Racism, Barghouti, and BDS

Omar Barghouti, the godfather of BDS, is a flat-out racist, denying the very existence of a Jewish people.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller – who has gotten his share of crap in the past from people who think that support for Israel requires hatred for Palestinians – reports on a speech at UCLA by Omar Barghouti, one of the big machers in the anti-Israel Boycott, Diversture, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. (Here’s another account of the same speech.) According to both accounts, Barghouti proclaimed that there is no such thing as a “Jewish people.” (Ironically, or perhaps deliberately, this echoes the line that used to be popular among the Greater Israel crowd – and still may be, for all I know – denying the peoplehood of Palestinian Arabs.)

Of course denying that a people exists is the first step toward causing it not to exist. So it’s fair to say that Barghouti’s comments were implicitly genocidal. Given his central role in the BDS movement, anyone who supports a BDS resolution – for example, the American Studies Association – now has, it seems to me, an obligation to explictly renounce any sympathy with Barghouti’s project: unless, of course, that person is willing to support genocide. If you aren’t willing to be on that side of the question, perhaps you would like to sign this even-handed statement denouncing threats to academic freedom by the BDS crew and the Israeli right wing alike. (Seidler-Feller goes farther, denouncing the settlements as well.)

Of course the “one state” solution Barghouti and many of his allies are pushing – where the “one state,” encompassing both halves of Mandatory Palestine, would have an overwhelming Arab majority – is already a demand for ethnic cleansing, if not for a complete bloodbath. After all, the Jews have now been driven from every other Arab-majority country, including Egypt (where the Jewish quarter of Alexandria goes back to Alexander), Iraq (where the Jewish population of Baghdad traced its roots back to the Babylonian Captivity in the 7th Century B.C.E.), and Syria (where the Jewish community of Antioch went back to Antiochus): thus all three of those countries had substantial Jewish populations long before they had any Arab inhabitants. In terms of numbers displaced and property seized, the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from Israel in 1948 and from settler territory since – for which I do not think there was, or is, any justification – was certainly no greater than the displacement of Jews from the rest of region.

Barghouti is a flat-out racist. Racism does not justify racism. Those who collaborate with Barghouti in his project of delegitimizing Israel ought to reflect carefully on the company they keep.

The Iranian deal

The Iranian deal looks astoundingly good. Will any GOP officeholder have the guts and patriotism to say so?

Congratulations to Secretary of State John Kerry and his boss.

This seems like a remarkably good deal.


According to the agreement, Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent. To make good on that pledge, Iran would dismantle links between networks of centrifuges.

All of Iran’s stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent, a short hop to weapons-grade fuel, would be diluted or converted into oxide so that it could not be readily used for military purposes.

No new centrifuges, neither old models nor newer more efficient ones, could be installed. Centrifuges that have been installed but which are not currently operating could not be started up.

I’m curious about whether there’s a single Republican officeholder with the guts, smarts, and patriotism to say out loud that this is good for the country.

Syria thread

A thread on the mooted intervention in Syria.

Commenters may want a Syria thread.

I have no peculiar insight to share with you, only the commonplaces.

Obama´s arguments for intervention:
P1. The use of poison gas is a war crime; against civilians, an odious one. It should be punished if possible.
P2. He, Obama, personally laid down a red line on the subject. Failure to follow through weakens the standing and credibility of the US.
P3. An intervention limited to bombing is likely to greatly reduce the Syrian government´s capacity and willingness to use chemical weapons again in the civil war.

Arguments against:
A1. A unilateral armed intervention, however limited, without the sanction of the UNSC, is itself a violation of international law. There is no prospect of an UNSC resolution authorising force, given Russian and Chinese opposition. You can´t uphold international law by means that violate it. (UNSC sanction isn´t needed for self-defence, but nobody is claiming that this applies.)
A2. The intervention has no prospect of ending the conflict through bringing about a negotiated peace, or the victory of either side.
A3. The slippery slope: given the very limited effect of the bombing envisaged, it will create strong pressures for further and more decisive involvement. This would have unpredictable outcomes, many of the possibilities being very bad.
A4. Precedents: the recent history of US armed involvements in the region does not support optimism about the effects of another one.
A5. Credibility does not require you to make good on all your threats, which makes bluffing unusable. It´s unlikely, after Iraq 1 and 2, Afgahanistan, Bin Laden, Guantanamo, Kosovo and Libya that foreign rulers will suddenly stop worrying about threats from the US government, especially on matters where its national interests are more clearly at stake.

Am I leaving anything vital out?

FWIW, I give a lot of weight to A2. The interventions in Kosovo and Libya were also illegal by the same standard, but they had the merit of being decisive. The standard criteria for just war include a good chance of winning; you should not shed blood for symbols.

In the Libyan case, it´s actually a good thing that Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy lied about their objectives of the bombing: their real aim was to overthrow Gaddafi by backing his opponents (a far more united and credible bunch than the Syrian rebels), and their means were sufficient to achieve this. Libya is still a mess, though probably an improvement on Gafafi´s creepy police state.

T-shirts we’d like to see










… and yes, I know that Netanyahu isn’t stupid in any ordinary sense of the word, and that it’s vulgar to use racialist language. But from the perspective of the Zionist project I still treasure, the latest move on the settlements is surely “worse than a crime; it’s a blunder.” He’s plenty smart enough to know better. But the policy itself is stupid, and – given Netanyahu’s intense racism – I can’t think of a more pointed way of saying so than to say that he has the mind of a non-Jew.


Did Obama deliberately squeeze the Egyptian President into condemning the attack on the embassy?

I’m not an expert on Egyptian politics, but Juan Cole is. And Cole says that Obama’s comment putting Egypt’s “ally” status in question was a deliberate shot across Morsi’s bow, and that it had the desired effect. Cole also reports that the official Twitter account of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt carried a strong denunciation of the attack on the embassy.

A long hot summer in Syria

The Syrian insurrection is now officially a civil war.

Via Robert Farley at LGM:

The International Committee of the Red Cross has determined that the Syrian Civil War is a internal war, which has a variety of implications for military targeting and legal responsibility.

The Syrian rebellion is getting very different treatment from the western media than the Libyan one. In good part this must be a conscious choice by the players. Gaddafi was the exhibitionist type of dictator, like Hitler and Mao and unlike Stalin and Franco: he would rather have a bad press to play to than none at all. So the rebels had to compete, needed Western public opinion to support intervention, and welcomed foreign reporters. Assad is the modest First Citizen type of autocrat like his father and has written off Western public opinion anyway, so all we get are token justifications of police operations against “terrorists”. The rebels are content for the press and Western diplomats to frame the civil war in terms of massacres of helpless civilians; true enough, but very incomplete. So we are getting most reports on events in Syria from correspondents ensconced in bars in Beirut.

But consider these developments.

GlobalPost, 5 July:

Traveling to towns and villages north and southwest of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, GlobalPost saw dozens of burned out tanks, armored vehicles and jeeps littering the roads. Many villages were devoid of any active police or government presence. Instead, armed rebels patrol in pick-up trucks, some with mounted machine guns, ….. Syrian rebels now control large swathes of territory along Syria’s northwest border with Turkey and are acquiring heavier weapons.

Reuters, June 22:

U.S. and allied officials acknowledge Syrian rebels have been receiving arms supplies from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate of Qatar. But they said that the sophistication of the weapons being delivered had until recently been low…
The Saudis are on record calling for Assad’s ouster. … In January, Qatar went even further when its ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told the CBS TV program 60 Minutes that Arab troops should be sent in to “stop the killing” by Assad’s forces. A U.S. official who recently discussed the issue with Saudi and Qatari representatives said the weaponry now being shipped to Syrian rebels consists largely of small arms that would enable regime opponents to “protect their children.”

On Tuesday, rebels claimed to have shot down an army helicopter in Damascus. It’s not clear how; with small arms like RPGs, or a proper anti-aircraft missile.

CNN, yesterday:
Last Wednesday rebels set off a bomb in a presumably heavily guarded government building in central Damascus, targeting a meeting of high security officials. They had better luck or skill than Stauffenberg:

The officials killed were Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha; Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat — al-Assad’s brother-in-law; Hasan Turkmani, al-Assad’s security adviser and assistant vice president; and Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar, state TV reported.

[Update 20 July: The Syrian intelligence chief, Hisham Bekhtyar, has died of wounds suffered in the same bombing.]
In the same CNN report:

Two more brigadier generals fled overnight to Turkey, bringing the number of Syrian generals in Turkey to 20, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

Two days ago, HuffPost:
Poster boy General Manaf Tlass, a former Defence Minister, defected to Paris. He’s a Sunni; perhaps the Alawites are still sticking together, reasonably fearing the consequences under Muslim rule. But there aren’t enough of them (10% of the population, but dominating the leadership)  to hold down the country against everybody else.

General Manaf Tlass, defector

It’s too early to say that Bashir Assad is doomed. But it’s certainly not looking good for him. The bloody crackdowns have plainly not intimidated the rebels; and time is on their side. The macabre Intrade contract  for Assad’s “departure” by year’s-end (perhaps to a villa in Sochi, if he survives) is at 63%, which looks about right.

Are the rebels also getting covert help from spooks and special forces from the USA, Britain, France. or Turkey? These governments have burnt their boats with Assad and are calling for his ouster. They are also worried about who gets to replace him, and reasonably fear another Old Man of the Mountains. There’s a very long and permeable desert border with Iraq, with its own fish to fry and a good supply of frying-pans. Israel is in the kitchen too. It would make sense for any or all of these to be arming or “advising” the more congenial elements in the insurrection and lying about it.

The Turkish border near Aleppo must be an interesting place just now.

Hollywood and Bashar Assad

Andrew Sullivan flags a propaganda video made by the Assad regime that uses Darth Vader’s theme as background music.

That would actually be a compliment to Assad; at least Darth was competent and cool-looking. The movie joke I have heard over and over about Bashar Assad in the Middle East is both more accurate and more painful:

“Syria is living the plot of The Godfather. Except in this version, after Don Corleone died, Fredo took over”.

Newt Gingrich is RIGHT about the Palestinians…

…and it doesn’t matter. 

Thoughtful voices across the political spectrum and the world have rightfully been attacking Gingrich for calling the Palestinians an “invented people.”  But let’s be clear on what Gingrich is wrong about.

You don’t need Gingrich to tell you that the idea of a “Palestinian people” is relatively new.  All you need is the foremost historian of the idea, Columbia’s Rashid Khalidi, to confirm it.  In his (very good) book Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, Khalidi puts the crystallization of the idea slightly after 1908, the year of the Young Turk revolt in Istanbul.  That event, Khalidi argues, catalyzed the Arabs in what is now known as Palestine to reconsider their allegiance to Ottoman Sultan (also the holder of the Caliphate), and begin to think in more nationalistic terms.  (For Khalidi, this timing is important because it allows him to argue that Palestinian Identity did not arise simply as a reaction to the Balfour Declaration and the beginnings of mass Jewish migration).

And you know what?  It’s irrelevant as a political or a moral matter.  Millions of Palestinians now sincerely and deeply see themselves as Palestinians.  It genuinely forms part of their identity.  It’s not a pose.  To tell them that they are all living under some form of mass false consciousness and that thus they have no claim to national rights is profoundly unethical.  Gingrich converted to Roman Catholicism just a few years ago, in order to marry his third wife.  (Insert joke here).  No one would dare say that Gingrich’s newfound religion is fake because it is new or because he “invented” it himself.  (They might say that it is false because the man is a massive hypocrite and fraud, but that’s not about timing: that’s about Gingrich).

Before the middle of the 19th century, virtually no Jews were Zionists.  No one seriously entertained the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine, least of all Jews themselves.  You can’t divorce Zionism from the rise of nationalism in the 19th century.  One could easily argue that a majority of global Jewry before the Second World War were not Zionist.  Does that mean that it is “invented”?  Well, maybe, but the point is irrelevant: it is real.  It is true.  It is authentic, and it doesn’t matter when it arose.

In 1782, Thomas Jefferson could call Virginia his “country,” and only a few people in what were formerly the American colonies would have identified themselves nationally as Americans.  So that’s invented, too.  Are we happy now?

All identities are, as Benedict Anderson so clearly pointed out, “imagined.”  These identities are all culturally constructed and none of them is in the least illegitimate because of that.  To properly judge the legitimacy of someone’s identity, we might ask other questions, such as whether they accept others’ definitions of their own identities, how they see their identities developing in the political sphere (i.e. do they want to establish free and just societies — I know, that’s a longer discussion), what are the basic values underlying their collective conception.  But enough of this.

What is really wrong with Gingrich’s position isn’t that he is wrong, or even that he is telling a partial truth, but that he arrogates to himself the right to invent his own identity as well as the right to tell others that their identities are false.  He is, in short, a bigoted elitist.  But you knew that.

The state of Palestine

Why not?

Why not?

Statehood isn’t some metaphysical essence, but created, like other social facts such as property and marriage, by the recognition of others, in this case, other states. Liechtenstein and the Holy See are states because other states say they are, though they don’t control their own gas supply. The Tamil Tigers, at their peak far bigger than either, were never a state because nobody accepted them as one. Recognition is partly – and for hardcore realists only – a matter of fact: does this entity, however nasty, exercise effective and autonomous control over a territory and population? (Soviet-era Belarus didn’t meet the autonomy part. Lukashenko’s Belarus does.) Partly it’s a long-range moral judgement: does this entity, however unsatisfactory its current leadership and shaky its power, deserve to exist, and enjoy the rights of statehood under international law?

Israel and its US protector have clearly been caught napping by the surprising development of a well-thought-out Palestinian initiative, now backed strongly by Turkey. A draft resolution in the UN Security Council on Palestinian statehood will be vetoed (the US explanation will be interesting reading as it has to address Arabs as well as AIPAC). Another resolution in the General Assembly will pass by a large majority. Following this a lot of countries will recognize Palestine, with more or less fancy footwork over its borders. Palestinian leaders will rename themselves as Ministers, fly new flags on their cars and offices, and lots of ambassadors will be appointed.

The new state will continue to have a bitter dispute with its neighbour Israel over borders, settlements, Jerusalem as the capital, free movement, water, and refugee return: exactly the same disputes that the Palestinian Authority has now. Can anybody explain to me why Palestinian statehood makes these disputes more intractable? And it would clear the air by removing the non-issue of state recognition from the table.

Best news this month

Al-Jazeera reports that the Syrian security forces are “cracking,” with some soldiers refusing to fire on protesters.

Al-Jazeera reports that the Syrian security forces are “cracking,” with some soldiers refusing to carry out Bashar’s butchery for him.

When the troops refuse to fire on the people, the revolution wins.

Six months ago, the notion of ridding the world of both the Assad clan and Gaddafi anytime soon would have been a pipe dream. Now it seems within reach.