Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Three little syllables

Former US President Jimmy Carter goes from strength to strength. With just three syllables, the godfather of the Contras in Nicaragua and the Muhjahideen in Afghanistan has redeemed himself and become a hero of the left. His book’s Amazon sales rank has recovered to #11 after a temporary drop from its high at #6. A petition circulated demanding the removal of Jeffrey Goldberg’s unflattering Washington Post review from’s page for the book. Instead, they have inserted an interview they did with Carter. And he had an article of his own in Thursday’s Post. Clearly, if his critics really do want to silence him, they’re not doing a terribly good job.

There’s now a virtual industry defending Carter. I haven’t read all 482 Amazon customer reviews, but they give him an average of three and a half stars. In comparison, Ali Abunimah’s One country has eight customer reviews. I’ve discussed Finkelstein’s three articles in defense of Carter already elsewhere, as well as the supportive reviews that have pointed out his error in refusing to recognize what’s going on inside ‘Israel proper’. Now Alexander Cockburn has another defense on his Counterpunch site. Tony Karon has addressed te issue a couple of times on his Rootless cosmopolitan site, most recently yesterday. Also yesterday, Alternet’s Joshua Holland had quite a silly one entitled, ‘The assassination of Jimmy Carter continues …’

In his Amazon interview, Carter enunciates this bizarre view:

The book is about Palestine, the occupied territories, and not about Israel. Forced segregation in the West Bank and terrible oppression of the Palestinians create a situation accurately described by the word. I made it plain in the text that this abuse is not based on racism, but on the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land. This violates the basic humanitarian premises on which the nation of Israel was founded.

So, ‘Israel’ is not geographically part of Palestine, which comprises only the occupied territories. The book is about the occupied territories, but not about Israel, in other words, Israel’s occupation has nothing to do with the occupied territories? The word ‘apartheid’ accurately describes a situation where there is not only forced separation and terrible oppression, but also no freedom of movement, no work, and other features different from, and inmost cases, worse than, actual apartheid as practiced in South Africa. Racism is not a motivating factor, notwithstanding the systematic racism in Israeli law and in the concept of an ethnocratic state, as well as the attitudes betrayed in opinion polls. The desire to confiscate Palestinian land is not one of the principles on which the nation of Israel was founded – it was founded on wholly humanitarian principles.

It’s hard to imagine any Zionist objecting to Carter’s characterization of Israel unless they actually believe that the Palestinians deserve to suffer for being on the land that the Zionists covet. He agrees that there ought to be a Jewish state and argues that it is democratic and not racist, much less apartheid, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

Carter had declined an appearance at Brandeis University near Boston because he didn’t want to debate Alan Dershowitz. At the time, I criticized his decision as cowardly, particularly in light of his assertion that Dershowitz ‘knows nothing about the situation in Palestine’. Now, as if to underscore my point, Carter has agreed to speak at Brandeis, after all. As the Forward reports,

At the upcoming forum — which is not being run by the university’s administration but by a committee comprised of four faculty members and one student — Carter will speak for 15 minutes and then spend 45 minutes answering 15 pre-chosen questions, culled from queries submitted by students in advance via the Internet.

Returning to the apartheid analogy, Uri Avnery had a piece in today’s CounterPunch elucidating some of the similarities and differences. Two of these differences are not contentious,

In SA, a White minority (about 10 percent) ruled over a huge majority of Blacks (78 percent), people of mixed race (7 percent) and Asians (3 percent). Here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there are now 5.5 million Jewish-Israelis and an equal number of Palestinian-Arabs (including the 1.4 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel).

The SA economy was based on Black labor and could not possibly have existed without it. Here, the Israeli government has succeeded in excluding the non-Israeli Palestinians almost completely from the Israeli labor market and replacing them with foreign workers.

The other side of the coin that Avnery misses is that Israeli settler colonialism, like Australian and American settler colonialism, does not rely on indigenous labour and consequently regards the indigenous population as dispensible at best. This, as Moshe Machover has pointed out, is the fundamental difference with apartheid and it places the Palestinians in a particularly vulnerable position. ‘Transfer’ has always been at the centre of the Zionist project and Israeli society is now becoming more and more tolerant of discussing it openly.

But he also argues that there were another two differences,

In SA there was a conflict between Blacks and Whites, but both agreed that the state of South Africa must remain intact – the question was only who would rule it. Almost nobody proposed to partition the country between the Blacks and the Whites.

This simply isn’t the case. The existence of the Bantustans testifies that separation, at least political separation, was not only proposed, but implemented.

Our conflict is between two different nations with different national identities, each of which places the highest value on a national state of its own…

Here, the huge majority of the Palestinians want to be separated from Israel in order to establish a state of their own. The huge majority of Israelis, too, want to be separated from the Palestinians. Separation is the aspiration of the majority on both sides…

It’s apparent from what he writes here that when he says ‘both sides’, he means Israeli Jews and Palestinians resident in the West Bank and Gaza, or at least the leadership of those Palestinians. The Israeli Arabs, who he mentions in the same paragraph have disappeared. There is no question that the Israeli Arabs do not want to be separated from their kin in the occupied territories and do not want to be separated from their Israeli citizenship, either, as documented extensively in Joanthan Cook’s Blood and religion.

The other group he doesn’t appear to have taken into consideration in his analysis is the 1948 refugees. Of course nobody ever considers what they want. The ‘refugee issue’ has always been relegated to the back burner for ‘final status negotiations’ – negotiations in which they themselves of course are to have no part. If I had been languishing in a camp for the last sixty years, I’m pretty sure I’d consider resolution of the refugee issue a priority. And I’m pretty sure the resolution I’d favour didn’t include further separation between me and my homeland. But that’s just me. I’m sure Uri Avnery knows better.

Meanwhile, in a potentially encouraging development, Dershowitz himself, ‘speaking via satellite to the 7th Herzliya Conference of The Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS)’, identifies four new factors pointing to the need to ‘be strong and be prepared to go it alone.’ Pride of place among the four is…the publication of Palestine: peace not apartheid!. Apparently, ‘it legitimizes certain negative stereotypes’.

And if that’s not bizarre enough, he alleges ‘the rise of anti-Israel discussions in academic circles’, as if criticism of Zionism were at all commonplace on US campuses and weren’t ruthlessly suppressed by Dershowitz, Horowitz, ‘Campus Watch’, and their loyal minions. To top off the irony, the Harvard law professor whose claim to fame is his advocacy of needles under the fingernails, and who has been thoroughly outed as a plagiarist and a hack in Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah, derides the increasing prevalence of ‘trash academics’ which ‘could threaten the education of future American leaders.’ Just as well nothing like that threatened the education of America’s current leader.

The third factor is ‘the Media War being fought by Hizbullah & Hamas against Israel’ with the leering visages of Khalid Mashal and Hassan Nasrallah filling our tv screens night after night and endless coverage of the Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

The last threat to the cosy relationship between Israel and the US is that General Wesley Clark recently said, ‘New York money people are pushing the U.S. into war with Iran’. That sure would clinch it.

In any case, this is one time I sincerely hope Dershowitz is right. Nothing could contribute more to a just resolution of the ‘conflict in the Middle East’ than for the US to stop bankrolling it.

Also in Herzliya, Former CIA director James Woolsey asserted, ‘The destruction of Israel is not the policy of Iran, but its essence.’ He also said that the worst scenario would be to allow a nuclear Iran and ‘Israel should have made a move against Syria during the last war and that the U.S. should have supported such a move’. He may be a wingnut, but you couldn’t say he doesn’t know his audience.


  1. Alternet’s Joshua Holland had quite a silly one entitled, ‘The assassination of Jimmy Carter continues …’

    Well, screw you too.

  2. Joshua,

    Thanks for your insightful comment. I can understand how my dismissive remark would offend you.

    In reality, I probably agree with your assessment of Lipstadt, as far as it goes.

    There are those who reject the racist assumption that an ethnocratic Jewish state, Herzl’s ‘rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism’, on land acquired through ethnic cleansing has a ‘right to exist’. Perhaps you will understand that we prefer not to be dismissed as ‘a fringe minority’, either?

    If you are so concerned with the ‘reality’ that it is Israel’s military hardware that guarantees its ‘right to exist’, it is curious that you can imagine an equivalent reality where Israel will withdraw ‘about 7 percent of its population in heavily-armed compounds in Palestinian territory’, that so much life and treasure has gone into creating as ‘facts on the ground’. The facile assumption of ‘Israel’s value as a refuge for world Jewry’, when in reality Israel is the single most dangerous place on the planet for a Jew to reside and its existence provides the preeminent pretext for actual attacks on Jews elsewhere, doesn’t strike me as evidence of seriousness.

    I guess it was factors like these, and your assertion that Americans do not ‘have the right to build armed camps in Canada’, when the US actually has armed camps in Canada, that made me think it was not important to intersect with the substance of what you wrote.

  3. Can you send me an e-mail @ joshua dot holland at alternet dot org?

  4. While not venturing a comment on the main thrust of your article, I must point out one glaring innacuracy and one assumption I think is just plain wrong, concerning South Africa.

    SA had at least 5 million whites in the late 80s and the rest of the population numbered about 20 million, which is more than double the figure you gave. Check out the official census figures if you doubt me.

    Secondly, you state that SA could not have existed without the Black (indigenous) population. You forget the American pattern of immigration - where you have an "empty" land, you find ways of attracting eager immigrants by the score.

    White South African Farmer

  5. Thanks for your comment, Mark. The two issues you raise actually apply to the test I quoted from Uri Avnery’s article, but since I explicitly agreed with his position on them, I’ll take you comments on.

    First of all, I have checked the South African Census statistics from 1996, the closest I could find to the end of the apartheid era and the ‘late 80s’, as you suggested. I find that Avnery’s claim is much closer to reality than yours. The Census gives a white population of 4,434,697, not ‘at least 5 million’; and the balance of the population 36,148,877, not ‘about 20 million’. Doubtless things changed between the ‘late 80s’ and 1996, but I shouldn’t think the total population is likely to have increased by over 62% over that period. I haven’t done the research on white emigration with the end of apartheid, but I can imagine it reducing the white population to the extent that your late 80s estimate could be right. In any case, you don’t specify why you think that Avnery was writing about the late 80s.

    Where he writes of ‘a White minority (about 10 percent) ruled over a huge majority of Blacks (78 percent), people of mixed race (7 percent) and Asians (3 percent)’, the Census gives 10.9% for ‘White’, 76.7% ‘African/Black’, 8.9% ‘Coloured’, and 2.6% ‘Indian/Asian’ (3.5% including ‘Unspecified Other’). I’d say he was pretty close, and may, indeed, have been using figures from a previous Census, say, 1986?

    The second issue you raise is completely off base. First of all, South Africa was not empty. Second, the whole point of this comparison is precisely that the Israeli pattern of settler colonialism resembles the American or Australian than the South African. According to another critique of Avnery by a couple of scholars working in South Africa, Steven Friedman and Virginia Tilley, 'Taken for a Ride by the Israeli Left', there were, indeed, historical attempts to exterminate the indigenous population of South Africa, as there were attempts to enslave the indigenous people of the Americas and Australia. But in the end, the apartheid South African economy definitely did depend on a huge amount of indigenous labour, where the American, Australian, and Israeli economies do not. Finally, the non Black population comes to barely a third of the Black population, which shows that you can certainly attract labour in the scores, but not in the tens of millions required to replace the role of Black labour in the economy. We’ll never know whether you could attract even scores to take on the menial chores under the conditions and for the wages allocated to Black labour in apartheid South Africa.