:: Saturday, October 12, 2002 ::
A Zionist Goes to the University of Michigan Divestment Conference
:: Friday, October 11, 2002 ::
The propaganda in the lobby
As expected, lots of loony stuff was on display. Publicity for the World Socialist Web Site, Larouche for President ("The UN Should Declare Bush Insane"), and various other conspiracy theories about the assassination of Malcolm X and some incoherent things about Zapatistas.
The conference consisted of special sessions that usually had two speakers apiece. I mention the title of the sessions in quotes, but the individual speakers didn't give titles for their talks, so I provide my own.
The first two speakers: "Tactical lessons from the struggle against apartheid"
(A) Colin Powell is not sufficiently in touch with his blackness
The first speaker was Mahdi Bray, an African-American activist who worked in the anti-apartheid movement during the '80s. He said that the American media equates all criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism, and that Israel is an "oppressive, racist, apartheid state." Then he said that Israel is a democracy, but that doesn't mean anything because America was too when it had slavery and Jim Crow. The occupation is all about economics and Israeli exploitation of cheap Palestinian labor, and thus the Palestinians are "the new nigg@#s" of the Middle East. Bray spoke to Colin Powell just before Powell made his last trip to the Middle East in April, and he told Powell that "we know the face of apartheid and racism in the American South, and I know you know that." He claims that Powell smiled and replied "it's complicated," which Bray said he accepts, but then he disregarded that by asking, "what's so complicated about freedom? Shouldn't everyone have that?" Then he told some stories about the suffering of African-Americans in the South during the '50s and '60s and said that eventually, rage builds up and people fight back. He did not mention suicide bombings, either the Palestinians' use of them or the African-Americans' non-use of them.
(B) Divestment will defeat the all-powerful state of Israel
Next was Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian activist and professor of Islamic law and history at UC-Berkeley. He started off by thanking the pro-Israel protestors of the conference for all the free publicity, such as the President of the U. of Michigan who publicly stated that the university will not divest from Israel. He called her "an obedient servant" without specifying whom she serves. Then he claimed that Israel "stands alone" in "legitimizing torture, assassination, ethnic cleansing" and many other nefarious things without mentioning that they are practiced widely around the world, particularly in the Arab and Muslim part. He said that Israel's supporters emphasize its similarities with America (democracy, free speech, etc.) in order to fool people into not scrutinizing its policies. Then he claimed, like the speaker before him, that Israel's being a democracy means nothing because America was a democracy when it oppressed its women, and also that Hitler was elected. He said nothing about whether Hitler's election led to a lack of scrutiny of Nazi policies or not. Bazian then claimed that Israel's supporters charge Palestinian supporters with anti-Semitism in order to close off access to civil institutions, but failed to mention exactly which institutions he had in mind (I can't think of any). He claimed that Al Gore used to be one of the leaders of Israel Bonds, which I don't believe. He praised the boycotts of Israeli academics going on in Europe and confidently predicted that the anti-Israel divestment campaign will succeed. He also said it was unjust that people who make donations to Israel can claim a tax write-off, but said nothing about tax write-offs for non-Israel-related donations.
The next speakers: "International Solidarity Movement"
The odd couple of Palestinian activism
Several sessions were going on at the same time, and rather than see Hussein Ibish talking about "Israel's Campus Thought Police" or some other people talking about "The US, the War on Terrorism and Israel/Palestine," I saw a presentation by Adam Shapiro, noted Jewish compound-guest of Yasser Arafat, and his wife and fellow activist, Michigan graduate Huwaida Arraf. First they showed a 20-minute video shot by one of their friends in the Jenin refugee camp this past April, just after the fiercest fighting of Operation Defensive Shield. There was lots of footage of damaged and demolished houses and interviews with their residents. Charges of the Israeli army targeting civilians and committing war crimes were stated as fact. One of the camp's residents said that the soldiers who damaged his house were "animals" (more on that below). No context at all was provided for the Israeli incursions. The only time terrorism was mentioned in the whole tape was a voice-over by Shapiro claiming that "this isn't about terrorism, it's about occupation, freedom, human rights, etc."
Shapiro then spoke about how the Palestinians had a decent economic situation before the Oslo process, but failed to explain why it went downhill during Oslo (hint: a corrupt and terror-supporting regime showed up). He stated as fact that "a growing number of Israelis realize that it's about occupation." Then he gave the "real" reason that Israel has invaded refugee camps in the territories: not because that's where most of the terrorists are, but because it's the toughest problem of the whole conflict and Israel wants to suppress it with force (or something like that).
Next up was Arraf. She said that a lot of people ask her, why don't the Palestinians use non-violent resistance? Where are the Palestinian Ghandis and Martin Luther Kings? She responded that they already are using non-violence just by living their lives, going to school, etc. in the presence of the occupying forces (never mind why the forces are stationed where they are). She described a lot of eyewitness accounts of incidents that happened during curfews and at checkpoints. Then she claimed that the international media mis-represents the Palestinian struggle as not being about freedom and resisting occupation and blamed the international community for doing nothing about the conflict (despite the fact that 15% of all Security Council resolutions ever passed deal with Israel). In the question and answer session they had after they talked, Arraf claimed that "there are many indications" that the Israeli government is planning to use any upcoming war with Iraq as an excuse to transfer the Palestinians out of the West Bank. Then we had a break for lunch, but on my way out I had:
A conversation with Huwaida Arraf
I started by asking her about the guy in the video who said that the Israeli soldiers were "animals." Since she had bemoaned the "dehumanization" of the Palestinians in the media, I asked about that in order to make the point that peace is impossible until BOTH sides recognize the humanity of the other side. Here's a rough recollection of what followed:
Arraf: That guy had his house nearly demolished by occupying troops, so it's natural that he was driven to make that statement. Occupation does bad things to people.
Me: But on the other hand, doesn't seeing their friends and relatives killed by terrorists affect the way that Israelis view the conflict?
Arraf: What Israel does to the Palestinians is also terror. Suicide bombing started in '94 after all the checkpoints started springing up during the Oslo process.
Me: [wanting to make another point instead of pointing out that checkpoints were a response to suicide bombing, not vice versa] What about before Oslo? There wasn't any suicide bombing during the first 27 years of the Israeli occupation in the territories.
Arraf: The Palestinians used other forms of resistance then.
Me: Yeah, like hijacking planes and killing Olympic athletes.
Arraf: [changing the subject] But it all comes back to occupation. Israel has to comply with UN resolutions.
Me: But those resolutions also make demands on the Arabs. They have to accept Israel's right to exist and stop fighting it, and it took them decades before they even considered doing that.
Arraf: Israel rejected the Saudi peace plan from earlier this year, and there was another Arab plan in the '70s that Israel rejected [she said something like that, maybe not exactly that, but whatever it was it wasn't true].
Me: But what about Sadat? He accepted Israel and started negotiating, and within a year he had an agreement to get all his land back.
Arraf: [her one good point] Yes, but the Sinai isn't like the West Bank and Gaza. Israel didn't have such strong territorial and religious claims in the Sinai.
Me: Good point. But still, there ultimately has to be a peace process and a negotiated solution. Violence never helped the Palestinians, and it never will.
Arraf: But Israelis just don't know what's going in the territories. They aren't informed.
Me: I'm originally from Israel, and most of my family still lives there, and we know PLENTY about what's going on.
End of the conversation--she had to go to a press conference.
Two more speakers: "Israel: Liberal Democracy or Apartheid?"
(A) Israel never had, and never will have, the right to exist. Plus, it and its supporters are evil.
South African journalist and activist Na'eem Jeenah started off with the usual claim about Israel being an apartheid state. Then he said that he regretted referring to "the political entity called Israel" and apologized up front to "those who are uncomfortable with that." I was stunned and almost frightened; he might as well have been addressing a Hamas convention. He based his entire talk on the premise that the UN Partition Resolution of 1947 granted Israeli citizenship to Palestinians and that since Israel has failed to comply with that for all these years, it is inherently immoral for it to exist as a Jewish state. I didn't really understand what he said but kept on listening. He said that Israeli law is unjust because it grants no legal status to the Palestinians who fled in '47 and '48 "for a number of reasons, mainly Zionist terror." He then said that Israel classifies Israeli Arabs as "present absentees" before denouncing the term "Israeli Arab" as unjust and unusable. Then he talked about the Law of Return (which grants Israeli citizenship to any Jew who claims it) and said that it tries "to hide the apartheid" inherent in it because "it barely mentions Jews." He went to say that Israel was much worse than apartheid South Africa because South Africa didn't have "ethnic cleansing" a la the Palestinian disaster of '47/48 (of course he made no mention of war, invasion, or Arab terror) and that South Africa didn't have "collective punishment" for the blacks. He wound up by saying that divestment is all about the right of return of all the refugees. I was very shaken by his whole presentation. It wasn't so much the claims he made, since all the other conference speakers made claims that were equally one-sided or false, but the WAY he made them, with a tone of fierce hatred and utter contempt for "the political entity called Israel," as if anyone who disagreed with him was not just an idiot but a bloodthirsty criminal.
(B) There should be a bi-national state, but "apartheid" is too simplistic
A change of tone, but not much in the ways of substance, came from the next speaker, an anti-Zionist Israeli lawyer named Raif Zreik. He said that while apartheid in S. Africa was a clear-cut case of the political exclusion of a race who potentially could have been included, the situation with Israel and the Palestinians is a lot more complicated. The Palestinian experience is too fragmented to have one term apply to it: the Arabs of Israel are about equality, the Palestinians in the territories are about independence, and the refugees are about return. The West Bank is "much, much worse" than apartheid, and the Palestinian Authority mistakenly makes apartheid look like statehood because it has no sovereignty. The two-state solution is becoming impossible, so the Palestinians have to become an anti-apartheid integrationalist movement instead of a liberation movement. He concluded by saying that Israel is an "ongoing project" based on ethnicity, and then he made the very strange claim that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated not because he was a left-leaning peace seeker, but because Arab Knesset members had helped him by voting for Oslo, which angered the assassin because it was an indication that the "pure Jewish nature" of Israel was being damaged. Then it was on to the last session of the day, which was:
"Academic Freedom in Political Advocacy"
(A) America's universities are controlled by Zionists
UC-Berkeley grad student Snehal "Don't take my class if you're a conservative" Shingavi talked about how he's been oppressed ever since he taught a course about Palestinian poetry for which the course listing encouraged people with differing political views not to take the class. He did refer to the "embarassing line" in the course description about conservatives but didn't distance himself from it. He decried the increased scrutiny that it brought to courses taught by grad students at UC, that there's apparently a lot more faculty oversight because of the incident. He accused the university of being "afraid that Palestinian poetry might be discussed seriously" and claimed that Middle East studies in American universities are dominated by "knee-jerk Zionism." Then he said that while the university should be a place with a free exchange of views and a marketplace of ideas, the Palestinian perspective doesn't "come in on an equal footing" because the US government and the media are biased in favor of Israel.
(B) Occupation is the issue--talking about anything else is an attempt to change the subject
The last and most controversial speaker whom I saw was accused terror supporter Sami Al-Arian. He talked about his parents being refugees from the '48 war and that the right of return is at the heart of the divestment movement. Then he asserted that the conflict "has always been about occupation," making no distinction between the Palestinians' pre- and post- Six Day War status. He accused "neo-conservatives like Daniel Pipes" of trying to make Islam to be the enemy of the West, although Pipes himself claims otherwise. Al-Arian also claimed that any criticism of him and his political ties are "an attempt to change the subject from occupation." Then he said that the Palestinians have "already made the utmost concession" in accepting Israel on 78% of historic Palestine (i.e., within the pre-'67 boundaries), that the Palestinians don't have any choices left in what they do, the Israelis are the only ones with choices, and that "talking about terrorism is changing the subject." He professed his own preference for a binational state, not a two state solution--a little publicized but overwhelmingly popular point of view at this conference. Then he claimed that Israel and its supporters "will always lose the argument" because "God is not a real estate agent." He concluded by launching into an endless polemic against Israel's alleged violations of international law, asking "what is the only state in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons, colonizes others' lands, spied on America, flaunts dozens of UN resolutions, etc. etc." before concluding with, "which Middle Eastern country is about to be bombed and invaded by the US?" That brought a round of applause from the obviously pro-Iraq crowd.
And then I asked him a question
In the Q&A that followed the Shingavi/Al-Arian session, I asked Al-Arian that since he believes that "God is not a real estate agent," why is a non-Muslim like me who wants to see the holy sites of Mecca forbidden to do so? My point was pretty obviously that if God isn't a real estate agent in one part of the world, then he isn't a real estate agent anywhere, so a defender of Islam can't make a consistent argument against the existence of a Jewish state on that basis alone. Al-Arian hemmed and hawed for a moment before saying that "this has nothing to do with the occupied territories" and spent the next several minutes giving the usual Israel-bashing accusations. Shingavi then accused me of "justifying one oppression with the other" since being critical of the fact that I can't go to Mecca "doesn't justify what Israel does to the Palestinians." In fact, I made no such argument, as I explained above, but naturally Shingavi interpreted it as he wanted to (instead of asking me if that's what I meant before accusing me of it) and got a big round of applause. Then Al-Arian said that Mecca was a different thing because it's just about holy sites and visiting them, not dispossession and occupation, etc.
There was another talk scheduled with PLO publicist Diana Buttu and Israeli anti-Zionist academic Ilan Pappe, but I got caught up in a (refreshingly civilized) conversation with a Palestinian activist about what I had said and about the conflict in general. We of course had to agree to disagree on certain fundamental things, but the guy was reasonably open-minded and easy to talk to. I ducked in briefly to see Pappe re-hashing the accusation that Israel has a sinister plot to transfer the Palestinians out of the West Bank "while the world isn't looking" during a war with Iraq before getting out of there.
Was it an anti-Semitic hatefest? Not really. But this conference certainly doesn't support peace, as most people there want a bi-national state and not a single one of them recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. The talks were a non-stop barrage of distortions and victimization, but in terms of scary hatred, the only one who genuinely made me nervous was that Na'eem Jeenah maniac. America's support for Israel is too strong and too principled to fall for this divestment nonsense, so while the conference was conducted in a generally peaceful and reasonable manner, there's no way they're going to succeed. For all supporters of a Jewish state of Israel at peace with its neighbors, that is the ultimate comfort.
Local anti-divestment petition
:: Thursday, October 10, 2002 ::
An anti-divestment petition just started up here at Michigan. More than 4300 people have signed the California petition, including me (I went to college at Berkeley), which is more than three times the number who have signed the California pro-divestment petition.
Israel Rally report
:: Wednesday, October 09, 2002 ::
There was a really nice pro-Israel rally on campus here at Michigan today. Lots of people showed up, I think around 300, maybe more at one point. There were several speakers: first, the heads of the College Democrats and the College Republicans both talked about supporting Israel's right to exist and defend itself no matter what one's political orientation is. Then, one of the University Regents spoke about how he fundamentally disagreed with the premises of the upcoming divestment conference but still supported their right to hold it on campus. He also reiterated the university's position against divestment. Finally, university professor and former Defense Dept. official Raymond Tanter talked about achieving peace through democracy, and how Israel's war on terror and the potential regime change in Iraq could help lead to peace. At the end, one of the organizers led everyone in singing "Ha Tikvah" (Israel's national anthem) and the Star-Spangled Banner. He then attemped to get everyone singing "Am Yisrael Chai," which faded quickly as people started leaving. All in all, it was a strong positive show of support for Israel ahead of this upcoming weekend's decidedly anti-Israel gathering.
OK, new comments system
Enetation wasn't all that hot, and Moe Freedman said that he hadn't had such a great experience as a yak herder, so I took his suggestion and switched to HaloScan.
It was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh...
I got some great CD deals today, including Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for just $5. The main character of the movie quoted above was very fond of it as well. But one character in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow preferred Beethoven's contemporary and rival:
The point is, a person feels good listening to Rossini. All you feel like listening to Beethoven is going out and invading Poland. Ode to Joy indeed.
Not convinced? Then read this.
:: Tuesday, October 08, 2002 ::
Many of the points I tried to make below about why America needs to utilize international institutions in fighting terror show up in this New Yorker article by the always reliable Fareed Zakaria. For example, he explains why an excessively in-your-face diplomacy can be a big problem for us in the unipolar post-Cold War international order:
During the Cold War, many nations disliked or disagreed with America—over Vietnam, for example—but they despised the Soviet Union. The enemy of their enemy was, in the end, their friend. But today, with no alternative ideology and no competitors, America stands alone in the world. Everyone else sits in its shadow. This doesn't mean that other countries will form military alliances against America; that would be pointless. But countries will obstruct American purposes whenever and in whatever way they can, and the pursuit of American interests will have to be undertaken through coercion rather than consensus. Anti-Americanism will become the global language of political protest—the default ideology of opposition—unifying the world's discontents and malcontents, some of whom, as we have discovered, can be very dangerous.
But Mr. Clark is wrong about one thing
He argues that right after 9/11, we should have forged a legal definition of terrorism and used that to form an international framework for fighting the war on terror. I agree completely, but then he claims that "had we done so, I believe we would have had greater legitimacy and won stronger support in the Islamic world." Sorry, General, that wouldn't have happened. The grievances of the Islamic world against the West go back centuries, and since most people in Muslim countries have such a keen (albeit often very inaccurate) sense of history, there's almost nothing we can do to win public support in most of those places until they undergo some massive political changes. The great Middle East historian Bernard Lewis has explained this better than anyone else, particularly in this brilliant New Yorker article from October 2001. Other Lewis pieces that make similar points have links available from Windwalking Nikita.
A responsible alternative to the President's policies on terrorism and Iraq
The Democrats haven't helped their cause in recent months with their incoherent flailing about on Iraq and terrorism. If they were ever able to get together and formulate a sensible policy, what should it be? On fighting terror, the man who literally wrote the book on fighting war in a multi-lateral context, former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark, lays out a strategy in this article from a few months ago. He
argues that we should have fought the Afghan campaign with NATO and pushed through an internationally accepted definition of terrorism right after 9/11. This would have helped us because:
The longer the war goes on, the more we are going to need cooperation and support from other nations--not just troops and ships and airplanes, but whole-hearted governmental collaboration. Instead, we seem to be getting less as time goes on. After September 11, the United States gave the United Nations a list of groups and individuals suspected of funding terrorists. European governments responded by freezing their assets. In the spring, the U.S. government provided an updated list with new names. This time, most European governments ignored the list, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing concern that the United States was providing insufficient recourse for those who claim they are innocent.
Clark wrote this article before Schroeder got re-elected with a shamelessly anti-American campaign. That was much more Schroeder's fault than Bush's, of course, but cooperation of the sort that Clark is talking about would clearly have lessened the chances of that sort of thing happening. Overall, Clark makes the (in my opinion) irrefutable argument that working with allies on this sort of security problem is helpful to us, not constraining.
Last fall, all of Europe understood that the attacks of September 11 had been planned on European soil, that European targets were on the terrorists' lists, and that Europeans by the hundreds died in the World Trade Center. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder braved a no-confidence vote to win approval for German combat troops to be made available for Afghanistan. Even the French, long openly resentful of American power, expressed solidarity with us. Today, that support is being replaced by growing popular anger at the United States. Instead of focusing on the threat of terrorism, Europeans are focusing on the dangers of American hegemony. Their leaders are free to play to these fears because, without NATO involvement, the war is not seen as theirs, but ours. Not a single European election hinges on the success of the war on terrorism. As a consequence, European elected officials simply don't have a personal stake in the outcome.
On Iraq, Clark's arguments apply just as much as they do to the war on terror. Peter Beinart of The New Republic argues for a doctrine of "pre-emption plus" in this article and chastises the Democrats for not making it (I think you have to register for their website, which is free, to read it):
The premise would be that if we want our war with Iraq to leave the United States more respected in the world, rather than merely more feared, it must be accompanied by a corresponding political intervention--i.e., nation-building... Focusing on the political corollary to military intervention in Iraq would draw attention to the lingering GOP isolationism and relativism that undermine the Bush administration's war on terrorism. It would also serve as the logical moral successor to liberal anti-communism, which stressed the role of development and human rights in containing Soviet expansion.
The power of meaningless acronyms
The main Palestinian activist group on campus here at Michigan, and one of the driving forces behind the upcoming divestment conference, is SAFE, which stands for "Students Allied for Freedom and Equality." Now isn't that a clever way to rope people into your camp via innocuous-sounding wordplay while pre-emptively striking at the other side. What, you're not for freedom? You're not for equality? You don't want people to be SAFE? You want them to be thrown out at home plate?
What a surprise...NOT!
:: Monday, October 07, 2002 ::
Once again, the Braves choke in the playoffs. One comes to expect it after seven straight years of the same thing. But what a strange postseason: the World Series champion will be either San Francisco, St. Louis, Anaheim, or Minnesota. No one in their right mind would have predicted that when the season started, or, come to think of it, when the playoffs started either.
The President's Iraq speech
Not much new in the speech tonight. Bush is directing the right message to Saddam and the world: disarmament or else. The "axis of evil" speech was the first step in building a credible case for action, but it was unfortunately followed by another 8 months of undisciplined leaks, overly moralistic demagogy, blatantly inconsistent presidential statements ("time is not on our side" plus "I'm a patient man"), and (still a bit of a problem) gratuitous appeals to a vaguely asserted doctrine of pre-emption. In a remarkable display of successfully utilizing the UN in exercising international leadership (see two posts down), the President used his Sept. 12th speech before the General Assembly to right the ship and bring almost everything together--without changing his position! Tonight's speech was a sober and helpful address to the home front. The one real concern I have is that there hasn't been enough of an up-front commitment to post-Saddam nation-building, which will not only be necessary in fulfilling the responsibility we're taking with respect to the Iraqi people, but would also be a big help in building the international support that we can still use more of. Aside from that, let's keep up the diplomacy at the Security Council, get the Congressional resolution passed, and get ready to roll.
An idotic injury
:: Sunday, October 06, 2002 ::
Twins infielder Denny Hocking, who caught the last out of their upset win over Oakland in the AL division series, is apparently going to miss the AL championship series because he injured his finger during the post-game celebration. What a lame incident.
The UN: useful or pointless?
When it comes to protecting helpless victims of violent ethnic conflicts and isolating brutal dictators, the UN's record over the years is famously awful, especially over the last 10 years when Kofi Annan has been in charge, first as chief of UN Peacekeeping and then as Secretary General. In the former job, he refused to take a stand as the Serbs massacred thousands of Bosnians, most infamously in 1995 in the town of Srebrenica, and also failed to give UN forces the authority they needed to head off the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed almost one MILLION people (the rest of the world, which didn't do anything about it either, also bears a lot of the blame for that shameful episode). Franklin Foer of The New Republic provides details and claims that Annan recently helped the Iraqis draft their letter that laughably allowed "inspections without conditions," a plainly obvious time-stalling shenanigan designed to avert a final reckoning with Saddam, and a clear-cut case of Annan undermining America's position to Saddam's benefit.
The UN's pre-Annan record wasn't any better, and Foer points out that "Annan may be the greatest secretary-general since Dag Hammarskjöld died in a 1961 plane crash. But then, it's not hard to look good compared with Nazi Kurt Waldheim or such invisible men as Javier Perez de Cuellar and U Thant." Given all of this, should the US bother with the UN at all, especially on pressing national security issues like Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? I still say yes. America was one of the founding members of the UN as WWII wound down, and it was designed to help make the world politically inhabitable after by far the worst 50 years in world history of brutal conquest and mass slaughter by evil tyrants. Despite the UN's disgraceful record in using its peacekeeping forces to deter or prevent such things, it still provides the only political mechanism for building any sort of international consensus on matters of war and peace. In the eyes of most of the rest of the world, the UN's purpose has somehow switched from restraining and stopping evil dictators to restraining American "imperialism," but that rather pathetic reality comes with the territory of being the world's only superpower. The UN gives the rest of the world the chance to participate in making and enforcing international law, and the more we can get others involved, the more it strengthens our hand and reduces the burdens placed on us.
Of course, political circumstances sometimes force us to break out of that system and work through other ones, like when Russian support of Serbia meant that we had to act without Security Council authorization in the (long overdue, but better late then never) NATO bombings to stop the Serb campaigns of mass killing and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. It remains to be seen what authority we can get from the UN to enforce its own disarmament resolutions that Saddam has constantly violated, but going through that process has clearly put us in a better position to get support from allies, which will be particularly important in rebuilding a post-Saddam government.