Monday, April 12, 2010

Why the Titanic of war is hard to turn


      I recently attended a fine lecture at my school by a job candidate who was a leading Middle East expert in the Clinton administration, someone with a keen turn of mind, a sense of humor, and a knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic (not to mention serious interest in older religious texts and the differing senses of community in Judaism and Islam). The talk traced the underlying assumptions and differences in Middle East policy from Bush 1 through Obama.  

      He mentioned, by the by, that Clinton had used military force some 87 (not quite sure of the number) times.  It was a brief but eyebrow-raising remark.  Perhaps it is not really surprising that the anti-dumb Iraq War Obama is waging two occupations and three other smaller scale aggressions; war needn’t be discussed with or by citizens, even experts. Except for the speaker, I doubt anybody in the room, including two of us who have published books on these matters at Princeton or Cambridge, could name the “interventions.”  Not even sure Noam could….

       The speaker just said point-blank a kind of basic (or base) realism motivates US foreign policy in the Middle East, because the flow of oil and military bases are just too important.  The kind of realism meant here is that fine talk is nice (the speaker attended to words, particularly Bush’s and Condi’s words, closely and with some bemusement). But really, the antiwar movement was right about the first Gulf War; “what if they grew broccoli in Iraq?”  Or to put his thought in English (this sort of realism often has a cynical vocabulary), Lenin’s idea of imperialism (or perhaps Chalmers Johnson’s) fits American policy: a dominating empire, wasting lives, not a decent regime.

     The speaker raised two deep issues. As he put it, the problems of the Middle East for the U.S. – that it has made huge military and economic investments, in fact, has stretched its soldiers to the breaking point and gone broke, and yet the problems simmer for example about Israel and Palestine, the future of Iraq or the new protests of Karzai that he may join the Taliban – he remembers Diem,  see Scott Horton here - as they have for half a century.  One could raise the question he said, of whether the kind of realism involved in US policy-making across administrations really was beneficial even to the US.  Maybe, he suggested, there is some wiser way of looking at it, even if he could not supply it.  This was, I think, a deep question, one that could (and has for others, including government officials) produced movement.

       The other thing, he said, to be mischievous or provocative, was that maybe in 20 years, the Iraq “intervention” will look like a good thing.  Maybe there will be a “democracy” – a parliamentary regime – in Iraq and the war effort will thus, he implied, have been good.  He didn’t say he quite endorsed this question – though in the foreign policy apparatus, perhaps he has not taken in that US economy just collapsed, that the country is broke, that poor people are suffering, the middle class falling into poverty, and that a $708 billion war budget (not counting “intelligence” and much of the expenditure on Iraq and Afghanistan) – 2 2/3 times more than at the height of the Cold War – is unsustainable, even with China’s willingness for us to become further a debtor economy to them.  See here.  If this aggression was “worth it,” what act of self-destruction would not be “worth it”?

       With the exception of two comments, the questions predictably adopted the assumptions of the speaker.  There is a tendency for people to make themselves small when discussing matters of power.  There is a “knowledgeable” foreign policy consensus, in the orbit of the government in which America uses its military force to “intervene” here and there.  Few if any of those interventions accomplish the American elite’s goals and the big ones spectacularly do not (Vietnam and Iraq).  If this is “realism,” what is blindness?

     But within the framework one may ask with the neocons – why not send 600,000 troops to Iraq and do it the "right way"? (never mind that these same neocons kept their mouths shut when General Shinseki was cashiered by Rumsfeld for saying exactly that or that ordinary Americans get to be sacrificed or go broke in the process). 

      The speaker said wonderfully of Netanyahu that his conduct with Biden was “oafish” (unkind perhaps to oafs).  But Netanyahu’s idea of statesmanship, he related, would be to bomb Natanz. Netanyahu could not imagine settling with the Palestinians, and the speaker, reflecting a Washington view, believes that the elections which brought Hamas to power in Gaza divided the Palestinians so that Israel has “no partner for peace.”  No thought that the Israeli government has done many twists and turns to avoid negotiations, even launching Hamas to undermine the then demonized Fatah, or that Israel is comparatively militarily strong – and it behooves the authentically strong* to make a decent settlement with the weak - occurred to him.

     One questioner spoke rightly of the US being at the edge of an abyss.  I suggested (in the midst of five questions taken together) that Andrew Bacevich asks the right question.  Why do policy-makers throughout the Cold War and since have the arrogant (racist) assumption that the US  can shape regimes elsewhere and that it needs all out military dominance?  Isn’t the reliance on war and occupation precisely the problem rather than a solution? 

       Bacevich is a serious conservative, wonderfully critical of Reagan (the man who created the dilemma of frivolous military intervention in the Middle East, backing the mujahadeen against the Soviets – they later became the Taliban and Bin Laden – or arming Saddam and wasting in Saddam’s aggression a million Iraqis and a million Iranians (the US had armed both sides, during the Shah’s rule, and of course apologized for Saddam’s murders, Rumsfeld shaking his hand vigorously in a famous photograph and protesting that it was not Saddam’s poison-gas that murdered the Kurds at Halabja and that the US had not supplied the gas; rather it was Iranian “mustard gas”…But around here (even Andrew Sullivan idealizes Reagan and Thatcher), the idea that there could be something wrong with Reagan, that he could have set in motion the hollowing out of the economy, the journey of jobs elsewhere, the staggering inequalities, the dependence on the military funded by borrowing and huge amounts of debt - roughly what Bush 2 took to new heights - is quite far out. With some moral fiber to his account, Bacevich suggests that the trouble in American foreign policy is bipartisan and of longstanding (see for example The Limits of Power, pp. 32-66).

      Other patriotic realists who take the rule of law and decency seriously, have reached related conclusions.  Chalmers Johnson, who defended the Vietnam war to the end (he now regrets it), has wonderfully traced the empire of bases.  The US is the only power with bases in its own name abroad – it has some 800 – and they are a constant source of tension with the societies which our government dominates; the French have 5 in former French colonial Africa.  Johnson has also traced the enormous decline faced by the American empire – we can withdraw like Britain after World War II and remain a parliamentary regime with something like a rule of law** he suggests, or turn into an overt, decadent Roman empire.

     Johnson was never part of an anti-war movement from below and fears that empire has already triumphed here.  Given the collapse of the American economy and its dependence on unregulated speculation, it is quite likely that China, which bars such speculation, has already recovered from the depression, and engages in manufacture, will catch up to us much faster than has been thought.  Obama could push toward a green economy, but the Congress, paralyzed by the authoritarian (and way crazy) party and the spinelessness of the Democrats (the world’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party as Republican strategist Kevin Phillips once put it), may not permit it.

       Johnson was an establishment (far into the CIA and the right) realist who retained some deeper prophetic or sophisticated realism and today understands the US from that perspective (one where democratic empires become increasingly decadent and go into severe decline – achieve the triumph of a 5 or 6 monsters as Montesquieu puts it at the conclusion of Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans – consider Bush/Cheney as a first installment – and perhaps 5 or 6 Fulds –Lehman brothers – and Blankfeins – Goldman Sachs, making billions while running their companies and the world economy into the ground.  One should add, of course, in the case of the politically successful Goldman Sachs, stealing tax payer money to bail them out.  Blankfein, by the way, just issued a report attempting to answer Matt Taibbi’s charge that Goldman both furthered the real estate bubble and bet, in credit default swaps and collateral debt obligations, on its collapse.  Goldman Sachs bets for and against its clients (the same with the Greek economy) and makes ponzi schemers like Madoff into pikers. Taibbi called Goldman  “a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money" – amazingly awful though apt; apologies again for the species-ism. Given the obvious, Blankfein, also amazingly, issued a long report attempting to respond to the charge – here. (One just can’t enjoy outrageous profits in peace any more…).

      Similar to Bacevich and Johnson is Ray McGovern, the Presidential daily briefer for the CIA for 27 years, a leader during Bush of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (see here and here) or Mary Wright, a career State Department official who resigned over the Iraq War (one of three), and has recently campaigned with Cindy Sheehan against American abuses.  Another former establishment protestor is Daniel Ellsberg whose release of the Pentagon papers was a great turning (he once debated my teacher Stanley Hoffmann at Harvard, defending the war and even bragging about killing Vietnamese himself with the Special Forces).  He campaigns for officials to leak the truth about American policy – that it is badly thought out; there are people over there who have “our oil under their soil” and – our officials always seem surprised - do not want “our” occupying troops.  Ellsberg’s recent striking call on officials to be patriotic and leak damaging information – to halt endless war – by revealing how horrible and ill-thought out war policies are in terms of a common good are here.  All of them take seriously the moral component of American “interventions”: aggression and torture.  All are disturbed by the growing police state, abandoning of the rule of law and democracy at home (again, the election of Barack opened a surprising new path…).

      John Mearsheimer, a leading academic neo-realist, has argued that the occupation in Afghanistan accomplishes no good for the United States and that Obama was terribly mistaken to “surge” there. I have traced some commonalities between my version of democratic internationalism and Mearsheimer’s realism in “Why John Mearsheimer and I agree about Afghanistan” here.

      How do critics of war and Empire, often starting from establishment realist arguments, get to a place easily which the speaker did not wish to go.  Perhaps the initial motivation for their realism, before they became critical, was the evil of "our enemies.”  Young people looking at Vietnam saw a naked girl, burning with napalm,  running along the road.  Soldiers got the real experience of fighting and murdering civilians. Ideologues – or what I call official realists, for whom the facts are altered by an extraordinary ideological filter – recited clichés (it was a North Vietnamese invasion of the South, the White Paper said, rather than a US violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords to prevent mandated elections because as President Eisenhower said, “80% of the population would have voted for Ho Chi Minh”).

      Sophisticated realists like Morganthau, Kennan, Niebuhr and Stanley Hoffmann became critical of this approach (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? ch. 2).  Realism is initially a prophetic or spiritual argument which does not see “one’s own government” with fantasy or hubris.  Even in neo-realist form, the emphasis on regimes as mere powers, with no other distinguishing characteristics, means to place them all on a par.  The boastful assumption that the “US is a benevolent hegemon” – Wiliam Kristol – permeating the establishment as Bacevich suggests, has done enormous harm. 

        My MGPCD? does an internal critique of many of the versions of Cold War realism and neo-realism, suggesting that if a national interest is a common good, then American policies often harm most Americans (soldiers whose lives are wasted in an indecent cause, those for whom the economy collapses, those who lose public freedoms, those who are attacked for being “unpatriotic” or dangerous agitators instead of being given any serious answer).   Consider LBJ’s campaign to trash anti-Vietnam war intellectuals such as Hans Morganthau – Hans Morganthau who loved the United States fiercely and even fantastically* in comparison to his German homeland! – as “traitors,” naming his insidious persecution of dissidents named  “Project Morganthau.” Johnson’s publicist John Roche referred to “pointy heads in Cambridge and Berkeley and that German professor in Chicago…” (see MGPCD?, ch. 2).  The abridgment of law here, and the central role of charges about endangering “security” (Republicans fantastically accuse Obama, who is waging 5 aggressions, of being “weak”, though occasionally, with Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post, also “foolhardy” – for criticizing Karzai and Netanyahu).  The quickest way for Republicans to attempt a comeback would be to nominate General Petraeus (although he may not want to take on Obama; even with a Depression, Obama’s political skill is to the fore, for instance, Obama’s willingness to listen to and take up Republican proposals, while Romney idly denounces Romneycare makes Obama look good by comparison****).

       Facts make a difference.  If one wants to believe in American democracy and in American “benevolence” in world affairs, one will have trouble with, for example, rampant torture.  In questions to the speaker, I emphasized Abu Ghraib and found it amazing that he (and others)  had commented elliptically about the aggression, torture and occupation in Iraq – “the intervention” - without naming them.  The “realism” of the discussion left out the fact that if the US and its allies brutalize enough people enough of the time, it will create severe resistance from below. 

           LBJ-McNamara-Rusk-Bundy “realism” in Vietnam ran into a big uprising both in Vietnam and in the American population.  It turned out to be way unrealistic because it underestimated the resistance abroad and horror at War at home  – sending our children to war – that Vietnam produced.  In a deep realist distinction which deserves to be more widely known, Morgenthau  distinguished the shadow (official realism) from the substance (a common good, trying to work out some intelligent settlement toward the Vietnamese and pursue policies of peace, not ones reliant on militarism) of American policies.  To see what Bacevich or Johnson or McGovern or Wright or Ellsberg or Mearsheimer or I see about American policy is to render oneself outside the sphere of “effective,” policy-influential intellectuals  (except of course that all but I were in and understand deeply that sphere). It is to speak in ordinary moral terms about the disasters which American foreign policy, reliant on militarism or the war complex, has made and is making in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and how harmful to Americans they are.

        The speaker was thoughtful, erudite, careful,  and humorous. But if one does not focus sharply on politically significant moral issues (which Vietnam incarnated), one does not see quite what is important.  For instance, about Israel, right now as he recognizes, AIPAC is fading (he mentioned the emergence of J-Street).  What he fails to see, however, is the moral wretchedness of the Israeli occupation, the remembrance of pogroms for any Jew who looks at the treatment of Palestinians.  The speaker rightly thinks Obama’s policies on the settlements are decent and clever (most Americans including most Jews are unhappy with the settlements), if pursued, but does not see that the settlements have fundamentally endangered Israel.  As Israel illegally gobbles up more territory and creates centers of resistance to withdrawal even in the army, a two state solution may no longer be possible. But the recognition that Palestinians are people and that no one has a right to dispossess and murder and steal from and imprison other people in the way that the Israeli colonialists and racists do is growing among Jews and everyone else.  I reprint two  articles below and link to a third which emphasize the moral thrust of the campaign for divestment in Israel. 

      The first is from Mustapha Barghouti published last week  in the Financial Times.  It calls rightly for nonviolent resistance of Palestianians and Jews to the occupation.  It memorably links this call to the black struggle in the South which I have been posting about (see here and here) and the black uprising in South Africa. Here he calls powerfully on past experience, one that resonates with Americans and at last takes the advice of Desmond Tutu (see No Future without Forgiveness).***** Barghouti again calls for a decent two state solution.  He praises Jewish protestors who stand for universal freedom – and we do, with the prophets – against the colonialism and racism of the Israeli government.  If one is not under the influence of “Orientalism," knowledge of the Isreali government’s policies in the occupied territories will repel one.  It is a sign of changing times that this mainstream paper published such an article.  Even the New York Times reported this week, on the front page, on Palestinian nonviolence here. The Palestinians are pursuing a new form of protest, one which catches off guard even the Times.  

     At Berkeley, as the second piece by Naomi Klein reports, the student government recently voted for divestment.  But in an amusing constitutional affectation, the reactionary President of the student government vetoed the resolution.  Naomi Klein, who has written a fine book The Shock Doctrine on Chicago economics (the counterpart to Strauss;  however different from Friedman in theory. Strauss worked with Friedman in the Public Affairs Center to further reactionary politics – see here) defends the student movement for divestment below.  A sea-change is happening even in the United States, and not mainly in Washington where Petraeus and Biden suggest that Israel’s brutality toward the Palestinians is endangering the lives of American occupiers in the Middle East, but among young people, especially Jews.  There are just too many who really don’t like occupation, don’t like people being pushed around.  Students from my school go to study at the Hebrew University, then to Palestine, are beaten up by the Israel “Defense” Forces when they try to protect old women from evictions in the occupied territories, and come back radicals.  See here.  Those who want to defend Palestinians and the citizens of Israel need to stand up against Israeli and (longstanding) American policies. Such a movement is unfolding from below even as I write.

      Obama represents hope of some different future, one providing at least minimal health care, jobs through a green economy, a de-escalation of American wars and a turning away from the dependence of the economy on the war complex.  See Krugman here.  Obama would like to work out a decent settlement, one that protects the people of Israel and Palestine. This is a real tendency or possibility of the new regime, its transformative moment (we could have an American capitalism which healed to some extent rather than being the unipower that destroyed the world).  The questioning of foreign policy realism by last week’s  speaker also moved toward this possibility.

       But the talk about Iraq was mistaken in its “mischievous” conclusion.  The foreign policy establishment including its left wing, is selected for being obtuse realists (or official realists, or in the end not very good realists).  Two years ago, our faculty heard an interesting analysis of the madness of Bush policy from Kenneth Pollack, another Democrat; yet he constantly beats the drums for surges and  wars.  As Leslie Gelb, the leader of the Council on Foreign Relations recently said, regretting his foolishness in advocating the aggression in Iraq, "the only way we experts get on CNN and Fox is if we beat the drums for war" – see here.  Sadly, he then said in the Wall Street Journal here he couldn’t understand Obama who intelligently  spent 6 weeks trying to figure out a way to not surge in Afghanistan in answer to the military’s request to escalate (like someone addicted, Gelb did the same thing which he had just pointed out the error of). Obama finally caved, but he knows what is going on – one could say that unusually for an American politician, he considers these issues with some awareness of what is at stake.  Gelb could not consider that there are no more than “100” Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Osama and others are in Pakistan, that the escalation in Afghanistan is murderous, senseless and self-destructive. See Greenwald here.

     The idea of our speaker – and a core idea of cousin “liberal” interventionists like Madeleine Albright and Paul Wolfowitz - is that the US, at the cost of perhaps a million innocent Iraqi lives, a few thousand American soldiers killed, many more crippled, and even more, the homeless for the next 50 years, and three trillion dollars of expense, might win “a victory” in Iraq.  This is self-destructiveness for the U.S. on a massive scale (some of my colleagues, who did not say much, were uneasy about this conclusion and even the speaker said it was "mischievous").

      But the deeper point is that the world cannot sustain global warming and American war making.  What we hear about global warming is that when scientists perform new studies, they find out that the situation is much worse than previously thought.  Today’s scientific consensus is true, but only approximately and  not yet the full truth (the truth is what is revealed, for example that methane is trapped by the melting Arctic ice and will as released boost temperature faster).  The slaughters wrought by American policy – the poisoning of the Gulf including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with depleted uranium in the first Gulf war producing new cancers and similar birth defects in Iraqi and American children,  the results of the US-enforced UN boycott of Saddam  (4,500 children dead every month in the 1990s by UN Food and Agricultural Organization statistics), the devastation and ethnic cleaning of the Second Gulf War (the “surge” achieved a “peace” of mutual slaughter), the rampant destructiveness of the US from Kosovo to many other places, increasingly make the world less habitable.  With an Israeli or US attack on Natanz (fortunately, Obama is no enthusiast of Cheney/Netanyahu’s idée fixe), the shia would rise up in Southern Iraq, and the US might lose the occupation even militarily (Britain has its few remaining troops at the airport in Basra, ready to take off if the US or Israel is crazy enough to do this).  That would be just a first step in an unpredictable further conflagration in the Middle East…

      The core issue is that the US has to stand in the world for a common good (doing something about global warming, not being the empire that disintegrated life on the planet).  Obama is very promising in this regard.  If he can get beyond conciliation, he may ultimately force some movement.  But the discussion at my school this past week shows how even the most savvy people in the apparatus of American foreign policy leave out the core questions.  These questions haunt as a kind of mirror the discussion we had – allow some serious realism about the moral character of American policies and one passes through the mirror into opposition.  Dissent from below – unacknowledged, dismissed without evidence or argument in the fantasy world of the war complex – is there at the edges, calls out about the extraordinary inadequacies and harms of the policy. Despite the really promising question the speaker raised about deficient bipartisan expert “realism,” the discussion last week left little hope that within “influential" foreign policy circles, the right questions will be posed any time soon…


Israel knows apartheid has no future

By Mustafa Barghouthi

Published: April 5 2010 19:23 | Last updated: April 5 2010 19:23

After decades of military rule over Palestinians and theft of our land, Israeli leaders are increasingly seeing the writing on the wall. They are at least acknowledging reality, if not yet grappling with the consequences.

In 2007, Ehud Olmert, then prime minister, declared: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” More recently, making a similar point, Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, said “as long as between the Jordan and the sea there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic . . . If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a bi-national state, and if they don’t, it is an apartheid state.”

But when do the “ifs” of Mr Olmert and Mr Barak no longer describe a possible future, but the current reality? Apartheid is here. There is one set of Israeli laws applied to Palestinians in the West Bank and another set applied to Jews in the West Bank. Israeli settlers live illegally in beautiful subsidised housing on stolen Palestinian land while we are relegated to smaller and smaller bantustans.

I believe, even today, in the importance of the two-state solution. But with every passing day I see what can only be described as Israel’s dogged determination to block such an outcome. The time has come to tell Washington that the viability of the two-state solution is being destroyed on Barack Obama’s watch. President Obama inherited this difficulty from his predecessor. But old problems have become Obama problems.

When Washington fails to act decisively towards this festering conflict, it is in fact acting decisively. Billions of American taxpayers’ dollars continue to flow to Israeli coffers. And American diplomatic capital is still spent to shield Israel from world censure.

I have good reason to believe the intentions of this administration are better than those of predecessors, but the timing for Palestinian freedom is never good, it seems. Presidents and congressional leaders will always face opposition to US calls for constraining Israeli growth in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – if not from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Zionist Organisation of America then from the John Hagees of the Christian right. George Mitchell, Mr Obama’s emissary, came to the region touting a full Israeli freeze on settlements. Israel refused and the US flinched. Following last week’s Aipac conference in Washington, the Americans may flinch a second time. A second cave-in on settlements will signal to Palestinians that the Obama administration is not serious about restraining Israel’s efforts to foil peace talks and the two-state solution.

Like Cassandra, responsible leaders in our region can only warn that allowing Israel to run roughshod over our rights will have dangerous consequences. Anticipating these dangers, colleagues and I have sought to marshal the power of non-violent direct action against Israel’s occupation and apartheid system to highlight the injustice of its actions and encourage Israelis and American Jews to see that we do not oppose them but the actions of the Israeli government. We have achieved some success, but it is insufficient.

We are now in the early stages of a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions directed at this Israeli government for its refusal to abide by international law. Such action successfully overturned Jim Crow laws in the American South and apartheid in South Africa, and we are slowly applying it to Israeli occupation and apartheid. But until students seize on it with the same moral fervency as earlier generations did against Jim Crow and South African apartheid, we will achieve only marginal success.

That day of student engagement is coming. I have spoken on many American and European campuses and see change in the more diverse audiences I address today as opposed to 20 years ago. These young people, including many progressive Jewish activists, recognise that this is not a conflict between Arabs and Jews, but between universal conceptions of freedom and antiquated notions of racial supremacy and colonisation. These audiences are on the road to endorsing the BDS campaign because they are aware that their political leaders are, with rare exceptions, unwilling to challenge Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians.

American politicians may be the last to embrace our struggle – be it the urgency of a truly sovereign Palestinian state side by side with Israel or one state with equal rights for all – but the equation is shifting and their calculus will not always be towards knee-jerk support for Israel. Our moral case is too powerful.

The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. 

Posted: March 31, 2010 01:02 PM

Naomi Klein:

Open Letter to Berkeley Students on Their Historic Israeli Divestment Bill

On March 18, continuing a long tradition of pioneering human rights campaigns, the Senate of the Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley (ASUC) passed "A Bill In Support of UC Divestment from War Crimes." The historic bill resolves to divest ASUC's assets from two American companies, General Electric and United Technologies, that are "materially and militarily supporting the Israeli government's occupation of the Palestinian territories" -- and to advocate that the UC, with about $135 million invested in companies that profit from Israel's illegal actions in the Occupied Territories, follow suit.

Although the bill passed by a vote of 16-4 after a packed and intense debate, the President of the Senate vetoed the bill six days later. The Senate is expected to reconsider the bill soon; groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace are asking supporters of the bill to send letters to the Senators, who can overturn the veto with only 14 votes.

Here is the letter I just sent:

Dear members of the ASUC Senate, I am writing to urge you to reaffirm Senate Bill 118A, despite the recent presidential veto.

It comes as no surprise that you are under intense pressure to reverse your historic and democratic decision to divest from two companies that profit from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory. When a school with a deserved reputation for academic excellence and moral leadership takes such a bold position, it threatens to inspire others to take their own stands.

Indeed, Berkeley -- the campus and the wider community -- has provided this kind of leadership on many key issues in the past: not only apartheid in South Africa but also sweatshops in Indonesia, dictatorship in Burma, political killings in Nigeria, and the list goes on. Time and again, when the call for international solidarity has come from people denied a political voice, Berkeley has been among the first to answer. And in virtually every case, what began as a small action in a progressive community quickly spread across the country and around the world.

Your recent divestment bill opposing Israeli war crimes stands to have this same kind of global impact, helping to build a grassroots, non-violent movement to end Israel's violations of international law. And this is precisely what your opponents -- by spreading deliberate lies about your actions -- are desperately trying to prevent. They are even going so far as to claim that, in the future, there should be no divestment campaigns that target a specific country, a move that would rob activists of one of the most effective tools in the non-violent arsenal. Please don't give into this pressure; too much is on the line.

As the world has just witnessed with the Netanyahu government's refusal to stop its illegal settlement expansion, political pressure is simply not enough to wrench Israel off its current disastrous path. And when our governments fail to apply sanctions for defiant illegality, other forms of pressure must come into play, including targeting those corporations that are profiting directly from human rights abuses.

Whenever we take a political action, we open ourselves up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards, since the truth is that we can never do enough in the face of pervasive global injustice. Yet to argue that taking a clear stand against Israeli war crimes is somehow to "discriminate unfairly" against Israelis and Jews (as the veto seems to claim) is to grossly pervert the language of human rights. Far from "singling out Israel," with Senate Bill 118A, you are acting within Berkeley's commendable and inspiring tradition.

I understand that there is some debate about whether or not your divestment bill was adopted "in haste." Not having been there, I cannot comment on your process, though I am deeply impressed by the careful research that went into the decision. I also know that in 2005 an extraordinarily broad range of Palestinian civil society groups called on activists around the world to adopt precisely these kinds of peaceful pressure tactics. In the years since that call, we have all watched as Israeli abuses have escalated dramatically: the attack on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, a massive expansion of illegal settlements and walls, an ongoing siege on Gaza that violates all prohibitions on collective punishment, and, worst of all, the 2008/9 attack on Gaza that left approximately 1,400 dead.

I would humbly suggest that when it comes to acting to end Israeli war crimes, the international response has not suffered from too much haste but from far too little. This is a moment of great urgency, and the world is watching.

Be brave.

Yours sincerely,

Naomi Klein

*See Hans Morganthau’s resonant 1965 essay on Vietnam: “The Shadow and Substance of American Power,” my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 2, and Gandhi on “the nonviolence of the strong.”

**Obama has recently ordered the murder of an American citizen – see Greenwald here – a worse travesty about the rule of law than even Bush’s illegal spying – only tyrants do things like that.  The New York Times, The Weekly Standard and the Washington Post all welcome tyranny, speaking about it in an odd pseudo-neutral language.  Zealously seeking an audience with the powerful, their own voices are silenced. 

       Though Obama abolished the worst forms of torture, he has steadily eroded, under pressure from the war complex, the rule of law and is currently protecting the torturers, who are war criminals likely to be indicted under common treaty obligations by the other signers of the Convention against Torture if they set foot abroad.   Sad for a constitutional lawyer who became President, a savvy man, often carrying out politically brilliant moves, who just so far wants to be a Democrat rather than a transformative President. even to the extent of restoring the rule of law...

***Morganthau omits the genocides against blacks and Native Americans and Mexicans which got American history off to a bloody start.

****Obama’s health reform extends Romney-like policies nationally and is easy to criticize for this reason.  But I speak of the report in the New York Times about the Obama seder at the White House, or the spot at the NCAA semifinals about Obama seeming to lose to and then beating at horse – renamed Potus – Clark Gregory, a former NBA player and announcer.  He reaches in a novel and understated way vast new audiences.   Petraeus will need a continuing depression – real unemployment is currently 17.2% - and to be a sufficiently attractive candidate on his own to beat Obama.

*****As Elias Chacour exemplifies and the first intifada illustrates, there has been nonviolent resistence in Palestine before.  This hopefully is more general and will replace criminal (killing civilians) and self-destructive suicide attacks.



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