Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finkelstein on Joan Peters’s legacy (and Dershowitz’s legal troubles)

from Mondoweiss
US Politics, Adam Horowitz on January 28, 2015

Joan Peters, the author of the book From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict over Palestine, died on January 5th, at 78. As David Samel wrote following her death,”The bizarre chapter of Joan Peters’s contribution to the Middle East debate does not end with her death. Her arguments, both those she adopted from others and those she formulated herself, still constitute a huge portion of the go-to hasbara repertoire.” I interviewed Norman Finkelstein and asked him to reflect on her work and legacy, as he played a central role in debunking much of her work as described in his book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

Adam Horowitz: Could you start by saying a bit about how From Time Immemorial was received?

Norman Finkelstein: First of all the important primary factor is the context. Israel in 1982 took its first major public relations hit since the 1967 war. It was a public relations disaster for Israel. One of the reasons being I think, as Robert Fisk pointed out in Pity the Nation he said unlike all other Arab states Lebanon did not control the press and so mainstream reporters were able at that time to roam freely throughout Lebanon. Mainstream reporters, I should say who had credibility, were able to roam freely through Lebanon during the Israeli attack, and what they were reporting was quiet horrifying. It’s forgotten now but even against the Israeli attacks in recent years on Lebanon, on Gaza, they all pale in comparison to what Israel did in Lebanon in 1982. The usual figures are between sixteen and twenty thousand Lebanese and Palestinians, overwhelmingly civilians, were killed during the Israeli attack. All the Lebanese killed in 2006 plus the three massacres in Gaza that doesn’t even come to half of the figure that happened in Lebanon.

So now you had credible reportage of what Israel was doing and it was a major public relations setback for Israel. You could say the first layer of Jewish support for Israel, the first layer, peeled away and that was the layer of what you would call the Old Left, mainly those were identified with the Soviet Union and therefore identified with Israel because the Soviets supported the creation of the state of Israel in ’48 and also because a lot of the signature institutions of Israel in that era were of a socialist leftist orientation, most famously the kibbutzim.

And so before 1982 the pro-Soviet, pro-Communist Old Left even those who were disaffected from the Soviet Union which still fell within the umbrella of the Old Left, they were still pretty much pro-Israel, there were just really a tiny handful of exceptions. The best known being of course Professor Chomsky. There was also Maxime Robinson in France, but in general the support was totally for Israel, overwhelmingly for Israel.

And so the first layer of support was peeled off, peeled away, but overall Israel took a public relations hit. There were the usual characters, and the usual liars, people like Martin Peretz who went on the Israeli army tour of Lebanon and famously said at the time that everything you have read in the newspapers and heard in the media about what happened in Lebanon just didn’t happen, it didn’t happen.

As Professor Chomsky replied in The Fateful Triangle, his account of the Lebanon war within the broader context, that’s just a very unusual claim. You don’t usually make the claim that the other side has just made everything up whole cloth. You usually said they left out context, or they were selective, but to say that it didn’t happen, as in 16 to 20 thousand people weren’t killed, that’s an unusual claim. And of course it was an absurd claim, it did happen. And so the basic purpose of From Time Immemorial was to re-establish Israel’s image in the West.

And when did it come out in relation to the war?

It came out in 1984.

Okay, two years later.

Right, where you are still feeling the repercussions of the Lebanon war. And the Lebanon war was not so quickly forgotten, as I’m sure you know. First of all it lasted three and a half months, and second of all it climaxed in Sabra and Shatilla. So it left its imprint on the public consciousness and they needed something to rally the stalwarts behind the cause again because people were shook up by Lebanon especially those who had been reared on the Exodus version of Israeli history. It all came as a kind of shock.

As I said it was the first public relations hit Israel has taken since 1967 because after ‘67, the next major interaction was, it came to be called, the Yom Kippur War where Israelis were seen as being on the defensive because they were “attacked.”

So straight through till ’82 Israel’s image was like teflon in the West. And so it was big setback and they needed something to rally the stalwarts around the cause. From Time Immemorial fit the bill because its essential message was the Palestinians have no legitimate claim whatsoever because the heart of their claim is false, they don’t even exist.

This was an old theme. For example, right now I am reading through the foreign relations of the U.S. volumes on the Carter years 1977 through ’80. They are voluminous they run to 3,000 pages. But as you know during that period that’s when the transition occurred between the Labor party which was ejected from office in 1977 and the Likud for the first time takes power. The main advisor to Menachem Begin who won the election in ’77 was a guy named Shmuel Katz, he used to come on the periodic diplomatic trips to the White House because they were trying to figure out how to end the conflict in the Carter years. He would come along as basically the court historian, or the court propagandist, and if you read the transcripts, and I can actually send you the quotes, he says to Carter you have to understand there are no Palestinians. Palestine was empty and Jews came and made the desert a home then all these Arabs came and they surreptitiously entered Palestine, exploited the economic opportunities that the Jews created and then pretended to be indigenous to the land.

Then he goes on to say exactly as Joan Peters says, the reason only 150,000 Palestinians remained in Israel after the 1948 war was because they were the true peasants, they were truly indigenous to Palestine and the rest were just recent immigrants. That’s why they fled without any incentive, let alone any military force, by the Israelis.

So the thesis itself was old, what made Joan Peters novel was two things. Number one that she pretended to prove her thesis with serious scholarship. She used to like to boast, “my book has 1837 footnotes,” so it wasn’t sort of a propaganda pamphlet or didn’t appear to be. It had a scholarly apparatus. The second thing which was of equal moment was it wasn’t churned out by a partisan political operation, it was Harper & Row which was a very big publishing house back then and it had all of these scholarly endorsements and an impressive array of people had lent their names to it. And at least among them, leaving apart the big names – the Saul Bellows, the Elie Wiesels and so forth – you had this guy Philip Hauser from the University of Chicago who headed the populations studies program. There was a letter from him incorporated as an appendix to the book saying her demographics and findings were accurate.

So, you had the combination of a high-power publishing house, high-power intellectuals and just a vast scholarly apparatus. So suddenly, as they say, this age old Zionist legend suddenly had legs and it took off. It was a huge best seller back then and it received all of these glowing reviews.

In your book you say the glowing reviews were primarily in the United States. That once it reached Europe, and even in Israel, it was seen for what it was.

We have to be a little bit careful about that because here the devil really is in the details, actually it’s usually in the details, the British reviews came out much later than the American reviews because the British edition didn’t come out until, maybe my memory could be wrong, around six months later. By that time I had my findings and Professor Chomsky had his connections and so we sent the findings to the key people who were going to review it in the UK. For example Ian and David Gilmour who reviewed it in the London Review of Books. If you read their review it basically took everything I said because they were primed.

They were actually quite hilarious reviews. I quote one, I think in Image and Reality, from the British publication Time Out which described it as the size and weight of a dried cowpat. They treated it with contempt, but partly because some of them were primed. There were others of course who knew the truth, but they didn’t know the truth, I don’t think, in the detail. What I did was I demonstrated not just that as a broad tableau the book is false, I demonstrated that the evidence was fake, which is a different thing. The numbers were faked, the reports she used, the annual British reports to the League of Nations when they had the mandate over Palestine, and these reports they were all faked and they were doctored by Peters. One example that stood out was she took one paragraph from the Hope Simpson report and she mangled it 19 times. It was a real feat what she had done.

And is that the report that Alan Dershowitz then just took whole cloth?

No what Dershowitz did is different. As I said this was an old Zionist thesis and she reproduced all the standard Zionist representations of accounts of Americans and British who visited the holy land in the 19th century. They are travel accounts and as you can imagine you are coming from London and you are going to Palestine, Palestine looks empty. That’s not surprising. You’ve been to the occupied territories and even now if you are traveling on roads to the West Bank, most of it looks empty and this is now, the population in the West bank is about two million. Back then the population in the whole of Palestine — meaning the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan, the whole of Palestine — the population was about 300,000. So of course it’s going to look empty. And so all of these accounts were then used by the Zionist movement and then by Peters who reproduced the accounts. But she wasn’t the first. As I said ironically she plagiarized another person, a guy named Ernst Frankenstein, she plagiarized him because it was just standard Zionist propaganda.

What Dershowitz then did was to proceed and copy her stuff. Frank Menetrez is a very brilliant scholar, a PhD and a LLD from UCLA, graduated first this class, editor of the law review and currently up for a federal judgeship. His definitive expose of the Dershowitz plagiarism is an Appendix to my book Beyond Chutzpah in the paperback version. I asked him if I could reproduce it. It’s about forty pages it’s very detailed and he shows that what he did was he copied Peters, who copied other Zionist tracts, it was just standard.

In Image and Reality you end your chapter on From Time Immemorial saying that, despite it all, the book still clings to life. You quote Netanyahu basically repeating her argument as a scholarly fact. Reflecting now on the book, and her life, all these years later, do you see this book living on?

It’s a totally different picture now because there is just a lot more now known about the conflict. American Jews tend to be very educated, I think 98% of American Jews have a college degree. So you go to college you take these courses and it’s a totally different picture. On the other hand, it’s not a totally different picture in Israel. I think quite the contrary. I think Israel has now gone more in the direction of Joan Peters than back in the 1980s. You know, people like Netanyahu and everything he represents.

And remember there is a large Russian immigrant population who haven’t a clue what happened before they came. So they hear people like Avigdor Lieberman saying the land was empty, and now they just want to kill us, and they believe all that stuff. But the American Jews don’t believe that stuff. They have gone to school, they read in college. They’ll read Benny Morris, or they’ll read Avi Shlaim’s standard histories, and they will also read that the Joan Peters thing was a hoax. So even though it carries in the lunatic fringes of American Jewish life, the Joan Peters stuff carries no weight.

I would say a good 80% of American Jews recognize, at this point, Palestinians have legitimate grievance. Now how legitimate, and that’s the trump Israel writes, now there is an argument but they recognize there is a legitimate grievance there. The whole point of From Time Immemorial was to prove that Palestinians had no legitimate grievance because their actual existence was a myth. So that’s…

That lives on more now in Israel.

I think it’s actually more pervasive now because of these few immigrants populations which know nothing of the past history except the propaganda.

There was this quote I found when Peters visited the settler community in Hebron in 2010 and one of the people she met was Baruch Marzel who is a leader of some the worst right-wing settlers there. He told her he was a huge fan and he studied her book cover to cover.

Yeah, I am sure the settlers believe it all. They do because they think they are like the American west, they think they are conquering the wilderness. That’s how they can see themselves and no amount of facts are going to deflate them because, it’s what you might call, to use a phrase of Professor Chomsky’s, it’s a necessary illusion.

If you actually accepted the fact that there were people living there then you would have to acknowledge what you are doing is wrong. So it’s a necessary illusion to believe the place was empty before you came with your settlers. As I said like the American west and the setters completely believe it.

Following our interview I asked Finkelstein if he cared to comment on the lawsuit accusing Alan Dershowitz of sexually abusing a minor. He responded by email:

I prefer not to comment directly on the serious allegations being leveled against Alan Dershowitz.

It appears that everyone will have their day in court, which is as it should be.

However, I would want to express an opinion on the letter signed by 38 Harvard Law School professors (including “radical” Critical Legal Studies professor Roberto Unger and liberal tribune Laurence Tribe) in defense of Dershowitz.

They describe him as “courageous” and “outspoken” in “defending the despised, and attacking the views of important people.”

The journalist Jack Newfield memorably described former New York City Mayor Edward Koch as a “toady to the powerful and a bully to the powerless.”

If you multiply this description a thousand fold, you might begin to approach the real-life Alan Dershowitz.

It is break-taking to read the Harvard statement in the context of a sexual slavery case pitting vulnerable minors against billionaires, celebrities and royalty.

Of particular relevance to your website, no single person in the U.S. was more responsible than Dershowitz for whitewashing Israel’s brutal torture of Palestinian detainees. When Israel’s torture first came under public scrutiny, Dershowitz wrote (with attorney Monroe Freedman) in the New York Times, “Allegations of systematic torture and allegations of systematic violations of human rights by Israel must be viewed with more than a little skepticism.”

Dershowitz repeated his egregious apologetics during the first intifada (beginning 1987) when, according to B’Tselem, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Israel was “systematically” torturing Palestinian detainees, deploying methods similar to those recently recounted in the Senate Report on Torture, but on a vastly greater scale. The Torture Report documents 39-44 cases of CIA use of torture, whereas HRW estimated that during the first intifada alone, Israel tortured and ill-treated “tens of thousands” of Palestinian detainees.

Indeed, Dershowitz misrepresented Israeli torture practices in testimony sworn to under oath in a U.S. extradition hearing of a Palestinian resident, Mahmoud el-Abed Ahmad, fearing torture in Israel. For example, he said that Israel’s “toughest methodology for eliciting statements” from Palestinian detainees “is to frighten the person being interrogated into believing that the situation is actually going to be worse than it would become.” Israel was at most guilty, according to Dershowitz, of “occasional pushing and shoving…physical touching.” (I go through the sordid record in detail in my book Beyond Chutzpah.)

Is this what the Harvard Law School professors had in mind when they praised Dershowitz’s “courageous” and “outspoken” defense of “the despised”?

- See more at:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We need ‘whataboutism’ now more than ever

January 26, 2015 1:00PM ET
by Christian Christensen @chrchristensen

From Charlie Hebdo to King Abdullah's passing, there’s nothing wrong with complicating the mainstream narrative
January 26, 2015 1:00PM ET
by Christian Christensen @chrchristensen
In 2008 The Economist ran a short piece on the resurgence of whataboutism, a Soviet propaganda tactic employed during the Cold War in which foreign criticism of any aspect of Russian sociopolitical life was met with a counterexample of Western decadence, violence or excess (as in, “People in the Soviet Union have no rights? Well, what about racism in the U.S.?”). Whataboutism is an example of the logical fallacy of the appeal to hypocrisy, or trying to counter an argument by claiming that the people you are debating do not act in line with their position. Of course, the problem with whataboutism is that providing counterexamples in no way engages with or disproves the original point being made.

For a number of critics and columnists, there could be no better examples of leftist knee-jerk whataboutism than some of the sentiments aired in the aftermath of the horrific Jan. 7 killings at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. When public intellectuals such as Noam Chomskypointed out that the West has a double standard in its understanding and definition of terrorism, he was condemned as a member of the “but brigade” — those who engage in knee-jerk whataboutism. When Teju Cole wrote a thoughtful piece in The New Yorker in which he noted that there is a clear hierarchy in who is worthy of mourning and that threats to liberty worldwide are often spearheaded by the same “developed” nations that claim to defend such liberty, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tweeted that it was “the most extraordinary piece of whataboutism I have read.” And on a personal level, when I sent out a tweet just after the killings in which I wrote, “[Anders] Breivik killed 77 in Norway & no-one asked me as a white male of Nordic Christian background if I felt the need to condemn it,” in addition to 16,000 retweets and favorites, I received hundreds of responses in which I was accused of being an apologist, whataboutist and purveyor of false equivalency and moral relativism.

There are two points to make about such condemnations. First and somewhat ironically, given the context of the Paris killings, they serve to stifle debate on the nature of power by painting critical responses to global events as nothing more than childish finger pointing. After all, The Economist’s critique of Soviet whataboutism was that it was essentially an exercise in tactical mudslinging: Take attention away from the crimes of those you support by pointing out the crimes of those you do not.

Yet in the aftermath of the Paris murders, no single event could have destroyed accusations of whataboutism against people such as Chomsky and Cole more perfectly than the Jan. 23 death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

One of the core requirements for xenophobic thought to take hold in society is a broad unwillingness to tackle – or even recognize – the existence of double standards.
Chomsky’s point was that while the West claims to be horrified by the murderous, anti-democratic fanaticism of Islamic terrorists, it thinks nothing of allying with a fundamentalist dictatorship that beheads people in public for “crimes” such as adultery and sorcery and sentences bloggers to be whipped 1,000 times for insulting Islam. Then right on cue and only days after a faux march in the streets of Parisin support of liberty, Western leaders fell over themselves to offer fawning eulogies for the man who had overseen these gross human rights violations.

What about Saudi Arabia’s “cautious reformer” Abdullah? That’s what.

This brings me to my second point: One of the core requirements for xenophobic thought to take hold in society is a broad unwillingness to tackle — or even recognize — the existence of double standards. When “others” commit crimes, they so as standard bearers for all members of their community, but when one of “us” commits a crime, then the or she is an individual and is in no way representative of our given religious, political or ideological group.

Thus a central contributor to xenophobia is the belief that badness is innate in “them” while goodness is innate in “us.” This is the logic that makes both moderate Muslims andWestern terrorists exceptions to the rule. Similarly, it enables us to see Islamic terrorism as ideological and systemic, while, for example, U.S. global violence is not only not considered systemic — it’s always in response to particular circumstances — it isn’t even linked back to the very citizens who support the violence with their votes, flags and rallies.

Of course, a great deal of the work of compartmentalizing and sanitizing our own state violence and our support for the state violence of other nations is done by and through politics and the media. Wars may be understood to be evil, but when “we” are involved in them (either directly or by proxy), they are necessary evils in the service of democracy. In this rhetorical landscape, bombings are “surgical strikes,” civilian victims are “collateral damage,” and torture is “enhanced interrogation.” If there is a pattern to be found in our aggression, that pattern exists only as a result of and reaction to the aggression of others and never the result of our desire for power. In this way and unlike the demands we place on, for example, moderate Muslims, few of us in the U.S. and Europe are forced to condemn violence, even when it is committed under our flags and paid for with our tax money. Instead we get embarrassingly mistaken reports about British cities being totally Muslim and under Sharia.

What the so-called whataboutists do is question the unquestioned and thrust contradictions, double standards and hypocrisies into the open. This isn’t the naive justification or rationalization of murder; it is the challenge to think critically about the (sometimes painful) truth about our place in the world.

In the end, a little more whataboutism might be good for all of us.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Chris Hedges: Killing Ragheads for Jesus

from Truthdig
Posted on Jan 25, 2015

By Chris Hedges

“American Sniper” lionizes the most despicable aspects of U.S. society—the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right as a “Christian” nation to exterminate the “lesser breeds” of the earth, a grotesque hypermasculinity that banishes compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth, and a belittling of critical thinking and artistic expression. Many Americans, especially white Americans trapped in a stagnant economy and a dysfunctional political system, yearn for the supposed moral renewal and rigid, militarized control the movie venerates. These passions, if realized, will extinguish what is left of our now-anemic open society.

The movie opens with a father and his young son hunting a deer. The boy shoots the animal, drops his rifle and runs to see his kill.

“Get back here,” his father yells. “You don’t ever leave your rifle in the dirt.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy answers.

“That was a helluva shot, son,” the father says. “You got a gift. You gonna make a fine hunter some day.”
The camera cuts to a church interior where a congregation of white Christians—blacks appear in this film as often as in a Woody Allen movie—are listening to a sermon about God’s plan for American Christians. The film’s title character, based on Chris Kyle, who would become the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, will, it appears from the sermon, be called upon by God to use his “gift” to kill evildoers. The scene shifts to the Kyle family dining room table as the father intones in a Texas twang: “There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe evil doesn’t exist in the world. And if it ever darkened their doorstep they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. And then you got predators.”

The camera cuts to a schoolyard bully beating a smaller boy.

“They use violence to prey on people,” the father goes on. “They’re the wolves. Then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression and an overpowering need to protect the flock. They are a rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog. We’re not raising any sheep in this family.”

The father lashes his belt against the dining room table.

“I will whup your ass if you turn into a wolf,” he says to his two sons. “We protect our own. If someone tries to fight you, tries to bully your little brother, you have my permission to finish it.”

There is no shortage of simpletons whose minds are warped by this belief system. We elected one of them, George W. Bush, as president. They populate the armed forces and the Christian right. They watch Fox News and believe it. They have little understanding or curiosity about the world outside their insular communities. They are proud of their ignorance and anti-intellectualism. They prefer drinking beer and watching football to reading a book. And when they get into power—they already control the Congress, the corporate world, most of the media and the war machine—their binary vision of good and evil and their myopic self-adulation cause severe trouble for their country. “American Sniper,” like the big-budget feature films pumped out in Germany during the Nazi era to exalt deformed values of militarism, racial self-glorification and state violence, is a piece of propaganda, a tawdry commercial for the crimes of empire. That it made a record-breaking $105.3 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday long weekend is a symptom of the United States’ dark malaise.

“The movie never asks the seminal question as to why the people of Iraq are fighting back against us in the very first place,” said Mikey Weinstein, whom I reached by phone in New Mexico. Weinstein, who worked in the Reagan White House and is a former Air Force officer, is the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which challenges the growing Christian fundamentalism within the U.S. military. “It made me physically ill with its twisted, totally one-sided distortions of wartime combat ethics and justice woven into the fabric of Chris Kyle’s personal and primal justification mantra of ‘God-Country-Family.’ It is nothing less than an odious homage, indeed a literal horrific hagiography to wholesale slaughter.”

Weinstein noted that the embrace of extreme right-wing Christian chauvinism, or Dominionism, which calls for the creation of a theocratic “Christian” America, is especially acute among elite units such as the SEALs and the Army Special Forces.

The evildoers don’t take long to make an appearance in the film. This happens when television—the only way the movie’s characters get news—announces the 1998 truck bombings of the American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in which hundreds of people were killed. Chris, now grown, and his brother, aspiring rodeo riders, watch the news reports with outrage. Ted Koppel talks on the screen about a “war” against the United States.

“Look what they did to us,” Chris whispers.

He heads down to the recruiter to sign up to be a Navy SEAL. We get the usual boot camp scenes of green recruits subjected to punishing ordeals to make them become real men. In a bar scene, an aspiring SEAL has painted a target on his back and comrades throw darts into his skin. What little individuality these recruits have—and they don’t appear to have much—is sucked out of them until they are part of the military mass. They are unquestioningly obedient to authority, which means, of course, they are sheep.

We get a love story too. Chris meets Taya in a bar. They do shots. The movie slips, as it often does, into clichéd dialogue.

She tells him Navy SEALs are “arrogant, self-centered pricks who think you can lie and cheat and do whatever the fuck you want. I’d never date a SEAL.”

“Why would you say I’m self-centered?” Kyle asks. “I’d lay down my life for my country.”


“Because it’s the greatest country on earth and I’d do everything I can to protect it,” he says.

She drinks too much. She vomits. He is gallant. He helps her home. They fall in love. Taya is later shown watching television. She yells to Chris in the next room.

“Oh, my God, Chris,” she says.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“No!” she yells.

Then we hear the television announcer: “You see the first plane coming in at what looks like the east side. …”

Chris and Taya watch in horror. Ominous music fills the movie’s soundtrack. The evildoers have asked for it. Kyle will go to Iraq to extract vengeance. He will go to fight in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, a country that columnist Thomas Friedman once said we attacked “because we could.” The historical record and the reality of the Middle East don’t matter. Muslims are Muslims. And Muslims are evildoers or, as Kyle calls them, “savages.” Evildoers have to be eradicated.

Chris and Taya marry. He wears his gold Navy SEAL trident on the white shirt under his tuxedo at the wedding. His SEAL comrades are at the ceremony.

“Just got the call, boys—it’s on,” an officer says at the wedding reception.

The Navy SEALs cheer. They drink. And then we switch to Fallujah. It is Tour One. Kyle, now a sniper, is told Fallujah is “the new Wild West.” This may be the only accurate analogy in the film, given the genocide we carried out against Native Americans. He hears about an enemy sniper who can do “head shots from 500 yards out. They call him Mustafa. He was in the Olympics.

Kyle’s first kill is a boy who is handed an anti-tank grenade by a young woman in a black chador. The woman, who expresses no emotion over the boy’s death, picks up the grenade after the boy is shot and moves toward U.S. Marines on patrol. Kyle kills her too. And here we have the template for the film and Kyle’s best-selling autobiography, “American Sniper.” Mothers and sisters in Iraq don’t love their sons or their brothers. Iraqi women breed to make little suicide bombers. Children are miniature Osama bin Ladens. Not one of the Muslim evildoers can be trusted—man, woman or child. They are beasts. They are shown in the film identifying U.S. positions to insurgents on their cellphones, hiding weapons under trapdoors in their floors, planting improvised explosive devices in roads or strapping explosives onto themselves in order to be suicide bombers. They are devoid of human qualities.
“There was a kid who barely had any hair on his balls,” Kyle says nonchalantly after shooting the child and the woman. He is resting on his cot with a big Texas flag behind him on the wall. “Mother gives him a grenade, sends him out there to kill Marines.”

Enter The Butcher—a fictional Iraqi character created for the film. Here we get the most evil of the evildoers. He is dressed in a long black leather jacket and dispatches his victims with an electric drill. He mutilates children—we see a child’s arm he amputated. A local sheik offers to betray The Butcher for $100,000. The Butcher kills the sheik. He murders the sheik’s small son in front of his mother with his electric drill. The Butcher shouts: “You talk to them, you die with them.”

Kyle moves on to Tour Two after time at home with Taya, whose chief role in the film is to complain through tears and expletives about her husband being away. Kyle says before he leaves: “They’re savages. Babe, they’re fuckin’ savages.”

He and his fellow platoon members spray-paint the white skull of the Punisher from Marvel Comics on their vehicles, body armor, weapons and helmets. The motto they paint in a circle around the skull reads: “Despite what your momma told you … violence does solve problems.”

“And we spray-painted it on every building and walls we could,” Kyle wrote in his memoir, “American Sniper.” “We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to fuck with you. …You see us? We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us because we will kill you, motherfucker.”

The book is even more disturbing than the film. In the film Kyle is a reluctant warrior, one forced to do his duty. In the book he relishes killing and war. He is consumed by hatred of all Iraqis. He is intoxicated by violence. He is credited with 160 confirmed kills, but he notes that to be confirmed a kill had to be witnessed, “so if I shot someone in the stomach and he managed to crawl around where we couldn’t see him before he bled out he didn’t count.”

Kyle insisted that every person he shot deserved to die. His inability to be self-reflective allowed him to deny the fact that during the U.S. occupation many, many innocent Iraqis were killed, including some shot by snipers. Snipers are used primarily to sow terror and fear among enemy combatants. And in his denial of reality, something former slaveholders and former Nazis perfected to an art after overseeing their own atrocities, Kyle was able to cling to childish myth rather than examine the darkness of his own soul and his contribution to the war crimes we carried out in Iraq. He justified his killing with a cloying sentimentality about his family, his Christian faith, his fellow SEALs and his nation. But sentimentality is not love. It is not empathy. It is, at its core, about self-pity and self-adulation. That the film, like the book, swings between cruelty and sentimentality is not accidental.

“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel,” James Baldwin reminded us. “The wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”

“Savage, despicable evil,” Kyle wrote of those he was killing from rooftops and windows. “That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy ‘savages.’… I only wish I had killed more.” At another point he writes: “I loved killing bad guys. … I loved what I did. I still do … it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.” He labels Iraqis “fanatics” and writes “they hated us because we weren’t Muslims.” He claims “the fanatics we fought valued nothing but their twisted interpretation of religion.”

“I never once fought for the Iraqis,” he wrote of our Iraqi allies. “I could give a flying fuck about them.”

He killed an Iraqi teenager he claimed was an insurgent. He watched as the boy’s mother found his body, tore her clothes and wept. He was unmoved.

He wrote: “If you loved them [the sons], you should have kept them away from the war. You should have kept them from joining the insurgency. You let them try and kill us—what did you think would happen to them?”

“People back home [in the U.S.], people who haven’t been in war, at least not that war, sometimes don’t seem to understand how the troops in Iraq acted,” he went on. “They’re surprised—shocked—to discover we often joked about death, about things we saw.”
He was investigated by the Army for killing an unarmed civilian. According to his memoir, Kyle, who viewed all Iraqis as the enemy, told an Army colonel: “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.” The investigation went nowhere.

Kyle was given the nickname “Legend.” He got a tattoo of a Crusader cross on his arm. “I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian. I had it put in red, for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,” he wrote. “I always will.” Following a day of sniping, after killing perhaps as many as six people, he would go back to his barracks to spent his time smoking Cuban Romeo y Julieta No. 3 cigars and “playing video games, watching porn and working out.” On leave, something omitted in the movie, he was frequently arrested for drunken bar fights. He dismissed politicians, hated the press and disdained superior officers, exalting only the comradeship of warriors. His memoir glorifies white, “Christian” supremacy and war. It is an angry tirade directed against anyone who questions the military’s elite, professional killers.

“For some reason, a lot of people back home—not all people—didn’t accept that we were at war,” he wrote. “They didn’t accept that war means death, violent death, most times. A lot of people, not just politicians, wanted to impose ridiculous fantasies on us, hold us to some standard of behavior that no human being could maintain.”

The enemy sniper Mustafa, portrayed in the film as if he was a serial killer, fatally wounds Kyle’s comrade Ryan “Biggles” Job. In the movie Kyle returns to Iraq—his fourth tour—to extract revenge for Biggles’ death. This final tour, at least in the film, centered on the killing of The Butcher and the enemy sniper, also a fictional character. As it focuses on the dramatic duel between hero Kyle and villain Mustafa the movie becomes ridiculously cartoonish.

Kyle gets Mustafa in his sights and pulls the trigger. The bullet is shown leaving the rifle in slow motion. “Do it for Biggles,” someone says. The enemy sniper’s head turns into a puff of blood.

“Biggles would be proud of you,” a soldier says. “You did it, man.”

His final tour over, Kyle leaves the Navy. As a civilian he struggles with the demons of war and becomes, at least in the film, a model father and husband and works with veterans who were maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He trades his combat boots for cowboy boots.

The real-life Kyle, as the film was in production, was shot dead at a shooting range near Dallas on Feb. 2, 2013, along with a friend, Chad Littlefield. A former Marine, Eddie Ray Routh, who had been suffering from PTSD and severe psychological episodes, allegedly killed the two men and then stole Kyle’s pickup truck. Routh will go on trial next month. The film ends with scenes of Kyle’s funeral procession—thousands lined the roads waving flags—and the memorial service at the Dallas Cowboys’ home stadium. It shows fellow SEALs pounding their tridents into the top of his coffin, a custom for fallen comrades. Kyle was shot in the back and the back of his head. Like so many people he dispatched, he never saw his killer when the fatal shots were fired.

The culture of war banishes the capacity for pity. It glorifies self-sacrifice and death. It sees pain, ritual humiliation and violence as part of an initiation into manhood. Brutal hazing, as Kyle noted in his book, was an integral part of becoming a Navy SEAL. New SEALs would be held down and choked by senior members of the platoon until they passed out. The culture of war idealizes only the warrior. It belittles those who do not exhibit the warrior’s “manly” virtues. It places a premium on obedience and loyalty. It punishes those who engage in independent thought and demands total conformity. It elevates cruelty and killing to a virtue. This culture, once it infects wider society, destroys all that makes the heights of human civilization and democracy possible. The capacity for empathy, the cultivation of wisdom and understanding, the tolerance and respect for difference and even love are ruthlessly crushed. The innate barbarity that war and violence breed is justified by a saccharine sentimentality about the nation, the flag and a perverted Christianity that blesses its armed crusaders. This sentimentality, as Baldwin wrote, masks a terrifying numbness. It fosters an unchecked narcissism. Facts and historical truths, when they do not fit into the mythic vision of the nation and the tribe, are discarded. Dissent becomes treason. All opponents are godless and subhuman. “American Sniper” caters to a deep sickness rippling through our society. It holds up the dangerous belief that we can recover our equilibrium and our lost glory by embracing an American fascism.

Syriza’s Historic Win Puts Greece on Collision Course With Europe

Voters reject EU austerity for radical alternative of far-left party. Upstarts fall two seats short of an overall majority. ‘Greece has turned a page,’ says 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras.
Ian Traynor
The Guardian
January 25, 2015

Alexis Tsipras raises his fist to supporters after winning the elections.
European politics has been plunged into a volatile new era following a historic victory in Greece’s general election by far-left radicals committed to ending years of austerity.

More than five years into the euro crisis that started in Greece in October 2009 and raised questions about the single currency’s survival, Greek voters roundly rejected the savage spending cuts and tax rises imposed by Europe which reduced the country to penury.

Voters handed power to Alexis Tsipras, the charismatic 40-year-old former communist who leads the umbrella coalition of assorted leftists known as Syriza. He cruised to an eight-point victory over the incumbent centre-right New Democracy party, according to exit polls and projections after 93% of votes had been counted.

The result surpassed pollster predictions and marginalised the two mainstream parties that have run the country since the military junta’s fall in 1974. It appeared last night, however, that Syriza would win 149 seats – just short of securing the 151 of 300 seats that would enable Tsipras to govern without coalition partners.

“The sovereign Greek people today have given a clear, strong, indisputable mandate,” Tsipras told a crowd of rapturous flag-waving party supporters. “Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind the destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain.”

Greece’s incumbent prime minister, Antonis Samaras, whose conservative-dominated coalition had been in office since June 2012, conceded defeat early in the evening and admitted that “mistakes and injustices” had been made but insisted he was leaving office with a clear conscience. “I assumed charge of a country that was on the brink of collapse … and we restored its international credibility,” said Samaras.

Tsipras’s victory, widely predicted, was nonetheless stunning in scale and in impact. Single-party majorities are very rare in parliamentary systems in Europe these days, in recent years occurring in only Hungary and Slovakia under strongman leaders of the right and left. For an upstart party such as Syriza, which has never been tested in power, the victory highlighted how five years of fiscal orthodoxy in Europe have turned politics upside down.

“I just voted for the party that’s going to change Greece; in fact, the party that is going to change the whole of Europe,” said Panagiotis, 54, a self-employed electrician voting in the Kipseli district of Athens. “There has to be change, big change. The economy has collapsed … Syriza is Greece’s hope.”

The damning popular verdict on Europe’s response to financial meltdown is a haunting outcome for the EU’s political elite. For the first time, power has been handed to populist outsiders deeply opposed to Brussels and Berlin, albeit not anti-European, unlike their counterparts on the far right across the EU. For the first time a child of the European crisis, an explicitly anti-austerity party, will take office in the EU.

“There’s a sense that these populist movements are led by people who didn’t go to university with [the leaders] and that if you ignore them they will go away. They’ve been ignored and patronised,” said a senior EU policymaker in Brussels. “The underlying causes are economic. We want a Europe that is delivering tangible benefits to citizens. That’s not what it feels like at the moment.”

The result throws into question whether Greece will remain in the eurozone and the union overall, sets a precedent for anti-austerity insurgents elsewhere in Europe – notably in Spain, which will hold elections this year – and underlines public rejection of the policies prescribed mainly if not exclusively by Berlin in recent years.

Tsipras now holds Greece’s European fate in his hands. Athens and its creditors – the EU and the International Monetary Fund, which have bailed the country out to the tune of €240bn (£178bn) since 2010 – will spend weeks in wrenching negotiations over the terms of continued assistance and whether his new government will do enough in terms of further cuts and reforms to keep Greece in the euro.

Neither side wants Greece to crash out of the currency. But positions are very far apart, and currently unbridgeable. While the German central bank promptly declared that Greece needed more loans but only on eurozone terms, senior Syriza figures announced that the bailout diktat was “dead”.

“Grexit is unthinkable,” said a second senior Brussels policymaker involved in the negotiations. “It would be extremely bad. Europe is about irreversibility. If you start doubting that, you start pricing in the risk of fragmentation and soon you have no monetary union. The only chance of Grexit is if Greece defaults on its payments. Morally, that would be saying they want to leave.” A default would trigger a run on the banks, capital flight and capital controls.

The clock is already ticking. When the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, French president François Hollande, British prime minister David Cameron et al assemble for an EU summit in Brussels in just over a fortnight, they will be joined at Europe’s top table by Tsipras, probably the only man there not wearing a tie. The symbolism will be enormous. Europe’s anti-mainstream mavericks and populists are no longer just hammering on the doors.

Before that summit on 12 February, Tsipras, say people involved in the negotiations, will want to have already fleshed out the contours of a deal. Berlin and Brussels have been quietly sending envoys to Syriza, including Tsipras, for weeks. He has been “perfectly reasonable”, say senior Brussels sources.

Greece’s current bailout expires at midnight on 28 February. Without agreement to extend that programme, probably until the summer, Greece’s banks will be unable to borrow normally and will depend on emergency liquidity, effectively living on an overdraft. There is up to €7bn available to Greece if it strikes a deal.

“They have to ask for an extension of the programme. If they don’t, they go belly up,” said a second policymaker. “We’re counting on their seeing their enlightened self-interest and getting the money to pay the bills.”

But another senior figure in Brussels was less optimistic: “Do we know that Germany or Finland will agree to a new programme?”

Tsipras has pledged to rewrite the terms of the bailout that dates from 2012 by trying to ease the fiscal orthodoxy defined by Berlin and achieving some form of writedown or relief on the country’s national debt of €320bn or 175% of GDP.

It is not clear how he can achieve this in the time available. Tsipras and Samaras both reject the EU terms. Samaras has been stalling since last June on the EU-IMF review of the Greek shakeup tied to the bailout.

Ironically, the eurozone is asking Tsipras, who won on a hard-left, anti-austerity rejectionist ticket, to go further than Samaras was prepared to go. Samaras and Tsipras want an end to the “humiliating” rescue programmes and their oversight by the hated troika of officials from the European commission, European Central Bank and IMF. But it is not clear how, without the creditors writing off much of the loans. This is rejected by the IMF and the ECB and is politically unacceptable to Merkel who fears it will encourage other ailing eurozone economies to shirk their sides of the bailout bargains while boosting Germany’s own growing anti-euro movement.

In early trading this morning the euro fell to near an 11-year low of $1.1135 following the result of the election, not far off an 11-year low of $1.1115 touched on Friday.

Besides, if freed of what it sees as the tyrannical terms of the bailout conditions, Greece is not in a position to fund itself. Its borrowing costs are currently nudging 10%, way beyond the affordable. The German government initiated parliamentary procedures last month with a view to setting up a “precautionary” fallback programme for Greece under which the country would try to fund itself on the markets, but have a eurozone cushion if that was not possible.

The German move, extremely unwelcome in Athens where the political imperative is liberation from bailouts, was seen as clumsy interference in the election. In return, the Greek outcome will now affect German domestic politics.

Tsipras’s triumph – itself a direct result of the EU’s austerity policies, although those were preceded by three decades of cronyism, nepotism and corruption which became the system in Greece – will resonate strongly beyond the Balkans, throwing up sharp questions about the policy shortcomings of the elites and their failure to get to grips with the new populist forces challenging their right to rule.

The Podemos upstarts in Spain, the Five Star anti-establishment mavericks of Beppe Grillo in Italy, and Gerry Adams’s Sinn Féin in Ireland will all relish the Syriza victory.

Other mainstream figures in the EU will also be quietly hoping that Tsipras can mount a credible challenge to the Merkel ascendancy and secure a shift in eurozone policymaking – leaders on the centre-left such as Hollande in France and the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi.

The result will also chasten mainstream leaders, many of them facing elections this year across the EU as they seek to neutralise their own domestic Eurosceptic and anti-establishment forces.

“Everyone knows Europe today is a continent with no growth, no inflation, high unemployment. It’s very hard to tell people that Europe is the solution, that it has the answers. What is Europe for?” asked one of the three senior figures in unusually pessimistic remarks.

“The results of the European elections [last May] have seen anti-European parties raging everywhere. That’s discontent with the European project. There is always an economic basis. The next election could be rejection of the project and there’s nothing left.”

- See more at:

Norman Finkelstein: Charlie Hebdo Is Sadism, Not Satire

World renowned political science professor says he has 'no sympathy' for staff at Charlie Hebdo

By Mustafa Caglayan
January 21, 2015 "ICH" - "Anadolu Agency " - In Nazi Germany, there was an anti-Semitic weekly newspaper called Der Stürmer.

Run by Julius Streicher, it was notorious for being one of the most virulent advocates of the persecution of Jews during the 1930s.

What everybody remembers about Der Stürmer was its morbid caricatures of Jews, the people who were facing widespread discrimination and persecution during the era.

Its depictions endorsed all of the common stereotypes about Jews – a hook nose, lustful, greedy.

“Let’s say, … amidst all of this death and destruction, two young Jews barged into the headquarters of the editorial offices of Der Stürmer, and they killed the staff for having humiliated them, degraded them, demeaned them, insulted them,” queried Norman Finkelstein, a professor of political science and author of numerous books including “The Holocaust Industry” and “Method and Madness.”

“How would I react to that?,” said Finkelstein, who is the son of Holocaust survivors.

Finkelstein was drawing an analogy between a hypothetical attack on the German newspaper and the deadly Jan. 7 attack at the Paris headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, that left 12 people dead, including its editor and prominent cartoonists. The weekly is known for printing controversial material, including derogatory cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad in 2006 and 2012.

The attack sparked a global massive outcry, with millions in France and across the world taking to the streets to support freedom of the press behind the rallying cry of “Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie.”

What the Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad achieved was “not satire,” and what they provoked was not “ideas,” Finkelstein said.

Satire is when one directs it either at oneself, causes his or her people to think twice about what they are doing and saying, or directs it at people who have power and privilege, he said.

“But when somebody is down and out, desperate, destitute, when you mock them, when you mock a homeless person, that is not satire,” Finkelstein said.

“That is, I give you the word, sadism. There’s a very big difference between satire and sadism. Charlie Hebdo is sadism. It’s not satire”

The “desperate and despised people” of today are Muslims, he said, considering the number of Muslim countries racked by death and destruction as in the case of Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

“So, two despairing and desperate young men act out their despair and desperation against this political pornography no different than Der Stürmer, who in the midst of all of this death and destruction decide its somehow noble to degrade, demean, humiliate and insult the people. I’m sorry, maybe it is very politically incorrect. I have no sympathy for [the staff of Charlie Hebdo]. Should they have been killed? Of course not. But of course, Streicher shouldn’t have been hung. I don’t hear that from many people,” said Finkelstein.

Streicher was among those who stood trial on charges at Nürnberg, following World War II. He was hung for those cartoons.

Finkelstein said some might argue that they have the right to mock even desperate and destitute people, and they probably have this right, he said, “But you also have the right to say ‘I don’t want to put it in my magazine … When you put it in, you are taking responsibility for it.”

Finkelstein compared the controversial Charlie Hebdo caricatures to the “fighting words,” doctrine, a category of speech penalized under American jurisprudence.

The doctrine refers to certain words that would likely cause the person to whom they are directed, to commit an act of violence. They are a category of speech unprotected by the First Amendment.

“You are not allowed to utter fighting words, because they are equivalent of a smack to the face and it is asking for trouble,” Finkelstein said.

“So, are the Charlie Hebdo caricatures the equivalent of fighting words? They call it satire. That is not satire. It is just epithets, there is nothing funny about it. If you find it funny, depicting Jews in big lips and (a) hook nose is also funny.”

Finkelstein pointed to the contradictions in the Western world’s perception of the freedom of the press by giving the example of the pornographic magazine Hustler, whose publisher, Larry Flynt, was shot and left paralyzed in 1978 by a white supremacist serial killer for printing a cartoon depicting interracial sex.

“I don’t remember everyone celebrating ‘We are Larry Flynt’ or ‘We are Hustler,’” he said. “Should he have been attacked? Of course not. But nobody suddenly turned this into a political principle of one side or the other.”

The West’s embrace of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures was because the drawings were directed at and ridiculed Muslims, he said.

The characterization by the French of Muslims as being barbaric is hypocritical considering the killings of thousands of people during France’s colonial occupation of Algeria, and the French public’s reaction to the Algerian war from 1954 to 1962, according to Finkelstein.

The first mass demonstration in Paris against the war “did not come until 1960, two years before the war was over,” he said. “Everybody supported the French annihilatory war in Algeria.”

He said French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre’s apartment was bombed twice in 1961 and 1962, as was the office of his magazine, Les Temps Modernes, after he came out in full force against the war.

Finkelstein, who has been described as an “American radical,” said the pretensions of the West about Muslim attire exposed a dramatic contradiction in the face of the West’s attitude toward natives in lands they occupied during colonialism.

“When Europeans came to North America, the thing they said about the native Americans was that they were so barbaric, because they walked around naked. The European women were wearing three layers of clothes. Then they came to North America, and decided that the native Americans were backward because they all walked around naked. And now, we walk around naked, and we say that the Muslims are backward because they wear so much clothes,” he said.

“Can you imagine anything more barbaric? Banning women wearing headscarves?” he asked, referring to the 2004 ban on headscarves in French public service jobs.

Finkelstein’s work, accusing Jews of exploiting the memory of Holocaust for political gain and criticizing Israel for oppressing the Palestinians, has made him a controversial figure even within the Jewish community.

He was denied a tenure as a professor at DePaul University in 2007 after a highly publicized feud with fellow academic Alan Dershowitz, an ardent supporter of Israel. Dershowitz reportedly lobbied the administration of DePaul, a Roman Catholic university in Chicago, to deny him tenure.

Finkelstein, who currently teaches at Sakarya University in Turkey, said the decision was based on “transparently political grounds.”

Thursday, January 15, 2015


from The Intercept


Forty-eight hours after hosting a massive march under the banner of free expression, France opened a criminal investigation of a controversial French comedian for a Facebook post he wrote about the Charlie Hebdo attack, and then this morning, arrested him for that post on charges of “defending terrorism.” The comedian, Dieudonné (above), previously sought elective office in France on what he called an “anti-Zionist” platform, has had his show banned by numerous government officials in cities throughout France, and has been criminally prosecuted several times before for expressing ideas banned in that country.

The apparently criminal viewpoint he posted on Facebook declared: “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” Investigators concluded that this was intended to mock the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan and express support for the perpetrator of the Paris supermarket killings (whose last name was “Coulibaly”). Expressing that opinion is evidently a crime in the Republic of Liberté, which prides itself on a line of 20th Century intellectuals – from Sartre and Genet to Foucault and Derrida – whose hallmark was leaving no orthodoxy or convention unmolested, no matter how sacred.

Since that glorious “free speech” march, France has reportedly opened 54 criminal cases for “condoning terrorism.” AP reported this morning that “France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism.”

As pernicious as this arrest and related “crackdown” on some speech obviously is, it provides a critical value: namely, it underscores the utter scam that was this week’s celebration of free speech in the west. The day before the Charlie Hebdo attack, I coincidentally documented the multiple cases in the west – including in the U.S. – where Muslims have been prosecuted and even imprisoned for their political speech. Vanishingly few of this week’s bold free expression mavens have ever uttered a peep of protest about any of those cases – either before the Charlie Hebdo attack or since. That’s because “free speech,” in the hands of many westerners, actually means: it is vital that the ideas I like be protected, and the right to offend groups I dislike be cherished; anything else is fair game.

It is certainly true that many of Dieudonné’s views and statements are noxious, although he and his supporters insist that they are “satire” and all in good humor. In that regard, the controversy they provoke is similar to the now-much-beloved Charlie Hebdo cartoons (one French leftist insists the cartoonists were mocking rather than adopting racism and bigotry, but Olivier Cyran, a former writer at the magazine who resigned in 2001, wrote a powerful 2013 letter with ample documentation condemning Charlie Hebdo for descending in the post-9/11 era into full-scale, obsessive anti-Muslim bigotry).

Despite the obvious threat to free speech posed by this arrest, it is inconceivable that any mainstream western media figures would start tweeting “#JeSuisDieudonné” or would upload photographs of themselves performing his ugly Nazi-evoking arm gesture in “solidarity” with his free speech rights. That’s true even if he were murdered for his ideas rather than “merely” arrested and prosecuted for them. That’s because last week’s celebration of the Hebdo cartoonists (well beyond mourning their horrifically unjust murders) was at least as much about approval for their anti-Muslim messages as it was about the free speech rights that were invoked in their support - at least as much.

The vast bulk of the stirring “free speech” tributes over the last week have been little more than an attempt to protect and venerate speech that degrades disfavored groups while rendering off-limits speech that does the same to favored groups, all deceitfully masquerading as lofty principles of liberty. In response to my article containing anti-Jewish cartoons on Monday - which I posted to demonstrate the utter selectivity and inauthenticity of this newfound adoration of offensive speech - I was subjected to endless contortions justifying why anti-Muslim speech is perfectly great and noble while anti-Jewish speech is hideously offensive and evil (the most frequently invoked distinction – “Jews are a race/ethnicity while Muslims aren’t” – would come as a huge surprise to the world’s Asian, black, Latino and white Jews, as well as to those who identify as “Muslim” as part of their cultural identity even though they don’t pray five times a day). As always: it’s free speech if it involves ideas I like or attacks groups I dislike, but it’s something different when I’m the one who is offended.

Think about the “defending terrorism” criminal offense for which Dieudonné has been arrested. Should it really be a criminal offense – causing someone to be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned – to say something along these lines: western countries like France have been bringing violence for so long to Muslims in their countries that I now believe it’s justifiable to bring violence to France as a means of making them stop? If you want “terrorism defenses” like that to be criminally prosecuted (as opposed to societally shunned), how about those who justify, cheer for and glorify the invasion and destruction of Iraq, with its “Shock and Awe” slogan signifying an intent to terrorize the civilian population into submission and its monstrous tactics in Fallujah? Or how about the psychotic calls from a Fox News host, when discussing Muslims radicals, to “kill them ALL.” Why is one view permissible and the other criminally barred – other than because the force of law is being used to control political discourse and one form of terrorism (violence in the Muslim world) is done by, rather than to, the west?

For those interested, my comprehensive argument against all “hate speech” laws and other attempts to exploit the law to police political discourse is here. That essay, notably, was written to denounce a proposal by a French minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, to force Twitter to work with the French government to delete tweets which officials like this minister (and future unknown ministers) deem “hateful.” France is about as legitimate a symbol of free expression as Charlie Hebdo, which fired one of its writers in 2009 for a single supposedly anti-Semitic sentence in the midst of publishing an orgy of anti-Muslim (not just anti-Islam) content. This week’s celebration of France – and the gaggle of tyrannical leaders who joined it – had little to do with free speech and much to do with suppressing ideas they dislike while venerating ideas they prefer.

Perhaps the most intellectually corrupted figure in this regard is, unsurprisingly, France’s most celebrated (and easily the world’s most overrated) public intellectual, the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. He demands criminal suppression of anything smacking of anti-Jewish views (he called for Dieudonné’s shows to be banned (“I don’t understand why anyone even sees the need for debate”) and supported the 2009 firing of the Charlie Hebdo writer for a speech offense against Jews), while shamelessly parading around all last week as the Churchillian champion of free expression when it comes to anti-Muslim cartoons.

But that, inevitably, is precisely the goal, and the effect, of laws that criminalize certain ideas and those who support such laws: to codify a system where the views they like are sanctified and the groups to which they belong protected. The views and groups they most dislike – and only them – are fair game for oppression and degradation.

The arrest of this French comedian so soon after the epic Paris free speech march underscores this point more powerfully than anything I could have written about the selectivity and fraud of this week’s “free speech” parade. It also shows – yet again – why those who want to criminalize the ideas they most dislike are at least as dangerous and tyrannical as the ideas they target: at least.

It’s not the cartoons– a contrarian perspective from a Muslim cartoonist


Katie Miranda on January 14, 2015

In the last few days I’ve seen more than enough cartoonish clichés of pens and pencils vs. swords and guns scrolling through my Twitter feed.

Pencils versus guns, really?
This is a lie

I don’t think this is about cartoons.

Imagine a world where the western powers were not invading, occupying, drone bombing, kidnapping, torturing and holding Muslims in prison without trial. Now try to imagine that world in which cartoonists who drew Islamophobic cartoons were murdered.

I can’t.

The right wing media uses opinion polls about Muslims to paint a black and white picture akin to the Rebel Alliance vs the Galactic Empire. They parade the freakshow that is Anjem Choudary as their go-to expert, as if he’s the spokesperson for the entire ummah in order to reinforce their position that Islam is a violent ideology. According to a Gallup poll in 2003, 72% of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq. In other words, you have 72% of the population that supports a violent, imperialist attack on Muslims. According to al Qaeda’s beliefs, that means all 72% of those Americans are guilty and are legitimate targets. And that’s terrifyingly similar to what people like Bill Maher claim when they say hundreds of millions of Muslims support the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.

Why can’t Muslims just take a joke?

Despite one of the Kouachi brothers yelling “the prophet has been avenged” after he completed his mass murder spree, the Prophet has not been avenged. Why? Because you can’t hurt prophet Muhammed ﷺ‎ He’s The Prophet of God and he’s dead. He doesn’t get hurt. The hurt comes when people feel personally insulted by a racist and Islamophobic cartoon and they use that as an excuse to carry out murders. The honor of the prophet is a red herring.

Charlie Hebdo was an easier and more dramatic target than a military or governmental target, the latter having caused actual damage to Muslims but the former having had much less in the way of security obstacles. Charlie Hebdo was also hitlisted in al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine.

Freedom of expressions means the government cannot put you in jail for what you say but that doesn’t mean people can’t call you out on your bigotry

The Islamophobic cartoons in Charlie Hebdo are the American equivalent of white people drawing cartoons of African Americans as monkeys or Germans drawing cartoons mocking Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. Cherif and Said Kouachi, the suspects in the terrorist attacks, are of Algerian ancestry. France’s Muslim population originates predominantly from its former North African colonies including Algeria. France’s brutal colonization of Algeria lasted 132 years and during the 8 year Algerian war of independence, 1 million Algerians died. It was only 50 years ago that the French left Algeria. Amedy Coulibaly, the suspect in the kosher supermarket shooting,s was of Senegalese origin, another former French colony. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, the descendants of colonizers, felt that printing cartoons mocking the beliefs of former colonial subjects was somehow a funny and cool thing to do. I disagree with them.

netanyahuMy role as a cartoonist is to challenge power and dominant narratives, not to attack marginalized people. I draw cartoons about Obama, Netanyahu, Arab dictators, and Israeli settlers because they’re the ones in power, they’re literally calling the shots and making people’s lives miserable. These are legitimate targets for political satire. Trying to satirize prophet Muhammed ﷺ‎ in a cartoon just makes you look like an ignorant jerk.

Tariq Ramadan made an important point on Democracy Now; Charlie Hebdo was going bankrupt a few years back so they switched from being “equal opportunity offenders” to targeting Muslims because that sold copies of their magazine. In other words, making money off Islamophobia. If true, this makes me sick.

And it would appear to be so. In Oliver Cyran’s epic takedown of his former employer, he painstakingly catalogues all the reasons why Charlie Hebdo took a dramatic turn for the worse. It’s definitely worth a read as much for its insights as for its scathing wit:

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamo-leftists”.

'We do it to Jews and Christians too'
‘We do it to Jews and Christians too’

People should be free to create whatever art they want. The culture they live in decides whether it’s offensive enough to end up being career suicide as it was for one of the former cartoonists for Charlie Hebdo who was fired for drawing an anti-Semitic cartoon. We cannot make offensive art illegal if we want to live in a free society, but we can examine the context and power structures under which bigoted cartoons are created and hopefully come to the conclusion that cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammed ﷺ‎ will just be considered one of those socially unacceptable things you just don’t do.

Drones and terror
Drones and terror

That’s not going to happen until citizens of western countries start viewing Muslims as actual human beings instead of “militants” or the group of people to collectively blame during a tragedy like this.

In a recording obtained by French radio station RTL, Amedy Coulibaly was speaking about legitimate grievances that had nothing to do with cartoons:

“Me, I was born in France. If they didn’t attack other countries, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Everybody could get together. If they could do it for Charlie Hebdo. Organize protests and let the Muslim people be, and we will let you be. Why are you not doing that?”

The solution to protecting our freedoms isn’t to bomb Muslim countries, torture Muslims and ramp up our surveillance of them. The solution is to stop the cycle so there will be no more motivation for these attacks.

About Katie Miranda
Katie Miranda is an illustrator, jewelry designer, and cartoonist living in Portland, OR. She is currently working on a graphic novel called "Tear Gas in the Morning" which is a memoir about the nonviolent resistance movement in Palestine. Visit to learn more. Facebook: Twitter: @KatieMirandaArt
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and the Limits of the Republic

from Jadaliyya

Jan 11 2015
by Arthur Asseraf

Immediately following the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, commentators denounced an attack on "Democracy and the West," an attack on "the fundamental values of the French Republic." Everywhere in France, people are rallying around these apparently pure, unproblematic “Republican values.” There have been many requests for Muslims to demonstrate that they share in the Republic’s cherished values of secularism and freedom of speech. It is bitterly ironic that Muslims are being asked to prove that they believe in the same values from which they were historically excluded. The Republic has always had a darker side, and the civil liberties that are now idealized emerged in a colonial context where they excluded the Republic’s Muslim subjects.

Tony Barber, writing in the Financial Times, claimed the attacks this week "should not surprise anyone familiar with […] the poisonous legacy of French colonialism in North Africa." Yet France’s colonial history and the hypocritical origins of Republican values cannot explain the current situation. What is colonial here is the analysis rather than the events, the narcisissm that leads to the belief that everything is still about France, the West, and its values, even though many other dynamics are at stake. While recent violence knows no location and no boundaries, focusing on this as an attack on the Republic plays into the hands of the murderers themselves.

The Colonial Limits of Free Expression

France’s iconic law on the freedom of the press passed on 29 July 1881, still enforced today, was designed in part to exclude the Republic’s Muslim subjects. While the law protected the rights of all French citizens, including explicitly those in Algeria and the colonies (Article 69), it did not protect the Republic’s subjects, who are the vast colonized populations throughout the French Empire. This was not a mere oversight: less than a month before, on 28 June 1881, the same parliament had passed an equally iconic law on the indigénat. Under the indigénat, a bizarre parallel system of justice, natives (indigènes) could not publish newspapers, or even speak or gather in public. The indigénat bypassed due process, required no trial, and involved a colorful variety of fines and punishments.

While the law also excluded a variety of colonized subjects of various creeds throughout the Empire in Africa and Asia, its Algerian context is particularly instructive because it specifically targeted Muslims. In colonial Algeria “citizens” were all those who were not Muslims, and the terms musulman, indigene, and sujet usually (though not always) overlapped. Muslim was a racialized legal category stripped of any religious significance. For instance, in a beautiful show of absurdity, several court cases confirmed that even if they converted to Christianity, natives remained legally Muslim, that is subject to discriminatory laws and stripped of citizenship.[1] The famous 1905 law on the separation of Church and State was also meant to be applied to Algeria. Tellingly, this never occurred because authorities, in particular, wanted to control what imams said in mosques. Imams remained civil servants of the French state until 1962.

Because Algeria was officially part of France, the freedom of the press law led to a unique situation where the small settler population, along with Algerian Jews naturalized as French citizens in 1871, developed a bustling newspaper industry free to publish more or less whatever they wanted. According to historian Didier Guignard, in the late nineteenth-century, settlers in French Algeria probably published far more per capita than even their already prolific metropolitan counterparts.[2] Muslims, on the other hand, were subject to censorship and official intimidation: newspapers by and for Algerians only emerged timidly in the early years of the twentieth century, and there was no daily newspaper right up until independence in 1962.

Such censorship was part of a vast “security” apparatus, to use contemporary language, designed to prevent a general Muslim insurrection. Following an extremely brutal war of conquest, Muslims, “a conquered people,” could not be trusted to speak freely lest they organize against France. Many foreign publications in Arabic were also censored in Algeria, in case the “fanaticism” of other Muslims in the Middle East were to contaminate the Republic’s departments that lay on the other side of the Mediterranean. In short, the emergence of French freedom of the press is linked to the violence, Islamophobia, and racism of colonialism. France has never been an unproblematic beacon of press freedom. The crux of the issue was not the failure of Muslims to “integrate” with Republican values. It was precisely the inverse: the construction of French laws to exclude Muslim voices.

Thinking Beyond France

This does not mean, however, that this colonial history can seamlessly explain events this week. This flashback to 1881 is only useful to dismiss a few shoddy arguments about idealized French Republican liberties. Unlike what Andrew Hussey writes in his deeply problematic book The French Intifada, there is no straight causal line between colonial Algeria and Paris in 2015. We might note, for example, that “Muslims” are no longer a legal category in French law and that Algeria is independent, free to have its own issues with freedom of the press. The meaning of “Republican values” has shifted well beyond its origins due to a number of struggles, and the limits envisaged by the laws of 1881 have expanded though they have not disappeared. The Kouachi brothers behind the attack on Charlie Hebdo, though of Algerian descent, were born in Paris and trained in Yemen. Amedy Coulibaly, the man who assassinated a policewoman before taking hostages in a kosher supermarket in connection with the Charlie Hebdo attacks, was born south of Paris, went on regular holidays to Crete, the Dominican Republic, and Malaysia, and played online poker. Understanding their trajectories, their radicalization in prison, their wanderings, and marginalization requires a firm understanding of the contemporary rather than of the colonial.

Claiming that this is all about the colonial past runs the serious danger of glamorizing jihadists as anti-colonial freedom fighters resisting imperialism. The geopolitical crisis that they are a part of cannot be read through a colonial lens. All sides are manipulating the languages of imperialism and resistance and the past few years have witnessed equally dramatic cases of Western imperial intervention as well as non-intervention from Mali to Syria. We cannot forget that jihadist movements consistently target Iraqi, Syrian, and Tunisian journalists. In Algeria itself, Islamists systematically targeted journalists during the “black decade” of the 1990s. Thus, it is hardly a “French” tradition of freedom of speech that is under attack, since the context for these events exceeds the geography of the hexagon. We can condemn the deaths of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, but not because French values of freedom of the press are inherently superior or unique.

Many in the past few days have pointed out that Charlie Hebdo was a racist, Islamophobic publication that perpetrated the colonial stereotypes of Muslim fanaticism. I do not want to get bogged down in “je suis Charlie/je ne suis pas Charlie,” which is proving to be a very lively debate on the limits of freedom of speech. Instead, I will say this: current events are an incentive to think beyond the colonial mindset. The colonial administrators that I read every day believed that Muslims inherently had different brains. For them, Islam clung to the skin and the genes, saturating the individual and leaving them no space to be social beings. They were “only Muslims” and nothing else, to borrow the title of Naomi Davidson’s recent book.

Today, the dangers of this totalitarian vision can come from many and unexpected sides. It comes from the far-right, which warns us that all Muslims are dangerous and cannot be trusted. It comes from the jihadists, who tell us that Muslims are Muslims and Muslims only, necessarily engaged in a struggle against the rest of the world. The trap here is the binary, the inescapable colonizer/colonized, white/black, collaboration/resistance. In this narrowing of politics, we would either have to be “for” or “against” Charlie Hebdo. In other words, we must vehemently resist seeing this as an antagonism between France and “its Arabs,” or between colonizer and colonized. In the current era of geopolitical tension, from Ottawa to Damascus to Sydney to Algeria, there is no West or East, nowhere to run to, no borders, or barricades that offer protection from terrorism or surveillance.

The murders this week are not attacks against French freedom of speech, a tradition which has its own dark history, but it is one of many attacks on freedom of speech everywhere. The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are no more or no less heroes than the Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian, or Algerian journalists who have been killed. In the words of Tahar Djaout, an Algerian journalist assassinated by the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in 1993, “I will never support the fear rustled up by your priests, highway bandits that have usurped the halos of angels. I will stand outside of your blessing that kills, you for whom the horizon is a door that is nailed shut, you whose looks snuff out beacons of hope, and make each tree into a tombstone.”

[1] There is now much specialist work on this issue and the presentation here is intentionally simplified. This distinction also meant that Muslims retained the right to be subject to Islamic law in matters of personal status, eg marriage, divorce, etc. which was a matter of great political debate.

[2] Didier Guignard, L’abus de pouvoir dans l’Algérie coloniale, Paris: Presses universitaires de Paris-Ouest, 2010.

Latest posts in Maghreb:
[Landscape shot of Laayoune from the southwest of the city. Image by author]The Roots of Conflict: From Settler-Colonialism to Military Occupation in the Western Sahara (Part 2)
[Une manifestation après les attentats à Paris. Image par canal6hn/Flickr]Charlie Hebdo et les limites de la République

Sunday, January 11, 2015


/Social Justice & Activism
Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter & Ferguson Reps Take Historic Trip to Palestine


Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter & Ferguson Reps Take Historic Trip to Palestine

Representatives at the forefront of the movements for Black lives and racial justice have taken a historic trip to Palestine this week to connect with activists living under Israeli occupation.

Black journalists, artists and organizers representing Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), and more have joined the Dream Defenders for a 10-day trip to the occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.

The trip comes after a year of highly-publicized repression in Ferguson, the Gaza Strip, and West Bank including East Jerusalem, as well as solidarity between these places.

Ahmad Abuznaid, Dream Defenders’ legal and policy director and a co-organizer of the delegation, said that the goal of the trip was to make connections.

“The goals were primarily to allow for the group members to experience and see first hand the occupation, ethnic cleansing and brutality Israel has levied against Palestinians, but also to build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation,” wrote Abuznaid. “In the spirit of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and many others, we thought the connections between the African American leadership of the movement in the US and those on the ground in Palestine needed to be reestablished and fortified.”

Abuznaid said the trip represented a chance to bring the power of Black organizing to Palestine.

“As a Palestinian who has learned a great deal about struggle, movement, militancy and liberation from African Americans in the US, I dreamt of the day where I could bring that power back to my people in Palestine. This trip is a part of that process.”

Over the past week, the delegation has met with refugees, Afro-Palestinians, a family that was kicked out of their house by settlers in East Jerusalem, and organizations representing Palestinian political prisoners, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said apartheid is what immediately struck her about what she saw on the ground.

“This is an apartheid state. We can't deny that and if we do deny it we are apart of the Zionist violence. There are two different systems here in occupied Palestine. Two completely different systems. Folks are unable to go to parts of their own country. Folks are barred from their own country.”

Charlene Carruthers, national director of BYP100 said what immediately struck her was the capacity for violence, even when it’s not immediately noticeable to foreigners.

One such example is in the narrative projected against Palestinians. Carruthers recalled their delegation crossing paths with a tour group led by Israeli authorities.

“They were clearly receiving a completely different story about the occupation. It's deeper than just spreading lies, the false narrative is violent.”

Community organizer Cherrell Brown said she saw many parallels between state violence against Palestinians and Black Americans.

“So many parallels exist between how the US polices, incarcerates, and perpetuates violence on the black community and how the Zionist state that exists in Israel perpetuates the same on Palestinians,” Brown said.

Brown also commented that the struggles are not the same.

“This is not to say there aren't vast differences and nuances that need to always be named, but our oppressors are literally collaborating together, learning from one another - and as oppressed people we have to do the same,” she said.

For Steven Pargett, communications director for Dream Defenders, visiting the Dheisheh Refugee Camp outside of Bethlehem made these connections clearer: “A camp doesn’t have to have a fence with barbed wire all around it in order to be a place where displaced people are struggling to survive.”

Pargett said that Black people in the United States are also displaced refugees.

“Our refugee camps are lower income communities and project buildings all around the country that many would not be living in had we not been taken into slavery generations ago. Rather than having the Israeli Defense occupation in our hoods, we have the occupation of police officers who often prove to have little disregard for our lives, being that they are not from these communities,” Pargett wrote.

Hip-hop was a unifying force for the delegation, Pargett said, commenting that Palestinians have been inspired by hip-hop in the US and use it as a tool to amplify their own voices.

St. Louis-based rapper and activist Tef Poe said his experience in the camps connecting through hip-hop was the best day of his life.

“A refugee camp with a bunch of people fighting for their lives and using hip hop to lift their spirits and spark the minds of the children and break down gender barriers between young girls and boys,” Tef posted to Facebook. “I spent a day with these ppl .. Most amazing day of my life. Thanks be to the Most the struggle is beautiful.”

This trip is another chapter in the recent history of Black-Palestinian solidarity. In November, a group of 10 Palestinian student activists visited Ferguson and St. Louis, meeting with people organizing in the streets. A month later, upon their return, the students hosted a series of events at their university in the West Bank to raise awareness with the Black struggle and stand in solidarity. Dream Defenders unanimously passed a resolution to support the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in this interval.

Moving forward, delegates expressed a desire for Black and American action in support of Palestine.

“I believe the Black Lives Matter movement can benefit greatly by learning about struggles outside of the U.S., but particularly the Palestinian struggle,” said Patrisse Cullors. “I want this trip to be an example for how Black folks and Arab communities can be in better solidarity with one another.”

Cherrell Brown sees joint action as a way to global freedom.

“I want us to take back things we can do in the now, as Americans, to raise awareness and action around Palestinian liberation. I want us to reimagine what society could and will look like when we've dismantled this white-supremacist patriarchal and capitalist society. I want us to do it together. I want to bring back these conversations and stories in hopes that it will help add to this global struggle to get free.”

The full list of delegates includes five Dream Defenders (Phillip Agnew, Ciara Taylor, Steven Pargett, Sherika Shaw, Ahmad Abuznaid), Tef Poe and Tara Thompson (Ferguson/Hands Up United), journalist Marc Lamont Hill, Cherrell Brown and Carmen Perez (Justice League NYC), Charlene Carruthers (Black Youth Project), poet and artist Aja Monet, Patrisse Cullors (Black Lives Matter), and Maytha Alhassen, a USC PhD student. Catch up with the delegation and follow their last few days using #DDPalestine on Twitter and Instagram.

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Friday, January 9, 2015


go to this website to read Glen Greenwald's article

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Why Israeli Arabs aren't voting in the next elections

from Al-Monitor
by Sholmi Eldar

In Umm al-Fahm, the largest Arab city in Israel, there’s no atmosphere of elections in the air. While the Arab parties are all abuzz just from the possibility of uniting to pass the voting threshold, the citizens they wish to represent couldn’t care less. Unlike what unfolds in the city during more exciting times, there are neither billboards in the streets nor graffiti on the walls. At the cafes and in the market, the elections are mentioned merely as a sad anecdote. Nobody believes that change will follow the elections; quite the contrary.

Summary⎙ Print Residents of the Israeli Arab city Umm al-Fahm cited ongoing discrimination in employment and development resources as why they would not vote in upcoming elections.
Author Shlomi EldarPosted January 6, 2015
Slated to take place in just over two months on March 17, the elections, which could significantly affect the status of Arab Israelis in the country, do not really interest them. Indifference would be the mot juste to describe the voices I heard while visiting the city Jan. 5, to gauge whether this time Arab Israelis will change their electoral pattern since the 2001 elections — a pattern ranging from boycott to disinterest — and will cast their vote.

“[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will be elected the next prime minister anyhow, and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman and [Minister of Economy and Trade Naftali] Bennett will join hands with him. So why should we take part in this charade?” asked Mohammad Agbaria, a meat store owner. The shoppers at the store all agreed with him. “Nothing will change and nothing will happen,” said Ibrahim, who presented himself as a father looking to provide for his three small children.

“The Arab vote could have an effect on the results of the elections,” I insisted. Yet, from their trenchant replies I understood what the people in Umm al-Fahm mean when they say nothing will change. “Even if Netanyahu isn’t elected and is replaced by someone else — that won’t change our situation. Look at the way we live. Nobody bothers to look in our direction. We’re like air, transparent — in everything. Even the Israeli media show no interest in us. They only think of us when elections take place. They come to see how we vote. The hell with them,” said Issam, a member of one of the largest families in town who asked not to be identified by his surname, the reason for which I later understood.

“So you won’t even vote?” I asked him.

“I might vote for the Hadash Party, but only so that the Islamists don’t get more votes from the communists,” Issam replied.

“You choose to vote only because of internal wars and not to improve the standing of Arabs in Israel?” was my next question to him.

“Things won’t change,” he reiterated. “What can the Arab Knesset members do? Let’s say that they get 20 [out of 120] seats. Everybody else will gang up on them so they would have no impact. They’ll take action to weaken them so the Arabs would have no influence. So what difference does it make?”

During a tour of the city, which is regarded as the capital city of Arab Israelis, it is hard not to see the great neglect and lack of resources beleaguering the Arab towns — cracked sidewalks, potholes in the roads and narrow alleyways. This neglect is a result of patent discrimination that cannot be swept under the rug and from which the Arab towns in Israel have been suffering for dozens of years. In recent years, this discrimination has become more blatant and depressing.

At the entrance to Umm al-Fahm, next to the gas station, a group of construction workers waited for their ride to take them to a work site. “We’re daily laborers — one day is good, the next one not so much,” Nazim Mahmid told me. “The situation isn’t good, it’s getting worse and worse here. There’s no work, and especially here in Umm al-Fahm, the economic situation stinks.”

“Do you think that will change?” I asked.

“Sure it will,” he said, “for the worse.” The workers around all burst into laughter.

According to Mohammad, one of the other workers, “The economic situation in the country is hard, very hard. But our situation is even worse. We’re the first ones to be kicked out. If Jews have no money and no work and no livelihood, what will the Arab person say?” His friend Hassan added, “I’m not talking just about racism, which is now stronger than it has ever been in Israel. I’m talking about work, about winning bread. If the plant has 200 employees and 50 are laid off, the first ones to be booted out are the Arabs and only then the Jews. And if the Jew finds another job, the Arab will find it much harder.”

“And how’s that related to the elections?” I pressed.

“Oh, it’s related alright,” Hassan replied. “We feel more and more discriminated against and that we no longer have a part in this country. We’ve been removed. If, for example, we were to vote for the left, Meretz or Labor, will our situation change? No it won’t.”

I asked the group of workers if the possible unification between the Arab parties did not encourage them to vote. “I think more people will vote if the unification goes through, but not a whole lot more,” Nazim replied. “Those that support the religious people will vote for them and the same goes for those who support the communists. It’s also possible that some people who used to vote for an Arab party won’t vote for a unified slate. Those that support the communists, or say the non-religious, will not want to give their vote to the Islamists. Those supporting Balad hate Hadash or Ra’am. You Jews don’t understand the problems and tensions among us. As far as you’re concerned, they’re all Arabs. But that’s not the way it works.”

A survey conducted by the Arab weekly Kul al-Arab is expected to be published this weekend. It reveals that some 80% of Arab Israelis support the unification of the Arab parties ahead of the upcoming general elections. It predicts that the number of Arab voters will rise from 56% in the previous 2013 elections to 62% this time. This doesn’t herald a dramatic shift that will change Israel’s political map, but a relatively small one, similar to the sentiments expressed by the residents of Umm al-Fahm.

The absence of hope is the most salient feature among Arab Israelis. They make no special preparations ahead of the elections, nor do they mobilize to bring about a political change to try combating discrimination. Many Arab Israelis feel they’re not an integral part of the State of Israel, which for years has done everything it can to keep them distant and alienated.

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