – while the 15,000 Jewish residents of [adjacent] Misgav had the rights to 180,000 acres. Much of the land Misgav had gained was confiscated by the state from the farmers of Sakhnin, who had become mired in poverty.” [82]

In the south of the country, the situation is not much different. Israel continues to try to herd the dispersed (and formerly nomadic) Bedouins of southern Israel’s Negev Desert into small and confined settlements, so as to populate the vast region with Jews through projects such as “Blueprint Negev.” But many Bedouins, such as those of Al Araqib, insist on remaining. The Israeli authorities’ response? Leveling the village in its entirety. The locals rebuild it, only for the authorities to destroy it again. Blumenthal was there the first time this happened. “On July 27, 2010, bulldozers leveled every structure in Al Araqib, marking the first of at least forty-five times at the time of this writing that the State of Israel would attempt to wipe the village off the map.” [169]

Seizing land, withholding building permits, destroying homes built without such permits, and corralling people into small and underdeveloped areas have characterized Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian minority since the country’s inception. Such practices continue unabated, and in some cases are accelerating. Perhaps that should not come as a surprise, given the climate in Israel. Blumenthal does a good job of showing how national chauvinism, and sometimes outright racism, pervades Israeli culture today. Popular campaigns spearheaded by rabbis and their wives warn Jewish women against marrying Arab men. Separately, two rabbis publish a book called The King’s Torah about the circumstances in which it is permissible to kill non-Jews (including children). When they are summoned for questioning by the Shin Bet, they refuse to show up. Meanwhile, state-funded rabbis across the country speak up on their behalf, showing the security services and the politicians just what they’re up against. The case against the book’s authors is dropped, and Prime Minister Netanyahu avoids condemning them. Instead, the Shin Bet hounds and imprisons anti-establishment Israeli Palestinians (and increasingly, Jews too) for their political activism, often using emergency laws still in force from the time of the British Mandate. And all the while, political parties and movements such as Yisrael Beiteinu, Im Tirtzu, Kach, Strong Israel, and various settler groups hold marches in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian section of Jaffa, and the African-inhabited neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, demonstrating against Arabs and Africans, and sometimes attacking them.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the recent legislation that codifies a lot of the discrimination already taking place on a popular level. The bills were often formulated and tabled by Yisrael Beiteinu, the extreme nationalist party headed by former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. Admittedly, some of those passed by the Knesset into law were later blocked. The 2011 law to punish Israelis who aid the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting their country was frozen by Netanyahu (who had supported it) following international pressure. And Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the Knesset’s decision in 2009 to ban two Israeli Palestinian political parties, Balad and United Arab List – Taal (both of which enjoyed Knesset representation) from the next parliamentary elections. At one point, Blumenthal expresses concern that because a settler, Noam Sohlberg, ascended to the Supreme Court some time later, its positions would harden. Such alarm is justified, though it should be noted that, since Goliath went to press, the Supreme Court has overturned a 2012 amendment to the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law; the original law targeted those Palestinians who were expelled or fled but returned to their homes in the wake of the Nakba, while the amendment homed in on African asylum seekers, allowing Israel to imprison them for years without charge.

There is no question, however, that several anti-Palestinian bills have become law and will make life even more difficult for a beleaguered minority. In the author’s opinion, “one of the most nakedly discriminatory laws the state ha[s] ever placed on the books” [73] is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which dates back to 2003, and bars West Bank Palestinians who marry Israeli Palestinians from attaining citizenship or even temporary residency. This has already affected countless marriages that straddle the Green Line. For measures directed against Israeli Palestinians specifically, consider the Nakba Law (2011), which bans Palestinian citizens of Israel and their Jewish allies from commemorating the event (thereby complementing the former education minister’s seizure of schoolbooks that briefly mention the mass expulsion of Palestinians.) And take a moment to ponder the outrageous Acceptance to Communities Law (also 2011), which allows Jewish towns to bar Palestinian citizens from residing there.

All this leads Blumenthal to claim, with some exaggeration, that a system of ethnic segregation already in place in the Occupied Territories, where one group enjoys rights the other is denied, has now taken hold in Israel proper. While the term “apartheid” has become commonplace to describe the two-track system of law Israel enforces for Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, it is rarely used for Israel within the Green Line, where legal distinctions between Israeli Jews and Palestinians have operated alongside laws proclaiming the equality of all, and enforced demographic separation between the two groups can be seen alongside coexistence. (There have long been exceptions; in 1987, Uri Davis, an anti-Zionist Israeli, authored Israel: An Apartheid State, a book that he has since updated.) Blumenthal believes it is time to apply the term to Israel proper:

Indeed, while Israel had always discriminated against its Palestinian minority as a matter of national policy, the ascent of Lieberman and a rightist-dominated Likud faction signaled a collective vote in favor of stripping away whatever remained of the country’s democratic patina, from its human rights NGO’s to the social sciences departments of its universities to its Supreme Court, all in order to consolidate a system of open apartheid. [17]

Blumenthal deserves kudos for demonstrating the extent of centrist Kadima’s and even left-of-center Labor’s complicity in the Knesset’s passing of the discriminatory laws alluded to above. Two of the three sponsors of the Acceptance to Communities Bill were Kadima members. Kadima parliamentarians voted for the bill to ban Balad and the United Arab List – Taal from the next elections, as well as the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, both of which, as we have seen, were later overturned by the Supreme Court.

Of the leader of Kadima during much of this period, Tzipi Livni (a two-stater who wants Israeli Palestinians to move to a future Palestinian state, thereby increasing Israel’s Jewish majority), the author writes, “Livni’s myriad challenges left her paralyzed in the face of the right’s onslaught in the Knesset, prompting her to look the other way as one anti-democratic proposal after another came up for floor debates.” [27] Indeed, Blumenthal points out numerous instances in which most Kadima lawmakers, rather than risk incurring popular wrath by opposing discriminatory bills, abstained from voting for them, often simply by not showing up. Examples include legislation co-sponsored by Kadima lawmakers, such as the Acceptance to Communities bill and the BDS bill, as well as others, such as the Nakba bill.

And Labor? As Blumenthal explains, the party sees little political capital or cachet in opposing the nationalist chauvinism and racism gripping so many Israelis. In 2009, when Ehud Barak was leader of the party, he convinced it to join a Likud-led national coalition government that included Yisrael Beiteinu, despite his earlier vow to never take such a step. In the Knesset that same year, Labor voted in favor of the aforementioned bill to outlaw two Israeli Palestinian parties from an upcoming round of elections. In 2011, by which time Barak had gone on to lead Atzmaut, a supposedly centrist offshoot of Labor, his party’s Knesset members conspicuously refrained from opposing the BDS bill; they didn’t vote one way or the other. When it comes to political rhetoric, Labor avoids the issue of a Palestinian state (which it officially endorses), rarely referring to it and instead striving to remind people of its past and current contributions to the colonization of the West Bank. Consider the statements of Shelly Yachimovich, the current leader of the party:

Yachimovich boasted in an interview, ‘It was the Labor Party that founded the settlement enterprise in the [occupied] territories,’ and supported officially accrediting the university in the settlement of Ariel. When a reporter referred in passing to the perception that Labor represented the left of the Israeli political spectrum, Yachimovich snapped back, ‘Calling Labor “left-wing” is a historic injustice!’ [401]

Blumenthal overreaches, however, in treating this phenomenon as though it signifies the final and permanent transformation of Labor. At one point he goes so far as to write of how, “in … a protracted series of self-destructive moves” [69] beginning with the approval by a Labor-dominated government of an additional settlement in the Etzion settlement bloc of the West Bank (in 1977, during Yitzhak Rabin’s first term as prime minister), “the Labor elite unwittingly authorized the death of their party.” [69-70] Blumenthal believes that this death has now come about.

True, Labor is attuned to the Israeli Jewish populace’s rightward shift, and opportunistic enough to pander to it. But that doesn’t mean that the party will not change course at the first sign of public dissatisfaction among a large section of the Jewish electorate. The Israeli public may well perceive the rightwing parties as having failed to ameliorate the country’s economic woes, while secular Jews will likely react negatively to any indication that the government is deferring to the religious sector’s cultural and gender-segregationist inclinations. (Although the current Israeli coalition government excludes religious parties, this may paradoxically make it more amenable to appeasing ultra-Orthodox Jews on certain social issues, to avoid being seen as anti-religious.)

Resentment could also conceivably arise over the current (or any future rightwing) government’s deliberate stoking of tensions with Israeli Palestinians. This would not happen due to a sudden outpouring of sympathy and support for Israel’s put-upon Arab citizens. After all, many if not most Israeli Jews dislike their non-Jewish compatriots – with the new generation evincing more, rather than less, hostility. Blumenthal cites a 2012 poll of Israeli Jewish youngsters taken by Tel Aviv University statistician Camil Fuchs, indicating that “[w]hile almost half of secular high schooler seniors declared their refusal to live next door to an Arab, nearly 90 percent of their religious counterparts endorsed the segregationist view.” [298] Nevertheless, attitudes that lead many Jews to want to exclude Arabs from their buildings and even communities do not necessarily translate into support for assaults on Arab persons and properties – several of which Blumenthal describes – carried out by mobs of extremist youths in East Jerusalem, Jaffa, and elsewhere.

In “The Exodus Party,” the final chapter of Goliath, Blumenthal tackles the emigration of Jews from Israel. He acknowledges that most emigrants are motivated by socioeconomic woes, but chooses to focus on the leftist dissidents among them, who leave for political reasons. “[N]early everywhere I go in the Western world, I encounter young Israelis who made the exodus long ago,” [409] writes the author, in the midst of mentioning several dissident Israelis who have moved abroad. At a party he attends in Brooklyn, New York City, he re-connects with several Israeli leftists and conscientious objectors whom he had met previously. “The sound of Hebrew chatter was pouring from the room, and there was also English in a smattering of foreign accents,” [410] he observes. “Everyone here seemed to feel at home.” [410] This is clearly a dig at the argument, central to Zionism, that only in a Jewish state can a Jew be both safe and wholly Jewish.

What remains unclear is whether the phenomenon Blumenthal describes bodes well for the Palestinian cause. The proliferation in Western capitals of Israeli critics of their country’s practices and even its founding ideology could change the minds of people heretofore unaffected by Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims saying the same things. But the situation may turn out differently. For if these Israelis (together with like-minded others), fail to prevail upon Western governments to take serious diplomatic and economic action against Israel, they will have to resign themselves to the fact that, other than creating a minor dent in Western public opinion, their coming to the US and Europe produced no tangible effect. They may attain a certain peace of mind, given that they no longer live in a country violating the rights of another people, but this would come at the cost of political relevance.

To this cautionary note must be added a warning against obituaries for the Labor party and the Israeli left, which, as we have seen, Blumenthal is prematurely inclined to write. If Labor and the left do rally and attempt to regain their standing, their success or failure will depend in large part on the radical activists Blumenthal increasingly encounters as emigrants from Israel. Their stated reasons for leaving, namely that Israel is becoming “fascist,” [e.g. 407] could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Blumenthal does not fully explore this irony.

Just as many Israelis have supported their country’s brutal measures – from expulsion to restrictions on residency and building homes – to reduce the overall number of Palestinians both within and without the Green Line, and herd those who remain into overcrowded and easily manageable pre-delineated zones, many Palestinians can be expected to rejoice that large numbers of Israelis are leaving the country for good. But what of the realization that such Israelis are precisely the ones most amenable to the creation of a Palestinian state, and establishing equality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel? Granted, the majority of Israeli emigrants are not leftists, let alone anti-Zionists. But their Zionism tends to be more moderate, and they aren’t militaristic or religious fundamentalist.

Blumenthal notes this in passing – “Israel’s expatriate population was disproportionately affluent, educated, secular, and liberal” – [408] but goes on to state: “The exodus of Israelis is the greatest and most immediate demographic threat the Jewish state faces.” [408] This is a dubious assertion, given the high birth rate among ultra-Orthodox Jews as well as the steady annual trickle of Jewish immigrants to Israel. Moreover, it obscures the fact that the departure of many secular and liberal Israelis (including leftists and anti-Zionists) will likely manifest itself not in Jewish demographic decline vis-à-vis the Arab population, but in an erosion of liberal political networks’ influence and organizational capacity.

Because those Israeli Jews turning their backs on Israel are the most likely to support a compromise with the Palestinians that secures for the latter certain or all of their long usurped rights, we are left with the counterintuitive realization that the ongoing exodus by such people will actually harm the Palestinian cause, even if it weakens Jewish demographic superiority. The rightwing, militaristic, and religious fundamentalist Israelis, who already constitute a majority and aren’t going anywhere, will gain even more power and influence. The Jewish settlements in the West Bank will not only remain in place but grow in size and population, the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories will continue to languish under military rule, and Israeli Palestinians will suffer further discrimination. And even as Israel stymies the birth of an independent and sovereign Palestine, it will refuse to transform itself into a bi-national state for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, thereby keeping the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories in existential limbo: prevented from having a state of their own, yet simultaneously barred from attaining Israeli citizenship. The future looks very bleak indeed.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I Had to Show my Identity Papers at the Check Point Between Pennsylvania and New Jersey....If the USA Defined Citizenship the way Israel Does.

Being a citizen of a country seems like a simple, straightforward proposition, doesn't it? You are born in a specific country, then you are a natural born citizen of that country. And your citizenship is the same thing as your nationality, right?

So, Bruce Springsteen, who was born in the USA, is by birth an American citizen with equal rights to all other citizens. When he fills out a form that asks for "nationality" he'd write down "USA." Citizenship and nationality are the same. Someone can change their nationality from French to USA by becoming a naturalized citizen. There is the category of dual nationality, but if someone is a Canadian/American like the august statesman Ted Cruz, this dual status doesn't diminish the value of their US citizenship.

Thus, when a defender of the state of Israel says, "Israel is a bastion of democracy, everyone has equal rights," most people wouldn't get the deception being practiced by that statement.

Israel has a peculiar definition of "nationality" and "citizen." This is based on the premise that Israel is the Jewish homeland, a Jewish state, above all else. The next premise is that "Jewish" is a nationality. Then under these circumstances, what is citizenship? What does it count for? "Not much, if anything," is the appropriate answer.

In the borders the rest of the world recognizes as the State of Israel (the post 1948 ones) there is a population of about seven million, but over 1.5 million inhabitants of Israel are Palestinians. They are recognized as citizens, but are not "nationals." To be a national with full rights, you have to be a Jew (and the definition is even narrower, since the government sanctioned Orthodox rabbinate determines who is a Jew). So in the Jewish nation only Jews have full rights. Citizens who are not Jewish nationals don't have full rights. Discrimination against non-Jewish citizens is legal. There are several laws that limit the rights of Palestinian citizens. There are restrictions on where they can live, they can't buy land in 80% of Israel, and are subject to extra-legal harassment. Restrictions and harassment are growing as the Jewish population of Israel becomes more racist and right wing. The Jews of Israel are headed toward a theocratic police state and a growing number of Israeli citizens...oops, I mean "nationals" prefer it that way.

Ironically, supporters of Zionist Israel often like to remark, "Actually, the Palestinians don't exist. There are no Palestinians, just Arabs who mistakenly live in territory reserved for the Jews. This is all propaganda that doesn't stand up to any serious examination (but "serious examination" is what is always missing in our infotainment news media).

It's ironic because the people who really don't exist are the Israelis. In practical terms there are only Jews and Arabs, plus assorted foreigners (the black Africans refugees get to be called "infiltrators" and "a cancer," among other epithets). Residents of the state of Israel are treated according to their status as Jews with full rights, and Arabs who come up basically empty in the rights department. From time to time some progressive, non-racist Jewish Israelis (there was a very recent case) try to have the status on their identity papers (all who live in Israel have to have these papers) changed from "Jewish" to "Israeli." The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled that there is no such legal status as "Israeli." Israeli is a null category. Jewish is a nationality and that gives you full rights. If you have another status, forgetaboudit!

These circumstances prevail in the state of Israel. What about the occupied West Bank? or Gaza? It's much simpler. All Palestinians in the West Bank have lived under martial law since 1967. In Gaza it was the same until the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from that territory in 2005. Hamas won the Palestinian Authority legislative elections in 2006 in Gaza (they actually won it in the West Bank too, this was quickly nullified). You could say that Hamas rules in Gaza, but the Israeli blockade has reduced life in Gaza to bare survival and isolation. Gaza has become an Israeli prison.

Speaking about "status," Israel's plans for expansion have always had as it's goal the inclusion of the West Bank and Gaza (along with anything else there for the taking, like a piece of Lebanon, for example) into one Eretz Yisrael, which, by one way or another, will be an exclusively, pristine, Jews-only state. Can you sell this as a democracy?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Economist: "There's Absolutely Nothing Resembling A Debt Crisis In The US"

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Pollin Report.

Now joining us is Bob Pollin. He is the codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Thanks for joining us, Bob.

PROF. ROBERT POLLIN, CODIRECTOR, PERI: Thank you very much for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So, Bob, we have a government shutdown now on Capitol Hill. There's yet another congressional battle looming ahead, the debt ceiling. Can you just give our viewers sort of a reminder of what exactly is the debt ceiling and what is going to happen to the U.S. Treasury if we don't raise the debt ceiling on October 17?

POLLIN: The debt ceiling is a legal limit as to how much the government is able to borrow. And the debt ceiling became an issue after the Great Recession, because the government had to borrow a lot of money to prevent the recession from turning into a depression. So the government borrowed a lot of money. We come up to a level that is close to the government's debt ceiling.

And what happens is: instead of the debt ceiling getting raised as it would be normally to cover all the government's obligations, the Republicans have used the debt ceiling and the budget more generally as a way to fight the Democrats and to prevent government spending on programs that have already been passed. The programs have been passed. For example, Obamacare has been passed into law, has been approved by the Supreme Court. But the Republicans are trying to stop these things on the premise that the American people hate government, and so that they want to destroy the government, they want to eviscerate the welfare state.

So the debt-ceiling debate is not really just about the debt ceiling. It is about the government providing means of well-being for people in the society. And the Republicans are trying to stop that.

DESVARIEUX: Is there anything resembling a debt crisis in the U.S.?

POLLIN: There is absolutely nothing resembling a debt crisis in the U.S. If we--and we've talked about this on previous editions, but it's important to reiterate. Let's be very specific. If we want to define a debt crisis in a way that one would typically define it, like with the government in Greece, or even a household, what we would be referring to is an inability of the person in debt or the entity in debt, the government in debt, to pay its obligations that are forthcoming, for the government to cover its interest payments next month, six months, over the next year. Right now the government's interest payments as a share of total government expenditure is actually at a historic low, not a historic high. It's at a historic low for the simple reason that the government is able to borrow money at nearly zero interest rates. So there is no debt crisis whatsoever.

DESVARIEUX: So if there is no debt crisis, why are we therefore having this debate? Who benefits?

POLLIN: Well, as I said, the debt-crisis debate is really not about the debt crisis per se; it's about the Republicans' efforts to destroy the minimal welfare state that we already have and the minimal benefits that are already provided the government. Some of these are extremely important, though inadequate: Medicare, yes; Medicaid, yes; food support for women, infants, and children, the WIC program. My colleague here at it PERI, Jenna Allard, was just telling me about her dad, who is an energy efficiency expert for the government GAO, the Government Accountability Office. So increasing energy efficiency by the government is now going to stop, at least for the time of the government shutdown. And that's what the Republicans want. So that means that we are unable to save money and we're unable to do things that reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of this shutdown. This is what the Republicans really want. It's not really about the debt ceiling.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let's talk about that paper that your institution, PERI, published, a study earlier this year debunking the seminal paper of austerity movement written by Harvard economists Reinhart and Rogoff. Their thesis essentially was: once a country hits a certain level of debt to GDP, the country's economic growth will slow down. You and your colleagues proved that many of their calculations were actually false. So why did this austerity continue? Why do we continue to have these debates? I know I've asked you this earlier, but why haven't the policies reflected what you and your colleagues have disproved?

POLLIN: Well, you know, let's not let facts get in the way too much. It's true. It's only months ago that the Republican budget, their official budget, drafted by Congressman Ryan, the vice presidential candidate with Romney, on the issue of the government debt and debt ceiling and so forth cited exactly one academic study in behalf of their argument that we had to lower the government debt. The one academic study is the one you just referred to, Jessica, by professors Reinhart and Rogoff. And that very famous, influential study purported to show that when government debt levels exceeded 90 percent of the economy's GDP, then economic growth would collapse. So even if we want all these useful programs like energy efficiency programs or Head Start Program or Medicare, if we have to borrow beyond 90 percent of GDP, it is going to be self-defeating, according to Reinhardt and Rogoff, because economic growth collapses.

The only trouble is, as you said, their evidence didn't hold up. When we scrutinized their evidence, it turned out it does not support the claims made in the study. Therefore one would think, if evidence had anything to do with policy formation, that Congressman Ryan would acknowledge that he no longer has evidence to support the claim that the U.S. government is facing a debt crisis. Of course he hasn't done that. It just happens to be a fact that the major foundation undergirding this notion of the need for austerity has been taken away from them.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Bob.

POLLIN: Thank you very much for having me on.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Friday, October 4, 2013

General Vo Nygen Giap, Leader of Victories over French and US colonialism dies at 102

Giap, in back, with Ho Chi Minh during the fight for liberation from the French

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Your Religion is Your Nationality, Except if You are an Atheist, then the Religion you Reject is your Nationality, Except if Your are a Jewish Buddist who is an Arab Pentacostal with a Jewish Mother from Brooklyn...

From Haaretz
Court rejection of Israeli nationality highlights flaws of Jewish democracy
By Aeyal Gross | Oct. 3, 2013 | 4:05 PM |

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a request by a group of Israelis to declare that they were members of the Israeli people and to allow them to change the ethnic registration on their identity cards from “Jewish” to “Israeli.”

The court ruled that the issue was not one for the court to decide and that there was no proof of the existence of a uniquely “Israeli” people. The court’s ruling echoed that in a similar case 40 years ago.

The decision by court President Asher Grunis and Justices Uzi Vogelman and Hanan Melcer upheld the 2008 ruling by their colleague, Noam Sohlberg, who, as a Jerusalem District Court judge, had rejected the group’s petition.

Israel does not recognize “Israeli” as an ethnic group [in Hebrew le’om.] The term can be translated into English as “nationhood,” but in the sense of ethnic affiliation, rather than citizenship. The le’om attrribution - the main ones are “Jewish” and “Arab” - is assigned by the Interior Ministry, regardless of the card-bearers preference.

The main appellant was Prof. Uzzi Ornan, a linguist who has long battled to separate religion and state. Ornan, 90, was born and raised in Jerusalem. He was expelled to Eritrea in 1944, when his underground activities were revealed to the British authorities. When he returned to Israel in 1948, he was registered in the state’s first census and insisted that he not be listed as “Jewish.” Instead, he wrote that he was of no religion and gave his ethnic designation as “Hebrew.” The newly-formed Interior Ministry accepted this without question.

In 2000, Ornan petitioned the Interior Ministry to be registered as an ethnic “Israeli,” but his request was rejected and none of his subsequent legal actions were successful. In 2007, he submitted another appeal to the Jerusalem District Court, together with Uri Avnery, Shulamit Aloni, Prof. Itamar Even-Zohar, Prof. Yosef Agassi, singer Alon Olearchik, playwright Joshua Sobol and others.

In his ruling rejecting the appeal, Sohlberg stated, “the requested declaration has a public, ideological, social, historic and political character – but not a legal one. This isn’t a technical issue of registration in the Population Registry, but a request that the court determine that in the State of Israel a new peoplehood has been formed, common to all its residents and citizens, called ‘Israeli.’ This issue is a national-political-social question and it is not the court’s place to decide it.”

The group argued in its appeal that an Israeli people was formed with the establishment of the State of Israel and that rejecting the existence of such a people is like rejecting the existence of the State of Israel as a democratic, sovereign state. They added that this was indeed a legal question that the courts could not avoid. In their response, the Interior Ministry and the attorney-general supported the district court decision, saying the issue was not justiciable.

The primary precedent on which the justices based themselves in their ruling Wednesday was the case of Dr. Georges Tamarin, who immigrated to Israel in 1949 from Yugoslavia. He was registered as being of Jewish ethnicity, but in the religion section was listed as having no religion.

In 1970, after a change in the law that forbade listing someone as being “Jewish” in either the ethnicity or religion section if he didn’t meet the description of a Jew in the Law of Return, Tamarin went to court to change his ethnic designation to “Israeli.” Both the Tel Aviv District Court and the Supreme Court rejected his request, stating that for a person to declare that he belongs to a given ethnic group, there had to be proof that the group exists. Court President Shimon Agranat stated that “there is no significance to the person’s subjective feeling of belonging to a given ethnic group, without being able to establish via any criteria that such a group exists.”

Ornan expressed his disappointment with the ruling. “In its ruling the court, in effect, agrees to totally ignore the obligations included in the Declaration of Independence, which promises full equality among all the state’s citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender,” he said.

“The government consensus that has developed ignores the existence of an Israeli people that was created with the Declaration of Independence,” Ornan continued. “This consensus enables the Jewish majority to have full control over the country and to operate not for the benefit of Israeli citizens but for the benefit of the current political majority among the Jews.”