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Israeli Apartheid and Palestine Grievances

3 May

Israeli Apartheid and Palestinian Grievances

[Prefatory Note: Correio Braziliense Interview Questions from Rodrigo Craveiro (IV/27/2021) in response to Report of Human Rights Watch on Israeli Apartheid; it is followed by myresponses to questions of Zahra Mirzafarjouyan on behalf of Mehr News Agency in Tehran, addressing some of the underlying causes of Palestinian grievances.]

1- In the 213-page report, HRW accuses the Israeli authorities of crimes against humanity of apartheid and of persecuting the Palestinians. What do you have to say about it?

For a mainstream and highly respected NGO such HRW to make such accusations, backed by extensive documentation, is a major development, almost unthinkable a few years ago. There will certainly be hostile reactions from Israeli sources and governments supporting in Israel but many consequences will follow adverse to Israel. It is notable that this HRW Report came just months after the principal Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem issued a similar bombshell report that also concluded that Israel was guilty of the crime of apartheid.

Although apartheid originated with the racist regime in South Africa the international crime of apartheid need not resemble those structures of white supremacy. It stands on its own.

It is also highly significant that the finding of apartheid pertains not just to occupied Palestine, but to Israel itself, or to the entirety of Palestine as it existed under the British mandate, that is, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This extended scope of criminality is explained not only by references to the similarity of discriminatory practices, but also by Israel annexationist moves against Jerusalem and the West Bank.

2- How do you see the use of the term “apartheid” for the situation in the Palestinian territories?

It is has been increasingly recognized by independent expert observers that the interplay of the Israeli state and the Palestinian people satisfies the core features of the crime of apartheid. The Israel Basic Law of 2018 made explicit the claim of Jewish supremacy by vesting the right of self-determination exclusively in the Jewish people.

It should be understood that the allegation of apartheid is based on the core feature of the crime, which is domination, systemic discrimination, and victimization so as to sustain Jewish supremacy over the Palestinians under their control. Apartheid is defined in the HRW Report by reference to comprehensive racial domination of Jews over Palestinians and in Article 7(j) of Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court as one type of Crime Against Humanity. The most authoritative definition of apartheid from the perspective of international law is to be found in Article II of the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression of the Crime of Apartheid, which is reprinted in full because of its importance:

Article II 

For the purpose of the present Convention, the term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practised in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them: 

(a) Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person: 

(i) By murder of members of a racial group or groups; 

(ii) By the infliction upon the members of a racial group or groups of serious bodily or mental harm, by the infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; 

(iii) By arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups; 

(b) Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part; 

(c) Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; 

d) Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof; 

(e) Exploitation of the labour of the members of a racial group or groups, in particular by submitting them to forced labour; 

(f) Persecution of organizations and persons, by depriving them of fundamental rights and freedoms, because they oppose apartheid. 

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It is clear that there is no legal requirement that Israeli apartheid resemble South African apartheid. The policies and practices may vary with national conditions, but it makes no difference so long as the core reliance on discriminatory practices to maintain racial or ethnic supremacy is present. 

The HRW Report specifies the kinds of systemic discrimination that has been undertaken by Israeli apartheid to maintain Jewish domination and to secure Palestinian subordination. Among the principal policies and practices constituting Israeli apartheid are as follows: confiscation of Palestinian land; discriminatory issuance of building permits; restrictions on movement; manipulation of residency rights; discriminatory budgeting of public services; closure of Gaza; 99.7% conviction rate in Israeli military courts prosecuting Palestinians living under occupation.

3- The report recommends the prosecution of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation against the State of Israel for crimes against humanity and apartheid. How do you analyze this?

It is a simple matter. The HRW Report found overwhelming evidence of discriminatory practices based on the dual identities of Jew and Palestinian that seemed to establish a strong case for alleging apartheid as a Crime against Humanity under the Rome Statute. Israel is not a Party of the Rome Statute, and hence crimes on its territory are not within the jurisdictional reach of the ICC. However, Palestine is a Party, and as a result the ICC has legal authority to inquiry into alleged crimes committed on occupied Palestinian territories since Palestine became a Party,, which covers the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. As it happens, the ICC decided earlier in 2021 that it possesses this authority to conduct criminal investigations of occupied Palestine with respect to Israeli crimes in violation of the law of war arising out of its military operations in Gaza back in 2014, its uses of excessive force in responding to Great March of Return in 2018, and its unlawful settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Whether this will actually happen is problematic. The United States not only backs Israel in the contention that the ICC lacks authority to proceed against non-Parties, but has its own complaint arising from an investigation of its crimes in Afghanistan and some secret black sites in Europe where torture is alleged to have occurred of Afghan detainees. The ICC is a fragile international institutional with severe funding challenges that partly reflect the geopolitical

pressure it has come under in recent years since it began challenging the impunity of Western states. Whether the UN follows the recommendation of HRW to set up a commission of inquiry is more uncertain. It could happen despite furious opposition by Israel and its supporters, but if as is likely the findings and recommendations were similar to those of the HRW, it seems almost certain that their implementation will be effectively blocked, This has been the fate of the several UN formal inquiries into Israeli wrongdoing, most prominently the Goldstone Commission investigating the violations of the law of war during the Israeli attack on 
Gaza in 2008-2009. All these reports confirmed Israeli wrongdoing, yet all were blocked when it came to carrying out the policy recommendations.

And yet this report, and the trend to acknowledge credibly on the basis of evidence and legal analysis that Israel is an apartheid state is of lasting importance. It will spread and intensify the solidarity efforts of pro-Palestinian groups throughout the world. It will make it hard to smear such efforts as anti-Semitism. It will strengthen the resolve of Palestinian resistance. In years to come we may look back on this day when HRW issued its report as the turning point in the struggle. It is time to declare Palestine as the victor in the Legitimacy War for the control of the legal and moral discourse, the symbolic battlefield where many of the prolonged struggles of the last 75 years have been won and lost. 

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Questions of Zahra Mirzafarjouyan, International Department, Mehr News Agency  (May 1, 2021) on failures of to protect the basic rights of the Palestinian people.]  

 
  1. Have international organizations been successful in addressing the human rights situation in Palestine? If so, why are Israel’s human rights abuses still continuing?

International organizations, particularly the United Nations, has a mixed record when it comes to dealing with human rights violations in Palestine. The UN, especially the Human Rights Council, has a generally good record in identifying violations and recommending remedies. Such delimitations of Israeli behavior are important in validating Palestinian grievances and justifying international solidarity efforts. Unfortunately, this symbolic verification of wrongdoing with respect to human rights is not substantively implemented. All efforts to enforce human rights are

blocked by geopolitics, and particularly the United States. This interference takes various forms, including shielding Israel from accountability by the use of the veto power entrusted to the five Permanent Members of the Security Council.

In addition, Israel has defied the findings and recommendations of international organizations that have found it responsible for serious violations of international human rights standards and the norms of international humanitarian law without suffering from adverse consequences. Israel defends itself not by substantive claims that it has been falsely accused, but by contending falsely that its critics are guilty of antisemitism.


2. Why are most UN Security Council resolutions against the Israeli regime vetoed by the United States?

The United States has interpreted its ‘special relationship’ as obliging it to shield Israel from criticism at the UN and to block the implementation of any moves to hold Israel accountable. Partly the US Government takes such a position because of its strategic interests in the region and partly as a reflection of well-organized pro-Israeli lobbying,

which has been very effective with the US Congress. The UK and France, and the EU generally, have also supported Israel at the international level, although not as strongly as the US.



3. Which governments do you think play the biggest role in violating Palestinian rights?

It seems obvious that the US and the EU countries are most responsible. This reflects in part the broader conflict patterns in the Middle East, which focus on Iran. It is generally believed in the West that Iran seeks the destruction of the Jewish state, and this partly accounts for the strong backing of Israel as the last European colonial venture. It is my understanding that Iran opposes the Zionist Project so far as it seeks to extend Jewish supremacy over the non-Jewish residents of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This supremacy has been recently determined to be an instance of the international crime of apartheid by the influential and politically independent human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, as well as by the leading human rights NGO in Israel, B’Tselem. 

4. What is the mission of world public opinion, especially Europe and the United States, in dealing with such inhuman behavior?

There is an encouraging increase is solidarity support in Europe and the US for the Palestinian struggle to achieve basic rights. The BDS campaign is exerting pressure from without and below upon Israel in a manner similar to anti-apartheid campaign waged successfully against South Africa more than 25 years ago. Israel is losing the Legitimacy War to the Palestinian movement, and the history of anti-colonial movements has demonstrated that what happens with respect to the control of the legitimacy discourse is generally more important over time than what happens on the battlefield in terms of the ultimate political outcome of political struggles in the period since World War II.

5. How do you assess the internal situation in Israel, given the growing economic pressures and identity challenges in this society?

I think the electoral impasse in Israel is a clear indication that all is not well. Israel has drifted politically steadily to the right as to the pursuit of a diplomatic solution of the conflict with Palestine, and feels no current security pressure to scale back the ambitions of the Zionist movement. At the same time there are internal identity challenges evident in the tensions between the secular character of the Israeli state and the increasing leverage of extreme Orthodox Judaism. Whether the economic effects of the boycott and divestment efforts supporting Palestinian goals is being offset by the normalization agreements concluded with Arab governments at the end of 2020 remains to be seen. 

6. Why have peace projects in the region, which are more in the interests of Israel, failed to move forward?

Israel relies on alleged security threats from Iran to keep its citizens mobilized and unified around this central challenge, although it is Israel that commits aggression against Iran and tries its best to prevent the revitalization of the JCPOA Nuclear Agreement, which will have the effect of eliminating US sanctions on Iran. There has been a shift in Israeli foreign policy priorities from the Palestinian/Arab threat, which has been neutralized at present, to the primacy of the Iranian threat. Iran is seen as threatening Israel’s nuclear weapons regional monopoly and as supporting groups throughout the region that are perceived as hostile to Israel’s interests, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. Israel is aware that the regional balance could shift quickly against it by future political developments, as well as by the deployment and development of weaponry that could challenge its security at home and throughout the region. So long as the Islamic Republic Tehran exists, Israel will base its foreign policy on aggressive military actions toward Iran. Israel has always felt that its regional security depends on opposing the consolidation of any strong regional actor that is sympathetic with the Palestinian struggle, such as Iran, Turkey, and Syria.

Do We Really Want a Second Cold War?

31 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a slightly modified version of Policy Paper #4 RESPONDING TO CHINESE VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, published previously on the website of the Committee for a Sane China Policy. It reflects my view that the protection of human rights is being geopolitically manipulate to mobilize public support for an anti-Chinese foreign policy in the West that risks generating a dangerous geopolitical confrontation. Such a confrontation is costly, amounts to war-mongering, and diverts U.S. attention from self-scrutiny and global peacebuilding. Whether a second cold war is already underway is a matter of interpretation, but even those reluctant to reach such a depressing assessment would have to acknowledge that unless there are strong efforts made to support what I would call ‘inclusive global multipolarity,’ the drift toward such a dismal near-term future will become inevitable. The need to sound the alarm has reached a level of urgency.]    

Introduction: 

There is no doubt that Chinese government encroachments on the fundamental human rights of its population have become more pervasive and serious in several respects during the leadership of President Xi Jinping. This unfortunate development has been increasingly highlighted, often with inflammatory intent, by Western leaders and media outlets – apattern that is contributing to increasing tensions between China and the West, especially the United States. This emphasis on Chinese violations of human rights is reinforced by complaints that China acted irresponsibly and oppressively in its early responses to the COVID-19 challenge, is defying international law in the South China Sea, and has not participated in the world economy in a fair and proper manner, hence justifying such American responses as blocking exports of high-technology items to China, persuading European governments to avoid tying their internet network to Chinese 5G technology, placing burdens on Chinese investment in the United States, and above all in mounting a global propaganda offensive against China. 

President Biden in his speech to the Munich Security Conference on February 19, 2021 highlighted what he called ‘competition’ with China as well as with Russia, blaming each for bad behavior, while saying that the U.S. seeks to avoid a new cold war and looks forward to cooperation with China in areas of shared concern, most notably in relation to health and climate change.[1]  At the same time the, central thesis of the Munich speech was disturbing, a confusing call for solidarity among democratic countries, highlighting NATO’s mission in ‘prevailing’ over the challenges mounted by the rise of autocratic nationalism all over the world. For those able to recall the bellicose rhetoric of prior decades, this call is highly resonant with Cold War slogans about the ‘free world’ resisting the totalitarian Soviet bloc. It was also confusing by combining alliance solidarity with Biden’s call for the formation of a united front of democratic states, forgetting that many U.S. allies are far from achieving democratic credentials – consider the Philippines, India, Brazil, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia.  

There are also unacknowledged worries in the West about competitiveness arising not from Chinese improper behavior towards its own people, but from its growing technological creativity and regional military muscle. The so-called ‘Thucydides Trap’ has historically prompted nervous dominant states seek to turn back a challenge to their preeminence by initiating a war while still enjoying military superiority, which is feared will soon be overtaken.[2] The dangers of confrontation with China are especially great given the flashpoints in the South and East China Seas, and especially in relation to Taiwan. China seems intent on establishing its regional supremacy while the United States seeks to reassert its long-dominant regional role by displaying its formidable naval presence as a sign of readiness to meet political threats with shows of force, a recipe for dangerous forms of unintended escalation. There are additional concerns arising from the anticipated further military buildup in the Indo-Pacific regions, based on $27 billion additional budget requests over the next five years. In the background of intensifying militarization is the related public expression by high-ranking Pentagon officials that in view of China’s regional buildup of forces, the U.S. would be under great pressure to use nuclear weapons. A top admiral urged strategic planners to grasp this reality by understanding that the use of nuclear weapons in a forthcoming crisis would not be possible but probable, and should be prepared. Such a conclusion was reinforced by recent war game simulations showing that China would prevail at conventional levels of interaction. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has there been a situation in which ‘rational’ security analysts acknowledged a dependence on nuclear weapons to meet strategic goals, and not just as serving in a deterrent role.

It is against this background of mixed messages that U.S. policy toward human rights in China should be shaped, especially if the goal is to avoid war and establish an overall atmosphere that encourages cooperative engagements. This critical goal would best be served by reducing tensions that could give rise to hazardous and hostile confrontations, and even outright conflict. This paper seeks to thread the needle so as to separate genuine concerns about human rights from the overriding priority of not stumbling into a cold war – let alone a hot war – with China. In that spirit it sets forth a profile of China’s human rights record, including taking account of its considerable positive sides, and expresses a skeptical view as to whether overt hostile criticisms, policies, or actions are justified or effective, adopting the view that such a pushback is certain to be resented by Chinese leaders and dismissed as hostile propaganda. It is certain to be ineffective in changing China’s controversial domestic policies.  

Declaring this, however, does not dispose of the problem. As with the Cold War and regime-changing interventions, the denunciation of human rights violations by an adversary of the United States, usually in exaggerated form, has proven extremely useful in mobilizing Congressional, media, and citizen support for coercive diplomacy, taking a variety of forms, including military buildups, sanctions, interventions, threats, and covert destabilizing operations. When John Bolton, a relentless right-wing geopolitical hawk when it comes to opposing Muslim political aspirations in the Middle East and elsewhere, expressed fury over Donald Trump’s unwillingness to do anything substantial about the plight of the approximately 12 million Turkic speaking Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs living in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, we should realize that his concern is not about human rights or the plight of the Uyghurs, but is about seizing the opportunity to use human rights concerns to bludgeon the Chinese and arouse anti-Chinese sentiments in the United States already inflamed by Trump’s frequent allusions to the ‘Wuhan virus’ or ‘China virus.’. 

Some Perspective on China’s Human Rights Record  

It is difficult to disentangle Western anti-Chinese propaganda from an objective appraisal of China’s record on human rights. This difficulty is compounded by certain Asian values and traditions that help explain government behavior, which when given a special Chinese twist, diverge in approach from Western liberal approaches that give priority to individual freedoms.   

There is no doubt that China’s policy toward Tibetan, Eastern Mongolian, and Uyghur minorities raise serious human rights issues that have been reliably reported by respected human rights organizations. The allegations include involuntary detention and abusive treatment in so-called ‘reeducation camps,’ forced sterilization, denials of freedoms of expression, religion, and cultural identity, family separation, and discrimination in paid work.[3]  

Yet the underlying issues are complex, and can be interpreted from contradictory perspectives. Concerns about human rights, especially when associated with discontented ethnic and religious minorities, are inevitably interrelated with questions about the interplay of territorial sovereignty and specifying the acceptable nature of national identity. This includes grappling with the indistinct relationship between duties to uphold the internationally protected human rights of minorities and responses to social movements based on claims of autonomy and separation. In such cases, human rights issues need to be balanced against measures undertaken to maintain the unity of the state. There are legal ambiguities and factual complexities about who has the authority to strike a balance between collective human rights and governmental responsibility to uphold the unity of the state. What constitutes a reasonable balance? Who decides? There are no firm answers. 

International law has long wrestled with this complexity. On the one side exists a strong affirmation of the right of self-determination that inheres in every ‘people’ and it set forth in Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. On the other side is the common understanding in international law, as confirmed by an influential 1970 UN resolution, as prohibiting claims of self-determination that seek to fragment or threaten the unity of existing sovereign states. The language of the preamble to the UN resolution is clear and uncontested: “…any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter.[4] This conceptual confusion is accentuated to the extent that international law confers the right of self-determination on a ‘people’ while endowing ‘states’ with ‘sovereignty,’ which often encompasses more than one people. Governments are legally empowered to exercise virtually unrestricted authority within recognized territorial boundaries to curb movements that exhibit separatist tendencies. 

Yet when national policy is being challenged by ethno-political movements seeking greater degrees of cultural and political autonomy, including language rights and questions bearing on the freedom of religion, issues of human rights and sovereign authority are inevitably intertwined. In these contexts, independence demands, nationalist claims, and secessionism tendencies are often disguised beneath assertions of human rights grievances, partly to arouse a sympathetic international response. Not only is a careful balancing of facts, law, and rights called for, but account must be taken of how and why some human claims are ignored while others are strongly confirmed. International alignments often explain these glaring differences of response. The human rights wrongdoing of geopolitical adversaries is exaggerated, while comparable wrongs of friends are overlooked or handled discreetly. Perhaps, this unequal response is to some extent understandable given the way the world is politically organized, but when, as here, there is present a dangerous tendency to use human rights issues to stoke the fires of geopolitical contestation, caution and prudence are called for. We observe a toxic correlation of recommended toughness in relating to China in the context of trade and the South China Sea disputeswith inflammatory complaints about Chinese violations of human rights. Such behavior threatens confrontation, serious crises, even war, and so has very different implications than justifiable efforts to counteract abusive exercises of state power by the recent military takeover of the government in Myanmar. 

Some of China’s policies toward the Uyghurs seem to be clearly in violation of international human rights standards. Such behavior is unacceptable, but even here the facts are not as clear in its character as China’s most fervent critics contend. China has long adopted controversial measures to curb population growth and was widely criticized for its one-family policies, but also widely praised for avoiding demographic pressures that might have intensifies expansionist policies, causing conflict. 

There is doubt that China also exhibits intolerance toward political dissent and opposition politics that would be viewed in many national settings as violating civil and political rights. More than elsewhere, China has established intrusive surveillance mechanisms to monitor the behavior of its citizenry that encroach upon the privacy of its citizens. But China is hardly the only country in the world where this is occurring. In general, the drift throughout the world is toward authoritarianism with respect to state/society relations, and however regrettable, this trend often discloses the political will of the nation as expressed through periodic elections, and although noted with concern by Washington, is not allowed to influence U.S. foreign policy, especially if authoritarianism prevails in an ally or friendly country. As a result, this focus on China’s authoritarian policies and practices seems less concerned with the rights of the Chinese people and better understood as a means of ramping up geopolitical pressures. 

Again, police brutality in response to public demonstrations in Hong Kong seem unacceptable from the perspective of a truly free society; note, however, that the Chinese government response is far less harsh than the far bloodier Egyptian response to peaceful demonstrations in recent years, and yet no media or State Department scrutiny has been forthcoming in that case. In contrast, the Hong Kong confrontational demonstrations are given intensive, one-sided, and totally sympathetic media coverage. 

Fairly considered, the human rights picture in China looks quite different if economic and social rights are taken into account. China, perhaps more rapidly and impressively than any country throughout all of history, has overcome the extreme poverty of as many as 300 million of its citizens, providing for health, education, housing, food security, and infrastructure development in ways that many affluent countries of the West fail to do, despite centuries of effort. China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative,’ the largest public works project ever undertaken – while controversial in some respects – has produced many beneficial outcomes in Asia and Africa that have enabled developing countries to better meet the needs of their peoples, and indirectly contribute to the realization of economic and social rights. 

China’s Human Rights Record and U.S. Foreign Policy

When attempting to devise an appropriate U.S. foreign policy response to China’s human rights record, there are several issues that need to be distinguished: 

·       What is the overall Chinese record on human rights if fairly appraised, given some uncertainties as to evidence and behavior reflective of cultural divergencies? 

·       Should U.S. foreign policy highlight Chinese violations of human rights? 

·       Would highlighting be effective in improving the protection of human rights in China? 

·       Would such highlighting increase the likelihood of heightened geopolitical tensions, reduced global cooperation, and greater conflict in the South China Seas?

Assessing the Record 

China’s record on human rights is definitely mixed. If judged by Western liberal standards it can be faulted for serious violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. If appraised by non-Western and Global South standards, its achievements with respect to economic and social rights stand out, and compares favorably with many Western countries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains many provisions confirming economic and social rights, and is considered expressive of customary international law, despite being originally set forth as ‘declaratory’ and ‘non-binding.’ In the public discourse about China, even the most respected Western human rights NGOs accord China zero credit for this amazing record of poverty alleviation, and thus its overall reputation is denied a proper appraisal.  

The most serious internationally actionable allegations with respect to China involve the treatment of the Uyghur minority. As mentioned earlier, there is no doubt that allegations involving serious human rights violations by China in Xinjiang involving the Uyghurs seem based on extensive evidence. In the words of the Human Rights Watch World Report for 2020, China’s “‘Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Extremism’ has entailed mass arbitrary detention, surveillance, indoctrination, and destruction of the region’s cultural and religious heritage.”[5] But whether pressure from outside China will help or hurt the Uyghurs is problematic. It should be kept in mind that many some of these charges against China are difficult to evaluate, and rest on rationalizations relied on by many governments under the heading of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism. As such, they are subject to controversy and much of the evidence relied upon is clouded by partisan political interpretations relating to legally ambiguous issues such as the discretion of the territorial sovereign with respect to the treatment of minority nationalities that exhibit violent separatist tendencies.[6]  

The most serious charges of ‘genocide’ seem certainly exaggerated and unfounded by reference to international standards, which impose exacting standard of intentionality.[7] In this instance, to allege genocide, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did on the basis of discredited assessments by Andrew Zenz, seems outrageous considering verified population increases among Uyghurs in recent years.[8] Such extreme charges are politically motivated, highly provocative, legally unsupportable, and hence, diplomatically irresponsible. 

Would Highlighting be Effective in Improving China’s Human Rights Record? 

Overall, when dealing with major countries, including the United States, improving compliance with human rights comes about as a result of developments from within territorial borders. Criticism from outside, even from the UN or other international institutions, tends to be ignored or discounted as hostile propaganda. Such a pattern not only reflects the statist nature of world order, but is also a reaction to the cynical use of human rights discourse to justify hostile attitudes toward foreign adversaries or geopolitical rivals. Such patterns of behavior were very characteristic of the selective emphasis on human rights throughout the Cold War: a country with a left or Marxist outlook was condemned for human rights violations while countries that were aligned with the West were not criticized, much less sanctioned, no matter how serious their violations of fundamental human rights. 

Against this background it would be a mistake for the U.S. Government to emphasize allegations of Chinese human rights violations when seeking to work out relations with China that accord with the national, regional, and global priorities that should serve as the foundation of American foreign policy, including cooperation on climate change and monetary stabilization. It would seem that mainstream human rights NGOs in the West should be sensitive to similar cross-cutting considerations bearing on current policy priorities in international relations, although to a lesser extent than the U.S. government, as their undertaking is to report on human rights as objectively, reliably, and persuasively as possible. At the same time, civil society actors should be cautious about accepting insufficiently evidenced allegations of human rights violations that seem to intrude upon China’s territorial sovereignty, especially given the inflammatory character of the present diplomatic setting in which those advocating an aggressive approach toward China seek to play the human rights card.  

The most effective way to engage China on human rights would be to rely on discreet methods of communication through private and peace-oriented channels that do not seek to exert public pressures and are diplomatically linked to an underlying commitment to encourage global cooperation with respect to shared issues such as climate change and conflict resolution. A genuine concern with human rights in China must acknowledge that any improvement in the situationdepends on internal Chinese developments that cannot be exploited to generate hostile propaganda and are not funded or encouraged by covert destabilizing operations. 

Foreign Policy Imperatives in the Present Era 

Unlike the Cold War in which the focus was placed on the containment of Soviet military expansion, especially in Europe, and on contesting the ideological embrace of Marxist ideas of political economy within the Global South, the challenges posed by the rise of China are entirely different, and call for different types of response. For one thing, China poses no threat to core U.S. security interests, especially in this post-Trump period when the United States seeks to revive a Eurocentric alliance in the course of reviving its global leadership role. Unlike the Soviet Union, China has largely pursued its geopolitical ambitions by non-military, economic means, except in maritime areas close to its shores and in border disputes with neighboring countries. This difference in geopolitical profile strengthens the incentives to avoid tensions that could lead to risky military confrontations in the South and East China Seas; from this perspectiveavoiding excessive criticism of China’s violations of human rights would seem helpful from a war prevention perspective. There is no reason to laud China’s domestic political environment, but high-profile complaints about Xinjiang and Hong Kong will be met with counter-allegations about American shortcomings with respect to human rights and would likely intensify the confrontational atmosphere. 

Also different is the nature of the global agenda. Although it would have been a welcome contribution to world peace if the United States and the Soviet Union had more vigorously cooperated to produce a monitored and comprehensivenuclear disarmament treaty, the need for cooperation in responding to climate change is unprecedented. If the dangers posed by global warming are not addressed cooperatively it will produce a worldwide disaster, and China – as the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions – is an indispensable partner in managing a positive response.  

It is worth remembering that if overcoming the threats posed by Hitler’s Germany had not involved cooperation with the ideologically alien Soviet Union during World War II, which included suspension of most Western criticisms of the excesses of Stalinism, the outcome of war might not have resulted in victory for the Western democracies. The Soviet Union posed no economic threat to American global economic primacy. China does pose such a threat, and so could lead the United States to make irrational responses that would weaken the global role of the dollar as reserve currency and produce a downward spiral of trade and investment that would hurt all countries, and quite possibly inducing a new world depression of even greater gravity than the Great Depression of the 1930s. Here, as with climate change, the interests of the West favor a geopolitics of accommodation, compromise, and a search for win/win outcomes. In this regard, accentuating the human rights failures of China is imprudent, ineffective, and dangerous under present conditions. 

Copyright 2021 Richard Falk

ENDNOTES: 

1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/19/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-2021-virtual-munich-security-conference/

2. Graham Allison, “The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?” The Atlantic, Sept. 24, 20154, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/united-states-china-war-thucydides-trap/406756/

3. See, for example, Austin Ramzy, “China’s Oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang, Explained,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/world/asia/china-genocide-uighurs-explained.html. 

4. Declaration of Principles concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States, Commentary on Principle (e), UN General Assembly Res. 2625, Oct. 24, 1970, https://www.un.org/rule of law/files/3dda1f104.pdf

5. Human Rights Watch (HRW), Human Rights Watch World Report, 2020 (HRW, 2020), p. 1. 

6.. See, for example, James Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment (Washington, D.C.: East-West Center, 2014). 

7. On the high legal bar with respect to genocide, see: Judgment, Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, ICJ Reports, 1996). 

8. On Pompeo’s claims, see Edward Wong and Chris Buckley, “U.S. Says China’s Repression of Uighurs Is ‘Genocide,’” New York Times, Jan. 19, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/us/politics/trump-china-xinjiang.html. For a well-reasoned and documented rebuttal of the data relied upon in making those allegations, see Gareth Porter and Michael Blumenthal, “U.S. State Department accusation of ‘genocide’ relied on data and baseless claims by far-right ideologues,” The Greyzone, Feb. 18, 2021, https://mronline.org/2021/03/01/u-s-state-department-accusation-of-china-genocide-relied-on-data-abuse-and-baseless-claims-by-far-right-ideologue/

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

16 Jul

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

 

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a slightly modified interview conducted by Daniel Falcone, and published in Counterpunch on July 9th. Even the passage of a few days has made it seem more likely that a new geopolitical confrontation could dominate the global peace and security landscape for years, with likely dire economic consequences coming on top of the dislocations arising from COVID-19 pandemic and heightened risks of war and regional tensions. One question is whether the differences in the global setting and main geopolitical actors sufficiently resemble the Cold War circumstances to make designating a U.S./China confrontation as a Second Cold War. As my responses below suggest, I have my doubt.]

 

[Daniel Falcone’s Introduction to the Interview: Should there be a Second Cold War an alleged US concern for human rights would indeed become another ongoing tool of propaganda. In this interview, International Relations scholar Richard Falk breaks down the grave dangers and prospects for a New Cold with China. Falk worries that tensions and rivalries both regionally and economically could result in a series of hot war conflicts set off by nuclear complacent countries that fail to recognize the catastrophic risks at stake.

In retracing the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization, Falk analyses the origins of US resentment towards China’s remarkable market growth that is absent of liberal democratic structures. Aside from commenting on how ‘cold war’ with China, an economic rival, is different from 20th century Russian tension, which was largely militaristic and ideological, Falk suggests additional motivations for an escalation on the part of Trump and the possibly forthcoming bi-partisan consensus.]

 

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

Daniel Falcone: Do you anticipate the United States entering a new Cold War with China? What are the prospects for a new Cold War? Can you also discuss the fall of the Soviet Empire and the modern rise of China to better contextualize the present set of diplomatic tensions?

 

Richard Falk: I think there are grave dangers of either sliding into a new Cold War by unwitting interactions, especially with China, and possibly with Russia. More complex opposing alignments could also take shape, for instance, an alignment that features the U.S., Europe, and India on one side and China and Russia on the other. Such an encounter would likely be less ideological than the Cold War that broke out after World War II and also less preoccupied about the outbreak of an all-out nuclear war. The next cold war is likely to be more focused on economic rivalry, cyber dimensions of conflict and major regional wars involving Iran, the Korean Peninsula, India/Pakistan, or elsewhere. In this regard, what might start as a cold war has a greater prospect of producing major hot wars as there could be present less of a self-deterrent. In this altered global setting, there are distinctive risks arising from what I would call ‘nuclear complacency, underestimating the dangers and catastrophic results of nuclear war.

 

In the background of this look ahead is the extent to which China has spoiled the triumphalist narrative that was spun in the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One somewhat notorious version, associated with Francis Fukuyama ‘s claim, which seemed ludicrous when it was put forward in the early 1990s, is that after the Cold War the world had reached ‘the end of history.’ Western secular values had prevailed both with regard to state/society relations and in relation to the organization of the world economy. The future seemed, for some years, almost to vindicate this myopic interpretation, with a virtually universal endorsement of neoliberal globalization, which Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the previously left socialist leader of Brazil explained in the 1990s as ‘the only game in town.’

A cruder version of this clear vision of a victorious West was the assertions of the Tory leader in Britain, Margaret Thatcher, who aggressively shouted down the British opposition to her economic policies with the slogan ‘there is no alternative’ (to market driven economies), or simply TINA. This idea had been initially attributed to Herbert Spencer, notorious for suggesting in the 19th Century that history of society parallels human evolution in the sense of privileging ‘the survival of the fittest.’ Not surprisingly, given such an uncongenial atmosphere, progressive forces felt demoralized.

 

Left perspectives often adopted defeatist postures after the Soviet collapse, and were derided as having endorsed political oppression and backed economic failure. Perhaps worse for progressive prospects, was the awkward fact that the only surviving major socialist economy, post-Mao China after the ascent of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, seemed itself to be opting for joining the capitalist choir, seeking and gaining membership by in the World Trade Organization and rationalizing its active participation in the neoliberal world economy as ‘market socialism’ fooling almost no one, least of all capitalist investors and traders.

For many years, this seemed like a win/win reality. China’s economy expanded at a remarkable rate, but world trade increased and Western investors were pleased with their profits, associated with the low costs of skilled labor in China and the absence of strict environmental and safety standards. All was well as long as China stayed in its lane as ‘the factory for the world,’ but when it made the transition to a sophisticated high technology innovating economy it began to pose a new kind of geopolitical challenge to the primacy of the United States and the West, and murmurs began to be heard about stealing Western technology, unfair trade practices, and currency manipulations. In my view, although these issues were significant, they were capable of negotiated solutions, and were not the core concern. What began to bother the West was the degree to which China for all of its superficial adaptations to capitalist logic was dramatically outperforming its competitors in the West, seeming benefitting from the state management of economic activity, despite political authoritarianism, in a manner superior to what seemed possible in the developed societies of the West, especially with respect to savings, the investment of public funds, and even with regard to technological innovativeness relating to the post-industrial, digital age.

 

This extraordinary Chinese dynamic is brilliantly depicted for Asia as  whole by the Indian economist, Deepak Nayyar, in The Asian Resurgence: Diversity in Development (2019). The book explains the overall post-colonial Asian challenge to Western ascendancy in which 14 Asian countries, led by China, produced the most remarkable record of economic growth and poverty alleviation in the past 50 years that the world has ever known. These countries achieved these remarkable results without the private sector trappings of liberal democracy, thus drawing into question the American claim that market-driven constitutionalism was the only modern arrangement of state/society relations that was both legitimate and materially successful.

 

With these considerations in mind, three rather distinct alternative futures for the U.S./China relationship deserve scrutiny if the objective is to avoid the onset of a lose/lose second cold war. On a preliminary basis it would seem helpful to take notice of a serious language trap that suggests misleadingly that  because the words ‘cold war’ are convenient to designate a new central geopolitical confrontation, if it occurs, it would resemble in its essential features the Cold War that followed directly from the contested peace arrangements of World War II, and represented two major states that both conceived of international relations through the realist postwar prisms of hard power as complemented by adherence to rival ideologies that temporarily suspended their enmity toward each other in order to join forces to defeat fascism. There are many differences between the global settings then and now. First, there is only a rather shallow ideological difference among the leading political actors at this time, although those on the far right in the West are seeking a renewal of intense geopolitical conflict by portraying China as a Communist, socialist, even Maoist, and hence an ideological adversary of the supposedly freedom-loving West. In contrast, old style Cold War liberals are thinking more along traditional lines of geopolitical competition among principal states promoting national interests as measured by growth, military capabilities, wealth, status, and influence, with ideological differences and human rights invoked, but put situated far in the background.

 

With these thoughts in mind it becomes reasonable to depict three world futures that portray relations between China and the West. The first, and most evident one, arises from the kind of provocative Trump diplomacy that combines blaming the COVID pandemic on Chinese malfeasance with intensifying the divergencies relating to economic policies and in relation to the island disputes in the South China Sea. Such a conflict-generating diplomacy is best understood as a diversionary tactic to obscure the multiple and shocking failures by the Trump presidency to provide unifying leadership or science-based guidance during the unfolding of the health disaster that continues its lethal sweep across the country with undiminished fury, and should be exposed as such. If China takes the Trump bait, the world will be plunged into a new ferocious geopolitical rivalry that will divert resources and energies from an agenda or urgent global-scale challenges.

 

A variation on this theme is connected with the possibility that Trump thinks he faces a landslide defeat in the November election, and esscalates hostile diplomacy to stage a confrontation with China, possibly accompanied by declaring a national emergency, or by contriving Gulf of Tonkin style false incidents as a pretext for launching some sort of attack on China that is the start of a hot war, which if saner minds prevail, would be contained, and toned down to mere Cold War proportions, and likely becoming a multi-dimensional rivalry that comes to dominate international relations.

 

The second more subtle drift into a Cold War with China would arise from a deep state consensus reinforcing a bipartisan consensus in Congress, and further encouraged by private sector war industry pressures. The likely objective would be to challenge China militarily in the South China Sea or in the course of some regional confrontation, possibly arising from tensions on the Korean Peninsula, along the Indian border, or in the Indo-Pakistani context. It would represent a more common structural militarist response patterns to growing evidence of relative Western decline in the face of a continuing Asian rise.

 

The third future is even more abstract and structural, and has been influentially labeled ‘Thucydides Trap’ in a book by Graham Allison [Destined for War: Can America and China escape the Thucydides’s Trap? (2017)], who accepts the analysis of the classical Greek historian on the basis of case studies over the centuries finds that when an ascendant Great Power fears the loss of its primacy to a Rising Power, it frequently initiates war while believing it still retains a military edge, which it will not retain for long. Note that such an assessment presumes actual warfare, and should not be perceived as a sequel to the U.S./Soviet Cold War, which came close to war in several situations of bipolar, but managed to restore order in a series of tense crises without engaging in direct combat.

 

There is a further complication with an analysis that extrapolates from the Cold War. Unlike the Soviet Union, China’s rise and challenge is far less associated with military capabilities and threats than it is with a remarkable surge of economic growth and soft power expansionism by pursuing win/win approaches that combine infrastructure aid to foreign societies with the growth of influence. In this regard, China has not weakened its domestic society by excessive investment in a militarist geopolitics, which depends on maintaining an expensive and vast global military presence that produced a several failed interventions that cast doubts on the United States’ capacity to uphold global security. This loss of credibility with respect to global security, despite its military dominance can be traced back to the Vietnam War in which overwhelming combat superiority on the battlefield nevertheless led to a political defeat.

 

The United States has repeated that fundamental failure first fully exposed in Vietnam in several other military misadventures. This inability to adjust to the realities of the post-colonial era in which nationalism mobilized on behalf of self-determination often neutralizes and eventually outlasts an intervening external power despite having grossly inferior weaponry has still not been overcome by the United States as it continues to act as if its military prowess shapes contemporary history. There is a second Thucydides trap that Allison doesn’t mention, which is that Athens lost its ascendancy from internal moral and political decay more than from the challenge posed by rising Sparta, succumbing to demagogues who led Athens into imprudent military adventures that weakened its overall capabilities, and especially its political self-confidence. Such a downhill path has been traveled by the United States at least since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in which wars and contested long occupations of hostile societies has been expensive and contributed to alienation, extremism, and unrest within the United States.

 

Daniel Falcone: Can you draw on specific historical comparisons to the Soviet Union and China in terms of what is at stake geopolitically?

 

Richard Falk: There are several important comparisons. To begin with, the Soviet Union emerged from a devastating war as a victorious military power, and soon acquired nuclear weapons, posing a direct threat, ideologically and militarily to the European heartland of the Western alliance. The Cold War unfolded out of the tensions associated with the mutual disappointments of the peace diplomacy, especially as it divided Europe, including the city of Berlin.

 

The other flashpoint that provoked extremely destructive and dangerous wars in Korea and Vietnam, and recurrent crises in Germany, was the problems arising from unstable compromises between the victors in the war taking the form of countries divided without the consent and against the will of their national populations, and in disregard of the right of self-determination. In the present historical situation, the only leftover divided country is Korea, which after a serious and devastating war, 1950-52, ended as it began with the division remaining along with crises, tensions, threats, and periodic diplomatic efforts to achieve normalization leading to some form of reunification. It should be noted that although China’s geopolitical profile is overwhelmingly economistic as compared to the U.S. militarist profile, China become very sensitive about threats and disputes along its borders, and has had fighting wars with both India and Vietnam, as well as a defensive engagement in defense of North Korea.

Tensions rising to confrontation levels with China would probably either derive from disputes within China’s sphere of South Asian influence with respect to Taiwan, Hong Kong, island disputes or in some way related to China’s economic rise to a position of primacy, which contrasts with the grossly inferior economic performance of the Soviet Union if compared to the U.S. and the other major world economies, including Germany and Japan. The Soviet Union was never an economic rival or mounted a challenge in the manner of China.

 

The Cold War also coincided with the decolonizing process in Asia and Africa, which put the West and the Soviet bloc on opposite sides in a variety of struggles. In one respect this provided a safety valve that shifted bipolar confrontations to peripheral countries while trying to keep nuclear peace and stability at the center of the world system, which both sides assumed to be Europe, as well as their relations with one another. If a prolonged geopolitical confrontation emerges with China, Europe will not likely be an important site of struggle, and Europe even might sensibly opt to be non-aligned. Asia, including the Middle East, will become the main geopolitical battlegrounds, and Africa will offer a peripheral zone of contention where a Cold War II rivalry might assume its most direct expression as escalation risks would seem lower than in the various Asian theaters of encounter.

 

Unquestionably, the biggest difference is between the nature of the two challengers to Western systemic hegemony. The Soviet Union was a traditional geopolitical actor relying for expanding influence on its material capabilities and ideological penetration, while China focuses its energies and resources on soft power economic growth at home that is sustained and managed by the state in a manner that attracted massive foreign investment and domestic reinvestment based on a high rate of savings, a skilled labor force, and benefitting from highly favorable trade balances. China’s expansionist energies relied on win/win forms of economic and infrastructure assistance to countries in need with minimal interference with their political independence. The Soviet Union never undertook anything remotely comparable to China’s Road and Belt extraordinarily massive infrastructure initiative, again stressing huge win/win gains for a large number of countries, including in Africa. Aside from the special case of Cuba, the Soviet Union provided only military support to its allies in the so-called ‘Soviet bloc,’ and in East Europe intervened militarily to avoid ideological deviation.

It remains to be seen whether now that China is being challenged geopolitically by the United States it will begin to adopt a hard power mode, and the resulting confrontation between the two countries will come to resemble the Cold War. It is likely that China will emerge from the COVID pandemic with a reputation for greater efficiency in controlling the spread of the disease, reviving its economy, and understanding the functional benefits of global cooperation than the Trumpist West. At the same time, the Chinese image has been badly tarnished by damaging disclosures documenting the repression of the 10 million Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province and by forcible extensions of direct control over Hong Kong.

 

Daniel Falcone: The Cold War featured widespread propaganda in all facets of American cultural and political life. How could the United States attempt to sell the concept of an ideological confrontation with China in these times? The Republicans and Democrats are both constructing similar policy proposals it seems.

 

Richard Falk: I believe there are two approaches to confrontation with China that might be followed in the coming months, depending on which leadership controls American foreign policy after the November elections. Neither is desirable in my opinion. There is the approach of provocation adopted by Trump, which blames China for the pandemic and imposes various sanctions designed to roll back their economic and technological advances coupled with Trump’s normal transactional emphasis on securing a more favorable trade deal for the U.S. tied to a promise of warmer diplomatic relation.

 

The second approach is more closely associated with a reenactment of the Cold War bipartisan consensus that formed after World War II, and continues to animate the national security establishment in Washington. It involves a new version of containment as focused on the South China Seas island disputes, sometimes more loosely described as ‘boxing China in’ with India playing the role that Europe played in the earlier Cold War, along with an emphasis on China’s human rights abuses to achieve liberal backing, or at least acquiescence.

 

This approach is more likely to be pursued by a Biden presidency  reasserting U.S. global leadership, with a Carteresque revival of ideological emphasis on Western liberalism as a superior mode of governance and global leadership due to its record on human rights and democracy, proclaiming its dedication to ‘a new free world.’ It is this approach that is more usefully and accurately regarded as a successor to the first Cold War. This softer version of confrontation with China would not challenge the structural features of America’s geopolitical posture adopted during the Cold War based on militarism at home and globally, capitalism, Atlanticism, and ‘special relationships’ with Israel and, somewhat less stridently, with Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt.

 

At the same time, there are some strong disincentives for so engaging China in a post-pandemic setting when policy priorities should be directed at restoring the economy and addressing climate change/biodiversity, which was almost forgotten about during the health crisis. The wisest course for future American foreign policy is providing constructive global leadership with an emphasis on inter-governmental cooperation for the human interest, a receptivity to compromise and conflict resolution in dealing with economic and political disputes, a radical defunding of the military, and strong commitments to restoring the spirit and substance of the New Deal with respect to social protection and national infrastructure.

 

Daniel Falcone: Are there any specific human rights issues and regions that would present immediate concerns and be jeopardized in your estimation within a new Cold War framework?

 

Richard Falk: Neither China nor the United States are currently positioned to promote human rights in other parts of the world with any credibility. The U.S. has lost credibility due to its handling of asylum-seekers on its borders and the maintenance of sanctions against such countries as Iran and Venezuela despite widespread humanitarian appeals for temporary suspension. In addition, the worldwide surge of support for Black Lives Matter after the Floyd police murder has called attention to the ugly persistence of systemic racism in gun-toting America. With these and other concerns in mind, it is hypocritical for the U.S. to be lecturing others, complaining about human rights abuses, and imposing sanctions allegedly as punitive responses to human rights failures.

 

China has never treated human rights as an element of its foreign policy, and with its own failures to adhere to international standards at home it is unlikely to engage the West on these terms. At the same time, there are at least two positive sides to China’s treatment of human and humanitarian issues that are rarely acknowledges in the West. First, China has lifted tens of millions of its own people out of extreme poverty (while the U.S. has widened disparities between rich and poor, and oriented growth policies over the course of the last half century to benefit the super-rich causing dysfunctional forms of inequality and acute alienation and rage on the part of working class). The Chinese achievement could easily be interpreted as a great contribution to the realization of the economic and social rights and to some extent should balance its disappointing record with regard to civil and political rights.

 

Secondly, during the COVID pandemic China has displayed important contributions to human solidarity while the United States has retreated to an ‘America First’ statist outlook that is combined with very poor performance with regard to both preventive and treatment aspects of responding to the virus. China has added funding to the WHO, send doctors and supplies to many countries, and most impressive of all has pledged to place any formulas it develops for effective vaccines in the public domain, placing this vital intellectual property on the web accessible to public and private sector developers. China deserves to receive positive recognition for such acts of what is sometimes described as ‘medical solidarity,’ while the United States deserves to be shamed for its blending of capitalist greed and nationalist selfishness.

 

Should there be a Second Cold War, human rights would become even more than, at present, a tool of cynical propaganda, especially if the bipartisan consensus regains the upper hand in U.S. policymaking. As with the First Cold War, human rights considerations would be brought to bear on countries deemed hostile to U.S. geopolitics and ignored with respect to friends and allies. At present, such a dichotomy is evident by way of an emphasis on Turkish human rights failures while ignoring the far worse failures in EgyptSaudi Arabia, and Israel. Because the Second Cold War would be more explicitly geopolitical rather than ideological, I would expect less emphasis on ‘free world’ definitions of the core issues giving rise to the conflict.

 

Daniel Falcone: Although it’s a long-standing concern of strategists and planners, how do you see or anticipate China becoming an issue in the upcoming presidential election?

 

Richard Falk: It seems likely that Trump will campaign on a new strategic threat to the United States emanating from China, primarily aimed at its unacceptable economic manipulations to deprive the U.S,  of trading benefits and jobs as well as its charging China with responsibility for American deaths due to the pandemic resulting from its refusal to release information about the virus immediately after it struck Wuhan and by way of conspiring with the WHO to conceal information about the international dangers of the COVID-19 disease. As in 2016 with its inflammatory message about immigrants, it can be anticipated that Trump will use the same techniques to cast China as an evil challenge to American greatness that only he has recognized and possesses the will and ability to crush.

 

I would expect that the Democratic Party election strategy would not take fundamental issue with the Trump approach, although its emphasis might seem quite different, attacking Trump for using China as a means to distract Americans from his gross failures of international and domestic leadership. A Biden campaign would also condemn China with regard to curtailing Hong Kong democracy and autonomy, as well as its abusive policies toward the maltreated Uighur minority. Biden might also agree that Chinese behavior has been unacceptable with respect to trade practices, stealing industrial secrets, including advocating militarization and confrontation in the South China Seas.

 

Where Biden and the Democrats would differ from Trump quite dramatically is with respect to Russia. Biden Democrats would likely make Russia enemy #1, sharply criticizing Trump for being ‘Putin’s poodle,’ and arguing that Russian expansionism and its alleged responsibility for killing Americans in Afghanistan is a more frontal threat to American interests in the Middle East and Europe than are the China challenges. Depending on the rhetoric and supporting policies being advocated there is a risk that Biden’s approach would lead to geopolitical fireworks, but probably not with China, and with less preoccupation with Europe than the First Cold War that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

Daniel Falcone: How does our ongoing and continual: medical, racial, economic and environmental pandemics help in exploiting Cold War narratives and approaches for heads of state around the world?

 

Richard Falk: I believe it is not yet clear whether these competing narratives will outlive the health crisis when pressures to revive the economic aspects of the ‘old normal’ will be intense. It is possible that if Trump remaining in control of the U.S. Government, there would be an opportunity for China or possibly a coalition of countries to exercise global leadership by seeking to promote a global cooperative approach to health, while also seeking common ground and shared action on climate change, global migration, food security, and extreme poverty.

 

If Biden becomes the U.S, president and reasserts U.S. leadership it will likely strike a balance between pushing back against Russian and Chinese challenges and learning from the pandemic to seek global cooperative solutions to urgent problems confronting humanity. This renewal of liberal internationalism would likely be signaled on Day One by rejoining the Paris Climate Change Agreement and soon thereafter restoring American participation and support for the Iran Nuclear Agreement, supplemented by such internationalizing initiatives as returning to active membership in and robust funding for the WHO and support for the UN.

 

In conclusion, the buildup of anti-Chinese sentiments is establishing this dual foundation for a Second Cold War. Not surprisingly, the Editorial Board of the NY Times calls on Trump to use sanctions against China in response to reports of its mistreatment of the Uighur minority and its Hong Kong moves. Such advocacy is set forth without a mention of the hypocrisy of Trump being an international advocate of human rights given his record of support for autocratic denials at home and abroad, not to mention border politics and cruelty toward those millions in the U.S. without proper residence credentials. This kind of belligerent international liberalism, if not moderated, would recall the ideological joustings that made the First Cold War such a drain on resources and destroyed hopes for a rule-governed geopolitics, anchored in respect for the UN Charter and embodying commitments to promote a more peaceful, just, and ecologically responsible world.

 

 

The Right to Food During the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Time of Bio-Ethical-Ecological Crisis

14 Jun

Ecological Imperatives and the Right to Food During the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Time of Bio-Ethical-Ecological Crisis[1]

 

A Perspective

 

Even before the Coronavirus Pandemic, humanity faced an unprecedented challenge in the coming decades that threatened the foundations of life itself, and yet, up to this time societal reactions have been disappointingly weak and evasive, aside from a few voices in the wilderness. Despite expertly documented studies from the most qualified climate scientists, the overall behavior of supposedly responsible political and economic elites has been tepid, escapist, and even denialist. The United State Government has been leading the way toward a dismal future by its anti-internationalism during the Trump presidency, above all, withdrawing from the 2015 UN Paris Climate Change Agreement. Although this international agreement that did not go as far as necessary to meet the challenges of climate change, it was rightfully praised as demonstrating the importance of global cooperative efforts to combat global warming. It was also encouraging that this initiative was supported by virtually every government on the face of the earth.

 

With nihilistic audacity the American president, Donald Trump, formally withdrew American participation from this international framework that mandates national reductions in carbon emissions. The proclaimed objective of the agreement was to keep global warming from increases in the earth’s average temperature above 2 degrees centigrade. This is higher than the 1.5 degrees that the scientific consensus puts forth as necessary. At the same time the Paris results in far lower carbon emissions than will occur if present emissions trends continue without significant international cutbacks and sufficient regulatory oversight. The withdrawal of the U.S., the largest and richest per capita emitter, sends the worse possible signal to the world at this time of growing threat.

 

The COVID-19 experience, with its planetary scope and concrete daily tales of morbidity confirms, the precariousness of human existence and its unforeseen vulnerabilities to a variety of threats to the wellbeing of the human species. What is more, it is evident that the harm done by these events could be mitigated if not almost altogether avoided if the warnings of experts been prudently heeded, and acted upon, in a timely anticipatory manner. Even before this global health crisis of great severity shocked people around the world, the deficiencies of global governance became vividly evident for all who took the trouble to see. The reaction to the pandemic has been most disappointing at the governmental level in most, but not all countries. In contrast, many instances of bravery and empathy have been exhilarating and redemptive at the level of people. Instead of an ethos of ‘we are all in this together’ several of the most influential governments led by the United States have adhered to a zero/sum ethos of ‘going it alone.’ The U.S. also refused humanitarian appeals to suspend sanctions for the duration of the crisis on countries such as Iran and Venezuela, which were already suffering from severe food insecurities and shortages of medical supplies partly brought about by the sanctions.

 

Worse still, the United States at the Security Council blocked a formal endorsement of the UN Secretary General’s inspirational call for a global ceasefire during the health crisis. Trump withdrew U.S. support because the draft resolution contained an indirect favorable reference to the work of the World Health Organization (WHO). This was a sad development as this dramatic expression of global unity had achieved the approval of the other 14 members of the Security Council after weeks of negotiating political compromises on the appropriate message to send the world. Its passage would have signaled a commitment to world peace by leading governments, as well as showing all of us that the UN’s voice can serve as an uplifting alternative in such a crisis to the bickering and rivalry of sovereign states. This kind of initiative also might have renewed faith in the UN, demonstrating to the public and politicians how the UN might serve in the future to strengthen global governance on behalf of peace, justice, and food/water security for all. We might come to understand that the UN if properly used can be much more than a talk shop for clashing national interests or an exhibition hall displaying the rival strategic ambitions of the Permanent Members of the Security Council.

 

The onset of the pandemic added a sense of urgent immediacy to what was already an extremely disturbing evolving awareness by informed persons. To identify this as ‘the first bio-ethical crisis to confront humanity’ is to employ unfamiliar and strong language.  This underlying crisis was bio-ethical in the primary sense that its challenges are fundamentally directed at the collective wellbeing of humanity taken as a whole, as well as a challenge to the sustainability of modern civilization, and the ecosystem stability governing the fundamentals of human/nature interactions, and of life itself. Widespread recognition of the gravity of these threats would amount to a revolutionary change in the self-awareness of the human species, and lead the way to profound shifts in behavior.

 

This crisis also possesses an ethical character because knowledge and resources exist to meet the challenges facing humanity, and yet responsible, precautionary action is not taken. We need to ask ‘why?’ so as to understand what action should be taken. In essence, these challenges to our human future could be addressed within the broad framework of a feasible reconfiguring of the industrial foundations and ethical outlook of modernity, and yet it is not happening, nor likely to do so without further shocks. By having the knowledge of such a menacing future and yet choosing not to act sensibly is to make a fundamental ethical and biological choice, with possibly awful consequences. My point is this.

 

The unprecedented crisis facing humanity is not similar to a gigantic meteor hurtling toward the earth with no known way of diverting its path or cushioning its impact. We know mostly what needs be done and yet we lack the fortitude to act for the sake of persons currently alive, and even more for the sake of future generations. It is likely that the unborn will suffer the most acute adverse consequences of the irresponsibility of this current refusal to heed the warnings of the experts. As the divisiveness and global governance deficiencies of the response to COVID-19 have revealed, many of the most technologically sophisticated societies have turned out to be the most incompetent when it came to safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of even their own society, failing to adopt or unreasonably delaying the adoption of practical measures to protect the health and security of their own citizens, while neglecting neighbors in need near and far living in other countries throughout the world. We also learned the grim consequence of pronounced economic and social inequality. The poorest and socially disfavored, especially in cities, turned out to be the demographic sectors most at risk of infection and death during the pandemic. Any student of modern society should not have been surprised by this information, but the mainstream media acted as if it had just discovered the plight of the poor, including their massive dependence on public food distributions, acting as if this was a startling revelation of the class impacts of the pandemic.

 

The effects of the pandemic on food security are being felt, and there seems worse ahead. The 2020 Report on World Food Crises warns that the risk of famine has been greatly increased by disruptions of harvests and food supply chains due to the greatly reduced availability of migrant farm workers and the disease-prone sites of animal slaughterhouses. Already in such affluent countries as the UK, U.S., and Switzerland poorer people are waiting for hours on long lines to obtain food for their families from overstretched food banks, and are fortunate if the food remains available when their turn finally comes.

 

Putting these broader eco-ethical concerns in the context of the right to food and food security generally, we are keenly aware that food and water are the most indispensable aspects to the right to life itself. We also are beginning to realize that rights to material necessities are drained of meaning if extreme poverty means that the poorest among us lack the purchasing power to buy food that is affordable, sufficient, and nutritious. In other words, even if food supplies are sufficient to meet human needs, it will not prevent starvation, malnutrition, and food riots if people lack the means to buy what is being sold in markets. In this sense, the loss of tens of millions of jobs around the world means the disappearance of purchasing power for people with the least capacity to cope with unemployment, including very little savings.

 

Although some governments are more protective of the vulnerable segments of their population than others, experience teaches us that social protection cannot be left to the good will or charitable impulses of governments. Rights must be reinforced by practical remedies that are accessible to ordinary people, and can be successfully implemented. In many countries of the West where capitalism and fiscal austerity prevail, there is an ethically deficient ideological insistence on allowing the market to decide on the wellbeing of members of society. This sends a perverse ethical message: the rich deserve their bounty of plenitude, while the poor deserve their hardships. From such an austere capitalist standpoint, pleading for the intervention of the state even in an emergency is alleged by the staunchest guardians of capital to undermine public morality based on individual accountability and incentive structures.

 

To overcome this failure to respond effectively to the bio-ethical crisis, it is necessary to identify and understand the obstacles to rational and humane action, while suggesting how these might be overcome. To summarize the argument, we know what is wrong, we mostly know what should be done, yet it still is not happening, and to have any hope of doing something about this deplorable situation, we must try our best to know why. Furthermore, the longer that we defer prudent action, the more burdensome and painful will be a future adjustment. There are also unknowable risks present. By not acting responsibly in the present, tipping points of irreversibility seem likely to be soon crossed making societal adjustments if not impossible, almost so.

 

Illustratively, if diets were now to limit meat consumption by decreeing one or two meatless days a week, there would be good prospects of achieving ecological balance by gradual measures, but if diets are unregulated for the next two decades, an adjustment to avert catastrophe would likely require a mandatory vegetarian planetary survival diet. The COVID-19 experience is one more chance to unddertake comprehensive transformational processes of adapting global governance to the dual demands of ecological balance and social justice, and ending the false security of managerial approaches that avoid fundamental change. Managers generally do nothing more than keep operations going, collapse or recovering from a severe crisis that disrupted the established order. This might temporarily calm anxieties, but this would be deceptive dynamic in this instance, a disastrous contentment with ‘business as usual,’ with the false assumption that all was well before the pandemic.

 

Confronting the Obstacles: These obstacles overlap and reinforce one another, and should not be regarded as entirely distinct. My assessment is grounded on the advocacy of an integrated and transformational approach. To move forward in such a direction, I find it helpful to identify four clusters of obstacles.

 

Ideological (1)

Our social relationship to food and agriculture deeply reflect the interplay of capitalism—maximizing profits and inflating consumerism—which includes constantly increasing consumer choice, identified misleadingly as a kind of freedom. Interferences by governing authorities occur if overwhelming demonstrations of adverse health effects can be demonstrated, but usually only after costly delays resulting from ‘expert’ reassurances on food safety that are obtained from corporate high paid consultants. Such profit-driven patterns, fueled by advertising and addictive products produce unhealthy dietary habits throughout society, causing epidemics of obesity and many serious health issues.

 

Social concerns on an international level are understandably focused on avoiding humanitarian catastrophes in the form of mass starvation or famine. This kind of preoccupation places an emphasis on disaster relief and responses to emergencies while ignoring the underlying ideological problem arising from distorted priorities of profits, destructive competition, agro-business, and unregulated markets as favored over human health and ecological stability. The same forces that suppress and distort information pertaining to health are irresponsible abusers of environment, disrespectful of culturally sanctified food traditions, and disrupters of ecological balance. A vivid recent example is the burning of the Brazilian rainforest to satisfy corporate greed taking the form of high-yield logging and deforestation to clear land for livestock farming, while eroding, and possibly dooming, the viability of the rainforest as a major carbon capture resource and a precious storehouse of biodiversity. The world’s major rainforests should be treated as falling within the ‘global commons’ and not be regarded as totally subject to Brazil’s priorities. It is a matter of finding the proper formula for ‘responsible sovereignty’ or, more accurately, how to reconcile sovereign rights with upholding the viability of the global commons.

 

Structural (2)

Seeking to balance food security and health against these ecological concerns is often at odds with human and global interests. The structures of authority that shape global policy and practices are overwhelmingly responsive to national interests as themselves distorted by corrupted elites and corporate influences on governance. This includes the UN System, which has been increasingly configured to serve the interests of states and mega-corporations. Again, the example of Brazil is instructive. Giving priority to development over planetary equilibrium with respect to the Amazon rainforest privileges irresponsible claims of territorial sovereignty. This overrides objections about the dangerous impacts of Brazilian behavior on global warming, ecological stability, and the quality of biodiversity. Despite the global scale of agriculture, particularly agro-business, there exist presently no effective international mechanisms to achieve responsible behavior on national and transnational levels of behavior.

 

Even when governments do cooperate for the public common good, as was the case with the Paris Climate Change Agreement (2015), their commitments are framed in an unenforceable manner that allows national sovereignty to prevail over longer run global interests. This meant that even if the pledges of reductions in carbon emissions were made in good faith and somehow fulfilled, they would still fall inexcusably short of what the respected IPCC Panel and other expert bodies prescribed as the essential benchmark to avoid dangerous, possibly catastrophic effects of further global warming. Similar considerations bear on meat consumption undertaken without any effort at achieving a global regulatory perspective that takes due account of the future. This voluntaristic approach dependent on the good faith and responsible behavior of states, is further weakened by the current crop of irresponsible leaders in many key states. This irresponsibility was epitomized in 2019 by its show of support for Brazil’s sovereignty claims with respect to the management of the Amazon rainforest and by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, creating dreadful precedents that will certainly affect poorer, more economically stressed countries, and eventually the rest of us. Why should a country confronted by a food and agriculture crisis, for instance, Zimbabwe, place limits on its developmental aand growth opportunities by acting in a more ecologically responsible manner when the world’s largest per capita carbon emitter is behaving so irresponsibly?

 

(3) Temporal

The most influential sources and structures of influence and authority have evolved in the modern period by being excessively attentive to short-term results. Such short-termism is associated with holding political leaders and corporate executives accountable to citizens and shareholders. Democracy rests on this proposition that voters get the chance every four years to heed the call that “it is time for a change,” or more crudely, ‘to throw the bastards out.’ This pattern can be observed in the preoccupation of political leaders with the electoral cycles, which are treated as decisive when it comes to assessing their performance. Even non-democratic forms of governance give priority to short-term results, which either builds or undermines confidence in the political leadership of a country regardless of its form of government.

 

It is no different for the economy, which exhibits an even more pronounced tendency toward short-termism. Most corporate and financial executives are judged by quarterly balance sheets when it comes to performance, and given little or no credit by shareholders and hedge fund managers for normative achievements relating to health, safety, and environment or for responsiveness to long-term crisis prevention.

 

The importance of longer horizons of accountability is a consequence of the character of current world order challenges, with preservation of environment, avoidance of human-generated climate change, and maintenance of ecosystem stability being illustrative of the growing importance of thinking further ahead than in the past, especially when it comes to government and private sector behavior. Yet to propose such an adjustment is far easier than it is to envision how such temporal adjustments to human and ecological wellbeing could be brought about. These clusters of concerns bear directly on all dimensions of food and agricultural policy. In earlier periods adverse developments attributable to mismanagement and shortsightedness led to relatively local and national, or at most regional, harm, but the threats in the world today are more systemic, totalistic, and often difficult to reverse or correct. Such issues as land use, pesticides, herbicides, soil preservation, genetically modified foods, and agricultural productivity suggest how crucial it has become to plan in a time frame that is as sensitive as possible to the precautionary principle as it applies to risk taking, and thus relates to all aspects of food policy. Adverse health conditions, facilitating zoonotic transfers of a deadly virus from animals to humans also reflects disregard of natural surroundings, which are depriving wild animals of their normal habitats, bringing them into ever closer contact with people and city food markets, facilitating disease vectors.

 

(4) Normative

In considering these broad issues of risk and choice in a food context we encounter a distinctive array of normative concerns of an ethical, legal, and even spiritual character. At issue most basically is the way humanity interacts with nature. Modernity, with its vision of progress resting on science and technology, regarded the natural surrounding as a series of venues useful for exploitation to enrich human society materially. That path brought segments of humanity many interim benefits and pleasures, but it also set in motion trends that over time have produced the current bio-ethical crisis that challenges, as never before, the future wellbeing and even survival of the human species. It is relevant especially in this circumstance of bio-ethical crisis to alter our way of seeing so that it encompasses ecological wellbeing and social justice in addition to human comfort and longevity. It is my belief that this kind of ecological/ethical consciousness as an alternative to anthropocentric orientations will provide human society with benefits of a spiritual nature that go significantly beyond meeting the materialist challenges of human existence. If this is so, it would reenchant the human experience with meaning and purpose in ways that the great religions did in the past, and not link human happiness so closely, and now dangerously, with materialist satisfactions.

 

Food, health, and agriculture provide the vital linkages between this search for more harmonious forms of coexistence between nature and human experience, as well as respect for the carrying capacity of the earth.  Pre-modern societies often achieved this equilibrium either by design or automatically, but lost this capability with the advent of modernity. Translating such a vision of humane equilibrium into practical policies is the proper work of specialists and those who are attuned both to ethical and ecological imperatives. Enlightened guidance will fail unless leaders in all spheres of collective existence become themselves more receptive to such knowledge, and begin to be held accountable by popular will, reinforced by activism and education. The proper attunement to the balance of material, ethical, ecological, and spiritual concerns is always subject to this complex interplay of human activity with limits on the carrying capacity of the earth. Equitable burden-sharing is also essential in awakening public consciousness to the changing priorities of our historical moment.

 

Preliminary data collected during COVID-19 reveals a disturbing correlation between susceptibility to the disease and those segments of society that are impoverished or members of communities disfavored because of race, ethnicity, and religion. This pattern was especially evident in the slums of large cities, which experienced a disproportionately much higher number of fatalities. Such findings raised issues of social justice and human rights, bearing on equal protection of the rights to health and the right to life.

 

A Concluding Plea

Pointing toward a desired reconciliation between ecological imperatives, world health, and the fulfillment of the right to food requires attention, commitment, and resources, as well as the exertions of moral and political imagination. From such a perspective I offer these suggestions:

–applying the precautionary principle in all policymaking arenas with an awareness of the need to reconcile food and agricultural policy with ecological imperatives, as well as to emphasize preventive responses and discontinue excessive reliance on reactive approaches and crisis management;

–identifying the obstacles to such a reconciliation with a stress on the human as distinct from the national, on the ecological as distinct from the anthropocentric, on the intermediate and long-term as distinct from the short-term, all the while giving due attention given to climate justice and universal health coverage for everyone;

–without minimizing the magnitude of the challenges or the resistance of the obstacles, I find hope in ‘a politics of impossibility’; many historical developments, including the collapse of colonialism, the dissmantling of apartheid in South Africa and the sudden implosion of repressive communism in Soviet Russia demonstrate that ‘the impossible happens’ in real life even when unanticipated. As a result, the fact that the future is uncertain creates opportunities as well as responsibilities. As to what seems impossible, yet desirable and necessary, can still be made more likely to happen through concerted struggle, undoubtedly mostly as responsive to movements from below, from peoples not elites or governments. Such is our situation, such is our hope.

 

 

[1] Remarks as substantially modified, first presented at “The 2nd International Agricultural & Food Congress,”

25 October 2019, Izmir, Turkey.

 

HUMANITY 10:3–HUMAN RIGHTS AND GLOBAL INEQUALITY

4 Feb

 

Posted is a promotional flier for issue 10:3 of the journal Humanity that consists of a symposium focusing on questions of human right and global inequality.

 

Health and Human Rights in Gaza: Shame on the World

27 Nov

[Preliminary Note: This post devoted to health and human rights in Gaza. It is based on a video presentation some weeks ago to a conference on this theme held in Gaza. It makes no effort to update by reference to the latest cycle of violence sparked by the targeted assassination of Baha Abu-Ata, an Islamic Jihad military commander, on November 12. I feel strongly about the issues raised by this post not only because I have witnessed living conditions in Gaza and have friends in Gaza who have endured hardship and injustice for so long without losing their warmth or even their hope. My contacts with Gaza and Gazans over the course of many years has been at once inspirational and deeply dispiriting, a deep insight into the deficiencies of the human condition coupled with an uplifting glimpse at the spiritual courage of those so severely victimized.

Reflecting on the terrifying destiny bestowed upon the people of Gaza I became ashamed of stultifying silences, especially of those governments and their leaders in the region and those countries with a historical responsibility (the UK) and with geopolitical leverage (the US). I also take alarmed note of the refusal of the mainstream media to accord attention to the misery so long endured by the people of Gaza. If ever the norm of ‘the responsibility to protect’ was applied according to humanitarian need, Gaza would be at the top of the list, but of course there is no list, and if ever there were one, given the present international atmosphere, Gaza would remain among the unlisted! This neglect of the people of Gaza is so acute as to extend the web of criminal complicity far beyond the borders of Israel.]

 

 

Health and Human Rights in Gaza: Shame on the World

 

I want to begin by offering my greetings to all those here today. I dearly wish that conditions in Gaza were different, enabling me to share the experience of the conference directly with you by taking part directly and actively. The theme of the conference touches the policies and practice of Israeli abuse that have been victimizing the people of Gaza for such a long time. The population of Gaza already faced a lamentable situation ever since the occupation began in 1967, but it has grown far worse since the Gaza elections of 2006, as reinforced by the changes in political administration that occurred in the following year. Israel’s policies have been systematically cruel and abusive, disregarding the legal standards and moral values applicable to the behavior of an Occupying Power. These standards and values are embodied in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL).

 

Upholding the right to health is among the most fundamental of human rights, first articulated in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization: “The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” This right is further articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially in Article 25, and then put in a treaty form by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966. The deliberate interference with the right to health is among the worst imaginable collective abuses of a people subject to belligerent occupation. Israel, which relies on an apartheid regime to maintain control over the Palestinian people in the face of their internationally protected right of resistance, has been particularly guilty of behavior that hasflagrantly, consistently, and intentionally encroached upon and violated the right to health of the entire civilian population of Gaza in a variety of ways.

 

The Great March of Return epitomizes the brutalities of Israeli occupation policy, which include a shocking disregard of the physical and mental health of the Palestinian civilian population taking part in the demonstrations. It also offers us a metaphor for the abuses of the right to health and other rights of the Gaza population regarded as a collective entity. This pattern of abuse occurs in the context of persistent and courageous Palestinian acts of resistance in support of their right of return to their homeland, a right affirmed at the UN and clearly established in international law, which Israel has refused to uphold for seven decades, that is, ever since the Nakba. In the face of such a failure of international procedures to uphold Palestinian rights, a recourse to a politics of self-reliance seems reasonable, and in fact the only path presently capable of yielding positive results. The people of Gaza have waited long enough, indeed too long, without having their most basic international rights protected by the organized world community.

 

A preliminary matter is whether, as Israel alleges, it is relieved of all international legal obligations to the people of Gaza as a result of its supposed ‘disengagement’ from Gaza in 2005. From an international law perspective, the physical removal of IDF occupying troops from the territory of Gaza and the dismantlement of unlawful Israeli settlements did not affect the legal status of Gaza as ‘occupied Palestinian territory.’ Israel has maintained tight control over Gaza, which has included massive military attacks in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, as well as frequent uses of excessive force, unlawful weapons and tactics, and disregard of the constraints of law. Despite ‘disengagement’ Israel maintains effective and comprehensive control over Gaza’s borders, air space, and offshore maritime waters. In fact, as a result of the blockade in existence since 2007, the occupation is more intense and abusive than was the oppressive form of occupation that existed in Gaza prior to disengagement. From the perspective of IHL and IHRL, Israel is fully obligated under international law in exercising its role as an occupying power, and its claims to the contrary are legally irrelevant. Unfortunately, due to geopolitical realities and the weakness of the UN, these Israeli claims continue to have a political relevance as Israel’s obligations are unenforced and mostly ignored, creating an unacceptable situation in which Israel enjoys de facto impunity and escapes from all procedures of accountability provided by recourse to international law and international judicial institutions.

 

It is also important, in our view, to understand the significance of the findings of the 2017 ESCWA report prepared by Virginia Tilley and myself. We concluded after examining the evidence that Israel maintains an apartheid structure of control over the Palestinian people as a whole, which of course includes the population of Gaza. Our main point is that Israel uses a variety of means to subjugate and victimize the Palestinians so as to establish and sustain an exclusivist Jewish state in which, according to Israel’s Basic Law of 2018 gives only Jews authority to claim a right of self-determination. To circumscribe the right of self-determination by exclusionary racial criteria is a virtual acknowledgement of an apartheid ideology.

 

It needs to be more widely appreciated that apartheid is a Crime Against Humanity, according to Article 7(j) of the Rome Statute that governs the operations of the International Criminal Court. The criminal character of apartheid had been previously confirmed by the 1973 UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. If apartheid is indeed present then all governments have themselves legal and moral obligations to join the effort to suppress and punish. As with IHL and IHRL, the criminalization of apartheid is not acted upon by formal intergovernmental mechanisms due to roadblocks erected by geopolitics and the related weakness of the UN, but this does not mean that the designation is politically and morally insignificant. Since governments refuse to act, the responsibility and opportunity for law enforcement falls on the peoples of the world to do what the formal framework of world order is incapable of doing.

 

Such an anti-apartheid grassroots surge occurred with respect to the South African regime of apartheid, producing an entirely unexpected reversal of approach by the Afrikaner leadership of the country resulting in the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years of captivity followed by the largely peaceful transition to a multiracial constitutional democracy with human rights promised to all regardless of race. Such an outcome was considered impossible across the entire political spectrum in South Africa until 1994 when it actually happened.

 

We cannot guarantee, of course, that history will repeat itself and liberate the Palestinian people from their century-long ordeal, but neither can we foreclose the possibility that the combination of Palestinian resistance and global solidarity will have an empowering, liberating effect. In part, the Palestinian national movement is the last great unfinished struggle against European settler colonialism. Looked at in this way, the Zionist Project through the establishment of Israel temporarily reversed the flow of history in Palestine for a series of complicated reasons, but the final fate of Palestine remains in doubt so long as Palestinian resistance is sustained and solidarity robust. In this regard, the Great March of Return is a powerful sign that Palestinian resistance here in Gaza continues to offer inspirational energy to those of us throughout the world who believe that this particular struggle for individual and collective justice by an oppressed people is what human rights are most fundamentally about.

 

The Great March is a perfect metaphor for both the theme of this conference and of the struggle that motivated the defenseless residents of Gaza to demand this most basic right to return to their homeland from which they have been wrongfully and forcibly displaced. This demand was impressively reasserted every Friday for more than a year in the face of Israel’s vindictive reliance on excessive force since its inception in March 2018. Israel from the very beginning of the protests adopted an approach of excessive force based on terrorizing the demonstrators by resorting to lethal violence in an harsh effort to punish and destroy this formidable creative challenge to Israeli apartheid/colonial control. Israel’s aim seems to be a vain and unlawful effort to undermine the Palestinian will to resist that has survived decades of confinement, discouragement, and unspeakable abuse.

 

At the same time, such a criminal response by Israel to this anguished claim of right by the people of Gaza was also the culminating expression of Israel’s assault on the physical and mental health of the civilian population of Gaza. It is hardly surprising that the burdens created by 20,000 injured Gazans have overwhelmed Gaza’s already stressed medical capabilities. Many of those injured received life and limb threatening gunshot wounds, causing serious infections and frequently requiring amputation. This crisis situation in health care was aggravated by shortages of needed antibiotic medicines, and by the dismal experiences of those injured Gazans requiring specialized attention that could be obtained only outside of Gaza. Those so desperately in need of medical treatment external to Gaza faced almost impossible difficulties obtaining required exit and entry permits that Israel often even withheld under normal circumstances. In relation to those wounded at Great March events the situation was far worse. Israel was more unwilling to grant exit permits to those wounded in the Great March, discriminating against any Palestinian who dared to protest peacefully against the denial of the rights to which every human being on earth is entitled. Such an abuse is criminally escalated in relation to Gazans who are supposed to be especially protected by virtue of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, and IHL more generally. Instead of protection, the Israeli approach has been one of imposing prolonged collective punishment not only on Palestinian resistors but on the entire population of Gaza in direct violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and not for a short interval associated with special circumstances, but over the course of decades.

 

Beyond these exceptional conditions associated with the medical fallout from the Great March, Israel by failing to protect the civilian population of Gaza under conditions of rightless prolonged occupation is guilty of several additional forms of collective punishment each of which has an adverse impact of Gazan health. These adverse effects consequences result from its maintenance of a vindictive blockade, the periodic application of excessive force well beyond any reasonable security justifications, and the application of policies and practices reflective of the apartheid/colonial character of its approach to the Palestinian people, which has long assumed a sinister form in Gaza. The health results are disastrous as confirmed by reliable statistical measures of the physical and mental condition of the population, as exhibited by the unavailability of safe drinking water, the existence of untreated open sewage, the frequency of long power outages that interfere with the operation of hospitals and medical equipment, and by studies documenting the high incidence of severe trauma experienced by many residents of Gaza, including young and particularly vulnerable children. For those of us who have visited Gaza even under what could be described as ‘normal’ conditions, we came away wondering how anyone could endure such stress without experiencing a traumatic reaction.

 

This severe infringement on the right to health of the people of Gaza should be the occasion of outrage in the international community, and receive appropriate media attention, but Israel’s deliberate and massive violations of IHL and IHRL are shielded by geopolitics from censure and sanctions on the part of governments and at the UN, a reality further obscured by a compliant mainstream Western media that is misled and manipulated by a carefully orchestrated Israeli propaganda campaign that presents its criminally unlawful conduct as reasonable behavior undertaken to uphold the national security of a sovereign state, an aspect of its legal right to defend itself against what it labels as a terrorist enemy. Such Israeli propaganda falsifies the realities of the situation in multiple ways, but creates enough confusion outside of Gaza to divert attention from the suffering imposed upon the Palestinian people as a whole, and the civilian population of Gaza in particular.

 

Against this background, it becomes clear that grassroots solidarity efforts to expose these truths and exert nonviolent pressures on Israel by means of the BDS Campaign and other initiatives are essential contributions to the ongoing resistance struggles of the Palestinian people. And unlike the South African response, Israel with its sophisticated global outreach has tried by every means to discredit such global solidarity work, even going to the extent of using its leverage overseas to criminalize participation in BDS activity by encouraging the passage of punitive laws and the adoption of restrictive administrative policies in Europe and North America.

 

Let me end these remarks by saying that despite the seeming imbalance of forces on the ground, history remains strongly on the side of the Palestinian struggle against this Israeli apartheid regime. Much of the world realizes that the brave people of Gaza have long been in the eye of a dreadful and seemingly endless storm. It is my honor to support as best I can your struggle for the realization of the right of self-determination. Despite present appearances to the contrary, I am confident that justice will prevail, that Palestinians will achieve their rights, and surprise the world as did the opponents of South African apartheid a generation ago. It is my hope that I will live long enough to visit Gaza in the future at a time of liberation and celebration.  In the meantime, I wish you a successful conference.

 

 

Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

18 Aug

Banning U.S. Congresspersons from Israel

The decision to ban, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, disgraces the leaders of both the United States and Israel, confirms the illegitimacy of both political parties by their tepid responses, and confirms once more the unhealthy relationship that has evolved between Trump and Netanyahu, these two most reactionary of political figures, and badly reflects on the political atmosphere in the countries they represent.  For an American president to encourage a foreign government to deny entry to elected members of Congress is not only unprecedented, harmful to the quality of democratic life in America, and represents a wrongful and extremely distasteful use of his position to engage in nasty partisan reelection politics aimed at the 2020 elections. This outrageous display of further impeachable behavior by Trump is further accentuated by the defamatory, as well as maliciously and demonstrably false assertions in this notorious tweet that Ilhan Omar and Rashid Tlaib, hate Israel and all Jews, and nothing can alter their views.

 

For Netanyahu, the leader of Israel, to reverse an earlier decision to allow these U.S. officials to enter the country in response to Trump’s tweet has just the reverse effect of what is claimed. By seeming to forego Israel sovereign rights in response to an inappropriate interference in Israeli public policy by the American Head of State, Netanyahu reveals to the world Israel’s weakness, not its strength, and in the process casts a dark shadow over Israel own claims of political legitimacy. As well, to give way in this unseemly manner to Trump may also prove to be a tactical blunder in the Israeli context even if it contributes one more sordid chapter to their quid pro quo relationshiip. Such a craven move by Netanyahu miight turn off just enough Israeli voters to tip the balance against the Likud Party in the forthcoming September 17thelections. Not only was Trump’s tweet an effective assault on Israeli sovereign rights, but it also undermines the long absurd propaganda claims of Israel to be a democratic state that values and protects freedom of expression.

 

After further political turmoil, Israel appeared to relent, but by affixiing humiliating conditions, and then only with respect to Rashida Tlaib. The Israeli Minister of Interior, Aryeh Deri, agreeing to a ‘humanitarian’ visit provided the Congresswoman agreed not to promote boycotts of Israel while in the country, her visit restricted to the sole purpose of visiting her 90-year-old grandmother in a small Palestinian village not far from Ramallah. After initially accepting these constraints over the intense objections of her supporters and even her family back in Palestine, Rep. Tlaib reversed her own acceptance of the Israeli conditions, issuing a statement denouncing the constraints she earlier accepted, and refusing to restrict her time in her own Palestinian homeland to a personal visit. Of course, an Israeli rebuke followed from Deri, claiming that her rejection of Israel’s humanitarian gesture exhibits the Israeli-bashing intent that motivated the factfinding visit. Deri hammered one more nail in Tlaib’s already exposed flesh: “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for grandmother.” More understandably, Tlaib also was rebuked by many Palestinians for initially accepting Israel’s conditions intense objections to her face from supporters, alleging that she fell into Israel’s trap, “and accepted to demean herself and grovel.”

 

Seeking to thread this needle separating an ill-timed family ties from her high-profile political image, Tlaib chose these words, “Silencing me and treating me like a criminal is not what she [her grandmother] wants for me—it would kill a piece of me.” Although Tlaib used poor judgment by first agreeing to Israel’s acceptance, her statement explaining her reversal a short time later, had a redemptive effect. Perhaps, more disturbing, was Tlaib’s failure to sustain a posture of public solidarity with Ilhan Omar, whose relevance was ignored in Tlaib’s three-step dance movement.

 

The distractions caused by this secondary development involving Tlaib should not be allowed to divert attention from the primary outrage resulting from the Trump tweet and Israeli gag order imposed on nonviolent advocates of the BDS Campaign, which in this instance meant banning entry to elected U.S. government officials, supposedly a super-ally.

 

In my view Israel’s decision to ban these two members of Congress can at best be considered ‘an unfriendly act’ by Israel toward its unconditional ally. This alone should persuade a self-respecting U.S. Congress to react with much more than a few empty words of disapproval. At the very least, a message of censure should be formally endorsed by the House of Representatives, and delivered to the Israeli government, which strongly discourages further visits to Israel by members of Congress until Israel announces a policy of allowing entry any American official to visit Israel without restrictions. Perhaps, a more suitable alternative would be to urge banning members of the Knesset until Israel welcomes as visitors any and all members of the UN Congress without conditions. A further appropriate step would be to condition any approval of future military or economic assistance to Israel on lifting the ban on future visits by government officials, but also ideally by all American citizens regardless of political views; After all, American taxpayers have long paid their share of the annual aid package of at least $3.8 billion, the greatest per capita amount given to any country in the world.

I believe that by singling these two members of Congress, who happen to be the first two Muslim women ever elected to the House of Representatives, in the manner of Trump’s tweet is a clear instance of racism and hate speech, especially considered in light of his past hostile statements directed at prominent women of color who dare enter political life and oppose his presidency, including his past slanders of these two brave individuals. The language of Trump’s tweet also sought successfully to interfere with their effort to engage in a legitimate legislative undertaking in a discriminatory manner, and included this inflammatory and false allegation: “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” The tweet ends with this shocking expression of hostility that demeans Trump and the Office of the Presidency rather than its intended targets, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Trump’s final tweeted words– “They are a disgrace!” It is best understood as “You are disgraced.”

 

The media at least gave major attention to this unfolding political drama, although more in the spirit of narrating a human interest story than offering a damning commentary on the anti-democratic moves of these two ‘illiberal democrats.’ Tom Friedman, never foregoing a chance to deliver fence-setting know-it-all lectures to whomever would listen, managed staked out some liberal territory by condemning the tactical damage to their own countries and especially to the ‘special relationship’ between them as a result of making the Republicans the true friends of Israel, and the Democrats not so clear, hence fraying the edges of bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel. Friedman also took the opportunity to make it clear that in his view Tlaib and Omar were not better due to their ill-considered support for BDS, which he argued dooms to two-state liberalism, and implies that by their criticism of Israel, the excluded officials are widening Jewish/Islamic cleavages rather than building bridges. [See Friedman, “If You Think Trump is Helping Israel, You’re a Fool,” Aug. 16, 2019]

Such misleading pontificating, which we should know is the standard offering of Friedman in his opinion pieces that reek of vanity and pro-establishment moralizing. It is part and parcel of the overall Zionist strategy of diverting attention from Israeli wrongdoing and criminality by discrediting the victim while airbrushing the oppressor. Here, those in genuine solidarity with sustained peace for the two peoples will not be distracted by such prevarications from the underlying encroachments on freedom of expression and the rights of an ethnically cleansed people to return to their homeland as a matter of right.

.

 

 

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

14 Apr

Julian Assange: Criminal or Benefactor?

 

I suppose it is of interest that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have found something to agree about—the criminal indictment of Julian Assange.  Trump is acutely vulnerable to the exposure of truth and Clinton blames her electoral defeat in 2016 partly on what WikiLeaks disclosed about her improper use of a government computer to send private emails. Such are the perverse ways of the deeply unjust.

 

The liberal media is not happy with this indictment, although it also wants to distance itself from justifications for Assange’s claims of journalistic privilege, viewing him as a lone wolf with rogue traits. There are solemn assessments evaluating the narrowly framed government indictment charging cyber-crime, that is, publishing illicitly obtained classified documents from a digital source, apparently an apolitical everyday occurrence for government employees. What is apparently at legal issue is deciding whether or not Assange should be protected by reference to freedom of expression or prosecuted as a cyber-criminal without reference to his motivation.

 

A few commentators have noted that the main reason to go after Assange is to discourage whistleblowing of the sort most prominently associated with the disclosures of Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. Here Assange is accused of conspiring with another heroic American whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, in obtaining the documents that featured 800 Guantanamo Bay ‘detainee assessment briefs’ and more than 400,000 cables and documents relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A particularly damaging document was a video showing deliberate bombing of civilians in Iraq by American pilots, clear evidence of a serious war crime.

 

WikiLeaks, co-founded by Julian Assange in 2006, has been dedicated all along to the ideal of transparency in state/society relations as promoted by civil society initiatives. As such, it can be viewed as a service institution of robust democracy, a needed contemporary check on gross misuses of governmental secrecy. We know from a reading of the Pentagon Papers that what made publication so provocative was the degree to which the truths about the Vietnam War were being hidden from the American people through the misuse of classification protocols. There was little in the original twelve volumes of the Pentagon Papers that the Vietnamese ‘enemy’ did not know already. The inflammatory message of the Papers was how and why the war in Vietnam was going badly while the government was disseminating to the world a rosy picture of how well things were proceeding, which had the political effect of extending an unlawful war by years at the cost of tens of thousands American and Vietnamese lives. I remember hearing George Ball speak off the record a few days after he resigned as LBJ’s Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs in the late 1960s about why he dissented from the Vietnam policies. He started his talk by saying “I only began to understand the Vietnam War when I stopped reading the cables from Saigon.” In other words, the patterns of deception were withinthe government as well as betweenthe government and the public.

 

We are up against a basic challenge posed by the digital age where the government operates as a citadel of surveillance, collecting meta-data on its own citizenry as well as on masses of foreigners, threatening dissent, privacy, and theessence of freedom itself. It was these concerns that led Snowden to do what he did a few years ago, and yet be pursued around the world as if a dangerous criminal, and not at first by the Trumpist right, but by the moderate center that was in political control of the government during the Obama presidency.

 

The republican idea of governance, that is, the founding principles of the American system of constitutional governance, relied on ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ to restrain excesses and abuses of power by the state. Such governance was reinforced by the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that conferred an array of rights on the citizenry both as protection against an overreaching state and as protection against various manifestations of ‘the tyranny of the majority.’

 

The WikiLeaks role is especially important in the war/peace context as war-mongering governments tend to exaggerate, if not lie, to mobilize public support. This vital dimension of republicanism, designed to distinguish the American political undertaking from monarchies where war was often regarded as ‘the sport of kings,’ was entrusted to Congress, the legislative branch of government most directly connected with the people. The modern security state has moved away from restraints on war making as Congress has virtually abandoned its initially vital constitutional role of authorizing recourse to war. To revitalize this kind of republican democracy requires new instruments of transparency and validation of truth telling public servants. Otherwise, as in the Trump era, democratic constitutionalism can succumb to pre-fascist demagoguery.

 

A reinforcing observation in the American context arises from the corporatization of the media, as well as an appreciation of the unseemly recent closeness of the media to the intelligence and security governmental establishment. This has definitely weakened the independent and watchman role of journalism, especially TV, as part of the checks and balances framework in relation to the war/peace agenda, including the most trusted media outlets. Listeners of CNN, let alone FOX, know too well how debate on controversial foreign policy issues is almost exclusively entrusted to ex-generals,  admirals, CIA officials, and think tank hawks. It is rare to have the opportunity to hear the views of a civil society progressive or an articulate critic of global militarism, American style.

 

In contrast, WikiLeaks is independent of corporations, media, and governments, and has since its inception been devoted to the publication of materials incriminating governments and their private sector allies. We need to affirm WikiLeaks and whistleblowing as part of the legitimate architecture of constitutional democracy in the digital age. By criminalizing anti-war or human rights whistleblowing the political system is ratifying the suicide of substantive democracy.

 

Admittedly, this generalized endorsement of such transparency assumes that the government or the private sector have no legitimate secrets. I think there should be protection of legitimate state secrets wherein the criminality of unauthorized disclosures would require the government to sustain a burden of truth beyond a reasonable doubt that the material released was not in the public interest. This is bound to be a controversial line to draw conceptually and in practice. In quite different circumstances the release of the full Mueller Report tests whether transparency will lose out to those anti-democratic forces trying to hide, or at least obscure by redaction, the extent of wrongdoing by the Trump administration.

 

In the background should be the realization that whistleblowers rarely, if ever, act without a deeply felt sense that information crucial for the public to know about is being wrongfully withheld. Even without legal repercussions there are often high costs incurred by whistleblowers in relation to career and reputation. You are forever feared as the opposite of ‘a team player,’ so important for the morale and standard operating procedures of almost all bureaucracies, but especially those of government. I know this the personal experience of friends. Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo, the Pentagon Papers whistleblowers were forever non-legally tainted by their brave acts of true patriotism. They realized at the time that they were taking big risks of prison and would in any event pay a high price though informal dynamics of exclusion, and yet acted out of their profound feelings of loyalty to America’s professed values. And it is true that Ellsberg, in particular, has been ‘compensated’ by being lionized in civil society as an offset to being permanently invalidated as a high-level civil servant.

 

What is mainly forgotten in relation to these whistleblowing incidents is the truly incriminating content of the disclosures. In each of these prominent instances the material released there was exposed criminal conduct by the government of a kind that threatens millions of lives and confirms the most shocking suspicions about government conduct in war zones or through malicious encroachments on public liberty.

 

It seems apt to recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 message on German war crimes directed at the German people in the midst of World War II: “Hitler is committing war crimes in the name of the German people. I ask every German and every man everywhere under German domination to show the world by his action that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal desires. Let him hide the victims, help them to get over their borders, and do what they can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty.” (emphasis added) Is this not precisely what Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have been doing?

 

As the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert H. Jackson, reminded the world in his opening statement at the trials, if prosecution,  conviction, and punishment of the defendants is “to serve a useful purpose” it must in the future condemn similar lawlessness by others “including those who sit in here in judgment.” In effect, if the rule of law is to govern human behavior with respect to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the sort of ‘victors’ justice’ applied to the German and Japanese losers must in the future be replaced by ‘justice,’ that is, the application of law to all who violate it. Of course, this Nuremberg Promise has been repaeatedly broken in spirit and substance, and most defiantly by the Trump/Bolton attacks on the very existence of the International Criminal Court.

 

The UN Membership unanimously affirmed that the Nuremberg Judgment was a desirable development of international law in General Assembly Resolution 95(I). In addition, the International Law Commission, the most authoritative body entrusted with the codification and development of international law formulated

The Nuremberg Principles in 1946 to formalize the impact of the trials on international criminal law. Of particular relevance is final Principle VII: “Complicity in the commission of a crime against the peace, a war

crime, or a crime against humanity..is a crime under international law.” Fairly read, this proposition would suggest that the U.S. Government moves to prosecute Assange are themselves crimes, while the acts of Assange are commendable efforts to prevent international crimes from continuing.

 

Such reasoning should also be relevant to the British judicial response to the formal American request for extradition. Of course, extradition should be denied because ‘political crimes’ are by treaty arrangement not extraditable, and if there ever was a political crime it is this apparently failed attempt by Assange to hack the password of a government computer so as to hide the identity of the whistleblower, Chelsea Manning.

 

In the context of antiwar activism during the Vietnam War I made the argument that there existed a ‘Nuremberg Obligation’ that had moral, if not legal authority. In effect, the Nuremberg Obligation in light of the material discussed above means that every person has the rightand is subject to the dutyto contribute to the exposure of violations of international criminal law in war/peace and human rights contexts. Additionally, this moral right/duty could be reasonably construed as a legal obligation.

 

Julian Assange should be judged against this background. This applies not only to the underlying criminal charge, but to withdrawal of asylum status by the government of Ecuador that led to Assange’s unseemly arrest London and to the judicial treatment of the extradition request by the British judiciary.

Making Peace: Israel/Palestine

9 Apr

[Prefatory Note:  Interview with Samu Tamás Gergő, a Hungarian journalist, April 9, 2019, on conditions of peace for the Palestine/Israel, with some initial emphasis on my experience as UN Special Rapporteur addressing human rights in Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.]

 

 

 

– Mr. Falk, you were an UNHCR special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967” for six years. How normal is that, a UN member, Israel worked against your appointment? What is the goal in this job? The UN needs “independent” experts or members from the “two sides” (pro-Palestine and pro-Israel)?

 

The Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council fall into two categories: most address thematic issues such as torture, religious freedom, and rights of indigenous peoples; a few deal with country scale problems, including Iran, North Korea, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. SRs are appointed after the President of the HRC approves consensus vote of the 49 member states for a three year term, generally renewable for another three years. The position is unpaid, and SRs are not international civil servants, which gives them independence and insulates their role from political pressures to some extent. They can be dismissed only if they exceed their mandate.

 

The idea of having SRs is to secure independent and trustworthy information pertaining to a particular concern, especially of controversial issues. Reports are prepared for submission to the HRC in Geneva and the Third Committee of the General Assembly each year. The expectation is for the SR to be objective, and present both sides of contested issues.

 

My role as SR for the Occupied Palestinian Territories was sharply contested from the outset. Israel objected to the very idea of having a SR for the OPT, and did their best to get someone appointed who would report the facts in a manner that was consistent with their propaganda. I found that Israel’s occupation was so clearly and flagrantly in violation of the rules and principles of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing Belligerent Occupation that my reports were consistently critical of Israel’s behavior, especially with respect to extension of settlements to the OPT, annexation of Jerusalem, imposition of collective punishment, and use of excessive force to maintain security.

 

By and large, Israel and its main allies did not challenge the substance of my reports, but directed their complaints at my alleged bias and lack of credibility. The effort was to wound the messenger and avoid the message.

 

– What are the specific consequences of such reports? In addition to forcing the violators of international treaties into self-restraint, is Israel in this case?

 

It is difficult to assess the precise effects of these SR reports. Israel rejects the validity of inquiries under UN auspices, claiming bias and sovereign authority. It also refuses, contrary to its obligations as a UN Member to cooperate with SRs and most UN activity that its administration of Jerusalem’s sacred sites. At the same time Israel is sensitive to the impact of such reports on world public opinion, and relies mainly on Zionist. Watchdog NGOs, UN Watch and NGO Monitor to push back by doing their best to discredit the reports most often by questioning the credentials of the author.

 

The reports on Occupied Palestine did have two broad effects. First, their assessments influence the way issues bearing on Palestinian rights and Israeli wrongs are discussed at the UN, by some important governments, by NGOs, and especially by non-Western media. I remember meeting with the Foreign Minister of Brazil who told me that his ministry relied on these SR reports to obtain their understanding of developments in the OPT.   Over the years the role of SRs has gained in stature as their reporting provides generally reliable information, and their independence, including of the UN bureaucracy has. created credibility and some respect for willing to accept such a position that entails much work, no pay, and can be met with defamatory responses.

 

The. second impact of the reports is to confer legitimacy on pro-Palestinian nonviolent initiatives in civil society throughout the world. The most meaningful such initiative is the BDS Campaign (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions). There are other initiatives that involve cutting off institutional cooperation between academic institutions in Israel and other foreign countries, such as study abroad programs. Israel is aware that such global solidarity efforts were a principal cause of the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Israel seems to regard this legitimacy war conducted against their policies and practices as now posing a larger threat than armed resistance by the Palestinians.

 

In particular, Israel has been affected by the increasing acceptance of the view that its form of control of the Palestinian people as a whole constitutes apartheid, which according to the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court is one type of Crime Against Humanity, as specified in Article 7. The assessment of Israel as an apartheid state was the principal conclusion of a UN report in 2017 of which I. was the co-author prepared at the request of. the UN under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA).

 

Overall, I think we can conclude that these reports are important although they fail to modify Israeli behavior to alter their policies and practices to bring them into conformity with international law. Their importance is informational and with potential impacts on international public opinion, which often translates into soft power, and this has been more important in the end in shaping the political outcome of many conflicts since World War II than has hard power.

 

– What about the imprisoned Palestinians? Are interrogations and other prison conditions in compliance with the international law and Israeli law?

 

Israeli practices with respect to imprisonment has come under constant criticism, especially with respect to the treatment of children, reliance on administrative detention, torture, and unsanitary conditions. Particular attention has been to the Israeli practice of nighttime arrests, taking children from their homes in the presence of their parents, often with accompanying violence that has terrifying effects that are. long-lasting. Children are giving heavy prison terms for minor acts of symbolic resistance to prolonged Israeli occupation, including the throwing of stones at distant soldiers that have been rarely if ever been injured as a result. There are reliable studies of Palestinian children in Gaza that reveal severe demoralization even to the extent of losing a will to life itself. Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults have been rising.

 

Another violation of international standards is to take those arrested to prisons outside occupied Palestine located within Israel. This deprives prisoners of family visits, and isolates prisoners in a cruel manner over prolonged periods of time.

 

There have been frequent long hunger strikes in Israeli prisons protesting conditions. Israel, contrary to international medical ethics, has tried to force feed fasting individuals to avoid their dying in such a way, thereby creating adverse publicity.

 

There are several published collections of prison writings that convey the abuse of human rights associated with the manner in which Palestinians are treated by Israeli administering authorities.

 

– You told me earlier, “extension of settlements to the OPT, annexation of Jerusalem, imposition of collective punishment, and use of excessive force to maintain security” are the main violations of the Geneva Conventions. What is your opinion about the new situation with Jerusalem?

 

I assume that here you are referring to the 2017 initiative by the Trump White House to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a move defies a deeply held longtime international consensus. The UN position is that Jerusalem has. been ‘occupied territory’ according to international law since the 1967 War and it is hence unlawful to alter its status in any way that interferes with its societal character and status. The proposed embassy move was condemned as null and void, with a demand to rescind the decision, by a one-sided UN General Assembly vote. (see GA Res. 11935, 128-9-35 absentions, 21 December 2017). The future of Jerusalem is a matter that according to this global consensus can only be settled by negotiated agreement between the two parties for which there is no present prospect. The United States defied the General Assembly and officially moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem on 14 May 2018. From an international law and diplomacy points of view, the status of Jerusalem remains unresolved.

 

Israel defied this consensus immediately after the 1967 War by unilaterally annexing Jerusalem, enlarging its territory by incorporated large additional amounts of Palestinian occupied land, and declaring that an undivided Jerusalem would be the eternal capital of Israel. This annexation of Jerusalem was condemned by the UN Security Council in Resolution 478 (by vote of 14-0, with USA abstaining, 20 August 1980). As with the embassy move, this Israeli initiative was a violation of the law governing belligerent occupation, as set forth in the 4thGeneva Convention, including especially the unconditional prohibition on states acquiring territory by force of arms. As such, the annexation lacks any legal significance, but it does create a political set of conditions that are difficult to reverse, and become more so, given the long passage of time.

 

Thinking ahead to the future, there will be no genuine peace until the claims of the Palestinians with respect to Jerusalem, which also reflect the wider claims and concerns of especially Islam, but also Christianity, are given formal recognition. The future of Jerusalem is a test case of whether the Palestinian right of self-determination will be someday realized, or will be forever frustrated by Israeli expansionism reinforced by the geopolitical support it receives from the United States, which has been carried to new heights under the Trump presidency in ways that have brought strong denunciations from governments traditionally supportive of Israel and allied with the United States.

 

– As far as I know, you have Jewish ancestry. Does this mean you ethnically Jewish and/or religiously? Nonetheless, you were called “antisemitic”, because you criticized Israel. In is your opinion is the Jewish community in the US mostly Zionist, or is there a relatively strong part of the Jewish community that recognizes the right of Palestine to have an independent, internationally recognized,  and sovereign state?

 

To respond to the personal part of your question first, yes I am Jewish genetically, but neither culturally nor religiously. By this I mean I was brought up in New York City in a secular and assimilationist atmosphere where what was important was to be ‘American’ and ‘human’ rather than to emphasize ethnicity or religious identity. My parents were extreme versions of secularism, and this prompted a reaction that may explain my strong lifelong interest in comparative religion. In my own identity, I consider my species identity as ‘human’ to be primary, and other signifiers,  including nationality, to be secondary.

 

The reason I have been called anti-Semitic by militant Zionist NGOs and their followers is because I support the national struggle of the Palestinian people for their rights, and I have in the context of UN activity described Israel as ‘an apartheid state.’ This description of Israel is based on the academic study of Israeli policies and practices toward the Palestinian people as a whole, and not only those living under occupation, in relation to the crime of apartheid as defined in international criminal law. It is unfortunate, and harmful to Jews, for Zionists to extend the meaning of anti-Semitism from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel. In my view only when Israel dismantles its apartheid structures of control over Palestinians will sustainable peace be attainable for both Jews and Arabs.

 

Turning to the part of the question concerning the outlook of Jews in America, according to polls more than 85% of Jews do consider themselves to be Zionists in the minimal sense of supporting the existence of Israel as a. Jewish state. But a growing minority of Jews is critical of the Likud/Netanyahu leadership of Israel, and an even larger number would favor a balanced approach by the US Government to the relationship between Israel and Palestine. This latter Jewish viewpoint is usually identified with what is called ‘liberal Zionism’ that tends to favor a two-state solution. In American domestic politics the split is obvious in Washington lobbying groups. AIPAC is unconditionally pro-Israeli, and with rare exceptions refrains from criticism of Israeli wrongdoing, adopting a punitive approach to those who like myself are critical of Israel.  J-Street is a smaller lobbying organization representative of liberal Zionism that is critical of some Israeli policies while being avowedly pro-Israeli, while lending support to the. two-state solution.

 

My own position is critical at this stage of all forms of Zionism. I believe the original failure of the Zionist project was to impose a Jewish state on a non-Jewish society. It is important to remember that at the time of the Balfour Declaration (1917) pledging British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine the Jewish population was less than 8%, and even in 1947 when the UN General Assembly recommended partition, the Jewish population was about 30%. What this means is that from the very beginning the inalienable right of self-determination of the resident Arab population was being ignored and an essentially settler colonial arrangement was being promoted and later imposed by force.

 

I agree that as of now, however dubious the earlier history, the Jewish population must be accommodated in any future peace agreement, but I am very doubtful that this could or should be done within a framework of two separate sovereign states. Israel by its deliberate actions over many years has made this outcome a practical impossibility. The encroachment of more than 600,000 Jewish settlers onto occupied Palestine cannot be reversed by nonviolent means. In this regard, the only sustainable peace would be a single democratic secular state with the protection of human rights for all. Ethnic or religious states are by definition suppressive of minority rights, and thus inconsistent with the modern commitment to human rights as originally set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

Such a one-state solution is not endorsed by liberal Zionism as it would mean the abandonment of the core idea of ‘a Jewish state’ as a sanctuary of the Jewish people. It is my view that Jews and others would be better off in a secular environment dedicated to the implementation of human rights for all. True an ethnic state may impose a protective regime for the favored ethnicity but it is likely to arouse enmity among other ethnicities, and over time likely to generate external pressures. The underlying challenge for all communities is to live together humanely on the basis of equality.

 

What is your opinion, could be peace and two separated but cooperative states in the territory of Palestine/Israel in the near future?

 

Earlier, I was of the view that it is up to the parties to decide how to reconcile their overlapping claims to self-determination in Palestine. I thought that the Palestinians had suffered for too long from external. political actors seeking to shape the future of Palestine. The Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the UN partition resolution of 1947 were both interferences by international actors as to how the conflict over Palestine should be resolved. It was time, I felt, to let the two peoples to work out their own solution. In retrospect, there were problems with my position: First, it was not clear that the Palestinian people were being legitimately and adequately represented within international venues, especially after the death of Yasir Arafat. This raised the question, still not answerable, of who could speak authoritatively on behalf of the Palestinian people. Secondly, the disparity in power, accentuated by the U.S. role as a partisan third party intermediary, presiding over the diplomatic framework, made it unlikely that a sustainable peace could be negotiated by relying upon such a flawed process.

 

In recent years, I have shifted my view to a one democratic state position. Israel through a variety of actions, including expanding the settlements, building the wall, establishing security zones has made it a practical impossibility to establish an independent, equal, sovereign state of Palestine. Furthermore, Israel’s leadership and public opinion feel triumphant, especially with Trump in the White House, and no longer feel the need for a political compromise, and seem to be moving step by step toward imposing their own apartheid version of a one-state solution on the Palestinian people.

 

It is true that the UN and the international community continue to affirm the two-state solution as the only viable outcome if peace is the goal. Why, when it is so obviously a dead-end? To abandon the two-state approach would acknowledge the failure of UN and international diplomacy. Additionally, the durability of two-state thinking results from the influence of Zionism on the international approach to peace. A democratic and secular one-state would necessitate giving up the goal of a Jewish state, requiring a retreat to the original Balfour pledge of a Jewish homeland, and involve a major Zionist downsizing.  Such a retreat is a necessity, in my view, if there is ever to be a political arrangement for Palestine based on the essential equality of the two peoples and creating the conditions for a sustainable peace.

 

The reason for a mood of despair is obvious. What is desirable seems politically unattainable, while what is attainable seems unacceptable. Under these conditions false consciousness is bound to flourish. To overcome this mood of despair, we should not look to the UN or the United States. Our best hope for a just peace for both peoples is a heightening of pressure from civil society to such a level as to prompt Israeli leaders and the Israeli public, as well as diaspora Jewry to. recalculate their own interests so as to incorporate the realization of basic Palestinian rights.

 

  

 

 

Challenging Pitzer/Haifa Study Abroad Program: Can Civil Society Act?

22 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The post is an open letter to the President of Pitzer College urging support for reconsideration of his veto of a resolution urging the college to suspend its study abroad program with the University of Haifa until Israel ends its discriminatory policies in the educational sphere that affect Palestinians and anyone exercising rights of free expression in a manner that Israel disapproves, and more. specifically the BDS Campaign. With the UN unable to bring peace, the long failed effort at. American-led diplomacy, and now Trump in the White House it.  is time for civil society to speak and to act.]

 

 

March 19, 2019

 

Open Letter to the President of Pitzer College, Melvin L. Oliver:

 

I write in response to your reported decision to overrule the vote of the Pitzer Student/Faculty/Staff Council urging the suspension of the Study Abroad program of Pitzer with the University of Haifa until Israeli discrimination on the basis of race and legally protected political speech with respect to entry and issuance of visas ceases. Through your statements supporting the rejection of this vote by this representative campus body, you are using your executive position to make your judgment prevail over the decision of the democratic procedures in place to reflect the collective judgment of the Pitzer College community. I find this troubling for both procedural and substantive reasons, and from what I have heard, demoralizing and disillusioning for many persons on and off the campus. 

 

Your statements rely on two broad arguments. First, that the business of Pitzer College is to promote education, not social justice, and that some students might be deprived of valuable educational opportunities. And secondly, that Israel’s alleged wrongdoing is certainly not worse than that of several other countries, and singling out Israel is thus applying double standards and is unfair and hence “political.” These objections raise important issues, but they do not, in my judgment, outweigh the case for supporting the resolution mandating the suspension of this Study Abroad Program until the conditions in the resolution are met.

 

I have had occasion to consider these arguments and to study comparable issues over the course of six years (2008–2014) in my role as UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. It was clear that the UN–and indirectly, the United States had a special responsibility with respect to both the State of Israel and the Palestinian people that goes back to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 that is different and. more pronounced than that toward other victimized peoples around the world. Furthermore, as a result of a collaborative report of which I was one of the two authors, written as an independent academic study under contract with the UN Economic and Social Council for West Asia, it was concluded that the victimization of the Palestinian people as a whole was dependent on Israeli apartheid state structures associated with upholding a state that by its own Basic Law limits the right of self-determination exclusivelyto the Jewish people. On the basis of my experience at the United Nations, it is overwhelmingly clear that Israel discriminates against Palestinians with respect to entry into its educational institutions and also withholds visas and rights of entry to those from the United States and elsewhere who have exercised their human right of free expression in ways that Israel deems critical of its policies, with a particular animus exhibited against those who support the BDS Campaign.

 

In so many respects, a preoccupation with Israel’s conduct is appropriate within an American setting.

 

The United States has presided over a failed peace process for more than twenty years. Against this background, it is obvious that Palestinian basic rights have not been achieved either by the UN, by traditional diplomacy, or by international mediation, and there is no prospect of this changing in the near future. The hope for a sustainable peace for both peoples is the continuation of Palestinian resistance and nonviolent transnational solidarity initiatives of civil society. The BDS Campaign has this objective, as had the analogous movement directed at apartheid South Africa, which finally brought a change of governing policy and sustained racial peace under circumstances in which it was deemed by many outside observers as impossible. This attempt at signaling to Israel and to the world that a study abroad program is unacceptable so long as it operates in accordance with discriminatory standards is part of this struggle for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. Pitzer College should be proud of its stand, and it should certainly not be blocked by an administrative fiat.   

 

As someone who has been active as a faculty member for more than 50 years, I would take issue with your distinction between the promotion of social justice and the pursuit of educational goals. It is my experience, reinforced by feedback from many students, that the most valuable educational and learning experience during their time at college was their moral engagement with social issues confronting society at the time. College education at its best should involve moral empowerment by way of commitments on issues that challenge conscience. In this controversy about acceptable standards of a study abroad program, the link between social justice and education is organic. As well, taking a stand on a question of this sort relates to the sort of civic education that helps orient younger people to be active in their participation as citizens of a vibrant democracy, and deserves to be considered as part of the educational mission, and not outside of it.

 

It is my understanding that this is the first instance in the history of Pitzer College in which the president has vetoed a resolution. I would urge you to respect a community consensus on this matter of such deep political conviction and moral commitment. It is certainly the case that reasonable people can weigh the issues at stake in opposite ways, and so the ultimate question at issue is whose voice should prevail. By rejecting the voice of the college community, you are creating tensions that will not subside. If you chose to defer, while setting forth your reasons for disagreement, your actions would create the kind of broader understanding of those invaluable aspects of education that occur outside the classroom in the course of a benevolent college experience.

 

Finally, I should express my own personal interest in having Pitzer do the right thing in this challenging situation. My son, Dimitri, graduated from Pitzer about 25 years ago, having had a wonderful college experience that I and his mother greatly appreciated. I also had the honor of being a speaker at the installation of the preceding president of Pitzer College, which gave me an occasion to renew my affection for the place.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Richard Falk

Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University

Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB