I just got back from a panel organized and hosted by the Muslim Law Student’s Association, a “discussion about human rights issues in Gaza, and co-sponsored by Human Rights Law Society and National Security Law Society at the BU Law School Auditorium. It was attended by about 500 people.
Gaza: Beyond the Headlines
It began with the organizer telling us that they wanted a balanced panel but that they didn’t get responses from some people. “We’re not here to adopt a viewpoint, and neither the Israeli consulate nor Hamas would feel happy about what we’re about to say. She was followed by the moderator (I didn’t get his name), who assured us this was about a misunderstood conflict and we needed information.
This sounded like a joke at the time, given how the panel consisted of five known hyper-critics of Israel. But by the end of the evening, although no one praised Hamas, it’s hard to see how anyone from Hamas could have found the proceedings disagreeable, since the only criticism tendered was of Israel and the US government for supporting her. I’ve asked the Muslim Law Students Association to tell me who they tried to reach, but I doubt either a) they’ll tell me or b) anyone they tried to get would even remotely present the other side.
In fact the panel had virtually nothing to do with Gaza. No one talked about what happened there; no one discussed the implications of current situation at length; no one dealt with the legal issues. (For a good treatment of “Gaza behind the headlines, see Yvonne Greene’s piece.)
Instead is was more or less a low-key, flat, and repetitive articulation of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis about American foreign policy. The working assumption of all the panelists was that a) Israel did bad things in Gaza; b) the US supported them; and c) it’s all our jobs to work for a change a foreign policy that harms the US both morally and practically. Kind of like channeling Amira Hass.
The presentations were all profoundly dishonest both conceptually and factually. It was the classic “Eurocentric” framework of (Western) Israel as (evil) agent and (Thrid World) Palestinians as (innocent and) passive victims. Factually, one would never know from this that the Arabs ever wanted anything but a two-state solution. I have a great deal to do before tomorrow, so I’ll reproduce my notes below, and give my readers first shot at all the inaccuracies and misrepresentations. When I have the time, I’ll post another version, integrating the comments into a fisking.
All in all, if this is the kind of quality of thought and empirical grounding that MIT, Harvard, and BU have to offer on these subjects, then oao is right: Education is in terrible shape because it’s become propaganda. Any of these presentation would not have made the grade at a serious first-year history department seminar. Besides Chomsky’s (which was just his typical ramblings), the worst was Kennedy’s. I hope his other work in law is more substantive, otherwise the students there are being cheated.
Irene Gendzier, Professor of Political Science, College of Arts & Sciences
This panel is a first for BU.
The events in Gaza have had a powerful international impact; outside the MSM it’s obvious there’s a powerful demand to know what the calamity is and who’s responsible and US role.
In 1982 after the Lebanon war: Begin said, we were following Ben Gurion’s policies
So too with Gaza in 2009.
That the US supported Israel in 2009 is well known; less well-known is how the US did the same in 48-9, a history little known
Post Zionist historians have reconsidered. Now it’s time for a revision by American historians to look at our responsibilities in this conflict.
1) US regarded Palestine as inseparable from its interests in the ME (oil interest and military installations)
2) While DoDefense and State Dept hostile to partition (they preferred “trusteeship”), after May 15 they went with Israel unilaterally. US supported Israel’s expansion beyond 47 boundaries;
3) admiring view of Israel (realism, ultra-realism) – demonstrated military capacity, had location vis a vis oil.
In violation of 47 UN resolution; but some began to be concerned about ethnic cleansing of Palestinians; evidence from the archives confirms the problem that is with us today.
When they began to reconsider, Robertt McLintock? said “US policy in Palestinian was based on recognizing Israeli expansion; should not undermine its control or sovereignty; contrary to UN 47 plan no Arab state, instead arrangement with Transjordan; US involvment in redrawing boundaries. Exchange of populations.
Phillip Jessup at UN supported the idea of transfers; redrawing the map: Jenin Tulkarm should be transferred to Israel; if the Negev has oil, it should stay with Israel (titters in crowd).
Human movement scope of which they hadn’t anticipated
UN Res. 194 on repatriation (Nov 1949)
When faced with Ben Gurion’s denial fo responsibility, the US officials accused them of Deir Yassin and Haifa, claiming that new refugees are being created by terror. that the Israelis were morally reprehensible.
15 March 1949: Israeli authorities have followed policy of destruction of Arab houses to make way for incoming Jewish refugees (holocaust)
concern for overcrowding
end of march 1949 Truman to Ben Gurion: US relies on it to take responsible action concerning Palestinian refugees; Israel must offer territorial compensation for stuff taken beyond 1947: rupture in the making, Israel must deal with Palestinian Conciliation Commission
“don’t know what you make of that, novel or familiar.”
Conversation dropped by most
By and large, the events of May 1948 profoundly impressed US officials Israeli capacity to expand at will. Israel so much stronger, could drive the Arabs out of Palestinine
insuring Israel’s friendship;
US strategic forces in Israel: reconciliation so they could fight the Russians
Advantages of Israel: from Bosporus to suez location location location, pipelines
Dec 14 1949: Breaks up USSR access to arab oil
Nascent Israeli state a tremendous asset US ME policies
Modern effective fighting machine; against Arab league
It deserves a good deal of examination; set the stage for what we have today
Stephen Walt, Belfer Professor of International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Domestic politics of US policy
[MOst recently on Walt, and his tendentious grasp of facts, see Jonathan Chait.
1) special relationship between US and Israel
2) Israel Lobby
3) At work in Gaza
How things may be changing for the better.,
Rabin, US support for Israel beyond comparison
Largest recipient of US aid $500/yr for every citizen; gets it when it does things US opposes like settlements (And Egypt does what we want? – rl)
Rarely if ever criticized by anyone who wants to get high office
Hillary Israel unshakeable, even if the Israeli government rejects 2-state solution
Large scale didn’t really start till after 1967
Usual explanation: asset (only in Cold War) democracy
But this can’t explain: a reason we have a terror problem; not making US citizens more secure at home
Lots of democracies around the world, but few get aid like this
Not the same as US: Jewish state that privileges its citizens: different from our system
Israel’s treatment of Palestinians sharply at odds with US values
Lobby: loose coaliton working to preserve the special relationship
CUfI, Wash, New Republic, Weekly Standard, AIPAC, ADL
Not a cabal or conspiracy: just an interest group like others
Not synomymous with Jewish Americans ¼ don’t care, many critical; includes Christians,
Small groups who care a lot about a particular issue have a lot of infuence
AIPAC highly professional, second most powerful lobby, in a class by themselves
Don’t mess with these guys
Just normal politics: gun lobby, embargo cuba, farm lobby
MSM strongly pro-Israel; much less wide range of material
Stifling open discussion – smearing critics as anti-Semitic or self-hating
Marty Peretz on Carter: he’ll go down in history as a Jew hater
HRW: anti-Semitic director
Distract people from real issue US foreign policy
Even if accusation bogus
Lobby’s fingerprints in Gaza
Weapons and fuel provided and subsidized taxpayers
Bush wasn’t pressured:
Eliot Abrams at NSC running ME policy
Ever since Hamas won the elections in 2006;
Muscle at work with congress: US favors Israel because of favorable media coverage
Jan 2009 rasmussen somew
44% in favor/ 41 against; another poll, 40/33%
but Congress praised Israel for behavior that was condemned by UN, AI, HRW, Israeli journalists, other democracies
in British Parliament Gerald Kaufmann (an avowed Zionist) denounced Israel
media coverage here was quite different
NYT didn’t write an editorial for a week
Both first op eds by Israelis
Overwhelmingly backed Israel
Relatively little criticism
When the new progressive lobby J-Street issued a mild statement for cease fire, they got assaulted
Systematic campaign with YouTube and Twitter feeds
IDF imposed media black out so journalists had problems finding out what was going on
Even Israel more critical of Israel
US pursued a policy that was bad for everyone including Israel
Weakened moderates, strengthened Hamas
Are things going to change?
Internet debunked many Israeli and Hamas sources
Many prominent bloggers et al. criticized Israel, like John Stewart, and Bill Moyers who stood up to ADL attack
Some signs that American domestic politics is waking up
But is it too late?
If 2-state solution increasingly remote, then what’s your alternative?
Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, MIT
Big applause for Chomsky
Widespread untenable assumptions that underlie policy formulation, bad for sensible folks
Michael Hanlin and Kenneth *** at NYT
Unless things go smoothly in the region, Obama will find little desire for taking hard steps for pursuing peace with Israel
Michael Oren: with proper inducements Syria might participate in a deal with Israel
The assumption here is that the problem is the recalcitrant Arabs
US an honest broker, committed to all good things: we make mistakes but well intentnioned
US deparately trying to bring peace; Israel wants to make peace, but arabs unreasonable hysterical terrorist
Real world radically different from these untenable assumptions, indeed, almost diametrically opposed to this line
International consensus: 2-state settlement on 49 border with modifications
Includes all the nations mentioned as recalcitrant
Includes Hamas, Hizbullah
Includes everyone but Israel and US government
From 67-71 US called for 242 solution (same as everyone else, except Israel)
In 71 that changed because Kissinger took over state dept US sharply shifted (Kissinger became Secretary of State September 22, 1973 – rl)
Sadat offered Israel a full peace treaty in that year in exchange for giving up the territories
Palestinians not on the international agenda
Israel rejected Sadat’s offer
Stalemate: no negotiations, support Israel’s use of force
Israel preferred expansion to security into NE Sinai: expel Bedouins, build huge city, Yamit → 1973 war, near catastrophe
After that a realization that Egypt can’t be dismissed as basket case, then shuttle diplomacy where Israel ended up accepting Sadat’s offer made in 1971.
Meanwhile Palestinian national rights entered international agenda: 1976 UN resolution for 2-state solution by Arab League (huh?)
Israel responded by bombing Lebanon, with no pretext to speak of
UN vetoed resolution
Proposal of Arab league, good features, calls for normalization of relations with Israel
Joining international consensus
Obama eviscerated proposal – let’s go for recognition without Israeli withdrawal
Clear statement that he’ll carry forward US position obstructing peace
Camp David → new parameters for peace in December of 2000 Taba
Came close to a solution: with two more days they might reach a settlement
But Barak cancelled the negotiations prematurely and that was that
If a US president will tolerate them
Israeli policies are pretty clear and explicit
Annex everything within the separation wall, take Jordan value, imprison everything that’s left and two salients dissecting the territory was the policy before the Lebanon war (2006?)
After considered that was considered too moderate, more extreme policy during and after Gaza operation
Peace Now report Israel’s plans to double population in WB, take over what’s valuable and leave them in cantons
1) implementation of international consensus Bob Simon (knowledgeable serious correspondent) says it will lead to a civil war (but no, just take out troops, a few might remain and live under Palestinian sovereignty) staged a natl trauma all totally staged to provide a basis for further settlement of the WB, same as 1982
2) Israel takes over territories and becomes apartheid state
3) Israel continues what it’s doing with convergeance plus with help of America – Palestinians are ground up in process; redraw the boundaries so that the arabs are transferred to derisory state and driven from the first world (?)
US client state
Pentagon sending supplies to Gaza for US use in stabilizing the region: You know what that means
US high tech increasing investments in Israel; military industries; also moving to US
Duncan Kennedy, Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence, Harvard Law School
Refocus this discussion: my own interest connected to a sense of shame for US involvement in issue, focused on plight of Palestinians in history
Legal lens: what happened to them in 47-49 greater awareness of displacement 70% of Arab population of population were driven out by combination of terror tactics and military policies; everyone in Israel agreed to drive them out; not let them come back
Killed or shoved back out anyone who wanted to come back
Dispossessed the property and paid no compensation
Arabs left in Israel didn’t get full citizenship
Not participating in Israeli democracy
Only two cases where the Arabs exercised decisive action in the Knesset
Jewishness imposes drawbacks on second class citizens
Next thing that happened 1967 war
Another 300K left WB and Gaza
Oppressive apparatus necessary to kept control
Makes the occupied territories a terrible place to live
WB a police state for Arab population
Torture an de facto element of control
No more anything like an independent political life
Leveled Gaza and now won’t let it be reconstructed.
Against that background
Fate of occupied territories and arabs in Israel
Exploited as labor pool
WB and Gaza reduced to aid recipients
Permanent resolution of the problem: to have stability – Israel has to give up a lot
450-500K settlers in WB
de facto created an Israeli state in WB
50% of WB allocated to Israel
peace requires a lot of concessions to Palestinians
Palestinians aren’t responsible for the geo-politics
Largely victim population adopted terror tactics to resist
But I mean, yes, horrifying, but it pales in comparison of mass suffering and terror inflicted on them
All this a function of US support
2-state would be instantly created by an Israeli withdawal to the 49 borders
force Israel to make massive concessions
Israeli positions being weakened by morphing of world military power – successful resistance of Iraqis and Taliban and Hizbullah – military situation of Israel weakening to asymmetrical and unconventional warfare
Slow radicalization of arab population in Israel: bad sign; higher level of education
More complex than it once was therefore unlikely for a decent settlement – Israel insecure makes a just deal less likely
Chomsky’s assessment of Obama very accurate
Only a few glimmers of hope that Obama will be more confrontative
Willingness to ramp up the pressure and get Israel to act justly
Obama in a second term might pressure Israel: talk tough and carry a big stick against Israel: gonna have to give up all kinds of stuff
Situation in medium term not hopelessbig stick type pressure on Israel depends on pro-Palestinian crowd making itself heard
What to do:
movements can affect public opinion
Blogosphere, networld, opposition to Iraq war: anti-war left, totally potentially a force against the Israelis; Muslim opinion
Mysterious way that liberal Jews feel they have to shift and adopt a different attitude, can’t ignore Palestinian issues if you want to be a liberal
Jewish liberals: “I don’t know anything about the Israel-Palestine issue” but they’re in denial, but they’ve spared themselves
WASP Jewish alliance, deeply romantic historical alliance, academic intelligentsia, since 1973 – that war showed that Israel was in danger, precarious
Actually that’s a fantasy: it showed that the US could and would bail Israel out of a disastrous military situation; could not be permitted to, not even appear to have lost.
People in university communities having a mission to do what all the members of the panel have done, to speak everywhere to find people in their communities and workplaces to advocates for a more realistic portrayal of what’s going on in the conflict.
Sustained willingness to force conversations in the mildest way that one’s interlocutor can accept
Divestment by university is an excellent univ slogan, not feasible program, excellent way into dialogue and conversation, not violent,d oesn’t require screaming and yelling, but making clear it’s something you care about
Build opinion to shift it profoundly over the near and middle term
A possibility of a change here.
Question and answer:
BU Polic sci student: media reports that Israel hit farmer’s fields, UNRWA compound blown up and destroyed 60% of food supplies, direct policy of using (destruction of) food as weapon, would you not agree that to demonstrate or test western reaction, model for future policy
Irene Gendzier: Britain there, but US involved; I’m not here to assign culpability but to raise awareness; Israelis weren’t concerned for western reaction “a war to finish off Palestinian resistance in Gaza” alas given rise to interest in US to have weapons for war in densely inhabited areas
Nasrud Palestinian born in 1948 unfortunately: Israel not interested in anything more than self-rule for Palestinians, what should the Palestinian resistance do now?
IG responsibility of Arab states silence during all the things that were described; Palestinians victims of arab states; Mustafa Barghouti, in despair at Netanyahu regime
SW Palestinian national movement will continue to try and influence the way this is viewed; shifts in discourse in political mobilization, ultimately where it will be won; Israeli policies of denying Palestinian continuing acts of violence flare-ups resistance, you should expect to see that; it’ll get worse unless the US intervenes
NC it’s not up to me to lecture Palestinians how they should resist; we need to focus the question on ourselves; what are the forms of our resistance to US foreign policy which isn’t so feudal (futile?) and hopeless; success of violence – extremely successful and American should know this.
have you denounced the rockets? maybe you want more dead Palestinians?
NC: try literacy: yes I’ve condemned the rocket attacks on Israel; and Israel has a right to self-defense, but no right to self defense by force without having exhausted peaceful means.
Israel has not accepted a cease fire with Hamas
Hamas did accept it until November 4 invasion
Mark Regev has admitted that Hamas had fired no rocket from June 2008 till the November invasion of the Israelis (what’s he talking about?)
Kennedy: Iraqi Jews thought it was a catastrophe and blamed Zionism
Profound question for the dialogue: what is the role of Arab players in the story
Palestinians are arabs: look what the Arabs have done; because they invaded Israel
They lost they should shut up and get on with their lives
Some say that the Palestinians are just Arabs (Israelis lump them to the geopolitical larger unit of Arabs)
Doesn’t alter the fact that the Israeli policy was to take it out on the Palestinians by taking over
IG read Israeli sources, they’ll answer your questions.
I had to leave at this point, but I had the impression that there was a strong presence of people well informed enought o know what was up, and to speak up. If anyone stayed to the end, I welcome further comment.