The Russell Tribunal on Palestine aims to translate the language and expertise of law into everyday activism. (David Vilaplana/imagenenaccion.org
The first session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RTP) was heard in Barcelona, Spain earlier this month. The RTP is a peoples’ legal initiative designed to systematically try key actors responsible for the perpetuation of human rights violations in Palestine.
In the frame this time was the European Union (EU). Two days and 21 expert witness testimonies later, the RTP found individual states and the EU as a whole guilty of persistent violations and misconduct with regards to international and internal EU law. These included: assistance in perpetrating the crime of apartheid — deepened in definition as applicable to the violation of the inalienable right of return for refugees and the collective punishment and ghettoization of Gaza; aiding the procurement of war crimes and crimes against humanity particularly with regards to Gaza; and violating the Palestinian right to self-determination, aiding illegal colonization, the annexation of East Jerusalem and theft of natural resources.
We may all know this, but knowing exactly how and through which laws and mechanisms allows for a water-tight case for justice for Palestine and the denormalization of Israel’s occupation.
The RTP’s endorsement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a means to hold Israel and its collaborator states accountable under international law was also a boost to European civil society groups and prominent figures sitting on the fence about the tactic.
The RTP aims to reenergize and popularize the necessary delegitimization of Israeli apartheid, occupation and human rights violations. It’s not just about preventing the crime of silence but also about providing a forum for speaking out, active witnessing and active listening, and to tool up civil society on how to publicize and pressure their governments to abide by the law.
The reason the EU and violation-abetting or non-compliant states have continued to treat the observance of international law and Palestinian rights as a policy issue rather than a legal obligation is because civil society has given them this choice through a lack of pressure in these areas. These states should not have a choice; these legal frameworks are not voluntary or optional once signed, they are obligatory.
The language of international human rights law is dense, inert and dispassionate despite the fact that it has been generated through global anti-colonial, anti-occupation struggle and sacrifice. Nevertheless, it’s a language movements should strategically learn and connect to the real-time, felt-on-the-body, resistance and endurance of the Palestinian people and the policy-makers in our parliaments.
Contextualizing the violence of policies of violation in the small print of complicated contracts and treaties, or in casual conversations in presidential dining rooms in Tel Aviv, was enabled by the RTP.
At the RTP, Veronique De Keyser, a European Member of Parliament from Belgium, testified that during a trip to Israel as part of a delegation of European MPs, she was told by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that the Israeli government was intent on instrumentalizing Fatah to undermine Hamas. According to her testimony, Olmert and Livni added that Israel had no interest in recognizing a unity government.
Meir Margalit, a former member of the Jerusalem city council, spoke of soldiers demolishing a Palestinian home in the presence of an EU Commissar. When this fact was brought to the attention of the mayor of Jerusalem at the time, Ehud Olmert, it resulted in a delay in the destruction of the home until no MPs were present to witness.
Charles Shamas, a Palestinian legal consultant and founder of the MATTIN group, a voluntary human rights-based partnership in Palestine which focuses on international human rights and international humanitarian law enforcement and third-party state responsibility, mapped the mechanisms by which international law obligations can be triggered in the EU. He explained this could be achieved by targeting obscure internal regulations within EU legal frameworks, deciphering obscure clauses and regulations within EU treaties and targeting them at the appropriate bodies.
Shamas demystified the means by which laws are effectively changed when the EU collaborates in contracts and treaties with Israel. By accepting Israeli definitions of international law rather than its own, the EU is in fact violating its own internal and international laws. For example, a new agreement on civil aviation between the EU and Israel could legitimize the occupation of the Palestinian territories through recognition of airspace and the airports in occupied territory as part of Israel. Shamas cited a challenge to a draft agreement between Europol and the Israeli police authorities which was regarded as unlawful as the police were headquartered in occupied East Jerusalem.
Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers in the UK presented his own experiences to the RTP of attempting to use the British domestic courts to challenge the UK’s failure to fulfill its obligations under international humanitarian law with respect to Israeli activities during its invasion of Gaza last winter. A British court found his claim, which was coordinated with the Palestinian legal organization Al-Haq, to be a matter for “high foreign policy” and denied it. Shiner suggested seeking more compliant alternative EU member state courts to file similar cases.
The applicability of existing international law on conventional weapons was dissected in the context of Israel’s invasion of Gaza by Colonel Desmond Travers, a member of the UN-sponsored Goldstone commission. In his testimony, Travers provided forensic analysis of the flight-path of a flechette dart within the human body. He also discussed Israel’s suspected use of Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) weapons and depleted uranium. Travers also scrutinized Israel’s use of white phosphorous as a weapon rather than an obscurant. Aside for the need for political action to stop Israeli impunity, Travers explained that a ban on certain weaponry altogether including white phosphorous, urgent environmental clean-up and the need for new laws were necessary and should be advocated.
Expert researcher and Middle East specialist Agnes Bertrand detailed the EU’s passive complicity with Israeli violations. Israel has caused an estimated 56.35 million euros worth of infrastructural damage to works funded by the European Community since 2000, with damage suffered during last year’s Gaza invasion amounting to around 12.35 million euros. The EU Commission has no intention of filing for damages or compensation, instead passing the buck to the Palestinian Authority, stating that as the construction aid was given to the PA, it would have to make the claim for it. Yet no legal advice has been forthcoming on how the PA is supposed to do this. The EU’s Association Agreement with Israel, in particular Article 2 and the framing of the dialogue between the EU and Israel were found to be in breach of articles of the International Law Commission and the 1966 covenant on Civil and Political Rights in their exclusion of the observance and inclusion of international law and any references to occupation.
Translating the language and expertise of law into everyday activism as a tool against the attack on the legitimacy of our movement and Palestinian rights is the challenge ahead that the RTP can play a part in. The Barcelona session is only the beginning. The next RTP session will take place in London at the end 2010 and will focus on international corporations profiting from the occupation as well as labor rights in Israel-Palestine. It will be followed by sessions in South Africa focusing on apartheid, and in the United States focusing on the American and UN role in the conflict.
Full findings/conclusions of Barcelona session of Russell Tribunal on Palestine are available at
Ewa Jasiewicz is a freelance journalist, union organizer and coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. She was one of the witness for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
Frank Barat is coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He can be reached at russelltribunaluk A T googlemail D O T com.
Germany’s environment ministry has come under fire for green-lighting further exploration of a disused salt mine in northern Germany as a potential final storage site for nuclear waste.
Germany’s Green party and environmental leaders are protesting the decision, which comes after a 10-year moratorium in the exploration plans for the controversial Gorleben nuclear waste dump.
Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen confirmed on Monday that talks on turning the Gorleben salt mine into a permanent nuclear waste dump are set to resume.
Roettgen added that he did not expect the storage facility to reopen before 2030, even if Gorleben analysis and tests are positive.
Gorleben has been used as temporary repository for nuclear waste since 1983, and led to a huge controversy after revelations that the German government under Chancellor Helmut Kohl had suppressed scientific evidence showing the site was not suitable for the job.
While extremely unpopular with the public, Germany relies on nuclear power to cover a quarter of its energy consumption.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new ruling coalition is planning to extend the lives of the country’s 17 nuclear plants, arguing that nuclear power could not be replaced until cost-efficient renewable power is more widely used.
This is while a previous center-left government in 2002 approved a decision to shut down the country’s aging reactors by the mid-2020s.
Although Zionism typically represents itself as the solution to anti-Semitism, the truth is less flattering. In fact, hostility toward Jews is indispensable to the cause of Jewish nationalism. If anti-Semitism didn’t exist, Zionists would have to invent it. And in many cases that is precisely what they have done.
Contrary to the widespread perception that Zionism opposes anti-Semitism, its adherents have occasionally revealed a more ambivalent attitude to Jew-hatred. In 1895, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, prophetically wrote in his Diaries: “Anti-Semites will become our surest friends, anti-Semitic countries our allies.” Even the suffering inflicted on European Jewry by the Nazi holocaust doesn’t seem to have unduly tempered such cynicism. In 1995, Jay Lefkowitz, an American government official, told the New York Times Magazine: “Deep down, I believe that a little anti-Semitism is a good thing for the Jews— reminds them who they are.”
If Zionist extremists can’t provoke the desired level of anti-Semitism to advance their goals, they are even prepared to fake it. A 1952 article in Davar, the official organ of Mapai, the party of the then Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, suggested sending a team of saboteurs “to help redeem Jews” from the countries where they are “absorbed in sinful self-satisfaction”.
“The task of these young men,” the article explained, “would be to disguise themselves as non-Jews, and, acting upon the brutal Zionism, plague these Jews with anti-Semitic slogans, such as ‘Bloody Jew’, ‘Jews go to Palestine’ and similar ‘intimacies’.”
Lest anyone doubt that the Israeli government would ever contemplate carrying out such a cynical plot to encourage Jews to move to Israel, the “rescue” of about 125,000 Iraqi Jews in the early 1950s involved far worse acts. “In attempts to portray the Iraqis as anti-American and to terrorize the Jews,” wrote former CIA officer Wilbur Eveland in Ropes of Sand, “the Zionists planted bombs in the US Information Service library and in synagogues. Soon leaflets began to appear urging Jews to flee to Israel.”
Whatever about posing as “Arab anti-Semites”, one might think that Zionists would draw the line at a post-holocaust sponsorship of Nazism. Yet this is exactly what a leading Canadian Zionist organization has been accused of. “In the 1960s, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) paid John Garrity, a small-time mercenary, to build up the fledgling Canadian Nazi Party,” reveals Ezra Levant in Shakedown. When the embarrassing truth emerged, it was justified by the CJC as an attempt to learn more about neo-Nazism. However, the real purpose, according to the Jewish Canadian writer, was to provide “a pretext for the addition of ‘hate’ laws to the criminal code”.
While “hate” sounds like something that all decent people would condemn, one man’s hate may be another man’s righteous indignation. Zionists, for example, tend to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and, therefore, as something that could be considered a “hate crime”.
But are Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt engaged in hate propaganda by documenting the harmful influence of the Israel lobby over US foreign policy? Or is former US President Jimmy Carter a “bigot” for comparing the Israeli occupation of Palestine to apartheid South Africa? Are the survivors of the USS Liberty who refuse to remain silent about Israel’s deliberate attack on their ship merely motivated by hatred of Jews? Is Professor Norman Finkelstein a “self-hating Jew” for exposing the holocaust Industry’s corruption of history and memory in the service of an extortion racket? And is UN special rapporteur Richard Falk also “self-hating” for likening Israel’s actions against the besieged Gazans to what the Nazis did to Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto?
In each of these cases, by no means an exhaustive list, the charge of anti-Semitism, rather than serving to protect Jewish people from defamation, has been used to obscure Zionist crimes.
However, as Zionist criminality becomes increasingly transparent, there will most likely be a sharp rise in anti-Semitism worldwide. No doubt much of it will be the result of genuine, albeit misdirected, anger as the extent of Zionist crimes against humanity becomes more widely known. But considering Zionism’s history of faking attacks on Jews, we can expect at least some of this “hate” to be the work of Jewish extremists who disingenuously claim to be fighting anti-Semitism.
Perhaps it’s time for those who are genuinely concerned about combating hatred in the world to heed the words of Israel Shahak. As the great Israeli humanist concluded in his classic Jewish History, Jewish Religion: “Although the struggle against anti-Semitism (and of all other forms of racism) should never cease, the struggle against Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism … is now of equal or greater importance.”
By Ralph Schoenman | April 1988
It is not accidental that when anyone attempts to examine the nature of Zionism – its origins, history and dynamics – they meet with people who terrorize or threaten them. Quite recently, after mentioning a meeting on the plight of the Palestinian people during an interview on KPFK, a Los Angeles radio station, the organizers of the public meeting were deluged with bomb threats from anonymous callers.
Nor is it easy in the United States or Western Europe to disseminate information about the nature of Zionism or to analyze the specific events which denote Zionism as a political movement. Even the announcement on university campuses of authorized forums or meetings on the subject invariably engenders a campaign designed to close off discussion. Posters are torn down as fast as they are put up. Meetings are packed by flying squads of Zionist youth who seek to break them up. Literature tables are vandalized and leaflets and articles appear accusing the speaker of anti-Semitism or, in the case of those of Jewish origin, of self-hatred.
Vindictiveness and slander are so universally meted out to anti-Zionists because the disparity between the official fiction about Zionism and the Israeli state, on the one hand, and the barbarous practice of this colonial ideology and coercive apparatus, on the other, is so vast. People are in shock when they have an opportunity to hear or read about the century of persecution suffered by the Palestinians, and, thus, the apologists for Zionism are relentless in seeking to prevent coherent, dispassionate examination of the virulent and chauvinist record of the Zionist movement and of the state which embodies its values.
The irony of this is that when we study what the Zionists have written and said – particularly when addressing themselves – no doubt remains about what they have done or of their place in the political spectrum, dating from the last quarter of the 19th century to the present day.
Four overriding myths have shaped the consciousness of most people in our society about Zionism.
The first is that of “A land without a people for a people without a land.” This myth was sedulously cultivated by early Zionists to promote the fiction that Palestine was a remote, desolate place ready for the taking. This claim was quickly followed by denial of Palestinian identity, nationhood or legitimate entitlement to the land in which the Palestinian people have lived throughout their recorded history.
The second is the myth of Israeli democracy. Innumerable newspaper stories or television references to the Israeli state are followed by the assertion that it is the only “real” democracy in the Middle East. In fact, Israel is as democratic as the apartheid state of South Africa. Civil liberty, due process and the most basic human rights are by law denied those who do not meet racial, religious criteria.
The third myth is that of “security” as the motor force of Israeli foreign policy. Zionists maintain that their state must be the fourth largest military power in the world because Israel has been forced to defend itself against imminent menace from primitive, hate-consumed Arab masses only recently dropped from the trees.
The fourth myth is that of Zionism as the moral legatee of the victims of the Holocaust. This is at once the most pervasive and insidious of the myths about Zionism. Ideologues for the Zionist movement have wrapped themselves in the collective shroud of the six million Jews who fell victim to Nazi mass murder. The bitter and cruel irony of this false claim is that the Zionist movement itself actively colluded with Nazism from its inception.
To most people it appears anomalous that the Zionist movement, which forever invokes the horror of the Holocaust, should have collaborated actively with the most vicious enemy ever faced by the Jews. The record, however, reveals not merely common interests but a deep ideological affinity rooted in the extreme chauvinism which they share.
The “hockey stick” temperature graph is a mainstay of global warming science. A new book tells of one man’s efforts to dismantle it—and deserves to win prizes!
Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion is one of the best science books in years. It exposes in delicious detail, datum by datum, how a great scientific mistake of immense political weight was perpetrated, defended and camouflaged by a scientific establishment that should now be red with shame. It is a book about principal components, data mining and confidence intervals—subjects that have never before been made thrilling. It is the biography of a graph.
I can remember when I first paid attention to the “hockey stick” graph at a conference in Cambridge. The temperature line trundled along with little change for centuries, then shot through the roof in the 20th century, like the blade of an ice-hockey stick. I had become somewhat of a sceptic about the science of climate change, but here was emphatic proof that the world was much warmer today; and warming much faster than at any time in a thousand years. I resolved to shed my doubts. I assumed that since it had been published in Nature—the Canterbury Cathedral of scientific literature—it was true.
I was not the only one who was impressed. The graph appeared six times in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s third report in 2001. It was on display as a backdrop at the press conference to launch that report. James Lovelock pinned it to his wall. Al Gore used it in his film (though describing it as something else and with the Y axis upside down). Its author shot to scientific stardom. “It is hard to overestimate how influential this study has been,” said the BBC. The hockey stick is to global warming what St Paul was to Christianity.
Of course, there is other evidence for global warming, but none of it proves that the recent warming is unprecedented. Indeed, quite the reverse: surface temperatures, sea levels, tree lines, glacier retreats, summer sea ice extent in the Arctic, early spring flowers, bird migration, droughts, floods, storms—they all show change that is no different in speed or magnitude from other periods, like 1910-1940, at least as far as can be measured. There may be something unprecedented going on in temperature, but the only piece of empirical evidence that actually says so—yes, the only one—is the hockey stick.
And the hockey stick is wrong. The emails that were leaked from the University of East Anglia late last year are not proof of this; they are merely the icing on the lake, proof that some of the scientists closest to the hockey stick knew all along that it was problematic. Andrew Montford’s book, despite its subtitle, is not about the emails, which are tagged on as a last chapter. It is instead built around the long, lonely struggle of one man— Stephen McIntyre—to understand how the hockey stick was made, with what data and what programs.
A retired mining entrepreneur with a mathematical bent, McIntyre asked the senior author of the hockey stick graph, Michael Mann, for the data and the programs in 2003, so he could check it himself. This was five years after the graph had been published, but Mann had never been asked for them before. McIntyre quickly found errors: mislocated series, infilled gaps, truncated records, old data extrapolated forwards where new was available, and so on.
Not all the data showed a 20th century uptick either. In fact just 20 series out of 159 did, and these were nearly all based on tree rings. In some cases, the same tree ring sets had been used in different series. In the end the entire graph got its shape from a few bristlecone and foxtail pines in the western United States; a messy tree-ring data set from the Gaspé Peninsula in Canada; another Canadian set that had been truncated 17 years too early called, splendidly, Twisted Tree Heartrot Hill; and a superseded series from Siberian larch trees. There were problems with all these series: for example, the bristlecone pines were probably growing faster in the 20th century because of more carbon dioxide in the air, or recovery after “strip bark” damage, not because of temperature change.
This was bad enough; worse was to come. Mann soon stopped cooperating, yet, after a long struggle, McIntyre found out enough about Mann’s programs to work out what he had done. The result was shocking. He had standardised the data by “short-centering” them—essentially subtracting them from a 20th century average rather than an average of the whole period. This meant that the principal component analysis “mined” the data for anything with a 20th century uptick, and gave it vastly more weight than data indicating, say, a medieval warm spell.
Well, it happens. People make mistakes in science. Corrections get made. That’s how it works, is it not? Few papers get such scrutiny as this had. But that is an even more worrying thought: how much dodgy science is being published without the benefit of an audit by Mcintyre’s ilk? As a long-time champion of science, I find the reaction of the scientific establishment more shocking than anything. The reaction was not even a shrug: it was shut-eyed denial.
If this had been a drug trial done by a pharmaceutical company, the scientific journals, the learned academies and the press would have soon have rushed to discredit it—and rightly so. Instead, they did not want to know. Nature magazine, which had published the original study, went out of its way to close its ears to McIntyre’s criticisms, even though they were upheld by the reviewers it appointed. So did the National Academy of Sciences in the US, even when two reports commissioned by Congress upheld McIntyre. So, of course, did the IPCC, which tied itself in knots changing its deadlines so it could include flawed references to refutations of McIntyre while ignoring complaints that it had misquoted him.
The IPCC has taken refuge in saying that other recent studies confirm the hockey stick but, if you take those studies apart, the same old bad data sets keep popping out: bristlecone pines and all. A new Siberian data series from a place called Yamal showed a lovely hockey stick but, after ten years of asking, McIntyre finally got hold of the data last autumn and found that it relied heavily on just one of just twelve trees, when far larger samples from the same area were available showing no uptick. Another series from Finnish lake sediments also showed a gorgeous hockey stick, but only if used upside down. McIntyre just keeps on exposing scandal after scandal in the way these data were analysed and presented.
Montford’s book is written with grace and flair. Like all the best science writers, he knows that the secret is not to leave out the details (because this just results in platitudes and leaps of faith), but rather to make the details delicious, even to the most unmathematical reader. I never thought I would find myself unable to put a book down because—sad, but true—I wanted to know what happened next in an r-squared calculation. This book deserves to win prizes.
Oh, and by the way, I have a financial interest in coal mining, though not as big as Al Gore has in carbon trading. Maybe you think it makes me biased. Read the book and judge for yourself.
The Hockey Stick Illusion is published by Stacey International, 482 pages, £10.99
Read what James Lovelock, Bjorn Lomborg, Ed Miliband and many other experts have to say about climate change in Prospect’s Copenhagen special
In the March 2010 issue of BioScience, researchers present a sophisticated new analysis of the effects of boosting use of maize-derived ethanol on greenhouse gas emissions. The study, conducted by Thomas W. Hertel of Purdue University and five co-authors, focuses on how mandated increases in production of the biofuel in the United States will trigger land-use changes domestically and elsewhere. In response to the increased demand for maize, farmers convert additional land to crops, and this conversion can boost carbon dioxide emissions.
The analysis combines ecological data with a global economic commodity and trade model to project the effects of US maize ethanol production on carbon dioxide emissions resulting from land-use changes in 18 regions across the globe. The researchers’ main conclusion is stark: These indirect, market-mediated effects on greenhouse gas emissions “are enough to cancel out the benefits the corn ethanol has on global warming.”
The indirect effects of increasing production of maize ethanol were first addressed in 2008 by Timothy Searchinger and his coauthors, who presented a simpler calculation in Science. Searchinger concluded that burning maize ethanol led to greenhouse gas emissions twice as large as if gasoline had been burned instead. The question assumed global importance because the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandates a steep increase in US production of biofuels over the next dozen years, and certifications about life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions are needed for some of this increase. In addition, the California Air Resources Board’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires including estimates of the effects of indirect land-use change on greenhouse gas emissions. The board’s approach is based on the work reported in BioScience.
Hertel and colleagues’ analysis incorporates some effects that could lessen the impact of land-use conversion, but their bottom line, though only one-quarter as large as the earlier estimate of Searchinger and his coauthors, still indicates that the maize ethanol now being produced in the United States will not significantly reduce total greenhouse gas emissions, compared with burning gasoline. The authors acknowledge that some game-changing technical or economic development could render their estimates moot, but sensitivity analyses undertaken in their study suggest that the findings are quite robust.
Read the full article (PDF)
The Mexican government is moving ahead with an ambititous new plan to surround the Lacandona Forest in Chiapas, Mexico, with oil palm plantations; while disguising the forest around the plantations with various eco-tourism sites.
In preparing for the two-faced project, the government—still in line with the old amibitous plan—and with the help of various corporations, is clearing the Rainforest of its Indigenous People.
The most recent evictions took place on Jan. 21 and 22 at the indigenous Tselales settlements of Laguna El Suspiro and Laguna San Pedro— “the last one a base community of the Zapatista rebel movement,” explains the WW4Report.
The Zapatista have since come forward to denounce the evictions, stating:
“The bad federal government, the PRD state government of Juan Sabines Guerrero and the municipal president of Ocosingo, Carlos Leon Solorsano Arcia, have carried out a military operation, including federal police accompanied by bad government officials of the Attorney General for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA). During the operation, four helicopters hovered over the community Laguna San Pedro, to scare the population.”
“Participating in this operation were police agents, the Mexican Army and government officials, as well as photographers and journalists of the government. They talked to the men and women, while the police took advantage of this to set the houses of the Zapatista support bases on fire.”
“How is it possible, that the bad government talks about dialogue, while its police and army burn down the belongings of the compañeros Zapatista support bases?”
The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center, Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada Human Rights Center, Serapaz and others have also denounced the evictions and demanded that the communities be compensated for their heavy loss.
They also warn that seven more communities are facing imminent eviction, including Nuevo San Gregorio, Nuevo Salvador Allende, Nuevo San Pedro, 6 de Octubre, Poblado Laguna El Suspiro, Ojo de Agua el Progreso and San Jacinto Lacanjá.
Throughout the current and previous administrations in Mexico, nearly fourty communities have been evicted from the Lacandona forest.
For more information, please visit Rainforest Rescue.
In a scene from American Radical, Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz debate at the studio of Democracy Now!.
One night about two weeks ago, while I was walking down Bleecker Street in New York City’s West Village, I crossed paths with Norman Finkelstein. He was wearing a light jacket and eating a banana, seemingly impervious to the bitter wind and heavy snowfall pouring from the sky. I told Finkelstein that a YouTube clip of him parrying attacks from Zionist student activists during a speech he gave at the University of Waterloo was gaining popularity online. “Well, that scene hasn’t been very good for me,” he remarked in a near whisper.
The YouTube clip was an excerpt from American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein, a riveting 2009 documentary that has just opened in US theaters. In the scene, a female student tells Finkelstein that his comparisons of the Israeli government to the Nazis are “extremely hurtful” before she breaks down in tears. Instead of offering the demonstrative young woman a token gesture of empathy, Finkelstein grows indignant, angrily dismissing what he called her “crocodile tears.” He then launches into a stentorian tirade about “the lessons of the Holocaust” he learned from his Holocaust survivor parents, booming above a chorus of heckles from pro-Israel students, “If you had any heart in you, you would be crying for the Palestinians!” While the young woman holds her head in hands as though she was bracing for an air raid, a substantial portion of the crowd leaps to its feet with wild cheers. Finkelstein may have regretted the spectacle he generates later on, but he seemed to be enjoying himself at the time.
With unfettered access to Finkelstein during the most dramatic stage of his career, American Radical directors David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier provide a compelling look at one of the most roundly vilified academics in recent American history. If the film had simply rehashed the tale of Finkelstein as a rabble-rousing iconoclast who defied the Jewish-American consensus to agitate for Palestinian civil rights, it would have been prosaic at best. But by giving equal time to Finkelstein’s critics, who proved unable to conceal their visceral disdain for him even though they have succeeded in isolating him from the intellectual mainstream, the film offers a devastating portrait of an academic establishment that will go to extraordinary lengths not only to rebut but destroy potent critics of Israel, even obviously idiosyncratic characters like Finkelstein. Even with his excessive tendencies and strident style on bold display, when seen in the shadow of his adversaries, Finkelstein appears more than odd — he becomes utterly sympathetic.
Finkelstein was raised in post-war Borough Park, Brooklyn, a community settled by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe whose sense of ambition and intellectual intensity far outweighed their interest in assimilating to American middle class cultural sensibilities. From her experience in the Warsaw Ghetto, Finkelstein’s mother, Mayla, developed ardently pacifist convictions — “with the first killing, you’ve already lost,” she stated. According to a family friend interviewed in the film, Finkelstein “was influenced by his mother to an unhealthy extent,” a critique even he acknowledged.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Finkelstein began to see the Palestinian refugees as victims of the same sort of brutality his mother endured. He is seen in American Radical protesting Israel’s occupation of Lebanon outside the Israeli consulate in New York City, holding a sign denouncing “Israeli Nazis” and invoking his parents’ enslavement in concentration camps. The film then detours to the West Bank, where Finkelstein made enduring friendships with several families in Hebron, deepening his commitment to the Palestinian cause in the process.
Finkelstein’s closest Palestinian friend, a pensive middle aged man named Musa Abu Hashhash, recalls being startled when Finkelstein cried openly after watching Israel troops shoot a boy to death for burning a tire. Another friend confesses on camera that Israel’s brutal actions against the Palestinians had caused her to hate Jews. But after Finkelstein befriended her, her perspective on Jews broadened, forcing her to rethink her resentment. She added with admiration that Finkelstein never attempted to disguise his Jewish identity while traveling through the West Bank. By presenting frank recollections from everyday Palestinians about their encounters with Finkelstein, American Radical subtly interweaves their struggle with his own.
While pursuing his PhD at Princeton, Finkelstein was mentored by his intellectual hero Noam Chomsky. Chomsky encouraged Finkelstein as he composed his thesis, which was intended to expose Joan Peters’ book, From Time Immemorial, as a hoax. Peters boasted that her work revealed the Palestinian cause as “a scam.” She claimed to have proven that Palestine was relatively unpopulated — “a land without a people,” as the saying goes — until Arabs flocked there from other regions during the 19th century. Cultural icons from Elie Wiesel to Barbara Tuchman hailed Peters’ book as a great revelation. “It was the book American Jews wanted to have because it whitewashed Israel,” the Israeli revisionist historian Avi Shlaim recalls in American Radical.
While Immemorial shot to the top of the bestseller list, a few small left-wing journals published articles poking holes in Peters’ claims. But it was not until Finkelstein’s dissertation was published (over the strident objections of Princeton faculty members) that mainstream intellectuals were forced to reckon with Peters’ shoddy research and ideological zealotry. Chomsky told Finkelstein that by dismantling Peters, he would inadvertently expose the “American intellectual community as a gang of frauds.”
He warned, “They’re going to destroy you.”
As Finkelstein’s public profile grew, he sought out rancorous conflicts with increasing intensity. In 2000, he published the work that would inflame his adversaries to the point of blind rage: The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. Finkelstein argued that American Jewish groups and an assortment of venal “hoaxers and hucksters” were using the Holocaust “as an ideological weapon” to stifle criticism of Israel and line their own pockets. He skewered Wiesel for his insistence that the Holocaust was a quasi-religious event that could not possibly be understood and for downplaying the Armenian genocide. Though the renowned Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg called Finkelstein’s conclusions “moderate,” Finkelstein incited his critics through characteristically strident presentations.
Finkelstein’s book was lambasted by an array of distinguished scholars. More predictably, he was condemned as a “disgusting self-hating Jew” by Leon Wieseltier, the literary critic of The New Republic. (“We’re the cops,” Wieseltier told journalist Eric Alterman regarding the magazine’s role in suppressing criticism of Israel (“Semites and Anti-Semites,” The Nation, 25 February 2010).) Finally, Finkelstein’s employers at Hunter College reduced his course load and salary without explanation, forcing him to leave his hometown for Chicago, where he took a teaching position at DePaul University.
While providing a forum to Finkelstein’s most malevolent critics, American Radical suffers from the absence of Peter Novick, the University of Chicago professor who Finkelstein credited with providing “the initial stimulus” for The Holocaust Industry with the release in 1999 of his book The Holocaust in American Life. Novick had arrived at many of the same conclusions as Finkelstein would, however, when Finkelstein’s book appeared Novick dismissed it as “trash,” accusing its author of fabricating some of his findings. Pro-Israel “enforcers” like Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School immediately appropriated Novick’s criticisms to undermine Finkelstein, praising Novick as a voice of moderation when they might have attacked him had Finkelstein’s book never appeared.
Why was Finkelstein targeted when Novick was not? Perhaps Finkelstein, the unabashed radical, was the more convenient target. Or perhaps his book was judged to be a greater threat to the Zionist narrative. The film could have benefited by wrestling with this issue rather than glossing over it as though Finkelstein was the first to publicly accuse anyone of exploiting the Holocaust for political gain.
None of Finkelstein’s conflicts disrupted his career as much as his apocalyptic battle with Dershowitz. Dershowitz first appears in American Radical seated beside Finkelstein in a studio of the progressive radio program Democracy Now!, looking like a deer in the headlights as Finkelstein accuses him of plagiarizing large portions of his book The Case For Israel from Peters’ Immemorial. Later on in the film, Dershowitz pontificates on what he sees as Finkelstein’s hidden motivations, charging him and other anti-Zionist Jews with “struggling with identity problems.” The plagiarism accusation had clearly shaken Dershowitz to his core, challenging his sense of inviolability by forcing him to defend his scholarship down to the last footnote.
However, some of Finkelstein’s friends were rightly concerned that he had underestimated his foe’s vengeful propensity. Chomsky had warned his former understudy not to attack Dershowitz’s book on the basis of plagiarism, but to dismantle his propagandistic portrait of Israel as an unfairly persecuted bastion of democratic tolerance instead. And John Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago political scientist who was falsely accused by Dershowitz of quoting neo-Nazi sources in his book The Israel Lobby (see the scholar’s response in the London Review of Books, 11 May 2006), urged Finkelstein to “get all the hot rhetoric out of there.” Meanwhile, an Israeli friend of Finkelstein was convinced he had signed away his future. “He called Dershowitz a plagiarist and a liar,” she remarks in the film. “What did he expect him to do? Doesn’t he know the kind of connections he has?”
When Finkelstein was rejected for tenure at DePaul after a long and stormy battle that marshaled much of the faculty behind him in the name of academic freedom, the dean of the college, Charles Suchar, wrote a revealing letter blaming Finkelstein’s “personal and reputation demeaning attacks on Alan Dershowitz” and other Zionist intellectual figures. Having lost confidence in his public case against Finkelstein, Dershowitz had resorted to skullduggery, apparently tapping his connections to deliver the coup de grace to Finkelstein’s career as a professor. But as American Radical shows, antagonists like Dershowitz ultimately transformed Finkelstein from a gadfly into a victim hero, ensuring him an international platform for as long as the Israel-Palestine conflict continues.
For more information about American Radical: the trials of Norman Finkelstein visit
Max Blumenthal (
) is a senior writer for The Daily Beast.
“Some people would think you’re part of the lunatic fringe.” – Chris Bury, ABC News, March 6, 2010, interviewing the producers of Loose Change.
“The only thing novel about Mr. Fujita is that a man so susceptible to the imaginings of the lunatic fringe happens to occupy a notable position in the governing apparatus of a nation that boasts the world’s second-largest economy.” – Washington Post editorial, March 8, 2010
The daily right-wing “talking points” distributed to the Limbaughs, Hannitys et al of the conservative media are, by now, so well understood that they’ve become material for the political humor of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. One has come to expect such wording from the likes of the Fox Channel. When one hears an unlikely phrase like “going rogue” coming out of half a dozen rightist mouths within a the space of a few hours, it’s no longer surprising. Just another “fair and balanced” day.
The fact that such slanderous language as “lunatic fringe” (Bury repeated it in his ABC report with another interviewee) is now coming from such major “mainstream” sources when referencing the 9/11 Truth Movement is more worrisome, because it indicates a rising level of concern within politically powerful elements for an issue based on such a collective of lies that it is simply not going away. Regarding the journalistic objectivity demonstrated in ABC’s edited Nightline report, you can judge for yourself:
A few observations about ABC and the Post:
The convention covered by Mr. Bury included scientists and engineers from Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth who were available for interview. One could see their banner in the background as Bury interviewed a musician. ABC chose to make an association between the Truth Movement and a deranged gunman while ignoring the scientists just a few yards away who could have discussed with authority the physical impossibility of the “official” story and the importance of thermite residue in dust samples. That fact, all by itself, tells a very unlovely story about the journalistic integrity and the personal ethics of decision makers at ABC.
There is something pathetic about Mr. Bury, because, well, he’s such a classic example. While the authors of the Post’s piece can hide behind the anonymous “editorial”, Bury is right there on camera in the role of corrupt journalist. His line of questioning of the two filmmakers was, of course, indefensible, and somehow it showed in closeups of his face that he knew exactly what he was doing.
The Post’s editorial attacking Japanese politician Yukihisa Fujita is amazing in its invective: “…bizarre, half-baked and intellectually bogus;… a man susceptible to the imaginings of the lunatic fringe…”. How on earth can the editorialists at this late date be unaware of the top level personnel all over the globe who share Fujita’s views and who have been absolutely open about it? “We have no reason to believe that Mr. Fujita’s views are widely shared in Japan.” Really? Better look again, and not just in Japan.
The Post editorial reads like a direct threat to the Japanese government. After asserting that Fujita’s views “seem to reflect a strain of anti-American thought that runs through the DPJ and the government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama”, the writer(s) end with a warning that the U.S-Japan relationship “will be severely tested if Mr. Hatoyama tolerates elements of his own party as reckless and fact-averse as Mr. Fujita.” Ironic, isn’t it, the reference to “fact averse”.
As people look more closely at the official story, more gaping holes become obvious. It will be interesting to see how what we call the “Mainstream Media” will deal with this global 9/11Truth Movement as it keeps gaining strength.
Another night-time raid on a housing compound in Afghanistan. Another bunch of innocent Afghans killed. Another round of lies by the US-led forces of the so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Only this time, among the dead are two pregnant mothers and a teenage girl.
And once again the US media remain mute, accepting the official story, which was of ISAF forces responding to an attack which in reality appears never to have happened.
Before I started to write this piece, which once again was broken by the intrepid Jerome Starkey, a reporter in Afghanistan who works for the Times of London, I thought maybe I should read the Sunday edition of the New York Times, to see whether America’s “paper of record” had reported on this latest atrocity. But the night before we had suffered a heavy storm that knocked down three large trees in my front yard, and there was currently a thunderstorm underway, with rain pouring down, so I decided, what the hell, I’ll just write it. There’s no way the Times would cover this story.
I was right, of course. When the rain let up, and I went out and got the paper, and scoured it for word of this latest obscene slaughter by US forces, I found nothing. The Times’ reporters in Afghanistan and the reporters in the paper’s Washington bureau who cover the Pentagon had ignored it. So, a Google search discloses, did the rest of the servile US media.
So what actually happened?
According to Starkey, US and Afghan Army forces on February 12 launched a pre-dawn assault on the home of a prominent and popular policeman’s home just outside of Gardez, the capital of Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan. The first person to die was reportedly the policeman himself, Commander Dawood, who had stood in his doorway protesting the innocence of his family. In the volley of fire directed against him by the brave US-led team, his pregnant wife, another pregnant woman and an 18-year-old girl were also slaughtered.
Commander Dawood had been hosting a party to celebrate the naming of a newborn baby boy, Starkey reported. As he writes:
Sitting together along the walls of a guest room, the men had taken turns dancing while musicians played. Mohammed Sediq Mahmoudi, 24, the singer, said that at some time after 3am one of the musicians, Dur Mohammed, went outside to go to the toilet. “Someone shone a light on his face and he ran back inside and said the Taliban were outside,” Mr Sediq said.
Also killed was Dawood’s brother, Saranwal Zahir, a local prosecutor, who had been shouting for soldiers not to shoot as women had run outside to tend to the wounded.
A younger brother of the two men, Mohammed Sabir, was arrested by the invading forces and brought to a US base, where he was held for several days and interrogated by “ an American in civilian clothes,” before being released. Sabir said he was shown photos of a man who had been at the party, a certain Shamsuddin. Sabir says he told the interrogatyor, “Yes, he was at the party. Why didn’t you arrest him?” The man in question, Shamsuddin, later turned himself in and was, after questioning, reportedly also released.
Raising the question, what was this raid, and all the pointless killing, about in the first place?
As Starkey writes, the US and the ISAF initially, following what appears to be standard operating procedure, concocted a lie about the incident In a release immediately afterward, under the headline, “Joint force operating in Gardez makes gruesome discovery,” the NATO release claimed that the US-led team had found the women’s bodies “tied up, gagged and killed” in a room. That statement went on to say: “Several insurgents engaged the joint force in a firefight and were killed.”
As Starkey, who charges NATO with a “coverup,” reports: “The family, however, insists that no one threw so much as a stone.”
He goes on:
Rear Admiral Greg Smith, NATO’s director of communications in Kabul, denied that there had been any attempt at a cover-up. He said that both the men who were killed were armed and showing “hostile intent” but admitted “they were not the targets of this particular raid.”
“I don’t know if they fired any rounds,” he said. “If you have got an individual stepping out of a compound, and if your assault force is there, that is often the trigger to neutralise the individual. You don’t have to be fired upon to fire back.”
He admitted that the original statement had been “poorly worded” but said “to people who see a lot of dead bodies” the women had appeared at the time to have been dead for several hours.
Starkey reports that the Americans offered the distraught family $2000 per victim of the botched raid. But as the mother of the slain brothers, Bibi Sabsparie, told him bitterly, “There’s no value on human life. They killed our family, then they came and brought us money. Money won’t bring our family back.”
So once again, we have a massacre (in a night-time raid that occurred two weeks after the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, ordered an end to the practice because of the number of errors and civilian deaths, and the bad public relations such raids cause among Afghans), with no coverage by the US media.
Meanwhile, Starkey says that even in the UK, his stories have been ignored by the rest of the British media, and that his own efforts to get at the truth have begun causing problems with the US-led military command in Afghanistan.
As he told one reader who had written him to congratulate him on his work:
Word in Kabul is that NATO are turning their wrath on me, personally, and about to release a rebuttal. All of a sudden it’s a daunting prospect and more than ever I feel what it must be like to be churned through the military machine. It’s good to know people appreciate it. I’ve also had emails from the victims’ family, which is heartening.
It is not easy to be an honest reporter in wartime, where sycophancy and blind patriotism are what is demanded. Sadly, the US media are taking the easy way out, accepting the rules of being embedded, which require them to submit articles for censorship, to avoid being critical and to play the game, in return for getting easy human interest stories to send back to the readers and viewers back home.
That’s not journalism. It’s PR. It ought to be labeled as such.
Extra! Also ignored by the Times and most of the rest of the US corporate media was a historic decision by a federal judge in Chicago on March 4 to compel former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to respond to charges by to US torture victims that Rumsfeld authorized their torture by US forces at Camp Cropper in Iraq. The two men, David Vance and Nathan Ertel, were whistleblowers against the private security (mercenary) firm that had hired them, claiming it was secretly providing arms to insurgents. Instead of getting the firm investigated, they were arrested by US troops and held–and tortured, they claim–for three months, before being released without charge and sent home to the US.
Their attorney, Mike Kanovitz of Chicago’s Loevy & Loevy, correctly calls the quashing of Rumsfeld’s effort to have the suit against him thrown out, “pretty historic”–a former secretary of defense is being accused of authorizing the torture of American citizens and will have to answer the charge in a federal court–but you wouldn’t know it from the response of the US mainstream media, which has been…nothing.
Bethlehem – Dozens of masked soldiers raided the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Ni’ilin Monday morning to post decrees designating the village’s lands closed military zones on Fridays for a period of six months, residents said.
The areas between the wall and built up villages will be declared closed military zones every Friday between 8am and 8pm for six months, the military decrees read.
According to a statement issued by Bil’in’s Popular Committee, the move comes one week after the head of the Israeli Shin Bet threatened to step-up action against the Palestinian popular struggle in the two villages that see weekly protests against the separation wall’s construction.
The Popular Committee said the decrees went into effect on 17 February, before their distribution, and were signed by Commander of the Israeli Central Command Avi Mizrahi.
According to the Israeli army spokesperson’s unit, “The closed military zone order in the area between the security fence and the villages of Naalin [sic] and Bilin was signed three weeks ago in hopes of preventing the arrival of inciting elements,” the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharanoth wrote.
“The order does not apply to the residents of the villages and they will be allowed to move freely.”
Israeli citizens and international passport holders will not be allowed access to the area according to the decree, which includes the area where weekly protests are held.
Lawyer Gaby Lasky, who represents residents of the villages, told the Popular Committee, that “this is yet another illegal measure taken by the Army, which makes ill use of its authority in order to suppress dissent and infringe on the already volatile freedom of speech in the Territories. Closed military zone orders are not meant to deal with demonstrations, which are clearly in the civic rather than the military realm.”
The statement said the issuing of the decrees happens amidst an ongoing persecution campaign against Palestinian activists in an attempt to suppress “the rising tide of West Bank popular resistance to the Occupation,” which include the detention of 17 Israeli activists in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, on Friday as they protested home evictions in the area.
Photo from the Popular Committee
dated 15 March 2010 shows
an Israeli soldier posting the notices
[MaanImages/Popular Committee, HO]
Israeli security forces announced that a full closure on the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank would be extended until Tuesday, supposedly to protect a group of Israeli settlers as they begin construction of a Jewish synagogue on stolen Palestinian land in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The announcement was made Saturday night by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in the midst of a number of violent attacks by Israeli soldiers and police against unarmed Palestinians. A non-violent demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem was met by a violent response from Israeli troops, including tear gas and concussion grenades. Israeli troops also fired tear gas and concussion grenades at Palestinians waiting at a checkpoint into Jerusalem on Saturday.
While Barak termed these incidents ‘riots’, witnesses at each of the events confirmed that Israeli troops fired unprovoked at unarmed Palestinian civilians.
The Israeli security forces have also banned Palestinian men and boys under the age of 50 from attending services at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. These age restrictions are common occurrences, which Palestinian Muslims say violate their freedom of religion and freedom to worship.
Non-violent protests have sprung up in various places in the West Bank over the last several days, following the Israeli government’s announcement that they had approved over 1600 new units to be constructed in Jewish-only settlements on stolen Palestinian land in East Jerusalem.