In weeks to come, I am going to insist on the importance of Shlomo Sand’s book, the Invention of the Jewish People. Caricatured in the U.S. as a tract on the Khazar theory of Jewish genetics, the book is in fact a liberal’s assault on the racial politics of identity in Israel and the diaspora, a work of brilliant synthetic scholarship about nationalism and identity construction and the roots of Zionism that will resonate in Jewish and Palestinian life for decades. (By the way, the other criticism of Sand, that he was recycling others’ discoveries about the migration of the Jewish religion through Europe, is horse feathers. Yesterday I heard Robert Wright talking religion on Krista Tippett’s great show, Speaking of Faith. The fact that he is popularizing scholars’ work is nothing against his ideas.)
I am told the following piece appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth, written by Yaron London, (and translated and circulated by the Israeli Press Review). It directly follows from everything that Shlomo Sand says:
[T]he proposed “egg donation” bill …will come before the Knesset for its second and third reading. It relates to an arrangement for donations of implantable eggs in barren women. The law, until now, had allowed using only surplus eggs, created during infertility treatments, and would now allow donations intended for this purpose. The donor would be recompensed by a small payment from the state.
The law is good in principle. It will redeem hundreds of barren families annually. The framers toiled at it for several years, but left a complex seed of ethical contention at its core. Sorrowfully, it also exposes the concealed racism in Judaism. The racism is embodied in the clause that rules that aside from exceptional cases, the donation is subject to the donor and recipient being of the same religion. It’s clear that the intention is limit pollution of “Jewish blood” with that from impure sources.
I imagine that this clause was inserted to appease the Orthodox, and without it no agreement would have been reached. Legislative acrobatics gave birth to an escape clause: under certain circumstances, the exceptions committee can permit a “mixed cocktail” donation—that is to say a donation from a non-Jewish woman for a Jewish woman. Other “mixes,” like Christian-Muslim, or Christian-Jewish are not mentioned in the bill. The bill also doesn’t cover the possibility of a woman without a religion. A person has no legal standing in Israel unless they belong to some church.
The basis of these clauses assumes that Judaism isn’t a culture but a biological breed. As a result, people are divided by ethnicity, in order to keep them pure the same way one would keep pedigree horses and dogs pure. This is racism. What is racism, if not relating to a human being according to his ethnic background?
Here in the civilized West we hate suicide bombers with a passion.
We’re taught that the proper way to blow fellow humans to smithereens is to do it from 40,000 feet.
Or failing that, send Apache helicopter gunships at street level firing their laser-guided missiles and 30mm cannon.
Or failing that, turn loose our main battle tanks to shred and vaporize the “enemy”, reduce their homes to rubble with depleted uranium (DU) shells and spread birth defects for generations to come.
Nowadays we don’t even have to leave home to do it. We can train our really brainy chaps to steer armed drones to the target from the comfort of an armchair.
B-52s, F-16s, Apaches, drones and tanks – that’s the ticket. Awesome hardware gives any murky mission a moral superiority that gets nods of approval from the governing élite in the drawing rooms of London and Washington.
What is not acceptable is delivering the high explosive in person, all the way to the target, and looking your enemy in the eye as you push the detonator. That simply isn’t cricket.
“There can be no justification, under any circumstances, for taking innocent lives through terrorism.” Those were the very words used by Liberal Democrat Party leader Charles Kennedy in 2004, when he sacked British MP Jenny Tonge from her front-bench spokes job for suggesting she might consider becoming a suicide bomber herself if she had to live through the situation the Palestinians were in.
Statistics from Israel’s B’Tselem make the Palestinians’ situation clear. Between 2000 and the start of Israel’s “Cast Lead” blitzkrieg on Gaza in December 2008, the Israelis’ vast standing army, equipped with the most advanced weaponry American money can buy, killed 4,790 Palestinian civilians in their homeland. Of these, 952 were children.
Yes, 952 young Palestinian lives horribly snuffed out and their parents desolated…
In response Palestinians, with their garden-shed weapons, killed 490 Israeli civilians, including 84 children. In this vicious game of murder the Israelis were leading the Palestinians by 11 to 1.
Those were the “circumstances” in which Kennedy sacked Jenny Tonge.
Terrorism most foul
During the Cast Lead onslaught – the foulest act of state terrorism for decades – Israel slaughtered at least 350 more children, and Gaza has been under daily attack ever since. So the “most moral army in the world” must have blown to bits, shredded, incinerated or smashed with snipers’ bullets at least 1,400 youngsters in the last nine and a half years. The numbers left maimed and crippled don’t bear thinking about.
In their study, Palestinian Suicide Bombers: A Statistical Analysis, Sean Yom and Basel Saleh found that many Palestinian suicide attackers had been on the receiving end of violent encounters with the Israeli military, resulting in injury to themselves, or arrest, or a close family member being killed.
From October 2000 to March 2004, over 2,800 Palestinian fatalities and 25,600 non-lethal injuries were inflicted by the Israeli armed forces. Revenge, often fuelled by deteriorating economic prospects and the imposition of harsh policies, provided recruiters with a ready supply of volunteers. Persuading individuals not to support or participate in violence would necessarily involve “improving the structural health of Palestinian society”.
Fat chance of that. Israeli policy is to grind the Palestinians into poverty and helplessness, to take away everything they own and let them rot in a Zionist-prepared hell. Far from allowing the health of Palestinian society to improve, they tighten the screw of oppression further. In the period covered in the study they deliberately destroyed some 4,700 Palestinian homes while continuing their normal programme of slaughter, dispossession, abduction and all the other atrocities they are famed for.
Since 1967, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Israel has demolished in total 24,145 homes in the occupied territories, including 4,247 (a UN figure) destroyed during Operation Cast Lead. Palestinians tend to have large families. Consider how many homeless have been created.
Professor Robert Pape’s comprehensive analysis, Dying to Win, based on his work for the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, advances the idea that suicide terrorism exerts coercive power “to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland… The bottom line, then, is that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation”
Occupation includes control of territory, as in Gaza, not necessarily military occupation.
And of course, when it comes to Israel, we’re not talking about a democracy but a vile ethnocracy.
Religion has little to do with it. Pape dismisses the often-repeated view that Islam is the root of the problem. “Rather, the taproot is American military policy.” And the notion that Islamic fundamentalism is bent on world domination is “pure fantasy”.
Many suicide bombers are simply motivated by the desire for revenge. According to one researcher, harsh state repression “should not be perceived only as a reaction to suicide bombing” but “often precedes and is a major cause of suicide bombing.”
One Saturday night in 2001 Saeed Hotari blew himself up at the entrance to a disco in Tel Aviv, killing 21 teenagers and injuring 132. Hotari was one of nine children from a poor Palestinian family living in Jordan and had been in the West Bank for two years hoping to find a better life. He left a message saying: “If we don’t fight, we will suffer. If we do fight, we will suffer, but so will they.”
The disco bombing was cited by the Israeli government as one of the reasons for building the Apartheid Wall.
In 2003 a female Palestinian lawyer, Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, aged 29, killed 21 civilians at Maxim restaurant in Haifa. She acted to avenge the killing of her brother and a cousin (some sources say her fiancé) by Israeli security forces.
Surgeon Abdel Aziz Rantissi, co-founder of Hamas, warned: “Israelis will have no stability and no security until the occupation ends. Suicide bombers are Israel’s future.” Rantissi was assassinated in 2004 in a helicopter attack on his car. A mother and her five year-old daughter were killed in the attack and four other bystanders wounded.
How much can a person take before snapping?
Arrest, detention without due process, constant humiliation, homelessness, unemployment and other family suffering at the hands of the Israeli army are not the only spur. Yahya Ayyash, nicknamed “the Engineer” and regarded as the father of suicide bombing, became Hamas’s chief bomb maker and for several years topped Israel’s most wanted list. From a relatively well-off family, he gained a BSc in electrical engineering at Birzeit University and planned to study for a Master’s degree in Jordan but the Israeli authorities wouldn’t allow him to.
Thwarted in his life’s ambition Ayyash joined Hamas. “Don’t get sore, get even” might have been his motto. He used household chemicals to manufacture an explosive brew called Mother of Satan. His devices were used in a number of “massacres” and he quickly achieved hero status, narrowly escaping capture many times. It is claimed he was responsible for the deaths of around 90 Israelis, a high price for the occupier to pay for robbing this youngster of his rights to travel and study – rights we in the West take for granted.
Eventually in 1996 Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, eliminated Ayyash by persuading a relative to give him a rigged mobile phone that exploded when he used it. Some 100,000 people are said to have turned up at the funeral. Forty more Israelis were then killed in retaliatory bombings.
Yet Israelis still revel in targeting Palestinian students. Five years ago they forcibly removed four Birzeit University students from their studies in the West Bank and unlawfully sent them back to the Gaza Strip. All four were due to graduate by the end of that academic year.
There was an outcry from around the world and the Israeli military agreed to let them return to Birzeit, but only on condition that they signed a guarantee to permanently move back to the Gaza Strip after completing their studies. This revealed for all to see Israel’s plan to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, even though the two areas are internationally recognized as one integral territory. Under international law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within a single territory. Ten years ago around 350 Gaza students were studying at Birzeit, but today there are almost none and the racist regime blocks Gaza students from reaching the eight Palestinian universities in the West Bank.
It was no surprise to learn last Christmas that Berlanty Azzam, a fourth year Business Administration student from Gaza studying at Bethlehem University, was suddenly “deported” by the Israeli military back to Gaza. Berlanty, a Christian girl, had lived in the West Bank since 2005 and resisted all temptation to visit her family home in Gaza in case she was prevented from returning to Bethlehem.
The 21-year-old was only a few weeks from graduating when she was arrested after attending a job interview in Ramallah. In a deliberate attempt to rob her of her degree “the most moral army in the world” blindfolded and handcuffed her, loaded her into a jeep, drove her to Gaza and dumped her in the darkness late at night.
In the case of another university honours student in her final year, Israeli soldiers frequently rampaged through the Bethlehem refugee camp where she lived, ransacking homes and arbitrarily arresting residents. They took away her family one by one. First her 14-year-old cousin and best friend was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while she sat outside her family home during a curfew.
Next the Israelis arrested her eldest brother, a 22-year-old artist, and imprisoned him for four years. Then they came back for her 18-year-old brother. Then they came again to take her youngest brother – the “baby” of the family – just 16. These were the heartbreaking circumstances (Mr Kennedy please note) under which this student was studying for her degree.
Luckily, she had the guidance of caring university teaching staff to keep her on the straight and narrow. The “most moral army in the world” may have robbed her brothers of an education, but she was determined to complete hers.
Although Palestinians take their education seriously, not all students cruelly obstructed by the Israelis react as Yahya Ayyash did. However, there must be a limit to how much injustice and frustration a young person can take before he/she snaps.
Modern suicide bombing appears to have started in 1980 in the Iran-Iraq war when an Iranian youngster exploded himself against an Iraqi tank, but it was Hezbollah’s devastating attacks two years later in Lebanon which attracted world attention. US forces and the Israeli invader were soon expelled. The technique was then exported throughout the Middle East and beyond.
The threat of suicide bombing has receded in the Holy Land while Israeli military atrocities escalate. The regime’s leaders, seeing the Israel brand image plummet, are now pulling every dirty trick imaginable – even to the point of trying to annex sacred Islamic heritage sites – in a frantic bid to provoke a third initifada (uprising) and cast themselves once again as the victims of terror. Something has to give. Many Palestinians will snap, and no-one will be surprised to see another Ayyash emerge.
Here in the West few of us can fully comprehend what turns a bright, intelligent person into a suicide bomber. But then, we don’t have a jackboot on our throat. We don’t have our front door battered down in the middle of the night by military thugs, our family abducted, our home bulldozed and our land confiscated.
The moral to the story is surely this. You mess with other people’s rights and freedoms, and trample on their dreams, at your peril.
The government will attempt today to have a case about torture heard entirely behind closed doors in a move that some lawyers say would extend secrecy to a new area of hearings, overriding ancient principles of English law.
This morning a case will come before three appeal judges in London in which seven men are seeking damages against the government for mistreatment during what they say was their “extraordinary rendition” and torture facilitated by the British security services.
The men include former Guantánamo Bay detainees Binyam Mohamed and Moazzam Begg. But the government is seeking to have the case held in secret, less than two weeks after the court of appeal ruled that seven paragraphs of secret evidence in the case of Mohamed should be made public.
Lawyers for the men say that if successful, the government’s application would extend closed proceedings into findings of fact in the civil courts for the first time.
“This would set a very serious precedent,” said Louise Christian, a partner at Christian Khan who represents Martin Mubanga, one of the claimants, who was also detained at Guantánamo Bay. “If you allow evidence in ordinary civil cases to be kept secret, there is no doubt it will be endlessly used by the government. As the Binyam Mohamed case illustrated, this is really about the government avoiding embarrassment for the reality of their collaboration with the US and all that happened, rather than any real national security issues.”
The claimants have never been charged with an offence and are pursuing a claim for a range of civil wrongs including torture, false imprisonment and misfeasance in public office.
Last month the court of appeal heavily criticised the security services in a ruling in Mohamed’s case. Publicising their judgment after an attempt by government lawyers to have damaging remarks about the security services edited out, three of England’s most senior judges said British agents “appear to have a dubious record when it comes to human rights and coercive techniques”.
The government responded furiously to the comments, and to the court’s decision to release the seven paragraphs, which it said had damaged intelligence-sharing with the US.
But today lawyers for the men bringing the civil claim will argue that the attempt to hold an entire damages case in secret goes far beyond any previous rulings. The government applied to have the case heard behind closed doors last July, when lawyers for government bodies including MI6 the Secret Intelligence Service, the Foreign Office and the attorney-general, argued that more than 250,000 documents would have to be provided, more than half of which were marked “secret”, and disclosure would take up to 10 years.
If successful, the application could open the way for a range of civil claims to be held in private using a system of “special advocates” – specially vetted lawyers appointed by the court – who would not be able to discuss the case with clients.
“This would have serious implications for other actions against the state, such as civil actions against the police or immigration services where they are accused of breaches of human rights or unlawful detention, actions against police usually about assault and imprisonment,” said Christian. Experts are describing the attempt as a challenge to open justice – a central principle of English law strengthened by the European convention on human rights, and to the adversarial nature of English trials, which dates back to at least the 13th century.
The claimants will argue that such changes would have to be approved by parliament, with strong safeguards in place.
Lawyers also say the case would have drastic implications for the rest of the UK’s legal system, creating “severe practical difficulties,” because they would be unable to advise clients or reach settlements out of court. Concerns have also been raised that English common law – which depends on precedents from previous cases being followed by lawyers and judges – will be unable to develop if hearings and judgments are kept secret.
Last November the high court judge Mr Justice Silber said the government could have the case heard in secret, stating that the court had the power to order a closed hearing because of the scale and complexity of the case, and the “high proportion of very sensitive material”.
The government will defend that decision today, and denies that the attempt to have the case heard in secret was part of a cover-up. “The government is not seeking to cover up information or relevant material in these cases. Quite the opposite,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said. “We applied for a closed procedure so that the court will be able to fully consider the large volume of relevant material already identified that cannot be disclosed openly without a real risk of causing substantial harm or real damage to the public interest.”
But today lawyers for the men bringing the claim will argue that Silber’s judgment was “founded on a misunderstanding”.”Allegations of collusion in torture and extraordinary rendition are some of the most serious that could possibly come before a court and the government,” Christian said. “The court is very aware of the tactics in trying to avoid proper disclosure in these sorts of claims.”
A War of Perception and Misinformation
For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a “city of 80,000 people” as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centres in Helmand.
It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict.
Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers’ homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.
“It’s not urban at all,” an official of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), who asked not to be identified, admitted on Sunday. He called Marja a “rural community”.
“It’s a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds,” said the official, adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards.
Richard B. Scott, who worked in Marja as an adviser on irrigation for the U.S. Agency for International Development as recently as 2005, agrees that Marja has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an “agricultural district” with a “scattered series of farmers’ markets,” Scott said in a telephone interview.
The ISAF official said the only population numbering tens of thousands associated with Marja is spread across many villages and almost 200 square kilometres, or about 125 square miles.
Marja has never even been incorporated, according to the official, but there are now plans to formalise its status as an actual “district” of Helmand Province.
The official admitted that the confusion about Marja’s population was facilitated by the fact that the name has been used both for the relatively large agricultural area and for a specific location where farmers have gathered for markets.
However, the name Marja “was most closely associated” with the more specific location, where there are also a mosque and a few shops.
That very limited area was the apparent objective of “Operation Moshtarak”, to which 7,500 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops were committed amid the most intense publicity given any battle since the beginning of the war.
So how did the fiction that Marja is a city of 80,000 people get started?
The idea was passed on to the news media by the U.S. Marines in southern Helmand. The earliest references in news stories to Marja as a city with a large population have a common origin in a briefing given Feb. 2 by officials at Camp Leatherneck, the U.S. Marine base there.
The Associated Press published an article the same day quoting “Marine commanders” as saying that they expected 400 to 1,000 insurgents to be “holed up” in the “southern Afghan town of 80,000 people.” That language evoked an image of house to house urban street fighting.
The same story said Marja was “the biggest town under Taliban control” and called it the “linchpin of the militants’ logistical and opium-smuggling network”. It gave the figure of 125,000 for the population living in “the town and surrounding villages”. ABC news followed with a story the next day referring to the “city of Marja” and claiming that the city and the surrounding area “are more heavily populated, urban and dense than other places the Marines have so far been able to clear and hold.”
The rest of the news media fell into line with that image of the bustling, urbanised Marja in subsequent stories, often using “town” and “city” interchangeably. Time magazine wrote about the “town of 80,000″ Feb. 9, and the Washington Post did the same Feb. 11.
As “Operation Moshtarak” began, U.S. military spokesmen were portraying Marja as an urbanised population centre. On Feb. 14, on the second day of the offensive, Marine spokesman Lt. Josh Diddams said the Marines were “in the majority of the city at this point.”
He also used language that conjured images of urban fighting, referring to the insurgents holding some “neighbourhoods”.
A few days into the offensive, some reporters began to refer to a “region”, but only created confusion rather than clearing the matter up. CNN managed to refer to Marja twice as a “region” and once as “the city” in the same Feb. 15 article, without any explanation for the apparent contradiction.
The Associated Press further confused the issue in a Feb. 21 story, referring to “three markets in town – which covers 80 square miles….”
A “town” with an area of 80 square miles would be bigger than such U.S. cities as Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But AP failed to notice that something was seriously wrong with that reference.
Long after other media had stopped characterising Marja as a city, the New York Times was still referring to Marja as “a city of 80,000″, in a Feb. 26 dispatch with a Marja dateline.
The decision to hype up Marja as the objective of “Operation Moshtarak” by planting the false impression that it is a good-sized city would not have been made independently by the Marines at Camp Leatherneck.
A central task of “information operations” in counterinsurgency wars is “establishing the COIN [counterinsurgency] narrative”, according to the Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual as revised under Gen. David Petraeus in 2006.
That task is usually done by “higher headquarters” rather than in the field, as the manual notes.
The COIN manual asserts that news media “directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations and the opposing insurgency.” The manual refers to “a war of perceptions…conducted continuously using the news media.”
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of ISAF, was clearly preparing to wage such a war in advance of the Marja operation. In remarks made just before the offensive began, McChrystal invoked the language of the counterinsurgency manual, saying, “This is all a war of perceptions.”
The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marja was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a “large and loud victory.”
The false impression that Marja was a significant city was an essential part of that message.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.
Why is the national security community treating the “Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010,” introduced by Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman on Thursday as a standard proposal, as a simple response to the administration’s choices in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing attempt? A close reading of the bill suggests it would allow the U.S. military to detain U.S. citizens without trial indefinitely in the U.S. based on suspected activity. Read the bill here, and then read the summarized points after the jump.
According to the summary, the bill sets out a comprehensive policy for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected enemy belligerents who are believed to have engaged in hostilities against the United States by requiring these individuals to be held in military custody, interrogated for their intelligence value and not provided with a Miranda warning.
(There is no distinction between U.S. persons–visa holders or citizens–and non-U.S. persons.)
It would require these “belligerents” to be coded as “high-value detainee[s]” to be held in military custody and interrogated for their intelligence value by a High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team established by the president. (The H.I.G., of course, was established to bring a sophisticated interrogation capacity to the federal justice system.)
Any suspected unprivileged enemy belligerents considered a “high-value detainee” shall not be provided with a Miranda warning.
The bill asks the President to determine criteria for designating an individual as a “high-value detainee” if he/she: (1) poses a threat of an attack on civilians or civilian facilities within the U.S. or U.S. facilities abroad; (2) poses a threat to U.S. military personnel or U.S. military facilities; (3) potential intelligence value; (4) is a member of al Qaeda or a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda or (5) such other matters as the President considers appropriate. The President must submit the regulations and guidance to the appropriate committees of Congress no later than 60 days after enactment.
To the extent possible, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team must make a preliminary determination whether the detainee is an unprivileged enemy belligerent within 48 hours of taking detainee into custody.
The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team must submit its determination to the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General after consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General make a final determination and report the determination to the President and the appropriate committees of Congress. In the case of any disagreement between the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General, the President will make the determination.
Note that the president himself doesn’t get to make the call.
Marc Ambinder is the politics editor of The Atlantic. He has covered Washington for ABC News and the Hotline, and he is chief political consultant to CBS News.
How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste
Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.
Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.
Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.
Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:
*There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.
* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.
*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.
Excuses for the Lockdown
There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We’re told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.
The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades — they are currently at historical lows — but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.
The drug war has been brutal — complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods — but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.
That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.
This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime.
Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.
The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes — sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.
Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.” The facts bear him out. Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the “New Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labeled a felon.
But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn’t the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that’s where the violent offenders can be found? The answer is yes… in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.
The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders. Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.
The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s — the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war — nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.
In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time — a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.
Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers — not to mention president of the United States — causes us all to marvel at what a long way we’ve come.
Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that’s with affirmative action!
When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colorblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure — the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.
This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.
Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010). The former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU in Northern California, she also served as a law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.
The prospects of finalizing the draft third party enrichment deal at this late hour, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s acceptance was met with feigned outrage by Western powers, and after Iran has backed off that acceptance to a stance calling for direct exchange, seems slim to none. This does not, however, mean the prospect of third party enrichment itself is dead.
Rather, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry, they have taken the advice of the IAEA and are now looking for some new third parties with which to reach a comparable enrichment deal.
The initial deal stalled over Iranian concerns of the use of France as a partner in the deal, as France previously reneged on a nuclear deal with Iran and there was concern that, if Iran shipped a large portion of its uranium stockpile abroad, it would simply disappear into France, with nary a trace but some harsh rhetoric from the Sarkozy government.
Western officials have not commented yet on Iran’s latest tack, but they will likely take a dim view of some other nuclear power doing the enrichment after spending months trying to convince the world that the “draft” agreement they submitted to the IAEA was an all-or-nothing proposition, which could never be revised or even clarified publicly.
Japan is seen as a likely partner in such an effort, however. The Japanese government is keen to see the situation resolved amicably, as they stand to lose greatly from rising anti-Iran sanctions. Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani visited Japan late last month, and reportedly came out of it with an early proposal for Japan to enrich uranium for Iran’s medical research reactor.
Thousands of French protesters have rallied against the import of Israeli goods produced in Palestinian territories.
Monday’s demonstration comes less then a month after the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that Israeli goods made in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank cannot be considered Israeli.
This means that those products cannot benefit from a trade deal giving Israel preferential access to EU markets.
The protesters, who came from all over France, symbolically gathered in the streets of the Mediterranean port of Sete — a hub for the biggest Israeli food exporter, Agrexco.
Over fifty percent of the company, selling over 300,000 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables to Europe, is owned by the Israeli regime.
“The EU and Israel have agreed that Israel will get preferential import taxes on one condition, the goods should not come from occupied territories. But we know Agrexco grows its products in the occupied areas and is still benefiting from tax deductions,” Tannich Coupe Sud de France General Secretary said.
“This is a campaign of stigmatization. It’s not an illusion that the economy will be demolished, it’s the image of Israel that we are trying to attack,” Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan who also took part in the event told Press TV.
France is one of Israel’s top ten economic partners, a fact that has disappointed many of the French.
Israeli companies based around the illegal West Bank settlements manufacture a host of products including confectionery, wine, cosmetics and computer equipment.
Palestinians have long argued that since the settlements are not part of Israel, the goods made there should not receive trade privileges.
Pro-Palestinian campaigners have also regularly protested that European supermarkets stock goods with Israeli labels on farm products from the West Bank.
Israel in OECD: Israel Set to Join Club of Richest Nations
An exclusive club of the world’s most developed countries is poised to admit Israel as a member even though, a confidential internal document indicates, doing so will amount to endorsing Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories.
Israel has been told that its accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is all but assured when the 30 member states meet in May.
But a draft OECD report concedes that Israel has breached one of the organization’s key requirements on providing accurate and transparent data on its economic activity.
The information supplied by Israel, the report notes, includes not only the economic activity of its citizens inside its recognized borders but also Jewish settlers who live in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan in violation of international law.
Israel’s accession to the OECD on such terms threatens to severely embarrass many of the organization’s member states, especially those in the European Union that are publicly committed to avoiding collusion with the occupation.
The OECD report proposes that these legal difficulties may be circumvented by asking Israel to produce new statistics within a year of its accession excluding the settler population — even though, an OECD official has admitted, Israel would have the power to veto such a demand after it becomes a member.
“The OECD seems to be so determined to get Israel through its door that it is prepared to cover up the crimes of the occupation,” said Shir Hever, a Jerusalem-based economist.
Israel has been lobbying for nearly 20 years to be admitted to the OECD, founded in 1961 for wealthy industrialized democracies to meet and coordinate economic and social policies. It includes the United States and most of Europe.
“The financial privileges are relatively modest, but there is great prestige to being accepted,” Mr. Hever said. ”Israel has worked so hard to gain admission because it believes accession will confer international legitimacy on its occupation.”
Several countries with a lower development level than Israel have already been accepted, including Turkey, Mexico, and the Czech Republic.
Israel’s past rejections, it is widely assumed, were because many states were uncomfortable about admitting Israel while it was occupying the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank and the Syrian-owned Golan Heights.
However, Israel was formally invited to begin discussions about membership in 2007 after intense lobbying by Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel. Membership is expected to bring financial stability to Israel’s economy, attract investment, and reduce the country’s risk premium.
The OECD’s secretary general, Angel Gurria, visited in January, after a review of Israel’s economy, and suggested that admission this year was a certainty.
However, a leaked draft report by the OECD’s committee on statistics, produced last month after the review, shows there are major problems with the data presented by Israel.
According to its rules, the OECD takes account of economic activity outside a candidate state’s recognized borders in very limited circumstances, such as remittances from migrant workers.
But given that this status does not apply to the illegal settlers living in the occupied territories, the OECD committee argues that either the settlers be excluded from the data or everyone living in the territories — including Palestinians — should be factored in.
“Israel has been caught out because it has always refused, even in its own internal data, to differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories,” Mr. Hever said. Both East Jerusalem and the Golan have been annexed by Israel in violation of international law.
“The OECD is treating Israel as though it has seven million citizens when, in reality, it has 11 million subjects, of whom four million are Palestinians living under occupation,” Mr. Hever said. ”If they were included in the figures submitted to the OECD, Israel would have to be refused accession because of the enormous disparities in wealth.”
Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, noted recently that there was a 20:1 ratio in the difference in gross domestic product per capita between an Israeli and a Palestinian living in Gaza.
But rather than conclude that Israel has failed to meet the organization’s entry criteria, the committee proposes a workaround: Israel can be accepted to the organization and given a year to submit new data excluding the settlers.
Tim Davis, an OECD official with the statistics committee in Paris, said he could not comment on the report because its contents were confidential but agreed that there was nothing to stop Israel reneging on such a commitment in the future. ”In a case like that, nothing could be done in practice. We work on the basis of co-operation, not pressure.”
Israel is reported to have failed other entry conditions, including on corruption and copyright violations.
The OECD has required member states to crack down on corrupt practices since it approved a convention against bribery in 1997. Israel, however, was ranked in 32nd place in a major index on corruption last year, with much of it relating to the country’s $6 billion arms industry.
European and US defense firms have threatened to derail Israel’s OECD bid if it does not clean up its act.
Israel is also believed to be violating intellectual property rights, again in breach of OECD rules. US and Swiss firms have accused Israel of failing to regulate the international marketing of drugs produced by its largest pharmaceuticals company, Teva.
Israel’s bid for OECD membership has been opposed by the leaders of its Arab minority, one-fifth of the population. Last month the Higher Follow-Up Committee, the minority’s main political body, petitioned the OECD to reject Israel.
It has pointed out that half of Israel’s Arab citizens are living below the poverty line, a rate three times higher than among Israeli Jews, and that on average Arab citizens earn salaries that are one-third less than Jews. Mohammed Zeidan, head of the committee, blamed the disparities in wealth on what he called Israel’s “racist and discriminatory polices.”
Another OECD report, published in January, showed that, even on the basis of Israel’s figures excluding the Palestinians, Israel would still have the widest social gaps of any member state if it were accepted.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has charged that the United States and Britain are engaged in spreading terrorism in the region.
“The United States and Britain and their forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan are encouraging acts of terror in the region,” Mottaki said in an address to a regional conference in Tehran.
“Foreign (military) bases in our region have not been set up for stability and security purposes and military cooperation but are aimed at interfering in internal affairs of regional countries,” he added.
He warned regional countries to exercise vigilance making sure that “deals with foreign forces will not threaten regional security.”
The Iranian minister urged US officials to define the meaning of terrorism, saying, “They should speak about their links with terrorists, violation of rights in the name of human rights and their reason for keeping silent about the killing of human beings.”
Referring to the recent capture of the terrorist leader Abdolmalek Rigi by Iranian intelligence forces, Mottaki questioned reasons behind the presence of the terrorist leader in the US military base in Afghanistan.
On February 23, the leader of the Jundallah terrorist group was on a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan when he was tracked down by Iranian security forces.
Rigi and one of his deputies were captured after Iranian security forces forced their plane to land at an airport in the Persian Gulf city of Bandar Abbas.
Iranian security forces said he was at a US base in Afghanistan 24 hours before his capture.
In his confessions, Rigi revealed details about his ties with some intelligence agencies such as the CIA and said that he had closely cooperated with the security services of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mottaki addressed arrogant powers, saying, “They are fomenting terrorism in the region while chanting anti-terrorism slogans. The Islamic Republic has long ago given warning against this danger.”