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Whither Palestine? Whither Israel? After the Violence Spike, After the Abraham Accords, After Netanyahu

13 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post covers the changing circumstances in Irael/Palestine over the course of the last six weeks. It takes the form of responses to questions posed by the political economist, journalist, and author, C.J. Polychronious, and was published in Truthout  on June 13, 2021, which happens to be the day that Israel ended its political impasse by formally empowering the Coalition for Change to take over the Israeli governing process. The coalition joins together a very diverse set of political parties, but its center of gravity leans sharply left. There are two questions now that will shape the Palestinian destiny to its next phase: Will the post-Netanyahu government push harder the political agenda of the right-wing settler movement? Will the aftermath of the IDF military operation, Guardian of the Walls, increase Palestinian resistance and global solidarity? The next two months will allow us to make better informed assessments for what is in store for both sides.]

Whither Palestine? Whither Israel? After the Violence Spike, After the Abraham Accords, After Netanyahu

Q1. Richard, the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which caused massive destruction in the Gaza Strip, ended with a ceasefire after growing US and international pressure. In your view, what factors or parties reignited the dormant Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

This latest upsurge of violence in the relations between Israel and Palestine seems to arise from a combination of circumstances. In such situations where an explanation is not obvious, and even if given, may not be trustworthy, and should often be largely discounted as a self-justifying rationale. An assessment of the reasons behind this latest cycle of large-scale Israeli violence lead to a deeper understanding of what otherwise seems opaque. It is clear that Israel usual claim of a right to defend itself is far from the whole story, especially when its behavior seemed designed to provoke Hamas to act in response. In light of this we should investigate why Israel wanted to launch a major military operation against Gaza at this time mid-Mayu when the situation seemed comparatively quiet in the preceding months?

The easiest answer to the question—to save Bibi Netanyahu’s skin. It seems that the precarious political position and legal vulnerability of the long-term, increasingly controversial Israeli leader, is the best back story, but also far from a complete picture. It helps account for the seemingly reckless Israeli provocations that preceded the flurry of rockets from Hamas and affiliates. Netanyahu had failed four times to form a government after inconclusive elections, and was for the first time facing an opposition coalition that was effectively poised to displace him as leader. Now displaced as prime minister, Netanyahu will likely have to face substantial criminal charges for fraud, bribery, and breach of public trust in Israeli courts, which could result in a jail sentence.

Why would a wily leader and ardent nationalist play roulette with the wellbeing of Israel? The answer seems to involve the character of the man rather than an astute policy calculation. Netanyahu seems to possess a narcistic personality disorder that always leads him to view national interests through as optic that accords primacy to his personal needs and desires. To the extent that the Netanyahu approach was grounded in knowledge, it reflected the well-evidenced view that Israelis put aside differences and give their total allegiance to the head of state during a wartime interlude. Netanyahu had every reason to believe that in this situation as so often in the past experience that Israelis would rally around the flag, and be thankful for his style of strong leadership in a security crisis.

Israeli behavior preceding the rockets was plainly inflammatory that  it safe to assume that it was intended to be a highly provocative challenge to Palestinian public opinion, exerting pressures on the leadership in. Ramallah and Gaza City to do something in response. First came high profile evictions of six Palestinian families from their Sheik Jarrah homes in East Jerusalem on flimsy legal grounds, with a prospect of more evictions to follow. These Israeli court rulings enraged the Palestinians. It reinforced the sense of continuing victimization taking the form of acute insecurity as to Palestinian residence rights in Jerusalem, a dynamic perceived as a process of ethnic cleansing that goes back to 1948. As such, it reawakened the still agonizing memories of the 700,000 or more Palestinians who fled or were forced across the borders of what became Israel to Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank (until 1967 under Jordanian administration) in the 1948 War, becoming refugees, and never thereafter allowed to return to their homes and homeland, which was and is their right under international law.

This process of coercive demographic rebalancing was integral to the essential racial and idealistic character of the Zionist Movement, which sought to establish not only a Jewish state but a democracy that could qualify for political legitimacy by Western criteria. To achieve this goal, however, depended on implementing policies ensuring and maintaining a secure Jewish majority population, which involved the denial of fundamental human rights to Palestinians. These controversial Sheikh Jarrar evictions were continuing this Judaizing of East Jerusalem after more than 70 years since Israel was founded. In other words, what Israeli Jews treated as a demographic imperative that was almost synonymous with maintaining a Jewish state for the Palestinians had the character of a continuous process of ethnic cleansing, which meant second-class citizenship and living with perpetual insecurity.

Days before the rockets were launched there were further provocations that took the form of unregulated marches by right-wing Jewish settlers through Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem carrying posters and shouting ‘Death to the Arabs’ coupled with random acts of violence against Palestinians and their property. Such events reinforced the impression that the Palestinians in Israel were acutely insecure and vulnerable to thuggish manifestations of settler racism and that would be abetted by the Israeli state, and its security forces. This pattern exhibited the jagged edges of Israel’s distinctive version of apartheid.

Likely, the most provocative of all these events preceding the cross-border violence with Gaza were the several intrusions at al-Aqsa compound and mosque by Israeli security forces in a manner that obstructed Muslim worship during the last days of Ramadan. As well, Muslims were prevented from coming to al-Aqsa from the West Bank during this period. These encroachments on freedom of religion again seemed designed to provoke Palestinian reactions of resistance by harshly discriminatory practices of Israeli interpretations of law and order.

Against this background, Palestinian protests mounted, and Hamas undoubtedly felt challenged to maintain its claim as the inspirational leader of Palestinian resistance. Because of the limited options available to Hamas, meaningful resistance took the characteristic form of firing hundreds of primitive rockets, many falling harmlessly or intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. The rockets were indiscriminate and inflicted some Israeli casualties, minor damage to towns in southern Israel, such a tactic violates international humanitarian law, and undoubtedly were very frightening to the Israeli civilian population.

It should be appreciated that Israel’s violations far outweighed the violations on the Palestinian in several crucial respects: the death and destruction caused by the two sides, the refusal of Israel to uphold its legal obligations as the Occupying Power toward the civilian Occupied Palestinian people who were already long subjugated by an unlawful blockade in place since 2007 held responsible for unemployment levels over 50% and dependence on humanitarian aid by over 80% of the Gazan population. Israel also ignored its specific duty outlined in Article 55 of the 4th Geneva Convention to protect the civilian population during a time of ‘contagious disease or epidemic,’ and instead subjected Palestinians to what has been described as ‘medical apartheid,’ which was most blatant on the West Bank where all Jewish settlers were vaccinated while almost no Palestinians received even a first dose.

Q2. The Arab world condemned the latest Israeli assault, but took no action. My question about this is twofold: first, to what extent did the Abraham Accords precipitate the renewal of violence between Israelis and Palestinians? And, second, what’s behind the cozy relationship between Israel and Arab Countries, particularly Gulf States?

With respect to the Abraham Accords, I am not aware of any concrete indications of a link, although some circumstantial evidence suggests its plausibility. On the Israeli side, the Accords seems to have given Israel greater confidence that they could make life even more miserable for the Palestinian people without having to fear adverse repercussions from their Arab neighbors. Without Trump in the White House the right-wing in Israel seemed to believe that their expansionist goals, including annexationist hopes for most of the West Bank would have to be achieved unilaterally, and with somewhat less diplomatic cover from the United States, and that meant intensifying their already bellicose reputation.

On the Palestinian side, opposite forces seemed at play. A sense that Netanyahu and the settlers were exerting increasing pressure to make the Palestinians believe that their struggle was futile, a lost cause, with the goal of making them agree to whatever ‘peace arrangement’ was put forward by Israel (what I call ‘the Daniel Pipes’ scenario, squeezing the Palestinians so hard that they give up, having failed to achieve such a result by way of the Oslo diplomacy). More assertively interpreted, the rockets expressed a resolve not to accept peacefully ethnically cleansing from their homes nor silenced and intimidated by the settlers nor by those who would interfere with their religious practices. The message of the rockets may have also been intended as a warning to the Palestinian Authority not to accept some arrangement that validated this coercive Israeli approach to ‘peace.’

These ugly direct encounters originating in Jerusalem were dealt with harshly by the Israeli government in the afterglow of the Abraham Accords, which was a further incitement for Hamas to act in militant solidarity. Hamas probably also sought to challenge the Palestinian Authority that so often confused its role as representative of the Palestinian people with a quasi-collaborationist approach to Israel.

Additionally, at play undoubtedly was the challenge posed by the Accords to Palestinian steadfastness or sumud. A Palestinian show of resistance, even with the full awareness that the rockets would bring a massive IDF military operation as in the past, and with it, death, trauma, displacement, and destruction in Gaza. It was the Palestinian way of expressing resolve that the struggle for basic rights will continue as long as necessary regardless of the costs. The Abraham Accords underscore the this symbolic abandonment of the Palestinian struggle by our Arab brothers and sisters, or at least their regimes, which in any event had long been evident on the level of behavior, and now more crassly. This abandonment had been previously expressed substantively by these Arab governments, especially the Gulf monarchies, which were never comfortable with Palestinian or Islamic movements from below in their region, especially in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution when political Islam showed its willingness and ability to challenge the control of the established order as confirmed by their counter-revolutionary support for the Sisi coup in 2013 against Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt.

As far as the motivations behind Arab elite willingness to ignore the pro-Palestinian sentiments of their own populations, and become parties to the Abrahamic Accords three factors are explanatory: first, the governments involved were given transactional rewards by the Trump diplomatic offensive in the form of weapons, economic inducements, delisting as a terrorist government, support for political claims; secondly, with respect especially to the Gulf monarchies, it seemed advantageous to seek a common front with Israel in opposing and destabilizing Iran, not only in relation to its nuclear program but with respect to its political solidarity relationships in the region, which included Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen; and thirdly, by seeming to take political risks at home to support U.S. pro-Israeli objectives in the region these regime could expect to gain leverage in Washington as a dependable ally, and not face criticism for their autocratic manner of governance that included flagrant abuses of human rights, especially with respect to women.

 Q3. Israeli police have arrested thousands of people over the last couple of weeks in Israeli Arab communities as part of a “law and order” operation. What is Israel really hoping to achieve with such actions against Palestinian protesters who happen to be, incidentally, Israeli citizens?

Jewish supremacy is the core of the Zionist Project as it has played out in Israel, which has in turn generated racial policies and practices that are increasingly perceived as a form of apartheid. The government of Israel to retain internal legitimacy must continually prove to its Jewish citizenry that it able and willing to maintain the racial hierarchy in reaction to Palestinian resistance and external pressure. This means that any show of resistance by subjugated Palestinians must be disproportionately punished, with the hope of deterring future defiance by the downtrodden. This mentality, so subversive of respect for international humanitarian law, has been formalized by Israel, and incorporated into IDF’s mode of operations, and is known as the Dahiya Doctrine, first so articulated by the IDF Chief of Staff, General Gadi Eisenkot, after the 2006 Lebanon War. Dahiya is a neighborhood in south Beirut that was heavily bombed despite the absence of military targets so as to destroy the civilian infrastructure of Hezbollah, which provided operational guidance for future uses of military force by Israel, especially in Gaza.

In the past 20 years Gaza and its people had borne the brunt of this Israeli need to exhibit its commitment to Jewish supremacy by periodically displaying its ability to crush any challenge, however indirect, to the policies and practices of apartheid. This was the first time that serious communal violence in towns where Palestinians and Jews cohabited arose within Israel, significantly coinciding with an IDF military operation in Gaza. It was a new internal threat to the apartheid regime, but posed a different kind of challenge as Israel couldn’t respond by devastating towns within Israel, and needed to rely on different coercive tactics. The mass arrests of Palestinian protesters was the ad hoc method relied upon to reestablish the appearance of stable control of the asymmetric relations between Jews and Palestinians, and it remains to be seen if that will be sufficient to restore stable, if fragile, ethnic coexistence within 1967 Israel.

Q4. Palestinians have been facing a severe leadership crisis for many years now, but solidarity with the Palestinian people has shifted massively on  a global scale. Are there hopeful prospects for Palestinian unity, and is the BDS movement an effective way to challenge Israeli oppression without hurting the victims themselves?

As indicated earlier, deficiencies of Palestinian leadership have weakened the Palestinian movement for self-determination. In part, this reflects the ‘success’ of Israel’s overall approach to managing a hostile population. Israel has pursued for many years ‘a politics of fragmentation’ toward the Palestinian population under its control, including at leadership levels. Such fragmentation includes its occupation administration on the West Bank with more than 700 checkpoints making internal travel incredibly difficult for Palestinians, as well administering the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in different ways that greatly complicate Palestinian interactions difficult and unity hard to maintain. Of course, the toxic split between Hamas, as intractable terrorist entity allegedly bent on Israel’s destruction and the Palestinian Authority which is alternatively useful as adversary and as potential peace partner and de facto collaborator is the deepest fissure of all. As well, Israeli denial to Palestinians of any right of return has kept the refugee status of millions of Palestinians static, untenable, and precarious. Refugee demands for return create tensions with Palestinians living under occupation many of whom believe the formula ‘land for peace’ is the best deal that they can hope for. Further they realize that Israel might agree to end the occupation but it would never assent to upholding the repatriation rights of the refugees, which is seen as a deal-breaker.

Only with a charismatic leader with support from all of these constituencies could provide the Palestinian people with authentic leadership capable of representing both Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps. Israel remains determined at this point not to let this happen, and feels strong and secure enough to refuse meaningful Palestinian statehood as well as to deny refugee rights, giving up all pretensions of any interest in a political compromise involving both land and people.

Despite these Israeli tactics, the Palestinians have discredited themselves to some extent by not putting aside their differences so as to establish a common front to achieve their overarching common goal of self-determination. The top echelons of the Palestinian Authority live a comfortable life, rumors of corruption abound, and one senses a willingness to lie low until they can make some sort of deal that hides their political defeat. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader who is internationally recognized as representing the Palestinian people, has not held promised elections since 2005, and recently cancelled elections scheduled for this year on the alleged grounds that Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem would not be allowed to vote. Critics insist that elections were cancelled because Hamas might emerge as the winner, and an anti-Abbas coalition seemed to pose a threat.

Hamas, although mischaracterized in the U.S. and Israel, has governed harshly in Gaza making many Palestinians fear its leadership. Yet as Sandy Tolan and other researchers have made clear, Hamas was induced by Washington to pursue its goals by political means and compete electorally, but it was not expected to win as it did in Gaza in 2006. When it won, it made diplomatic overtures to Washington and Tel Aviv offering a long-term ceasefire, up to 50 years, in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 ‘green line’ borders, but these were rebuffed without even the pretense of a diplomatic response. Instead, Hamas was returned to its terrorist box, the people of Gaza were blamed for their victory in the elections, and this crowded, impoverished enclave was maintained as a test site for Israeli weapons and tactical innovations, and a combat zone enabling Israel to project a regional image of credible deterrence.

The Palestinians have never set forth their own vision of peace, probably because it would reveal sharp differences between those willing to settle for some version of partition and those who seek a unified Palestine with a secular constitution assuring equality of rights. As matters now stand a sustainable peace presupposes the prior dismantling of apartheid structures and the renunciation of Zionist foundational claims of Jewish supremacy. Without such steps, any agreed outcome would end up as a ‘ceasefire.’ It is instructive to study the fall of apartheid in South Africa, and its aftermath, that failed to fulfill all of the hopes of the Africans or result in economic and social retaliation that the whites feared. And yet both Africans and whites benefitted from the transition. South Africa’s pariah state difficulties were overcome, a bloody armed struggle was averted, and so was the feared vindictive sequel to apartheid.

The South African narrative is also important for illustrating its ‘impossible’ unfolding: internal resistance, strongly reinforced by a global civil society anti-apartheid campaign supported by the UN and highlighted by BDS pressures releasing Mandela from 27 years confinement in prison despite his life sentence so that he could negotiate the transition to constitutional multi-racial democracy and become the natural and unquestioned choice of the population to be the first president of the new South Africa. It all sounds plausible 25 years after the fact, but before these dramatic events, it seemed ‘impossible,’ a dream of accommodation and substantial reconciliation too good to come true.

Can something analogous happen in Israel/Palestine? Israeli realities are very different than were South African circumstances. For one thing, there are about the same number of Israelis and Palestinians inhabiting historic Palestine (adding Gaza), while in South Africa the black population outnumbered the white population by a 4:1 ration. This would seem to make Israeli Jews less vulnerable to abuse in a secular state, and besides they could undoubtedly insist on robust international peace force with a mandate to restore order and protect the equality of rights in the event of communal strife.

A final observation. The South African apartheid leadership did not awake one morning and become aware that their racist regime was immoral and illegal. It decided through backroom debate and reflection that it was better off taking the risks of constitutional democracy than go on living the problematic existence of a pariah state waiting for the day when the roof would collapse. In other words, the white leadership made a rational public policy decision, the contemplation of which was kept as a closely guarded state secret until a consensus reached, and the extraordinary events started happening to the great surprise of the world, and came as a shock to majority of South Africans, whether black or white.

Q5: What are your thoughts on Israel’s new government? What can one expect from it in general, and will it be able to skirt the Palestinian issue?

The coalition that has managed to prevail, and end for the moment, the political impasse in Israel. The coalition set to take over the Israel government is not united on policy or belief. Its only unifying principle is a deep hostility to Netanyahu’s personality and character. For that reason the diversity of its composition makes it fragile with respect to sharp departures from Likud consensus on Palestine that has prevailed for the last twelve years in Israel.

At the same time the dominant elements in the Bennett-Lapid coalition are correctly perceived on Palestinian issues as further to the right on such issues as accelerated ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, expansion of West Bank settlements, annexation of all or most of the West Bank, opposition to any genuine form of Palestinian statehood, and greater severity with respect to the implementation of apartheid policies and practices. Further, it is expected that Naphtali Bennett, an exponent of the extreme right wing settler movement and maximal Zionist goals, will be Israel prime minister for the next two years during which he will undoubtedly be tempted to push Israeli policy even further to the right.

It is, of course, possible that Bennett will contain his anti-Palestinian fury so as to hold the coalition together, but it is just as likely that he will be prepared to pay the price of a collapsed coalition by being able to attract support for his program from the Likud members and other rightists outside the coalition who agree with his approach on Palestine and are no longer tied to Netanyahu or preoccupied with having a place in the leadership of the government. It is also possible that Bennett will move more cautiously to avoid weakening American support, which is already weaker than ever before in this century. Bennett is less abrasive in personal style than Netanyahu, which is hardly a difficult achievement, but is more of an extreme ideologue and less an opportunist. The unanswerable question at this point is whether the ideological push will prevail or give way to a pragmatic lowering of objectives in the hope of holding onto power.

Given this further turn to the right in Israel there is no realistic prospect of any kind of meaningful diplomacy for the foreseeable future. Although the coalition is presented as ‘center/right’ it is heavily weighted to the right. There are, in contrast, real possibilities of stronger global solidarity efforts through the UN and by way of civil society campaign such as BDS, and a stronger public support for Palestinian grievances, especially if Palestinian resistance remains strong and Israeli repression remains harsh. We should leave room for surprises, good and mostly bad. This is the Middle East where it is folly to predict the future, and a sure recipe for disappointment to expect the best.

IDF Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’: Prelude, Aftermath, Prospects

7 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post consists four journalistic pieces that were initially published in April and May leading up to the fourth in the sequence of massive military operations against Gaza in each instance falsely presented as ‘defensive.’ These operations resulted in large casualties and were further justified as ‘counter-terrorism’because the alleged target was Hamas, a terrorist organization. Somehow, this latest attack on Gaza was more fairly reported in the Western press, and let to the most convincing show of Palestinian unity in a period of crisis. It also was an event that weakened Netanyahu’s hold on power, not because of objections to his hardline policies, but due to distaste for his personality and character, and a coalition is poised to form a new government awaiting only confirmation by the Knesset on June 9th.]

IDF Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’: Prelude, Aftermath, Prospects

  • Responses to Questions from Daniel Falcone (May 11, 2021)


1) Why is it that American politicians cannot say the words ‘Israeli apartheid

As an international crime, apartheid is a collective crime against a distinct race, that is one step down in severity from

genocide. There is a major distinction. As the South African antecedent experience illustrates, apartheid is reversible, although the material and psychological harms suffered by its victims is not. As death is the core of genocide, it is as a practical matter irreversible, and its legacy lingers as the instance of the Holocaust illustrate. In fact, Israeli apartheid may be partly understood as an unintended consequence of the Holocaust. Israel probably could not have been successfully established without widespread international support, which would not have been so forthcoming without the shame of liberal guilt of the West in doing so little to oppose the extreme antisemitism and racism of Nazi Germany, including closing their doors to Jewish refugees.

In any event, the Palestinian people were made to pay the price of Nazi wrongdoing in the form of the imposition of a non-Palestinian state in their homeland at the very time when European colonialism was unraveling elsewhere in the world. In such a setting it was to be expected that Palestinian society would resist, and that Israel’s security would depend on effective means of repression. Such an interaction was accentuated by the characteristics of the Zionist Project that sought a Jewish state that was governed in accordance with democratic principles. Given the premise of such ethnic politics, this induced an ethos of ethnic cleansing to ensure stable Jewish demographic control of the state in what had been Palestine. It also meant discriminatory treatment of immigration and residency, denying Palestinians basic rights while giving Jews many privileges based on identity alone. Such discrimination is crudely exposed in the grant to Jews worldwide of an unrestricted right of return and immediate access to Israeli citizenship could

American mainstream political arenas and media are frightened and intimidated by the prospect of being labeled as antisemitic. The widely relied upon IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Anniversary) definition of antisemitism would easily result in any allegation of apartheid being treated as proof positive of antisemitism. This is so, despite respected studies concluding that Israel’s practices and policies satisfy the definition of apartheid as set forth in the 1973 UN International Convention on Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. And despite the Rome Statute (2002), the treaty governing the operations of the International Criminal Court regarding in Article 7(h) apartheid as one type of crime against humanity.

This inhibition on describing apartheid as ‘apartheid’ has been eroded by two 2021 reports confirming the apartheid allegation. The first report is by B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights NGO, that characterizes Israeli apartheid as the imposition of Jewish dominance upon the Palestinian people in the territory governed by Israel, that is, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea that encompasses both Israel proper and the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. (This is Apartheid, 12 Jan. 2021) The second report by Human Rights Watch reaches the apartheid conclusion after an exhaustive examination of systematic Israeli racial discrimination and reliance on inhuman measures resulting in Palestinian victimization in furtherance of the Zionist Project of maintaining a Jewish state. (A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution, 27 April 2021) Back in 2017 I co-authored a report with Virginian Tilley, under UN auspices (Economic and Social Commission for West Asia or ESCWA) that investigated the apartheid allegation and concluded that Israeli practices and policies were an instance of apartheid, which we felt was best understood in relation to the Palestinian people (including refugees and exiles) rather than confined to territory. (Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,

March 2017)

2) How, in your estimation, will Biden respond to the “Jerusalem crisis?”

On the basis of past behavior and the initial statements of  close advisors, it is most likely that Biden visors will call for calm, while making one-sided and unconditional criticisms of the rockets and artillery shells from Gaza fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad as ‘provocations’ and ‘escalations’ of the underlying conflict. The one-sidedness is almost certain to be underscored by refraining from any criticism of Israeli responses, which are almost certain to be disproportionate in terms of casualties, devastation, and firepower.  

The one-sidedness will be further highlighted by the absence of direct reference to Israeli provocations in Jerusalem such as right-wing settlers marching through East Jerusalem shouting ‘death to the Arabs’ or municipal plans to expel a series of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem on the basis of flimsy legal pretexts. The admitted goal is to prepare the way for further Jewish settlements, which is regarded by almost every Palestinian as a continuation of the ethnic cleansing that began in 1947, and has occurred periodically in 74 ensuing years. The Palestinian steadfastness (sumud) in Sheikh Jarrar is epitomized by their slogan ‘we will not be erased.”

Biden places a high priority on sustaining a bipartisan image in the conduct of foreign policy, especially with respect to Israeli policies. He has already indicated that the United States will accept Trump’s unlawful initiative of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, will not question the unlawful annexing of the Syrian Golan Heights, and applauding the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries so heralded as triumphant diplomatic achievements during the last stage of the Trump presidency.

Although there is some friction from a small group of Democrats in Congress resulting from such an imbalanced approach, it is strongly endorsed by both political parties and by the powerful lobbying influence of AIPAC. Leading Biden foreign policy representatives have made clear that the $3.8 billion military aid package will not be affected by negative findings in the annual country reports of the State Department, which signals a green light for Netanyahu’s aggressive approach to relations with the Palestinians.    

3) The media still repeats in the passive voice, “21 killed by Israel’s Retaliatory strikes”. Has any dimension of the press coverage improved however in your estimation?

There is a subtle change in the coverage of the liberal print media, as highlighted by the New York Times and Washington Post. Instead, of reporting only Palestinian violence as objectionable there is more of a tendency to place nominal blame for periodic crises on both parties. I regard this as conveying a distorting image of symmetrical responsibility shared equally by Palestine and Israel while overlooking the structural realities of gross inequality arising from Israeli oppression and expanding territorial claims. It is always deceptive to treat the oppressor and the oppressed as if equal. As here, the oppressor acts contrary to applicable international law and elementary morality while the oppressed is countering by exercising rights of resistance and suffering the deprivation of basic rights. Of course, the tactics of resistance should be scrutinized by reference to legal and moral constraints, but without losing sight of overwhelming structures of dominance and the far greater harm done by state violence than by the violence of resistance.   

4) Just hours ago, it was reported that “Israel launches airstrikes after rockets fired from Gaza in day of escalation.” This headline conveys that the situation is somehow symmetrical and the media’s interest in maintaining a false balance. Is this a correct observation?

As my last response suggests, one of the worst flaws in liberal journalism is to treat asymmetries as if symmetrical. Such a practice has been notorious in relation to the so-called ‘peace process’ or Oslo diplomacy where the Palestinians are made to share equal responsibility with the Israelis. This is so despite Israel making clear that its acceptance of ‘peace’ with the Palestinian people depends on Palestine giving up its inalienable right of self-determination as well as claims to having its capital in Jerusalem or challenges to extensive Israeli armed settlements unlawfully established.

5) I have a friend who recently wrote, “Israel, as an ethnostate is [on the verge of] committing suicide.” This in reaction to May 7th’s headline “Palestinians, Israel police clash at Al-Aqsa mosque; 53 hurt”. What kind of political consequences do you perceive the Israelis to suffer?

There is an ambiguity in your friend’s assertion of Israel being on the verge of committing suicide. Is this because Israel is encountering difficulty in the enforcement of its claims as an ethnocracy to occupy all of the ethno-religious space? Or is it because Israel has been compelled to challenge the red line of Islamic identity, by forcibly entering Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, attacking and injuring hundreds of Muslim worshipers, thereby threatening what it sought to achieve by the normalization agreements. Time will tell.

It remains to be seen what this latest flareup will produce by way of effects. One alternative is a Third Intifada that is sustained sufficiently to uphold claims to preserve the Palestinian identity of East Jerusalem. Another alternative is for Israel to mount a massive attack on Gaza in response to the 300 rockets that have allegedly targeted Jerusalem and southern Israel in the vicinity of Ashkelon and Ashdod in recent days of a similar or greater intensity to such prior attacks as in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. With the West, especially the U.S. singling out the rockets from Gaza, despite the far greater human injury inflicted on the Palestinians in the Jerusalem incidents, the scene is set for Israeli violence in Gaza to be treated as ‘defensive’ or even as ‘self-defense.’

The unresolved Israeli domestic political turmoil is not to be discounted as an influence, tempted Israeli escalation. Netanyahu is thought to have better chances of surviving as Israel’s leader if the security agenda again becomes prominent.’

(2) Jerusalem: Bloody Polarization

The events of the past week revealed the deep fissures of the Israeli

Apartheid state. Right-wing Israeli extremists, referred to ‘Israeli nationalists’ by most

Zionist media, staged a demonstration some days ago that featured the slogan ‘death to the Arabs.’ Israeli security forces countered by attacking the Palestinian resisters, wounding hundreds, and reportedly using non-lethal weapons to inflict maximum injuries, with many head wounds reported, including eyes shot out.

In the background were fanatical efforts in April and early May by Israeli settlers to Judaize the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, evicting four Palestinian families. The Israeli High Court deferred ruling on these controversial moves for a month in light of the tensions in the city.

This riotous atmosphere was further inflamed when Israeli security personnel forced their entry to Al-Asqa Mosque compound where Muslim worshippers were present in large numbers on the last Friday of Ramadan. More injuries resulted as well as the defiling of the third holiest Islamic site in the world. Jordan called the Israeli behavior ‘barbaric’ and the UAE objected officially despite the recent normalization agreements. The magnitude of this interference with religious observance have led some to call the pre-Gaza encounter the ‘Ramadan Intifada.’

The latest episode is associated with the march route celebrating the unlawful annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 War, coupled with Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the expanded city limits of Jerusalem now that Israel controlled the entire city. The Knesset established May 12 as Jerusalem Day to acknowledge the unification of the city under its control, supposedly heeding the words of Psalm 122: “Built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was jointed together.” On the advice of Israeli security forces, backed by Benny Gantz, the Defense Minister, the proposed route of the march was revised to exclude passage through the Damascus Gate, which was regarded as a flashpoint, likely to provoke renewed Palestinian resistance and Israeli police violence. At the last moment, the Israeli authorities bowed to international pressure and redirected the settler demonstrations away from the Damascus Gate, which would assuredly have resulted in confrontations between unarmed Palestinian

Youth and violent settlers alone among West Bank residents permitted to carry arms.

This is in the spirit of Netanyahu’s response to the mayhem, which is to say that Jerusalem is our capital and we will do want we want in the city. This signals an acceptance of the legitimacy of the settler violent efforts to push for further the ethnic cleansing of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem through eviction notices and intimidation based on discriminatory Israeli laws and thuggery as to Palestinian residency and property rights.

Netanyahu, speaking on TV at an event celebrating Jerusalem Day, defiantly voiced support of settler claims and of Israeli security behavior in violently suppressing Palestinian oppositional activity and Ramadan worship. “We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late,”

“I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as     every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do.”

I also take note of the silence of the UN, which once again fails to uphold its responsibilities for Israeli compliance with International Humanitarian Law as embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention governing Belligerent Occupation.

U.S. officials, including Jake Sullivan, Biden’s National Security Advisor, calls for calm of both sides, which a meaningless whisper in the face crisis conditions prevailing in Jerusalem.  

(3) Daniel Falcone Questions (June 3, 2021

  1. Can you comment on the US role in the ousting of Netanyahu?

The U.S. Government while vocal in denouncing leaders of rival countries, is discreet when it to friends, above all Israel. There are undoubtedly some private conversations

among influential persons in both countries, suggesting that sustaining friendly

relations would be easier without the belligerent discourse and political style of Netanyahu. Other Israelis are as resolutely right-wing but less confrontational, and one suspects that the Biden Administration would rather try its luck with a post-Neetanyahu leadership, no matter what its outlook on such questions as settlements, a state for Palestine, or a nuclear deal with Iran.



2) What is the game plan for the Israeli government moving forward?

It appears that if this so-called center/right coalition headed by Yair Lapid and Naphtali Bennett takes over the leadership of Israel for the next four years, it will not change its position on relations with Occupied Palestine or with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. It will focus on the internal economic agenda, improving secular-religious relations, and promoting closer relations with Arab neighbors by implementing the ‘normalization agreements’ and seeking to additional such agreements within the Middle East. I feel that formal annexation of portions of the West Bank will also be deferred by Israel to avoid friction with the U.S. and Europe.

On the restoration of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Israel will likely offer less

opposition than Netanyahu, but seek to exert influence in similar directions, seeking to impose more restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and possibly conditioning the removal of sanctions on Iranian discontinuance of work on precision missile technology or support for Hamas and Hezbollah.  It should be appreciated that Bennett is scheduled to serve as prime minister of Israel for the next two years, and he has been an impassioned advocate of settlement expansion and an uncompromising opponent of establishing a Palestinian state. Bennett favors what he calls ‘autonomy on steroids’ to be exercised by Palestinians on 40% of the West Bank.




3) Does this leadership shift signal anything to the rest of the world about authoritarianism?

I think Israel is such a special case of a hybrid state, combining an apartheid regime subjugating the Palestinians with democratic constitutionalism for the Jewish citizenry of the country, that this prospective leadership shift doesn’t signal any wider trend of departure from international authoritarian leadership. This is especially true as the political shift is almost totally about the personality and character of Netanyahu, and not any fundamental shift in policy or in governance. The issue of Palestinian governance is not even part of the main coalition-building conversation. I suppose there could be surprises. Maybe the small Islamic Arab party that belatedly joined the anti-Netanyahu coalition hints at this possibility, but it seems more motivated by the desire to get rid of Netanyahu than anything more substantive.



4) How can we expect the media to cover the change in leadership? 

I would imagine that the mainstream media would share much of my assessment, perhaps giving more emphasis to a less stressful relationship with the U.S. and EU, and

possibly the UN. There will likely be a more hopeful tone about this transition demonstrating Israel’s democratic character. Also, more discussion of Netanyahu mixed record during his years in office as the longest serving prime minister, as well as his legacy and recent fall from grace.

As Bennett is known to be a more pleasant and diplomatic in style, hewill be presented to the public as more compatible with Biden. Possibly also, the media will give greater influence to the more secular and supposedly moderate outlook of Lapid, both as the leader of the coalition process and scheduled to succeed Bennett as prime minister in two years. Given the rightest consensus in the Knesset, estimated to be as 100 of its 120 members, it is not likely that there will be any expectation of changes of significance with respect to Palestine. There is an outside chance that more civil society pressure will cause some fracturing of this status quo consensus on Palestine, especially if global pressures grow from BDS, the UN, and governments and internal tensions in Israeli/Palestinian relations mount. .

(4) Is the Tide Finally Turning in Favor of the Palestinians

Repetition or Change?

The latest Israeli violence, at first glance, seemed just like the prior massive attacks on Gaza of 2008-09, 2012, and 2014. There were large number of primitive rockets fired by Hamas in Israel’s direction that fell harmlessly or were intercepted by the Iron Dome, causing minor damage. In its turn, Israel

Inflicted widespread death and destruction by bombs, artillery shells, missiles fired from land, sea, and air, which once again terrorized the totally vulnerable people of Gaza 24/7 for from May 10-21.

As in the earlier attacks, there were calls from almost everywhere for a ceasefire to halt the carnage, including at the UN Security Council. As before, these pleas were spurned by Israel and blocked by the United States. Denunciations of Israel’s attack without action came from Arab governments. As is its habit, the U.S. provided the shield that allowed Israel to continue with the attack against the weight of world public opinion, giving the familiar lame excuse: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Further, anything goes, since Gaza is controlled by Hamas, ‘a terrorist organization’ by the Western moral compass, which amounts to signaling to Israel that anything goes, and international humanitarian law is not applicable to such an adversary.

When the smoke cleared in Gaza, 90,000 Gazans were displaced with their homes destroyed, over 1900 wounded, at least 243 dead, including 66 children. In contrast, Israel suffered 12 fatalities, including two children. Without minimizing the loss of life, the contrast reflects differences in military technology, tactics, and relative vulnerability of Israelis and Gazans, and Israel’s brazen indifference to the loss of Palestinian lives despite protestations to the contrary.  

Nothing seemed changed. Hamas was still in firm control of Gaza with its

Impoverished population of over two million living in a permanent lockdown, borders were armed on the Israeli side and almost all Palestinians unable ever to leave the tiny, blockaded enclave where over 50% are unemployed and 80% are dependent for life support on humanitarian assistance.

It would seem that there is nothing new to report. We are left to speculate as when to expect the next cycle of violence. Yet this time maybe these appearances of repetition are deceptive.

Beneath the Surface

In the past few months Palestine has won notable victories in the symbolic domains of political struggle, which contrary to conventional wisdom,

often determine the eventual winners more than combat zones.

The International Criminal Court in a Pre-Trial Chamber decided that its Prosecutor could launch a formal investigation is Israel’s international crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza that occurred since 2014. It was evident that the Prosecutor had ample evidence of specific crimes associated with disproportionate violence in the 2014 attack on Gaza, the use of excessive violence in dealing with the 2018 Great March of Return at the Israeli border, and in relation to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Even if not a single Israeli official is ever prosecuted by the ICC, this validation of Palestinian allegations of Israeli wrongdoing, and what is more Israel knows it. Why else would Netanyahu greet such a decision with the simplistic dismissal of ‘pure antisemitism’? Israel has long insisted that the UN was biased, but has never before smeared an international institution that had given it the benefit of the doubt while conducting a legal proceeding.

An even bigger Palestinian victory was recorded by mainstream reports finding that Israel was guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinians under their authority. Both the leading Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, and the most influential global human rights NGO, Human Rights Watch, issued reports documenting their central conclusion that Israeli policies and practices constituted apartheid.  The recommendations of the reports call for application of international criminal law and confer on all countries a legal responsibility to take steps to suppress and oppose apartheid.

These developments are of great victories in what I have called the Legitimacy War dimensions of conflict. Reviewing the record in anti-colonial wars since 1945 it becomes clear that the side that prevails in such a legitimacy war fought to gain command of the high ground of law, morality, and public approval, usually goes on to control the political outcome. The French lost the Indochina and Algerian wars despite having superior weaponry, and the U.S. totally dominated the battlefield in Vietnam and yet lost the war.

The most relevant legitimacy for Palestine involves the collapse of the South African apartheid regime despite its effective monopoly of security capabilities. It collapsed because of the combination of non-violent resistance and global solidarity efforts rooted in anti-racist civil society initiatives prompting the apartheid leadership to reevaluate their options. They decided it was better to dismantle apartheid and take their chances with constitutional democracy than

to go on living as an international pariah state.

Palestinian Symbolic Victories Impact on the Future

The just concluded Israeli military operation, code named Guardian of the Walls, exhibited some impacts of these Palestinian symbolic victories. The most salient can be. noted:

–signs of division within Israel that never before were visible during prior military operations;

–an opinion poll showing that 72% believe the ceasefire came too early, suggesting that the Israeli leadership bowed, after all, to international pressures,

including from Washington;

–increasing expressions of Palestinian Arab-Jewish communal violence in Israeli towns;

–more balanced treatment of the violence by Western media platforms, with unprecedented coverage of the daily misery of Palestinian lives under occupation;

–widespread condemnation of collective punishment inflicted on the blockaded civilian population of Gaza in the midst of the COVID pandemic and a badly degraded medical and health system;

–new signs of Palestinian unity in reaction to Israeli violence within Jerusalem, including intrusions on worship during Ramadan, right-wing settler violent provocations protected by Israeli police, and protests by massed Palestinian refugees on the borders with Lebanon and Jordan;

–weakening support for Israel and rising criticism of unconditional U.S. support of Israel;

–increasing support in many countries for BDS and other civil society initiatives, as well as solidarity moves by labor unions and religious groups seeking boycotts and sanctions to promote a just peace for Palestinians.

A Sharpeville Moment?

In retrospect, many felt that the Sharpeville Massacre was the turning point that led in the end to the demise of apartheid in South Africa. The incident arose from a protest at the provincial police facility in the township of Sharpeville by Africans against the pass laws used to enforce segregation and limit mobility. 69 unarmed protesters were killed by the police, many shot in the back while fleeing the scene. The incident exposed to the world what apartheid meant.

Of course, even if history proves that Guardian of the Walls was a turning point, it does not mean that Israeli apartheid is on the verge of collapse. The Sharpeville massacre occurred in 1960, yet it was not until the early 1990s that apartheid was dismantled. It often takes a long time for prophetic writing on the wall to be registered in historical happenings.

The Palestinian ordeal is certainly not over, but for the first time we can envision it ending!    

‘Rules-Based-International-Order’: A New Metaphor for U.S. Geopolitical Primacy

1 Jun

[Prefatory Note:  This post interrogates Biden’s Secretary of State’s frequent claims that the United States and its allies adhere to a ‘rules-based-international-order’ while our adversaries somehow do not. Yet Antony Blinken does not clarify what is the behavioral substance of this dual track behavior. Do Blinken’s rules validate impunity for close allies such as Israel or Saudi Arabia? Are U.S. ‘black sites’ for interrogating suspects overseas in ways prohibited by U.S. and international law? For destabilizing policies and coercive measures directed at Iran? For imposing sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, others, and refusing to suspend these sanctions during the COVID pandemic despite WHO appeals? And what about all those regime-changing interventions? and interferences in foreign elections? It raises two sets of issues: WHAT RULES? FOR WHOM? Others around the world have few doubts about how to answer these questions. Blinken’s rules are a way of force-feeding the insatiable American appetite for the food of innocence, however toxic, perhaps the new language of ‘American exceptionalism.’]

‘Rules-Based-International-Order’: A New Metaphor for U.S. Geopolitical Primacy

Is the U.S. Leading a Geopolitical Alliance or a Coalition of Governments Committed to Democracy and Human Rights?

Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has made U.S. adherence to a ‘rules-based-international-order’ the core of American foreign policy. It is being used as a sword against China, Russia, and some other countries that have antagonized Washington for a variety of reasons. It seems to be as aspect of what Biden must has in mind when he speaks about ‘building back better.’ Of course, part of this new wave of American ‘liberal internationalism’ is to get out from under the dark legach of chauvinistic nationalism and transactional relations with foreign governments that Trump presidency left behind.

Biden wants in contrast to reaffirm U.S. claims to be a benevolent global leader almost as if he is living in the years after World War II. Trump was as confrontational toward China as Biden/Blinken but he validated his hostile and bombastic diplomacy by exclusive efforts to advance the U.S. policy agenda of self-serving national interests. Implicitly, he was telling American Cold War allies, including the European democracies, that they would have to pay their fair share if they wanted the American NATO alliance to continue providing for their security. The Biden approach seems willing to buy back global leadership by investing whatever it costs to maintain the American global security system of 800 based around the world, navies in all oceans, and an edge in the distinctive weaponry resulting from innovations in cyber technology, robotics, and AI.

There is some foreign policy overlap between two presidencies, Biden like Trump has conceded that regime-changing interventions and prolonged occupation of a hostile society in the global South has compiled a record of costly failures. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in a few months, overriding Pentagon warnings, was a sign that there would be fewer ‘forever wars’ in the next few years. A second convergence with the Trumpism is to maintain an inflated military budget and to push foreign arms sales, thus ensuring retaining the dubious distinction of being by far the world’s leading annual spender on military preparedness and the dominant player in the lucrative global market place for weaponry.    

Where Biden/Blinken diverge most strikingly from Trump/Pompeo is with respect to ideological and normative claims, relating to solidarity with democracies and a robust commitment to human rights. Even before Biden moved into the White House he made clear that his primary motivation in foreign policy would be to lead the democratically oriented governments in an ideological against the autocrats of the world, a division that promised to be divisive and to risk the second coming of the Cold War division of the world into friends and enemies. Worse than the rivalry with the Soviets, this new conflict patterning risks hot wars and diverts resources and energies at a time when other urgent needs, above all, climate change, deserve to be the focus of security concerns. In this important sense, Biden is living dangerously in a long gone past.

Furthermore, when the signifiers of democracy and human rights are examined critically, it turns out that in practice they are more about hostile propaganda than expressive of coherent commitments to democratic forms of governance or respect for human rights. The distinguishing criterion of diplomatic affinity for Biden is the willingness to be a compliant alliance partner, nothing more, nothing less.

In light of this what are we to make of this diplomatic language that sounds so idealistic? If it is carefully considered even from a sympathetic perspective, it nothing more than a way of calling attention to normative bipolarity. It draws an imaginary line between democrats and autocrats, with the U.S. and its NATO allies leading the democracies and China and Russia leading the autocracies. In existential terms there are some full-fledged autocrats that are welcomed into the democratic tent despite their autocratic resume—for instance, Modi, Mohammed bin Salmon, Sisi, Bolsonaro, and for that matter Netanyahu.

When Israel flagrantly defied the rule of law in its recent military operation against Gaza the United States used its leverage to block calls for a ceasefire at the UN Security Council and blandly told the world that Israel ‘had the right to defend itself’ overlooking its provocative acts (evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrar neighborhood, right-wing settlers marches protect by Israeli police shouting ‘Death to the Arabs,’ and interference with al-Aqsa worshippers at the height of Ramadan), which seemed intended to incite Hamas to attack with its primitive rockets, which would provide Israel with just enough legal cover to launch a massive military operation that caused 20 times the number of civilian deaths in Gazaa than were Israelis killed by the Hamas rockets.. It has credibly conjectured that the domestically embattled Netanyahu sought the crisis with the Palestinians as a way to remain in power as the Israeli public has always backed the leadership if Israel was military engaged.

Living in a ‘Rule-Governed International Order’?

Against this background, one would have expected Biden and Blinken at least to couple their enthusiasm for alliance diplomacy with language that indicated respect for international law and support for a stronger United Nations. This is such an obvious oversight that it must be assumed to be deliberate. And it leads us to wonder further what sort of alternative ‘rules-governed international order’ was being put forward. One hypothesis is that Blinken was guilty of a repeated slip of the tongue, and what was intended all along was ‘a ruler governed world’ by ‘guess who?’Diplomatic practice in this early period of the Biden diplomacy makes this reformulation more than a semantic joke.

When it comes to China or Belarus their behavior justifies an opportunistic sounding the alarm due to their alleged failures to abide by the rules of international law. True, China declared an adverse judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration a few years with respect to its island resource disputes with the Philippines in the South China Seas. Rather than making China an outlier, such a show of contempt for the decision of an international tribunal makes it seem like it has learned to behave like other members of the geopolitical club.  The United States recently flaunted international institutions when it officially repudiated a decision by the International Criminal Court that claimed the legal authority to investigate well-evidenced allegations of U.S. international crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. The reason to emphasize inconsistency in the Blinken claim that they play is to show that the commitment to a rule-based international order is based on moral hypocrisy, and should be perceived for what it is, hostile propaganda.

This pattern of seeing with one eye is even more blatant when it comes to human rights—when the silences scream and the screams are contrived to mobilize hostility. Do we hear from Washington about Duterte’s gangster tactics of governance in the Philippines or the denial of rights to Muslims in India, especially Kashmir? In contrast, the far lesser grievances of the population of Hong Kong or Tibet becomes a major concern of Washington, and the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang are inflammatorily portrayed as ‘genocide.’ The compliant Western mainstream media dutifully followed the unwritten guidelines as to erasures and trumpets, while Pentagon planners and think tank militarists urge Congress to increase arms expenditures, and seem to relish prospects of a confrontations in the waters surrounding the Chinese mainland, especially highlighting Chinese threats to the security of Taiwan and U.S. resolve to engage militarily in response. This war-mongering ethos is evident in the call for weapons rather than

a plea for avoiding incidents that could lead to uses of force by establishing joint crisis management schemes.

Concluding Remark

This emphasis on a ‘rules-governed’ world implicitly makes the polemical claim that the United States play by the rules whereas our adversaries do not. But what can this mean? The United States has projected more deadly force outside its borders than has any state in the course of the last 75 years. It has also intervened repeatedly over the years in disrupting democracies and using its geopolitical prerogatives to block and sanction democratic forms of governance if they refuse U.S. tutelage or display proclivities that can be castigated  as ‘socialist.’ The Snowden revelations suggest that the United States has invested more heavily than any government on the planet in developing intrusive surveillance capabilities. The U.S. record of manipulating foreign elections is notorious, and has long been a well-known part of the CIA’s portfolio.

Several conclusions emerge:

–Blinken’s stress on the virtues of a rules-governed world should not be confused with making a U.S. commitment to conduct its foreign policy in accord with international law:

–When this rule-governed language is used to criticize the behavior of others, the misleading claim is implied that the U.S. plays by rules applicable to others, but its adversaries don’t;

–Blinken should be pressed to clarify the concept and to explain why he refrains from references to international law and the UN Charter when describing U.S. foreign policy; I suspect that ‘American exceptionalism’ is in play when it comes to exploring Blinken’s normative consciousness. Why else would the US refrain from becoming a party to the International Criminal Court?

–It should be emphasized by foreign diplomats and international jurists that the only legitimate rules-governed international order is international law, even when critical account is taken of its hegemonic record and its selective enforcement. And more progressive civil society initiatives should use international law, where possible, as a counter-hegemonic tool on behalf of global justice.   

A New Different Cold War, An Old Geopolitics

30 May

[ Prefatory Note: The text below is based on responses to questions posed by C.J. Polychroniou, a skilled interpreter of the global scene andnoted author and interviewer. His book of interviews with Noam  Chomsky was published in 2017 under the title Optimism over Despair.Great Power Competition Is Escalating to Dangerous Levels: An Interview with Richard Falk” was published online in slightly modified form in recent issues of Global Policy, Rosenzweig Quarterly, and Z-Net.]

C. J. Polychroniou: Richard, US foreign policy under the Biden administration is geared toward escalating the strategic competition with both China and Russia. Indeed, the Interim National Strategic Guidance, released in March 2021, makes it abundantly clear that the US intends to deter its adversaries from “inhibiting access to global commons, or dominating key regions” and that, moreover, this work cannot be done alone, as was the case under Trump, but will require the reinvigoration and modernization of the alliance system across the world. Does this read to you like a call for the start of a new New Cold War?

Richard Falk: Yes, I would say it is more  ‘a call’ for a New Cold War, but it a start of a process that may soon indeed be a new Cold  War or as you aptly put it, a new, new Cold War. The focus is presently much more China than Russia, because China is seen by Washington as posing the primary threat, and besides, it regards Russia as a traditional rival while China poses novel and more fundamental challenges. Russia, while behaving in an unsavory manner, dramatized by the crude handling of the opposition figure Alexei Navalny, is perceived as manageable by standard geopolitical reliance on refurbished versions of ‘containment’ and ‘deterrence’ approaches, and without much of an ideological dimension. Euro-American strategy is to stiffen resistance to Russian pressure being exerted along some of its borders

China is another matter entirely. The most serious perceived threats are mainly associated with non-military sectors of Western, and particularly, U.S., primacy, its dominance over a dynamic productive economy, especially with respect to frontier technologies. The remarkable developmental dynamism of the Chinese economy has far outstripped anything ever achieved in the West. The United States Government under Biden appears stubbornly blindsided, seemingly determined to address these Chinese threats as if they could be effectively addressed by a combination of ideological confrontation and as with Soviet Union, containment and deterrence. This Biden response is fundamentally mistaken in its approach, which is to view China as a similar adversary than was the Soviet Union. This Chinese challenge cannot be successfully met frontally, that is, by geopolitical pushback resting on military credibility. It can only be met by a diagnosis of the relative decline of the West by way of self-scrutiny, selective emulation, and the effective encouragement of creative adaptive energies. Crafting such a response needs to be accompanied by a reformist agenda of socio-economic equity, massive infrastructure investment, the adoption of fairer wealth and income tax structures, and a commitment to a style of global leadership that identified the national interest to a greater extent with global public goods. Instead of focusing on holding China in check, the United States would do much better by learning from its successes, and adapting them to the distinctiveness of U.S. national circumstances.

It is to be regretted that the present mode of response to China is dangerous and anachronistic for four principal reasons. First, the mischaracterization of the Chinese challenge betrays a lack of self-confidence and understanding by the American Biden/Blinken foreign policy leadership.

Secondly, the chosen path of confrontation risks a fateful clash in South China Seas, an area that according to the precepts of traditional geopolitics falls within the Chinese sphere of influence, and a context within which Chinese firmness is perceived as ‘defensive’ by Beijing while the U.S. military presence is regarded as intrusive, if not ‘hegemonic.’ These perceptions are aggravated by the U.S. effort to augment its role as upholding alliance commitments in South Asia, recently reaffirmed by the clear anti-Chinese animus of the QUAD (Australia, Japan, India, and the U.S.), formally named Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which despite the euphemism of its name intends to signify enhanced regional military cooperation and shared security concerns.

Thirdly, the longtime U.S. military superiority in the Pacific region may not reflect the current regional balance of forces in the East and South China Seas. Pentagon public assertions have recently issued worrird warnings, expressing the opinion that in the event of a military confrontation, China would likely come out on top unless the U.S. resorts to nuclear weapons. According to an article written by Admiral Charles Richard, who currently heads National Strategic Command, this assessment has been confirmed by recent Pentagon war games and conflict simulations.

Taking account of this view, Admiral Richard advises that U.S. preparations for such an armed encounter be changed from the possibility of recourse to nuclear weaponry to its probability. The implicit assumption, which is scary, is that U.S. must do whatever it takes to avoid an unacceptable political outcome even if it requires crossing the nuclear threshold. We might usefully recall the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when Soviet moves to deploy defensive missile systems in Cuba in response to renewed U.S. intervention to impose regime change. Let us remember that Cuba was accepted as independent sovereign state entitled under international law to uphold its national security as it sees fit, that is, in accord with the Blinken prescription of acceptable behavior because it accords with the general understanding of a ‘rules-governed’ world. In contrast,d Taiwan has been consistently accepted internationally as falling within the historical limits of Chinese territorial sovereignty. The credibility of the Chinese claim was given political weight in the Shanghai Communiqué that re-established U.S./China diplomatic relations in 1972. Kissinger recalled that in the negotiations leading to a renewal of bilateral relations the greatly admired Chinese Foreign Minister, Chou En-Lai, was flexible on every issue except Taiwan. That is, China has a strong legal and historical basis for reclaiming Taiwan as an integral part of its sovereign territory considering its armed severance from China occurred as a result of Japanese imperialism. China governed the area now known as Taiwan from 1683-1895. In 1895 it was conquered and ruled by Japan until 1945 when it was reabsorbed and became a part of the Republic of China. After 1949 when the Chinese Communists took over control of China, Taiwan was renamed Republic of China on Taiwan, and its security dependent on the U.S. Navy. From Chinese perspective, this historical past supports their basic contention that Taiwan is part of China and not entitled to be treated as a separate state. There is little doubt that if the United States had not committed itself strategically to the defense of Taiwan, the island state would have been reabsorbed into a resurgent China.

Fourthly, and maybe decisively, the international claims on the energies and resources of the United States are quite different than they were during the Cold War of the last century. There was no impending catastrophe resulting from climate change to worry about, decaying infrastructure within the United States desperately needing expensive repair, and under-investment in social protection by government in the area of health, housing, and education. The over-investment in military capabilities and a global geopolitical posture, which involves paying for the upkeep of 800 military bases worldwide and navies in every ocean, is contributing more to national decline rather than it is to maintaining a global security system managed from Washington .

C. J. Polychroniou: Isn’t it possible that the approach of the Biden administration to the future environment of great power competition could lead to the formation of a Russia-China military alliance, especially since  alliance formation constitutes a key element of state interaction? Indeed, Vladimir Putin has already said that the prospect of such partnership  is “theoretically… quite possible,”  so the question is this: What would be the implications for global order if a Sino-Russian military alliance were to be formed?

Richard Falk: I think we are in a period of renewed alliance diplomacy recalling the feverish attempts of the United States to surround the Soviet Union with deployed military forces, which was a way of communicating to Moscow that the Soviet Union could not expand their borders territorially without anticipating a military encounter with the United States. At first glance, alliances conceived in these traditional terms make little sense in the present global setting. Except in Taiwan it is unlikely that China would seek to enlarge its territorial domain by the threat or use of force. In this sense, the ad hoc diplomacy of alliance formation, typified by the QUAD seems anachronistic, and could lead to warfare as one among several unintended and unwanted consequences.

However, realignment as distinct from alliance frameworks does make sense in an international atmosphere in which the United States is trying to confront its international adversaries with sanctions and a variety of measures of coercive diplomacy that are intended to constrain the policy options of its opponents on the world stage. Many states are dependent on international supply chains for energy and food, as well as reliable trade and investment relations. Reverting to the Cold War the Soviet Union was relatively autonomous. This is much less true under present conditions in which the higher densities of interdependence are linked to acute security vulnerability to cyber attacks by way of state-sponsored, criminal, and non-state hacking.

Additionally, access to drone technologies and computer knowhow make non-state actors, extremist political movements, and criminal syndicates an increasingly troublesome part of the global political landscape. In such an emergent global setting, traditional reliance on deterrence, defense capabilities, and retaliatory action is often ineffectual, and frequently even counter-productive. The purpose of contemporary patterns of realignment is less to augment defenses against intervention and aggression than to broaden policy options for countries that need to reach beyond their borders to achieve economic viability. Another motivation is to deflect geopolitical bullying tactics intended to isolate adversaries. As China and Russia are being portrayed as the enemies of the West, their alignment with one another makes pragmatic sense if thought of as a reciprocally beneficial ‘security community.’ Compared to past configurations of conflictual relations, current geopolitical maneuvers such as realignment are less concerned with weaponry and war and more with attaining developmental stability, intelligence sharing, and reduced  vulnerability to the distinctive threats and parameters of the Digital Age.

The logic of realignment gives China and Russia opportunities to increase their geopolitical footprint without relying on ideological affinities or coercion. Such a change in the nature of world politics is more broadly evident. For instance, important countries such as Iran and Turkey use realignment as a diplomatic tool to offset pressures and security encroachments by U.S. and Israel. In Iran’s case despite radical differences in ideology and governing style it is turning to China and Russia so as to protect its national sovereignty from a range of unlawful destabilizing measures adopted by its adversaries. Whereas Turkey, while being devalued as an alliance partner in the NATO context, may in the future better satisfy its overall needs by turning to China and Russia than by sticking to its traditional role of a junior participant in the most potent of Western alliance structures.

C. J. Polychroniou: Certain mainstream foreign policy analysts are rehashing old arguments about the US-China competition, in particular, by claiming that this is really an ideological battle between democracy and authoritarianism. What’s your own take on this matter?

Richard Falk: I think even more so than in the Cold War the ideological battleground is a smokescreen behind which lurk fears and perceived threats to the Western dominance of the world economy, which presupposes military dominance, achieved by its control of innovative military technologies. In the last half century China has already staked a strong claim to have demonstrated a superior development model (‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’) to that produced in the capitalist United States. This Chinese achievement is quite clearly explained and documented by the outstanding Indian liberal economist, Deepak Nayyar, in his important study, Asian Resurgence: Diversity in Development (2019). Great emphasis is placed by Nayyer on a high rate of savings enabling China to finance and strategically manage targeted investment of public funds. Nayyer downplays the role of ideology and stresses these economistic factors, as he analyzes the comparative development achievements of 14 countries in Asia.

The reality of the Chinese rise makes a mockery of the triumphalist claims of Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and The Last Man (1992), and even more so in their echo in George W. Bush’s covering letter to the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States in which he claims that the 20th century ended with “a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.” How dated, vain, and misplaced such language seems twenty years later!  

If China now additionally manages to challenge successfully the U.S. in such vital areas of technological innovation as artificial intelligence and robotics it will undoubtedly reinforce this image of Chinese ascendancy on the 21st century world stage. It is this prospect of being relegated to the technological shadowland that has made bipartisan elites in the United States so nervous and hostile of late. In fact, even Republican stalwarts are willing to put aside their polarizing tactics to join with Democrats in mounting a diplomatic offensive against China that could quickly become a war-mongering interaction if Beijing responds in kind.

Graham Allison has reminded us that historical instances where a previously ascendent power is threatened by a rising one has often resulted in disastrous warfare. Such belligerence is usually initiated by the political actor that feels it is being displaced by the changing hierarchy of influence, wealth, and status in world order, yielding to pressure to engage the challenger while it still possesses sufficient military capabilities to prevail in a war. [See Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap (2017)]

C. J. Polychroniou: Nuclear weapons and climate change represent by far humanity’s two greatest existential crises. Can we really be hopeful that these threats can be managed tamed within the existing international system? If not, what changes are required in current interstate relations?

Richard Falk: Of course, at this time we have become acutely aware of such global existential threats by experiencing the ordeal of the COVID pandemic, which has revealed the conflictual state-centric manner of dealing with a situation that could have been more effectively addressed for all countries if the response had been primarily by way of global solidarity. As the pandemic now appears to be subsiding in most parts of the world, we cannot be encouraged by the weakness of cooperative impulses of these two stressful years despite the obvious self-interested benefits for all if a global commons approach had been adopted with respect to testing, treatment, and distribution of medical equipment, protective gear, and vaccines. This negative background suggests that it is probably a misleading fiction to suppose that the threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change can be successfully managed over time by current forms of response. Each of these mega-threats disclose different features of an essentially dysfunctional and inequitable system of world order. World history has now entered a bio-political phase where civilizational achievements are at risk and even the survival of the human species is in doubt. Analogous dysfunctions of a different nature are evident in the internal political and economic life of many, if not most, sovereign states.

The relationship to nuclear weapons has been problematic from the beginning, including the momentous decision to drop atomic bombs on Japanese cities in 1945 as the war was nearing its end. The horrifying civilian consequences seared the collective human conscience almost to the extent of the Holocaust. The two realities exemplifying the atrocities of World War II are Auschwitz and Hiroshima. It is illuminating that in the first instance the behavior of the loser in the war was criminalized in the Genocide Convention while that of the winner in the second instance was politically legitimated although left under a dark legal cloud that lingers imprudently until now. The reality is that nuclear weapons are retained for possible use by nine states, including the most militarily powerful countries. The fact that the great majority of non-nuclear governments and the sentiments of most people in the world unconditionally oppose such weaponry has hardly mattered. The UN recently sponsored the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) that entered into force in January 2021; however, neither law nor morality can challenge the resolve of the nuclear weapons states to retain their freedom to possess, deploy, develop, and even threaten or use such weaponry of mass destruction. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the first states to develop nuclear weapons, have issued a formal statement expressing their belief in the non-proliferation regime and deterrence as a preferred model of nuclear war prevention to that associated with reliance on a universal norm of unconditional prohibition reinforced by phased, monitored, and verified disarmament treaty process.

Martin Sherwin in his definitive study, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Rouletter from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2020), convincingly shows that the avoidance of nuclear war has been a consequence of dumb luck, not rational oversight or the inhibitions on use resulting from deterrence. The point being that despite the magnitude of the threats posed by the existence of nuclear weapons the structures of Westphalian statism has prevailed over considerations of law, morality, common sense, rationality, and the precautionary princple. What is absent with regard to these existential global threats is a sufficient political will to transform the underlying structural features by which authority, power, and identity has been managed by dominant states on a global level for last several centuries. The absence of trust among countries is given precedence, and is further reinforced by the weakness of global solidarity mechanisms, resulting on leaving this ultimate weapon in potentially irresponsible hands, which becomes the fate of the earth in Jonathan Schell’s book bearing that title, published in 1982.

Climate change has dramatized a different facet of this statist structure of world order. The need for the cooperative and urgent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has been validated by a strong consensus of scientific opinion. The effects of inaction or insufficient action are being concretely experienced in the form of global warming, sea levels rising, extreme weather events, glacial melting, and migrations caused droughts and floods. Yet effective responsive action is blocked by inequalities of circumstances, perceptions that generate disagreements about  allocations of responsibility, and by short-termism that makes private and public sector decision makers reluctant to depress performance statistics by expensive adjustments that cut immediate profits and slow increases in GNP. There is a widespread recognition of the need for drastic action, but the best that the collective will of governments have been able to do is to produce the Paris Agreement in 2015, which falls short of what the scientific consensus recommends and leaves it up to the good will and responsible voluntary behavior of governments to reduce emissions, wobbly foundations on which to stake the future of humanity.

The UN as now constituted cannot provide platforms for addressing global existential threats in an effective and equitable manner. The responses to the COVID pandemic offer a template for such a negative assessment. It was obvious that short-term national economic and diplomatic interests prevailed at the expense of minimizing the health hazards of virus COVID-19. Once these interests were satisfied the richer countries claimed to be virtuous by resorting to feel good philanthropy, which was masked as empathy for poorer countries and their populations.

A revealing extreme instance of the pattern was embodied in the Israeli approach, labeled ‘medical apartheid’ by critics. The Israel vaccine was made available within Israel and to Jewish settlers, while withholding the vaccine from the approximately five million Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This discriminatory pattern ignores, indeed violates, Israel’s explicit obligation under Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to accord protection to an occupied people in the event of contagious disease or an epidemic. What is disclosed beyond reasonable doubt is the structural dominance of statist and market forces combined with the weakness of existing mechanisms of global solidarity, which are preconditions for upholding global public goods. An analogous dynamic occurs within states, reflecting the class, gender, and race interests and the disproportionate burdens borne by the poor, women, and marginalized minorities.   

imagining a better world

26 May

[PREFATORY NOTE; a conversation in a non-Western setting about my memoir and Stuart Rees’s

pioneering study of cruelty and its transcendence as analyzed and understood in part with the help

of illuminating poems.

IMAGINING A BETTER WORLD RICHARD FALK & STUART REES

IN CONVERSATION WITH JOSEPH CAMILLERI

PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL

Described by some as the most gripping political memoir they have read, Public Intellectual reveals how Richard Falk rose to prominence in America and internationally as a leading international law scholar and a public intellectual. It recounts a life of progressive commitment, unyielding engagement and constant questioning of himself and others. It is a life that places Falk and the reader at the centre of our deepest crises, be it Vietnam, South Africa, Iran, or Israel and Palestine. US interventionism, the Cold War, nuclear weapons, the ecological crisis, human rights abuses, academia and his personal life are woven together in a dramatic and illuminating account of the current human predicament.

TWO REMARKABLE BOOKS, TWO INSPIRING JOURNEYS

CRUELTY OR HUMANITY Cruelty has long been a feature of the conduct of states, but is seldom acknowledged for what it is, let alone explained or effectively resisted.

Governments mouth respect for human rights yet promote discrimination, violence and suppression of critics.

Documenting case studies from around the world, distinguished academic and human rights advocate Stuart Rees exposes politically motivated cruelty and its outcomes. Using his first-hand observations and insights from scholars and poets, he argues for bold action to devise non-violent mindsets and institutions on which the future well-being of people, animals and the planet depend.

PRESENTED BY

CONVERSATION AT THE CROSSROADS

TUESDAY 8TH JUNE 7:30PM AEST

LONDON 10:30AM ATHENS 12:30PM ISTANBUL 12:30PM                                                           Click here

NEW DELHI 3:00PM KUALA LUMPUR/PERTH 5:30PM

TOKYO 6:30PM AUCKLAND 9:30PM [ZOOM EVENT]           to register http://www.crossroadsconversation.com.au

Richard Falk is one of the world’s leading scholars in the fields of International Relations and International Law. He is Professor Emeritus of International Law, Princeton University;

Professor, Orfalea Center of Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara; author/co-author of over 70 books, and hundreds of journal articles. He has served in various roles for the United Nations and non-government organisations, including as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (2008-2014). He has been an animator, convener, contributor  for numerous national and international initiatives, including the Independent International Commission on Kosovo.

Stuart Rees is Emeritus Professor University of Sydney where for twenty years he held the chair in Social Work & Social Policy and founded the Sydney Peace Foundation which established the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize. His writings on peace and social justice issues and several anthologies of poetry, illuminate the present social and political landscape and pose the biggest question of all: what does it mean to be human?

FEATURING A FASCINATING ARRAY OF GUESTS

Hanan Ashrawi

A distinguished Palestinian leader, legislator, activist, scholar, and author of many books, articles, poems and short stories. She served as a member of the PLO Leadership Committee and as an official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.

Amin Saikal

Adjunct Professor of Social Sciences at University of Western Australia, and former

University Distinguished Professor of Political Science, and Foundation Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University (1994-2019).

Hilary Charlesworth

Laureate Professor at Melbourne Law School and Distinguished

Professor in the Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University.

Punam Yadav

Research Fellow in Gender and Disasters in the Institute for Risk and Disaster

Reduction, University College London. Prior to this, she was Research Fellow in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security and Teaching Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Raffaele Marchetti

Deputy Rector for Internationalization and Professor in International Relations at the Department of Political Science and the School of Government of LUISS. He is the editor of the Routledge/DoC series World Politics and Dialogues of Civilizations.

Chandra Muzaffar

One of Asia’s leading public intellectuals, president  of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), and author and editor of 32 books. He was Professor / Director of the Centre for Civilisational Dialogue, University of Malaya and Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Kirthi Jayakumar

Activist, artist, entrepreneur and writer from Chennai, India. She holds an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies from Coventry University, and an MA in Sustainable Peace in a Contemporary World from the University of Peace, Costa Rica.

Reflections on a Political Memoir

25 May

[Prefatory note:  originally published May 7th, Counterpunch, later in Transcend media service (TMS); a review in the form of an interview, or more accurately, a conversation in which I do most of the talking}}

The Fascinating Memoir of a “Citizen Pilgrim”: Q&A with Richard Falk

BY BUSRA CICEK – DANIEL FALCONE

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Image Source: Cover art for the book Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim

Richard Falk, the well-known international relations scholar, taught at Princeton University for four decades. Starting in 2002 he has taught Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Falk is also a chair for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. This lengthy interview is about his latest book, a memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim, that explores his career as an academic, activist, rapporteur, political theorist, and professor.

Daniel Falcone: Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim is considered both an autobiography and a book about international relations. I like how you provide the reader, with a narrative-analysis. In other words, it seems that you are interested in explaining a great deal of your (and others) analytical frameworks by unpacking your own life in the pursuits of these intellectual developments. Can you comment on this?

Richard Falk: From the beginning I was seeking to understand the interfaces connecting the personal, professional, and political that seemed to have dominated the adult portions of my life journey. In doing this, I realized that it was an exercise in self-scrutiny that is comparable with self-administered post-Freudian therapy. I was, in part, motivated by the goal of understanding why I had chosen several less traveled paths in shaping life experience, as well as narrating my journey guided in its last stages by a progressive imaginary. I decided, also, to risk recalling my past totally on the basis of memory, without recourse to such materials as journals and books in my possession. Of course, this was hazardous at any age, but particularly on a project that did not get fully underway until my late 80s. I doubt that it would have been more selective in distorting ways than if I had checked my recollections against the records I kept over the years.

I also had a strong sense that my problematic childhood and adolescence was relevant to what came later. I am quite sure that my interpretative gaze would have been quite different if I had started this project five or ten years earlier, which suggests that there is a degree of contingency embedded in attempting a memoir. The personal and historical context would have been different, and hence the lens by which I reconstructed my life.  I felt strongly that I should be as honest as possible, while taking on responsibilities of not without being hurtful to persons who were alive and with whom I had once been intimate. I found it difficult to decide whether explaining why a romantic relationship did not endure was worse than overlooking the relationship altogether, which was the course chosen in several instances. 

Early on as I reflected upon my childhood, why it was so humdrum, exhibiting little by way of achievement or even sense of direction. Aside from my own failings, I attribute the snail pace of my development, perhaps overly, to the impact of my divorced parents, my mother detached and uncaring, my father too protective and deeply disappointed by the downward trajectory of his own life. In some ways, I think my insecurity of those years helped me avoid the worst sorts of failures. In a real sense, I lacked the courage to fail altogether, hanging on to the edge of the cliff with my fingernails because of my fear of falling. I began to gain a certain composure, probably nothing more than a fragile veneer of self-confidence as a college undergraduate, then a law school student, and later as a young faculty member at a large mid-western university. Each of these experiences in an academic institution by stages helped me find a political identity of my own. I had long lounged under the umbrella of my father’s ultra-conservative stance, which was both anti-New Deal and unconditionally anti-Communist. I was not at ease with such a political outlook, but I lacked an alternative.

The publisher of my memoir, supportive and empathetic from start to finish, rightly asked that I cut 100,000 words that I had struggled to find during the ordeal of composition. As it said, sometimes the best of a film is left on the floor of the cutting room, I am not sure whether my editorial surgery was properly selective in its arbitrary decisions about what could go and what should stay. In retrospect, the subjectivity of constructing one’s own life by staring for several years at oneself in a rear view mirror made me aware that there is a much finer line separating fiction from non-fiction than I had assumed for the prior 90 years.

Maybe a better book, certainly a different one, would have emerged if I had allowed myself the freedom to embellish my life rather than to try to render it. Is it important, in other words, to keep the faith? Or would most readers prefer to wander with me down phantasy lane? Is there really such a thing as a ‘fake life’ any more than there is a ‘true life.’ Of course, appalled by Trump’s dodges of truth and truthfulness, I felt it a political obligation to be as truthful as possible. And maybe this worked to skew the narrative toward an unimaginative literalness, and is the sort of historical contextual circumstance that tilts the tone and substance in a different way than I had embarked the memoir writing experience during the Obama presidency.

Daniel Falcone: I particularly enjoyed reading about the impacts that students from Puerto Rico had on your educational leadership, your politics in general, and how they helped you gain an appreciation for the politics of the islandspecifically. Can you inform readers of this experience and what these mentorships and friendships cultivated and produced?

Richard Falk: You pose an interesting series of questions about friendship with a particular stress on friendship with students. It may be had I responded to these questions prior to writing this memoir I would have approached these issues in more perceptive ways.

Pondering now why friendship has always loomed large in my enjoyment of life at every stage, I would have to acknowledge that it probably reflects the shortcomings of the family dimensions of my life, leading me to search elsewhere for meaning and affection. As well, the absence of the kind of community affiliations that bestows a sense of both identity and belonging that most frequently arise from religious practices and cultural traditions was entirely absent, leading to feelings of envy for apparent ‘normalcy’ of my school classmates who almost all seemed more attached to their families and ethnic backgrounds than I.

As so much of my early pleasure and later of wellbeing involved competitive sports. I found many early friends on these playing fields, and this kind of satisfying bonding continued to be a sustaining feature of my social life throughout my life. Especially at Princeton where so many students were talented and ambitious, I found many young persons who interested me, especially among those who came from less privileged backgrounds at graduate levels. At the same time, because my research interests and political activities situated me at the professional margins, I found students by and large less judgmental than my faculty colleagues and often more congenial and interesting. It embarrasses me, yet only slightly, that after 40 years at Princeton, with a few notable exceptions, my only close faculty friends on campus, with a few exceptions, were those with whom I played tennis and squash with on a weekly basis over many years. Others with strong shared interests and views were not to be found on campus, but were either former students or those with whom I bonded through shared political commitments or other forms of sympathetic intimacy.

What I discovered early on in my faculty experience was that teaching provided a great arena for learning provided I had the self-confidence to listen carefully even to objections and also to approach my lectures without excessive preparation, which I realize may sound strange. This latter characteristic might seem odd, and it can be taken too far, or prove disastrous if not familiar with the overall subject-matter, particularly its framework. The advantage of being creatively underprepared is that it leaves space for spontaneous free associations and opens more space for dialogue with students. If relying on old notes or even transcripts of old lectures there is a fixation on text, a corresponding reluctance to explore uncharted territory, and at atmosphere not receptive to dialogue.

In my memoir I describe lingering impressions of students who made a career with a public resonance, often having the opportunity to relate to them in small-class atmospheres or as thesis advisees. Among the most notable were Robert Muller, David Petraeus, Richard Perle, Saud Faisal, Moulay Hicham Abdullah, and Anne-Marie Slaughter. They were a diverse group, which sometimes anticipated what they became later on in ‘the real world’ and other times surprised me. Except for Moulay Hicham these celebrity students never became friends, and we lost contact after they left Princeton, but they left imprint with their strong personalities. I take note of the fact, with regret, that were male with a single exception.

I think your question is primarily concerned with the interplay between the pedagogy of university education and arenas of political activism. By pointing to the exertion of influence by a Puerto Rican student, you hit upon a good example, although it relates more to my being influenced by students than befriending them. In this particular instance, a graduate student in history at Princeton who came from a political independentista background educated me about the tawdry nature of what I came to regard as the ‘internal colonialism’ in his homeland within my homeland.

Through this student I came into contact with several leading Puerto Rican political figures and intellectuals, and visited the country, not in the normal tourist modalities but to understand more experientially the detrimental impacts associated with making PR serve U.S. military priorities, and caught between the emotions of nationalism and the practical advantages of tax advantages that derived from their intermediate status as a commonwealth within the frame of U.S, sovereignty. This squeezed identity is expressed by singing songs of liberations in barrooms and voting to remain tied to the commonwealth reality.

I was especially struck by visiting the small island of Vieques (part of the PR island group), two-thirds of which was appropriated as a naval artillery range for U.S. warships greatly harming the traditional island’s economy and traditional way of life based on small-scale fishing and farming. Above all, I learned a valuable lesson from this involvement. It taught me that supplementing academic learning with the experience of being there in some caring (not for a research project) capacity contributed a dimension to understanding that could not be derived from tourism or even prolonged academic field trips. As it happened, I soon became preoccupied with the Vietnam War, and lost contact with my Puerto Rican student mentor, but the effects of his pedagogy lingered.

More associated with the interplay between classroom and being there was my contact with the somewhat analogous role played by the United States in the Philippines. The Marcos dictatorship was providing hospitality for large U.S. military bases that compromised political independence and provided a cover for elite corruption that kept the country poor, and its citizenry repressed and antagonized. In this instance, two Filipino students with deep and abiding ties to the national struggle for human rights, democracy, and true political independence, kindled my interest and arranged for me to make several trips to the country, either related to the nationalist movement of opposition to the bases that included several politicians who were leading members of the Senate, and who also became my friends in the course of these visits.

The students back in Princeton, Walden Bello and Lester Ruiz, went on to have important careers of their own, and they remain among my cherished friends to this day. Walden became a leading anti-imperial voice through his books and activism, while Lester became a colleague in my more future-oriented work in the World Order Models Project that devoted itself to envisaging a humane world order, its structure and how to bring into being. What I want to stress is that the original interaction in the classroom led to a learning experience in a distant country, which deepened my understanding and motivation when I returned to the classroom.

It was not just a matter of being there, but being engaged while in the Philippines, leaving a lasting imprint, and making me, I believe, a more effective lecturer. The experiential factor was thus not observational in the spirit of anthropology but enlivened by active solidarity with ongoing struggles for justice that provided insight into a range of analogous issues in an array of countries throughout the global south. The friendship dimension was integral to the existential context, enabling me to be received in communities of solidarity in an atmosphere of trust, friendship, and disclosure.

Daniel Falcone: Although you are a widely read international relations scholar, with experience in research schools and global institutions, I learned in the book that you often navigated a common humbling experience of everyday life within the humanities and education. Your teaching at Ohio State and Princeton at times brought you into contact with people interested in athletics and activities that were prioritized over your subject matter. Can you talk about this more, as I think teachers and professors would find your insights helpful.

Richard Falk: Over the years in academic life, I came under various sorts of pressure, which were more-subtle during my time at Princeton than during the five years spent at Ohio State University at the end of the 1950s. OSU was a nationally ranked team in the two major college sports of football and basketball, and it was the source of institutional pride for its alumni and administrators. I was approached on one occasion by an adjunct member of the faculty who made his name and his fortune as a lawyer in private practice in Columbus with an angry request that I change the grade of a student in my first year class in criminal law because, and solely because he was the son of a prominent figure in Ohio state politics. This lawyer, used to getting his way confronted me as a young untenured member of the law faculty with what amounted to a diktat, and when I declined, he stormed out of my office never to speak to me again. After the incident I was rather sure he would approach the dean of our faculty who was known to have ambitions to become president of OSU, and I feared that this would be my last year at the university. Actually, nothing came of my refusal to adjust this student’s grade, perhaps because it was such a crass attempt to encroach upon faculty grading autonomy. He could have at least pleaded the case for a grade change by some sort of story that the boy was under unusual pressure because his parents were going through an ugly divorce, and a low grade would have devastated him further.

At Princeton, pressures from the alumni were frequent and more sophisticated. For one thing, the Princeton alums felt as an entitlement to interfere as many were major annual donors, accounting for the wealth of the university, and university administrators wanted them to feel a stake in the institution. Some conservative alumni were upset with my political activism, and visibility in the national public sphere. I was told by a sympathetic administrator in the aftermath of the Vietnam War that it was estimated that my anti-war stands cost Princeton $1,000,000 per year as a result of donors flexing their philanthropic muscles.

After my visit in 1979 to Iran to view the unfolding of the Iranian Revolution, which was widely reported including a NY Times opinion piece that I had been solicited to write, members of the Board of Trustees in conjunction with enraged members of the alumni informally established a ‘Committee to Investigate Richard Falk.’ I am not sure whether this committee ever did any investigating, but the pushback against my activism came to nothing.

Another time, I was asked by NBC to comment on the appointment of Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State, and they listed my Princeton title under my name on the TV screen—‘Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Princeton University.’ I received a message from the Princeton President reporting that the Milbank family requested that I not be identified in public by reference to the Chair that they had endowed. I responded that I was not even aware that my title had been shown, and that I never mention it in media appearances. Again, nothing came of it, beyond giving me a reputation as ‘controversial,’ which had the undisclosed blessing of keeping me from being appointed to university-wide committees that would call attention to my presence in the campus community.

For some years in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW), a glossy magazine designed to keep the alumni connected with the university after graduation, and hopefully financially supportive, I was for years a habitual target of disgruntled alums who blamed me (falsely) for broader changes at Princeton that they believed tarnished their fondest memories of the place. I was blamed for the admission of women as students, political activism on campus, and disappointment that their children developed with what the U.S. was doing in the world. Week after week these hostile letters appeared in the PAW blaming me for a range of developments that they disapproved, many of which I had no connection. If the truth was told in those activist years on the campus between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s I was much more influenced by the students than the other way around.

I think over time has led me to become what I would call ‘a patriot of humanity,’ a term more expressive of this ethos of solidarity for me than proclaiming myself ‘a world citizen,’ which lacks real substance given the non-existence of a ‘world community.’ Citizenship is only meaningful to the extent that allows participation in what can be legitimately called a community that coheres because of shared perceptions of security, justice, identity bound together by effective procedures of governance, respect for diversity of belief and practice reflected in some form of effective legal order. These elements of political community are lacking at the global level although the UN and some elements of international law express aspirations and strivings for such a world community, yet it remains largely unrealized.

In retrospect, I believe that if my overall profile as someone who advocated controversial positions through journalism, media appearances, publicized visits to countries at odds with the U.S. had been clearer during my years at OSU, the Princeton gatekeepers would have barred my entry. However, once through the gates, academic criteria sufficiently prevailed with respect to career assessments, and I published enough scholarly work and enjoyed a decent reputation among colleagues in my field. I felt no pushback in terms of salary and leaves of absence, and was glad about my status as someone who was never invited to speak at alumni events when Princetonians returned to the campus for a weekend of drinking and exposure to faculty talks on current events and research at frontiers of specialized knowledge in the natural and social sciences.

Only once when I was invited to accompany a Princeton alumni cruise in Asia as a faculty lecturer, which was an expensive, secure, and luxurious way to visit foreign countries, a public relations service of the university presumably reinforcing alumni loyalty. I enjoyed the experience of lecturing to these conservatives as we traveling the Mekong River visiting Vietnam and Cambodia. I was amused when one of passengers told me that several of those who had signed up for the cruise were on the verge of canceling because I was one of the two lecturers. In his words, “we thought you had horns, but happily our experience was good.” I found this reaction amusing and instructive because I developed friendly and appreciative relations with these Princeton ultra-privileged alums, another instance of how experiencing the other can be enlightening, avoiding stereotyping dismissals of those with whom we have both real and imagined disagreements.

Busra Cicek: I admired your personal, academic, and activist story while discussing encounters with authoritarian regimes re: Philippines and South Korea, apartheid South Africa, wartime Vietnam, revolutionary Iran, repressed Palestine, polarized Turkey, and the United States. In your work, you stated your awareness of your “Ivy-league educated, white, and American, privileged way of living that was free from oppression or acute pressures of deprivation.” Could you talk about how you managed to intellectually escape the United States’ political imagination?

Richard Falk: I have wondered about this myself. Part of the explanation is that I did not find my father’s strong anti-Communist ideology combined with enthusiasm for the armed forces congenial. It took me a long time to work out my own way of engaging politically with the world. All along I was helped by encounters with progressive friends. My educational experience, particularly at Yale Law School, I came under the influence of several gifted lecturers who endorsed the prevailing Cold War worldview, and rather than persuading me, stimulated strong contrarian tendencies, which by then I was capable confident enough to rely upon as providing independent rationalizations of my alternative worldview. I felt as though I was finally walking on my own path. As described in an earlier response, at every stage there were people, often students, who encouraged me to take an interest in particular problems involving injustices of a systemic nature. Additionally, later on my public visibility as an anti-war critic of the Vietnam War opened other my eyes to many other ongoing struggles of resistance against U.S. intervention and to human rights abuses in distant countries, as well as here at home.

I did not altogether escape from the influence of U.S. dominant forms as I inhabited, although more and more of a dissenter from within than participant, including such influential platforms as Princeton, the Council of Foreign Relations, and the American Society of International Law. This gave me an insider/outsider identity that was rather unusual and came about as a result of unplanned circumstances, resulting from a combination of good credentials, late political maturity, and a curiosity as to what elites were really thinking. I was more a witness than a participant. I learned to stand my ground when important issues of principle came to the surface. It was not always easy. There were costs as I never belonged anywhere, producing a degree of loneliness.

I think that the decisive influences came from experience and likeminded friends, not ideology, and moral intuition. I was influenced both by experience taking the form of direct contact with the realities of injustice, or through artistic renderings that combined screams of rage and plaintive calls for help. I felt that I began to understand the structures of racism upon reading James Baldwin, Fire Next Time and Toni Morrison, Beloved and listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cornel West speak. I was not clear about Vietnam and South African racism until I visited Hanoi in 1968 during the war, and in the same year, Pretoria and Johannesburg during the height of the apartheid regime. I was influenced forever by what I saw and heard, and the feelings of empathy for those who suffered and admiration for those who resisted.

The same pattern holds true with respect to the Palestinian struggle. Friendship with Edward Said and Raji Sourani, followed by visits to Israel and Occupied Palestine shifted my perspective from an opinionated observer to a dedicated advocate of Palestinian basic rights. I began telling my students that knowledge without experience tends to be barren, and there is only so much you can learn from reading and lectures. I guess I am expressing a truism: that emotional underpinnings are integral to political engagement. This helps explain why feelings/values arise from experience and background, and it also accounts for why novels and poems often proved to be my favorite teachers when it came to understanding how the world works.

Most of my faculty colleagues seemed more comfortable being compliant ‘children of the enlightenment,’ trusting in the sufficiency of the rational mind, scientific method, and the implicit biases of middle class social positioning, liberal in disposition, risk averse. Inevitably, I still partake of this mentality, more than I realized until Donald Trump came on the scene with his post-truth politics. It allowed me to rediscover the virtues of the Enlightenment at least as a shield against bigotry and lies and made me think that I had blamed the failures of modernity too much on its reliance upon instrumental rationality. I still think the marginalization of conscience is the curse haunting modernity, accounting for its insensitive exploitation of nature and imperial forms of domination over variously victimized peoples.

There are a few exceptional events that can be understood sufficiently without direct experience or artistic renderings—images of Nazi death camps and the atomic bombings of Japanese cities need no commentary to be felt. When visiting Hiroshima thirty years after the fact, it struck me that the city of Hiroshima was the one place where the memory of that horrendous event was erased or minimized because the residents did not want to go through life with their identities tied to that horrifying and traumatizing past. The past was not altogether ignored in Hiroshima. There was a peace museum in Hiroshima devoted to the radioactive birth of the nuclear age, but it was visited when I was there mainly by foreigners. And annual anniversaries of remembrance, acknowledging and bemoaning the tragedy. The images of ‘the mushroom cloud’ and the burning victims or the Nazi death camps and the starving and pathetic victims are so vivid as to provoke our silent screams.

Busra Cicek:  In your work, you shared your academic and diplomatic experiences as “a critic of Israel and Zionism in the context of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights and an activist to opposing the Vietnam War from the perspective of international law” that situated you on “the far left,” meanwhile you positioned yourself as a “visionary humanist.” Could you please talk about what this position means in the context of the American political spectrum? What does it tell us about current American academics and students engaged in critical scholarship? How can your notions of “humane realism,” “progressive internationalism,” and “visionary humanism” shape progressive academia?

Richard Falk: To some extent, my prior response addresses this question. I guess for liberals and right-wing people I am perceived as being on the left, but among those dogmatically or organizationally on the left I am not one of them. I do not explain myself or my politics by reference to any variant of Marxist thought or even the leftism of Antonio Gramsci, and besides my receptivity to religion and spirituality is not rooted in an institutionalized canon of thought as was the case with ‘liberation theology.’ I find kinship with those traditions of systematic thought but I tend to learn on the job. Your question makes me realize that I have never been recruited by formalized leftist such as political parties or NGOs.

I suppose I felt closer to the progressive variants of existentialist thinking that prevailed after World War II as it stripped away the metaphysics of fixed belief and seemed to align with those that were struggling for emancipation in one form or another without demonstrating ‘scientifically’ that it was materially conditioned or preordained by the contradictions of class conflict. Existentialism took its shape in reflections on and resistance to the Nazi experience.

I suppose that my language of ‘visionary humanism’ makes clear that I don’t belong to any of the familiar political categories. My anti-militarist, anti-interventionist, anti-business and socialist approaches to health, education, and welfare to alienate and antagonize the right. Liberals, or so-called independents, favor making incremental changes that are ‘realistic’ and tend to avoid what they deem as extremes on either side of the political spectrum, generally refraining from dwelling on divisive structural explanations of social policy that focus on predatory capitalism, systematic racism, and entrenched militarism. The liberal/independent orientation aims to improve the quality of democracy one step at a time, doing what is feasible in the political domain, while I advocate what I believe to be necessary and desirable even though not feasible from the perspective of politics as the art of the possible.

This has pushed me in the direction of what is deemed by the mainstream as ‘utopia,’ which I call a ‘necessary utopia’ or ‘a politics of impossibility.’ On some immediate agenda issues such as restoring the nuclear agreement with Iran or avoiding a cold war with China I feel almost comfortable making common cause with liberals/independents. On other issues I gladly take a left position such as support for self-determination in Venezuela and Palestine, demilitarization, and opposition to imposing sanctions on adversaries of the United States that makes those who are centrists, drawing support from ‘both sides of aisle’ uncomfortable. Their politics of feasibility is based on what for me is delusional, that the only way to get things done in America is by building a broad coalition that stretches beyond independents to incorporate moderate Republicans, pointing to issues such as immigration, tax reform, climate change, and minimum wage to prove their point. This may be a description of the workings of top down American politics in the last half century, but it does not meaningfully respond to the crucial challenges that require transformative initiatives based on pressures from the street.

My efforts over the years have been divided between resistance to existing policies by solidarity with ongoing struggles or structural longer term critiques of global governance that aim at sustainability, justice, and nonviolence, hoping for the emergence of ‘patriots of humanity’ and ‘guardians of nature’ who seek equitable management of the planetary agenda and minimum governmentality in societal arrangements.

Busra Cicek:  You describe the current national and international order as neither “ethically acceptable, politically legitimate, nor ecologically sustainable, [thus] creating an unprecedented challenge to the political, moral, and cultural imaginations and practices of all.” Can you share your thoughts on the future of disadvantaged people and all citizens more broadly, and especially the prospects for those who do not belong to the “minority near the top of the social and economic pyramid?” How can we talk about “social and ecological revitalization, and of the [hope for] progressive versions of democracy” better?

Richard Falk: On the level of critique, the grossest ethical deficiencies of the current form of global governance is expressed by reliance on ‘ethically unacceptable’ practices and policies including systemic  denials of fundamental human rights, dependence on warfare and coercive diplomacy for the resolution on conflict, multiple forms of inequality, and imposition of destructive forms of dominion over nature. There are failures of ‘political legitimacy’ associated above all with the inability to address adequately challenges of global scope including nuclear weaponry, climate change, hunger and malnutrition, migration and asylum, and the extension of legal accountability to geopolitical actors. Finally, there are disastrous shortcomings when it comes to ‘ecological sustainability’ the most prominent of which are insufficient regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, failures to protect the viability of the global commons, especially air, soil, water (rivers, oceans), and jeopardizing the quality of life of future generations. These conditions affect even the most privileged elites whose imaginary increasingly veers toward escapist scenarios that borrow from science fiction. At their extreme are plans for migrating to the moon, building underground habitable structures in New Zealand, or being content with denialism. In these circumstances, the poor and disadvantaged feel the heaviest blows from a world order system that endangers humanity as a whole. This pattern of vulnerability has been evident in various studies of infection and death rates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a template for illustrating the inequitable distribution of benefits and burdens embedded in current arrangement of global governance.

A more emancipatory perspective presupposes thinking beyond the horizons of what seems politically feasible given global constraints, and imagining what is necessary if we are to overcome the dire deficiencies of existing world order. Essentially, this means a transformative shift in energies from the priorities of modernity—basically, national interests as measured by the efficiency and profitability of capital and the security, autonomy, and status of the territorial sovereign state. To close the gap between the feasible and the necessary depends upon enough people becoming guardians of nature and patriots of humanity rather than patriots of the state and promoters of corporate capitalism. More concretely this means creating mechanism that recognize that the whole is greater than the parts in the reorganization of life on the planet, establishing effective mechanisms for realizing global and human interests, respecting the carrying capacity of the earth. Admittedly such a vision of the future has a utopian quality, what I have earlier called to ‘a necessary utopia’ that can be attained by ‘a politics of impossibility.’ For this to happens, requires a massive movement from below, possibly nurtured by elite defectors, that appears to come from nowhere, a carrier of an ecological ethos of renouncing harmful and reckless policies and practices.

Will this happen? We should know from experience that the future unfolds in unpredictable ways. There are hints that there are active cultural tremors seeking transition to an ecologically oriented civilization. There are also contradictory signs that the human species has no collective will to survive beyond its own mortality. My response is that since the future is unknowable and has given rise throughout history to major unpredicted changes for better and worse, we have no excuse but to struggle as best we can for the future we prefer. We are living in an unprecedented time in human history signaled by geologists and others identifying this epoch as the Anthropocene in recognition of the fact that human activity has the capability to impact on the basic ecological balances of the earth. In this sense, the necessary utopia as seen from the perspective of the dysfunctional present is nothing other than ‘responsible anthropocentrism,’ entailing renegotiating our relations with nature, the future, and learning to live together on the planet in a spirit of coexistence and dialogue.

Daniel Falcone is a writer, activist, and teacher in New York City and studies in the PhD program in World History at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Busra Cicek is a Doctoral Fellow in the World History Department at St. John’s University in Queens, New York and researches the development of nationalist discourses and its relationship with statecraft in Turkey.

Palestine is Winning the Legitimacy War

19 May

[Prefatory Note: This opinion piece was published in Middle East Eye on May 18,2021, and republished in Il Manifesto  and The Wire under different titles. It attempts to contextualize the current violence directed against Gaza in earlier Israeli provocations. It also takes note of Israel’s reliance on excessive force in its attack upon an essentially helpless Gazan civilian population of over two million people trapped inside a crowded and unlawfully blockaded enclave. The communal violence between Arabs and Jews in Israeli towns and villages, the unity displayed by Palestinians inside and outside the occupied territories, the protests at the borders of Jordan and Lebanon, the Jewish dissent from Israeli criminal assault on Gaza, and the greater receptivity of the Western media and even the US Congress to Palestinian grievances different than past interludes of severe violence. The future will tell us whether finally an inflection point in the Palestinian struggle has been reached in which the path to peace is cleared by the fusion of resistance from within and solidarity from without.]

The Last Stand of Settler Colonialism: Apartheid Israel

The current crisis of Palestine/Israel deepens and widens as casualties mount, smoke from destroyed buildings blacken the sky over Gaza, rioting on the streets of many Israeli and West Bank towns, Israeli police disrupting worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and protecting extremist Jewish settlers shouting genocidal slogans ‘death to the Arabs’ in their inflammatory marches through Palestinian neighborhoods. Underlying this entire eruption of tensions between oppressor and oppressed were the flimsy legalized evictions of six Palestinian families long resident in the Sheikh Jarrah. These evictions epitomized the long Palestinian ordeal of persecution and banishment in what psychologically remains their homeland. While this mayhem continues the lights have remained scandalously dim at the UN. Western leaders pathetically call for calm on both as if both sides shared equal blame, while perversely affirming the one-sidedness of ‘Israel’s right to defend itself,’ which supposes that Israel had been attacked out of the blue.

Is this but one more cycle of violence exhibiting the unresolvable clash between a native people overwhelmed by a colonial intruder emboldened by a unique religiously grounded settler sense of entitlement? Or are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the century long struggle by the Palestinian people to defend their homeland against the unfolding Zionist Project that stole their land, trampled on their dignity, and made Palestinians victimized strangers in what had been their national home for centuries? Only the future can fully unravel this haunting uncertainty. In the meantime, we can expect more bloodshed, death, outrage, grief, injustice, and continuing geopolitical interference. What these events have made clear is that the Palestinians are withstanding prolonged oppression with their spirit of resistance intact, and refuse to. be pacified regardless of the severity of the imposed hardships. We also are made to appreciate that the Israeli leadership and most of its public is no longer in the mood even to pretend receptivity to a peaceful alternative to the completion of their settler colonial undertaking despite its dependence on a weaponized version of apartheid governance. 

THE HASBARA NARRATIVE

For Israelis and much of the West the core narrative continues to be the violence of a terrorist organization, Hamas, challenging the peaceful state of Israel with destructive intent, making the Israeli response seem reasonable as both a discouragement of the rockets but also as a harsh punitive lesson for the people of Gaza designed to deter future terrorist attacks. The Israeli missiles and drones are deemed ‘defensive’ while the rockets are acts of ‘terrorism’ even though Israeli human targets are seldom hit, and despite the fact that it is Israeli weaponry that causes 95% of the widespread death and destruction among the over two million civilians Gazans who have been victims of an unlawful and crippling blockade that since 2007 has brought severe suffering to the impoverished, crowded, traumatized Palestinian enclave long enduring unemployment levels above 50%.  

In the current confrontation Israel’s control of the international discourse has succeeded in de-contextualizing the timeline of violence, having the effect of leading those with little knowledge of what induced the flurry of Hamas rockets to believe falsely that the destruction in Gaza was a retaliatory Israeli reaction to hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas and Gaza militia groups. With abuses of language that might even surprise Orwell, Israel’s state terrorism is airbrushed by the world along with the rebuff of Hamas’ peace diplomacy over the past 15 years that has repeatedly sought a permanent ceasefire and peaceful coexistence.

For Palestinians, and those in solidarity with their struggle, Israel knowingly allowed the subjugated population of East Jerusalem to experience a series of anguishing humiliations to occur during the holy period of Muslim religious observances in Ramadan rubbing salt in the a wounds recently opened by the Sheikh Jarrar evictions, which had the inevitable effect of refreshing Palestinian memories of their defining experiences of ethnic cleansing days before the annual May 15th observance of the Nakba. This amounted to a metaphoric reenactment of that massive crime of expulsion accompanying the birth of Israel in 1948, culminating in the bulldozing of several hundred Palestinian villages signaling a firm Israeli intention to make the banishment permanent.

SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID

Unlike South Africa, which made never claimed to be a democracy, Israel legitimated itself by presenting itself as a constitutional democracy. This resolve to be a democracy came with a high price tag of deception and self-deception, necessitating to this day a continuing struggle to make apartheid work to secure Jewish supremacy while hiding Palestinian subjugation. For decades Israel was successful in hiding these apartheid features from the world because the legacy of the Holocaust lent uncritical credence to the Zionist narrative of providing sanctuary for the survivors of the worst genocide known to humanity. Additionally, the Jewish presence was making the desert bloom, while at the same time virtually erasing Palestine grievances, further discounted by hasbara visions of Palestinian backwardness as contrasting with Israeli modernizing prowess, and later on by juxtaposing a political caricature of the two peoples portraying Jewish adherence to Western values as opposed to Palestinian embrace of terrorism.

WINNING THE LEGITIMACY WAR

Recent developments in the symbolic domains of politics that control the outcome of Legitimacy Wars have scored several victories for the Palestinian struggle. The International Criminal Court has authorized the investigation of Israeli criminality in Occupied Palestine since 2015 despite vigorous opposition from the leadership of the Israeli government, fully supported by the United States. The investigation in The Hague, although proceeding with diligent respect for the legalities involved, was not openly engaged by Israel, but rather was immediately denounced by Netanyahu as ‘pure antisemitism.’

Beyond this, the contentions of Israeli apartheid, which only a few years ago was similarly denounced when an academic report commissioned by the UN concluded that the allegation of apartheid was unequivocally confirmed by Israeli policies and practices of an inhuman character designed to ensure Palestinian victimization and Jewish domination. In the past few months both B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights NGO, and Human Rights Watch, have issued carefully documented studies that reach the same startling conclusion that the Israel indeed administers an apartheid regime within the whole of historic Palestine, that is, the Occupied Palestinian Territories plus Israel itself. While these two developments do not alleviate Palestinian suffering or the behavioral effects of enduring denial of basic rights, they are significant symbolic victories that stiffen the morale of Palestinian resistance and strengthen the bonds of global solidarity. The record of struggles against colonialism since 1945 support reaching the conclusion that the side that wins a Legitimacy War will eventually control the political outcome, despite being weaker militarily and diplomatically. 

The endgame of South African apartheid reinforces this reassessment of the changing balance of forces in the Palestinian struggle. Despite having what appeared to be effective and stable control of the African majority population through the implementation of brutal apartheid structures, the racist regime collapsed from within under the combined weight of internal resistance and international solidarity. Outside pressures included a widely endorsed BDS campaign enjoying UN backing. Israel is not South Africa in a number of key aspects, but the combination of resistance and solidarity was dramatically ramped upwards in the past week. Israel has already long lost the main legal and moral arguments, almost acknowledging this interpretation by their defiant way of changing the subject with reckless accusations of antisemitism, and is in the process of losing the political argument.

Israel’s own sense of vulnerability to a South African scenario has been exposed by this growing tendency to brand supporters of BDS and harsh critics as ‘antisemites,’ which seems in the context of present development best described as ‘a geopolitical panic attack.’ I find it  appropriate to recall Gandhi’s famous observation along these lines: “first, they ignore you, then they insult you, then they fight you, then you win.”  

Citizen Pilgrim: To Be or Not to Be

13 May

Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim – A Conversation with Richard Falk, Noura Erakat, Victoria Brittain and Jeremy Corbyn

When: Monday, May 17, 2021, 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Where: Online,

Book now

The International State Crime Initiative is delighted to host a conversation with Professor Richard Falk—preeminent international legal scholar, activist, and thinker on peace and justice—on his recently released memoir Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim. Professor Falk will be joined by Professor Noura Erakat, British journalist and author Victoria Brittain, and British MP and Former Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, who will reflect upon Falk’s life as a leading international and political figure.

This event, chaired by Professor Penny Green (Queen Mary), will take place on Monday 17 May at 5:30 pm (BST).

Professor Falk’s political memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim, chronicles Falk’s life of progressive commitment, highlighted by his visits to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War; to Iran during the Islamic Revolution; to South Africa at the height of the struggle against apartheid; and frequently to Palestine and Israel in his capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. Falk’s memoir also discusses the enduring defamatory attacks he faced in reaction to his stances for justice and his expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. As a Professor of International Law at Princeton University, Professor Falk would draw on these experiences to publish more than fifty books on topics of significant scholarly relevance, including studies of the profound dangers now facing humanity, the relevance of international law and the UN, and prospects for transforming world order in the direction of peace, justice, and ecological viability. His memoir excavates two key themes that have dominated his public roles: engaging with the controversies of the present and envisioning a future of world order that is humane and sensitive to ecological limits.

Speakers

Profile image for Richard Falk in black and whiteProfessor Richard Falk is a leading international law professor, prominent activist, and prolific author and scholar. During forty years at Princeton University Falk was active in seeking an end to the Vietnam War, a better understanding of Iran, a just solution for Israel/Palestine, and improved democracy elsewhere. He also served as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. His books include This Endangered Planet, A Study of Future Worlds; Power Shift, Revisiting the Vietnam War, Palestine Horizon, and On Nuclearism. He now holds a Chair in Global Law at Queen Mary University of London.

Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MPRt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP is British MP for Islington North and Former Leader of the British Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition (2015-2020). Corbyn was first elected to Parliament in 1983. His professional and personal journey has led him to spend significant time and energy on issues of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, LGBT+ rights, transport, the environment, opposition to nuclear weapons and military intervention, Trade Union policies, Miscarriages of Justice and more. Through his roles and activism he has travelled widely and continues to support communities affected by unresolved conflict, including the Western Sahara, Chagos Islands, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Ireland, West Papua, the Dalit community, and the Rohingya. Corbyn was awarded the Sean McBride Peace Prize in 2017, and before that the Gandhi International Peace Award in 2013. He is currently a member of the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe, the UK Socialist Campaign Group, and a regular participant at the United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Vice President), and Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group (Honorary President), and a Vice president of the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Professor Noura ErakatProfessor Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney, Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Rutgers University, and non-resident fellow of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School. Noura is the author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2019), which received the Palestine Book Award and the Bronze Medal for the Independent Publishers Book Award in Current Events/Foreign Affairs. She is co-founding editor of Jadaliyya and editorial board member of the Journal of Palestine Studies. She has served as Legal Counsel for a Congressional Subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, as Legal Advocate for the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights, and as national organizer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Noura has also produced video documentaries, including “Gaza In Context” and “Black Palestinian Solidarity.” She has appeared on CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NPR, among others.

Victoria BrittainVictoria Brittain worked at the Guardian for more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and then Associate Foreign Editor. She has lived and worked in Saigon, Algiers, Nairobi and reported from many countries in Africa and the Middle East for numerous media outlets in the anglophone and francophone worlds. She is the author, co-author or editor of 10 books and plays including Love and Resistance in the Films of Mai Masri (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Chair

Penny Green, Head of the Department of LawProfessor Penny Green is Head of the Law Department at Queen Mary University and Professor Law and Globalisation. Professor Green has published extensively on state crime theory (including her monographs with Tony Ward, State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption; and State Crime and Civil Activism: on the dialectics of repression and resistance), state violence, Turkish criminal justice and politics, ‘natural’ disasters, the Rohingya genocide, mass forced evictions in Israel/Palestine, and civil society resistance to state violence. Professor Green is Co-editor in Chief of the State Crime Journal and Founder and Director of the award-winning International State Crime Initiative.

**Please note this is an online event and that all registrants will be sent joining details on the day of the event.

Contact the university

Queen Mary University of London
Mile End Road
London E1 4NS
+44 (0) 20 7882 5555

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On Being a Citizen Pilgrim

7 May

[Prefatory Note: The following interview was published  on May 7, 2021, https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/05/07/the-fascinating-memoir-of-a-citizen-pilgrim-qa-with-richard-falk/

I apologize for the self-promotion but I suppose that is what a blog of this sort is inevitably partially about.]

The Fascinating Memoir of a “Citizen Pilgrim”: Q&A with Richard Falk

BY BUSRA CICEK – DANIEL FALCONE

Image Source: Cover art for the book Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim

Richard Falk, the well-known international relations scholar, taught at Princeton University for four decades. Starting in 2002 he has taught Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Falk is also a chair for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. This lengthy interview is about his latest book, a memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim, that explores his career as an academic, activist, rapporteur, political theorist, and professor.

Daniel Falcone: Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim is considered both an autobiography and a book about international relations. I like how you provide the reader, with a narrative-analysis. In other words, it seems that you are interested in explaining a great deal of your (and others) analytical frameworks by unpacking your own life in the pursuits of these intellectual developments. Can you comment on this?

Richard Falk: From the beginning I was seeking to understand the interfaces connecting the personal, professional, and political that seemed to have dominated the adult portions of my life journey. In doing this, I realized that it was an exercise in self-scrutiny that is comparable with self-administered post-Freudian therapy. I was, in part, motivated by the goal of understanding why I had chosen several less traveled paths in shaping life experience, as well as narrating my journey guided in its last stages by a progressive imaginary. I decided, also, to risk recalling my past totally on the basis of memory, without recourse to such materials as journals and books in my possession. Of course, this was hazardous at any age, but particularly on a project that did not get fully underway until my late 80s. I doubt that it would have been more selective in distorting ways than if I had checked my recollections against the records I kept over the years.

I also had a strong sense that my problematic childhood and adolescence was relevant to what came later. I am quite sure that my interpretative gaze would have been quite different if I had started this project five or ten years earlier, which suggests that there is a degree of contingency embedded in attempting a memoir. The personal and historical context would have been different, and hence the lens by which I reconstructed my life.  I felt strongly that I should be as honest as possible, while taking on responsibilities of not without being hurtful to persons who were alive and with whom I had once been intimate. I found it difficult to decide whether explaining why a romantic relationship did not endure was worse than overlooking the relationship altogether, which was the course chosen in several instances. 

Early on as I reflected upon my childhood, why it was so humdrum, exhibiting little by way of achievement or even sense of direction. Aside from my own failings, I attribute the snail pace of my development, perhaps overly, to the impact of my divorced parents, my mother detached and uncaring, my father too protective and deeply disappointed by the downward trajectory of his own life. In some ways, I think my insecurity of those years helped me avoid the worst sorts of failures. In a real sense, I lacked the courage to fail altogether, hanging on to the edge of the cliff with my fingernails because of my fear of falling. I began to gain a certain composure, probably nothing more than a fragile veneer of self-confidence as a college undergraduate, then a law school student, and later as a young faculty member at a large mid-western university. Each of these experiences in an academic institution by stages helped me find a political identity of my own. I had long lounged under the umbrella of my father’s ultra-conservative stance, which was both anti-New Deal and unconditionally anti-Communist. I was not at ease with such a political outlook, but I lacked an alternative.

The publisher of my memoir, supportive and empathetic from start to finish, rightly instructed me cut 100,000 words that I had struggled to find during the ordeal of composition. As it said, sometimes the best of a film is left on the floor of the cutting room, I am not sure whether my editorial surgery was properly selective in its arbitrary decisions about what could go and what should stay. In retrospect, the subjectivity of constructing one’s own life by staring for several years at oneself in a rear view mirror made me aware that there is a much finer line separating fiction from non-fiction than I had assumed for the prior 90 years.

Maybe a better book, certainly a different one, would have emerged if I had allowed myself the freedom to embellish my life rather than to try to render it. Is it important, in other words, to keep the faith? Or would most readers prefer to wander with me down phantasy lane? Is there really such a thing as a ‘fake life’ any more than there is a ‘true life.’ Of course, appalled by Trump’s dodges of truth and truthfulness, I felt it a political obligation to be as truthful as possible. And maybe this worked to skew the narrative toward an unimaginative literalness, and is the sort of historical contextual circumstance that tilts the tone and substance in a different way than I had embarked the memoir writing experience during the Obama presidency.

Daniel Falcone: I particularly enjoyed reading about the impacts that students from Puerto Rico had on your educational leadership, your politics in general, and how they helped you gain an appreciation for the politics of the islandspecifically. Can you inform readers of this experience and what these mentorships and friendships cultivated and produced?

Richard Falk: You pose an interesting series of questions about friendship with a particular stress on friendship with students. It may be had I responded to these questions prior to writing this memoir I would have approached these issues in more perceptive ways. Pondering now why friendship has always loomed large in my enjoyment of life at every stage, I would have to acknowledge that it probably reflects the shortcomings of the family dimensions of my life, leading me to search elsewhere for meaning and affection. As well, the absence of the kind of community affiliations that bestows a sense of both identity and belonging that most frequently arise from religious practices and cultural traditions was entirely absent, leading to feelings of envy for apparent ‘normalcy’ of my school classmates who almost all seemed more attached to their families and ethnic backgrounds than I.

As so much of my early pleasure and later of wellbeing involved competitive sports. I found many early friends on these playing fields, and this kind of satisfying bonding continued to be a sustaining feature of my social life throughout my life. Especially at Princeton where so many students were talented and ambitious, I found many young persons who interested me, especially among those who came from less privileged backgrounds at graduate levels. At the same time, because my research interests and political activities situated me at the professional margins, I found students by and large less judgmental than my faculty colleagues and often more congenial and interesting. It embarrasses me, yet only slightly, that after 40 years at Princeton, with a few notable exceptions, my only close faculty friends on campus, with a few exceptions, were those with whom I played tennis and squash with on a weekly basis over many years. Others with strong shared interests and views were not to be found on campus, but were either former students or those with whom I bonded through shared political commitments or other forms of sympathetic intimacy.

What I discovered early on in my faculty experience was that teaching provided a great arena for learning provided I had the self-confidence to listen carefully even to objections and also to approach my lectures without excessive preparation, which I realize may sound strange. This latter characteristic might seem odd, and it can be taken too far, or prove disastrous if not familiar with the overall subject-matter, particularly its framework. The advantage of being creatively underprepared is that it leaves space for spontaneous free associations and opens more space for dialogue with students. If relying on old notes or even transcripts of old lectures there is a fixation on text, a corresponding reluctance to explore uncharted territory, and at atmosphere not receptive to dialogue.

In my memoir I describe lingering impressions of students who made a career with a public resonance, often having the opportunity to relate to them in small-class atmospheres or as thesis advisees. Among the most notable were Robert Muller, David Petraeus, Richard Perle, Saud Faisal, Moulay Hicham Abdullah, and Anne-Marie Slaughter. They were a diverse group, which sometimes anticipated what they became later on in ‘the real world’ and other times surprised me. Except for Moulay Hicham these celebrity students never became friends, and we lost contact after they left Princeton, but they left imprint with their strong personalities. I take note of the fact, with regret, that were male with a single exception.

I think your question is primarily concerned with the interplay between the pedagogy of university education and arenas of political activism. By pointing to the exertion of influence by a Puerto Rican student, you hit upon a good example, although it relates more to my being influenced by students than befriending them. In this particular instance, a graduate student in history at Princeton who came from a political independentista background educated me about the tawdry nature of what I came to regard as the ‘internal colonialism’ in his homeland within my homeland.

Through this student I came into contact with several leading Puerto Rican political figures and intellectuals, and visited the country, not in the normal tourist modalities but to understand more experientially the detrimental impacts associated with making PR serve U.S. military priorities, and caught between the emotions of nationalism and the practical advantages of tax advantages that derived from their intermediate status as a commonwealth within the frame of U.S, sovereignty. This squeezed identity is expressed by singing songs of liberations in barrooms and voting to remain tied to the commonwealth reality.

I was especially struck by visiting the small island of Vieques (part of the PR island group), two-thirds of which was appropriated as a naval artillery range for U.S. warships greatly harming the traditional island’s economy and traditional way of life based on small-scale fishing and farming. Above all, I learned a valuable lesson from this involvement. It taught me that supplementing academic learning with the experience of being there in some caring (not for a research project) capacity contributed a dimension to understanding that could not be derived from tourism or even prolonged academic field trips. As it happened, I soon became preoccupied with the Vietnam War, and lost contact with my Puerto Rican student mentor, but the effects of his pedagogy lingered.

More associated with the interplay between classroom and being there was my contact with the somewhat analogous role played by the United States in the Philippines. The Marcos dictatorship was providing hospitality for large U.S. military bases that compromised political independence and provided a cover for elite corruption that kept the country poor, and its citizenry repressed and antagonized. In this instance, two Filipino students with deep and abiding ties to the national struggle for human rights, democracy, and true political independence, kindled my interest and arranged for me to make several trips to the country, either related to the nationalist movement of opposition to the bases that included several politicians who were leading members of the Senate, and who also became my friends in the course of these visits.

The students back in Princeton, Walden Bello and Lester Ruiz, went on to have important careers of their own, and they remain among my cherished friends to this day. Walden became a leading anti-imperial voice through his books and activism, while Lester became a colleague in my more future-oriented work in the World Order Models Project that devoted itself to envisaging a humane world order, its structure and how to bring into being. What I want to stress is that the original interaction in the classroom led to a learning experience in a distant country, which deepened my understanding and motivation when I returned to the classroom.

It was not just a matter of being there, but being engaged while in the Philippines, leaving a lasting imprint, and making me, I believe, a more effective lecturer. The experiential factor was thus not observational in the spirit of anthropology but enlivened by active solidarity with ongoing struggles for justice that provided insight into a range of analogous issues in an array of countries throughout the global south. The friendship dimension was integral to the existential context, enabling me to be received in communities of solidarity in an atmosphere of trust, friendship, and disclosure.

Daniel Falcone: Although you are a widely read international relations scholar, with experience in research schools and global institutions, I learned in the book that you often navigated a common humbling experience of everyday life within the humanities and education. Your teaching at Ohio State and Princeton at times brought you into contact with people interested in athletics and activities that were prioritized over your subject matter. Can you talk about this more, as I think teachers and professors would find your insights helpful.

Richard Falk: Over the years in academic life, I came under various sorts of pressure, which were more-subtle during my time at Princeton than during the five years spent at Ohio State University at the end of the 1950s. OSU was a nationally ranked team in the two major college sports of football and basketball, and it was the source of institutional pride for its alumni and administrators. I was approached on one occasion by an adjunct member of the faculty who made his name and his fortune as a lawyer in private practice in Columbus with an angry request that I change the grade of a student in my first year class in criminal law because, and solely because he was the son of a prominent figure in Ohio state politics. This lawyer, used to getting his way confronted me as a young untenured member of the law faculty with what amounted to a diktat, and when I declined, he stormed out of my office never to speak to me again. After the incident I was rather sure he would approach the dean of our faculty who was known to have ambitions to become president of OSU, and I feared that this would be my last year at the university. Actually, nothing came of my refusal to adjust this student’s grade, perhaps because it was such a crass attempt to encroach upon faculty grading autonomy. He could have at least pleaded the case for a grade change by some sort of story that the boy was under unusual pressure because his parents were going through an ugly divorce, and a low grade would have devastated him further.

At Princeton, pressures from the alumni were frequent and more sophisticated. For one thing, the Princeton alums felt as an entitlement to interfere as many were major annual donors, accounting for the wealth of the university, and university administrators wanted them to feel a stake in the institution. Some conservative alumni were upset with my political activism, and visibility in the national public sphere. I was told by a sympathetic administrator in the aftermath of the Vietnam War that it was estimated that my anti-war stands cost Princeton $1,000,000 per year as a result of donors flexing their philanthropic muscles.

After my visit in 1979 to Iran to view the unfolding of the Iranian Revolution, which was widely reported including a NY Times opinion piece that I had been solicited to write, members of the Board of Trustees in conjunction with enraged members of the alumni informally established a ‘Committee to Investigate Richard Falk.’ I am not sure whether this committee ever did any investigating, but the pushback against my activism came to nothing.

Another time, I was asked by NBC to comment on the appointment of Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State, and they listed my Princeton title under my name on the TV screen—‘Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Princeton University.’ I received a message from the Princeton President reporting that the Milbank family requested that I not be identified in public by reference to the Chair that they had endowed. I responded that I was not even aware that my title had been shown, and that I never mention it in media appearances. Again, nothing came of it, beyond giving me a reputation as ‘controversial,’ which had the undisclosed blessing of keeping me from being appointed to university-wide committees that would call attention to my presence in the campus community.

For some years in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW), a glossy magazine designed to keep the alumni connected with the university after graduation, and hopefully financially supportive, I was for years a habitual target of disgruntled alums who blamed me (falsely) for broader changes at Princeton that they believed tarnished their fondest memories of the place. I was blamed for the admission of women as students, political activism on campus, and disappointment that their children developed with what the U.S. was doing in the world. Week after week these hostile letters appeared in the PAW blaming me for a range of developments that they disapproved, many of which I had no connection. If the truth was told in those activist years on the campus between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s I was much more influenced by the students than the other way around.

I think over time has led me to become what I would call ‘a patriot of humanity,’ a term more expressive of this ethos of solidarity for me than proclaiming myself ‘a world citizen,’ which lacks real substance given the non-existence of a ‘world community.’ Citizenship is only meaningful to the extent that allows participation in what can be legitimately called a community that coheres because of shared perceptions of security, justice, identity bound together by effective procedures of governance, respect for diversity of belief and practice reflected in some form of effective legal order. These elements of political community are lacking at the global level although the UN and some elements of international law express aspirations and strivings for such a world community, yet it remains largely unrealized.

In retrospect, I believe that if my overall profile as someone who advocated controversial positions through journalism, media appearances, publicized visits to countries at odds with the U.S. had been clearer during my years at OSU, the Princeton gatekeepers would have barred my entry. However, once through the gates, academic criteria sufficiently prevailed with respect to career assessments, and I published enough scholarly work and enjoyed a decent reputation among colleagues in my field. I felt no pushback in terms of salary and leaves of absence, and was glad about my status as someone who was never invited to speak at alumni events when Princetonians returned to the campus for a weekend of drinking and exposure to faculty talks on current events and research at frontiers of specialized knowledge in the natural and social sciences.

Only once when I was invited to accompany a Princeton alumni cruise in Asia as a faculty lecturer, which was an expensive, secure, and luxurious way to visit foreign countries, a public relations service of the university presumably reinforcing alumni loyalty. I enjoyed the experience of lecturing to these conservatives as we traveling the Mekong River visiting Vietnam and Cambodia. I was amused when one of passengers told me that several of those who had signed up for the cruise were on the verge of canceling because I was one of the two lecturers. In his words, “we thought you had horns, but happily our experience was good.” I found this reaction amusing and instructive because I developed friendly and appreciative relations with these Princeton ultra-privileged alums, another instance of how experiencing the other can be enlightening, avoiding stereotyping dismissals of those with whom we have both real and imagined disagreements.

Busra Cicek: I admired your personal, academic, and activist story while discussing encounters with authoritarian regimes re: Philippines and South Korea, apartheid South Africa, wartime Vietnam, revolutionary Iran, repressed Palestine, polarized Turkey, and the United States. In your work, you stated your awareness of your “Ivy-league educated, white, and American, privileged way of living that was free from oppression or acute pressures of deprivation.” Could you talk about how you managed to intellectually escape the United States’ political imagination?

Richard Falk: I have wondered about this myself. Part of the explanation is that I did not find my father’s strong anti-Communist ideology combined with enthusiasm for the armed forces congenial. It took me a long time to work out my own way of engaging politically with the world. All along I was helped by encounters with progressive friends. My educational experience, particularly at Yale Law School, I came under the influence of several gifted lecturers who endorsed the prevailing Cold War worldview, and rather than persuading me, stimulated strong contrarian tendencies, which by then I was capable confident enough to rely upon as providing independent rationalizations of my alternative worldview. I felt as though I was finally walking on my own path. As described in an earlier response, at every stage there were people, often students, who encouraged me to take an interest in particular problems involving injustices of a systemic nature. Additionally, later on my public visibility as an anti-war critic of the Vietnam War opened other my eyes to many other ongoing struggles of resistance against U.S. intervention and to human rights abuses in distant countries, as well as here at home.

I did not altogether escape from the influence of U.S. dominant forms as I inhabited, although more and more of a dissenter from within than participant, including such influential platforms as Princeton, the Council of Foreign Relations, and the American Society of International Law. This gave me an insider/outsider identity that was rather unusual and came about as a result of unplanned circumstances, resulting from a combination of good credentials, late political maturity, and a curiosity as to what elites were really thinking. I was more a witness than a participant. I learned to stand my ground when important issues of principle came to the surface. It was not always easy. There were costs as I never belonged anywhere, producing a degree of loneliness.

I think that the decisive influences came from experience and likeminded friends, not ideology, and moral intuition. I was influenced both by experience taking the form of direct contact with the realities of injustice, or through artistic renderings that combined screams of rage and plaintive calls for help. I felt that I began to understand the structures of racism upon reading James Baldwin, Fire Next Time and Toni Morrison, Beloved and listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cornel West speak. I was not clear about Vietnam and South African racism until I visited Hanoi in 1968 during the war, and in the same year, Pretoria and Johannesburg during the height of the apartheid regime. I was influenced forever by what I saw and heard, and the feelings of empathy for those who suffered and admiration for those who resisted.

The same pattern holds true with respect to the Palestinian struggle. Friendship with Edward Said and Raji Sourani, followed by visits to Israel and Occupied Palestine shifted my perspective from an opinionated observer to a dedicated advocate of Palestinian basic rights. I began telling my students that knowledge without experience tends to be barren, and there is only so much you can learn from reading and lectures. I guess I am expressing a truism: that emotional underpinnings are integral to political engagement. This helps explain why feelings/values arise from experience and background, and it also accounts for why novels and poems often proved to be my favorite teachers when it came to understanding how the world works.

Most of my faculty colleagues seemed more comfortable being compliant ‘children of the enlightenment,’ trusting in the sufficiency of the rational mind, scientific method, and the implicit biases of middle class social positioning, liberal in disposition, risk averse. Inevitably, I still partake of this mentality, more than I realized until Donald Trump came on the scene with his post-truth politics. It allowed me to rediscover the virtues of the Enlightenment at least as a shield against bigotry and lies and made me think that I had blamed the failures of modernity too much on its reliance upon instrumental rationality. I still think the marginalization of conscience is the curse haunting modernity, accounting for its insensitive exploitation of nature and imperial forms of domination over variously victimized peoples.

There are a few exceptional events that can be understood sufficiently without direct experience or artistic renderings—images of Nazi death camps and the atomic bombings of Japanese cities need no commentary to be felt. When visiting Hiroshima thirty years after the fact, it struck me that the city of Hiroshima was the one place where the memory of that horrendous event was erased or minimized because the residents did not want to go through life with their identities tied to that horrifying and traumatizing past. The past was not altogether ignored in Hiroshima. There was a peace museum in Hiroshimadevoted to the radioactive birth of the nuclear age, but it was visited when I was there mainly by foreigners. And annual anniversaries of remembrance, acknowledging and bemoaning the tragedy. The images of ‘the mushroom cloud’ and the burning victims or the Nazi death camps and the starving and pathetic victims are so vivid as to provoke our silent screams.

Busra Cicek:  In your work, you shared your academic and diplomatic experiences as “a critic of Israel and Zionism in the context of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights and an activist to opposing the Vietnam War from the perspective of international law” that situated you on “the far left,” meanwhile you positioned yourself as a “visionary humanist.” Could you please talk about what this position means in the context of the American political spectrum? What does it tell us about current American academics and students engaged in critical scholarship? How can your notions of “humane realism,” “progressive internationalism,” and “visionary humanism” shape progressive academia?

Richard Falk: To some extent, my prior response addresses this question. I guess for liberals and right-wing people I am perceived as being on the left, but among those dogmatically or organizationally on the left I am not one of them. I do not explain myself or my politics by reference to any variant of Marxist thought or even the leftism of Antonio Gramsci, and besides my receptivity to religion and spirituality is not rooted in an institutionalized canon of thought as was the case with ‘liberation theology.’ I find kinship with those traditions of systematic thought but I tend to learn on the job. Your question makes me realize that I have never been recruited by formalized leftist such as political parties or NGOs.

I suppose I felt closer to the progressive variants of existentialist thinking that prevailed after World War II as it stripped away the metaphysics of fixed belief and seemed to align with those that were struggling for emancipation in one form or another without demonstrating ‘scientifically’ that it was materially conditioned or preordained by the contradictions of class conflict. Existentialism took its shape in reflections on and resistance to the Nazi experience.

I suppose that my language of ‘visionary humanism’ makes clear that I don’t belong to any of the familiar political categories. My anti-militarist, anti-interventionist, anti-business and socialist approaches to health, education, and welfare to alienate and antagonize the right. Liberals, or so-called independents, favor making incremental changes that are ‘realistic’ and tend to avoid what they deem as extremes on either side of the political spectrum, generally refraining from dwelling on divisive structural explanations of social policy that focus on predatory capitalism, systematic racism, and entrenched militarism. The liberal/independent orientation aims to improve the quality of democracy one step at a time, doing what is feasible in the political domain, while I advocate what I believe to be necessary and desirable even though not feasible from the perspective of politics as the art of the possible.

This has pushed me in the direction of what is deemed by the mainstream as ‘utopia,’ which I call a ‘necessary utopia’ or ‘a politics of impossibility.’ On some immediate agenda issues such as restoring the nuclear agreement with Iran or avoiding a cold war with China I feel almost comfortable making common cause with liberals/independents. On other issues I gladly take a left position such as support for self-determination in Venezuela and Palestine, demilitarization, and opposition to imposing sanctions on adversaries of the United States that makes those who are centrists, drawing support from ‘both sides of aisle’ uncomfortable. Their politics of feasibility is based on what for me is delusional, that the only way to get things done in America is by building a broad coalition that stretches beyond independents to incorporate moderate Republicans, pointing to issues such as immigration, tax reform, climate change, and minimum wage to prove their point. This may be a description of the workings of top down American politics in the last half century, but it does not meaningfully respond to the crucial challenges that require transformative initiatives based on pressures from the street.

My efforts over the years have been divided between resistance to existing policies by solidarity with ongoing struggles or structural longer term critiques of global governance that aim at sustainability, justice, and nonviolence, hoping for the emergence of ‘patriots of humanity’ and ‘guardians of nature’ who seek equitable management of the planetary agenda and minimum governmentality in societal arrangements.

Busra Cicek:  You describe the current national and international order as neither “ethically acceptable, politically legitimate, nor ecologically sustainable, [thus] creating an unprecedented challenge to the political, moral, and cultural imaginations and practices of all.” Can you share your thoughts on the future of disadvantaged people and all citizens more broadly, and especially the prospects for those who do not belong to the “minority near the top of the social and economic pyramid?” How can we talk about “social and ecological revitalization, and of the [hope for] progressive versions of democracy” better?

Richard Falk: On the level of critique, the grossest ethical deficiencies of the current form of global governance is expressed by reliance on ‘ethically unacceptable’ practices and policies including systemic  denials of fundamental human rights, dependence on warfare and coercive diplomacy for the resolution on conflict, multiple forms of inequality, and imposition of destructive forms of dominion over nature. There are failures of ‘political legitimacy’ associated above all with the inability to address adequately challenges of global scope including nuclear weaponry, climate change, hunger and malnutrition, migration and asylum, and the extension of legal accountability to geopolitical actors. Finally, there are disastrous shortcomings when it comes to ‘ecological sustainability’ the most prominent of which are insufficient regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, failures to protect the viability of the global commons, especially air, soil, water (rivers, oceans), and jeopardizing the quality of life of future generations. These conditions affect even the most privileged elites whose imaginary increasingly veers toward escapist scenarios that borrow from science fiction. At their extreme are plans for migrating to the moon, building underground habitable structures in New Zealand, or being content with denialism. In these circumstances, the poor and disadvantaged feel the heaviest blows from a world order system that endangers humanity as a whole. This pattern of vulnerability has been evident in various studies of infection and death rates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a template for illustrating the inequitable distribution of benefits and burdens embedded in current arrangement of global governance.

A more emancipatory perspective presupposes thinking beyond the horizons of what seems politically feasible given global constraints, and imagining what is necessary if we are to overcome the dire deficiencies of existing world order. Essentially, this means a transformative shift in energies from the priorities of modernity—basically, national interests as measured by the efficiency and profitability of capital and the security, autonomy, and status of the territorial sovereign state. To close the gap between the feasible and the necessary depends upon enough people becoming guardians of nature and patriots of humanity rather than patriots of the state and promoters of corporate capitalism. More concretely this means creating mechanism that recognize that the whole is greater than the parts in the reorganization of life on the planet, establishing effective mechanisms for realizing global and human interests, respecting the carrying capacity of the earth. Admittedly such a vision of the future has a utopian quality, what I have earlier called to ‘a necessary utopia’ that can be attained by ‘a politics of impossibility.’ For this to happens, requires a massive movement from below, possibly nurtured by elite defectors, that appears to come from nowhere, a carrier of an ecological ethos of renouncing harmful and reckless policies and practices.

Will this happen? We should know from experience that the future unfolds in unpredictable ways. There are hints that there are active cultural tremors seeking transition to an ecologically oriented civilization. There are also contradictory signs that the human species has no collective will to survive beyond its own mortality. My response is that since the future is unknowable and has given rise throughout history to major unpredicted changes for better and worse, we have no excuse but to struggle as best we can for the future we prefer. We are living in an unprecedented time in human history signaled by geologists and others identifying this epoch as the Anthropocene in recognition of the fact that human activity has the capability to impact on the basic ecological balances of the earth. In this sense, the necessary utopia as seen from the perspective of the dysfunctional present is nothing other than ‘responsible anthropocentrism,’ entailing renegotiating our relations with nature, the future, and learning to live together on the planet in a spirit of coexistence and dialogue.

Daniel Falcone is a writer, activist, and teacher in New York City and studies in the PhD program in World History at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Busra Cicek is a Doctoral Fellow in the World History Department at St. John’s University in Queens, New York and researches the development of nationalist discourses and its relationship with statecraft in Turkey.