Thursday, April 29, 2010

Poem: burning



         dreamed snow


                         and voiced a brother

                                who brought Will


dead at 20

                                       words from the far


tiger in the snows


Blake was a tiger

          brought by brother


          against forest


                       across the stripe


                                   of space

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Protest and Explanation, part 2


     The first part entitled Jerusalem: nonviolent protests is here.  

     Having corresponded with me helpfully about many pieces on Democratic Individuality, Bruce Fetter, an historian of Africa at the University of Wisconsin, rightly argues that there are a legion of straightforward moral objections to unjust war.  One doesn’t like blowing up 50 women and children at a wedding party in Yemen, one doesn’t like being taxed heavily and getting no social services (and having social security which has always been solvent redirected under a bipartisan cover of silence to the military budget, given the Reagan and subsequent tax cuts for the rich), one doesn’t like our soldiers being required to kill and be killed or maimed for no purpose as in Iraq; one doesn’t like the culture of war in which making 5 aggressions and occupations is considered normal  – in fact, not “tough” enough on national security - for an anti-"dumb" Iraq War President whose administration is even slowly, changing the bizarre US relationship with Israel.  We abhor secret torture prisons - the worst forms of torture held up but not clearly ended - and repeated violations of law and cover-ups in our name, etc.  Since I don’t know Hebrew and have only some Yiddish which enlivened my family’s English, I find Bruce’s phrase for Netanyahu, a cheeky beggar, particularly amusing.  Note that many of these crimes are against ordinary Americans (death, maiming, homelessness, impoverishment) or against ordinary Israelis (they experience dramatic insecurity while supporting the aggression and ethnic cleansing involved in "greater" Israel.

     There are thus plenty of harms mandating that the US get out of Iraq  (it should never have gone in and its occupation is a source only of tension, revolt and ethnic cleansing) or that Israeli government crimes against Palestinians must cease, against which many of us can unite, enough to become a strong political force, regardless of larger explanations.  That politics is what John Rawls calls “overlapping consensus” or radicals once upon a time named “a united front.” Bruce and I agree about Iraq and about Israel settling decently with Palestine. 

         But of course explanations matter.  It is silly to say there is oil in the Gulf of Tonkin – never heard that in Students for a Democratic Society myself, many of us puzzled about the lack of economic interest in Vietnam or the interplay between economic interests and political-military interests in American involvement in the region – but it is not silly to have the slogan of the first Gulf War movement: “what if they grew broccoli in Iraq?”   In the case of Iraq (I leave Vietnam aside here), it is mistaken to not see the removal of the American bases from the holy sites of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia (these turned Osama Bin Laden, the US agent in bringing down the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan, against the US) to Iraq by Rumsfeld – as part of a sustained effort to control the Middle East by force. Today we have 19 bases in Iraq to cordon our 50,000 occupying troops after the US has supposedly “withdrawn,” open fighting ceased.  The campaigner Obama mocked McCain’s 100,000 troops in Iraq for a century; President Obama, eye on the war complex, has “reduced” the troops by half – but left the colony/occupation intact indefinitely.  And how many mercenaries from Blackwater/ Xe will Obama retain (the ratio is one to one among US troops in Iraq)?  So perhaps McCain had the right number. Did the British empire ever garrison 100.000 troops in Iraq?. 

         In Blowback and Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson cites the some 800 military bases abroad, a huge empire, during a period when only France has 5 bases in its former colonies and no other power has bases abroad (others participate jointly in UN activities).  Obama talks about withdrawal of 40,000 troops by August from Iraq – supposing that the US can get Al-Maliki to leave power to allow in the nearer American puppet Allawi (Bush’s failed choice in the manipulated election the last time, a former Saddam spy whom Saddam tried to kill, a  man who, when briefly Prime Minister under the Americans,  according to the Australian papers, shot a prisoner in the head to demonstrate to guards the need for "toughness") to assume power.  The New York Times call Allawi “secular” compared to “al-Maliki” – it means only that the Bush aggression created an Iraq client who was Shiia and allied with Iran, whereas Allawi might front for or at least not rebel against a US/Israel attack on Iran (Obama is still trying to head this off, but not yet definitively).

      The so-called withdrawal of troops means tht some 100,000 soldiers and mercenaries will retire to our military bases in Iraq in case they are “needed.”   It is good that Americans will cease active fighting and being killed there. Why the lie about withdrawal to the American public? 

     The notion that the US is an empire and that economic interest is one central part of it – including controlling Middle Eastern oil, not that the US is very good at it (the first contract went to China, perhaps one reason why the new administration, not being quite as incompetent at it as Bush, prefers Allawi) – is a central part of the picture.  One cannot decide everything about the subtleties of the war complex without lots of argument, but the hypothesis that the war complex makes even Obama, who is cautious about all this, not only a war president but a president who expands wars  (the four others), is surely better than the hypothesis that the US has no structure of elite interests that generates war (the point, I take it, of Bruce’s disparaging remark about the “left and right”). 

       In contrast, Johnson, long a leading political scientist at the University of California who has always disliked Marxism and viscerally detests the Chinese Revolution even though he has become a radical, suggests that the US empire is military and not economic.  That is a much subtler disagreement with “Marxists.” I should note: saying the US is an empire, in rivalry with the Soviet empire which has collapsed because of its war economy and suggesting the US will go the same way – all leading points of Johnson’s – sounds quite a lot like Lenin on inter-imperialist rivalry, and I am afraid the family resemblance of the views will not be put aside by Johnson’s distaste for Marxism or for his innovative insistence that modern empires are both importantly and novelly military.  

     But following his argument, an internal critic might note, the military part of the empire, which is enormously destructive to soldiers and those on whom they are quartered, not to mention the whole world economy, has to be sustained by some other factor than just military need.  It does extend from the Cold War, but what were the motivations in the Cold War?  Perhaps one might say, there are obvious economic beneficiaries on the industrial side of this complex.  And GE, formerly an electrical company but now centrally a weapon’s-maker, owns NBC and MSNBC.  A modestly dialectical view will suggest that there is a war complex (of the sort I emphasize).

        But a Marxian might say, surely civilian economic interests play a role.  XE/Blackwater is pure military, diplomatic “protection” but Halliburton/Kellogg Brown and Root for example is oil production, mixed in with a variety of military activities and services.  And surely Bush, Cheney and Rice are all oil executives before entering “public” service.  And some sectors of the American economy like computers or derivatives from the housing market- in fact, the whole financial casino in which ordinary people and some billionaires lose - are not driven by the war in the Middle East.  

           To which one might respond: there is obviously a larger interplay of economics, military activity, and politics in which there are different, sometimes clashing interests.  And one must hope that the prospects for a green economy, dealing with global warming and permitting use of American dollars to help the unemployed, those who need medical care (instead of its denial by “insurance” companies) the students who are our future, and the like rather than the military-industrial economy becomes the American way forward.  Even the military is realizing that green security is part of what will save the planet and prevent increasing and increasingly bitter wars.  There is, one might say, more than one force in the American economy, and different paths of development possible even securing important elite interests.  And one is surely much more hopeful than the other.   There is thus a path of arguments, many of which are subtle or complicated.  Probably that path will not be foreclosed by remarks, like the one Bruce makes, about silly leftist and rightist formulations. 

       Just a note on protests and explanations.  My friend Dick Miller (philosophy, Cornell) has written a lot on the role of being anti-racist in intuition and action, as resulting in eventual social science insights.  He invokes for example, Franz Boas who as a young man sympathized with the German democratic revolution of 1848, then came to America and moved anthropology in an anti-imperial, anti-racist direction (see Fact and Explanation).  Vietnam and American racism were easy to protest (moral clarity about the matter was never an issue), hard to explain.  The difficulties center on contrasts of social theory and empirical argument, not underlying moral standards.  I have come to write a lot about the clarity or objectivity of certain moral judgments and unravel confusions in Marx and mainstream philosophy and social science about these matters out of that original impulse (see my Democratic Individuality).  But I am equally interested in how to characterize the possibilities of where we are (many radicals decry too easily Obama, even though as ought to be plain, I share their concerns) and where we might be going. 

        One last thought. I have a lot of sympathy for those who speak up on behalf of unpopular arguments and take heat for it. When I was a senior at Harvard, I became interested in a kind of Marxism, and offered some radical arguments.  In general, I worked harder on my papers than I had before.  But my grades went down briefly from As to A-s, including on my thesis on why there was a peasant Communist revolution in China and not a socialist revolution in industrial Germany with Barrington Moore.  It was not subtle; one grader commented specifically on a Marxist aspect of my arguments as a “weakness,”  As a young professor just having published a contextualist interpretation of Marx’s politics, I had a wonderful political theorist who had been at Harvard at the time and moved on, exclaim to me one evening over drinks at a conference “I can’t believe we produced a Marxist.” 

     But I might say the reverse: the many teachers at Harvard whom I admire and have grown more deeply to admire over time, were precisely those who challenged me like Stanley Hoffmann or Michael Walzer or Judith Shklar, taught me new things or new ways of looking things, encouraged me to go my own way. 

     I have amusingly come to defend decency in modern liberalism and conservatism fiercely (in Democratic Individuality, for example, which is, in one aspect, an attempt to highlight what decency is from the point of view of modern political theories.  I defended the core of modern liberalism (rejecting slavery, toleration) more clearly than most liberals who, in an era of purportedly value free political science, often entertain views which are doubtfully liberal (and contradict much of what they otherwise believe). During the Bush period, I identified with Scott Horton and Andrew Sullivan, conservatives who stood up against torture and for habeas corpus and the rule of law.  Hanging on to what is decent in the United States – by no means a sure thing even under Obama – is an important fight.

      I have also come to think that King and Gandhi have a better approach to mass militant protest than revolutionary violence in this era.    I am, again, amused to be guided by experience and argument, not by partisanship.

       With Leo Strauss for example, I take Socrates and Plato and Nietzsche and Heidegger seriously (there is lots of room not to come to Strauss’s conclusions about any of them) precisely because it takes some courage and thought, around here, to get into them.

         In addition,  that explanations for protests in the occupied territories are not taken seriously, for example, that Palestinians existed on the land given to Israel by the UN and that Palestinians are humans until just this moment in the United States, does not mean that they are untrue.  Israelis need a safe place to live; such safety is only possible with a state of Palestine for, and some justice and toleration towards Palestinians.    

         In any society, it is good, with Socrates and Rilke, to stand up for questions, to live with them, to try to unravel the twists and turns of argument or insight (poetry is not philosophy), and not to be put off by what is alleged to be just “around here.”

        The characteristic of a good teacher is that she is not put off by disagreement and thinking among students, but rather delights in it, raises questions, furthers the argument, helps each student mark out his or her own eccentric path…

        Bruce writes:

“I think, Alan, that we get to the same conclusion through different arguments. I got on to the Portside website, because I opposed the Iraq invasion in February, 2003. I saw similarities to our Vietnam involvement, which I opposed after 1967 because I understood not only what it was doing to the Vietnamese, but to us as well. Beyond the interests of Eisenhower's military industrial complex and the fantasies of oil in the 
Gulf of Tonkin and in Iraq (hoaxes that were held by both the left and the right), I opposed both wars because I felt that they were not in the US interest--undermining
 our economy and putting our military in harm's way. I don't think that we need
 evil capitalists to explain totally erroneous arguments about our strategic interests. As far as the Israeli government is concerned, I have concluded that they have been off track since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (when I began supporting
 Peace Now). I believe in the survival of a Zionist state within the 1967 borders, but am appalled by the venal political culture which has flourished in the country since maybe 1948. I remember one short-tail relative who said that she could live in Israel because she just felt she was back in Poland. I do not doubt that the Israelis have real enemies including the Iranians and Saudis and, for that matter, the late Saddam Hussein. I think I'll join J Street. What irks me most about
 Netanyahu almost as much as his colonialist politics is that he is a chutzpadike shnorrer, an aggressive beggar, who insults US leaders despite $3 billion a year. Finally, as to your reference to the Jewish tradition of prophetic politics, I think that line of thinking can be traced to Abraham Geiger in C19 Germany and to the C20 US Reform movement as enunciated by Louis Hartz and Neal Riemer. I am more often in agreement in secular politics with Reform Jews than I am with members of my own Modern Orthodox congregation, but these latter are guided by an older Jewish tradition based on the Pentateuch rather than the Prophets: 613 commandments which can be extrapolated from the Torah as elucidated by rabbinical (originally oral) law. Maybe my training 
as a historian of Africa has influenced me. All best Bruce"  

   In addition, I enclose two articles by Amira Hass, the great Israeli journalist, from Haaretz on what the occupaton amounts to:

Access denied
By Amira Hass

Defining a Palestinian with a Gaza Strip address as a punishable infiltrator if he is found in the West Bank - as implied by a military order that has now gone into effect - is one more link in a chain of steps that Israel has taken, whose cumulative effect is to sever the Strip from Palestinian society as a whole. 

Space limitations prevent listing more than a sampling of these measures here. But even looking at them in abridged form can serve as a reminder that one needs to analyze every regulation of the military occupation in the context of its predecessors and their implementation on the ground. Indeed, this is what the legal experts at the organization Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual did when they warned against the ramifications of the new Order No. 1650 regarding Prevention of Infiltration (Amendment No. 2). 


The Israel Defense Forces permits Palestinians to move throughout the country (Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank), by means of a "general exit permit." The hope in Israel is that economic integration will cause national aspirations to be forgotten. But the unintended result is freedom of movement for all Palestinians. For the first time since 1948, the Palestinians throughout Israel and the territories experience themselves as one people living within the same borders, under the same regime. Family ties, work ties, friendships and school ties - all are forged and renewed on both sides of the Green Line. 

The general rule: The right of all Palestinians to freedom of movement is respected, aside from certain categories determined by the Israeli authorities. 


The first intifada: A magnetic card, valid for one year, is introduced in the Gaza Strip for those who have security clearance to enter Israel. In the absence of checkpoints, it is relatively easy to get around this restriction. 


January 15, on the eve of the Gulf War: The general exit permit from the West Bank and Gaza Strip is cancelled. From now on individual permits are required. 

Gazan students who are enrolled in studies in the West Bank do not receive permits to enter Israel, and cannot attend school. "Split" families (between the West Bank and Gaza) see each other less and less often, in the absence of permits. 

The police conduct daily searches for Palestinian laborers in Israeli cities, and check whether they have valid permits for being in Israel (as the Worker's Hotline organization discovers, people are frequently considered permit violators even if they are caught in a movie theater or a cafeteria, instead of at the workplace listed on the permit. Hundreds are arrested and fined, although generally the policy is easy to circumvent. Also, the policy is not enforced in East Jerusalem, and people are convinced that there is no need for a permit to stay in their religious, cultural, and economic capital. 

Peace talks are launched at the Madrid Conference. 


March. A "general closure" is imposed on the territories (existing permits are revoked), after which the ban on leaving without individual permits is applied more stringently in East Jerusalem (which is why to this day West Bankers erroneously say that the actual closure policy began in March 1993). 

September. The Declaration of Principles between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel stipulates that both sides recognize Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial unit. 

There is intensive construction at the northern exit of the Gaza Strip, which is transformed into a checkpoint that vets thousands of people a day. It is operated by the Civil Administration and the IDF. Other crossings in the Gaza Strip are shut down. 

The closure becomes a permanent reality that exists to the present. The number of travel permits Israel grants changes occasionally, but the principle remains the same: Freedom of mobility is denied to all Palestinians, except for those who fall into in a number of categories that Israel determines (laborers, businessmen, patients, collaborators, Palestinian Authority officials, etc.) 


May. Civil powers in Gaza are transferred from Israel to the Palestinians. A partial solution to the problem of exit permits is found: Gazans depart through the Rafah crossing, travel from there to Jordan, and enter the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge. This solution is used mainly by students and people with families in the West Bank. 


October. The Interim Agreement (civil powers also transferred in the West Bank ). Clause 28 of the agreement stipulates that the Palestinians have the authority to change an address on the identity card, but the change must be reported to the Civil Administration. 


Contrary to what is stated in the Oslo Accords, Israeli officers from the Civil Administration inform Palestinians that a change of address from Gaza to the West Bank requires Israeli authorization. Authorization is granted only to some of those who apply for a change of address, based on unknown criteria. 


Gazans are barred from going abroad via the Allenby Bridge or from using it to enter the West Bank, without individual permits from Israel. 


October. A "safe passage" between Gaza and the West Bank is introduced along one southern route. 


End of September. The second intifada breaks out. 

The safe passage is closed. 

Israel bars Gazan students from attending school in the West Bank (the ban becomes clear retroactively, several years later). 

Israel puts a freeze on change of addresses from Gaza to the West Bank. 


Entry into the Gaza Strip of anyone who is not Gazan is reduced to a minimum (mainly in cases of deaths of first-degree relatives). 


For the first time, the authorities declare Gazans in the West Bank to be illegal residents. Many are deported to Gaza having been incidentally discovered during IDF raids or when crossing checkpoints. 


November. Army forces raid an apartment in Bir Zeit, near Ramallah, arrest and deport to Gaza four engineering students. 


The "disengagement." Gaza Strip crossings are declared "international" crossings. 


Departure from Gaza is permitted only in extreme humanitarian cases (and to those with connections in the PA). 

For the first time since 1967, Israel institutes a permit giving permission to stay in the West Bank intended for Gazans in the West Bank (along the lines of the residence permit required of those who are in Israel). Many applications for the permit are declined. Thousands of Palestinians without permits are scared to go through internal West Bank checkpoints, lest they be caught and deported. They live like prisoners in their towns of residence. 


March. The state declares that Palestinians from Gaza are not entitled to live in the West Bank. This is done by means of a new regulation that comes to light through Hamoked petitions to the High Court of Justice. The state is willing to process applications to reside in the West Bank only for the following groups: chronically ill patients who can only be treated in the West Bank; minors under 16 with only one parent who lives in the West Bank, and who do not have a relative to look after them in the Gaza Strip; people over 65 who require nursing care and do not have a caregiver available in the Strip. All others - those who are healthy, not orphans, not solitary old people in need of nursing care - do not have the right to live in the West Bank. 


April. A military order goes into effect that defines anyone staying in the West Bank without a permit as an infiltrator and a punishable offender.

Last update - 05:14 23/04/2010
Israel expels West Bank Palestinian to Gaza upon release from prison
By Amira Hass

A Palestinian prisoner from the West Bank was forcibly deported to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, immediately after his release from prison in Israel. 

Ahmad Sabah, 39, who was released from Ketziot prison after serving his sentence, was put on a bus to Gaza while his wife, son and other relatives waited for him since the morning hours at the Tarqumiya checkpoint in the West Bank. 

Sabah was told only before boarding the bus at about noon that he was being taken to Gaza. His family and relatives only found out in the evening that he would not be coming home. 

Sabah was born in Jordan to a refugee family from the village of Um a-Shuf near Haifa. In 1994 he joined the Palestinian defense forces entering the Gaza Strip with Yasser Arafat and received a Palestinian identity card with a Gaza address. About a year later he moved to the West Bank, where he settled down and raised a family. 

In 2001 he was arrested, tried and convicted of membership in a Fatah militia, throwing fire bombs and making and conspiring to plant a bomb. 

During the first five years in prison Sabah's family was not permitted to visit him, he and his wife Hanan told Haaretz in separate telephone calls. 

At a later stage his wife and young son, Yazan, were allowed to visit him once every six months. The last time they saw each other was in October 2009. 

Sabah set up a protest tent near the Erez checkpoint in the Gaza Strip and says he will not leave until he is allowed to return home to his family. 

Since 1996, in violation of the Oslo Accords, Israel has forbidden the Palestinian Authority to change the identity card address of people who moved from Gaza to the West Bank. Since the end of 2000 Israel has been classifying these people as "illegal aliens" in the West Bank. 

'In keeping with procedures' 

An IDF spokesman said Sabah's release to the Gaza Strip was "in keeping with the Prison Service procedures to release prisoners to their registered address except in extremely irregular cases." 

The spokesman said Sabah had been told he was being sent to Gaza, and did not object or mention having a family in the West Bank. Nor did he say he wanted to be released to the West Bank, the spokesman said.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Closing public libraries: the silencing of democracy


         Chris Tranchetti, my student, a naval officer, who is working on a thesis on Socrates and Jesus,  has been seeking to identify the quote from a Vietnamese Buddhist in King’s “A Time to Break Silence” (here and here).  Through Vincent Harding, I had known this was from Thich Nat Hanh.  He found it in a book at Aurora Public Library.  What he describes affectingly, however, is what public education cuts mean to poor blacks, chicanoes and whites (including those who go to Auraria Community College which uses the library).  In the New York Times for last December 27th, an editorial reported that 4 in 100 poor black teenagers who search for jobs now find them (an unemployment rate of 96%).  If one is unemployed, perhaps one could go to a pubic library to get a book.*  This is an aspect of American democratic greatness compared to other countries.  I have taught in Granada and at the Univeristy of Palma de Mallorca in Spain and have a clear idea of what it is when even Universities do not have libraries, cannot provide reserve lists of books.  An artefact of Franco’s fascism, there are no public libraries in Spain.

        The absence of public libraries is also a deep anti-democratic aspect – ordinary people must know be allowed to learn anything – in less developed countries.  That is one reason why communism, even in France and elsewhere, was a progressive force in the educational and political involvement of ordinary people.  If one wants to understand the core truth of Marxian social theory to this day,** just like the fact that cooks employed by Sodexo at universities don’t get lunch breaks or sick days, see here, this is a glaring example.  On this central issue in the class war, America has always been comparatively decent and democratic.  But the ground is shifting.

           Obama is our first black President, the anti-“dumb Iraq war” candidate who is waging 5 aggressions.  He is also in charge in a situation where the oppression of black people has become more extreme, at least depression-level.  Obama, to his credit, is trying to strengthen the community college system.  So far, however, there are few results. Chris’s anecdote says it all.


This morning I alluded to a story from the Aurora Public Library, where I borrowed the book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire by Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Because of budget cuts, the library’s hours consequently have been cut to Mon- Thurs 9am-9pm, closed Fridays, and drastically reduced weekend hours, as well as a few “city furlough days” throughout the year.  The first thing I noticed upon walking into the building last night (about 7:30pm) was that today, Thursday, April 23rd, was one such ‘city furlough day.’ The second thing I noticed was that I was the only adult white male in the place.  The library’s patrons seemed to consist of mostly blacks and Hispanics of college-age with a few working class college-age whites. 

Maybe this shouldn’t seem so strange, since it was a weeknight evening, so families would be home finishing dinner (explaining why no moms and kids were there).  But, what about the empty-nesters?  Well, I did see a few older black men and women, but the only two older white women there were the librarians, and as I mentioned previously, I was the only old white guy.  However, this, admittedly, very unscientific observation got me to thinking:  Why were the library services subject to such cuts, and who was affected by them? 

I remember reading in the Denver Post at the end of last year some commentary which stated that the library services should be cut because with the ubiquity of the internet and Amazon, its services have become obsolete and `nobody' uses them.  Really?  Obsolete to whom?  It seemed pretty full to me.  But, then again, maybe those patrons didn’t count because they were minorities and of a middle to lower socio-economic class.  Those 'nobodies' were probably using the library’s services because they could not afford home internet service and/or did not have the financial wherewithal to purchase books from Amazon on whim in the comfort of their den. 

Following this thought further, I recalled that the Aurora Central Library is also the 'college' library for Aurora Community College.  I think this means that the library receives some additional funding from the community college system and, subsequently, uses those funds to purchase classical, esoteric, and scholarly works for use by the students.  So shouldn’t we be encouraging funding of our public libraries that serve as community college resources?  By doing so, don’t we improve the education level and job prospects of these “nobodies” that affluent white males complain about as reducing property values and increasing the crime rates in our communities?  If the previous aspersions are so true, why do we continue to reduce the availability of the financial resources which could be used to alleviate those problems (the return of tax surpluses via TABOR comes to mind)?  Aren’t those of us who vote for cuts in library services in response to budget deficits responsible for perpetuating the problem we profess to despise?

Well, my friend, this was what was going through my head in the twenty minutes or so I was at the library last night.  Well, that and the fact that the Cherry Creek HS library appears to be as big as the Aurora Central Library.  Maybe next time, I’ll just shop Amazon at home in my pink fuzzy bunny slippers content 'living in my white bread world…'

But, always remembering to donate any unwanted written works to Aurora Central.



*See Jonathan Kozol on The Shame of the Nation: the Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America for what poor students are faced with. But young people, often, still fight to learn.  

**Such insights may differ from solutions, but of course one needs to acknowledge true claims to mount an effective response, the opposite of current political and social “science” whose lame diktat is "Marxism failed; don’t bother looking into it."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The British campaign: does the war complex give a fig about democracy?

    Neither in Britain nor the US is the war in Afghanistan  popular.  Majorities oppose it (in Britain, 77% want the troops home ‘within a year’ and the majority immediately).   Yet it is the great unementioned, along with Iraq and Israel, in the British elections.  Why?

      Blair was described as Bush’s poodle and had to leave power – and is widely detested – because of his conduct in Iraq.  Labour will likely lose after 13 years because it is the war party (except perhaps that it might form a coalition with the emergent Liberal Democrats).

      But none of the three candidates in Britain, even Nick Clegg, who won the first debate and whose party is surprisingly surging ahead of Labor in percentage support (but not actual seats), is willing to take a public stand to withdraw the troops or even criticize the policy.  They all have a consensus of silence.  They will not move till the US moves (in other words, with Obama’s escalation, not for at least a year) or until the British people rise up again.  After such an uprising which fought against the Iraq aggression, including multifaceted protest inside the Labor Party, and got rid of Blair, there is, in Britain as here, some exhaustion in the resistance.  Democratic movements from below, movements of citizens, have strengths – consider the massive anti-Vietnam war movement – and weaknesses. Disappointment that the war could not be headed off, that the elite persists in unjustified (and unjustifiable brutalities) discourages many, makes a movement crest and recede.   A majority opposed the Vietnam war in 1968, but Nixon kept the war going till 1975…

        Democracy – the majority of the British people –has long opposed the continuing British presence in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.  Officers in Pakistan laugh at the ineffectual US occupying polices (see why John Mearsheimer and I agree about Afghanistan  here).  Neither pragmatic reasons abroad - the occupation is widely hated by ordinary Afghanis - nor democracy at home are sufficient to stop the elite.  The war and the death toll grind on, in Britain as well as in the seemingly peace candidate, anti-"dumb" Iraq War Obama’s United States.   Why?

      In both cases, there are relatively few losses (though American casualties in Afghanistan now number over a thousand) and the military, at least in the US, has been privatized (the army is volunteer and the troops in Afganistan divide 70% Blackwater/Xe corporation mercenaries to only 30%regular soldiers).  But the experience of Vietnam taught the elite a lesson.  Conscription for aggression yields protest.  The military has a greater hold on volunteers, forced by urban poverty or rural life, to join, than they would on overtly coerced draftees. 

      I have emphasized the war complex (the military-industrial-“intelligence”-think tank expert- politician-media complex, ravenously consuming $708 billion dollars in official government spending (closer to a trillion actually with expenditures in the Department of Energy for nuclear firms, off the books intelligence, or Iraq and Afghanistan accounting and the like; even the official war budget is 2 1/2 times the Cold War level – see here ) with ties in Britain and France (both military producers).  These are three capitalist oligarchies, the US the most poisoned by war but the other two either in the U.S.'s spell (Britain) or angling, though in the US sphere,  for its own influence and profit (France).  But even here, France is mostly in America’s orbit (or plays a common role as in the overthrow of the democratically elected and decent Aristide government in Haiti and his kidnapping to the Central African Republic, a former French colony).  Chirac was an heroic figure opposing the Iraq war, Sarkozy so far tiny.  In England, there is a more dissident and lively press, even in mainstream terms, than here (the two party system shuts out most dissidence in the media –engaging in epistemological closure - save for mass revolt from below).  

      Afghanistan is billed by politicians and the press as the “good war,” the one against 9/11 and to tame, in the words of the article below, “a wild society.”  This view will not withstand knowledge, however.  Ronald Reagan sent the Taliban/Mujahadeen/Freedom Fighters to defeat the Soviets, bizarrely hailing them as "freedom fighters"; he trained the Saudi ally Osama Bin Laden in bombing and terror.  At the cost of destruction of Afghanistan, sowing land mines everywhere – killing children and other innocents – the Mujahadeen brought down the Soviets.  They then became the Taliban and Osama, swollen with hubris,  turned on his erstwhile puppet-master over the new American military bases at Mecca and Medina, the holy sites of the Muslims, created with much arm-twisting by the US during the initial Gulf War.  Laura Bush spoke bravely of the protection of women against the Taliban – guess she and her husband didn’t now that 70% of the teachers were women under the pro-Soviet regime the Mujahadeen/Taliban overthrew with US/Reagan, H.W. Bush aid.  W. didn’t care much for getting Bin Laden – wanted him dead or alive except he couldn’t remember his name, targeted Saddam Hussain, and so 9 years later…

      Obama wanted to end US fighting in Iraq (draw down the occupation to 50,000 troops and perhaps 50,000 Blackwater/Xe mercenaries) and so focused on Afghanistan.  The American two party system binds the prevailing party to the war complex.  The other party can make a hit with the corporate press, as the Republican authoritarians do now, screaming that Obama – who is waging 5 aggressions and occupations – is not “tough enough” on security.  Perhaps Palin or Romney (or more likely, Petraeus) will just blow the world up and have done...The success of national security-baiting in electoral politics (it used to be painting with anti-radical and sexist ideology an opponent who is supposedly  "sympathetic to the enemy" and "weak").    Imagine an American President in the final moment in Dr. Strangelove, going down with the bomb screaming “I’m tough enough…I'm tough enough…”  In this context of constant wars, Britain is still America’s poodle.

        The story below from the Independent on Sunday is worth meditating on…

Published on Sunday, April 18, 2010 by The Independent/UK

Afghanistan: A Conspiracy of Silence

An IoS poll shows 77 per cent of Britons want our forces to come home

by Brian Brady

It is one of the few genuine issues of life and death during this general election campaign. It will not dictate how much any British school improves, how many police appear on the streets of a city, or how quickly patients are allowed to leave hospitals around the country. But it will, literally, decide the fate of thousands of British service personnel and, ultimately, how many of them live and die.

A British soldier stands guard during a patrol in Qari Saheb village in Helmand province. (Photo: The Independent)

Yet nobody wants to talk about Afghanistan.

When Nick Clegg "won" the televised party leaders' debate on Thursday night, his victory owed nothing to his limp response to a question about support for British troops serving in Afghanistan. The Liberal Democrat leader agreed that British troops in Afghanistan were under-paid and under-equipped, but he did not question why they had lost 281 colleagues in that country, or why they were there in the first place.

Similarly, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have pledged loyal support for a campaign that is deep into its ninth year, and shows no sign of nearing an end. In front of the cameras, the Prime Minister offered sombre reflection on the campaign, while Mr Cameron queried the number of helicopters available to British forces. Yet neither has gone out of his way to tackle the issue head-on elsewhere during this campaign, to explain why the UK should remain in Afghanistan, why it should continue to support a discredited government in Kabul, and how many more British service personnel must die before the mission can be brought to a close.

Last November, The Independent on Sunday called for a "phased, orderly withdrawal" of British forces from the "ill-conceived, unwinnable and counterproductive" campaign in Afghanistan. The UK still remains in there - and more than 50 servicemen have died since then. Last month, The IoS revealed that Britain harboured profound concerns at the highest levels over the quality of the Afghan police who must guarantee security before our troops can leave.

The leaders may, at last, be forced to explain their positions this week, when the second debate concentrates on foreign affairs. But, given their performance so far, it is unlikely that they will offer any fresh hope for the service personnel in Afghanistan or their families back home.

"We want to see more substantive engagement on defence issues from the parties," said Douglas Young, executive chairman of the British Armed Forces Federation, an independent staff association for service personnel. "Up to now, there have been too many airy-fairy platitudes and not enough substance."

These are leaders who last week presented election manifestos amounting to more than 80,000 words on their grand plans for education, health, the economy, but who managed to mention Afghanistan only 19 times between them.

The stifling of the issue might be due to the fact that all the main parties know their policies are entirely at odds with the feelings of the population over Afghanistan. In November, a poll found that 73 per cent of people wanted British troops to come home within "a year or so" - and almost half of them called for immediate withdrawal.

A poll for The IoS today finds that this number has increased, with 77 per cent now supporting withdrawal on the same terms. The number disagreeing is now below one in seven. Further, more than 50 per cent of those polled believe that the risk of terrorism in the UK is increased by the presence of British troops in Afghanistan.

However, none of the major parties is promising to pull troops out if they get into government and only the Scottish National Party - confined to one part of the UK - is calling for an honest reappraisal of the operation. The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, last week made much of his record of "speaking out pretty forcefully" on Afghanistan. But his manifesto commits the party to being "critical supporters of the Afghanistan mission'', albeit with a pledge to match the military surge to a strategy of tackling corruption and winning over moderate Taliban.

The Lib Dem defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, yesterday conceded that anti-war voters have few choices. "If they are against the whole principle of being involved [in Afghanistan], they'll struggle to find anyone putting that case," he said. For opponents of the war, the lack of differentiation between the three main parties and their failure to embrace the Afghan question during the first two weeks of the election campaign amounts to a "conspiracy of silence" to suppress debate.

Chris Nineham, of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "There has been a deafening silence about Afghanistan in the run-up to the election. The three main parties are doing their best not to mention the war, despite the fact that the vast majority of the population oppose it."

Yet, despite complaints from the most vocal critics of the war, there is no guarantee that, however strongly voters feel, they are prepared to treat it as an electoral issue. In November 2006, when the toll of British deaths during five years of the campaign stood at 41, pollsters Ipsos Mori found that "defence/foreign affairs/Iraq and Afghanistan" topped the list of concerns facing the country. Two out of five voters spontaneously identified it as a key national problem. Three and a half years on, with 240 added to the death toll - 36 this year alone - it has slipped to seventh.

A leaked CIA report last month observed how "some Nato states, notably France and Germany, have counted on public apathy about Afghanistan to increase their contributions to the mission". It also argued that such apathy "enabled leaders to ignore voters". It seems that Britain's leaders are banking on indifference to help them through a potentially troublesome campaign without having to confront the most troubling issue before them.

"All three parties in 2001 thought we should go in. There are no votes in it, so they keep quiet about it," said General Sir Hugh Beach, former deputy commander of British Land Forces.

Five years ago, public opposition to the Iraq War was widely listed as a contributory factor behind a general election result that cut Labour's majority from 167 to 66. And lingering rancour over the war helped to lever Mr Blair from office two years later.

Afghanistan has been different. It has been overwhelmingly regarded as the "just" war. It was portrayed as a campaign to democratise a wild nation, to oust the Taliban, al-Qa'ida and all the extremists threatening the West with terror plots over the past decade.

That justification has lost its power as the death toll spirals and Afghans show little inclination to take control of their own affairs. Military commanders in Pakistan, where suicide bombers killed more than 40 people yesterday, regard the failure of US-led forces to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan with ill-concealed derision.

"They don't have the legitimacy we do," said Colonel Nauman Saeed, who commands 3,500 solders in Bajaur, a mountainous district on the Afghan border. "Afghans see them as illegitimate intruders and occupation forces." At the moment, the Pakistan military are in a victorious mood after retaking much of the territory along the Afghan border which was ruled by the Pakistan Taliban a year ago.

When experts point to terror plots from Pakistan and even within the UK, the Government's contention that the Afghan campaign is vital to protect Britain's security at home is difficult to explain.

And the government of President Karzai continues to raise concerns in Nato capitals. "The problem we have is that the regime in Afghanistan, which we support, is built on electoral fraud, with graft and corruption," said the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman, Angus Robertson. "We need to be absolutely honest about our options, and one of the aspects of that is that there needs to be a decision about when we bring our forces home."

The IoS military covenant panel

Major General Patrick Cordingley

"There is an embargo on the Ministry of Defence, so there is virtually no news coming out of them. The two main parties basically agree on Afghanistan. If somebody disagreed it would be a big issue but as they all agree, there's no point banging on about it."

Major Julian Thompson

"The reason is the parties have stayed off the issue in toto. Defence is unfortunately the last thing people think about and it is not something that turns people on. Labour got us in there in the first place and don't want people to be reminded of it."

General Sir Hugh Beach

"Nobody thinks there are votes in it one way or the other. All three parties in 2001 thought we should go in. There are no votes in it either way, so they keep quiet about it."

Rose Gentle, mother of Fusilier Gordon Gentle, killed in Iraq

"It isn't really a vote-winner. Iraq isn't mentioned and the soldiers that died there are the silent heroes. Families I've spoken to think someone should say something about it, but to be honest I don't think anyone will."

Retired Colonel Clive Fairweather

"In 2001 it was the war on terror, but since then the country can't make the connection with the war on terror any more. I don't think the Tories or Nick Clegg have much else to offer. It would only become an issue if there were multiple casualties, which is not very good for troop morale."

James Fergusson, journalist, foreign correspondent and author of 'A Million Bullets: The Real Story of the British Army in Afghanistan'

"It is easy to say we need more helicopters but I have always thought that the argument that we are fighting over there to protect the streets is easily shot down. But I think the [political] opponents are too scared to take on the issue."

The Rifleman: 'William would have made a fantastic husband and dad'

Anyone who met Rifleman William Aldridge had only to look at the teenager to know how much his family meant to him: he had the name of his young brother George tattooed on his arm.

He had planned to get Archie, the name of the youngest brother, inked on his other arm but was deployed to Afghanistan before he got the chance. He was killed, aged 18, by an IED blast while on foot patrol with the 2nd Battalion The Rifles in Sangin province on July 10. He now holds the tragic distinction of being the youngest British soldier to die in the conflict.

It took his mother Lucy Aldridge, 42, a couple of weeks to find the right words to tell his brothers - then aged five and four - that they would not see him again. "I explained that William was doing a very important job protecting people in another country but now he had a much more important job to do and that meant that he wouldn't be able to come home because he had gone to be with the angels and look after everybody."

William's brothers meant "everything to him. He would have made a fantastic husband and dad."

The rifleman was a "very keen outdoors type" as a child, enjoying martial arts, rowing and canoeing. He was a Cub and a Scout, and joined a rifles cadet force when he was 12, his mum said from the family home in Bredenbury, Herefordshire.

"It was his dream, so I couldn't have been happier with him knowing exactly what he wanted to do."

That dream saw him sign up at the age of 16 after taking his GCSEs at the Minster College in Leominster. He passed out in August 2008 after basic training at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate and moved to Catterick for infantry training. He joined his battalion in Ballykinlar, Northern Ireland, that December.

William, who had formed part of the rearguard looking after families of serving soldiers, was posted to Afghanistan three days after celebrating his 18th birthday on 23 May last year with a family meal.

In their last conversation he sounded in "good spirits" but also "extremely tired" after being at a patrol base for 10 instead of 28 days due to "an inability for them to be resupplied with equipment, with basics like water and ammunition".

Two days later, he was killed following an improvised explosive device (IED) blast during an early-morning foot patrol. The "calm" soldier helped comrades caught up in an earlier explosion in which he had also been injured. He was airlifted to Camp Bastion but died about an hour and a half later.

Ms Aldridge is calling for a ban on foot patrols "unless greater safety measures are put in place to protect these young men".

She has since thrown herself into fundraising, launching the Kilimanjaro 2010 Appeal in October. The project hopes to raise £40,000 for the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine patient welfare fund at Selly Oak Hospital and the Rifleman's Fund, supporting injured riflemen and bereaved families.

This October, she will officially launch the William Aldridge Foundation to raise money to support charities caring for wounded service personnel across the three armed forces. She wants to expand help "not just for the physically injured but those who are psychologically scarred", and describes the problem of soldiers suffering mental illness as a "ticking time bomb" that urgently needs government funding.

"I would hope that had my son returned home somebody would be doing the same for him," she said.

Kate Youde

The amputee: 'He never wavered'

At just three, Lance Corporal Simon Wiggins was inspired by his grandfather's interest in the Guards, and the pair watched Zulu together. Now 23, he is rehabilitating after stepping on an IED on 16 March 2008, while serving with the First Battalion Coldstream Guards in Helmand. The blast - two weeks before he was due home - necessitated the amputation of his leg. He also suffered extensive internal trauma and lost a finger. His mother, Gilly Wiggins, 50, of Coulsdon, Surrey, said his military passion never wavered during his childhood and "he used to go running with a backpack full of Coke bottles filled with water to train".

The sniper enlisted in 2004 after his A-levels and trained at Catterick, passing out in May 2005. He was serving in Iraq the following month.

But Mrs Wiggins, vice chair of a support group at the charity Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association Forces Help, worried about his deployment to Afghanistan and had a "strange feeling" about it. Her son made a "miraculous recovery" and is now at the regiment's Aldershot base.

Kate Youde

The veteran: 'I was a mess. The Army didn't help me'

Lance Corporal Jim Maguire (not his real name), 29, from Hull joined the Army in 1998 and served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He began to develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression and anxiety in Iraq which developed into PTSD after he was ambushed in his Scimitar in a village in southern Afghanistan. "I was a mess. The Army didn't provide me with help. Fortunately I was referred to Combat Stress. They saved my life. I met other guys who'd been through it too. It was a massive help. It's easy to hide a problem. They hide people like me. "

Paul Bignell

The mother: 'I was glued to the news'

Diane Blackmore-Heal, a police officer from Banbury, near Oxford, welcomed her son, Adam, 22, home just two weeks ago after a seven-month tour with the Household Cavalry in Helmand province.

"Adam has wanted to be in the Army since he was five years old. This was his first tour of active duty, and I don't think I realised how stressed I was until he came home and I started to sleep properly again. I was glued to the news for seven months. Somehow I felt he would come back but I was aware of the IEDs and worried whether he would cope with a serious injury. Adam showed me a picture of a colleague, taken after he lost both legs on their last patrol; it could have been him."

Nina Lakhani

The parties...


Manifesto: 78pp, 30,227 words

Defence: 2,750 words

Health: 2,950 words, 47 mentions

Education: 1,927 words, 61 mentions

Afghanistan: 11 mentions


Manifesto: 120pp, 28,733 words

Defence: 1,178 words

Health 1,741 words, 72 mentions

Education: 1,184 words, 58 mentions

Afghanistan: 5 mentions

Lib Dems

Manifesto: 110pp, 21,668 words

Defence: 466 words

Health: 1,143 words, 34 mentions

Education: 1,719 words, 87 mentions

Afghanistan: 3 mentions


Manifesto: 50pp, 20,427 words

Defence: 254 words

Health: 715 words, 59 mentions

Education: 522 words, 35 mentions

Afghanistan: 4 mentions


Monday, April 19, 2010

Poem: one

one among children

        shatters greenflowered

                        (a sister’s gift


one among adults



                  with loss



Sunday, April 18, 2010

How Coloradoans (and others) can act today for decency toward Palestine


       Richard Goldstone, the courageous judge, stood once for ending apartheid and nonviolent transition in South Africa and now for decency for Palestinians.  He is a Zionist, devoted to Israel, and a Trustee of Hebrew University.  He is someone who speaks truth to power.  His grandson has a bar mitzvah in Johannesburg this weekend.  But thugs threatened to disrupt it if Goldstone  came.  This is a fanatic and self-destructive action of the fanciers of a "greater Israel" who have entirely lost their way.

       What does it mean when some cast anathema on others?  When a man like Goldstone, honored throughout the world for his standing up for human rights even when it is costly – is this not prophecy, the tradition of the Jews? – is barred from a deep spiritual celebration of his grandson becoming an adult?  when a grandson is deprived of his grandfather? 

        This is a day for all those of us who stand for the protection of innocents, Jewish and non-Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian, to say something. A great controversy has unfolded at Berkeley.  The University of California student senate voted courageously for the University to divest from two war companies GE and United Technologies that make weapons for use by an occupying army in the territories.  They have gotten some heat (nothing as bad as Goldstone yet, for times are changing here).  The student body president vetoed the bill, and a vote that may override his veto is scheduled for this week.  See here.

       I received a letter from Beth Daoud and Mila Pilz asking me, as a Coloradoan, to support those students who advocated divestment in the two companies by putting my name on a banner, saying that Coloradoans support divestment, to be hung at Berkeley on Tuesday.  I enclose the correspondance and Beth’s email, to which  you can send your signature.  I also include a moving letter from Judy Butler, a professor of rhetoric at Berkeley, who found noble words for this cause.


Hello!  Please read the email below.  If you want your name on the banner going to CA to support the Berkeley divestment, please email Beth at



"Hi guys,

I have great news! I contacted the Muslim Student Association at Berkeley and they would be willing to hang a banner from Colorado at their school supporting the divestment. I'd like to get A LOT of people to sign the banner - but time is short. Probably no later than Tues. would the banner have to be Fed Exed to them to get there before next weeks re-vote.

Does anyone belong to a church whose members would sign the banner? Any other ideas? I will be calling Carolyn B. from RMPJC to see how she might be able to help. I know Friday is prayer day at the mosque, but is there anyone associated with the mosque who might be able to get some people together?

The other option I will be working on in getting names on the banner is asking people permission by email to put their name on the banner; with time so limited this may be the fastest way.

The banner will be done tonight. It is 6' x 2' and says ‘Coloradans Support Divestment.’ Can I sign your name on it? Are there other people you know there whose full name I can sign to the banner also?

I am including the letter the Muslim Student Association sent me- see below.

In Solidarity,

Beth Daoud”

“Dear Beth Daoud,

We thank you sincerely for your support. No matter what eventually happens with the divestment bill, simply the fact that it is being followed by activists in Colorado and throughout the world is a sign that this movement is moving ahead with full force and will not be stopped.

With all the opposition to the bill, your support is very much appreciated. The best we can do is continue to show how much overwhelming support there is for the bill. We would be happy to receive the banner you suggest and display it in a public setting, as we have displayed Desmond Tutu's letter supporting the bill. 

Again, we greatly appreciate your awareness and support. Please let me know how you would like us to receive the banner.

In solidarity,

Amer Abdulla”

      Below is the speech given by Judy Butler, reprinted from the Nation,      

"You Will Not Be Alone

By Judith Butler

April 13, 2010

(Editor's Note: What follows is the text of a speech Professor Butler will give on Wednesday, April 14, to the students of the University of California, Berkeley. On March 18, Berkeley's Student Senate voted 16-to-4 to divest from General Electric and United Technologies because of their role in harming civilians as part of Israel's illegal occupation and the attack on Gaza. A week later, the Senate president vetoed the bill. The bill's opponents have been waging a fierce campaign of misinformation; student senators have been flooded with letters and Alan Dershowitz may visit the campus. More information about the bill can be found here.)

        Let us begin with the assumption that it is very hard to hear the debate under consideration here. One hears someone saying something, and one fears that they are saying another thing. It is hard to trust words, or indeed to know what words actually mean. So that is a sign that there is a certain fear in the room, and also, a certain suspicion about the intentions that speakers have and a fear about the implications of both words and deeds. Of course, tonight you do not need a lecture on rhetoric from me, but perhaps, if you have a moment, it might be possible to pause and to consider reflectively what is actually at stake in this vote, and what is not. Let me introduce myself first as a Jewish faculty member here at Berkeley, on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, on the US executive committee of Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a global organization, a member of the Russell Tribunal on Human Rights in Palestine, and a board member of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. I am at work on a book which considers Jewish criticisms of state violence, Jewish views of co-habitation, and the importance of 'remembrance' in both Jewish and Palestinian philosophic and poetic traditions.

The first thing I want to say is that there is hardly a Jewish dinner table left in this country--or indeed in Europe and much of Israel--in which there is not enormous disagreement about the status of the occupation, Israeli military aggression and the future of Zionism, binationalism and citizenship in the lands called Israel and Palestine. There is no one Jewish voice, and in recent years, there are increasing differences among us, as is evident by the multiplication of Jewish groups that oppose the occupation and which actively criticize and oppose Israeli military policy and aggression. In the US and Israel alone these groups include: Jewish Voice for Peace, American Jews for a Just Peace, Jews Against the Occupation, Boycott from Within, New Profile, Anarchists Against the Wall, Women in Black, Who Profits?, Btselem, Zochrot, Black Laundry, Jews for a Free Palestine (Bay Area), No Time to Celebrate and more. The emergence of J Street was an important effort to establish an alternative voice to AIPAC, and though J street has opposed the bill you have before you, the younger generation of that very organization has actively contested the politics of its leadership. So even there you have splits, division and disagreement.

So if someone says that it offends "the Jews" to oppose the occupation, then you have to consider how many Jews are already against the occupation, and whether you want to be with them or against them. If someone says that "Jews" have one voice on this matter, you might consider whether there is something wrong with imagining Jews as a single force, with one view, undivided. It is not true. The sponsors of Monday evening's round table at Hillel made sure not to include voices with which they disagree. And even now, as demonstrations in Israel increase in number and volume against the illegal seizure of Palestinian lands, we see a burgeoning coalition of those who seek to oppose unjust military rule, the illegal confiscation of lands, and who hold to the norms of international law even when nations refuse to honor those norms.

What I learned as a Jewish kid in my synagogue--which was no bastion of radicalism--was that it was imperative to speak out against social injustice. I was told to have the courage to speak out, and to speak strongly, even when people accuse you of breaking with the common understanding, even when they threaten to censor you or punish you. The worst injustice, I learned, was to remain silent in the face of criminal injustice. And this tradition of Jewish social ethics was crucial to the fights against Nazism, fascism and every form of discrimination, and it became especially important in the fight to establish the rights of refugees after the Second World War. Of course, there are no strict analogies between the Second World War and the contemporary situation, and there are no strict analogies between South Africa and Israel, but there are general frameworks for thinking about co-habitation, the right to live free of external military aggression, the rights of refugees, and these form the basis of many international laws that Jews and non-Jews have sought to embrace in order to live in a more just world, one that is more just not just for one nation or for another, but for all populations, regardless of nationality and citizenship. If some of us hope that Israel will comply with international law, it is precisely so that one people can live among other peoples in peace and in freedom. It does not de-legitimate Israel to ask for its compliance with international law. Indeed, compliance with international law is the best way to gain legitimacy, respect and an enduring place among the peoples of the world.

Of course, we could argue on what political forms Israel and Palestine must take in order for international law to be honored. But that is not the question that is before you this evening. We have lots of time to consider that question, and I invite you to join me to do that in a clear-minded way in the future. But consider this closely: the bill you have before you does not ask that you take a view on Israel. I know that it certainly seems like it does, since the discussion has been all about that. But it actually makes two points that are crucial to consider. The first is simply this: there are two companies that not only are invested in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and peoples, but who profit from that occupation, and which are sustained in part by funds invested by the University of California. They are General Electric and United Technologies. They produce aircraft designed to bomb and kill, and they have bombed and killed civilians, as has been amply demonstrated by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. You are being asked to divest funds from these two companies. You are NOT being asked to divest funds from every company that does business with Israel. And you are not being asked to resolve to divest funds from Israeli business or citizens on the basis of their citizenship or national belonging. You are being asked only to call for a divestment from specific companies that make military weapons that kill civilians. That is the bottom line.

If the newspapers or others seek to make inflammatory remarks and to say that this is an attack on Israel, or an attack on Jews, or an upsurge of anti-Semitism, or an act that displays insensitivity toward the feelings of some of our students, then there is really only one answer that you can provide, as I see it. Do we let ourselves be intimidated into not standing up for what is right? It is simply unethical for UC to invest in such companies when they profit from the killing of civilians under conditions of a sustained military occupation that is manifestly illegal according to international law. The killing of civilians is a war crime. By voting yes, you say that you do not want the funds of this university to be invested in war crimes, and that you hold to this principle regardless of who commits the war crime or against whom it is committed. 

Of course, you should clearly ask whether you would apply the same standards to any other occupation or destructive military situation where war crimes occur. And I note that the bill before you is committed to developing a policy that would divest from all companies engaged in war crimes. In this way, it contains within it both a universal claim and a universalizing trajectory. It recommends explicitly "additional divestment policies to keep university investments out of companies aiding war crimes throughout the world, such as those taking place in Morocco, the Congo, and other places as determined by the resolutions of the United Nations and other leading human rights organizations." Israel is not singled out. It is, if anything, the occupation that is singled out, and there are many Israelis who would tell you that Israel must be separated from its illegal occupation. This is clearly why the divestment call is selective: it does not call for divestment from any and every Israeli company; on the contrary, it calls for divestment from two corporations where the links to war crimes are well-documented.

Let this then be a precedent for a more robust policy of ethical investment that would be applied to any company in which UC invests. This is the beginning of a sequence, one that both sides to this dispute clearly want. Israel is not to be singled out as a nation to be boycotted--and let us note that Israel itself is not boycotted by this resolution. But neither is Israel's occupation to be held exempt from international standards. If you want to say that the historical understanding of Israel's genesis gives it an exceptional standing in the world, then you disagree with those early Zionist thinkers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes among them, who thought that Israel must not only live in equality with other nations, but must also exemplify principles of equality and social justice in its actions and policies. There is nothing about the history of Israel or of the Jewish people that sanctions war crimes or asks us to suspend our judgment about war crimes in this instance. We can argue about the occupation at length, but I am not sure we can ever find a justification on the basis of international law for the deprivation of millions of people of their right to self-determination and their lack of protection against police and military harassment and destructiveness. But again, we can have that discussion, and we do not have to conclude it here in order to understand the specific choice that we face. You don't have to give a final view on the occupation in order to agree that investing in companies that commit war crimes is absolutely wrong, and that in saying this, you join Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and so many other peoples from diverse religious and secular traditions who believe that international governance, justice and peace demand compliance with international law and human rights and the opposition to war crimes. You say that you do not want our money going into bombs and helicopters and military materiel that destroys civilian life. You do not want it in this context, and you do not want it in any context.

Part of me wants to joke--where would international human rights be without the Jews! We helped to make those rights, at Nuremberg and again in Jerusalem, so what does it mean that there are those who tell you that it is insensitive to Jewishness to come out in favor of international law and human rights? It is a lie--and what a monstrous view of what it means to be Jewish. It disgraces the profound traditions of social justice that have emerged from the struggle against fascism and the struggles against racism; it effaces the tradition of ta-ayush, living together, the ethical relation to the non-Jew which is the substance of Jewish ethics, and it effaces the value that is given to life no matter the religion or race of those who live. You do not need to establish that the struggle against this occupation is the same as the historical struggle against apartheid to know that each struggle has its dignity and its absolute value, and that oppression in its myriad forms do not have to be absolutely identical to be equally wrong. For the record, the occupation and apartheid constitute two different versions of settler colonialism, but we do not need a full understanding of this convergence and divergence to settle the question before us today. Nothing in the bill before you depends on the seamless character of that analogy. In voting for this resolution, you stand with progressive Jews everywhere and with broad principles of social justice, which means, that you stand with those who wish to stand not just with their own kind but with all of humanity, and who do this, in part, both because of the religious and non-religious values they follow.

Lastly, let me say this. You may feel fear in voting for this resolution. I was frightened coming here this evening. You may fear that you will seem anti-Semitic, that you cannot handle the appearance of being insensitive to Israel's needs for self-defense, insensitive to the history of Jewish suffering. Perhaps it is best to remember the words of Primo Levi who survived a brutal internment at Auschwitz when he had the courage to oppose the Israeli bombings of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. He openly criticized Menachem Begin, who directed the bombing of civilian centers, and he received letters asking him whether he cared at all about the spilling of Jewish blood. He wrote:

    I reply that the blood spilled pains me just as much as the blood spilled by all other human beings. But there are still harrowing letters. And I am tormented by them, because I know that Israel was founded by people like me, only less fortunate than me. Men with a number from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms, with no home nor homeland, escaping from the horrors of the Second World War who found in Israel a home and a homeland. I know all this. But I also know that this is Begin's favourite defence. And I deny any validity to this defence.

As the Israeli historian Idith Zertal makes clear, do not use this most atrocious historical suffering to legitimate military destructiveness--it is a cruel and twisted use of the history of suffering to defend the affliction of suffering on others.

To struggle against fear in the name of social justice is part of a long and venerable Jewish tradition; it is non-nationalist, that is true, and it is committed not just to my freedom, but to all of our freedoms. So let us remember that there is no one Jew, not even one Israel, and that those who say that there are seek to intimidate or contain your powers of criticism. By voting for this resolution, you are entering a debate that is already underway, that is crucial for the materialization of justice, one which involves having the courage to speak out against injustice, something I learned as a young person, but something we each have to learn time and again. I understand that it is not easy to speak out in this way. But if you struggle against voicelessness to speak out for what is right, then you are in the middle of that struggle against oppression and for freedom, a struggle that knows that there is no freedom for one until there is freedom for all. There are those who will surely accuse you of hatred, but perhaps those accusations are the enactment of hatred. The point is not to enter that cycle of threat and fear and hatred--that is the hellish cycle of war itself. The point is to leave the discourse of war and to affirm what is right. You will not be alone. You will be speaking in unison with others, and you will, actually, be making a step toward the realization of peace--the principles of non-violence and co-habitation that alone can serve as the foundation of peace. You will have the support of a growing and dynamic movement, inter-generational and global, by speaking against the military destruction of innocent lives and against the corporate profit that depends on that destruction. You will stand with us, and we will most surely stand with you."