Monday, July 26, 2010

Poem: went down

eyeswide

he dran k the hemlo c

e y e s w i d e

Sokrates

calmsoldier


with wonder


d rank the hemloc k

citizens who’dlost


to save philosophy


murderedthe
wisemanofAthens

he who knew


ey es w i d e

s aved phil o soph y


he didn't


drained the bowl


and stiffened

into dark

Saturday, July 24, 2010

CNN special on the Sherrods and the civil rights movement at 7 and 10 tonight

My friend John Perdew who was also a hero of the civil rights movement in Southwest Georgia and whose experiences are recorded in the one act play "The Education of a Harvard Man" (performed in Denver this spring; KGNU broadcast it), knows the Sherrods and sent me a note about the CNN special tonight at 7 and 10.

"Dear Alan,

As you may know, CNN is doing a special on the Sherrods and the civil rights movement in SW Georgia. They broadcast it first at 7 to 8 this evening, will replay it at 10 this evening.
I know the Sherrods from my days in SNCC 1963-66 in SW Georgia. They are how they are portrayed: persistent, outspoken, and broad-minded. Whites were part of Sherrod's part of SNCC from at least 1962, if not 1961. They (we) went to jail with blacks, but we were put into the white cells, where we could be threatened with beatings and harassed. Sherrod is a charismatic leader even now. He will lead a freedom song at the slightest excuse. Shirley is best at the podium, explaining what she and others are trying to do for and with black farmers.

We are still close. Sherrod married me and my wife in 2004 in a hospital room in Albany, where I was recovering from pneumonia. Shirley was the witness. I worked for Shirely for 4-5 years with the Albany officde of Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and now work for the Federation at their Atlanta office. Shirley called my wife Pat last week when things were beginning to heat up at the Breitbart website. She was understandably downhearted and tired. But then later, after CNN turned the story around, she was much lighter, but still quite humble.

Embrace diversity!

John"

The Persistence of Charles and Shirley Sherrod

Charles and Shirley Sherrod are heroes of the nonviolent, democratic movement from below. They have dedicated their lives to fighting for the most oppressed – those who were lynched and forced into the worst jobs, the deepest poverty, and even today twice as frequent death in childbirth, service on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan or time in prison for the same crime. Reactionaries seek to prove that whites suffer from a racism like that of blacks; when whites have been lynched by black police chiefs and put down by law – when hell freezes over – perhaps there will be a parallel…It is true, however, that anti-racist whites like my friend Andy Goodman have also been murdered by these same white racists – racism toward blacks hurts most whites as well.

Shirley Sherrod rightly came to see the attacks of the elite on poor white farmers as part of the same tapestry of oppression as the fiercer attacks on poor blacks. Racism, as she discovered against an initial expectation and underlined in her speech to the NAACP, is a form of divide and rule. Joan Walsh’s excellent column below rightly celebrates her as well as the role of Charles Sherrod in fighting for continuing multiracial unity in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when Stokely Carmichael was leading it in the direction of black power and expelling whites.

I know of Charles Sherrod primarily from showing “Eyes on the Prize” in nonviolence classes for several years (h/t Judy Richardson and Vincent Harding). I know him as a feisty, handsome, civil rights organizer on the ground in Albany, Georgia, with a powerful turn of sometimes biblical phrase. Albany was an enormous center of black resistance to segregation and the "mother lode," as Bernice Johnson Reagon (the lead singer of Sweet Honey and the Rock") put it, of black song, spirituality, and power. It was a place where Martin Luther King was invited to speak. As Sherrod says, 2000 people would come out. But then King would fly away. And it would be even harder than before to get people to come to the regular events and campaigns. This point is also illustrated later in the series, when King was on a march to Jackson, taking over from James Meredith who had been shot by a racist. Unlike SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Stokely and SNCC rightly went to canvass and register voters. The impulse to get people to vote and break the hold of segregation, especially by canvassing of ordinary people, seems to have come primarily from SNCC (the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which found the great leader Fannie Lou Hamer and whose protest changed the Democratic Party forever from that of the racists), and not from SCLC. One of the virtues of these films is that rightly celebrating and in awe of King’s greatness, they nonetheless show some of his weaknesses and struggles as an organizer and trace complex relationships and possibilities within the movement.

King was arrested in Albany along with Sherrod and many others. Sherrod reports a clever and brutal remark to him of Sheriff Laurie Pritchett who is also interviewed. “It’s mind over matter,” says Pritchett: “I don’t mind and you don’t matter.” Pritchett read some of King’s writings and some Gandhi. He realized that the non-violent movement intended to fill the jails and overwhelm the capacity of the segregationists to maintain their genocidal rule. So he called all the police departments in a 50-mile radius and got them to take prisoners. He went to a picket line, allowed two picketers to go on, and told the rest to leave. When they didn't, he arrested them. Pritchett told the racists: we have to get King out of jail and “I believe he’ll leave”. Some of them – he didn’t know who – raised the money and got King out. King did leave, very demoralized.

When King went to Birmingham, he had learned to have a much more focused campaign. But Bull Connor, the sheriff and mayoral candidate, initially tried some of Pritchett’s tactics. King had learned more. In addition, Connor, the most racist candidate for mayor lost and then illegally tried to take over (two city governments met for three months; it is interesting that the federal govenment chose not to intervene on the side of the legally elected government, though it was vitally involved in "counselling" the civil rights movement to "wait," "wait"). He was unable to deal with mass disobedience by high school students. He got out the police dogs and the fire hoses and the most famous pictures internationally of the civil rights movement came from his brutality – he has a standing in infamy with George Wallace and Orville Faubus.

Pritchett was a smart practitioner of counterinsurgency, or counter-decency against civil disobedience and in favor of the segregated and genocidal South (I am using the term genocide in the sense of the 1948 UN Convention against Genocide – the deliberate destruction of a people “in whole or in part”). Today in Afghanistan and Iraq, smart young neo- and neo-neo-cons (the Democratic variety of foreign policy "expert") are trying to put together COIN – a clever counter-insurgency on behalf of a murderous and corrupt occupying army and more or less puppet govenment. This was General Stan McChystal’s task. It is now David Petraeus’s. The occupations have gone on too long (the sands are running in the hour glass even as I write). America is in an economic depression (close to 16% real unemployment), and likely things will get a lot worse with the abrupt cutback of serious Keynsian programs. They have almost no time, and Petraeus seeks a long time to fail. If one wants to understand how well they are doing, McChrystal sensibly tried to get soldiers not to fire on civilians and not to call in air power and missiles. Wars that don’t kill civilians, however, don’t exist. They still killed a lot of civilians, and he was met with resistance from soldiers, some of whom complained that their lives were endangered (in his fine article here, Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone reporter, too easily accepted this complaint). No wonder McChrystal and his staff were freaking out. One would need to end the occupation to end this paradox.

The US armies in Iraq and Afghanistan are invaders. They don’t speak the languages. They are not the home team. Against Bush-Cheney aggression and the mainsream media, let us remember the American Revolution and that the era of colonialism is over. In Iraq, the shia (the majority) are waiting for US withdrawal. Obama still plans to keep 100,000 troops there (half army, half contractor), and so, influence what happens next. But once the fighting stops, it will be difficult for the US to plunge American soldiers – mostly rounded up among the black and rural white poor – to engage again. In Afghanistan, defeat looks even more likely (the US or Karzai may make a deal with the Taliban and yet produce a renewed civil war with the ethnically different Northern war lords on whom Bush first relied). The idea of COIN, of counterinsurgency to save segregationist or colonial or American aggressor rule over fiercely oppressed local populations is modeled by the film Avatar, and is a fool’s errand.

Pritchett was no fool. But while he outflanked King in Albany, Georgia for a time, King learned, and the movement in Albany, too, went on. There is a beautiful moment when King has left and Charles Sherrod powerfully summons to a small audience of Albany blacks the image that the race is not to the swift but to him (and her) who persist. Charles and Shirley Sherrod have persisted.

For related posts, see here, here, here, here and here.


THURSDAY, JUL 22, 2010 21:01 ET

The civil rights heroism of Charles Sherrod
Andrew Breitbart sure picked the wrong people to symbolize black "racism." Taylor Branch and Clay Carson weigh in

BY JOAN WALSH

People who care about civil rights and racial reconciliation may eventually thank Andrew Breitbart for bringing Shirley Sherrod the global attention she deserves. Really. Her message of racial healing, her insight that the forces of wealth and injustice have always pit "the haves and the have-nots" against each other, whatever their race, is exactly what's missing in today's Beltway debates about race. What's even more amazing, but almost completely unexplored in this controversy, is the historic civil rights leadership role of her husband, Charles Sherrod, an early leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who served on the front lines of the nonviolent civil rights movement in the early 1960s.

Despite Breitbart's attempt to cast Shirley Sherrod as The, um, Man ("The Woman" doesn't have the same ring), out to keep oppressed white folk down, under our first black racist president, she turned out to be the opposite, an advocate of justice for everybody. Given that history, it's fascinating to learn more about her husband, an early SNCC leader known for being willing to work with white volunteers even after tension developed over the role of whites in the organization. Charles Sherrod is important for much more than the fairness with which he treated whites, but given Breitbart's attempt to make his wife the poster woman for black "racism," that footnote to his leadership history is particularly noteworthy. If there's anyone more clueless about our civil rights history than Breitbart, as well as more abusive to it, I'm challenged to think of who it might be. He tests my commitment to nonviolent social change, but I'll share the work of Charles Sherrod to remember my values.

Sherrod was SNCC's first field secretary, and he co-founded the Albany movement after a student sit-in at the local bus station (to test a recently enacted desegregation law) led to a years-long campaign that ultimately involved Martin Luther King Jr. and the intervention of President John F. Kennedy. He traveled to the historic (and almost all-white) 1964 Democratic National Convention, when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party fought for more black representation. He was jailed several times and stayed with SNCC until 1966, when Stokely Carmichael became chair and whites were expelled, but he'd already become more focused on his work in southwest Georgia than SNCC politics. Sherrod got his doctor of divinity degree from New York's Union Theological Seminary, then returned to Albany to found the Southwest Georgia Independent Voters Project, then the agricultural cooperative New Communities Inc. He served 14 years on the Albany City Council, and he still lives there, known to civil rights movement veterans but obscure to the wider world, until his wife was attacked by the ignorant bullies of the right.

"We tend to think of civil rights workers as people who, it was an episode in their life before they went on and did something else," says Clayborne Carson, SNCC historian and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford. "But Sherrod is an exemplar of those people who didn't leave the movement. They stayed, and they're still fighting, to this day." (I tried to reach Sherrod for this story, but not surprisingly, the voice-mail boxes I got to were full.)

I'm a little embarrassed I didn't immediately recognize Sherrod's name, because he's an important figure in one of my favorite books, "Parting the Waters," the first volume in Taylor Branch's majestic trilogy, "America in the King Years." Of course, I read it when it came out, about 21 years ago, and Sherrod is only mentioned twice in the final volume, "At Canaan's Edge," which I finished around the time of the Obama election. I lent out my copy of "Parting the Waters" and never got it back (if you have it, return it!), so I tracked down Taylor Branch himself, and rather unbelievably, he reached over to a bookshelf and read the most important sections about Sherrod, over the phone.

But first, I asked Branch to tell me why Sherrod was such an important figure in the early days of the modern civil rights movement.

"Well, you know, he's still alive," Branch noted, since I seemed to be speaking in the past tense. (I knew he was still living, because Jonathan Capehart wrote about meeting him Thursday morning, accompanying his wife to MSNBC, and then driving to an interview at CNN. But neither show interviewed Charles Sherrod; no one seems to have realized his history.) Branch and Sherrod saw each other back in April, at SNCC's 50th anniversary celebration.

"He's an amazingly humble, persistent, thoughtful, stubborn and brave individual," Branch said. "You know, I mention [Mississippi SNCC leader] Bob Moses about 100 times in the book, and I consider him a truly historical figure. But Sherrod is up there, he's mentioned about 20 times." Carson likewise compared Sherrod to Moses. "He's as central to the struggle for voting rights as Moses was; the difference is, the movement turning point wasn't southwest Georgia, it was Mississippi. History is strange that way."

I asked Branch what he remembered best about Sherrod. He chuckled and read me a passage from the book about the jailing of hundreds of Freedom Riders in Mississippi in 1961, and a meeting that Sherrod, SNCC leader Diane Nash, and others had with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to ask for his help. The two young activists were unaware that Kennedy had already cut a deal with Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett : If cops didn't beat up the protesters, the U.S. government would stay out of the way as they arrested them. As many as 600 Freedom Riders, most of them kids, were locked up in Parchman Penitentiary, Branch recalled, when Nash and Sherrod met with Kennedy and his assistant Burke Marshall.

Kennedy took the administration's line at the time: Why didn't the protesters drop their pesky Freedom Rides and get involved in voter registration — a constructive way to advance civil rights but also, of course, to register more Democrats. Sherrod exploded at Kennedy: "You are a public official, sir! It is not your job, before God or under the law, to tell us how to honor our constitutional rights. It's your job to protect us when we do." Branch laughed: "He does have a fiery side, but he was also, deeply, genuinely religious."

I was trying to find a neat morality tale match up between Shirley Sherrod's ultimate kindness to the white farmers she first resisted helping, and Charles Sherrod's role working with white volunteers in SNCC. Both Branch and Carson warned me about overstating that dimension of his story. "Sherrod would work with anybody," Branch said. "It's not right to say he went out of his way to work with white volunteers — but when they showed up in Atlanta, and people phoned around to find some place they could work, he'd take them." Reservations about working with whites weren't only about "black power," Branch noted. "They were a lot harder to supervise, and they stood out and could draw danger to themselves and other people." By the time of the big SNCC explosion that led to Carmichael's leadership and the expulsion of whites, "Sherrod was pretty far away from the ideological side. He's five years in Albany and caught up there," Branch says.

Still, it's worth noting that in one of the sadder internal battles of the civil rights movement, Sherrod was on the right side, standing up to heat for his use of white students in the Albany movement as early as 1964, according to Branch's "Pillar of Fire." The Sherrods are two for two: Given the chance to choose retaliation against whites and a kind of black separatism (which might even be understandable given the white racism they both endured growing up in the Jim Crow South), both chose to side with decency to white people.

Taylor Branch hopes the ugly treatment of Shirley Sherrod has the unintended positive consequence of "adding some context about a truly remarkable couple." Branch was sequestered in a Philadelphia library, researching his next book, and emerged to see headlines about some squabble over a USDA official. He read the story: "I said, 'Oh my God, it's Shirley Sherrod?' She is such a gem, and he is such a gem. We should really be listening to what she has to say."

Clay Carson agrees, but he couldn't resist voicing disappointment in President Obama for the administration's rapid dismissal of Shirley Sherrod before all the facts were in. "This is a symbol of something much larger: On civil liberties issues, he's just lost it. Nobody should ever be dismissed from a position for something they're saying on Fox. As a matter of principle, you don't fire someone without some kind of internal due process and investigation. But this is an administration that can order the assassination of an American citizen. It's disappointing, to say the least."
If I get a chance to talk to Charles Sherrod, I'll let him tell you what he thinks, in his own words, here.

Joan Walsh is Salon's editor in chief.


Thrown to the Wolves

By BOB HERBERT
Published: July 23, 2010

The Shirley Sherrod story tells us so much about ourselves, and none of it is pretty. The most obvious and shameful fact is that the Obama administration, which runs from race issues the way thoroughbreds bolt from the starting gate, did not offer this woman anything resembling fair or respectful treatment before firing and publicly humiliating her.

Moving with the swiftness of fanatics on a hanging jury, big shots in the administration and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News came to exactly the same conclusion: Shirley Sherrod had to go — immediately! No time for facts. No time for justice.

What we have here is power run amok. Ms. Sherrod was not even called into an office to be fired face to face. She got the shocking news in her car. “They called me twice,” she told The Associated Press. “The last time, they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and submit my resignation on my BlackBerry, and that’s what I did.”

This woman was thrown to the wolves without even the courtesy of a conversation. Her side of the story? The truth? The administration wasn’t interested.

And the blame for that falls squarely on the people at the very top in the White House. Why didn’t President Obama or Vice President Joe Biden or Rahm (call me Rahmbo) Emanuel, or somebody somewhere in the upper echelon say, “Hey, what the heck are you doing? You can’t fire a person without hearing her side of the story. This is not the Kremlin. Are you nuts?”

And then, of course, there’s the media, and not just the wing nuts at Fox and the crazies in the right-wing blogosphere. A large segment of the mainstream crowd stampeded to condemn this woman solely on the basis of a grainy video clip, just two-and-a-half minutes long, that was trumpeted by a source whose track record should have set alarm bells ringing in the head of any responsible journalist.

This sorry episode shows the extent to which we’ve lost sight of the most basic elements of fair play, responsible reporting and common decency in this society. And we’ve turned the race issue entirely on its head. While racial discrimination is overwhelmingly directed against black people in the U.S., much of the nation and the media are poised to go berserk over the most specious allegations of racism against whites. Even the N.A.A.C.P. rushed to condemn Ms. Sherrod, calling her actions “shameful,” without bothering to seek out the facts — which, incredibly, had unfolded at an N.A.A.C.P. event!

Later, after officials at the organization had found and released a tape of Ms. Sherrod’s entire 45-minute speech, the group’s president, Ben Jealous, apologized and said the N.A.A.C.P. had been “snookered.”

Black people are in a terrible condition right now — economically, socially, educationally and otherwise — and there is no effective champion fighting for their interests. Mr. Jealous and the new edition of the N.A.A.C.P. have shown in this episode that they are not ready for prime time, and President Obama seems reluctant to even utter the word black. Or poor, for that matter.
We hear so much about the middle class, and it’s true that the middle class has suffered in this terrible recession. There’s a middle-class task force in the White House led by the vice president. But the people suffering most in this long economic tailspin are the poor and the black, and you don’t hear much about that.

Which brings us to the most important part of the Shirley Sherrod story. The point that Ms. Sherrod was making as she talked in her speech about the white farmer who had come to her for help was that we are all being sold a tragic bill of goods by the powerful forces that insist on pitting blacks, whites and other ethnic groups against one another.
Ms. Sherrod came to the realization, as she witnessed the plight of poverty-stricken white farmers in the South more than two decades ago, that the essential issue in this country “is really about those who have versus those who don’t.”

She explained how the wealthier classes have benefited from whites and blacks constantly being at each other’s throats, and how rampant racism has insidiously kept so many struggling whites from recognizing those many things they and their families have in common with economically struggling blacks, Hispanics and so on.

“It’s sad that we don’t have a roomful of whites and blacks here tonight,” she said, “because we have to overcome the divisions that we have.”

There is no way we’ll overcome those divisions if people who should know better keep bowing before and kowtowing to the toxic agenda of those on the right whose overriding goal is to foment hostility and hate.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Police states and "pre-crime"

In 2007 Kim Scheppele, a Princeton professor of the sociology of law who is an expert on the Soviet and Russian law, delivered a disturbing paper at the American Political Science Association. It traced the transition from a totalitarian regime to a democracy in Russia and the inverse path of the Bush administration in the United States from the rule of law and democracy to authoritarianism. She focused on the denial of habeas corpus, torture and the “Patriot” Act (this act has the same relation to a common good – democratic patriotism - that medical “insurance" companies which deny coverage people have paid for when they actually get sick and raise their rates on purchasing insurance if they survive have to decent practices of insurance- inter alia.

Scott Horton, an international lawyer, who has led the fight against American torture, the illegal firing of states’ attorneys under Bush and many other important matters (see his blog at Harpers.org here) has developed the striking concept of pre-crime. The secret police – named the Stasi in East Germany (it once employed 10 per cent of the populaton see here) - like to watch over people, interrogate them, warn them about how their thoughts might lead to crime. They have “committed pre-crimes” and must be counseled/intimidated. This Kafkaesque proceeding contrasts with the rule of law in which one is innocent until proven guilty and must be accused only of criminal acts. As a matter of freedom, thoughts and predispositions are private.

Some years ago, Richard Herrnstein spoke at the National Institute of Justice to police chiefs urging the police to identify “likely criminals” by their body types. Certain body types supposedly predispose to crime and this, too, is a marker of pre-crime. The same argument can be found in Herrnstein and James Q. Wilson’s wretched Crime and Human Nature which has in it perhaps – then being distinguished professors – the stupidest single “argument” produced for pseudo-scientific racism. There are 4 arguments, they contend, which suggest innate black inferiority in “intelligence” (as measured by IQ tests) to whites. There is insufficient evidence to evaluate any of them carefully, they acknowledge. Scientists usually take such lack of evidence for pseudoscientific theses to indicate – bigotry. Instead, the claim. they assert, “cannot plausibly be rejected” (the book itself – written for social scientists) – and is “probably true” (Herrnstein’s 4 page speech to police chiefs). The logic of this is: I slander you 4 ways. You show each of them to be false on the evidence. Nonetheless, I have told the truth because there are 4 [h/t Hilary Putnam].

Racial profiling is of course a leading specimen of pre-crime - breathing while brown - and the recent Arizona law, pushed by Governor Jan Brewer and recently honorably opposed by Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama is also technically pre-crime or an example of the overturning of the rule of law, the move toward a police state or fascism (a reactionary police state focused on racism and harming all citizens).

Yesterday, I commented on the description of Yonatan Shapira of his interrogation in Israel for being a Jew who stands up against the abuse of Palestinians here. The interrogator Rona makes it clear that the Knesset is about to criminalize his behavior. This, too, is a startling example of pre-crime. This is a tutelary regime in which the soul of the victim must be counseled by obscure and faceless bureaucrats before the person is rended through torture to give up their “inherent guilt". The police are never dangerous or guilty of anything. Protecting the dignity and equal freedom of individuals is, for such bureaucrats, nothing. No one is innocent until proven guilty. People are Gregor Samsa, suddenly cockroaches, and Kafka gives metaphors for this.

Every American citizen is hurt by the racism of Arizona toward immigrants – pre-crime means that the police force will become worse and worse toward citizens but just as importantly, while some are diverted to rage at the victims and build walls along the border - the theme song of the Republican party - a vast redistribution of wealth and income has occurred from most people, the bottom 80% of the population - to the very rich. See Kevin Phillips, Wealth and Power or the chart Andew Sullivan put up yesterday here. Similarly a decent or democratic regime might welcome or at least tolerate civil disobedience and Palestinian nonviolence compared to a terrorism which often takes the lives of innocents. In contrast, the Israeli state in magnifying its own violence as in the case of the Mavi Marmara here or the attack on Hanin Zuabi in the Knesset – destroying its integrity as a parliament -here and makes every ordinary Israeli more insecure. People proceed about their lives pretending these things don’t happen, as Martin Niemoller once said: after they come for the Jews – “and I did nothing”* - and the Communists and the union leaders and the Roma and the homosexuals “and I did nothing,” at last– “they came for me and there was no one left to protest.” Democracy – our fate and dignity as free people is linked in a chain, person by person. To defend the rights of the “least of these” is not just altruism or intelligence or decency (though it is all of these) but to defend one’s own equal basic rights. As Eugene Debs, the great American socialist jailed for rightly opposing American engagement in World War I, once said, “while a soul is in prison, I am not free.”

Horton’s phrase about pre-crime should become part of a general vocabulary for analyzing the assault in reactionary regimes on the rule of law. Authoritarians justify their crimes in the name of “fighting terror” and brutalizing racial “inferiors” or “others” as well as citizens who stand up for their humanity. It is both a matter of conscience and of interest to eradicate all official/totalitarian abuses involving accusations of pre-crime.

"From the Department of Pre-Crime
By Scott Horton

Here’s some news that Phillip K. Dick could work into a novel:

The lower house of the Russian Parliament passed a draft law on Friday allowing the country’s intelligence service to officially warn citizens that their activities could lead to a future violation of the law, reviving a Soviet-era K.G.B. practice that was often used against dissidents. The president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, is expected to sign it into law shortly.

The legislation was proposed during the tense weeks after two suicide bombers attacked the Moscow subway, and its stated goal was to stanch the growth of radicalism among young Russians. But rights advocates and opposition parties have warned that the expanded powers could be used to silence critics of the government. In a letter made public on Thursday, 20 leading human rights activists condemned the legislation as a blow to “the cornerstone principles of the law: the presumption of innocence and legal certainty.”

On one hand, we have the principle that persons are presumed innocent and can only be convicted of a crime based on evidence showing at least an overt act connected to a crime. On the other, we have the concept of thought crimes—that someone’s very attitudes can constitute a predisposition to commit crime, and that this is a crime itself. The first belongs to the bedrock of modern democratic society. The second is a characteristic of totalitarian systems. The two cannot really be reconciled.

America has been experimenting with the notion of pre-crime for eight years, as our Justice Department and intelligence community have set out to apprehend, abuse, and torture persons, not based on evidence that they have committed a crime, but rather on generally unreliable intelligence predicting that they are likely to do so, perhaps citing scattered words in phone conversations or emails. When the victims turn out to be clearly innocent, a dilemma arises. But the Leitmotiv of the Justice Department since 9/11 has been simple: never admit to having made a mistake. This explains the numerous attempts to extort bogus confessions through torture and oppression, and the efforts to rig a case in an attempt at least to persuade authorities that there was a legitimate basis to hold the prisoner in the first place. Maher Arar and Khaled El-Masri are but two of the victims of these shenanigans.**

This is another of those lamentable areas in which, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a convergence seems to be underway between Russia and the United States, and the Soviet model is proving far more influential than most observers would like to acknowledge."

*I sometimes call the Palestinians the Jews of the occupied territories (just can’t figure who the occupiers who have forgotten themselves are).

**Both were kidnapped and tortured. “Shenanigan” is the not the right word.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The interrogation of Yonatan Shapira

International solidarity is the theme of much of my writing. It is the democratic ability of people of conscience from below to resist authoritarian state policies, usually wars and occupations, across national borders. Conscience or intelligence often conjoins with the interests of the many who are hurt by such policies. For example, Americans who support the Palestinians are injured in many ways by the policies of the U.S. government. The war in Iraq and its immense costs, physical in lives and wounds, in homelessness for the next 50 years, and in wealth – Obama continues to pay for the occupation – all come from neo-con plans to “secure the realm” (the Middle East for oil profits, military bases, and "greater Israel"). So do the immense military projects/weapons sales which aid Israel (and Saudi Arabia and Egypt) and the forfeiting of American wellbeing – down to unemployment benefits though they have finally been extended – to feed the limitless maw of the war complex. It is in the interests of all Americans (not to mention humanity) to dismantle the war complex, piece by piece, weapon by weapon, billion by billion, corrupt media and think tank voice by voice. American Jews like myself have a particular moral interest in supporting the Palestinians – our ancestors were cursed by racism, and murdered by pogroms and the shoah. We of all people need to stand against the oppression of the Palestinians as well as of the Jews who oppose their brutalization until the expansion of “greater Israel” is abruptly halted and reversed.

My stepdaughter works for the Olympia coop whose board decided today to boycott Israeli products. This is broader than boycotting goods from the occupied territories (what Ury Avnery supports - see my post from yesterday). But I think Israel (and the United States government) need to feel the maximum economic and political pain about these policies quickly. Nonviolence is an answer to murder and oppression; such boycotts, day by day, chip away at the police state. My friends Ilene Cohen (who sent me these articles) and George Downs also act in solidarity against such policies. Ilene wrote to me in particular about the virtues of each of us standing up and being counted in the way we find appropriate.

The fascist Knesset seeks to jail jews who speak up. Below are two fascinating reports of the heroism of Yonatan Shapira, a pilot who refused, with others, to bomb the occupied territories in 2003 and was just interrogated and threatened at an Israeli police station. Though Kafkaesque, his treatment was mild compared to the torture of Palestinians; still, it is a symbol of secret polices operations everywhere – the story of Israel as it is, as a police state occasioned by its occupation and not a democracy even for Jews. Rona, the interrogator – a Yemeni Jew who ought to know better - promised him and other Israelis who speak up for nonviolent boycott of Israeli policies nastier treatment in future. But the decent or democratic way to deal with Yonatan is to answer his arguments. Israelis used to brag that Israel has freedom of speech on many issues compared to the tyranny of the United States at least about Israel – consider again, the suppression that greeted Mearsheimer and Walt, or the disgraceful and ignorant bashing of the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who helped the transition from apartheid to decency, and a Zionist. Goldstone told the truth about Gaza (Congressman Ed Engel has a particularly noisome comment on Goldstone recently).

Untruth – the refusal to consider or answer argument – is sadly the prevailing Israeli and American way. Bullying, lying, silencing by jailing or killing or fear - oppressors who talk only to themselves – this is not freedom, not reasonable discussion, not democracy. Yonatan Shapira is one of many heroes like Hanan Zuabi who stood up in the Knesset to be attacked physically or all the people who sought to bring food to Gaza on the Mavi Marmara. Rona may regret her occupation; she has now become an international symbol of the Interrogator. Yonatan’s tale is worth taking in.


Israeli Shabak interrogates Israeli activist over BDS & Bil’in protests
by Adam Horowitz on July 19, 2010 · (from Mondoweiss)

A month ago Phil posted on an event here in New York discussing Jewish perspectives on BDS. One the speakers that night was Yonatan Shapira, who spoke in favor of boycott. Shapira recently returned to Israel and sent this update. Translation by Dena Shunra.

I moved back to holy land two and a half weeks ago, and yesterday I was summoned for a chat with the Shabak.

So yesterday, Rona from the Shabak called and asked me to come over for a chat with her at the Dizengoff Street police station. She refused to tell me what it was about over the phone, and explained that I was not going to be arrested, and that this was an introductory or friendly conversation.

I got to the Dizengoff Police Station and was sent to a second-floor office in the back building, where a dude was waiting for me who introduced himself as Rona’s bodyguard. I was taken into some room or other and underwent a rather intimate physical examination, to make sure that I hadn’t installed any kind of recording device on either of my testicles. Having found to be clean, I was brought into the room where Ronna sat. She was a fine-looking young woman of Yemeni extraction, in her early thirties.

Rona said that she knew I am an activist working for BDS and for a general boycott on the State of Israel and wanted to know what else I do within the framework of this activity. I said that everything was well-known and made public on the Internet and in the media, and that I have nothing to add and I don’t intend to talk about it with her.

Rona stressed that there is a law being made in the Knesset and that it is very much possible that my activity will be illegal soon. She continued to try and drag me into a political discussion and asked if I knew that the BDS is actually a Palestinian organization.

Rona raised the topic of the Warsaw graffiti and wanted to know whether it was my own private initiative or whether it was also part of BDS, and if I understood that I had overstepped a boundary and hurt the feelings of many people (and apparently, also hurt the feelings of the Shabak.) I again suggested that she listen to interviews and read articles that had been published on the subject. She said that she had already listened and read, but that she wanted to know more. I told her that I would be glad to give a pubic lecture on the subject for anyone who wants to hear it, and that I would do so in a public and open manner, but not within the framework of a Shabak interrogation.
Other than the BDS topic, Rona asked if I knew that the demonstrations in Bil’in and Na’alin are not legal, and that the whole region is closed to Israelis and internationals every Friday, from eight to eight.

She spoke at length about how the soldiers feel in these demonstrations and about how they are irritated when I talk to them and also answer them.

Rona said that she had been there in the past, and that she had been hit by stones, and that it is terribly unpleasant, and that the presence of Israelis at the demonstrations inflames the violence of the Palestinians, and that I should think about how the poor soldiers feel, and that all she’s trying to do is for the good of the state and comes from her desire to protect the people living here.
I answered that everything that I do also comes from my desire to protect the people living here, and I inquired about where she has all that information about my activity from, and asked if they are also tapping my phone. She said that she could not answer but that in general, the Shabak had more important things to do. So I asked her what I was doing there, and why I had been invited for some sort of political interrogation if they did indeed have more important things to do. I asked again if my calls were being tapped, and Ronna said that she could not answer.

She asked very earnestly that I not publish the details of our conversation, because she’s not the sort of person who seeks fame… In response I said that as a person dedicated to a non-violent struggle against the occupation I would speak and publish everything, including all details of this conversation, and other conversations, if there are indeed such conversations in future. I documented the entire conversation on a slip of paper until Rona started talking about that piece of paper and about what I was writing it. Finally, she confiscated my dangerous piece of paper, claiming that I was not allowed to bring in a recording device and that it was illegal.

Fortunately, I remembered most of the conversation and Ronna has not yet confiscated my memory.

Maybe she’ll do that at our next meeting.

That’s it, she may have said a few more things, but that was the main deal.
As far as I’m concerned, I understand that what interests them is our activity on BDS, and that they may even be trying to prepare cases for us, so they’ll be ready for the moment when the new law is voted into existence.

Noam Sheizaf adds:

I find this account of the conversation very reliable, and similar to other accounts of political interrogations of Jewish activists I heard of. We should remember that political interrogations of Palestinians are not that friendly or polite.

I also think that Yonatan could be right in assuming the police or the Shabak is putting together files on Israelis involved in the BDS. One of the many anti-democratic aspects of the new Knesset bill is that it will be possible to enforce it on past actions as well.

Published 01:54 20.07.10
Conscientious objector Yonatan Shapira questioned by Shin Bet
Non-active Israel Air Force pilot who authored the "pilots' letter" of 2003, signed by 27 IAF pilots who said they would refuse to fly over the occupied territories

By Amira Hass

The Shin Bet security service on Sunday questioned a conscientious objector about his activity in an Israeli group that supports sanctions against Israel as part of its struggle against the occupation.

Yonatan Shapira, 38, a non-active Israel Air Force pilot who authored the "pilots' letter" of 2003, signed by 27 IAF pilots who said they would refuse to fly over the occupied territories, said he was instructed not to disclose any details from the interview.

Shapira told the agent he publishes everything regarding his anti-occupation activity and intended to publish this interview as well as any future ones in full detail, he told Haaretz.

He said he received the impression that this troubled his interrogator, who asked for the piece of paper he was writing on because it was "a recording device and is not legal."

Shapira gave her the paper but after leaving the building wrote down the questions from memory. The agent reminded Shapira the Knesset was expected shortly to outlaw calls for sanctions against Israel, he said.

He said the Shin Bet called him on Sunday at noon, while he was visiting friends in Tel Aviv.
"The caller said she was from the Shin Bet and that she wanted to talk to me," he said. "I asked what it was about and she said it wasn't for the phone. I said if anyone was listening to us it was only them, but she insisted we meet and that it was not an interrogation."

Attorney Gaby Lasky advised Shapira to ask at the interview whether he was considered a suspect and told him he did not have to say anything because such a meeting constituted a political interrogation even if the Shin Bet called it a conversation.

Shapira consulted with Yonatan Polak, who has been summoned many times for Shin Bet interrogations about his activity in the popular committees against the separation fence.
Polak told Haaretz that many of the Israeli participants in demonstrations against the separation barrier have been called in by the Shin Bet for questioning.

Shapira's meeting with the agent took place in the rear building of the police station on Dizengoff Street, not far from his friends' place. A security guard conducted a body search ("quite an intimate one", Shapira wrote on Facebook ), explaining he was checking to make sure Shapira wasn't hiding any recording devices.

The agent said something along the lines of "we wanted to meet you because recently we see you've been very active," Shapira said. He asked whether he was suspected of anything and she said he wasn't, that this was not an investigation and that she "only wanted to talk."

Almost immediately, Shapira related, she began talking about his activity in Global BDS Movement: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine, which supports measures against Israel. She asked what he did exactly, whether it was a Palestinian organization and what he knew about it and its activities.

Shapira said he told her that everything she asked was public knowledge, available on the Internet and in the press. He said he would be happy to deliver a public lecture about BDS to the Shin Bet and the police but would not conduct a political discussion in a Shin Bet interrogation room.

The agent asked if he knew the protests he took part in were illegal, in light of the Israel Defense Forces having declared the area a closed military area on Friday.

When he did not reply, she talked about the graffiti slogans, "Liberate all ghettos" and "Free Gaza and Palestine," spray-painted by Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists on a remnant of the Warsaw Ghetto last week.

She asked Shapira, who was one of the activists, whether the graffiti was his idea, whether it had anything to do with BDS and whether he did not understand that he "crossed a line and hurt many people's feelings" with his action.

Shapira said that he repeated his offer to discuss the issues in public and told the agent that for now she could get all the information from media interviews he had given.

When asked if the Shin Bet was bugging his phone, the agent first said she could not answer, then said, "You won't talk about BDS, why should I tell you?" When he asked her, "If I talk, will you tell?," she said no.

The Shin Bet said in a response that it is authorized, as part of its duty to preserve state security and democracy from terror threats, sabotage, subversion and espionage to receive and to gather information, and that Shapira was told clearly that the meeting was not an interrogation and that he was not considered a suspect.


Olympia Food Co-op removes Israeli goods from shelves; first US store to institute boycott
By Admin | Published: July 19, 2010, from the Web site of http://www.olympiabds.org/

Olympia, WA– The Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors has decided to boycott Israeli goods at their two locations in Olympia, Washington. At a July 15th meeting packed with Co-op members, the Board reached this consensus. The Co-op becomes the first US grocery store to publicly join the international grassroots movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel for its human rights abuses.

Co-op board member Rob Richards explained, “My hope is that by being the first in the US to adopt the boycott we act as a catalyst for other co-ops to join in. Each additional organizational entity that joins may have a very small effect on the big picture, but drop by drop fills the tub.”
Noah Sochet, a Co-op member and OlympiaBDS organizer adds, “As a US citizen and as a Jew, I’m proud to say that my Co-op no longer underwrites the suffering in Palestine.”

In accordance with its mission statement, the Olympia Food Co-op has a longstanding boycott policy, which includes a boycott of China (for its occupation of Tibet) and a previous boycott of Colorado (for legalizing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in 1992). The Co-op also has policies for rejecting items whose packaging feature exploitive or oppressive imagery.

One Israeli product is exempt from the boycott: “Peace Oil,” a brand of olive oil fairly traded from Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and the Galilee, will continue to be carried by the Co-op.
The boycott follows on the heels of a similarly historic event at the nearby Evergreen State College. On June 2, students at the Olympia-based college voted overwhelmingly to approve two resolutions calling on the college’s foundation to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as calling on the college to ban the use of Caterpillar equipment due to Caterpillar’s complicity in Israeli war crimes. The college is the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a weaponized Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

News of the boycott has drawn praise from around the world, including in Israel. “I salute the great work of the people in Olympia,” said Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Air Force captain and co-founder of Combatants for Peace. “The decision taken by the Olympia Food Co-op is an important step toward just peace for all people living in Israel/Palestine. It is also a step toward accountability for Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie.”

The BDS movement began in 2005 when over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in Israel and in Palestine issued a call for the nonviolent tactic of BDS on Israel until the country abides by international law and human rights standards. The BDS call has become an international movement, endorsed by renowned figures such as Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker. The Co-op boycott comes two months after Italy’s largest supermarket chains, COOP and Nordiconad, declared a boycott of products exported by Israeli Carmel Agrexco.

Israel has responded to the BDS movement by arresting prominent Palestinian endorsers. The Knesset is currently considering legislation to outlaw endorsement of BDS by Israelis.

Monday, July 19, 2010

24 hours to sign the petition for TIAA-CREF to divest from Veolia

I was going to write a long post on Israel soon. But Jewish Voice for Peace just sent me a letter to get help on calling for TIAA-Cref to divest from Veolia, a French company that “owns and operates a landfill in the West Bank. This landfill uses captured Palestinian natural and land resources to process the trash that comes from the illegal Jewish-only settlements.” I urge everyone to sign it.

Perhaps you have heard Netanyahu’s disgusting 2001 remarks about pushing around American presidents (then Bush, now Obama). Below I give two articles by Gideon Levy and the inimitable Ury Avineri on the fascism of the Knesset. Hanin Zuabi, an Arab-Israeli member of the Knesset and hero, was on the Mavi Marmara. But there is no shame in the Israeli elite. She was assaulted by a Russian-fashion model delegate and the guards had to ensure her safety from the rabid representatives of “Greater Israel.” Was a Jew or Communist assaulted in the Reichstag by the Nazis? One has to go back to the caning of Senator Charles Sumner in the 1850s by an odious South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks – provoking the border ruffians in Kansas and the heroic response of John Brown in 1856 – for a parallel.

Avnery also fought, when in the Knesset, for a second chamber as a brake on racist policies. His point about checks and balances is the most profound point on its behalf. Though it restricts democracy when it works for a common good, it can also stop a racist regime with limited suffrage, tending toward fascism, from doing its worst. It promotes deliberation rather than the hastiness of zealotry. As we can also see in America, checks and balances are a hope – a very limited one – against the emergence, exacerbated by Cheney – of tyrannical executive power.

Finally, I include a brilliant article from the American Conservative by John Mearsheimer. Its point is that Israel is swallowing the occupied territories, becoming an apartheid state, and will – and deserves to, if it does this – lose its character by "commiting suicide" as a Jewish state. Having been viciously attacked by Alan Dershowitz and AIPAC, Mearsheimer here stands as a friend of Israeli democracy and the hope that it might become some genuine, nondiscriminatory regime. That would require not treating Arab-Israelis as second class citizens, which given the current fascist lynch-mobs in the Knesset is, sadly, close to an idle hope.

He also makes the profound point that bombing Iran and unleashing further conflagration in the Middle East is likely (Netanyahu is as puffed up as Cheney) and against American interests. The US cannot fight another losing war and will likely just lose in Iraq (an uprising of the shia in the South would cut its supply lines and finish it off; the remnant British are already stationed at the airport in Basra…). Perhaps I should say this crazed bombing of Iran may produce (as a consequence, over the next few years) the nuclear exchange the Israeli government claims it fears. Israel needs the bombing to divert attention from its continuing brutal seizure of Palestinian lands and further transfer. Israel (and the United States being tied to the vicious expansionary policies of Israel) is the danger here. It is a danger to most Israelis as well as everyone else. This is an even greater potential danger – one to humanity, to making the world unlivable for humans in the next century or so – than the current genocidal (as the 1948 UN Convention specifies the term) Israeli occupation.

As I argue in Democratic Individuality and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, there is a moral objectivity to judgments about what is wrong with apartheid. It treats humans as less than human. It is no answer to the question: what is a decent life for humans? It is rightly scorned by every decent person, not under the influence of extreme racism, who takes it in. As Palestinians rightly turn to nonviolence, the leaders of Israel and their cronies revel in racist violence. The moral contrast could not be clearer (an irony for those who blither about “moral clarity”). This is a “despicable system” as John rightly names it and Netanyahu and Lieberman despicable leaders, and not just a matter of “values” as John mistakenly seems to think. Some values – that every human being has a life of infinite worth – are morally true, and some, for instance, the current racist elitism of the Israeli establishment, are evil. In all the hullabaloo seeking to prevent people from reading their article (the favored tyrannical method of AIPAC and its cronies), it was not noticed that John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt were the friends of ordinary Israelis, of democracy, and of decent people everywhere. John’s article deserves to be taken in deeply.

Please sign the Jewish Voice for Peace petition.

“Dear Alan,

We have 24 hours before the leadership of TIAA-CREF, one of the largest retirement funds in the world, holds its annual meeting in New York City. We will be there, asking TIAA-CREF to divest from companies such as Veolia, a French company that owns and operates a landfill in the West Bank. This landfill uses captured Palestinian natural and land resources to process the trash that comes from the illegal Jewish-only settlements.

Last Thursday we asked your help to get 10,000 signatures for this meeting; by Monday morning we had exceeded 12,000! We've doubled our numbers in the last 4 days.

You are already one of our 12,000 campaign supporters. Can you ask your friends to join you? Can you help us get 15,000 signatures for divestment in the next 24 hours? Sign here.

TIAA-CREF is a large fund. As of last March it had invested over 19 million dollars in Veolia alone. The fund's leadership needs to hear your voice: no more profiting from the Israeli occupation!

Thanks,

Sydney Levy Jewish Voice for Peace"

Haaretz

Published 01:47 18.07.10

It's coming to you
This piece is not meant for the false patriots, the brutes and the brainwashed, for those who want a Jewish, Arab-free Knesset; a Jewish, foreigner-free society; and a state without B'Tselem or the High Court of Justice.

By Gideon Levy

This piece might not be meant for everyone. Nationalists, racists and fans of militarism and fascism can continue to be satisfied by the developments of the past few months. For them, democracy means only an election every few years, tyranny of the majority and the crushing of the minority, lockstep thinking, the state above all else, Judaism before democracy, a coopted media and clapped-out control mechanisms, an academia under supervision and citizens subject to a loyalty oath - and to hell with all the fundamental values, which are being trampled before our very eyes. This piece is not meant for the false patriots, the brutes and the brainwashed, for those who want a Jewish, Arab-free Knesset; a Jewish, foreigner-free society; and a state without B'Tselem or the High Court of Justice.

But they are not the only components of Israeli society. There remains another significant component. The legions who gathered to protest the Sabra and Chatila massacre of 1982 are still with us. There are many people here who know the history, who understand democracy, who should be terrified by what is going on.

Terrified? That's exactly the point: They're not. They hear what happened to MK Hanin Zuabi, and are silent. They hear MKs from the center and the left verbally bullying their Arab colleagues, and turn a deaf ear. They read about the torrent of dangerous draft laws, and show forgiveness. They witness the McCarthyist witch hunt against nonprofit organizations, MKs and university professors, and remain complacent. They realize something is happening here that poses a greater threat than all of the external threats, whether real or imagined, that lie in wait for Israel, and they persist in their indifference.

From history they have learned that regimes that begin to act this way are doomed, that Israel is on a slippery slope, mainly because its control mechanisms have all been rendered impotent, and yet they do not protest. They sense that something terrible is happening, but fool themselves into believing that "it won't happen to me." They hear every day about the growing danger, and they cluck their tongues, sigh, complain and abandon the field. This piece is meant for them.
Zuabi is hounded, MK Ahmed Tibi is threatened - so what, they're Arabs. Those who express unconventional views are denounced as traitors, boycott organizers will be fined, Gaza flotilla participants punished, human rights activists and critics of the Israel Defense Forces outlawed - and the majority of Israelis think that nothing bad will happen to them as a result. They think that to be a good citizen it's enough to support Gilad Shalit. If some Jewish community abroad were under siege they would put together a solidarity flotilla, but when Zuabi is punished for performing a simple act of identification with her people, they do not care.

They hear about the rabbis who inveigh against leasing apartments to foreign workers, about the witch hunts against foreigners who cross the border illegally in search of work, about the deportation of the children of refugees, and about rising police violence. They think it's not nice, but that it won't happen to them. They see the representatives of Kadima, their party of hope, joining this campaign of incitement. They see the representatives of this false "centrist" party out-Liebermaning Avigdor Lieberman. They see their leader, Tzipi Livni, cloaking herself in disgraceful silence, and they do not protest the deception being perpetrated against them by their fraudulent party. Why? Because they are convinced that they themselves are in no danger.

The time has come to tell them, the ones who have withdrawn and who care only about their own lives, that it's coming. Soon, soon, it will happen to you. It won't stop at the Arab MKs or at the NGOs, not at the universities and not at the demonstrators. It won't even stop at your doorstep. It will enter your daily life. Police violence? It will come to your children, too. Thought police? It will reach you, too. Your newspaper and your television will look different; the Knesset, your courts and your schools will be unrecognizable. It has happened more than once, and it will happen here, too.

If not today, then tomorrow. The monster has reared its ugly head, it is approaching all of us, no one remains who can stop it and when it gets here, it will be too late, much too late.

Uri Avnery, at Gush Shalom
A Parliamentary Mob

17/07/10

WHEN I was first elected to the Knesset, I was appalled at what I found. I discovered that, with rare exceptions, the intellectual level of the debates was close to zero. They consisted mainly of strings of clichés of the most commonplace variety. During most of the debates, the plenum was almost empty. Most participants spoke vulgar Hebrew. When voting, many members had no idea what they were voting for or against, they just followed the party whip.

That was 1967, when the Knesset included members like Levy Eshkol and Pinchas Sapir, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin and Yohanan Bader, Meir Yaari and Yaakov Chazan, for whom today streets, highroads and neighborhoods are named.

In comparison to the present Knesset, that Knesset now looks like Plato’s Academy.

WHAT FRIGHTENED me more than anything else was the readiness of members to enact irresponsible laws for the sake of fleeting popularity, especially at times of mass hysteria. One of my first Knesset initiatives was to submit a bill which would have created a second chamber, a kind of Senate, composed of outstanding personalities, with the power to hold up the enactment of new laws and compel the Knesset to reconsider them after an interval. This, I hoped, would prevent laws being hastily adopted in an atmosphere of excitement.

The bill was not considered seriously, neither by the Knesset nor by the general public. The Knesset almost unanimously voted it down. (After some years, several of the members told me that they regretted their vote.) The newspapers nicknamed the proposed chamber “the House of Lords” and ridiculed it. Haaretz devoted a whole page of cartoons to the proposal, depicting me in the garb of a British peer.

So there is no brake. The production of irresponsible laws, most of them racist and anti-democratic, is booming. The more the government itself is turning into an assembly of political hacks, the more the likelihood of its preventing such legislation is diminishing. The present government, the largest, basest and most despised in Israel’s history, is cooperating with the
Knesset members who submit such bills, and even initiating them itself.

The only remaining obstacle to this recklessness is the Supreme Court. In the absence of a written constitution, it has taken upon itself the power to annul scandalous laws that violate democracy and human rights. But the Supreme Court itself is beleaguered by rightists who want to destroy it, and is moving with great caution. It intervenes only in the most extreme cases.

Thus a paradoxical situation has arisen: parliament, the highest expression of democracy, is itself now posing a dire threat to Israeli democracy.

THE MAN who personifies this phenomenon more than anyone else is MK Michael Ben-Ari of the “National Union” faction, the heir of Meir Kahane, whose organization “Kach” (“Thus”) was outlawed many years ago because of its openly fascist character.

Kahane himself was elected to the Knesset only once. The reaction of the other members was unequivocal: whenever he rose to speak, almost all the other members left the hall. The rabbi had to make his speeches before a handful of ultra-right colleagues.

A few weeks ago I visited the present Knesset for the first time since its election. I went there to listen to a debate about a subject that concerns me too: the decision of the Palestinian Authority to boycott the products of the settlements, a dozen years after Gush Shalom started this boycott. I spent some hours in the building, and from hour to hour my revulsion deepened.

The main cause was a circumstance I had not been aware of: MK Ben-Ari, the disciple and admirer of Kahane, holds sway there. Not only is he not an isolated outsider on the fringe of parliamentary life, as his mentor had been, but on the contrary, he is at the center. I saw the members of almost all other factions crowding around him in the members’ cafeteria and listening to his perorations with rapt attention in the plenum. No doubt can remain that Kahanism – the Israeli version of fascism – has moved from the margin to center stage.

Recently, the country witnessed a scene that looked like something from the parliament of South Korea or Japan.

On the Knesset speaker’s rostrum stood MK Haneen Zoabi of the Arab nationalist Balad faction and tried to explain why she had joined the Gaza aid flotilla that had been attacked by the Israeli navy. MK Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the Lieberman party, jumped from her seat and rushed to the rostrum, letting out blood-curdling shrieks, waving her arms, in order to remove Haneen Zoabi by force. Other members rose from their seats to help Michaeli. Near the speaker, a threatening crowd of Knesset members gathered. Only with great difficulty did the ushers succeed in saving Zoabi from bodily harm. One of the male members shouted at her, in a typical mixture of racism and sexism: “Go to Gaza and see what they will do to a 41 year old unmarried woman!”

One could not imagine a greater contrast than that between the two MKs. While Haneen Zoabi belongs to a family whose roots in the Nazareth area go back centuries, perhaps to the time of Jesus, Anastasia Michaeli was born in (then) Leningrad. She was elected “Miss St. Petersburg” and then became a fashion model, married an Israeli, converted to Judaism, immigrated to Israel at age 24 but sticks to her very Russian first name. She has given birth to eight children. She may be a candidate for the Israeli Sarah Palin, who, after all, was also once a beauty queen..

As far as I could make out, not a single Jewish member raised a finger to defend Zoabi during the tumult. Nothing but some half-hearted protest from the Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, and a Meretz member, Chaim Oron.

In all the 61 years of its existence, the Knesset had not seen such a sight. Within a minute the sovereign assembly turned into a parliamentary lynch mob.

One does not have to support the ideology of Balad to respect the impressive personality of Haneen Zoabi. She speaks fluently and persuasively, has degrees from two Israeli universities, fights for the rights of women within the Israeli-Arab community and is the first female member of an Arab party in the Knesset. Israeli democracy could be proud of her. She belongs to a large Arab extended family. The brother of her grandfather was the mayor of Nazareth, one uncle was a deputy minister and another a Supreme Court judge. (Indeed, on my first day in the Knesset I proposed that another member of the Zoabi family be elected as Speaker.)

This week, the Knesset decided by a large majority to adopt a proposal by Michael Ben-Ari, supported by Likud and Kadima members, to strip Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges. Even before, Interior Minister Eli Yishai had asked the Legal Advisor to the Government for approval of his plan to strip Zoabi of her Israeli citizenship on the grounds of treason. One of the Knesset members shouted at her: “You have no place in the Israeli Knesset! You have no right to hold an Israeli identity card!”

On the very same day, the Knesset took action against the founder of Zoabi’s party, Azmi Bishara. In a preliminary hearing, it approved a bill – this one, too, supported by both Likud and Kadima members – aimed at denying Bishara his pension, which is due after his resignation from the Knesset. (He is staying abroad, after being threatened with an indictment for espionage.)
The proud parents of these initiatives, which enjoy massive support from Likud, Kadima, Lieberman’s party and all the religious factions, do not hide their intention to expel all the Arabs from parliament and establish at long last a pure Jewish Knesset. The latest decisions of the Knesset are but parts of a prolonged campaign, which gives birth almost every week to new initiatives from publicity-hungry members, who know that the more racist and anti-democratic their bills are, the more popular they will be with their electorate.

Such was this weeks Knesset decision to condition the acquisition of citizenship on the candidate’s swearing allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, thus demanding that Arabs (especially foreign Arab spouses of Arab citizens) subscribe to the Zionist ideology. The equivalent would be the demand that new American citizens swear allegiance to the USA as a “white Anglo-Saxon protestant state”.

There seems to be no limit to this parliamentary irresponsibility. All red lines have been crossed long ago. This does not concern only the parliamentary representation of more than 20% of Israel’s citizens, but there is a growing tendency towards depriving all Arab citizens of their citizenship altogether.

THIS TENDENCY is connected with the ongoing attack on the status of the Arabs in East Jerusalem.
This week I was present at the hearing in Jerusalem’s magistrates court on the detention of Muhammed Abu Ter, one of the four Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament from Jerusalem. The hearing was held in a tiny room, which can seat only about a dozen spectators. I succeeded only with great difficulty in getting in.

After they were elected in democratic elections, in conformity with Israel’s explicit obligation under the Oslo agreement to allow the Arabs in East Jerusalem to take part, the government announced that their “permanent resident” status had been revoked.

What does that mean? When Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem in 1967, the government did not dream of conferring citizenship on the inhabitants, which would have significantly increased the percentage of Arab voters in Israel. Neither did they invent a new status for them. Lacking other alternatives, the inhabitants became “permanent residents”, a status devised for foreigners who wish to stay in Israel. The Minister of the Interior has the right to revoke this status and deport such people to their countries of origin.

Clearly, this definition of “permanent residents” should not apply to the inhabitants of East Jerusalem. They and their forefathers were born there, they have no other citizenship and no other place of residence. The revoking of their status turns them into politically homeless people without protection of any kind.

The state lawyers argued in court that with the cancellation of his “permanent resident” status, Abu Ter has become an “illegal person” whose refusal to leave the city warrants unlimited detention.
(A few hours earlier, the Supreme Court dealt with our petition concerning the investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident. We won a partial, but significant, victory: for the first time in its history, the Supreme Court agreed to interfere in a matter concerning a commission of inquiry. The court decided that if the commission requires the testimony of military officers and the government tries to prevent this, the court will intervene.)

IF SOME people are trying to delude themselves into believing that the parliamentary mob will harm “only Arabs”, they are vastly mistaken. The only question is: who is next in line?

This week, the Knesset gave the first reading to a bill to impose heavy penalties on any Israeli who advocates a boycott on Israel, in general, and on economic enterprises, universities and other Israeli institutions, including settlements, in particular. Any such institution will be entitled to an indemnity of 5000 dollars from every supporter of the boycott.

A call for boycott is a democratic means of expression. I object very much to a general boycott on Israel, but (following Voltaire) am ready to fight for everybody’s right to call for such a boycott. The real aim of the bill is, of course, to protect the settlements: it is designed to deter those who call for a boycott of the products of the settlements which exist on occupied land outside the borders of the state. This includes me and my friends.

Since the foundation of Israel, it has never stopped boasting of being the “Only Democracy in the Middle East”. This is the jewel in the crown of Israeli propaganda. The Knesset is the symbol of this democracy.

It seems that the parliamentary mob, which has taken over the Knesset, is determined to destroy this image once and for all, so that Israel will find its proper place somewhere between Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Sinking Ship
The attack on the Gaza relief flotilla jeopardizes Israel itself.

John J. Mearsheimer (from The American Conservative, August 1, 2010)

Israel’s botched raid against the Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla on May 31 is the latest sign that Israel is on a disastrous course that it seems incapable of reversing. The attack also highlights the extent to which Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. This situation is likely to get worse over time, which will cause major problems for Americans who have a deep attachment to the Jewish state.

The bungled assault on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in the flotilla, shows once again that Israel is addicted to using military force yet unable to do so effectively. One would think that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would improve over time from all the practice. Instead, it has become the gang that cannot shoot straight.

The IDF last scored a clear-cut victory in the Six Day War in 1967; the record since then is a litany of unsuccessful campaigns. The War of Attrition (1969-70) was at best a draw, and Israel fell victim to one of the great surprise attacks in military history in the October War of 1973. In 1982, the IDF invaded Lebanon and ended up in a protracted and bloody fight with Hezbollah. Eighteen years later, Israel conceded defeat and pulled out of the Lebanese quagmire. Israel tried to quell the First Intifada by force in the late 1980s, with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin telling his troops to break the bones of the Palestinian demonstrators. But that strategy failed and Israel was forced to join the Oslo Peace Process instead, which was another failed endeavor.

The IDF has not become more competent in recent years. By almost all accounts—including the Israeli government’s own commission of inquiry—it performed abysmally in the 2006 Lebanon war. The IDF then launched a new campaign against the people of Gaza in December 2008, in part to “restore Israel’s deterrence” but also to weaken or topple Hamas. Although the mighty IDF was free to pummel Gaza at will, Hamas survived and Israel was widely condemned for the destruction and killing it wrought on Gaza’s civilian population. Indeed, the Goldstone Report, written under UN auspices, accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Earlier this year, the Mossad murdered a Hamas leader in Dubai, but the assassins were seen on multiple security cameras and were found to have used forged passports from Australia and a handful of European countries. The result was an embarrassing diplomatic row, with Australia, Ireland, and Britain each expelling an Israeli diplomat.

Given this history, it is not surprising that the IDF mishandled the operation against the Gaza flotilla, despite having weeks to plan it. The assault forces that landed on the Mavi Marmara were unprepared for serious resistance and responded by shooting nine activists, some at point-blank range. None of the activists had their own guns. The bloody operation was condemned around the world—except in the United States, of course. Even within Israel, the IDF was roundly criticized for this latest failure.

These ill-conceived operations have harmful consequences for Israel. Failures leave adversaries intact and make Israeli leaders worry that their deterrent reputation is being undermined. To rectify that, the IDF is turned loose again, but the result is usually another misadventure, which gives Israel new incentives to do it again, and so on. This spiral logic, coupled with Israel’s intoxication with military force, helps explain why the Israeli press routinely carries articles predicting where Israel’s next war will be.

Israel’s recent debacles have also damaged its international reputation. Respondents to a 2010 worldwide opinion poll done for the BBC said that Israel, Iran, and Pakistan had the most negative influence in the world; even North Korea ranked better. More worrying for Israel is that its once close strategic relationship with Turkey has been badly damaged by the 2008-09 Gaza war and especially by the assault on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship filled with Turkish nationals. But surely the most troubling development for Israel is the growing chorus of voices in the United States who say that Israel’s behavior is threatening American interests around the world, to include endangering its soldiers. If that sentiment grows, it could seriously harm Israel’s relationship with the United States.

Life as an Apartheid State

The flotilla tragedy highlights another way in which Israel is in deep trouble. Israel’s response makes it obvious that its leaders are not interested in allowing the Palestinians to have a viable state in Gaza and the West Bank, but instead are bent on creating a “Greater Israel” in which the Palestinians are confined to a handful of impoverished enclaves.

Israel insists that its blockade is solely intended to keep weapons out of Gaza. Hardly anyone would criticize Israel if this were true, but it is not. The real aim of the blockade is to punish the people of Gaza for supporting Hamas and resisting Israel’s efforts to maintain Gaza as a giant open-air prison. Of course, there was much evidence that this was the case before the debacle on the Mavi Marmara. When the blockade began in 2006, Dov Weisglass, a close aide to Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, said, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” And the Gaza onslaught 18 months ago was designed to punish the Gazans, not enforce a weapons embargo. The ships in the flotilla were transporting humanitarian aid, not weapons for Hamas, and Israel’s willingness to use deadly force to prevent a humanitarian aid convoy from reaching Gaza makes it abundantly clear that Israel wants to humiliate and subdue the Palestinians, not live side-by-side with them in separate states.
Collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza is unlikely to end anytime soon. Israel’s leaders have shown little interest in lifting the blockade or negotiating sincerely. The sad truth is that Israel has been brutalizing the Palestinians for so long that it is almost impossible to break the habit. It is hardly surprising that Jimmy Carter said last year, “the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than human beings.” They are, and they will be for the foreseeable future.
Consequently, there is not going to be a two-state solution. Instead, Gaza and the West Bank will become part of a Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Israelis and their American supporters invariably bristle at this comparison, but that is their future if they create a Greater Israel while denying full political rights to an Arab population that will soon outnumber the Jewish population in the entirety of the land. In fact, two former Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak—have made this very point. Olmert went so far as to argue, “as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”

He’s right, because Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state. Like racist South Africa, it will eventually evolve into a democratic bi-national state whose politics will be dominated by the more numerous Palestinians. But that process will take many years, and during that time, Israel will continue to oppress the Palestinians. Its actions will be seen and condemned by growing numbers of people and more and more governments around the world. Israel is unwittingly destroying its own future as a Jewish state, and doing so with tacit U.S. support.

America’s Albatross

The combination of Israel’s strategic incompetence and its gradual transformation into an apartheid state creates significant problems for the United States. There is growing recognition in both countries that their interests are diverging; indeed this perspective is even garnering attention inside the American Jewish community. Jewish Week, for example, recently published an article entitled “The Gaza Blockade: What Do You Do When U.S. and Israeli Interests Aren’t in Synch?” Leaders in both countries are now saying that Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is undermining U.S. security. Vice President Biden and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, both made this point recently, and the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, told the Knesset in June, “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.”

It is easy to see why. Because the United States gives Israel so much support and U.S. politicians routinely laud the “special relationship” in the most lavish terms, people around the globe naturally associate the United States with Israel’s actions. Unfortunately, this makes huge numbers of people in the Arab and Islamic world furious with the United States for supporting Israel’s cruel treatment of the Palestinians. That anger in turn helps fuel terrorism against America. Remember that the 9/11 Commission Report, which describes Khalid Sheik Muhammad as the “principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” concludes that his “animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” Osama bin Laden’s hostility toward the United States was fuelled in part by this same concern.

Popular anger toward the United States also threatens the rulers of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, key U.S. allies who are frequently seen as America’s lackeys. The collapse of any of these regimes would be a big blow to the U.S. position in the region; however, Washington’s unyielding support for Israel makes these governments weaker, not stronger. More importantly, the rupture in Israel’s relationship with Turkey will surely damage America’s otherwise close relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and a key U.S. ally in Europe and the Middle East.

Finally, there is the danger that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, which could have terrible consequences for the United States. The last thing America needs is another war with an Islamic country, especially one that could easily interfere in its ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why the Pentagon opposes striking Iran, whether with Israeli or U.S. forces. But Netanyahu might do it anyway if he thinks it would be good for Israel, even if it were bad for the United States.

Dark Days Ahead for the Lobby

Israel’s troubled trajectory is also causing major headaches for its American supporters. First, there is the matter of choosing between Israel and the United States. This is sometimes referred to as the issue of dual loyalty, but that term is a misnomer. Americans are allowed to have dual citizenship—and in effect, dual loyalty—and this is no problem as long as the interests of the other country are in synch with America’s interests. For decades, Israel’s supporters have striven to shape public discourse in the United States so that most Americans believe the two countries’ interests are identical. That situation is changing, however. Not only is there now open talk about clashing interests, but knowledgeable people are openly asking whether Israel’s actions are detrimental to U.S. security.

The lobby has been scrambling to discredit this new discourse, either by reasserting the standard argument that Israel’s interests are synonymous with America’s or by claiming that Israel—to quote a recent statement by Mortimer Zuckerman, a key figure in the lobby—“has been an ally that has paid dividends exceeding its costs.” A more sophisticated approach, which is reflected in an AIPAC-sponsored letter that 337 congresspersons sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in March, acknowledges that there will be differences between the two countries, but argues that “such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence.” In other words, keep the differences behind closed doors and away from the American public. It is too late, however, to quell the public debate about whether Israel’s actions are damaging U.S. interests. In fact, it is likely to grow louder and more contentious with time.

This changing discourse creates a daunting problem for Israel’s supporters, because they will have to side either with Israel or the United States when the two countries’ interests clash. Thus far, most of the key individuals and institutions in the lobby have sided with Israel when there was a dispute. For example, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have had two big public fights over settlements. Both times the lobby sided with Netanyahu and helped him thwart Obama. It seems clear that individuals like Abraham Foxman, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, and organizations like AIPAC are primarily concerned about Israel’s interests, not America’s.
This situation is very dangerous for the lobby. The real problem is not dual loyalty but choosing between the two loyalties and ultimately putting the interests of Israel ahead of those of America. The lobby’s unstinting commitment to defending Israel, which sometimes means shortchanging U.S. interests, is likely to become more apparent to more Americans in the future, and that could lead to a wicked backlash against Israel’s supporters as well as Israel.

The lobby faces yet another challenge: defending an apartheid state in the liberal West is not going to be easy. Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Israel has become like white-ruled South Africa—and that day is not far off—support for Israel inside the American Jewish community is likely to diminish significantly. The main reason is that apartheid is a despicable political system that is fundamentally at odds with basic American values as well as core Jewish values. For sure there will be some Jews who will defend Israel no matter what kind of political system it has. But their numbers will shrink over time, in large part because survey data shows that younger American Jews feel less attachment to Israel than their elders, which makes them less inclined to defend Israel blindly.

The bottom line is that Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state over the long term because it will not be able to depend on the American Jewish community to defend such a reprehensible political order.

Assisted Suicide

Israel is facing a bleak future, yet there is no reason to think that it will change course anytime soon. The political center of gravity in Israel has shifted sharply to the right and there is no sizable pro-peace political party or movement. Moreover, it remains firmly committed to the belief that what cannot be solved by force can be solved with greater force, and many Israelis view the Palestinians with contempt if not hatred. Neither the Palestinians nor any of Israel’s immediate neighbors are powerful enough to deter it, and the lobby will remain influential enough over the next decade to protect Israel from meaningful U.S. pressure.

Remarkably, the lobby is helping Israel commit national suicide while also doing serious damage to American security interests. Voices challenging this tragic situation have grown slightly more numerous in recent years, but the majority of political commentators and virtually all U.S. politicians seem blissfully ignorant of where this is headed, or unwilling to risk their careers by speaking out.
___________________________________________
John J. Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On some wonders of Plato

Hilary Putnam has written me a letter underlining the profound differences between Plato and Heidegger. As a national socialist, Heidegger was for racial world conquest and genocide, Plato for nothing of the sort.* This is entirely right. I am a great admirer of Plato and spend a lot of time with his magical works (he is a writer of the force, intricacy and mystery of Shakespeare, and what we have of Socrates, we have largely and most vividly from Plato. Here is Hilary’s letter:

“Dear Alan,

I have learned an enormous amount from you about the Strauss-Schmitt-Heidegger axis. But I do think you are too hard on Plato. Plato was, to be sure, anti-democratic, but he was, in my view anyway, no proto-fascist. Thus I cannot agree with you when you write: 'What Heidegger (and Plato) set out to do – characteristic of twentieth century fascism and, in America, a growing tyranny or executive power at the expense of law sharpened by Bush-Cheney – is to overthrow the democracy of the polis, the great development of human freedom. They also ignore any common good, and, in imagination, restore and accentuate the predatory rule of the one. A leader - a Fuehrer or Duce - expands power by rending his enemies.' Plato, on my interpretation, was proposing something more like a Hindu Ashram than like a fascist state. (Hence the asceticism and the denunciation of war ('we become like animals butting each other with iron horns'—I quote from memory). He had a religious vision. I know that theocracy is antidemocratic [and it doesn't help if if you substitute 'the form of the Good' for 'God'], and I have no yearning or nostalgia for it. But the worship of brute force, the ideal of triumphing over the Enemy, the glorification of one 'race'—I see no justification for suggesting that Plato had any affinity to these. (I have raised a similar problem with what you write about Nietzsche in an earlier message, but there you were less extreme.) Last, but very much not least, I see a great book in the making, but I hope writing all these blogs isn't keeping you from getting down to it! Warmly, Hilary

P.S. I don't think translating Heidegger's 'das man' as 'one' works for English readers who won't know German. I suggest ‘anybody’ as closer to the feel of the original.”

Hilary rightly points out that Plato was in vision an ascetic and not for war. Think of the guardians. They are to be rewarded by public praise and recognition, not by monetary or private advantage.** Though the guardians are warrior-athletes, Plato did not admire war. The Republic deliberately mirrors the Odyssey (the cave of Polyphemus in book 1, the images from Hades including Achilles in book 3 – “better a slave to the poorest lord on earth than king among the dead” - the waves of Poseidon in book 5, Odysseus as the last chooser of a guiding spirit in book 10). The Odyssey seeks to bring Odysseus home from war – and after the slaughter of Penelope’s suitors, swords are at last made into plowshares. Similarly, Plato wants to replace the warrior Achilles of the Iliad with Odysseus (Allan Bloom rightly emphasizes this point in the "Interpretative Essay" accompanying his translation of the Republic). Plato wants to diminish or avoid war – he is not aiming for world conquest.

As I have stressed in other posts, the idea of the guardians is to be lean dogs that are difficult to conquer, though they hunt sometimes with the big dogs. That is a clear enough approach (perhaps tried once upon a time unsuccessfully by Albania in the modern world). But in Plato, the idea affirms wisdom, a preservation of independence through a care to avoid foreign entanglements; imperial belligerence in Heidegger and Strauss cuts in the opposite direction. The latter are “postmodern,” anti-modern counterrevolutionaries. War for Strauss is a panacea. Consider his stark memo to aspiring Republican presidential candidate Charles Percy on the US taking out Cuba as the USSR did Hungary after the near miss of nuclear war in the Cuban missile crisis from the Strauss papers, box 5, folder 11 in Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago:

“12 February, 1963

Dear Mr. Percy

I believe that the following points have not been made, or at least have not been made with sufficient audibility: 1) To speak in the only language which Khrushchev understands, Cuba is our Hungary; just as we did not make the slightest move when he solved the problem in his back yard, Hungary, he cannot, and will not make the slightest move if and when we take care of the problem in our back yard, Cuba.”

One should also look at the thundering passage from the “Restatement” in On Tyranny, on a revolt against the final tyranny and escape from “the last men” which leads to blowing up the world – nuclear war – and the human “spring” of a radioactive stone age here, here and here.

In addition, Hilary draws a telling analogy between an ashram and the city in speech. He emphasizes, with the guardians, a kind of moral leadership. In this respect, Plato’s vision resembles Socrates’s, who as Gandhi and Martin Luther King recognized, founded civil disobedience (practiced philosophy and paid the penalty – his life). King’s “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” written on the back of a New York Times in his cell, invokes Socrates three times. See my Do philosophers counsel tyrants? Constellations, March 2009 here.

Now, the Republic sketches in many ways an unappetizing regime. For instance, the city emulates Sparta by forbidding reproduction “out of season” and putting “defective children out of sight” (that is, it murders them, doing on a small scale what Nazis later did with “defective Aryan children” and some very large number of Jewish, Slavic and Roma children). I invite students to take in these passages for what they are (Bloom’s assertion that the city in speech embodies the idea of justice will not withstand the nausea occasioned by carefully reading the text), but also ask them to consider the context to which Plato’s “Socrates” sought some alternative.

Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War describes the murderousness of the class war or stasis rending Greek cities in the context of the war between Sparta and Athens. At Corcyra, the Athenian empire encourages the democrats to slaughter the aristocrats and words memorably shift their meanings. Plato’s Thrasymachus (“justice is the advantage of the stronger”) and other passages in the Republic capture this view. Justice stands out – the question: what is justice?
of book 1 of the Republic, and even a very imperfect justice - against actual political murderousness. The regime, the “city in speech,” at least is not likely to be eaten or riven. Against the destruction of words in Corcyra, Plato’s ideas mean rightly to hold the meaning.

Still, there are two ways in which Socrates is vastly better than Plato here. First, Socrates goes down the line for questioning, for what he believes. (In the Crito, there is a hidden meaning; he does not quite believe the arguments of the democratic "laws" which he invokes to convince Crito, but something further and unstated. It is suggested by Plato, I have proposed, that he himself stands in an honorable relation to the laws intrinsically. Though the verdict is unjust, he, nonetheless, decides to do what the laws, given the Athenian decision, require him to do. See Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants? here). In contrast, the regime of the Republic (and, for that matter, in the Laws, of which Plato is perhaps more skeptical) is not a regime understood by its members, but only by philosopher-legislators (who rule wisely but tyrannically). It is a regime of the “noble lie,” one appealing to “a God” (Laws, 708-711).

Hilary uses the term theocracy to describe it, but an idea of Plato as a theocrat is ambiguous. It could mean: a) Plato (and/or Socrates) actually believes in the religion publically espoused. But nothing like this is true. The charge that Socrates does not believe in the gods of Athens is right, as Strauss stresses - see his wonderful lectures on the Symposium - though the punishment is monstrous. Or it could mean: b) appeals to the god are useful from the point of view of persuading the people to go along with laws they would otherwise not accept (in book 4 of the Laws, the wording of the passage about Klinias, fearful of tyranny, who welcomes “a god” is the most vivid example of this). Plato is a manipulative theocrat, not a believer (like his self-conscious successors, Machiavelli and Rousseau, Plato or at least the Athenian Stranger uses the God to put across laws).***

But of course Socrates’s daimon or inner voice is a form of spirituality. Socrates and probably Plato were participants in the Mysteries and had a complex relationship to them. Being spiritually awake when others are asleep – Socrates in a trance while the drinking party is beginning at the onset of the Symposium and awake when everyone else, even Aristophanes, has fallen asleep at its conclusion is a representation of this thought - is Socrates’s and Plato’s vision. In Socrates, the spirituality is consistent in what he did. But in Plato, theocracy is (also) a political tool…

Second, as I emphasize in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 3, in the context of murderous class and interpolis strife, Socrates asks often stinging questions. He does not claim to know. He does this, I suggest, because any opinion about justice leads to political murderousness. His view is a deeper, more coherent version of what is today called realism (one which, since it offers no political advice, does not run the risk of becoming, a la Kissinger, an excuse for mass murder). Realism is attractive as a criticism from below of imperial war and power; it often becomes from above, even at its best, an excuse to maintain unjust domination.

But mass militant nonviolence as a political strategy is a way to pursue radical or revolutionary politics, without engaging in murderousness. Martin Luther King does not accidentally invoke Socrates, but is the inheritor of his vision if nonviolence can succeed (a large question), Given the likelihood, through war and global warming inter alia, that humanity will destroy the conditions for its own existence over the next century or two, developing nonviolence is a far better, life-sustaining alternative. The Palestinians have recently discovered this as is shown dramatically by the Israeli government slaughters on the Mavi Marmara, the relief ship to Gaza, and Israel’s radical isolation from the rest of the world and even from Turkey, see here. In the end, Socrates’s integrity contrasts with Plato’s manipulative theocracy, his successors Gandhi and King, with Plato’s, particularly Heidegger and Strauss. But Hilary is absolutely right that Heidegger’s politics do not, in fact, inherit the spirit of Plato.

In addition, Socrates’s questioning is the opposite of what Plato encouraged in the academy or as in the Seventh Letter, in advising a certain kind of tyrant to become a philosopher. In contrast to Plato’ secret gatherings, training disciples hiddenly to advise tyrants, Socrates spoke with anyone in the agora or by the temple unless his inner voice (his daimon) told him not to. There is little reason to conclude, on reflection, that Plato’s “Socrates” in the Republic holds the views on a city in speech of the historical Socrates. Socrates said he did not know what (the idea of) justice was; the city in speech is a Platonic candidate for such knowledge, and thus, contradicts Socrates. Plato was not, politically, Socrates, and his views in the Republic – though not his politics - are, in fact, subtly understood by Heidegger (see my Do philosophers counsel tyrants? and Mirrors 1, here). Or put it differently, there is a basis in Plato for Heidegger’s (and Strauss’s) interpretation. To his credit, Heidegger does not argue that Socrates held these views; he mostly speaks directly of Plato whereas Strauss, with a bow to Xenophon, tries to depict Socrates, in decisive respects, as equivalent to Plato.

On Plato’s vision, one might say, following Hilary, philosophers are to make everything right in the big ashram invoking a god (like “The Wizard of Oz”). No wonder Plato makes such a point of silence about this – see the discussion in the Seventh Letter on how Plato, who is best suited to write on legislation and who has written the Laws and the Repulbic, will never write on legislation:

"But this much I can certainly declare concerning all those writers or prospective writers who claim to know the subjects which I seriously study, whether as hearers of mine or of other teachers or from their own discoveries; it is impossible, in my judgment at least that these men should understand anything about this subject. There does not exist nor will there ever exist any treatise of mine dealing therewith. For it does not admit of verbal expression like other studies, but as a result of continued application to the subject itself and communion therewith, it is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter nourishes itself. Notwithstanding, of this much I am certain, that the best statement of these doctrines in writing or in speech would be my own statement; and further, that if they should be badly stated in writing, it is I who would be most deeply pained. And if I had thought that these subjects ought to be fully stated in writing or in speech to the public, what nobler action could I have performed in my life than that of writing what is of great benefit to mankind and bringing forth to the light for all men the nature of reality. But were I to undertake this task, it would not, I think, prove a good thing for men save for some few who are able to discover the truth themselves with but little instruction; for as to the rest, some it would most unseasonably fill with a mistaken contempt and others with an overweening and empty aspiration as though they had learnt some sublime mysteries. (Seventh Letter, 341c-e).

This is a secret of the dialogues, what Plato taught his students. Thus, he spreads hints about the idea of philosopher-tyranny is in the Statesman, Laws, Republic and Seventh Letter inter alia. See Mirrors 1 and 2. I have suggested in Do philosophers counsel tyrants? that we need to take the Seventh Letter – and the question of what Plato taught his students in the academy - as a starting point to understand Plato (it is the context for the Republic rather than the Republic the context for it). This is a sharp break with anglo-american understandings, illustrated by Allan Bloom's commentary and with recent issues raised with me by Roger Masters (on whose letter I will post soon) and Peter Minowitz. The answer to how Plato taught I suspect is – students were to read the dialogues critically and argue with and about them. They might particularly take on the Athenian stranger in the Laws who is not Socrates,****

But Plato expected students to do the same with the different arguments of Socrates. Seeing what Plato intended to teach his students – and the idea of hidden as opposed to surface meanings which Plato eloquently announced in the Phaedrus – should be the center of the study of this dazzling writer.

What Hilary rightly criticizes is a sentence in which I mistakenly put: “(and Plato)" in parentheses after Heidegger. One of the virtues of putting these ideas in a blog is that I get quick reaction to remarks that are erroneously off-the-cuff. But my remark was anachronistic, an error. In the same post, I suggest that Plato’s version of wisdom might have improved many tyrannies at his time, and particularly with the death of democracy for a long period, califates in Al-Farabi’s time (Hazem Salem, my student who is working on Al-Farabi, however, has some skepticism about the decency of Farabi’s actual political influence). The twentieth century appropriation of Plato is a late and indecent one. I might also add: the project of reforming tyrants and making them wise is, even for Plato, fraught with difficulties. Consider the Seventh Letter, where Plato fails with Dionysius the younger, but his student Dion takes over miraculously and would be a far better candidate to be a philosopher-king. Yet Plato pointedly does not say this perhaps because Dion is quickly assassinated (in saying that even a good pilot is sometimes overwhelmed by a storm which he foresaw but is too fierce, Plato hints about Dion’s abilities as a ruler). Still, these twin failures underline how rare even the possibility is.

One might also consider best case: Aristotle and Alexander. First, Alexander was probably the driving force (the philosopher who ties himself to a tyrant had best watch out); second, he was a “good” conqueror, taking on the habits of the people he conquered, but nonetheless a conqueror and set the example for the more successful Roman empire. From a moral point of view, the Roman empire, however, was anything but admirable. As Montesquieu writes in the long concluding sentence of Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans, all this heroism and virtue and tolerance of local leaders to convey the spoils to Rome – he spells it out - to produce 5 or 6 monsters…

But Plato was also the enemy of Athenian democracy (see Critias’s idea about a forgotten militarily superior ancient Athens, modeled on the city in speech, in the Timaeus here, a hint at a substitute for the democracy which had been defeated by Sparta, and the fact that the Laws praise many things about civilized Athens, compared to Crete, except democracy here. He did want kingship. He, too, wanted a nondemocratic Athens, a restoration/transformation of the rule of one. Plato still contrasts with Heidegger and Strauss, but the idea of commander in chief power – or Fuehrer power in Heidegger’s 1933 idiom – is adumbrated in Plato, even if it has ashram-like aspects and is, more importantly, not world-conquering, racist, genocidal. This similarity was the basis for my misstatement.

In this respect, too, Socrates differs from Plato. He was very critical of the many, but he went to war for the democracy and to his death with the voice of its laws in his ears, overpoweringly, as the Corybants – the participants in the Mysteries - hear the flutes.

On the issue Hilary raises about translation, I like to translate das Man “the one” because it has some mystery to it (falling into the one). Hilary is right, however, that it might be misunderstood, and that “anybody” is a better translation (certainly beats the “they”). What is good about Heidegger is his uncanniness. He really does work, when he gets it right, with a realm which is part of our thrownness, makes philosophy touch upon the uncanniness of being (in this respect, like Socrates and Plato), is poetic as much as philosophical. A dismissal of Heidegger – and I am pretty sharp on his Nazism - which fails to take this into account, is a mistake.

Being and Time has an Unheimlichkeit (an uncanniness) as he writes about the call of conscience. In the last post, I emphasized how Heidegger was vehemently a Nazi. But again, nothing requires that one read Being and Time that way. See Mirrors I. Faye is wrong.

To make this point more sharply, Being and Time is often read in America as having the following bent: instead of living in the corrupt everyday of the cave, falling into the one or the anybody about mortality, each individual takes into account her own death, becomes more fully there and leads an authentic life, a life in which she brings out her gifts, a Sophie Scholl or Martin Luther King. My student Nick Catanzarite gave a brilliant talk this spring about how King incarnates Nietzsche’s idea of a superman; the point holds deeply for what is good in Heidegger’s account as well. These ideas are in Heidegger. This (mis-)understanding, however, rests on an uncontroversial notion of ethics. We are all – equally – mortal individuals who have the potentiality to live our own lives creatively and in the service of humanity.

Heidegger denies this last point; he rejects ethics. Being and Time was written cautiously to get Heidegger Husserl’s job at Freiburg. He sought the ambiguity. It is thus a leading example of esoteric writing. For Dasein – being there – is being thrown into a particular place. German Dasein is different from French or Polish Dasein. Dasein which speaks German is capable of philosophy, as is Dasein which speaks Greek, but the French, to do philosophy, must speak and think in German, he says in the posthumously published Der Spiegel interview. This is a chauvinist acknowledgment of a sort of French possibility, but of course, as in his comments on Sartre, Heidegger denies its reality. German Dasein experiences its own mortality, becomes authentically there (Da) and takes up the task of its generation (its historicity) which is collective – to fight for the Kaiser in World War I and, in a few years, the Fuehrer in World War II. The individual has no being but to vanish into the decision of the Fuehrer (this is the "subjectivity" Heidegger asserts in 1940 below). Less individual than what Heidegger imagines for most it does not get (only philosophers have some individuality; Heidegger hoped to be the philosopher to Hitler’s tyrant).

Faye, Heidegger, p. 269 has a citation from Heidegger's 1940 lectures on Nietzsche which shows how even the term subjectivity is pitched to sacrifice (Opfer – a central Nazi term) and opposes individuality (what Heidegger and Strauss detest as “liberalism”*****).

“When a man sacrifices himself, he can do so only to the extent he is entirely himself – on the basis of selfhood and the abandonment of one’s individuality…Subjectivity can never be determined on the basis of I-hood or be founded on it. Though it is difficult for us to get the false undertone of the ‘individualist’ out of our ears when we hear the words ‘subject’ and ‘subjective,’ the following must be inculcated: The more, and the more universally, man qua historical humanity (people, nation) rests on himself, the more man becomes ‘subjective’ in the metaphysical sense. The accent placed on the community [Gemeinschaft] in opposition to the egotism of the individual, is not metaphysically conceived, the overcoming of subjectivism but indeed its fulfillment, for man – not the separate individual, but man in his essence – is now getting on track: all that is, all that has been implemented and created, undergone and overcome, must rest on him and be comprised beneath his domination.”******

Again, some trace of the regime in the Laws in which everyone assents to the same ideas, has even the same feelings (the big ashram) is still here. But as Hilary rightly emphasizes, they are not the same.

Hilary has kind wishes for the book I will write about Strauss, Heidegger, and Schmitt with some attention to Plato, and worries about blogging as a diversion. It is certainly a danger. But I have one book coming out – Emancipation and Independence, on which I am doing the final revisions this month (working on it since 1996). It will be published by University of Chicago Press next year (see here and here). And the subsequent book project is enormously difficult in the sense that Strauss is easily misunderstood, and one must go far into peeling back the layers of his view as some of the movement over the time I have been writing this blog has shown. Interestingly, after discovering many, often disturbing things, I have now found Heidegger at the center of Strauss, and am working towards a new and clearer understanding of Heidegger as a quasi-Platonist and Nazi. But Heidegger and Strauss also approach the mystery of Plato and Plato’s relation to both Socrates and his own students. Blogging turns out to be a wonderful tool to post and develop new understandings rapidly, and to get comments like Hilary’s or Matt’s or Tracy’s. The book I will do in the next couple of years will be very different from the draft I completed three or four years ago. If one does not get lost in it, this is a gift of blogging.

*Even Heidegger, at an early point in his argument, sees Dasein as existing in nature (the vorhandene) and breaks with a long tradition pitting man against nature. He used this to criticize modern technological ideas, for instance, those of liberalism and Marxism. W. J. Korab-Karpowicz, a political theorist at Bilgent University in Istanbul, sent me his interesting essay on “Heidegger’s Hidden Path: from philosophy to politics “from the Review of Metaphysics, December 2007, emphasizing this point . Unfortunately, he suggests that Heidegger opposed all modern ideologies, including Nazism as well as liberalism (democracy) and communism. There is no evidence that Heidegger opposed HItler. Quite the contrary, Heidegger was a loyal and often fierce adherent of the Nazi technology of genocide, not to mention the technology of blitzkrieg. This was perhaps inconsistent on Heidegger’s part, but there is now massive evidence about what he did, a commitment of many years, and one never renounced – see Strong, Kirsch and Faye: what does it mean to say that Heidegger is a philosophical national socialist? here and Faye, Heidegger.

**They are the opposite of today’s American bipartisan leaders for whom swift cashing in is sadly the point. I will post on the striking example of Zalmay Khalilzad and others in Kurdistan shortly.

***The justification for this is that a great legislator like Moses cannot shape a people who will not agree with his reasoning; the fear of god is needed….Of course, this discounts the possibility that Moses might have, also, believed or that founding arguments, as in the United States – that taxation without representation is unjust - might be widely believed.

****This is William Altman’s brilliant point in “A Tale of Two Drinking Parties” - Socrates, who goes to his death, is the leader of the drinking party in both the Symposium and the Phaedo; the stranger who speaks in the Laws is not Socrates runs away and in Crete, gets Megillus and Klinias to imagine Athenian drinking parties as an alternative to the fear-drug, the phobon pharmakon, by implication the hemlock that Socrates drank. Interestlngly, Plato informs us in another dialogue as Altman points out, that wine is the antidote to hemlock

*****See Strauss’s 1933 “Remarks on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political," reprinted in 1962 in Strauss;s Spinoza’s Critique of Religion.

******”Wenn ein Mensch sich opfert, kann er das nur, sofern er ganz er selbst ist - aus der Selbstheit unter Dahingabe seiner Einzelheit…die Subjectivitaet an niemals von der Ichheit her bestimmt und auf diese gegruendet werden. Doch wir bringen den falschen Ton des ‘Individualistischen’ nur schwer aus dem Ohr, wenn wir das Wort ‘Subjekt’ und ‘Subjectiv’ hoeren, gilt es einzuschaerfen: Je mehr und allseitiger der Mensch als geschichtlisches Menschentum (Volk, Nation) sich auf sich selbst stellt, um so ‘subjectiver’ wird der Mensch im metaphysischen Sinne. Die Betonung der Gemeinschaft gegeneber der Eigensucht des Enzelnen ist, metaphysisch gedacht, nicht Ueberwindung des Subjectivismus, sondern erst sein Erfuellung, denn der Mensch – nicht der abgesonderte Einzelne, sondern der Mensch in seinem Wesen – kommt jetzt in die Bahn: Alles was ist, was gewirkt und geschaffen, gelitten und erstritten wird, auf sich selbst zu stellen und in seine Herrschaft einzubezeihen." (Heidegger, Gesamtausgabe, 48: 211-12; Faye, 399, n 96)