Noam Chomsky and BDS: the ‘responsibility of intellectuals?’

Noam Chomsky’s critique of the boycott/divestment/sanctions movement against Israel, in solidarity with the Palestinian people, attracted wide attention. The Nation, where his article appeared, published five responses, to which Chomsky responded, and at least five appeared independently. Chomsky’s views were not new, but were first expressed during a BDS initiative in 2002, at Harvard and MIT. The wide attention his recent remarks earned was due to the growth of the BDS movement since.

Harvard/MIT 2002

The Harvard-MIT initiative was a response to Israeli suppression of the al-Aqsa intifada, the Palestinian uprising that began in September, 2000. It was provoked by the swaggering entrance to the Islamic shrines in Jerusalem of then-defense minister Ariel Sharon, accompanied by a thousand Israeli police. There was a demonstration, an Israeli massacre, and resistance across the West Bank that Israel attacked with utmost ferocity. The uprising expressed seven lean years of frustration with Israel’s exploitation of the 1993 Oslo accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization to further engorge the occupied territories and suffocate Palestinian life. As prime minister, Sharon ordered Operation Field of Thorns, the lavishly violent reconquista of Palestinian areas of the West Bank, including the drunken bulldozing of the center of Jenin refugee camp, and its inhabitants.

Against this sanguinary backdrop, a Harvard-MIT petition called for “the US government to make military aid and arms sales to Israel conditional on immediate initiation and rapid progress in implementing the conditions listed below. We also call on MIT and Harvard to divest from Israel, and from US companies that sell arms to Israel.” The petition called for Israel to comply with UN Resolution 242 and withdraw from the territories conquered in the June, 1967 war; stop torturing, as called for by the United Nations Committee Against Torture Report of 2001; comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting settlement and other practices in the occupied territories; and acknowledge in principle the Palestinian right of return as expressed in UN Resolution 194 (and related international law).

The petition garnered 443 signatures from Harvard and MIT faculty, staff, students and alumni, while a counter-petition garnered more than 3,200 signatures, amidst animated discussion. Then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers opined that “Harvard should not be an organ for advocacy on an issue as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He did exactly that by stating: “The suggestion that [Israel’s] defense against terrorist attacks is inherently immoral seems to me to be an unsupportable one.” At a prayer meeting on campus at the start of fall term, Summers stated: “Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent…. Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities.”

Chomsky could have defended divestment as amply justified by Israel’s conduct and denounced Summers as unfit to lead an institution of higher education. He would have been vindicated resoundingly by Israel’s ongoing atrocities, and by Summers’ later claims about women’s inability in science, faculty no-confidence votes, and his resignation in 2006 after the shortest presidential term at Harvard in 144 years. Instead Chomsky was as upset as Summers that Israel could be sanctioned. In November, Chomsky told a Harvard audience: “I am opposed and have been opposed for many years, in fact, I’ve probably been the leading opponent for years of the campaign for divestment from Israel and of the campaign about academic boycotts.” One witness told this writer that the audience was “astonished.”

Full article at Noam Chomsky and BDS: the ‘responsibility of intellectuals’? See also a partial transcript of a November, 2014 panel on BDS at Harvard at which Chomsky spoke.

In his memoir, The Lost Traveller’s Dream, the late Joel Kovel cited this article as an example of how “active critics have intervened to hold Chomsky to account before a higher tribunal.” (333, n 12). Thank you Joel, of blessed memory, for that and other encouragement, and for your clarity over Palestine. See Joel’s Overcoming Zionism, reviewed here.

Posted in 2015 | Tagged , ,

The End of Modern Jewish History

The Jewish state of Israel and the organized Jewish communities abroad have constituted the Zionist Jewish people, whose aggrandizement has replaced liberalism as the Jewish social principle. This outlook has also deeply affected the Jewish left, who have abandoned the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment and emancipation, which rejected Zionism categorically, for a minimal critique of Israel’s “occupation” of the territories conquered in 1967, etc.

The article has three sections, “The Establishment,” “The Jewish Left,” and “Noam Chomsky.”  It is 17,000 words plus notes, the merest introduction to the subject. It is in the final issue (#38) of Left Curve. The article is online, in PDF form, at The End of Modern Jewish History. A summary of EMJH was read at a publication party held at the Emerald Tablet Gallery in San Francisco on July 9.

“The End of Modern Jewish History” is an emerging theme. See Enzo Traverso, La fin de la modernite juive (Paris, 2013). An English edition was published by Pluto Press in 2016:

The End of Jewish Modernity

An English review of the French edition is at

The end of Jewish modernity?

Judaic Studies at Brown offers a course, “The End of Modern Jewish History”. See JUDS 1716, 2/3 of the way down this page

JUDS 1716. The End of Modern Jewish History

Publication of Left Curve #38 was delayed by the passing of the editor, Csaba Polony, on March 9, 2014.

“A memorial to Csaba last night at an SF art gallery was SRO … The audience was a who’s who of who remains ambulatory in the North Beach culture scene,” wrote a friend in an email. RIP Csaba, you have gone to your reward.  Alas, #38 proved to be the last issue

LC38-cover

Number 38 also contains an article by Rahela Mizrahi: “Usurping Art: Patterns of Expropriation, Conversion & Appropriation of Palestinian Heritage by Israeli Fine Arts.”

LC #37 contained a fine poem on the 30th anniversary of the Sabra/Shatila massacre by James Scully.

Posted in 2014 | Tagged ,

Damascus: Pearl of the Desert

PROFESSOR R. J. ROBINSON
Assiut Training College, Assiut, Egypt
The Biblical World, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Mar., 1909)

Among the Arabs Damascus is known by several picturesque names, each derived from some characteristic of the city itself. Its inhabitants assert that it is the oldest city in the world, hence it is quite frequently called the “Immortal City.” As to the truth of this we are not prepared to say. Its foundation is lost in the shadowy mists of the world’s twilight, and in the absence of historic facts no positive statements can be made. Yet there is not a fallen city today but Damascus was old when it was built, and still flourishes long after it has passed away. Amid the growth and decay, the rise and fall of races and dynasties, of civilizations and religions which have thronged the world for four thousand years Damascus has remained the one perennially great world-city. So we may in all truth claim that if it be not the oldest then it is assuredly among the oldest cities of the earth, older by ages than the “Eternal City,” as Rome proudly boasts herself to be. Another title which shows the poetry of oriental imagination is “The Pearl Set in Emeralds.” The appropriateness of this name is easily appreciated when the city is viewed from the top of one of the neighboring hills whence its oval shape is best seen. The color of the city is pearl gray and it is surrounded on all sides by gardens composed of shrubbery and verdure without number and trees uncountable, giving to the “pearl” the “emerald setting.”

full article:  Pearl of the Desert

This article is romantic and perhaps a bit orientalist but still interesting. At the time this was written the Arabs were chafing under Ottoman rule, and would eventually revolt in 1916. The movement was led by Sharif Hussein of Mecca, but Damascus was the key node, until the Turks hung scores of the plotters. After the war the Syrian National Congress convened in Damascus and on March 8, 1920 proclaimed the Arab Kingdom of Greater Syria, with Faisal, Hussein’s son, as King. “Greater Syria” meant Ottoman Syria, including Palestine, parts of northern Mesopotamia (later Iraq) and Lebanon. The Allies awarded France a Mandate for Syria and Lebanon at the San Remo conference in April. Faisal surrendered to the French but his war minister, General Yusuf al-‘Azma,  resisted, and was defeated at Maysalun in July, followed by the capture of Damascus the next day. This and the British occupation of the rest of historic Syria sealed its division, the original Nakba.

Posted in 2019, Timeless | Tagged ,

Fawlty Zionist Towers

Basil!

Yes Sybil?

Haven’t I told you never to play Israel?

Yes… but… well…

What, Basil? What don’t you understand?

It’s special. I will show them how to make a Waldorf salad.

Basil! Their comics will use the act and call it Israeli salad.

I never thought of that. I can’t let them steal my material.

No you can’t Basil.

Ignorant, culture-stealing barbarians!

That’s right Basil.

Occupying, oppressive apartheid colonists!

Yes Basil.

Waldorf salad is over their heads! They are too evil to be funny!

You understand, Basil. Ahh, here’s Mr Peled. Welcome, Mr Peled. Take Mr Peled’s bags up to Number 8, Basil.

Peled? The son of an Israeli general? We know all about your type. You steal land, water and Waldorf salad!

No no Basil! He’s on our side!

I’ll show you a thing or two, you apartheid colonizer!

No Basil! He’s (WHUMP! THUMP! OOF!)

Mr. Peled is a black belt in karate, with more degrees than you have bruises.

Would you like a Waldorf salad?

Posted in 2018

Evening at the Talk House

a play by Wallace Shawn

The evening depicted in Wallace Shawn’s  most recent play  is a meeting of the company of a play, convened on the tenth anniversary of its opening, at the Talk House, an old theater district club. The dramatist, Robert, played with oily confidence by Matthew Broderick, in the New York production directed by Scott Elliott, opens the evening with a long monologue that introduces the characters and the times.[1]

Robert had forgotten the anniversary of the play until reminded by a call from Ted, who had composed some incidental music for it. Robert was also surprised to learn from Ted that the company had thoroughly enjoyed putting on the play, and would enjoy gathering to mark the occasion.

Robert thought the play his best, even though it had flopped. To audiences Robert’s plays “seemed vaguely medieval, but I always explained that really most of my plays took place in an imaginary kingdom that preceded history altogether or stood to one side of it.” This play, Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars, “told the story of a powerful king, his loyal sons, and a  princess, but actually the central figure was a sort of independent knight.” The play had been noticed by “a certain Mr. Ackerley, who not long afterwards began to take a more and more prominent place in our national life,”  with the result that “certain lovely prizes were awarded several years later, after  I’d moved into the more congenial form of writing that sustains me today.”

Mr. Ackerley has introduced a New Order, in part by deploying his “cruel side, more and more in evidence, one could say, but how do these personal traits translate themselves into nation-wide happiness or unhappiness, or do they, you see?” Under the New Order, playwriting and production and theater-going have collapsed, but that is fine with Robert, who has decided that theater was  “fundamentally no less mindless than what dogs do or what cows do, an animal business of sniffing and staring.” The decline of theater is “a small price to pay for the rather substantial benefit derived from entering into an era that quite a few people would describe as much more tranquil and much more agreeable than the one that preceded it.”

Robert was once excited to see his New Orderly ideals come to lit, costumed, beautiful life on stage: “self-sacrifice, first of all, I suppose; courage–or heroism on a field of battle, if that was the venue; the instantaneous, repeated decision to choose suffering in preference to dishonor. The power and magnificence of the body, I suppose, when inspired into action.” Robert persuades himself that the TV show for which he is well-paid head writer, “admittedly in an entirely different style, presents some of these same ideals  in a more contemporary package in each thirty-minute segment.”

When Ted suggests holding the reunion at the Talk House, a famous theater district club where the company had often adjourned after a performance, Robert is surprised to hear that the place still exists. It was and is still run by Nellie, assisted by Jane, then an aspiring young actress, now still aspiring, and still assisting Nellie at the reduced, faded, but extant Talk House. In the main room, Robert is joined by Nellie (Jill Eikenberry), Jane (Annapurna Sriram), Ted (John Epperson), now doing occasional advertising music, Bill (Michael Tucker), once the producer, now a successful talent agent, Annette (Claudia Shear), once the costume designer, now tailor to private clients, and Tom (Larry Pine),  male lead in Midnight, now star of Robert’s TV show.

Robert is also astonished to discover a once-familiar actor named Dick, slumped in a chair, his face severely bruised, played by Wallace Shawn. “I was beaten, rather recently, by friends, but you see, I actually enjoyed it very much, in the end.” “They were right, obviously. I was getting to the point where I was about to cross a line.” Dick had once been quite successful, before Midnight, not since, and unlike Robert, misses the old days.

on CounterPunch   or

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Posted in 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Ms. Weir Goes to Washington

(On CounterPunch September 9, 2016, 6900 words, and below.

The scurrilous attack in summer, 2015 on Alison Weir and If Americans Knew by Jewish Voice for Peace and US Campaign to End the Occupation, has threatened Weir and her audiences with violence. On March 30, Weir spoke at the Walnut Creek, CA public library, about her book Against Our Better Judgment, about Zionist influence on foreign policy. A few weeks before, Weir had been warned by Walnut Creek police of hateful on-line incitement to disrupt the talk; the threat referred to the JVP-USC material against Weir. The Walnut Creek Parks and Recreation Department received phone calls from people planning to protest the talk.

The talk, sponsored by the Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center and Rossmoor Voices for Justice in Palestine, was well-attended, including by members of Stand With Us, an Israel propaganda outfit. They protested with signs and handed out fliers, also referring to the JVP/USC material. At the talk, five protestors seated themselves in the front row, and more stood at the back of the hall holding signs. During the talk, SWU protestors shouted repeatedly at Weir, prompting some audience members to call for them to stop. Only by speaking loudly, directly into the microphone, could Weir make herself heard.

Helen Lowenstein of SWU, a significant donor to pro-Israel organizations, according to Weir, was escorted from the hall by Walnut Creek police. She “swiped at” an audience member who was recording her, and was arrested and taken away in handcuffs. The Bay Area Jewish press decried an outbreak of anti-Semitism in their version of events.(1)  As of this writing, the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office has not prosecuted Lowenstein. One supporter later wrote to Weir, “Alison, your equanimity was extremely impressive—I think that really strengthened the message, because it made clear that facts and reason are on our side and the Zionists   are nasty bullies.” Weir said that she didn’t actually feel calm, but was glad it seemed that way.

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Posted in 2016 | Tagged , , , , ,

Dying to Forget the Israel Lobby

PDF with notes at Dying to Forget the Israel Lobby?

on CounterPunch April 22, 2016

by Harry Clark

Irene Gendzier makes two main claims about US Middle East policy in the late 1940s in her book, Dying to Forget. Oil, Power, Palestine and the Foundations of U.S. Policy in the Middle East  (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015) . One is that there was no contradiction between US support for Zionism and its goal of establishing a Jewish state in Arab Palestine, and US interest in the region’s oil reserves. This claim is based on heretofore unexamined contacts between Max Ball, who headed the Oil and Gas Division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Eliahu Epstein, Washington representative of the Jewish Agency, the Jewish state in the making in Palestine. Gendzier argues that these contacts, outside official foreign policy, enabled the Jewish Agency to address US concerns about the impact of Zionism on US oil interests, and to insert its arguments into the discussion in the Truman White House. The “encounter between Max Ball and Eliahu Epstein in 1948 forms the basis of the ‘oil connection’ discussed in this book. The encounter. . . revealed that major U.S. oil executives were pragmatic in their approach to the Palestine conflict and were prepared to engage with the Jewish Agency and later with Israeli officials, albeit within existing constraints.” (xxi)

The second is that Israel’s military prowess in the 1948 war showed the Pentagon that Israel had changed the regional balance of power, and should be included in US military planning, and oriented toward the West and away from the Soviet Union. The USSR had supported partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, and Czechoslovakia in the emerging Soviet bloc had supplied Israel with arms. These “strategic” concerns about Israel’s potential role, Gendzier claims, outweighed US concerns for the effects of the war that established Israel: the destruction of Arab Palestine, the creation of a large refugee population, the antagonism of the Arab world, and potential “instability,” the hegemon’s bugbear, with consequences for US interests. The Pentagon’s judgment about Israel’s military ability has been noted by other writers, but Gendzier makes stronger claims. These “strategic reasons,” she argues, “undermined Washington’s critical position on Israeli policy toward refugee repatriation and territorial expansion. These vital factors in the conflict between Israel-Palestine and the Arab world thereby assumed a subordinate position.” (xxii)

Here, then, is the logic of U.S. oil policy, which was responsible for the increasing deference to Israeli policies whose purpose was to ensure that Israel turned toward the United States and away from the USSR. This objective, in turn, was allied to Washington’s principal goal in the Middle East—protection of its untrammeled access and control of oil. (xxii)

Observers of US politics recognize the US-Israel “special relationship,” and the “strategic asset” and “Israel Lobby” conceptions of it. The “asset” concept holds that the relationship expresses fundamental “US interests” that are independent of any Lobby influence, that the Lobby is powerful only when it promotes those interests. The Lobby proponents see a quasi-sovereign force capable of defining or undermining US interests. This book is clearly intended to enhance the “strategic asset” view.

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Posted in 2016 | Tagged , , , ,

The Ecumenical Deal, 2.0

In 1992, Marc Ellis wrote an important article for the time, “Beyond the Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” which appeared in The Link, published by Americans for Middle East Understanding.  Ellis found that “the Jewish progressive consensus position is a form of oppression vis-à-vis the Palestinian people.” The consensus of the time emphasized the “two rights of Jews and Palestinians to the land,” Israeli atrocities as “aberrations,” and the anguish of “the Jewish soul.”

Ellis instead recognized the genocidal import of Zionism and the state of Israel. “What if… the Jewish character of the state makes expendable, in a terrifying sense, makes logical, the end of indigenous Palestinian culture and community in historic Palestine?” He found that the “ecumenical dialogue” of liberal Christians and Jews had turned into “what one might call the ecumenical deal: eternal repentance for Christian anti-Jewishness unencumbered by any substantive criticism of Israel.”

The ecumenical deal has broken down somewhat as Christian churches have discussed Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and sold investments in companies doing business with “the occupation,” often with great trepidation, against furious Jewish hostility. The interfaith outreach of Jewish Voice for Peace attempts to re-establish the ecumenical deal on more limited but defensible terms.

Entire piece (2700 words) on CounterPunch

or

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Posted in 2015 | Tagged , , ,

Invader of the Jewish State

Haneen Al Zoubi in the US

Haneen Al Zoubi, champion of democracy and embattled Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, spoke in the northeastern US in late April. Al Zoubi is from Nazareth in the Galilee, northern Israel/Palestine, whose population stubbornly remains 50% Palestinian Arab despite nearly 70 years of intensive Judaization, to the consternation of Israel. She is an outspoken opponent of the Jewish state, and its oppression of the Palestinians, be they citizens, under occupation or in exile. She was aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara in 2010 as it led a flotilla attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Israeli commandos boarded it on the high seas and killed 9 activists; two days later she attempted to describe it to the Knesset and was vilified and physically attacked in a tumultuous session. Al Zoubi’s views and activism have made her an object of fear and loathing in Israel, the target of attempts to limit her parliamentary privileges, to prevent her from running in elections, to remove her citizenship; and the target of racist and sexist diatribes, death threats and physical attacks.

Israel’s antipathy toward its Palestinian citizens arises of course from its definition as the state of the Jewish people rather than of its citizens. The current radical antagonism has been building since the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel envisioned a “peace without Arabs,” as Israeli ex-patriate scholar Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin put it.1 The Oslo Accords did not recognize the Palestinian Arabs as equal inhabitants of historic Palestine, and the injustice done them by the establishment of Israel. Rather they expressed the idea of “separation,” which would remove the Palestinian Arabs from Israel’s midst and let it continue its separate, Zionist, Jewish destiny. The principle of “separation” introduced “a new mood of intolerance towards the Arab minority inside Israel,” as veteran journalist Jonathan Cook observed.2 This led to increased repression, which escalated sharply with the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September, 2000, and since, from the suppression of the al-Aqsa intifada, to the 2006 attack on Lebanon, to the massacres of Gaza in 2009, 2012 and 2014.

Al Zoubi spoke with great energy and conviction, to audiences in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Washington, on a tour organized by the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton, NJ, an outpost of patriotism and culture in ultra-Zionist greater New York. The PACC’s web site features a wide variety of programs. New Jersey Palestinians raised the Palestinian flag at Paterson city hall on May 3, as the PACC raised $430,000 for a kidney dialysis center in Ramallah. The following remarks are from her address to the Palestine Center in Washington on April 27 (video and edited transcript, supplemented in a few spots by the author’s transcription).

Full article on Dissident Voice

Posted in 2015