Are Critical Voices Silenced?
Panel 2 Q&A
April 10, 2015
Moderator Askia Muhammad: That, again, was Dr. Jack Shaheen, who provided us the Las Vegas review. Thank you. Time for questions and we have many questions. Why don’t we start here, and we’ll extend our time with Dr. Rothchild. Why don’t you do a couple questions. Then Dr. Falk has many questions directed to him. I think I have one question also for Dr. Shaheen. But we’ll start with Dr. Alice Rothchild.
Alice Rothchild: I’m going to address a couple of questions. I just want to say on the issue of the action…
Askia Muhammad: Let me interrupt. I’m sorry. I apologize. I had a note; I left it. Please, be reminded that Jack Shaheen will be signing his book after this panel at 11:45. That’s a commercial from our sponsor. I’m sorry.
Alice Rothchild: That’s okay. And I’m signing my book at 1:05, no commercial. I just wanted to add to that the action film called “Dig,” which is filmed in East Jerusalem. There were over 20 Palestinian civil society activist groups that protested the filming of the film in East Jerusalem. What people don’t know is that the Israeli government and Jerusalem municipality gave the film people a $6.2 million grant to make that film. So this is also Israeli propaganda—hasbara—stuff going on. But that wasn’t the question.
So the first question is, "what is anti-Semitism," which is a fabulous question, "and how does it relate to Zionism?" So let me give you the two-minute answer to something that people write Ph.D. theses on. The way I define anti-Semitism is hating Jews because they are Jews. That’s the main reason to hate them or the organization they’re in or whatever. How does Zionism mesh with being Jewish? If you look historically at Zionism for a kabillion years, there was sort of a religious Zionism, the Zionism of my Orthodox grandfather. It was a messianic—who knows when the Messiah will come? And it was that kind of religious mythical Zionism. It wasn’t actually meant that something would actually happen in the near future.
And then in the late 1800s, with Herzl and the first Zionist Congress, there was an increasing movement amongst Eastern European intellectuals to respond to the horrific amount of Christian anti-Semitism that occurred in Europe. And they, along with all sorts of other groups, were having movements of nationalism, so it’s in that context of nationalism, and also in the context of colonialism, developed the idea that the Jews needed an actual place to go to be safe. They were kind of vaguely helped by the British Empire. They promised the same piece of land to the Arabs and the Jews. And I think one of the things to remember is that Lord Balfour, with the Balfour Declaration, had Christian Zionist tendencies. So there were a lot of anti-Semitic reasons why colonial powers wanted to get rid of their Jews and put them someplace else.
There was actually a tremendous debate within the Jewish intellectual community. I put Martin Buber on one side and Herzl on the other. Should there be an actual place? Should it be in Uganda? Should be it Palestine? Should it be a binational state? Should it be a Jewish-only state? I mean, this was a major, major debate. I think it’s important to understand that. The people who wanted a Jewish-only state won out, so the rest is history. At this point, when I use the word Zionism, I’m referring to a political Zionism as it is currently practiced. And the way I define it as currently practiced is a belief that Jews, for either historical, Holocaust, biblical, whatever reasons, deserve or must have a state that is for Jews and that privileges Jewish people over everybody else. That is what’s going on in Israel right now and in the occupied territories.
The reason that I think it is really important to separate Jews from Zionists is that, first of all, many Jews are not Zionists. Zionism is a political movement that I think in retrospect has had really catastrophic implications, both to non-Jews and to Jews. I would argue the political Zionism, as it is now practiced, is incredibly dangerous to Jews. When I look at the state of Israel and I look at the policies of the state of Israel, I can’t find anything Jewish about it except singing "Hatikvah" in Hebrew. I mean, seriously. When I’m at a checkpoint and there’s some 20-year-old pointing a big gun at me and accusing all the civilian Palestinian women that I’m surrounded by of something, this is not Jewish. This is not Jewish values. It is not Jewish history. It’s just not related to any of my understanding of what it means to be a Jew. So I put that under Zionism and under political Zionism and under occupation and under oppressing some other people because they’re not Jewish. Even in the state of Israel, 20 percent of the citizens are Palestinians, and they are second-class citizens. They get less of everything.
So for me, founding a state that by definition privileges Jews over everybody else is doomed to chronic catastrophe and, ultimately, to failure. And I think that’s very different than Jews as a religion or an ethnicity or as a culture. So that’s why I keep those very, very separate.
Prof. Richard Falk: I thank you for a series of questions, which I cannot do justice to. But let me, at least, address one that I think raises a very important question. The question asked: "Israel has ignored with impunity numerous U.N. resolutions. Why has there been no effort in the General Assembly to decertify Israel from the U.N.?" In effect, there is no constitutional veto in the General Assembly. The great majority of governments in the world are highly critical of Israel. But what I think one doesn’t understand, and I probably didn’t make clear enough in my remarks, is that in addition to the constitutional veto that exists within the U.N. Charter and the way in which the structure of the U.N. is set up, there has emerged a geopolitical veto which paralyzes the organization at the level of implementation. The U.N. General Assembly can say what it wants. It can declare things. It can propose fact-finding inquiries into the attacks on Gaza of the sort the Goldstone Report did.
But it’s incapable of implementing the recommendations that follow from those initiatives or of enforcing or achieving compliance with its resolutions. That’s because the U.N. was created with the idea that it is an instrument of statecraft, not an alternative to it. The U.N. is very important symbolically and in waging this struggle to control the heights of international law and morality, which mobilize people. There wouldn’t be a BDS movement or an anti-apartheid campaign if there hadn’t been a U.N. to create a consensus that what Israel is doing and what South Africa was doing were fundamental violations, not only of international law, but of the most basic ideas of international morality, and constitute, in effect, crimes against humanity.
The U.N. is important for mobilizing a moral consciousness around the world. But it’s incapable, due to its structure and due to the way in which world order is organized on a global basis, to create the behavioral changes that that moral consciousness calls for. That depends on civil society. There is growing realization, I think, that governments are not going to solve this problem, and that the U.N. cannot solve this problem. That it will depend on the mobilization of people. That’s why, in my view, the growing global solidarity movement and the organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and the BDS campaign are so important at this stage of the struggle.
Alice Rothchild: I’m being asked, "what is the New York Police Department doing in Israel? There are no blacks there to kill, except Ethiopian Jews." First of all, that’s not quite correct. There are Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who are black, who are subjected to a horrific amount of racism, so there are blacks to kill. But that’s not the answer.
The thing that you need to understand about Israeli PR is that one of their biggest products is security. And that they really know how to do crowd control. They’ve been occupying a whole ton of people for decades now, so they have the expertise to do crowd control and to fight terrorism. And when you sort of investigate this a little bit, not only do they have the most advanced weaponry—mostly from us—but they have developed a huge system of collaborators and a malicious kind of security system to keep a population under control. So what our American cities want to do is to learn how to control us. They want to learn how to control protest and crowds. They want to learn how to fight “terrorism,” as it is getting more and more broadly defined. And Israel is supposed to have the best product. So that’s what our policemen are doing in Israel.
The other thing that is very, very worrisome, I think, is, for instance, if you look at the wall between the U.S. and Mexico, that is partly built by an Israeli company because they’re also really good at building walls to keep people out or in or whatever they’re doing. The thing that gets even more messy about this whole thing is that our U.S. military now has all this excess equipment—now that we’re not actively killing a whole bunch of people. We’re just kind of doing it more slowly. So the military is now giving our police departments tanks and, you know, things you might need to do if you’re doing traffic in Idaho or something. So we have a police that are weaponized by our excess military equipment that are trained in Israel. That means that we are all at risk. I always like to remind people that this is not some little conflict off in some crazy country. This is going to come to bite us. The reason that we have our Fergusons and all the black men that are just assassinated, shoot-to-kill, is for a reason. And these are the kind of forces that go into making that true in our society.
Moderator Askia Muhammad: Red lights are flashing. Tones are beeping. It is time for us to take a break. As much as we might want to hear more, it is time for us to take a break. I think we should stick with our discipline and carry on as the previous panel did and not be a bad example for those who have yet to speak. So, please, take a break. Dr. Falk will be signing books in 10 minutes. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad you’re here.
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