Monday, November 23, 2009

Finkelstein in Denmark

English starts after 35 seconds.
Norman Finkelstein Interviewed regarding israel on Danish TV (November 13 2009)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Statehood a dead end...

*Virginia Tilley* The Electronic Intifada November 19, 2009

The PA leadership in Ramallah is leading the Palestinian movement of independence to a dead end with its proposed unilateral call for Palestinian statehood.

From a rumor, to a rising murmur, the proposal floated by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Ramallah leadership to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally has suddenly hit center stage. The European Union, the United States and others have rejected it as "premature," but endorsements are coming from all directions: journalists, academics, nongovernmental organization activists, Israeli right-wing leaders (more on that later). The catalyst appears to be a final expression of disgust and simple exhaustion with the fraudulent "peace process" and the argument goes something like this: if we can't get a state through negotiations, we will simply declare statehood and let Israel deal with the consequences.

But it's no exaggeration to propose that this idea, although well-meant by some, raises the clearest danger to the Palestinian national movement in its entire history, threatening to wall Palestinian aspirations into a political cul-de-sac from which it may never emerge. The irony is indeed that, through this maneuver, the PA is seizing -- even declaring as a right -- precisely the same dead-end formula that the African National Congress (ANC) fought so bitterly for decades because the ANC leadership rightly saw it as disastrous. That formula can be summed up in one word: Bantustan.

It has become increasingly dangerous for the Palestinian national movement that the South African Bantustans remain so dimly understood. If Palestinians know about the Bantustans at all, most imagine them as territorial enclaves in which black South Africans were forced to reside yet lacked political rights and lived miserably. This partial vision is suggested by Mustafa Barghouthi's recent comments at the Wattan Media Centre in Ramallah, when he cautioned that Israel wanted to confine the Palestinians into "Bantustans" but then argued for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 boundaries -- although nominal "states" without genuine sovereignty are precisely what the Bantustans were designed to be.

Apartheid South Africa's Bantustans were not simply sealed territorial enclaves for black people. They were the ultimate "grand" formula by which the apartheid regime hoped to survive: that is, independent states for black South Africans who -- as white apartheid strategists themselves keenly understood and pointed out -- would forever resist the permanent denial of equal rights and political voice in South Africa that white supremacy required. As designed by apartheid architects, the ten Bantustans were designed to correspond roughly to some of the historical territories associated with the various black "peoples" so that they could claim the term "Homelands." This official term indicated their ideological purpose: to manifest as national territories and ultimately independent states for the various black African "peoples" (defined by the regime) and so secure a happy future for white supremacy in the "white" Homeland (the rest of South Africa). So the goal of forcibly transferring millions of black people into these Homelands was glossed over as progressive: 11 states living peacefully side by side (sound familiar?). The idea was first to grant "self-government" to the Homelands as they gained institutional capacity and then reward that process by declaring/granting independent statehood.

The challenge for the apartheid government was then to persuade "self-governing" black elites to accept independent statehood in these territorial fictions and so permanently absolve the white government of any responsibility for black political rights. Toward this end, the apartheid regime hand-picked and seeded "leaders" into the Homelands, where they immediately sprouted into a nice crop of crony elites (the usual political climbers and carpet-baggers) that embedded into lucrative niches of financial privileges and patronage networks that the white government thoughtfully cultivated (this should sound familiar too).

It didn't matter that the actual territories of the Homelands were fragmented into myriad pieces and lacked the essential resources to avoid becoming impoverished labor cesspools. Indeed, the Homelands' territorial fragmentation, although crippling, was irrelevant to Grand Apartheid. Once all these "nations" were living securely in independent states, apartheid ideologists argued to the world, tensions would relax, trade and development would flower, blacks would be enfranchised and happy, and white supremacy would thus become permanent and safe.

The thorn in this plan was to get even thoroughly co-opted black Homeland elites to declare independent statehood within "national" territories that transparently lacked any meaningful sovereignty over borders, natural resources, trade, security, foreign policy, water -- again, sound familiar? Only four Homeland elites did so, through combinations of bribery, threats and other "incentives." Otherwise, black South Africans didn't buy it and the ANC and the world rejected the plot whole cloth. (The only state to recognize the Homelands was fellow-traveler Israel.) But the Homelands did serve one purpose -- they distorted and divided black politics, created terrible internal divisions, and cost thousands of lives as the ANC and other factions fought it out. The last fierce battles of the anti-apartheid struggle were in the Homelands, leaving a legacy of bitterness to this day.

Hence the supreme irony for Palestinians today is that the most urgent mission of apartheid South Africa -- getting the indigenous people to declare statehood in non-sovereign enclaves -- finally collapsed with mass black revolt and took apartheid down with it, yet the Palestinian leadership now is not only walking right into that same trap but actually making a claim on it.

The reasons that the PA-Ramallah leadership and others want to walk into this trap are fuzzy. Maybe it could help the "peace talks" if they are redefined as negotiations between two states instead of preconditions for a state. Declaring statehood could redefine Israel's occupation as invasion and legitimize resistance as well as trigger different and more effective United Nations intervention. Maybe it will give Palestinians greater political leverage on the world stage -- or at least preserve the PA's existence for another (miserable) year.

Why these fuzzy visions are not swiftly defeated by short attention to the South African Bantustan experience may stem partly from two key differences that confuse the comparison, for Israel has indeed sidestepped two infamous fatal errors that helped sink South Africa's Homeland strategy. First, Israel did not make South Africa's initial mistake of appointing "leaders" to run the Palestinian "interim self-governing" Homeland. In South Africa, this founding error made it too obvious that the Homelands were puppet regimes and exposed the illegitimacy of the black "national" territories themselves as contrived racial enclaves. Having watched the South Africans bungle this, and having learned from its own past failures with the Village Leagues and the like, Israel instead worked with the United States to design the Oslo process not only to restore the exiled leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its then Chairman Yasser Arafat to the territories but also to provide for "elections" (under occupation) to grant a thrilling gloss of legitimacy to the Palestinian "interim self-governing authority." It's one of the saddest tragedies of the present scenario that Israel so deftly turned Palestinians' noble commitment to democracy against them in this way -- granting them the illusion of genuinely democratic self-government in what everyone now realizes was always secretly intended to be a Homeland.

Only now has Israel found a way to avoid South Africa's second fatal error, which was to declare black Homelands to be "independent states" in non-sovereign territory. In South Africa, this ploy manifested to the world as transparently racist and was universally disparaged. It must be obvious that, if Israel had stood up in the international stage and said "as you are, you are now a state" that Palestinians and everyone else would have rejected the claim out of hand as a cruel farce. Yet getting the Palestinians to declare statehood themselves allows Israel precisely the outcome that eluded the apartheid South African regime: voluntary native acceptance of "independence" in a non-sovereign territory with no political capacity to alter its territorial boundaries or other essential terms of existence -- the political death capsule that apartheid South Africa could not get the ANC to swallow.

Responses from Israel have been mixed. The government does seem jumpy and has broadcast its "alarm," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened unilateral retaliation (unspecified) and government representatives have flown to various capitals securing international rejection. But Israeli protests could also be disingenuous. One tactic could be persuading worried Palestinian patriots that a unilateral declaration of statehood might not be in Israel's interest in order to allay that very suspicion. Another is appeasing protest from that part of Likud's purblind right-wing electorate that finds the term "Palestinian state" ideologically anathema. A more honest reaction could be the endorsement of Kadima party elder Shaul Mofaz, a hardliner who can't remotely be imagined to value a stable and prosperous Palestinian future. Right-wing Israeli journalists are also pitching in with disparaging but also comforting essays arguing that unilateral statehood won't matter because it won't change anything close to the truth). For example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened unilaterally to annex the West Bank settlement blocs if the PA declares statehood, but Israel was going to do that anyway.

In the liberal-Zionist camp, Yossi Sarid has warmly endorsed the plan and Yossi Alpher has cautiously done so. Their writings suggest the same terminal frustration with the "peace process" but also recognition that this may be the only way to save the increasingly fragile dream that a nice liberal democratic Jewish state can survive as such. It also sounds like something that might please Palestinians -- at least enough to finally get their guilt-infusing story of expulsion and statelessness off the liberal-Zionist conscience. Well-meaning white liberals in apartheid South Africa -- yes, there were some of those, too -- held the same earnest candle burning for the black Homelands system.

Some otherwise smart journalists are also pitching in to endorse unilateral statehood, raising odd ill-drawn comparisons -- Georgia, Kosovo, Israel itself -- as "evidence" that it's a good idea. But Georgia, Kosovo and Israel had entirely different profiles in international politics and entirely different histories from Palestine and attempts to draw these comparisons are intellectually lazy. The obvious comparison is elsewhere and the lessons run in the opposite direction: for a politically weak and isolated people, who have never had a separate state and lack any powerful international ally, to declare or accept "independence" in non-contiguous and non-sovereign enclaves encircled and controlled by a hostile nuclear power can only seal their fate.

In fact, the briefest consideration should instantly reveal that a unilateral declaration of statehood will confirm the Palestinians' presently impossible situation as permanent. As Mofaz predicted, a unilateral declaration will allow "final status" talks to continue. What he did not spell out is that those talks will become truly pointless because Palestinian leverage will be reduced to nothing. As Middle East historian Juan Cole recently pointed out, the last card the Palestinians can play -- their real claim on the world's conscience, the only real threat they can raise to Israel's status quo of occupation and settlement -- is their statelessness. The PA-Ramallah leadership has thrown away all the other cards. It has stifled popular dissent, suppressed armed resistance, handed over authority over vital matters like water to "joint committees" where Israel holds veto power, savagely attacked Hamas which insisted on threatening Israel's prerogatives, and generally done everything it can to sweeten the occupier's mood, preserve international patronage (money and protection), and solicit promised benefits (talks?) that never come. It's increasingly obvious to everyone watching from outside this scenario -- and many inside it -- that this was always a farce. For one thing, the Western powers do not work like the Arab regimes: when you do everything the West requires of you, you will wait in vain for favors, for the Western power then loses any benefit from dealing more with you and simply walks away.

But more importantly, the South African comparison helps illuminate why the ambitious projects of pacification, "institution building" and economic development that the Ramallah PA and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have whole-heartedly embarked upon are not actually exercises in "state-building." Rather, they emulate with frightening closeness and consistency South Africa's policies and stages in building the Bantustan/ Homelands. Indeed, Fayyad's project to achieve political stability through economic development is the same process that was openly formalized in the South African Homeland policy under the slogan "separate development." That under such vulnerable conditions no government can exercise real power and "separate development" must equate with permanent extreme dependency, vulnerability and dysfunctionality was the South African lesson that has, dangerously, not yet been learned in Palestine -- although all the signals are there, as Fayyad himself has occasionally admitted in growing frustration. But declaring independence will not solve the problem of Palestinian weakness; it will only concretize it.

Still, when "separate development" flounders in the West Bank, as it must, Israel will face a Palestinian insurrection. So Israel needs to anchor one last linchpin to secure Jewish statehood before that happens: declare a Palestinian "state" and so reduce the "Palestinian problem" to a bickering border dispute between putative equals. In the back halls of the Knesset, Kadima political architects and Zionist liberals alike must now be waiting with bated breath, when they are not composing the stream of back-channel messages that is doubtless flowing to Ramallah encouraging this step and promising friendship, insider talks and vast benefits. For they all know what's at stake, what every major media opinion page and academic blog has been saying lately: that the two-state solution is dead and Israel will imminently face an anti-apartheid struggle that will inevitably destroy Jewish statehood. So a unilateral declaration by the PA that creates a two-state solution despite its obvious Bantustan absurdities is now the only way to preserve Jewish statehood, because it's the only way to derail the anti-apartheid movement that spells Israel's doom.

This is why it is so dangerous that the South African Bantustan comparison has been neglected until now, treated as a side issue, even an exotic academic fascination, to those battling to relieve starvation in Gaza and soften the cruel system of walls and barricades to get medicine to the dying. The Ramallah PA's suddenly serious initiative to declare an independent Palestinian state in non-sovereign territory must surely force fresh collective realization that this is a terribly pragmatic question. It's time to bring closer attention to what "Bantustan" actually means. The Palestinian national movement can only hope someone in its ranks undertakes that project as seriously as Israel has undertaken it before it's too late.

*Virginia Tilley *is a former professor of political science and international relations and since 2006 has served as Chief Research Specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. She is author of /The One-State Solution /(University of Michigan Press, 2005) and many articles and essays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, she writes here in her personal capacity and can be reached at vtilley@...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fundraiser in Kingston

To the Editor:
On Sunday November 8 a fund raiser was held in Kingston in support of the Gaza Freedom March which will try to bring desperately needed humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.  Fifteen area residents will be joining people from around the world on January 1, 2010 in an attempt to break the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade.  The Hudson Valley contingent will try to bring food, water, medical supplies, and/or educational materials into Gaza from Egypt.

The people living in Gaza under Israeli occupation are essentially a captive population.  Israel controls and severely  restricts  the movement of all goods, services, and people both into and out of Gaza.  As the result of Israels' brutal blockade there are severe shortages of food, water, medicine, heat, and electricity.  Because of the blockades restrictions on building materials the residents of Gaza have been unable to rebuild the more than 20,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed by Israels Defense Forces during last years Israeli attack and invasion of Gaza.

As I was reminded at the fund raiser, Israel could not continue to administer this collective punishment on the men, women, and children of Gaza without the full support of our government and the US tax dollars that come with that support.  Hopefully,  the funds raised for the Gaza Freedom March will help to alleviate some of the US sponsored suffering being inflicted upon the population of Gaza.

Finally,  thank you to the staff at La Florentina restaurant and the volunteers from the MIddle East Crisis Response group for a wonderful and informative event.  Anyone seeking further information about the Gaza Freedom March can go to the MECR website which is

Eli Kassirer
New Paltz= 

Vets for Peace discovery in Gaza

US missile part found in Gaza by Vets for Peace

Monday, November 9, 2009

Peace Activist Confronts Netanhayu

Peace Activist Confronts Netanhayu on War Crimes During Plenary of United Jewish Federations

WASHINGTON - November 9 -A

t the Annual Conference of the United Jewish Federations in Washington, DC, during the plenary session today, November 9, by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, CODEPINK peace activist Midge Potts stood up with a banner that said “End the Siege of Gaza” and shouted “Stop the blockade of Gaza, Shame on you, Netanyahu.” She was dragged out of the meeting by security guards.

“When I heard that Netanyahu was speaking in Washington DC, I felt compelled to do something,” said Potts, a Navy veteran, resident of Springfield, Missouri and candidate for U.S. Senate. “Netanyahu’s Washington visit comes just after our Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution rejecting the Goldstone report, a UN report that aimed to hold Israel accountability for its actions during the 22-day invasion of Gaza that left over 1,400 dead. As an American whose government is giving free rein to Israel’s war crimes and is paying—through our taxes—for the bombs and bullets that are killing Palestinians, I had to stand up. I hope my symbolic action will show the people of Palestine that there are many Americans who believe in human rights for all and are determined to change our government’s policy to reflect these values.”

During his talk, PM Netanyahu lauded the Israeli Defense Forces, saying the Israeli army was “as moral as any army on earth” and thanked both President Obama and the U.S. Congress for rejecting the Goldstone report. “It is appalling to us, as peace activists, that Israel committed such atrocities against the people of Gaza and that the U.S. Government is trying to cover up those crimes. As defenders of human rights, we must stand up and demand accountability.”

As part of CODEPINK’s commitment to human rights, it is working with a broad coalition to organize, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, a massive march on December 31 from inside Gaza to the Israeli border. The March calls on Israel to lift the inhumane siege that is keeping 1.5 million people imprisoned. Already, participants have signed up from 32 countries. They include writers (U.S. Alice Walker), actors (Syrian Duraid Lahham), members of Parliament (from France to the Philippines), diplomats (from Japan to the Netherlands), as well as doctors, lawyers, professors and students.

For more information see .

Bard and the Lobby

November 9, 2009

Bard and the Lobby
Final Thoughts on the Kovel Affair


In June of 2007, the left website CounterPunch published a short piece of mine addressing the decision of Depaul University to deny tenure to Prof. Norman Finkelstein. Among the forty-odd emails I received in response was one from Bard Professor Joel Kovel. Having served as a Green Party ward Alderman, I was familiar with Joel's Green Party activism and had read occasional articles by him over the years. Also, I had just accepted a position at the Bard Conservatory of Music and was looking forward to having at least one other co-worker to compare notes with as we entered the post-Bush era.

I would have been pleased to have had communications from others at Bard but none was forthcoming. Whether this was due to Joel being the only faculty member to read CounterPunch, simple reticence on the part of those who did, or lack of interest in, or lack of sympathy with Finkelstein's plight, I can't say. As I recall, I assumed the latter, as this was consistent with a longstanding belief on my part that the reputation of colleges as bastions of left wing thinking is grossly exaggerated, most notably when it comes to the Israel/Palestine question. Nothing in the subsequent years here has given me much cause to revise this presumption, not, to be sure, the Bard community's response to Joel's termination, as I will discuss shortly.

Some months after Joel's email, I had the opportunity to return the favor and to revisit the question of Bard's general political orientation. Joel's book "Overcoming Zionism" had been withdrawn by its publisher Pluto Press under pressure from the Israel lobby in what can reasonably be described as the contemporary equivalent of a book burning. Just as he had been the only Bard faculty member to respond to my piece in Counterpunch, so too was I the only member of the Bard community to respond to his request to join the thousands of others who had sent expressions of protest.

When Joel returned to Bard in the fall of 2008, we decided to get together for a weekly meeting which would develop into the eco-socialist lunches, billed in flyers we distributed around campus as an informal discussion of political events from a left perspective, open to all interested students, staff, faculty and community members. Most weeks the group numbered between 8 and 12. Aside from ourselves (and my wife, on occasion) all of the participants would be students. No faculty member attended or expressed any interest in attending or even (with one exception) asked about the group.

While much of the conversation tended to revolve around the Obama campaign and the prospects for an Obama administration, Israel and attitudes towards Israel on the Bard campus were an occasional topic. While no particular consensus was reached, it is fair to say that the administration's later description of "anti Zionism" as "uncontroversial" would have been greeted with some skepticism by most of those attending.

Following the Israeli attack on Gaza in December, our shared skepticism as to the willingness and capacity of the Bard community to view Zionism critically would be strongly vindicated. Insofar as anti-Zionism is interpreted, minimally, as criticism of military aggression by the Israeli government, there was nothing of the sort to be found at precisely the time when its presence ought to be most apparent. One searched in vain for joint letters, demonstrations, flyers, teach-ins, or other expressions of concern at the unfolding atrocity.

There was, it should be noted, one faculty member, the college chaplain, who conspicuously weighed in on the subject of the Gaza attacks-on the side of the Israeli Defense Force. While I had, as mentioned, long since parted with any illusions as to what to expect from academics in these sorts of circumstances, it was still a bit shocking to find a supposed voice of moral conscience in an appearance on the far right radio station WABC, championing the bombing of civilian targets and denouncing as anti-semitic those who raised questions as to its moral legitimacy.

This constituted the extent of the visible faculty response to Gaza. There may have been private expressions of concern or even grief-and perhaps public expressions, though if so, none of them found their way back to Bard in any visible form. Given that more than a few Bard faculty members are frequently granted high profile platforms for the expression of their views, any expression of protest would have registered, so it is a reasonable assumption that they didn't exist.

I would like to emphasize that I bring up these facts not out of any personal dissatisfaction with the Bard faculty as a group or animus towards the college chaplain as an individual. My years at Yale were notable for many cordial relationships with colleagues who were universally to the right of me politically and who were, in more than a few cases proud and even virulent reactionaries. Imposing a political litmus test for those with whom I work and socialize would be a recipe for professional suicide, not to mention, misanthropy.

Rather, this context is required to respond to repeated claims emanating from the Bard administration in response to the Kovel affair that Bard is a campus which not only tolerates and but celebrates dissident political views. This general proposition is not supported by any facts that have been apparent in my two years here. And on the specific claim in question, that anti-Zionism is uncontroversial, the silence with which the faculty greeted the Gaza attacks is a prima facie refutation of this proposition, one which is even more glaring when seen in the light of the numerous cris-de-coeur emanating from some of Israel's staunchest advocates in the months since the attacks.

I should also mention here that it does not follow from the above that Joel's charges of political interference in Bard's decision not to renew his contract have any de facto or de jure legitimacy. Nor does it follow that the faculty members who served on the committee evaluating Joel's contributions to Bard (one of whom was the Bard chaplain mentioned above) were unable to exercise independent judgement of Joel's work. However, with the particular issue in question, suspicion is surely called for given the numerous and well document instances of interference in academic affairs by what has become known as the Lobby.

By now, the Lobby's crackdown on criticism of Israeli human rights abuses on college campuses should be more than familiar, as every week seems to brings a new and disturbing attempt at academic suppression. The most recent is a charge of misconduct being brought against UC Santa Barbara Prof. William Robinson on direct orders from ADL chairman Abe Foxman. Not long before came news of Clark University having rescinded an invitation to Norman Finkelstein under pressure from Jewish student organizations. Prior to that was an effort at intimidation waged by Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz against Hampshire College students supporting sanctions directed at firms profiting from the West Bank occupation. These join targeted attacks on Columbia Professor Joseph Massad, University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, and, of course, Finkelstein himself, to mention only a few cases.

That none of these have been mentioned by the administration in responding to Kovel's charges of political interference is disappointing and has fueled suspicion outside of Bard in capitulating to pressure in its decision to remove Kovel academic freedom has been, yet again, violated. There is also at least a whiff of arrogance in Bard's assumption that the illustrious legacy of Hannah Arendt and its description in the Princeton Review as "the most liberal of the liberal arts colleges" exempts it from answering questions about the troubling context of Kovel's termination.

But as the school's connection with its storied radical history recedes into the distant past, it will find that this defense is increasingly less available. Indeed, by now there are very few remaining indications of the radical dissent which it claims to be encoded in its institutional DNA. A strong indication along these lines can be obtained by a perusal of faculty lists in the relevant departments. It will be immediately noticed that the most recognizable names derive from their association not with, for example, the New Left Review, Z, the Left Forum, or even the Nation but with the establishment neo-liberalism of the New York Review, the New Yorker and New Republic (whose publisher, uber-Zionist Martin Peretz, serves on the Bard Board of Trustees). Few Bard faculty would be described, or, I would guess, would describe themselves as political radicals.

Another indication of the actually existing political orientation of Bard is provided by Kovel's replacement in the Alger Hiss chair by an historian whose work provides a defense of, and has been celebrated by those embracing, the most strident varieties of cold war anti-communism. Then there is the increasingly close relationship with its Hudson Valley neighbor West Point which has resulted in appearances on the Bard campus by military functionaries addressing such topics as counter-insurgency warfare. These augment other recently invited speakers discussing Islamic fundamentalist terror and violence, with few if any challenging establishment orthodoxy on these matters. All this, according to administration critics, signals a broader effort to legitimate Bard in establishment circles one which requires that it rid itself of left-wing gadflies such as Kovel.

These and other efforts at mainstreaming Bard have, it would appear, met with some success among their target demographic, namely those major donors who are lavishly financing campus initiatives including the much trumpeted Bard-Al Quds joint degree program, a multi-million dollar Frank Gehry designed performing arts center, and an elegant new science building. At the same time, there is some evidence that the strategy has begun to backfire with its primary constituency (or, more precisely, market), namely the students who are willing to dispense with the $40,000 yearly tuition which, it is said, accounts for the bulk of Bard's operating revenues. This base consists of more than a few who, despite their necessarily privileged backgrounds have more or less leftist sympathies and come to Bard based on its reputation-as opposed to its current reality. Some eventually come to recognize that while these views are not actively discouraged, nor are they encouraged or nurtured by the current composition of the faculty. The surprising level of activism precipitated by the Kovel case was likely indicative of a growing dissatisfaction among these sorts of students and the administration is correct to be concerned of the possible effect on Bard's traditional applicant pool and by extension, finances.

There is a chance, albeit a small one, that bottom line considerations will make it necessary for Bard for to reassert its identity as a bulwark of what used to be called the dissenting academy. If so, it has more that a little work to do. Rehiring Kovel is one step in this direction; however, Joel is now 70 and doing so would amount to no more than a reaffirmation of Bard's past. What is needed is a tangible demonstration that a commitment to dissent defines Bard's present and, one hopes, Bard's future.

An action which Bard could take along these lines would be to install Norman Finkelstein as the next occupant of the Alger Hiss chair. Finkelstein's presence at Bard would, of course, indisputably remove any question as to influence of the Lobby on Bard's hiring decisions. But, more importantly, Finkelstein's combination of an impressive scholarly resumé with a long standing record of challenging the most sacrosanct conventional wisdoms make him a scholarly model for the traditions which have defined Bard, and which continue to have resonance for more than a few Bard students.

This is what we should expect of the academy at its best-one which takes seriously its responsibility to tell the truth and expose lies.

It is more than likely that this suggestion will be passed off as frivolous by those who are in a position to act on it. If so, those doing so should consider that this itself is an indication of the gap between Bard's self-image and the objective reality of where it stands when it is called to do so.

Perhaps the best possible outcome of the Kovel affair is for the school to begin to recognize how far it needs to go to bridge this gap.

John Halle is Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College. He can be reached at:

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pete Seeger's role in ending Israeli house demolitions

Last update - 09:41 08/11/2009
Pete Seeger's role in ending Israeli house demolitions

By Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondent

Anyone who owns a radio probably knows the song "Turn, Turn, Turn" (To everything there is a season) very well. A number of versions of this song have become permanent fixtures on the play lists of most popular music radio stations. Here's what the listeners don't know: every time this song is played, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions receives a few dollars, which accumulate to a "several thousand dollars every year," according to the committee's co-founder and coordinator.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is a non-profit organization that uses non-violent means to oppose Israeli demolition of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Seeger has been donating some of the song's royalties to ICAHD for ten years.


The banjo-playing Seeger, 90, is considered one of the pioneers of American folk music. He is known for his political activism no less than for his musical achievements. In the 1930s he was involved in the establishment of worker unions, in the 1940s he opposed the war against Germany and in the 1950s he was interrogated by Senator Joe McCarthy over suspicions of belonging to the Communist Party. In recent years Seeger has been involved in efforts to clean up the Hudson River in New York and performed at U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration celebration.

The lyrics of the song "Turn, Turn, Turn" are the words of King Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes. "All around the world, songs are being written that use old public domain material, and I think it's only fair that some of the money from the songs go to the country or place of origin, even though the composer may be long dead or unknown," Seeger said in an interview with Acoustic Guitar magazine in 2002.

"With 'Turn, Turn, Turn' I wanted to send 45 percent, because [in addition to the music] I did write six words and one more word repeated three times, so I figured I'd keep five percent of the royalties for the words. I was going to send it to London, where I am sure the committee that oversees the use of the King James version exists, and they probably could use a little cash. But then I realized, why not send it to where the words were originally written?"

ICAHD's Halper met with Seeger in New York last week and remarked that "he said he thought it was appropriate that the biblical part of the song make its way to Israel ? he doesn't want to take credit for it."

Halper brought another message from Seeger to the Israelis: "He said that artists and cooks ? it was important for him to include cooks ? must stand up and demand a just peace. That is the duty of artists and cooks."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No Change in US 'Mafia Principle'

Published on Tuesday, November 3, 2009
by Middle East Online

Noam Chomsky: No Change in US 'Mafia Principle'
by Mamoon Alabbasi

As civilised people across the world breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of former US president George W. Bush, top American intellectual Noam Chomsky warned against assuming or expecting significant changes in the basis of Washington's foreign policy under President Barack Obama.

During two lectures organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, Chomsky cited numerous examples of the driving doctrines behind US foreign policy since the end of World War II.

"As Obama came into office, Condoleezza Rice predicted that he would follow the policies of Bush's second term, and that is pretty much what happened, apart from a different rhetorical style," said

"But it is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric. Deeds commonly tell a different story," he added.

"There is basically no significant change in the fundamental traditional conception that we if can control Middle East energy resources, then we can control the world," explained Chomsky.

Chomsky said that a leading doctrine of US foreign policy during the period of its global dominance is what he termed as "the Mafia principle."

"The Godfather does not tolerate 'successful defiance'. It is too dangerous. It must therefore be stamped out so that others understand that disobedience is not an option," said Chomsky.

Because the US sees "successful defiance" of Washington as a "virus" that will "spread contagion," he explained.


The US had feared this "virus" of independent thought from Washington by Tehran and therefore acted to overthrow the Iranian parliamentary democracy in 1953.

"The goal in 1953 was to retain control of Iranian resources," said Chomsky.

However, "in 1979 the (Iranian) virus emerged again. The US at first sought to sponsor a military coup; when that failed, it turned to support Saddam Hussein's merciless invasion (of Iran)."

"The torture of Iran continued without a break and still does, with sanctions and other means," said Chomsky.

"The US continued, without a break, its torture of Iranians," he stressed.

Nuclear attack

Chomsky mocked the idea presented by mainstream media that a future-nuclear-armed Iran may attack already-nuclear-armed Israel.

"The chance of Iran launching a missile attack, nuclear or not, is about at the level of an asteroid hitting the earth -- unless, of course, the ruling clerics have a fanatic death wish and want to see Iran instantly incinerated along with them," said Chomsky, stressing that this is not the case.

Chomsky further explained that the presence of US anti-missile weapons in Israel are really meant for preparing a possible attack on Iran, and not for self-defence, as it is often presented.

"The systems are advertised as defense against an Iranian attack. But ...the purpose of the US interception systems, if they ever work, is to prevent any retaliation to a US or Israeli attack on Iran -- that is, to eliminate any Iranian deterrent," said Chomsky.


Chomsky reminded the audience of America's backing of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during and even after Iraq's war with Iran.

"The Reaganite love affair with Saddam did not end after the (Iran-Iraq) war. In 1989, Iraqi nuclear engineers were invited to the United States, then under Gorge Bush I, to receive advanced weapons' training," said Chomsky.

This support continued while Saddam was committing atrocities against his own people, until he fell out of US favour when in 1990 he invaded Kuwait, an even closer alley of Washington.

"In 1990, Saddam defied, or more likely misunderstood orders, and he quickly shifted from favourite friend to the reincarnation of Hitler," Chomsky added.

Then the people of Iraq were subjected to "genocidal" US-backed sanctions.

Chomsky explained that although the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was launched under many false pretexts and lies, was a " major crime", many critics of the invasion - including Obama - viewed it as merely as "a mistake" or a "strategic blunder".

"It's probably what the German general staff was telling Hitler after Stalingrad," he said

"There's nothing principled about it. It wasn't a strategic blunder: it was a major crime," he added.

Chomsky credited the holding of elections in Iraq in 2005 to popular Iraqi demand, despite initial US objection.

The US military, he argued, could kill as many Iraqi insurgents as it wished, but it was more difficult to shoot at non-violent protesters in the streets out on the open, which meant Washington at times had to give in to public Iraqi pressure.

But despite being pressured to announce a withdrawal from Iraq, the US continues to seek a long term presence in the country.

The US mega-embassy in Baghdad is to be expanded under Obama, noted Chomsky.


Chomsky stressed that public pressure in the 'West' can make a positive difference for people suffering from the aggression of 'Western' governments.

"There is a lot of comparison between opposition to the Iraq war with opposition to the Vietnam war, but people tend to forget that at first there was almost no opposition to the Vietnam war," said Chomsky.

"In the Iraq war, there were massive international protests before it officially stated... and it had an effect. The United Sates could not use the tactics used in Vietnam: there was no saturation bombing by B52s, so there was no chemical warfare - (the Iraq war was) horrible enough, but it could have been a lot worse," he said.

"And furthermore, the Bush administration had to back down on its war aims, step by step," he added.

"It had to allow elections, which it did not want to do: mainly a victory for non-Iraqi protests. They could kill insurgents; they couldn't deal hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. Their hands were tied by the domestic constraints. They finally had to abandon - officially at least - virtually all the war aims," said Chomsky.

"As late as November 2007, the US was still insisting that the 'Status of Forces Agreement' allow for an indefinite US military presence and privileged access to Iraq's resources by US investors - well they didn't get that on paper at least. They had to back down. OK, Iraq is a horror story but it could have been a lot worse," he said

"So yes, protests can do something. When there is no protest and no attention, a power just goes wild, just like in Cambodia and northern Laos," he added.


Chomsky said that Turkey could become a "significant independent actor" in the region, if it chooses to.

"Turkey has to make some internal decisions: is it going to face west and try to get accepted by the European Union or is it going to face reality and recognise that Europeans are so racist that they are never going to allow it in?," said Chomsky.

The Europeans "keep raising the barrier on Turkish entry to the EU," he explained.

But Chomsky said Turkey did become an independent actor in March 2003 when it followed its public opinion and did not take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Turkey took notice of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its population, which opposed the invasion.

But 'New Europe' was led by Berlusconi of Italy and Aznar of Spain, who rejected the views of their populations - which strongly objected to the Iraq war - and preferred to follow Bush, noted Chomsky.

So, in that sense Turkey was more democratic than states that took part in the war, which in turn infuriated the US.

Today, Chomsky added, Turkey is also acting independently by refusing to take part in the US-Israeli military exercises.

Fear factor

Chomsky explained that although 'Western' government use "the maxim of Thucydides" ('the strong do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must'), their peoples are hurled via the "fear factor".

Via corporate media and complicit intellectuals, the public is led to believe that all the crimes and atrocities committed by their governments is either "self defence" or "humanitarian intervention".


Chomsky noted that Obama has escalated Bush's war in Afghanistan, using NATO.

NATO is also seen as reinforcing US control over energy supplies.

But the US also used NATO to keep Europe under control.

"From the earliest post-World War days, it was understood that Western Europe might choose to follow an independent course," said Chomsky."NATO was partially intended to counter this serious threat," he added.

Middle East oil

Chomsky explained that Middle East oil reserves were understood to be "a stupendous source of strategic power" and "one of the greatest material prizes in world history," the most "strategically important area in the world," in Eisenhower's words.

Control of Middle East oil would provide the United States with "substantial control of the world."

This meant that the US "must support harsh and brutal regimes and block democracy and development" in the Middle East.


Chomsky tackled the origins of the Somali piracy issue.

"Piracy is not nice, but where did it come from?"

Chomsky explained that one of the immediate reasons for piracy is European counties and others are simply "destroying Somalia's territorial waters by dumping toxic waste - probably nuclear waste - and also by overfishing."

"What happens to the fishermen in Somalia? They become pirates. And then we're all upset about the piracy, not about having created the situation," said Chomsky.

Chomsky went on to cite another example of harming Somalia.

"One of the great achievements of the war on terror, which was greatly hailed in the press when it was announced, was closing down an Islamic charity - Barakat - which was identified as supporting terrorists.

"A couple of months later... the (US) government quietly recognised that they were wrong, and the press may have had a couple of lines about it - but meanwhile, it was a major blow against Somalia. Somalia doesn't have much of an economy but a lot of it was supported by this charity: not just giving money but running banks and businesses, and so on.

"It was a significant part of the economy of Somalia...closing it down... was another contributing factor to the breaking down of a very weak society...and there are other examples."


Chomsky also touched on Sudan's Darfur region.

"There are terrible things going on in Darfur, but in comparison with the region they don't amount to a lot unfortunately - like what's going on in eastern Congo is incomparably worse than in Darfur.

"But Darfur is a very popular topic for Western humanists because you can blame it on an enemy - you have to distort a lot but you can blame it on 'Arabs', 'bad guys'," he explained.

"What about saving eastern Cong where maybe 20 times as many people have been killed? Well, that gets kind of tricky ... for people who... are using minerals from eastern Congo that obtained by multinationals sponsoring militias which slaughter and kill and get the minerals," he said.

Or the fact that Rwanda is simply the worst of the many agents and it is a US alley, he added.

Goldstone's Gaza report

Chomsky appeared to have agreed with Israel that the Goldstone report on the Gaza war was bias, only he saw it as biased in favour of Israel.

The Goldstone report had acknowledged Israel's right to self-defence, although it denounced the method this was conducted.

Chomsky stressed that the right to self-defence does not mean resorting to military force before "exhausting peaceful means", something Israel did not even contemplate doing.

In fact, Chomsky points out, it was Israel who broke the ceasefire with Hamas and refused to extend it, as continuing the siege of Gaza itself is an act of war.

As for the current stalled Mideast peace process, Chomsky said that despite adopting a tougher tone towards Israel than that of Bush, Obama made no real effort to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations.

In the absence of the threat of cutting US aid for Israel, there is no compelling reason why Tel Aviv should listen to Washington.

What can be done?

Chomsky stressed that despite all the obstacles, public pressure can and does make a difference for the better, urging people to continue activism and spreading knowledge.

"There is no reason to be pessimistic, just realistic."

Chomsky noted that public opinion in the US and Britain is increasingly becoming more aware of the crimes committed by Israel.

"Public opinion is shifting substantially."

And this is where a difference can be made, because Israel will not change its policies without pressure from the 'West'.

"There is a lot to do in Western countries...primarily in the US."

Chomsky also stressed the importance of taking legal action in 'Western' countries against companies breaking international law via illegitimate dealings with Israel, citing the possible involvement of British Gas in Israeli theft of natural gas off the coast of Gaza, as one example that should be investigated.

In conclusion of one of the lectures, Chomsky quoted Antonio Gramsci who famously called for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."

© 2009 Middle East Online