My Personal Day of Rage

The following item appeared in the Jerusalem Post on March 20, 2011:

My Personal Day of Rage

Norman L. Cantor

            It is fashionable these days in the Middle East and North Africa to conduct “days of rage” – a day of protest promoting any of various political causes.  The first manifestation was in Tunisia in January, via demonstrations directed against an autocratic regime.  On February 20, Moroccans widely demonstrated in favor of political reforms.  (Was it just coincidence that I was present in Morocco that day?  Perhaps.)  On March 2, Israeli settlers declared a day of rage to protest the army’s destruction of an illegal settler outpost on the West Bank.  They expressed their upset by blocking traffic on Israeli public roads and rails till physically removed.  On March 11, disgruntled Saudi Arabians conducted a day of protest demonstrations.

Those were organized days of rage, but I see no obstacle to conducting personal days of rage.  I live in the Middle East (Tel Aviv) and see plenty of things both abroad and locally that provoke my outrage.  So today is Cantor’s day of rage when I get to vent my upset about offensive conduct around me.

My first burst of outrage is directed toward the foreign pundits who chastise Israelis for their anxiety about the outcomes of popular uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.  People like Roger Cohen in the New York Times (March 3) find it morally “troubling” that Israelis are not wildly applauding these efforts to throw off oppression and gain freedom.  This supercilious journalist’s  scolding ignores legitimate apprehension flowing from experience with usurpation of “democratic movements” for oligarchic or theocratic ends as occurred in Iran, Lebanon, and Gaza (to name a few relevant areas).  The 30-year peace with Egypt has been a cold one in which Egyptians have avoided cultural, economic, and social interchange while largely portraying Israel as an oppressive Satan.  So pardon me, Roger, if I perceive and worry about potential for hostile exploitation of Egyptian political chaos and economic hardship for demagogic ends antagonistic to Israel.  This apprehension is not inconsistent with a fervent wish that the Egyptians use their uprising to promote dignity and security for their citizenry.

I preface my expressions of rage about internal Israeli matters by saying that the development of the State of Israel is a miraculous accomplishment.  I live here because I admire the progress in a scant 63 years, but there are significant blemishes, some of which arouse my anger.

Take, for instance, the notion of a greater Israel (settlers demanding expropriation of the entire West Bank with its multitudes of Arab residents who resist Israeli sovereignty).  The main claim is that Israel is entitled to control all that territory because it was part of the biblical heartland and divinely promised – according to the Old Testament — to the Jews.  This position is sadly reminiscent of the segment of American Jewry (mostly southerners) who, before the Civil War, supported slavery because the Old Testament ostensibly upheld slavery.  The ancient bible cannot, I think, justify a result so antithetical to the human dignity and will of so many people.  Permanent occupation and control is not slavery, but it is still inconsistent with the human dignity of an objecting population denied equal civil rights.

Turning to Israel inside the Green Line, I find plenty to remonstrate about.  I am proud that Israel’s declaration of independence endorsed the principle that Arab residents of Israel are entitled to full citizenship and equal rights.  Israel’s Supreme Court has embraced that principle in its rulings over the last 60 years.  But it is troubling to see erosions of that key democratic value in modern social norms and conduct.  Recent polls indicate that a shocking percentage of Jewish Israelis (close to 50%) oppose Arab citizens’ entitlement to full civil rights.  Along the same lines, a recent letter signed by more than 50 orthodox rabbis urges property owners in Sefad not to rent to non-Jews.  In other words, these rabbis want to obstruct Arab students at the local college who seek to live near their place of study.  Jewish extremists recently demonstrated in Jaffa trying to treat Arab residents as unwanted interlopers even though Arabs have resided in Jaffa for hundreds of years.  Such disrespect for fellow citizens surely undermines the long-term prospects of peaceful coexistence within Israel.

Don’t think that the Jewish sector of the population is the exclusive source of dehumanizing or demonizing treatment of “the other.”  Many Israeli Arabs show a distressing insensitivity to the interests of their Jewish fellow citizens.  On the rare occasions when Jews seek to rent property in Arab towns, the effort is usually repulsed by physical intimidation against any owner willing to rent.  When Operation Cast Lead was launched against Hamas in Gaza in response to many thousands of warheads fired into southern Israel, local Arab politicians reacted as though the army’s operation was an unprovoked assault.  They did not identify with the interests of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis living under bombardment.  Nor have Israeli Arab politicians shown any sympathy with the blockade of Gaza aimed at precluding the smuggling of weaponry into Hamas’ hands.

Arab sector politics in Israel has generally exhibited a counter-productive focus on Israel’s foreign policy (meaning Israel’s occupation of Judea and Samaria) while neglecting the legitimate claims of Arab citizens to equal treatment.  Israeli democracy offers channels for promotion of minority rights, but the actions and voices of Israeli Arab politicians are a far cry from the civil rights movement launched by African-Americans in the 1960’s. Voter registration,  elections,  non-violent protests, and anti-discrimination litigation  were the classic tools to combat prevalent discrimination against African-Americans.  To parallel the success of the American civil rights movement, Israeli Arabs would have to fully accept Israeli sovereignty and vigorously seek through democratic means to implement the equality set out in Israel’s declaration of independence and Supreme Court jurisprudence.

A final outburst aimed at public behavior.  For generations, Israelis have cultivated an image of superficial coarseness – supposedly, like the Zabra plant, prickly on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside.  Israelis were often short on manners (as recognized by those of us shunted aside in bus or bank lines).  That gruffness was tolerable.  Yet new heights of boorishness are being reached in contemporary Israel.  For example, in sports crowds.  Some Betar Jerusalem fans had often demonstrated despicable racism in insults hurled at Arab soccer players.  Now, they have added thuggery to their repertoire.  It’s pretty pathetic when a Tel Aviv fan cannot travel to the Betar stadium in Jerusalem without being threatened, chased, and having his car’s windows shattered, as has recently occurred.

That’s enough for one eruption.  I’m signing off till the next accumulation of bile generates another personal day of rage.

 

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Richard Falk, the Rapporteur Who Serves as Provocateur

Richard Falk, the Rapporteur Who Serves as Provocateur

Norman L. Cantor

 

             Common sense says that, in order to be credible, a person charged with reporting about developments in an ongoing conflict must carefully examine background facts and report in a non-partisan manner.  In the case of special rapporteurs to the U.N. Human Rights Commission (HRC), the obligation to be accurate and non-inflammatory is explicit.  The applicable Code of Conduct mandates that rapporteurs strive to use dependable sources, take full account of the views of conflicting parties, and show even-handedness in conclusions.  Biased views, predetermined resolve to favor one side, and distortion of facts are all anathema.

Yet Richard Falk, the HRC’s special rapporteur on Israeli conduct toward the occupied Palestinian territories, has consistently and grossly violated all the applicable reportorial principles.  By rabid partisanship, by ignoring or glossing over relevant background facts, by expressing distorted conclusions in inflammatory terms, Richard Falk has served primarily as a provocateur feeding anti-Israeli incitement.

Falk’s anti-Israel zealotry emerges most clearly in his distortion and demonization of Israeli conduct toward Gaza(from which Israelwithdrew its forces and settlements in 2005). [1]  Though Falk well knows that nations are entitled to defend themselves from cross-border attacks, he utterly dismissesIsrael’s self-defense rationale for military operations like Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and for ongoing screening of incoming Gazan shipments by sea and land.  His derision toward Israeli self-defense reflects his pronounced moral myopia toward the security interests of the population of southernIsrael.  Falk in 2007 characterized the rocket bombardments emanating fromGaza as “rather pathetic strikes” whose missiles had killed “only 12.”   Even the Goldstone Report (itself exhibiting a strong anti-Israeli bias) acknowledged that Gazans had for years launched many thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel causing “terror within the civilian population,” high rates of trauma especially among children, disruption to education, and hundreds of injuries.  Indeed, because Hamas’ rockets had been purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets, the Goldstone Report denominated them as war crimes.  Falk, as noted, simply dismisses Israel’s self-defense rationale for its 2008-09 operation, calling it an “unprovoked assault” intended to kill civilians and a massive “crime against humanity” designed to promote certain Israelis electoral chances.  He disingenuously seeks to blame an Israeli airstrike in November 2008 for provoking Hamas’ rockets – omitting to note that the airstrike hit Gazans preparing a tunnel to be used to kidnap Israeli soldiers.  When jurist Richard Goldstone (whose “impeccable credentials” and character Falk purports to venerate) renounced the notion that Israel had purposefully targeted Gazan civilians in operation Cast Lead, Richard Falk took no favorable notice.

Nor does Falk note the continuation of Gazan missile attacks upon southern Israel and their increased capability of reaching population centers such as Ashkelon and Beersheva.  By ignoring this background fact, Falk mischaracterizes Israel’s searching of incoming boats off the Gazan coast as a criminal form of “collective punishment” of Gaza’s civilian population.  And he disingenuously calls Israeli security concerns a “smokescreen” because recent flotilla captains expressed willingness to have (non-Israeli) inspectors examine their cargo.  In his anti-Israeli zealotry, Falk also mischaracterizes Israel’s screening of overland supply shipments into Gaza as “absolute closure” aimed at collective punishment, even though Israel daily permits hundreds of trucks to cross the Erez checkpoint in order to meet the Gazan population’s humanitarian needs.  And he tends to ascribe the “blockade” of Gaza to Israel alone, even though Egypt has controlled, and continues to control, equal access to Gaza via Rafiah.

Richard Falk’s role as anti-Israeli provocateur is most transparent in his repeated use of incendiary language in describing Israel’s conduct.  In July 2007 – i.e., well before operation Cast Lead – Falk published “Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust.”  This piece asserted “genocidal tendencies” in Gaza because Israel’s efforts to prevent Quasam rocket attacks had resulted in 300 Palestinian deaths while Hamas’ missiles had “only” caused 12 deaths.  (Again, Falk utterly disdained Israel’s interest in protection of its southern population from trauma and injury, as well as death.  At the same time, he aggregates Palestinian casualties without reference to the fact that most were killed while engaged in hostile activity).  In a May 2011 press conference in Amman,Jordan, Richard Falk deplored “the indiscriminate use of Israeli weapons against Palestinian children.”  This outrageous, inflammatory libel comes from a rapporteur charged by HRC requirements with being “objective,” “even-handed,” and restrained.

Falk’s language of incitement extends to Israeli conduct beyond Gaza.  For example, his August 2010 and March 2011 reports to the HRC speak about Israeli “ethnic cleansing” in the form of selective demolition of Arab houses in East Jerusalem constructed without building permits.  It’s one thing to point out wrongful discrimination in housing policy; it’s quite another to use language associated with the Bosnian extermination of Muslim citizens.  That is bare anti-Israeli incitement.

Richard Falk’s incitement surfaced again in July 2011 when he published on his blog a vicious cartoon of a dog (wearing a Jewish skull cap) chewing on the bones of innocent Palestinian victims.  After a week, Falk removed the cartoon, defending himself by saying he had carelessly seen the dog’s head covering as a helmet rather than a skull cap.  What an amazingly lame defense!   As if the cartoon portraying the murder of innocent civilians would have been okay if the Jewish figure had been wearing an Israeli helmet!  Falk found no need to regret this outrageous anti-Israeli libel uttered by a supposedly objective rapporteur.

Israeli conduct toward Palestinians cannot fairly be assessed without consideration of the nature and goals of Hamas, the organization that violently seized total control of Gaza and lurks behind the scenes in the West Bank hoping to assume future control there.  Yet Richard Falk consistently mischaracterizes the threat posed to Israel by Hamas.  Since its 1987 founding, Hamas has been dedicated to destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state.  Hamas has well earned its classification as a terrorist organization by the European Union,Canada, the U.S., and Japan through its responsibility for cross-border bombardment and suicide bombings.  Hamas also ruthlessly violates human rights within Gaza.  The Goldstone Report itself noted Hamas’ “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest, detention, and ill treatment of perceived opponents.”  (Paragraph 1752, Sept. 2009).   Hamas suppresses any semblance of free speech or free press by conducting raids on media offices, confiscating documents, and beating and intimidating journalists.  (Jerusalem Post, March 28, 2011).

Yet Richard Falk has consistently dissembled not just about Hamas’ warfare against Israel, but about its long-range intentions.  In July 2007, Falk insisted that Hamas was “quite different” from the terrorist organization widely portrayed and that it was showing “a willingness to move toward an acceptance ofIsrael’s existence.”  (The only basis for such an assertion was Hamas’ expressed interest in a temporary “truce” with Israel, a transparent ploy to allow Hamas to reinforce its military strength).   In February 2011, Richard Falk claimed that Hamas had “a few years ago” affirmed support for U.N. resolution 242 and a 2-state solution.   He provided not a shred of evidence for that assertion and it is regularly contradicted by expressions from Hamas’ leaders.  Falk’s dissemblance about Hamas’ determination to destroy Israel goes hand in hand with his ignoring of continued rocket attacks from Gaza.

While fabricating benevolent intentions for Hamas, Richard Falk has consistently attributed malevolent motives to Israel.  He derides past Israeli peace negotiations with Palestinians as “a sham” shielding an actual intention to annex the entire West Bank.  (This ignores past offers from 2 Israeli prime ministers — Barak and Olmert — to return the vast majority of the West Bank to Palestinian hands).   In a similar kind of anti-Israeli froth, Falk in 2006 described Israel’s incursion into Lebanon (aimed at eliminating Hezbollah entrenchments there) as an effort “to widen the arc of conflict by pulling Syria and Iran into the fray.”  (This attribution of malevolent intention ignores the fact that virtually no one in Israel then or now seeks to “pull Syria and Iran into the fray.”)

Of course, a wide disconnect between reality and Richard Falk’s positions is not confined to his posture toward Israel.  An early off-the-wall misapprehension of reality occurred back in 1979 when Falk sought to portray the Ayatollah Khomeini as a tolerant, humane force in Iran.  More recently, Richard Falk has subscribed to a conspiracy theory regarding American complicity in the 9/11 atrocity, issuing statements that the U.N. Secretary General condemned as “preposterous” and as affronts to the memories of the victims.  Such an anti-American posture is symptomatic of Richard Falk’s personal view of the U.S.as a militarist monster.  In a June 2011 piece, Falk describes the U.S.as “ready to incinerate tens of millions of innocent civilians for the sake of regime survival for itself and allied governments.”   In February 2011, he calls the connections between the Egyptian military and the American military “nefarious.”   In May 2011, he calls for exoneration of Private Bradley Manning despite the soldier’s betrayal of thousands of classified documents; as a basis for such exoneration, Falk cites President Obama’s remark that Manning had committed a crime (i.e., prejudicial pre-trial publicity) as well as supposed custodial abuse of Manning.

Anti-American rants by Falk may be a bizarre part of his personal philosophy that equates nationalism with idolatry and America with militarism, but they pose no threat to American interests.  As an academic, Falk has futilely preached his anti-nationalist philosophy for decades.  It is more troubling, though, when the official U.N. rapporteur on Israel’s conduct toward the occupied Palestinian territories regularly engages in rabid, distorted incitement completely contrary to his obligation to be accurate, balanced, and restrained.  NeitherIsraelnor any other country should be subject to such patently biased sources of U.N. information.


[1]   The occupied territories are deemed by Falk to include both the West Bank andGaza which, while no longer physically occupied, is highly subject to Israeli conduct.