On the Platform By the Movement for Black Lives

NOTE: The following piece is purely my own view. While anything on this blog that is not a piece written for the Foundation for Middle East Peace may not reflect the Foundation’s view, this piece in particular is a personal opinion. To date, the Foundation has not decided whether to make any statement about the policy platform issued by the Movement for Black Lives. The views here are strictly my own. They should not be taken as being in any way reflective of FMEP’s views, nor should this disclaimer be interpreted as meaning that FMEP disagrees with the views expressed here in part or whole. 

A collection of groups that are part of the Black Lives Matter Movement have released an historic document. It is a policy platform that is broad in scope and wide-ranging in vision. Naming themselves the Movement for Black Lives (MBL), the 50 organizations do not claim to speak for any but themselves, but they clearly represent a large portion of the Black community in the US and of the Black Lives Matter movement.Ferguson2Palestine

So far, the opposition to the MBL platform has mostly come from the right wing. Liberals and leftists are either supportive or, I suppose, silent about any reservations they may have. But one controversy has been raging throughout the political spectrum, at least with in the Jewish community, and, not surprisingly, it’s about Israel. Two paragraphs are at issue:

“The US military accounts for over 50 percent of discretionary federal spending, a total of 598.5 Billion dollars spent annually, as compared to 70 billion spent on education, 66 billion spent on healthcare, $63.2 billion spent on housing and 29.1 billion spent on social security and unemployment. In addition, approximately 3 billion dollars in US aid is allocated to Israel, a state that practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades. Together with aid to Egypt — Israel’s most important regional ally — this figure represents nearly 75 percent of all US aid dollars. As these figures demonstrate, resources and funds needed for reparations and for building a just and equitable society domestically are instead used to wage war against a majority of the world’s communities.”

“The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people. The US requires Israel to use 75 percent of all the military aid it receives to buy US-made arms. Consequently, every year billions of dollars are funneled from US taxpayers to hundreds of arms corporations, who then wage lobbying campaigns pushing for even more foreign military aid. The results of this policy are twofold: it not only diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government. Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as 4 years old without due process. Every day, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall.” Continue reading

Richard Falk and the Russell Tribunal on the Question of Genocide in Gaza

I was not surprised that my recent article which, in part, discussed Mahmoud Abbas’ assertion that Israel committed genocide in Gaza caused russell-tribunal-on-palestinesome controversy and discussion. Indeed, I was gratified by it.

This is an important question, one that goes well beyond the rhetorical issue and one that I did not delve nearly as deeply into as I probably should have in my piece. Richard Falk’s article in The Nation has now done that job for me. I don’t always agree with Falk, but in this case, I think he and the Tribunal got it exactly right. I see this even though I get the sense from this piece that the Tribunal, and possibly Falk as well, believe in their hearts that genocide was committed in Gaza, while I do not.

One point bears some stress. Falk points out that genocide is regarded as “the crime of crimes.” Some of the debate over the use of this word to describe not only the Gaza horror of 2014 but the occupation more broadly has centered on the legal definition of genocide. I maintain that Israel’s crimes do not reach that level. But beyond the legal semantic question is the very important colloquial understanding of that word.

When people hear “genocide” they think of the Nazis, Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge and the Armenians. These were all incidents where huge numbers and huge percentages of particular populations were exterminated. As Falk points out, the legal definition actually holds a higher standard, where intent to annihilate a particular group must be proven. But colloquially, the understanding most people have of genocide plainly doesn’t fit Gaza. That’s the biggest reason I disagree with the use of that word.

But there was also a demonstrably “genocidal atmosphere” in Israel over the summer, whether it be tweens proudly stating that killing Arabs is a good thing, to plans put forth by Knesset members to empty Gaza of Arabs to statements by another MK that all Palestinians are legitimate targets. That makes the accusation worth investigating. So does the fact that the attack happened in the context of an ongoing blockade of Gaza which left Gazans nowhere to flee to, either outside their borders or within the sardine-can-like Strip.

When the Tribunal did so, they came to this conclusion, as described by Falk: “Despite these factors, there were legal doubts as to the crime itself. The political and military leaders of Israel never explicitly endorsed the pursuit of genocidal goals, and they purported to seek a ceasefire during the military campaign. The tribunal convincingly documented the government’s goal of intensifying the regime of collective punishment, but there was no clear official expression of intent to commit genocide. The presence of genocidal behavior and language, even if used in government circles, is not by itself sufficient to conclude that Protective Edge, despite its enormity, amounted to the commission of the crime of genocide.”

I think that’s right. You make your own decision, but I strongly urge us all to hold the accusation of “genocide” to the highest standard, because there is nothing worse.

Changing Course: Mahmoud Abbas At The UNGA

Reaction to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the UN General Assembly today was swift and sharp. One of the most incisive

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN general Assembly, 9/26/14

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN general Assembly, 9/26/14

Israeli columnists, Chemi Shalev of Ha’aretz, broke it down very well. He considered Abbas’ speech to be a welcome gift to the Israeli right. And I agree with him. But that’s not really the point.

Abbas has often used the UN podium as a way to be more direct and combative than he usually is regarding Israel, de-emphasizing the “partner for peace” charade and instead being more of an advocate for and leader of the Palestinian cause. But this time, he really turned up the heat. His reference to the attack on Gaza as “genocide” was calculated to play very well in Ramallah and Gaza City, and he willingly sacrificed the rest of the world’s approval. Continue reading

Israel-Palestine: Correcting Some Faulty Ideas on Both Sides

An edited version of this article originally appeared at LobeLog.

Like many of us, I’ve been very busy on social media since this started. I see a lot of ignorant nonsense there, and it’s not limited to Used to be our housethe pro-Israel side. I also see a lot of shoddy thinking and ignorance of the facts. Since I had to study up on a lot of this for my job as the Director of the US Office of B’Tselem, I thought I might clear a few of those up.

“War crimes”

Various memes make the rounds in discussions of war crimes. One that I found particularly laughable was “Even the UN says Hamas is committing war crimes but they say Israel only might be.” I’ve also seen defenses of Hamas’ firing of missiles at civilian targets at Israel based on Palestinians’ right of self-defense.

Here is the long and short of it: War crimes are defined as “Serious violations of international humanitarian law constitute war crimes.” That’s going to encompass pretty much every violation that might become a public issue in any conflict. Continue reading

Putin and the Jews

There is a movement afoot, with some big stars lending their names, to move the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi in Russia, or to boycott those games over the increasing volume of hate against LGBT folk in Russia. Not a few are drawing the entirely accurate comparison to the passage in Nazi Germany of discriminatory laws. It was not only that such laws led to where we all know it led, but even in the short term, it gave license to those jack-booted thugs to carry out violence, most often against Jews, but also against others. It permitted the police and other authorities to look the other way. And that’s why the comparison to Russia, where a similar dynamic is underway regarding LGBT folk, is perfectly apt. But, of course, there are always those who consider any comparison to the Holocaust off limits, unless it has the imprimatur of the “official” Jewish community. I explore all this in my latest piece for Souciant.

African, American, Apartheid

The first African-American US President just went to Israel and said no matter how strong you make your system of discrimination and apartheid, our country will support you. How does that work? I explore in this week’s column at Souciant.

Updating Anti-Semitism

In my latest piece for Souciant, I take on the growing use of Holocaust rhetoric to support an Israeli attack on Iran. In particular, the idea that Jews are more justified in drastic acts of self-defense because of the traumatic effect of the Holocaust that still lingers.

Also, Souciant has weathered another attack. Please help support this site that is drawing fire from the far right (current evidence suggests ultra-right/neo-Nazi groups are attacking it) by not only reading my piece, but the many other worthwhile articles on the site, and tell your friends.