I decided I needed to do a refresher on basic Old Testament material. I reread the entire books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I doubt if many folks have read these two documents, but they are in the Bible, so they must be worthy of our attention.
The material is not unfamiliar to me, but I was jarred anew at the absurdity and the violence, that are contained in the two books. The Ten Commandments and commands to love God and neighbor are found in these writings, but they are not the central themes of the two books.
The first portion of Leviticus lays out detailed instructions about the slaying and burning of animals to appease and please God. Not exactly a topic of current interest.
If a sacrifice was properly executed, sins were forgiven and the odor of the burnt meat was pleasing to the nostrils of God. Other portions of Leviticus describe how priests practiced health care and what a woman must do to become “clean” after giving birth to a child.
The last chapters are known as “The Holiness Code” and describe the details of the life that is acceptable to God. Blasphemy is out. Sabbath keeping is in. Permanent ownership of land is out. Keeping feast days is in.
Slavery is in. Men lying with men is out. Adultery is out, as is incest. Loving your neighbor is in. Cloth woven with two different kinds of yarn is out. Tithing is demanded. Loaning money for interest is out. Eating pork is out.
Even the most ardent Fundamentalist picks and chooses what to embrace and what to reject from these ancient rules written hundreds of years after Moses and hundred of years before Jesus.
Deuteronomy has a different character. The book is a retelling of the basic Moses/Law story with an emphasis on the blessings of obedience to God’s law and the consequences of disobedience.
The Ten Commandments are repeated and the details of the righteous life are spelled out. Some items are redundant to Leviticus. Obedience to God’s laws is a big concern, and long passages lay out the consequences of disobedience.
In the 14th chapter the unbending nature of God’s law and the severity of punishment for disobedience are made plain.
“If your brother, or your son, or your daughter, or your wife, or your friend, who is as your own soul, entices you by saying ‘let us go and serve other Gods,’ you shall not yield to him or listen to him, but you shall kill him.
“You shall take the lead and the hand of all the people shall join you. You shall stone him to death because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God.”
This is dangerous material in the hands of a religious Fundamentalist. And another example:
In the retelling of the story of the Israelites, the Deuteronomy writer reports that the conquering Israelites entered Palestine from the south, in obedience to the instructions of Jehovah God.
They “captured all the cities and utterly destroyed them and all men, women, and children. We left none remaining.”
This report of violent destruction is repeated and the violence was justified each time because they were taking land that had been given to them by God. Never mind that people had been living there for centuries.
As I read about the strange rituals of Leviticus and the harsh, seemingly senseless injustice and violence of Deuteronomy, I reacted strongly. This does not describe the moral and ethical life that I embrace as a follower of Jesus from Nazareth.
I am not alone in my protest. Micah was a prophet who was contemporary with the animal sacrifice system described in Leviticus. Micah was outraged.
He wrote, “With what will I come before the Lord? Shall I come with burnt offerings? Shall I come with year old calves? Will the Lord be pleased with ten thousand rams? The Lord has shown people what is good and what he requires. Do justice! Love mercy! Walk humbly with your God!”
Jeremiah and Isaiah also were protest prophets. They too were contemporary with people who sought moral comfort through ritual and ignored justice in favor of might.
It is my understanding that Jesus was a prophet, who took up the mantle of Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and carried the protest tradition of the Bible in his own day.
In 2009, I have become wary of saying “The Lord’s Prayer” too many times, of singing “The Star Spangled Banner” too many times, of reciting creeds and confessions of faith too many times, of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance too many times.
I believe they deaden the very senses that are needed to make me a better Christian, a better American and a better contributor to a more just world. I cannot believe building a bigger, more effective military, that can lose fewer of us and kill more of them, is the answer to a safer world.
What should I read next? Revelation?
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is email@example.com.
By Irina Galushko | RT | November 26, 2009
The message is clear – we are all going to die from swine flu. It spreads fast, it is dangerous, and it must be feared – says the World Health Organization.
But worry not – there is a way to save yourself. Just get a flu shot – and purchase a remedy for the deadly virus. Those are the instructions from the WHO.
However, the WHO may find itself coughing up explanations, as more and more scientists and health researchers, and even journalists, are starting to question the organization’s motives behind raising the alert so quickly.
According to the Danish Daily Information newspaper, the WHO and pharmaceutical companies are suffering from the profit bug. Or, to put it simply, the chief health care organization in the world has teamed up with the drug makers to create a phantom monster – and to rake in cash by selling a remedy for it.
Plastered all over the front pages and headlines news, swine flu made its triumphant entrance into limelight, heralded as the next “in” virus, which threatened to bring an end to humanity as we know it.
Let’s stop right there and talk numbers for a little bit.
So far, more than 3.5 million people have been reported to be infected with swine flu worldwide. More than 9,000 deaths have been confirmed.
In comparison: every year, up to one billion people get infected with seasonal flu, with up to 500 million deaths. These numbers come from the World Health Organization, but they never make headline news for some reason.
On June 11 of this year, the WHO declared swine flu a pandemic. But few know that, right before doing that, the Organization changed its definition, taking out the word “deadly” from it.
Aleksander Saversky, the chair of the Patient’s Rights Protection League, was one of those who did pay attention. He says it is clear that the WHO dramatized the situation around the H1N1 virus. In an interview to RT, Saversky speculated that it is due to the WHO’s close ties with the world’s major pharmaceutical companies.
And recently, Danish journalists conducted their own research, which resulted in accusations that the WHO, and scientists who appear to be independent are, in fact, on pharmaceutical companies’ payroll.
Saversky points out that the WHO declared the status of pandemic when only a few thousand people were infected with it – something that is highly illogical, he says, considering the hundred thousand more cases of seasonal flu never gets paid such high attention.
The virus was reported to be extremely deadly. Parallels were drawn to the Spanish Flu, which killed roughly 50 million people worldwide in the span of six months.
As panic spread, people rushed to clinics for Tamiflu – $145 a pop and by prescription only in the US – and for vaccinations, which range anywhere from $10 to $50. And despite the fact that many have lost their jobs in the financial crisis, and were left without health insurance, vaccinations and pharmaceutical sales skyrocketed. Nobody wants to die a grisly death from the supposedly new virus.
Aleksander Saversky warns the hullaballoo over swine flu is akin to the fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” He says that, because of this hype, the next time a truly dangerous virus comes about, no one will take any precautions. Fooled once already by swine flu, people will ignore the warnings and fall prey to a more dangerous – and deadly virus.
In fact, vaccinating people from swine flu during the seasonal flu outbreak, in Saversky’s opinion, is criminal. People end up having to battle two viruses at the same time, which puts an enormous strain on the immune system.
Saversky puts the blame on capitalism – pharmaceutical companies make billions on people’s fears, combined with asymmetrical information dispersal (meaning that most people know very little substantial information about the virus, whereas the WHO, pharmaceutical companies and researchers know a lot more).
So, what’s to be done to conquer the virus – and stop the WHO?
Saversky says there is one solution – for governments worldwide to step in and take matters into their own hands, by controlling healthcare and pharmaceutical production.
Until that happens, however, remember to check for all common flu symptoms. And should a general disinclination to work of any kind be among them, rest assured – it is most probably a run-of-the-mill case of the Monday Blues.
By Gilad Atzmon | October 6, 2009
The question of “who is a Jew?” has been debated in Israel since it attained statehood. In the Jewish state the authorities, Rabbis and the media would dig into one’s bloodline with no shame whatsoever. For the Israelis and orthodox Jews, Jewishness is obviously a blood related concept. However, Jewishness and blood concerns are becoming a subject of a growing debate in the UK. In the last few days The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian are trying to decide whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a ‘self hating Jew’ or just an ordinary anti-Semite. Like the Israeli Rabbis they both dig into his bloodline.
Ahmadinejad is revealed to have a ‘Jewish past’ said the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. According to the paper, a photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 “clearly” suggests that his family had Jewish roots. The Telegraph even found the ‘experts’ who suggested that “Mr Ahmadinejad’s track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.” Needless to say that Ahmadinejad has never come on record with a single anti-Jewish ‘hate- filled’ attack as the Telegraph suggests. He is indeed extremely critical of the Jewish state and its raison d’etre. He is also highly critical of the crude and manipulative mobilisation of the holocaust at the expense of the Palestinian people.
One may wonder why a Western media outlet happens to selectively engage with issues to do with the racial or ethnic origin of the Iranian president. At the end of the day, digging into peoples ethnic past and family bloodline is not a common practice you expect from the Western press. It is something you tend to leave for racists, Nazis and Rabbis. For one reason or another, no one in the so called free press tried to dwell on the close ties between multibillion swindler Bernie Maddof and his tribe. The ‘free press’ saved itself also from dealing with Wolfowitz’s ethnicity, in spite of the fact that the Zionist war he brought on us has cost 1.5 million lives by now. If you wonder how it is that the Western free media is reverting to ‘pathology’ in order to deal with a Muslim president, the answer is simple not to say trivial:
The so called ‘liberal West’ is yet to find the answers to President Ahmadinejad within the realm of reason. It lacks the argumentative capacity to address Ahmadinejad. Instead, it insists to spin banal racially orientated ideas that cannot hold water, “By making anti-Israeli statements” says The Daily Telegraph, “he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections.” The truth of the matter is clear. Ahmadinejad has already managed to re-direct a floodlight of reasoning and skepticism just to enlighten our darkest corner of hypocrisy. He somehow manages to remind us all what thinking is all about.
It is pretty much impossible to deny the fact that Ahmadinejad’s take on the holocaust and Israel is coherent, consistent and valid. He seems to have three main issues with the narrative:
1. Around sixty Million died in WWII, the vast majority of them were innocent civilians. How is it, asks Ahmadinejad, that we insist to concentrate on the particularity of the suffering of one ‘very’ specific group of people i.e. the Jews?
2. The Iranian president rightly maintains that this historical chapter must be historically examined. This would mean as well that every event in the past should be subject to scrutiny, elaboration and revision. “If we allow ourselves to question God and the Prophets, we may as well allow ourselves to question the holocaust.”
3. Regardless of the truthfulness of the holocaust, it is not a trivial fact that the suffering of the Jews in Europe had nothing to do with the Palestinian people. Hence, there is no reason for the Palestinians to pay for crimes committed by others. If some Western Leaders feel guilty for crimes committed against the Jews by their ancestors, which they seem to claim, they better allocate some land for the Jews within their territories rather than expect the Palestinians to keep upholding the Zionist murderous burden.
As much as it is obviously clear that the above points raised by Ahmadinejad are totally valid, it is also painfully transparent that the West lacks the means to address those issues. Instead we seem to revert to supremacy and pseudo scientific discourse dwelling on blood, pathology and lame psychoanalysis.
As embarrassing as it may seem, in just three moves Ahmadinejad manages to expose the current deceptive Western mode of discussion. He, in fact identifies the holocaust as the core of our hypocritical stand, a tendency that has managed to shatter our ethical judgment. The holocaust was there to divert the attention from the colossal crimes committed by the allies: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden are just brief examples of institutionalized genocide at the hands of the English Speaking Empire. The holocaust has successfully matured into a new religion. Yet, it lacks theology. It doesn’t allow any form of criticism or reformism. It is in fact an anti-Western religion inspired by hate and vengeance. It is dark, it is blind and it lacks mercy and compassion. It is a faith that declares an assault on any form of doubt. It is a crude brutal belief system that stands in opposition to the notions of liberty and goodness. As if this is not enough, those who subscribe to this religion are complicit in an ongoing assault against grace and peace.
As things stand at the moment, The British media is yet to decide whether Ahmadinejad is a ‘Jew rebel’ or just a ‘Meshugena Goy’. The Guardian was very quick to publish its own take on the subject refuting the Telegraph’s account. However, one thing is clear, neither the Guardian nor the Telegraph or any other so called ‘free media’ outlets are free enough to address the questions raised by Ahmadinejad.
1. Why only the Jews?
2. Why do you all say NO to scrutinizing the past?
3. Why do the Palestinians have to pay the price?
Instead of engaging in these crucial elementary questions. The British main papers succumb to racially orientated bloodline digging.
Rather than following the banal Zionist query ‘who is a Jew?’ I suggest that we take the discourse one step further and ask a very simple question: What Jewishness stands for?
Ed Miliband, UK Labour Party leader and younger brother of former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, has just been on a visit to Israel and occupied Palestine. Ed, who is Jewish, is a wannabe prime minister. And he may succeed in taking the top job next year if Agent Cameron continues annoying the voting public.
A BBC report tells us that Miliband and his wife Justine “were shown where the rockets are fired which rain down on this Israeli town of Sderot.
“They visited a playgroup which looks like many you would see in the UK, until you realise the kids are playing inside instead of outside as they would not be safe under the deep blue sky and are only so under a roof of reinforced concrete.”
The BBC, as usual when reporting on Israel, jettisons journalistic principles and fails to present a balanced, factual picture. How many Israeli children have actually been killed by garden-shed rockets “raining down” from Gaza? And how safe are Palestinian children from the frequent Israeli air-strikes? How many have been slaughtered by Israel’s state-of-the-art missiles, bombs, tank shells and other ordnance? I’ll start them off… 1520 Palestinian children killed and around 6,000 injured since the year 2000.
Dr Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, underscored the situation in this chilling statement: “They [the Israelis] have legitimised the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine. They have legitimised the destruction of their synagogues and their schools by hitting our mosques and our schools.” Al-Zahar knows all about a father’s grief. He has been the target of assassination attempts. His two sons were killed and his daughter injured in Israeli raids. Why doesn’t the BBC go interview him?
The fact is, Sderot is vital to Israel’s propaganda effort. It is an important plank in the regime’s attempt to justify the bloodshed it has inflicted on the people of Gaza. The Israelis use it ad nauseam to brainwash the media and their own people. And Miliband apparently accepts it all.
When Western politicians are hustled along to Sderot does it never occur to them to ask, what right have the Israelis to be here? If they did a little homework they would know that Sderot is built on the lands of a Palestinian village called Najd, which was ethnically cleansed by Jewish militia in 1948 before Israel was declared a state and before any Arab armies entered Palestine. The 600+ villagers, were forced to flee for their lives. Britain was on watch as the mandated government while this and many other atrocities were committed by Jewish terrorists.
Najd was just one of 418 Palestinian villages and towns wiped off the map by Zionist Jews. It was not even allocated to the Jews in the 1947 UN Partition Plan but they seized it all the same and bulldozed its 82 homes. There is no American that I know, or Briton, who would stand for being thrown out of his home by foreign thugs.
Palestinian Arabs owned over 90 percent of the land in Najd and, according to UN Resolution 194 and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they have a right to return home. But, as we have come to expect, Israel refuses to recognise the rights of others and will not allow them back.
The inhabitants of Najd, one supposes, became refugees in the nearby Gaza camps. The irony is that the sons and grandsons of some of those displaced and dispossessed families are very likely manning the rocket launchers…. Well, wouldn’t you?
And who but an Israeli would be so arrogant as to live on land stolen from their neighbour at gun-point… and demand to be left in peace?
In a statement Ed Miliband told Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East: “If elected leader of the Labour Party, I would visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority and take a first-hand look at what is happening on the ground in Gaza.” At a reception later, he said: “I did say I would make a visit to see for myself the situation and I promise to do that.”
Martin Linton, Director of LFPME, remarked: “We are glad that Ed has said he will go and see the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza for himself. It is difficult for anyone to understand just how desperate the situation is until they have seen it for themselves…”
Did Ed Miliband drop in on Gaza for coffee with Dr Al-Zahar and Prime Minister Haniyeh? No. Instead of seeing the situation first hand as promised, he accepted whatever tosh came out of Israel’s propaganda machine. So, was he prevented from visiting Gaza by Netanyahu, or did he plain forget?
Do let us know, Ed.
When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.
The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.
Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.
Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.
The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”
The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.
But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a December 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.
The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.
Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.
Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed December 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.
And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”
The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.
But the order allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.
The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.
The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.
The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.
That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.
Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.
The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.
The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”
The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”
That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”
On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.
Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.
The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.
It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does not constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.
On 50th anniversary, Archive posts new Kennedy Tape Transcripts on coup plotting against Brazilian President Joao Goulart
Robert Kennedy characterized Goulart as a “wily politician” who “figures he’s got us by the —.”
Declassified White House records chart genesis of regime change effort in Brazil
Washington, DC – Almost two years before the April 1, 1964, military takeover in Brazil, President Kennedy and his top aides began seriously discussing the option of overthrowing Joao Goulart’s government, according to Presidential tape transcripts posted by the National Security Archive on the 50th anniversary of the coup d’tat. “What kind of liaison do we have with the military?” Kennedy asked top aides in July 1962. In March 1963, he instructed them: “We’ve got to do something about Brazil.”
The tape transcripts advance the historical record on the U.S. role in deposing Goulart — a record which remains incomplete half a century after he fled into exile in Uruguay on April 1, 1964. “The CIA’s clandestine political destabilization operations against Goulart between 1961 and 1964 are the black hole of this history,” according to the Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project director, Peter Kornbluh, who called on the Obama administration to declassify the still secret intelligence files on Brazil from both the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.
Revelations on the secret U.S. role in Brazil emerged in the mid 1970s, when the Lyndon Johnson Presidential library began declassifying Joint Chiefs of Staff records on “Operation Brother Sam” — President Johnson’s authorization for the U.S. military to covertly and overtly supply arms, ammunition, gasoline and, if needed, combat troops if the military’s effort to overthrow Goulart met with strong resistance. On the 40th anniversary of the coup, the National Security Archive posted audio files of Johnson giving the green light for military operations to secure the success of the coup once it started.
“I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do,” President Johnson instructed his aides regarding U.S. support for a coup as the Brazilian military moved against Goulart on March 31, 1964.
But Johnson inherited his anti-Goulart, pro-coup policy from his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. Over the last decade, declassified NSC records and recently transcribed White House tapes have revealed the evolution of Kennedy’s decision to create a coup climate and, when conditions permitted, overthrow Goulart if he did not yield to Washington’s demand that he stop “playing” with what Kennedy called “ultra-radical anti-Americans” in Brazil’s government. During White House meetings on July 30, 1962, and on March 8 and 0ctober 7, 1963, Kennedy’s secret Oval Office taping system recorded the attitude and arguments of the highest U.S. officials as they strategized how to force Goulart to either purge leftists in his government and alter his nationalist economic and foreign policies or be forced out by a U.S.-backed putsch.
Indeed, the very first Oval Office meeting that Kennedy secretly taped, on July 30, 1962, addressed the situation in Brazil. “I think one of our important jobs is to strengthen the spine of the military,” U.S. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon told the President and his advisor, Richard Goodwin. “To make clear, discreetly, that we are not necessarily hostile to any kind of military action whatsoever if it’s clear that the reason for the military action is… [Goulart's] giving the country away to the…,” “Communists,” as the president finished his sentence. During this pivotal meeting, the President and his men decided to upgrade contacts with the Brazilian military by bringing in a new US military attaché-Lt. Col. Vernon Walters who eventually became the key covert actor in the preparations for the coup. “We may very well want them [the Brazilian military] to take over at the end of the year,” Goodwin suggested, “if they can.” (Document 1)
By the end of 1962, the Kennedy administration had indeed determined that a coup would advance U.S. interests if the Brazilian military could be mobilized to move. The Kennedy White House was particularly upset about Goulart’s independent foreign policy positions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although Goulart had assisted Washington’s efforts to avoid nuclear Armageddon by acting as a back channel intermediary between Kennedy and Castro — a top secret initiative uncovered by George Washington University historian James G. Hershberg — Goulart was deemed insufficiently supportive of U.S. efforts to ostracize Cuba at the Organization of American States. On December 13, Kennedy told former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek that the situation in Brazil “worried him more than that in Cuba.”
On December 11, 1962, the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) of the National Security Council met to evaluate three policy alternatives on Brazil: A. “do nothing and allow the present drift to continue; B. collaborate with Brazilian elements hostile to Goulart with a view to bringing about his overthrow; C. seek to change the political and economic orientation of Goulart and his government.” [link to document 2] Option C was deemed “the only feasible present approach” because opponents of Goulart lacked the “capacity and will to overthrow” him and Washington did not have “a near future U.S. capability to stimulate [a coup] operation successfully.” Fomenting a coup, however “must be kept under active and continuous consideration,” the NSC options paper recommended.
Acting on these recommendations, President Kennedy dispatched a special envoy — his brother Robert — to issue a face-to-face de facto ultimatum to Goulart. Robert Kennedy met with Goulart at the Palacio do Alvarada in Brazilia on December 17, 1962. During the three-hour meeting, RFK advised Goulart that the U.S. had “the gravest doubts” about positive future relations with Brazil, given the “signs of Communist or extreme left-wing nationalists infiltration into civilian government positions,” and the opposition to “American policies and interests as a regular rule.” As Goulart issued a lengthy defense of his policies, Kennedy passed a note to Ambassador Gordon stating: “We seem to be getting no place.” The attorney general would later say that he came away from the meeting convinced that Goulart was “a Brazilian Jimmy Hoffa.”
Kennedy and his top aides met once again on March 7, 1963, to decide how to handle the pending visit of the Brazilian finance minister, Santiago Dantas. In preparation for the meeting, Ambassador Gordon submitted a long memo to the president recommending that if it proved impossible to convince Goulart to modify his leftist positions, the U.S. work “to prepare the most promising possible environment for his replacement by a more desirable regime.” (Document 5) The tape of this meeting (partially transcribed here for the first time by James Hershberg) focused on Goulart’s continuing leftward drift. Robert Kennedy urged the President to be more forceful toward Goulart: He wanted his brother to make it plain “that this is something that’s very serious with us, we’re not fooling around about it, we’re giving him some time to make these changes but we can’t continue this forever.” The Brazilian leader,” he continued, “struck me as the kind of wily politician who’s not the smartest man in the world … he figures that he’s got us by the—and that he can play it both ways, that he can make the little changes, he can make the arrangements with IT&T and then we give him some money and he doesn’t have to really go too far.” He exhorted the president to “personally” clarify to Goulart that he “can’t have the communists and put them in important positions and make speeches criticizing the United States and at the same time get 225-50 million dollars from the United States. He can’t have it both ways.”
As the CIA continued to report on various plots against Goulart in Brazil, the economic and political situation deteriorated. When Kennedy convened his aides again on October 7, he wondered aloud if the U.S. would need to overtly depose Goulart: “Do you see a situation where we might be—find it desirable to intervene militarily ourselves?” The tape of the October 7 meeting — a small part of which was recently publicized by Brazilian journalist Elio Gaspari, but now transcribed at far greater length here by Hershberg — contains a detailed discussion of various scenarios in which Goulart would be forced to leave. Ambassador Gordon urged the president to prepare contingency plans for providing ammunition or fuel to pro-U.S. factions of the military if fighting broke out. “I would not want us to close our minds to the possibility of some kind of discreet intervention,” Gordon told President Kennedy, “which would help see the right side win.”
Under Gordon’s supervision, over the next few weeks the U.S. embassy in Brazil prepared a set of contingency plans with what a transmission memorandum, dated November 22, 1963, described as “a heavy emphasis on armed intervention.” Assassinated in Dallas on that very day, President Kennedy would never have the opportunity to evaluate, let alone implement, these options.
But in mid-March 1964, when Goulart’s efforts to bolster his political powers in Brazil alienated his top generals, the Johnson administration moved quickly to support and exploit their discontent-and be in the position to assure their success. “The shape of the problem,” National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy told a meeting of high-level officials three days before the coup, “is such that we should not be worrying that the [Brazilian] military will react; we should be worrying that the military will not react.”
“We don’t want to watch Brazil dribble down the drain,” the CIA, White House and State Department officials determined, according to the Top Secret meeting summary, “while we stand around waiting for the [next] election.”
Document 1: White House, Transcript of Meeting between President Kennedy, Ambassador Lincoln Gordon and Richard Goodwin, July 30, 1962. (Published in The Presidential Recordings of John F. Kennedy, The Great Crises, Volume One (W.W. Norton), edited by Timothy Naftali, October 2001.)
The very first Oval Office meeting ever secretly taped by President Kennedy took place on July 30, 1962 and addressed the situation in Brazil and what to do about its populist president, Joao Goulart. The recording — it was transcribed and published in book The Presidential Recordings of John F. Kennedy, The Great Crises, Volume One — captures a discussion between the President, top Latin America aide Richard Goodwin and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon about beginning to set the stage for a future military coup in Brazil. The President and his men make a pivotal decision to appoint a new U.S. military attaché to become a liaison with the Brazilian military, and Lt. Col. Vernon Walters is identified. Walters later becomes the key covert player in the U.S. support for the coup. “We may very well want them [the Brazilian military] to take over at the end of the year,” Goodwin suggests, “if they can.”
Document 2: NSC, Memorandum, “U.S. Short-Term policy Toward Brazil,” Secret, December 11, 1962
In preparation for a meeting of the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) of the National Security Council, the NSC drafted an options paper with three policy alternatives on Brazil: A. “do nothing and allow the present drift to continue; B. collaborate with Brazilian elements hostile to Goulart with a view to bringing about his overthrow; C. seek to change the political and economic orientation of Goulart and his government.” Option C was deemed “the only feasible present approach” because opponents of Goulart lacked the “capacity and will to overthrow” him and Washington did not have “a near future U.S. capability to stimulate [a coup] operation successfully.” Fomenting a coup, however “must be kept under active and continuous consideration,” the NSC options paper recommended. If Goulart continued to move leftward, “the United States should be ready to shift rapidly and effectively to…collaboration with friendly democratic elements, including the great majority of military officer corps, to unseat President Goulart.”
Document 3: NSC, “Minutes of the National Security Council Executive Committee Meeting, Meeting No. 35,” Secret, December 11, 1962
The minutes of the EXCOMM meeting record that President Kennedy accepted the recommendation that U.S. policy “seek to change the political and economic orientation of Goulart and his government.”
Document 4: U.S. Embassy, Rio de Janeiro, Airgram A-710, “Minutes of Conversation between Brazilian President Joao Goulart and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Brasilia, 17 December 1962,” December 19, 1962
In line with JFK’s decision at the Excom meeting on December 11 to have “representative sent specially” to talk to Goulart, the president’s brother made a hastily-prepared journey to “confront” the Brazilian leader over the issues that had increasingly concerned and irritated Washington-from his chaotic management of Brazil’s economy and expropriation of U.S. corporations such as IT&T, to his lukewarm support during the Cuban missile crisis and flirtation with the Soviet bloc to, most alarming, his allegedly excessive toleration of far left and even communist elements in the government, military, society, and even his inner circle. Accompanied by US ambassador Lincoln Gordon, RFK met for more than three hours with Goulart in the new inland capital of Brasília at the modernistic lakeside presidential residence, the Palácio do Alvorada. A 17-page memorandum of conversation, drafted by Amb. Gordon, recorded the Attorney General presenting his list of complaints: the “many signs of Communist or extreme left-wing nationalists infiltration” into civilian government, military, trade union, and student group leaderships, and Goulart’s personal failure to take a public stand against the “violently anti-American” statements emanating from “influential Brazilians” both in and out of his government, or to embrace Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. Turning to economic issues, he said his brother was “very deeply worried at the deterioration” in recent months, from rampant inflation to the disappearance of reserves, and called on Goulart to get his “economic and financial house in order.” Surmounting these obstacles to progress, RFK stressed, could mark a “turning point in relations between Brazil and the U.S. and in the whole future of Latin America and of the free world.” When Goulart defended his policies, Kennedy scribbled a note to Ambassador Gordon: “We seem to be getting no place.” JFK’s emissary voiced his fear “that President Goulart had not fully understood the nature of President Kennedy’s concern about the present situation and prospects.”
Document 5: Department of State, Memorandum to Mr. McGeorge Bundy, “Political Considerations Affecting U.S. Assistance to Brazil,” Secret, March 7, 1963
In preparation for another key Oval office meeting on Brazil, the Department of State transmitted two briefing papers, including a memo to the president from Amb. Gordon titled “Brazilian Political Developments and U.S. Assistance.” The latter briefing paper (attached to the first document) was intended to assist the President in deciding how to handle the visit of Brazilian Finance Minister San Tiago Dantas to Washington. Gordon cited continuing problems with Goulart’s “equivocal, with neutralist overtones” foreign policy, and the “communist and other extreme nationalist, far left wing, and anti-American infiltration in important civilian and military posts with the government.”
Document 6: Excerpts from John F. Kennedy’s conversation regarding Brazil with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon on Friday March 8, 1963 (Meeting 77.1, President’s Office Files, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston)
On March 8, 1963, a few days before Dantas’ arrived, JFK reviewed the state of US-Brazilian relations with his top advisors, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, his ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon, and his brother Robert. Unofficially transcribed here by James G. Hershberg (with assistance from Marc Selverstone and David Coleman) this is apparently the first time that it has been published since the tape recording was released more than a decade ago by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. As the comments by Rusk, Gordon, and RFK make clear, deep dissatisfaction with Goulart persisted. “Brazil is a country that we can’t possibly turn away from,” Secretary of State Rusk told the president. “Whatever happens there is going to be of decisive importance to the hemisphere.” Rusk frankly acknowledged that the situation wasn’t yet so bad as to justify Goulart’s overthrow to “all the non-communists or non-totalitarian Brazilians,” nor to justify a “clear break” between Washington and Rio that would be understood throughout the hemisphere. Instead, the strategy for the time being was to continue cooperation with Goulart’s government while raising pressure on him to improve his behavior, particularly his tolerance of far-leftist, anti-United States, and even communist associates-to, in JFK’s words, “string out” aid in order to “put the screws” on him. The president’s brother, in particular, clearly did not feel that Goulart had followed through since their meeting a few months earlier on his vows to put a lid on anti-U.S. expressions or make personnel changes to remove some of the most egregiously leftist figures in his administration. Goulart, stated RFK, “struck me as the kind of wily politician who’s not the smartest man in the world but very sensitive to this [domestic political] area, that he figures that he’s got us by the—and that he can play it both ways, that he can make the little changes…and then we give him some money and he doesn’t have to really go too far.”
Document 7: CIA, Current Intelligence Memorandum, “Plotting Against Goulart,” Secret, March 8, 1963
For more than two years before the April 1, 1964 coup, the CIA transmitted intelligence reports on various coup plots. The plot, described in this memo as “the best-developed plan,” is being considered by former minister of war, Marshal Odylio Denys. In a clear articulation of U.S. concerns about the need for a successful coup, the CIA warned that “a premature coup effort by the Brazilian military would be likely to bring a strong reaction from Goulart and the cashiering of those officers who are most friendly to the United States.”
Document 8: State Department, Latin American Policy Committee, “Approved Short-Term Policy in Brazil,” Secret, October 3, 1963
In early October, the State Department’s Latin America Policy Committee approved a “short term” draft policy statement on Brazil for consideration by President Kennedy and the National Security Council. Compared to the review in March, the situation has deteriorated drastically, according to Washington’s point of view, in large measure due to Goulart’s “agitation,” unstable leadership, and increasing reliance on leftist forces. In its reading of the current and prospective situation, defining American aims, and recommending possible lines of action for the United States, the statement explicitly considered, albeit somewhat ambiguously, the U.S. attitude toward a possible coup to topple Goulart. “Barring clear indications of serious likelihood of a political takeover by elements subservient to and supported by a foreign government, it would be against U.S. policy to intervene directly or indirectly in support of any move to overthrow the Goulart regime. In the event of a threatened foreign-government-affiliated political takeover, consideration of courses of action would be directed more broadly but directly to the threatened takeover, rather than against Goulart (though some action against the latter might result).” Kennedy and his top aides met four days later to consider policy options and strategies–among them U.S. military intervention in Brazil.
Document 9: Excerpts from John F. Kennedy’s conversation regarding Brazil with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Lincoln Gordon on Monday, October 7, 1963 (tape 114/A50, President’s Office Files, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston)
“Do you see a situation where we might be-find it desirable to intervene militarily ourselves?” John F. Kennedy’s question to his ambassador to Brazil, Lincoln Gordon, reflected the growing concerns that a coup attempt against Goulart might need U.S. support to succeed, especially if it triggered an outbreak of fighting or even civil war. This tape, parts of which were recently publicized by Brazilian journalist Elio Gaspari, has been significantly transcribed by James G. Hershberg (with assistance from Marc Selverstone) and published here for the first time. It captured JFK, Gordon, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and other top officials concluding that the prospect of an impending move to terminate Goulart’s stay in office (long before his term was supposed to come to an end more than two years later) required an acceleration of serious U.S. military contingency planning as well as intense efforts to ascertain the balance between military forces hostile and friendly to the current government. In his lengthy analysis of the situation, Gordon — who put the odds at 50-50 that Goulart would be gone, one way or another, by early 1964 — outlined alternative scenarios for future developments, ranging from Goulart’s peaceful early departure (“a very good thing for both Brazil and Brazilian-American relations”), perhaps eased out by military pressure, to a possible sharp Goulart move to the left, which could trigger a violent struggle to determine who would rule the country. Should a military coup seize power, Gordon clearly did not want U.S. squeamishness about constitutional or democratic niceties to preclude supporting Goulart’s successors: “Do we suspend diplomatic relations, economic relations, aid, do we withdraw aid missions, and all this kind of thing — or do we somehow find a way of doing what we ought to do, which is to welcome this?” And should the outcome of the attempt to oust Goulart lead to a battle between military factions, Gordon urged study of military measures (such as providing fuel or ammunition, if requested) that Washington could take to assure a favorable outcome: “I would not want us to close our minds to the possibility of some kind of discreet intervention in such a case, which would help see the right side win.” On the tape, McNamara suggests, and JFK approves, accelerated work on contingency planning (“can we get it really pushed ahead?”). Even as U.S. officials in Brazil intensified their encouragement of anti-communist military figures, Kennedy cautioned that they should not burn their bridges with Goulart, which might give him an excuse to rally nationalist support behind an anti-Washington swerve to the left: Washington needed to continue “applying the screws on the [economic] aid” to Brazil, but “with some sensitivity.”
Document 10: State Department, Memorandum, “Embassy Contingency Plan,” Top Secret, November 22, 1963
Dated on the day of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, this cover memo describes a new contingency plan from the U.S. Embassy in Brazil that places “heavy emphasis on U.S. armed intervention.” The actual plan has not been declassified.
Document 11: NSC, Memcon, “Brazil,” Top Secret, March 28, 1964
As the military prepared to move against Goulart, top CIA, NSC and State Department officials met to discuss how to support them. They evaluated a proposal, transmitted by Ambassador Gordon the previous day, calling for covert delivery of armaments and gasoline, as well as the positioning of a naval task force off the coast of Brazil. At this point, U.S. officials were not sure if or when the coup would take place, but made clear their interest in its success. “The shape of the problem,” according to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, “is such that we should not be worrying that the military will react; we should be worrying that the military will not react.”
Document 12: U.S. Embassy, Brazil, Memo from Ambassador Gordon, Top Secret, March 29, 1964
Gordon transmitted a message for top national security officials justifying his requests for pre-positioning armaments that could be used by “para-military units” and calling for a “contingency commitment to overt military intervention” in Brazil. If the U.S. failed to act, Gordon warned, there was a “real danger of the defeat of democratic resistance and communization of Brazil.”
Document 13: Joint Chiefs of Staff, Cable, [Military attaché Vernon Walters Report on Coup Preparations], Secret, March 30, 1964
U.S. Army attaché Vernon Walters meets with the leading coup plotters and reports on their plans. “It had been decided to take action this week on a signal to be issued later.” Walters reported that he “expects to be aware beforehand of go signal and will report in consequence.”
Document 14 (mp3): White House Audio Tape, President Lyndon B. Johnson discussing the impending coup in Brazil with Undersecretary of State George Ball, March 31, 1964.
Document 15: White House, Memorandum, “Brazil,” Secret, April 1, 1964
As of 3:30 on April 1st, Ambassador Gordon reports that the coup is “95% over.” U.S. contingency planning for overt and covert supplies to the military were not necessary. General Castello Branco “has told us he doesn’t need our help. There was however no information about where Goulart had fled to after the army moved in on the palace.
Document 16: Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Cable, “Departure of Goulart from Porto Alegre for Montevideo,” Secret, April 2, 1964
CIA intelligence sources report that deposed president Joao Goulart has fled to Montevideo.
These materials are reproduced from http://www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive.
For more information contact:
James G. Hershberg, 202/302-5718
Peter Kornbluh, 202/374-7281
Back in the 1980s there was a very, very widespread understanding of what was going to happen if there were a nuclear war. We’ve lost that understanding, by and large. Certainly, in the general population, there is very little understanding about what nuclear weapons can do or even how many there are in the world.
What is really quite new, I think, is the discovery in the last eight years, starting in 2006, that even a very limited use of nuclear weapons would cause a global catastrophe. In a war in which cities were targeted with nuclear weapons, perhaps as many as 20 million people would be killed in the first week directly from the explosions, from the firestorm, from the direct radiation. In all of World War II, about 50 million people died over eight years. This is 20 million people dying in the course of a single week.
Moreover, this limited use of nuclear weapons—far less than half of a percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals—causes profound global climate disruption. Temperatures worldwide drop about 1.3 degrees centigrade and this effect lasts for about a decade. As a result of that, there would also be a very significant disruption of global precipitation patterns. And as a result of these combined effects, there would be a very profound impact on food production. We issued a report in April of 2012 suggesting that up to a billion people worldwide could die of famine. Since then, new data shows that there will be widespread hunger in China as well – another 1.3 billion people at risk.
We have never had an event like this in human history where anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the human population dies over the course of a decade. And this is a real possibility in the event of a war between India and Pakistan, which is itself a real possibility.
The effects of a large-scale war dwarf even these horrors. If only 300 warheads in the Russian arsenal detonated over targets in American urban areas, between 75 and a hundred million people would be dead in the first 30 minutes, and a U.S. counterattack on Russia would cause the same kind of destruction. In addition to killing this many people in half an hour, this attack would also completely destroy the economic infrastructure of this country.
But again, as mind-boggling as this kind of direct toll is, it is not the worst part of the story because a war between the United States and Russia also causes profound climate disruption. A hundred small warheads in South Asia put 5 million tons of debris into the upper atmosphere and dropped global temperatures 1.3 degrees centigrade. A war between the United States and Russia, using only those weapons that are still allowed when New START is fully implemented in 2017 – that war puts 150 million tons of debris into the atmosphere, and it drops global temperatures 8 degrees centigrade on average. In the interior regions of Eurasia and North America, the temperature decline is 25 to 30 degrees centigrade. We have not seen temperatures on this planet that cold in 18,000 years, since the coldest moment of the last ice age. In the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, there would be three years without a single day free of frost. Temperature goes below freezing at some point every single day for three years. And that means there is no agriculture, there is no food production. Most of the ecosystems in this zone collapse. The vast majority of the human race starves to death, and it is possible that we become extinct as a species.
Now, if that is the starting point of the conversation, the next thing that flows from that is these weapons cannot exist. We know that there is a real and finite possibility every day that they will be used. And if that is true, then it is simply a matter of time until they actually are used, and that means they cannot be allowed to exist. And that is a very different starting point than where we are in the current conversation about disarmament. And that’s why this argument, I think, has become so powerful.
The plans of the nuclear weapon states to maintain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely are simply unacceptable, and we need a fundamentally different new approach. They say that politics is the art of the possible. Statesmanship, I think, is clearly the art of the necessary. And it is time that we ask our leaders to act like statesmen, not like politicians. It’s time that we demand that behavior of them. And I think that’s what this whole movement is about at this point. It is calling the nuclear weapons states, saying that we will not accept their behavior anymore, and demanding that they change.
So the question becomes, how do we move the process forward? Well, people could just abandon the NPT, or they could try to engage in some kind of productive international diplomatic initiative to achieve the stated goals of the NPT, which is the elimination of nuclear weapons. And I think the people who have been advocating for a convention to ban nuclear weapons understand this is not the end stage; this is a way of trying to move the ball down the field, of trying to put some pressure on those nuclear weapon states that are using the NPT process, frankly, to preserve their nuclear monopoly. And there’s just no patience left in this idea of acceptable nuclear apartheid.
The nuclear-weapon states can’t have it both ways. They can’t say “it’s OK for us to have nuclear weapons because we’re never going to use them” on the one hand, and on the other hand say “our policy is based on deterrence. For deterrence to work, we have to convince people that we will use them.” You just can’t do this. It’s one or the other. You can’t say we’re never going to use nuclear weapons and then talk about the circumstances in which we can use them legitimately and safely and without it being a humanitarian disaster. Either you’re going to say that you’re never going to use them, or you’re going to say that you are going to use them. And if you’re going to say that you are going to use them, then if it’s OK for the U.S. to use them and to have them so we can use them, then how can you tell the rest of the world that they can’t? And the fact of the matter is, we have lost that argument. The rest of the world rejects that—and rightly so—because the argument is profoundly flawed.
The nuclear ban treaty that’s been proposed is a political tool to try to create pressure to get to a nuclear weapons convention. What has been proposed is a treaty that bans not just use, but also possession, to make the point that these weapons should not be maintained, even when countries say they’re never going to use them, because of the very clear fact that the countries that say they’re never going to use them in fact do have plans for using them. If this administration in the United States, which is so allergic to the idea of a ban treaty, put forward any significant initiative at this point, I think we would all rally behind it. A ban treaty really does move things forward in a very dramatic way and I would encourage people to support that, but I think if other ideas come forward, you know, it’s fine – whatever moves the ball forward. We’ve just got to get some movement in the right direction and we’re not getting it right now.
The humanitarian message, I think, is the key. The thing that motivated Gorbachev, according to his memoirs, to take the initiatives which he took in the 1980s were the conversations he had with physicians from my organization, in which they explained to him what was going to happen if the weapons were used. And remarkably, as the head of a nuclear power, he didn’t fully understand what was going to happen if a nuclear war took place. The same is true of most of the leaders of the nuclear weapons states today.
On March 31, IPPNW co-president Ira Helfand participated in a roundtable discussion on the NPT and the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, co-sponsored by the Arms Control Association and IPPNW’s US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility. This article is adapted from Dr. Helfand’s remarks. A complete transcript, including presentations by Ambassador Desra Percaya, Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations; Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies; and George Perkovich, Director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is available at the Arms Control Association website.
By Steven Salaita | September 8, 2009
No people has been the recipient of more unsolicited advice than the Palestinians. The exemplars of barbarity to neoconservatives and the subjects of anguished progressive reprimands, the Palestinians often serve as a pretext for blowhards of all political affiliations to dust off their soapboxes. A particularly egregious form of sermonizing to which the Palestinians are subject is the admonition that they undertake nonviolent modes of resistance. I would like to argue that this sort of admonition is both ignorant and immoral.
I do not want to explore whether or not nonviolence is the best strategic or moral form of anti-colonial resistance. The difference between violence and nonviolence is not as trenchant as most commentators imagine. Violence and nonviolence, both amorphous terms, are in constant dialectic, and no historical example can be found of either of these approaches being effective without the other present. Undertaking nonviolent resistance is an ethical and strategic decision with which I have no quarrel. In fact, I have tremendous admiration for those who practice this method at the risk of their personal safety and in the service of national liberation.
I dislike the frequent lecturing from Western liberals to Palestinians about the merits of nonviolence, an act as misguided as it is patronizing. Michael Tomasky of The Guardian, for example, posed the following hypothetical amid Israel’s January, 2009, massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip: “A hypothetical question for you. Suppose the Palestinian liberation movement, going way back to the founding of the PLO in 1964, had been dedicated to nonviolent struggle as opposed to armed struggle, and the Palestinians had had a Gandhi, and not an Arafat.” The Palestinians, Tomasky surmises, would have had a state over twenty years ago. His colleague Gershom Gorenberg argues that “[t]hrough violence—from airplane hijackings to suicide bombings and rocket fire—Palestinians have failed to reach political independence…. So why not adopt the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience, the methods of Gandhi?” Gorenberg wonders, “Is that kind of radicalism imaginable in Islam?”
On CommonDreams.org, Marty Jezer explains, “Palestinian nonviolence seems a romantic fantasy, an idealistic dream. But perhaps idealism is the most realistic approach at this time; and nonviolence the solution most grounded in reality. I challenge anybody to come up with an equivalent strategy, one that assures Israelis their security and Palestinians their state.” Michael Lerner asks what he imagines to be a self-evident question: “Who are Palestine’s friends? Those who encourage a path of non-violence and abandoning [sic] the fantasy that armed struggle combined with political isolation of Israel will lead to a good outcome for Palestinians.”
It would be too time consuming to respond to all the problems in these passages, but in them we can identify some useful points of analysis. The most important point is that the Palestinians do practice nonviolence. They have done so ever since Zionists began settling their land, a process that is by its very nature violent. Today, as throughout the twentieth century, one can find ample examples of intrepid and imaginative civil resistance. I have met very few Westerners who have traveled to Palestine and didn’t return home inspired.
An interesting feature of Palestinian nonviolence is that it usually evokes a ferocious response by Israel. During the 1980s, peaceful demonstrators had their bones broken at the behest of Yitzhak Rabin. Earlier generations were deported and had their homes demolished. Today’s nonviolent activists are often shot, imprisoned, or beaten. The village of Bi’lin in the West Bank has done a weekly protest for over four years. During the course of these peaceful gatherings, the Israeli military has been utterly brutal. In April, 2009, soldiers shot and killed an unarmed demonstrator, Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahmah. Abu Rahmah was hit in the chest with a tear-gas grenade, the same weapon that earlier in the year cracked open the skull of American demonstrator Tristan Anderson. In June, 2009, one of the leaders of the Bi’lin demonstrations, Adeeb Abu Rahme, was arrested and kept in military detention without due process. The breathless appeals by concerned Western liberals for the Palestinians to practice nonviolence are both ludicrous and immoral in light of the historical record and the invidious violence of the Israeli state.
The Palestinians have always mixed violence and nonviolence, like all anti-colonial movements. It is through a host of racist presuppositions and an inherent commitment to Zionism that American liberals imagine that somehow Palestinians are a special case, that their reliance on violence is culturally innate (Gershon Gorenberg) or that they are motivated by factors other than liberation, such as anti-Semitism and civilizational envy (Alan Dershowitz). The inability or unwillingness of so many liberal intellectuals to recognize the long tradition of Palestinian nonviolent resistance bespeaks tacit racism in addition to a hypocritical devotion to Israel’s normative and continuous state violence.
These calls for Palestinian nonviolence pretend to be ethically disinterested, but they are entangled with troublesome politics that are fundamentally destructive and undemocratic. For instance, they are often accompanied by appeals to avoid criticism of Zionism (Norman Finkelstein), to eschew effective nonviolent tactics such as boycott and divestment (Michael Lerner), and to reject counterproductive things like binationalism and right of return (Finkelstein and Lerner). In other words, the Palestinians should reject violence, and while they’re at it go ahead and give up all of their legal entitlements and decolonial aspirations.
My good friend, the philosopher Mohammed Abed, pointed out to me recently that the grueling endurance of life under military occupation—waiting hours at checkpoints, being denied medical care, having universities shut down—is itself a testament to an unusual commitment to nonviolence. I suspect that when many Western liberals urge the Palestinians (and other colonized people) to undertake nonviolence, they are using a truncated definition of the term informed by a poor or distorted understanding of the concept. In this usage, they conflate nonviolence with passivity. It is a great convenience to the liberal advocates of colonization to have a colonized population comprised of passive resistors. But colonized people are never as stupid and gullible as their liberal saviors imagine them to be.
The Palestinians, anyway, are far too evolved to listen to those who would use their courage and diligence to dispossess them of their right to active resistance. Violent or nonviolent, their choice of resistance isn’t the business of liberal armchair ethicists. Those ethicists are fond of claiming that if the Palestinians resisted nonviolently they would have already achieved their liberation. This claim is factually untrue. It is just as likely that if liberal commentators would assess their own profound support of violence they would have a lot less to say to others and more time to devote to their own failed selves.
Steven Salaita’s latest book is The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought.
Israel to extract a heavy price if Palestinians join UN bodies, says minister
US-brokered negotiations with Israel, which started on 29 July 2013 and were to last nine months, are nearing their ignominious end. And Israel, the serial defaulter that it is, has reneged on the agreed release of 104 pre-Oslo prisoners in exchange for Palestine’s postponing joining international organizations to help achieve their long-overdue freedom.
Three phases of the agreed release had taken place, and the final batch of 30 prisoners were due to be handed over on 29 March. When the Israeli government refused to release them the Palestinian embassy in London, on 2 April, announced that President Mahmoud Abbas had signed letters of accession to 15 international conventions and treaties.
We were promised the release of these prisoners, who are dear to our hearts and because of whom we withheld from going to the United Nations organizations. We were told that the Israeli government would convene to announce this final release today, but unfortunately they have failed to do so….
We concluded that if the final phase of the agreed release did not go ahead, then we would begin signing letters of accession to the 63 international organizations, treaties and conventions, which the leadership unanimously approved.
President Abbas explained that the 15 letters are for conventions and treaties that can be joined immediately and do not need further approval.
This is our right. We agreed to suspend this right for a period of 9 months…. for the sake of negotiations. The Israeli side is continuing to procrastinate, therefore we do not have any other choice but to go ahead with plans to join international organizations and conventions.
Abbas’s letter-writing included the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and conventions against torture, corruption and the prevention of genocide.
Palestinian officials also delivered a letter asking to become a party to the Geneva Conventions, and another letter to join The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
Negotiations a smoke screen
Like all UN Member and Observer states, Palestine is entitled to join the 63 treaties, conventions and agencies and will do so in the best interests of its people and whenever it thinks fit. It doesn’t need US or Israeli permission.
Question: Doesn’t this undermine US and international efforts?
No, the Israelis’ unrelenting settlement construction during this entire process has done that. Israel has tried to use negotiations as a smoke screen behind which it continues to violate human rights, expand its settlement programme and make the two-state solution increasingly impossible.
Question: What does it mean for the peace process? Are the negotiations over?
No. The Palestinians are committed to negotiations until the 29 April, as agreed.
None of the letters so far was addressed to the International Criminal Court, which the Palestinians have been strongly urged to join – a move that would certainly set the cat among Israel’s pigeons. So what could possibly be objectionable about the limited action Abbas has taken?
Nothing. Except that the Israelis are now pushing for an extension of the talks beyond the 29 April deadline before they’ll release the Palestinian prisoners. But the Palestinians see this as yet another ploy to buy more time to establish yet more irreversible ‘facts on the ground’. They made it clear many weeks ago that enough was enough.
It seems likely that when the nine months are up the Palestinians will resume efforts through the UN and the International Criminal Court to bring Israel to book over its illegal settlements and colonisation programme. There are more than 350.000 Jewish squatters living in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and 200.000 more in settlement in and around occupied East Jerusalem. All settlements are illegal under International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. And transferring part of Israel’s population into occupied territory is regarded as a war crime.
“Heavy price” threatened if Palestinians take case to UN
Response from Israel has been swift. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau warns that Abbas’s unilateral request to join 15 international institutions is in breach of peace talk conditions and “will cost the PA [Palestinian Authority] dearly…. They must know something simple: they will pay a heavy price. One of the possible measures will be Israel applying sovereignty over areas which will clearly be part of the State of Israel in any future solution.” He’s referring to areas of the Palestinian West Bank which now have a large Jewish population.
Landau warns that Israel might also “block financial aid” to the the Palestinians.
Of course, what’s he’s proposing is not only hateful but constitutes further breaches of international and humanitarian law, adding to an already long crime-sheet.
Landau’s father, Chaim, was a commander in the Irgun, a Jewish terror organisation that murdered British soldiers of the mandate government and bombed its headquarters in the King David Hotel killing 91. He hailed from Poland so what ancestral link, one wonders, does Landau have to the Holy Land that justifies playing the bully-boy, pushing Arabs off their ancestral lands and stealing their homes, farms, aquifers and offshore waters?
And here’s another of Landau’s pearls of wisdom: “A Palestinian state is not the solution.”
But a Jewish state is? Peace, brother……