Friday, August 21, 2015

"The Iranian Threat" Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace?

Thaqnks for pointing out that this part did not get through.

"The Iranian Threat"
Who Is the Gravest Danger to World Peace?
Noam Chomsky
Throughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that "the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely."
There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over "the Iranian threat." Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be "the gravest threat to world peace." Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat. After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?

Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that "would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard" of the United States, killing "tens of millions of Americans."
The two most likely winners, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are battling over whether to bomb Iran immediately after being elected or after the first Cabinet meeting. The one candidate with some foreign policy experience, Lindsey Graham, describes the deal as "a death sentence for the state of Israel," which will certainly come as a surprise to Israeli intelligence and strategic analysts – and which Graham knows to be utter nonsense, raising immediate questions about actual motives.

Keep in mind that the Republicans long ago abandoned the pretense of functioning as a normal congressional party. They have, as respected conservative political commentator Norman Ornstein of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute observed, become a "radical insurgency" that scarcely seeks to participate in normal congressional politics.
Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, the party leadership has plunged so far into the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector that they can attract votes only by mobilizing parts of the population that have not previously been an organized political force. Among them are extremist evangelical Christians, now probably a majority of Republican voters; remnants of the former slave-holding states; nativists who are terrified that "they" are taking our white Christian Anglo-Saxon country away from us; and others who turn the Republican primaries into spectacles remote from the mainstream of modern society – though not from the mainstream of the most powerful country in world history.

The departure from global standards, however, goes far beyond the bounds of the Republican radical insurgency. Across the spectrum, there is, for instance, general agreement with the"pragmatic" conclusion of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Vienna deal does not "prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that it is cheating on the agreement," even though a unilateral military strike is "far less likely" if Iran behaves.
Former Clinton and Obama Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross typically recommends that "Iran must have no doubts that if we see it moving towards a weapon, that would trigger the use of force" even after the termination of the deal, when Iran is theoretically free to do what it wants. In fact, the existence of a termination point 15 years hence is, he adds, "the greatest single problem with the agreement." He also suggests that the U.S. provide Israel with specially outfitted B-52 bombers and bunker-busting bombs to protect itself before that terrifying date arrives.

"The Greatest Threat"
Opponents of the nuclear deal charge that it does not go far enough. Some supporters agree, holding that "if the Vienna deal is to mean anything, the whole of the Middle East must rid itself of weapons of mass destruction." The author of those words, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif, added that "Iran, in its national capacity and as current chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement [the governments of the large majority of the world's population], is prepared to work with the international community to achieve these goals, knowing full well that, along the way, it will probably run into many hurdles raised by the skeptics of peace and diplomacy." Iran has signed "a historic nuclear deal," he continues, and now it is the turn of Israel, "the holdout."
Israel, of course, is one of the three nuclear powers, along with India and Pakistan, whose weapons programs have been abetted by the United States and that refuse to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Zarif was referring to the regular five-year NPT review conference, which ended in failure in April when the U.S. (joined by Canada and Great Britain) once again blocked efforts to move toward a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East. Such efforts have been led by Egypt and other Arab states for 20 years. As Jayantha Dhanapala and Sergio Duarte, leading figures in the promotion of such efforts at the NPT and other U.N. agencies, observe in "Is There a Future for the NPT?," an article in the journal of the Arms Control Association: "The successful adoption in 1995 of the resolution on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East was the main element of a package that permitted the indefinite extension of the NPT." The NPT, in turn, is the most important arms control treaty of all. If it were adhered to, it could end the scourge of nuclear weapons.

Repeatedly, implementation of the resolution has been blocked by the U.S., most recently by President Obama in 2010 and again in 2015, as Dhanapala and Duarte point out, "on behalf of a state that is not a party to the NPT and is widely believed to be the only one in the region possessing nuclear weapons" – a polite and understated reference to Israel. This failure, they hope, "will not be the coup de grâce to the two longstanding NPT objectives of accelerated progress on nuclear disarmament and establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone."
A nuclear-weapons-free Middle East would be a straightforward way to address whatever threat Iran allegedly poses, but a great deal more is at stake in Washington's continuing sabotage of the effort in order to protect its Israeli client. After all, this is not the only case in which opportunities to end the alleged Iranian threat have been undermined by Washington, raising further questions about just what is actually at stake
In considering this matter, it is instructive to examine both the unspoken assumptions in the situation and the questions that are rarely asked. Let us consider a few of these assumptions, beginning with the most serious: that Iran is the gravest threat to world peace.

In the U.S., it is a virtual cliché among high officials and commentators that Iran wins that grim prize. There is also a world outside the U.S. and although its views are not reported in the mainstream here, perhaps they are of some interest. According to the leading western polling agencies (WIN/Gallup International), the prize for "greatest threat" is won by the United States. The rest of the world regards it as the gravest threat to world peace by a large margin. In second place, far below, is Pakistan, its ranking probably inflated by the Indian vote. Iran is ranked below those two, along with China, Israel, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

"The World's Leading Supporter of Terrorism"
Turning to the next obvious question, what in fact is the Iranian threat? Why, for example, are Israel and Saudi Arabia trembling in fear over that country? Whatever the threat is, it can hardly be military. Years ago, U.S. intelligence informed Congress that Iran has very low military expenditures by the standards of the region and that its strategic doctrines are defensive – designed, that is, to deter aggression. The U.S. intelligence community has also reported that it has no evidence Iran is pursuing an actual nuclear weapons program and that "Iran's nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy."

The authoritative SIPRI review of global armaments ranks the U.S., as usual, way in the lead in military expenditures. China comes in second with about one-third of U.S. expenditures. Far below are Russia and Saudi Arabia, which are nonetheless well above any western European state. Iran is scarcely mentioned. Full details are provided in an April report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which finds "a conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have… an overwhelming advantage of Iran in both military spending and access to modern arms."

Iran's military spending, for instance, is a fraction of Saudi Arabia's and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE -outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eight, an imbalance that goes back decades. The CSIS report adds: "The Arab Gulf states have acquired and are acquiring some of the most advanced and effective weapons in the world [while] Iran has essentially been forced to live in the past, often relying on systems originally delivered at the time of the Shah." In other words, they are virtually obsolete. When it comes to Israel, of course, the imbalance is even greater. Possessing the most advanced U.S. weaponry and a virtual offshore military base for the global superpower, it also has a huge stock of nuclear weapons.
To be sure, Israel faces the "existential threat" of Iranian pronouncements: Supreme Leader Khamenei and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously threatened it with destruction. Except that they didn't- and if they had, it would be of little moment. Ahmadinejad, for instance, predicted that "under God's grace [the Zionist regime] will be wiped off the map." In other words, he hoped that regime change would someday take place. Even that falls far short of the direct calls in both Washington and Tel Aviv for regime change in Iran, not to speak of the actions taken to implement regime change. These, of course, go back to the actual "regime change" of 1953, when the U.S. and Britain organized a military coup to overthrow Iran's parliamentary government and install the dictatorship of the Shah, who proceeded to amass one of the worst human rights records on the planet.

These crimes were certainly known to readers of the reports of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, but not to readers of the U.S. press, which has devoted plenty of space to Iranian human rights violations – but only since 1979 when the Shah's regime was overthrown. (To check the facts on this, read The U.S. Press and Iran, a carefully documented study by Mansour Farhang and William Dorman.)
None of this is a departure from the norm. The United States, as is well known, holds the world championship title in regime change and Israel is no laggard either. The most destructive of its invasions of Lebanon in 1982 was explicitly aimed at regime change, as well as at securing its hold on the occupied territories. The pretexts offered were thin indeed and collapsed at once. That, too, is not unusual and pretty much independent of the nature of the society – from the laments in the Declaration of Independence about the "merciless Indian savages" to Hitler's defense of Germany from the "wild terror" of the Poles.

No serious analyst believes that Iran would ever use, or even threaten to use, a nuclear weapon if it had one, and so face instant destruction. There is, however, real concern that a nuclear weapon might fall into jihadi hands – not thanks to Iran, but via U.S. ally Pakistan. In the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, two leading Pakistani nuclear scientists, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian, write that increasing fears of "militants seizing nuclear weapons or materials and unleashing nuclear terrorism [have led to]… the creation of a dedicated force of over 20,000 troops to guard nuclear facilities. There is no reason to assume, however, that this force would be immune to the problems associated with the units guarding regular military facilities," which have frequently suffered attacks with "insider help." In brief, the problem is real, just displaced to Iran thanks to fantasies concocted for other reasons.

Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as "the world's leading supporter of terrorism," which primarily refers to its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Both of those movements emerged in resistance to U.S.-backed Israeli violence and aggression, which vastly exceeds anything attributed to these villains, let alone the normal practice of the hegemonic power whose global drone assassination campaign alone dominates (and helps to foster) international terrorism.

Those two villainous Iranian clients also share the crime of winning the popular vote in the only free elections in the Arab world. Hezbollah is guilty of the even more heinous crime of compelling Israel to withdraw from its occupation of southern Lebanon, which took place in violation of U.N. Security Council orders dating back decades and involved an illegal regime of terror and sometimes extreme violence. Whatever one thinks of Hezbollah, Hamas, or other beneficiaries of Iranian support, Iran hardly ranks high in support of terror worldwide.

"Fueling Instability"
Another concern, voiced at the U.N. by U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, is the "instability that Iran fuels beyond its nuclear program." The U.S. will continue to scrutinize this misbehavior, she declared. In that, she echoed the assurance Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered while standing on Israel's northern border that "we will continue to help Israel counter Iran's malign influence" in supporting Hezbollah, and that the U.S. reserves the right to use military force against Iran as it deems appropriate.
The way Iran "fuels instability" can be seen particularly dramatically in Iraq where, among other crimes, it alone at once came to the aid of Kurds defending themselves from the invasion of Islamic State militants, even as it is building a $2.5 billion power plant in the southern port city of Basra to try to bring electrical power back to the level reached before the 2003 invasion. Ambassador Power's usage is, however, standard: Thanks to that invasion, hundreds of thousands were killed and millions of refugees generated, barbarous acts of torture were committed – Iraqis have compared the destruction to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century – leaving Iraq the unhappiest country in the world according to WIN/Gallup polls. Meanwhile, sectarian conflict was ignited, tearing the region to shreds and laying the basis for the creation of the monstrosity that is ISIS. And all of that is called "stabilization."

Only Iran's shameful actions, however, "fuel instability." The standard usage sometimes reaches levels that are almost surreal, as when liberal commentator James Chace, former editor ofForeign Affairs, explained that the U.S. sought to "destabilize a freely elected Marxist government in Chile" because "we were determined to seek stability" under the Pinochet dictatorship.

Others are outraged that Washington should negotiate at all with a "contemptible" regime like Iran's with its horrifying human rights record and urge instead that we pursue "an American-sponsored alliance between Israel and the Sunni states." So writes Leon Wieseltier, contributing editor to the venerable liberal journal theAtlantic, who can barely conceal his visceral hatred for all things Iranian. With a straight face, this respected liberal intellectual recommends that Saudi Arabia, which makes Iran look like a virtual paradise, and Israel, with its vicious crimes in Gaza and elsewhere, should ally to teach that country good behavior. Perhaps the recommendation is not entirely unreasonable when we consider the human rights records of the regimes the U.S. has imposed and supported throughout the world.

Though the Iranian government is no doubt a threat to its own people, it regrettably breaks no records in this regard, not descending to the level of favored U.S. allies. That, however, cannot be the concern of Washington, and surely not Tel Aviv or Riyadh.It might also be useful to recall – surely Iranians do – that not a day has passed since 1953 in which the U.S. was not harming Iranians. After all, as soon as they overthrew the hated U.S.-imposed regime of the Shah in 1979, Washington put its support behind Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who would, in 1980, launch a murderous assault on their country. President Reagan went so far as to deny Saddam's major crime, his chemical warfare assault on Iraq's Kurdish population, which he blamed on Iran instead. When Saddam was tried for crimes under U.S. auspices, that horrendous crime, as well as others in which the U.S. was complicit, was carefully excluded from the charges, which were restricted to one of his minor crimes, the murder of 148 Shi'ites in 1982, a footnote to his gruesome record.

Saddam was such a valued friend of Washington that he was even granted a privilege otherwise accorded only to Israel. In 1987, his forces were allowed to attack a U.S. naval vessel, the USSStark, with impunity, killing 37 crewmen. (Israel had acted similarly in its 1967 attack on the USSLiberty.) Iran pretty much conceded defeat shortly after, when the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian ships and oil platforms in Iranian territorial waters. That operation culminated when the USS  Vincennes, under no credible threat, shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in Iranian airspace, with 290 killed – and the subsequent granting of a Legion of Merit award to the commander of the Vincennes for "exceptionally meritorious conduct" and for maintaining a "calm and professional atmosphere" during the period when the attack on the airliner took place. Comments philosopher Thill Raghu, "We can only stand in awe of such display of American exceptionalism!"

After the war ended, the U.S. continued to support Saddam Hussein, Iran's primary enemy. President George H.W. Bush even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in weapons production, an extremely serious threat to Iran. Sanctions against that country were intensified, including against foreign firms dealing with it, and actions were initiated to bar it from the international financial system.In recent years the hostility has extended to sabotage, the murder of nuclear scientists (presumably by Israel), and cyberwar, openly proclaimed with pride. The Pentagon regards cyberwar as an act of war, justifying a military response, as does NATO, which affirmed in September 2014 that cyber attacks may trigger the collective defense obligations of the NATO powers – when we are the target that is, not the perpetrators.

"The Prime Rogue State"
It is only fair to add that there have been breaks in this pattern. President George W. Bush, for example, offered several significant gifts to Iran by destroying its major enemies, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. He even placed Iran's Iraqi enemy under its influence after the U.S. defeat, which was so severe that Washington had to abandon its officially declared goals of establishing permanent military bases ("enduring camps") and ensuring that U.S. corporations would have privileged access to Iraq's vast oil resources.

Do Iranian leaders intend to develop nuclear weapons today? We can decide for ourselves how credible their denials are, but that they had such intentions in the past is beyond question. After all, it was asserted openly on the highest authority and foreign journalists were informed that Iran would develop nuclear weapons "certainly, and sooner than one thinks." The father of Iran's nuclear energy program and former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization was confident that the leadership's plan "was to build a nuclear bomb." The CIA also reported that it had "no doubt" Iran would develop nuclear weapons if neighboring countries did (as they have).
All of this was, of course, under the Shah, the "highest authority" just quoted and at a time when top U.S. officials – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger, among others – were urging him to proceed with his nuclear programs and pressuring universities to accommodate these efforts. Under such pressures, my own university, MIT, made a deal with the Shah to admit Iranian students to the nuclear engineering program in return for grants he offered and over the strong objections of the student body, but with comparably strong faculty support (in a meeting that older faculty will doubtless remember well).

Asked later why he supported such programs under the Shah but opposed them more recently, Kissinger responded honestly that Iran was an ally then.
Putting aside absurdities, what is the real threat of Iran that inspires such fear and fury? A natural place to turn for an answer is, again, U.S. intelligence. Recall its analysis that Iran poses no military threat, that its strategic doctrines are defensive, and that its nuclear programs (with no effort to produce bombs, as far as can be determined) are "a central part of its deterrent strategy."
Who, then, would be concerned by an Iranian deterrent? The answer is plain: the rogue states that rampage in the region and do not want to tolerate any impediment to their reliance on aggression and violence. In the lead in this regard are the U.S. and Israel, with Saudi Arabia trying its best to join the club with its invasion of Bahrain (to support the crushing of a reform movement there) and now its murderous assault on Yemen, accelerating a growing humanitarian catastrophe in that country.
For the United States, the characterization is familiar. Fifteen years ago, the prominent political analyst Samuel Huntington, professor of the science of government at Harvard, warned in the establishment journalForeign Affairsthat for much of the world the U.S. was "becoming the rogue superpower… the single greatest external threat to their societies." Shortly after, his words were echoed by Robert Jervis, the president of the American Political Science Association: "In the eyes of much of the world, in fact, the prime rogue state today is the United States." As we have seen, global opinion supports this judgment by a substantial margin.
Furthermore, the mantle is worn with pride. That is the clear meaning of the insistence of the political class that the U.S. reserves the right to resort to force if it unilaterally determines that Iran is violating some commitment. This policy is of long standing, especially for liberal Democrats, and by no means restricted to Iran. The Clinton Doctrine, for instance, confirmed that the U.S. was entitled to resort to the "unilateral use of military power" even to ensure "uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources," let alone alleged "security" or "humanitarian" concerns. Adherence to various versions of this doctrine has been well confirmed in practice, as need hardly be discussed among people willing to look at the facts of current history.
These are among the critical matters that should be the focus of attention in analyzing the nuclear deal at Vienna, whether it stands or is sabotaged by Congress, as it may well be.
Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tom Dispatch regular, among his recent books areHegemony orSurvival,Failed States,Power Systems,Hopes and Prospects,andMasters of Mankind. Haymarket Books recently reissued twelve of his classic books in new editions. Hiswebsite is



Illustration: From the great Latuff.  (Not really related to our topic, but it has been awhile, so here it is.  No explanation is needed.)

Czar Donic

            One looks back with nostalgia of the times of the Cold War and slightly before.  At that time, it was clear that in a matter of minutes, one could be completely vaporized.  While some were busy buying expensive shelters with passageways that would somehow elude gamma radiation, the more sensible people were hoping that a nuclear bomb might land next door.  One even mentioned a desire to try to catch it before it hit the ground.  Our family, on the other hand, moved to a place where missal silos were rumored to be built.  Whether or not there actually were missals there was irrelevant: if the "enemy" thought they were there, that place would be a target, making death that much more complete and rapid.

            Today, we do not face that luxury.  We have the inevitable outcome of making our own planet uninhabitable for ourselves within this century.  In fact we have made it so and the environmentalists are optimists, or at least trying to make the near future less unlivable.

            There was a time we could have reversed this trend.  As late as the 70s, people became aware of something happening.  Nixon began the EPA.  People recognized that the ozone layer was being depleted.  Ozone kept things so people could still lie in the sun, so saving it was important.  Ozone is O3 and that means it has an extra O in it.  The stuff that deodorants and freon were made of lacked an O, so once up there in the air, it could grab one of the Os and make carbon dioxide.  (This is very simplistic, and still I've lost a few here.)  Anyway, the process turned out also to be a chain reaction, so there was a move to ban that offending stuff and the ozone layer is reasonably safe. 

            However, other stuff kept accumulating up there and now there is so much that the process is irreversible.  Steps should have been taken in the 80s, but by then Reagan was screwing with everything American, so things went to hell and have been declining since.  For example, we often hear of clear, clean water.  Sometimes blue water, although it looks brown, or green.  Here is the U.S. of A., we have ORANGE water flowing in our rivers.  No, I'm not making that up.  Still, the rate of deterioration can be slowed.  Anyway, here's some documentation and efforts:


Islamic Leaders Take on Climate Change, Criticizing "Relentless Pursuit of Economic Growth"

A group of leading Islamic scholars have issued a declaration calling on the world's 1.6 billion Muslims to do their part to eliminate dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and turn toward renewable energy sources. The declaration urges world leaders meeting in Paris later this year to commit to a 100 percent zero-emissions strategy and to invest in decentralized renewable energy in order to reduce poverty and the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The declaration comes on the heels of the publication of Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment earlier this year, which also calls for sweeping action on climate change. Like the encyclical, this declaration, endorsed by more than 60 leading Islamic scholars, links climate change to the economic system, stating: "We recognize the corruption that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption." We speak to Bangladeshi climate scientist Saleemul Huq, one of the contributors and signatories to the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a sweeping climate change declarationissued by the world's leading Islamic scholars, calling on the world's 1.6 billion Muslims to do their part to eliminate dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and turn towards renewable energy sources. The declaration urges world leaders meeting in Paris later this year to commit to a 100 percent zero-emissions strategy and to invest in decentralized renewable energy in order to reduce poverty and the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
The declaration comes on the heels of the publication of Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment earlier this year, which also calls for sweeping action on climate change. Like the encyclical, this declaration, endorsed by more than 60 leading Islamic scholars, links climate change to the economic system, stating, quote, "We recognize the corruption that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption." It places special emphasis on richer countries and communities, noting that the risks of climate change are, quote, "unevenly distributed, and are generally greater for the poor and disadvantaged communities of every country, at all levels of development."
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the significance of this declaration, we go to London to speak with Saleemul Huq, one of the contributors and signatories to the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, a climate scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, and director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.
Saleemul Huq, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what prompted the declaration, who wrote it, and who were the major signatories on it.
SALEEMUL HUQ: I think the origin of this came some—a few months ago, when the Climate Action Network, a group of climate activists, got together with the Islamic Relief Worldwide, a humanitarian Islamic organization that does quite a lot of work with vulnerable communities around the world. And they agreed that this was something that they should take up, and got in touch with Islamic scholars and leading clergy around the world, and started drafting a potential declaration of this kind. And then they held a two-day symposium in Istanbul, which ended just a day or so ago, where they brought about 60 international scholars, Muslim scholars, leading clergy from different countries, and we—and then invited me as a climate scientist to join them, also a Muslim, as well. And we honed the final declaration, which came out and has been released.
And it's aimed very much at the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, bringing to their attention the verses of the Holy Qur'an, which enjoin Muslims everywhere to preserve the environment as stewards of the environment, and at the same time not cause harm to other people by their own pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and so, at a personal level, to reduce our emissions, and, at a global level, to join efforts by all faiths and all countries to bring down the fossil fuel use to zero as soon as possible.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, last month, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley made headlines by suggesting that the rise of the so-called Islamic State came about in part because of the effects of climate change. He was speaking on Bloomberg TV. Let's go to a clip.
MARTIN O'MALLEY: One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation-state of Syria and the rise of ISIS was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis. It created the symptoms, or, rather, the conditions, of extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Saleemul Huq, your response? I mean, to what extent do you think the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, etc., Yemen, are exacerbated by climate change? Can the creation of ISIS really be attributed to the effects of a changing climate?
SALEEMUL HUQ: I think that—I don't think there's a direct attribution of the rise of ISIS as an organization to climate change, but there is no denying the underlying logic of the statement that we just heard, which is that there was a continuing drought for quite a few years in Syria that predates the conflict, the civil war, and the rise ofISIS, and caused migration and refugees going from the rural areas to urban areas. And that's the kind of thing that climate change is likely to cause in future, and almost certainly will cause future conflicts.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dr. Huq, what does the declaration call on some of the Muslim-majority oil-producing countries to do? They're the ones with among the least incentives to cut down on fossil fuels, since they're dependent on them for their economy.
SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, first of all, it enjoins all the Muslims in those countries, as individuals, to do what they can to reduce their own carbon footprints and also to help their fellow Muslims, who very often are amongst the most vulnerable people to the impacts of climate change, people like Muslims living in Pakistan, in Bangladesh, my country, and in parts of Africa. Many of these are Muslims who are suffering the consequences, and therefore those of us who are better off have a duty to help them, protect them and to stop causing the pollution that is causing the impacts on them, and at the same time hope to influence the leaders of these countries that it's in their own best interest to move away from fossil fuels in the long run. And indeed, this is beginning to happen. If you look at the leaders of Abu Dhabi, for example, they are investing heavily in solar energy and in renewable energy, because they know that their oil is not going to last forever.
AMY GOODMAN: Saleemul Huq, we want to thank you for being with us, one of the contributors and signatories to the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, climate scientist at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

[New post] Noam Chomsky on “The Iranian Threat”


Noam Chomsky on "The Iranian Threat"

by @honestcharlie
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Noam Chomsky on "The Iranian Threat"
August 20, 2015
Editor's note: Noam Chomsky's analysis (read below after reading this) is an important counter to the endless drum of US propaganda from both parties about the threat from Iran. So much self-deception is thrown at Americans that we are not to blame when even the best among us begins to repeat analyses that forget or obscure the actual role that the US plays in the world today, as Chomsky begins to outline (though he doesn't really explore the more powerful distorting role of global capitalism, which is not to be blamed solely on the US). Unfortunately, Chomsky underplays the anti-Semitism that the Iranian mullahs have fanned in Iran. They may never have explicitly called for Israel's physical destruction, but they had plenty of time to clarify what they've meant by what seems like code language with such destruction in mind—all they needed to do to eliminate what Chomsky considers an unfair charge would be to publicly affirm that they don't intend or seek to eliminate the state that was created as a refuge for Jews. We at Tikkun have sent that request to Iranian leaders, but they haven't responded. Nor have they repudiated past Iranian governments' attempts to deny the Holocaust, and there is little doubt that the constant calls for "death to Israel"—while not translated into death to the Iranian Jews who claim to be safe in Iran and who support the Iranian nuclear deal despite Netanyahu's opposition—are rarely perceived by Iranians as somehow distinct from "death to the Jews." And the mullahs' near-genocidal policies toward the Baha'i and repression of other religious minorities are outrageous, as has been their suppression of dissent and countless human rights violations. (As an aside, I want to express compassion for the Jewish people whose Holocaust-rooted post-traumatic-stress-disorder still generates a fearful attitude that makes us so easily manipulated by opportunists and militarists like Netanyahu and his AIPAC, American Jewish Committee, Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations allies, manipulation that leads many Jews to support policies that are actually destructive to the best interests of the Jewish people, the US, Israel, and the peoples of the world. To consider just two examples: maintaining the Occupation of the West Bank, rather than helping the Palestinians create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state living in peace and harmony with Israel; or the too-widespread Jewish vocal opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran, though most Jews support the deal. Tragically, and unjustifiably, this tilt toward militarist and ungenerous policies may eventually be the foundation for a resurgence of anti-Semitism globally. I have compassion for my people, just as I have compassion for the many middle-income and poorer Americans who end up supporting right-wing policies that are actually destructive to their own long-term best interests—but that compassion should must be accompanied by our powerful challenge to the policies they support and the racism that is too often a component of their fears.)
We at Tikkun, while supporting the nuclear arms agreement, also continue to support any nonviolent efforts by the people of Iran to overthrow the Iranian regime of the mullahs and create a state that is safe for its minorities and for dissent. We do so with deep humility, recognizing that we ourselves live in a society that is not safe for African Americans and other people of color, a society with many repressive policies and which, while allowing free speech on the individual and small group level, nevertheless manages to manipulate the public sphere in such a way that the ideas presented by Tikkun, by Chomsky, by those who believe that the strategy of domination which pervades both major political parties and fundamental assumptions of the world should be replaced by a strategy of generosity (e.g. our proposed Global Marshall Plan rarely get heard by the vast majority of Americans. So please read the article by Noam Chomsky below! Thanks to for permission to reprint this piece.
– Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun
If you wish to comment on this introduction or the article itself, write me at: rabbilerner.tikkun
P.S. You don't have to be Jewish to get a lot of spiritual wealth from the Beyt Tikkun High Holiday services which I will be leading at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley this September—people have come from around the world to attend these services, which will focus this year on our responsibility for the environment, building both on Jewish tradition and the wise teachings of Pope Francis and his recent encyclical. Among the teachers presenting at our services is Cynthia Moe Lobeda, author of Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. Beyt Tikkun is one of the very few synagogues which offers prayers for the well-being of BOTH Israel and Palestine, publicly supports the Iran nuclear deal, challenges American racism and exceptionalism, and simultaneously focuses on inner spiritual development, challenging spiritual narcissism while helping people deepen their spiritual awareness, and following the traditional prayers and music of the High Holliday liturgy while using enough English to be welcoming to those with no previous background with Jewish holidays. Information and registration at: We call this an Emancipatory Spirituality—focused both on inner transformation and the 'tikkun-ing" (healing and transformation) of our economic, political, and cultural institutions and practices. This is teshuva (returning to our higher selves, sometimes called repentance) in reality—not just good intentions, but actions.
@honestcharlie | August 20, 2015 at 4:32 pm | Categories: Uncategorized | URL:
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Friday, August 14, 2015

Giving Zionism a Bad Name"


George Eliot Quote




            No one can imagine it, but it is now clear that calling Israel, especially under Nitwithyahoo, does not do Zionism credit.

            Zionism was a purely secular movement and the idea of a place for Jews to live did not mean exclusively.

            George Eliot wrote a novel called Daniel Deronda about Zionism and, clearly, the main character and the characters and event involved bear no resemblance to what is going on now in Israel.  It has been said often enough, but it is now patently clear, that the closest historical example or model for Israel is Nazi Germany, despite how wild a vitriolic such a statement seems.  The one major difference is that Nazi Germany was an inevitable development of the Treaty of Versailles, as John Maynard Keynes predicted, whereas there is no direct cause for Israel in its present incarnation. 

            Certainly, many parallels exist, including the support from moneyed interests in the United States, but Henry Ford and other took a much more active role in Germany than in Israel. 

            People like Norman Finkelstein. who wrote The Holocaust Industry, were and are viciously attacked as "anti-Semitic," even though they are Jewish, people also like Noam Chomsky are included.  The fact that Arabs are also Semitic doesn't even enter into consideration.

            So, it is about time for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions route to be taken.  We did it with an apartheid regime such as South Africa, and true Zionists argue that Israel today is even more aggressively apartheid than South Africa ever was. 

            Here is an extended interview of a respected and very credentialed Zionist who agrees and documents the history I have merely summarized above:


Henry Siegman, Leading U.S. Jewish Voice for Peace: "Give Up on Netanyahu, Go to the United Nations"

Jewish and Palestinian women are holding a hunger strike outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem to call for a renewal of peace negotiations. Members of the group Women Wage Peace have been fasting for the past month in alternating shifts, sitting in an open-air tent and inviting passersby to discuss how best to wage peace. The group has dubbed their mission "Operation Protective Fast," a twist on "Operation Protective Edge" — Israel's military operation that left 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children, dead last summer. On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. The attack destroyed 12,000 homes in Gaza. Another 100,000 were damaged. None of the destroyed homes have been rebuilt so far, due in part to the ongoing Israeli blockade. Our guest for the hour suggests the best chance for achieving a lasting peace in Israel-Palestine lies with the United Nations Security Council presenting both parties with clear terms for resumed peace talks. Henry Siegman is the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation's "big three" Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Siegman was born in 1930 in Frankfurt, Germany. Three years later, the Nazis came to power. After fleeing Nazi troops in Belgium, his family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. Siegman later became head of the Synagogue Council of America. Henry Siegman now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He spoke with Amy Goodman in late May, shortly after The New York Times published his op-ed, "Give Up on Netanyahu, Go to the United Nations."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: An alarming new report shows the infant mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in more than 50 years. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees found that until now, the number of babies dying before the age of one has consistently fallen in the past five decades in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the family of an 18-month Palestinian baby and father killed in an arson attack by Jewish settlers reportedly will not be entitled to the same government compensation granted Israeli victims of terror. On Tuesday, the Israeli newspaperHaaretz reported the Israeli law governing such compensation applies only to Israeli citizens and residents, as well as West Bank settlers. Palestinian victims must apply to a special interministerial exceptions committee under the Israeli Defense Ministry. Earlier this month, thousands of mourners in the West Bank attended the funeral of the Palestinian father, Saad Dawabsheh, who succumbed to severe burn injuries just eight days after trying to save his son, Ali, from the arson attack. This is Taha Dawabsheh, a relative of the family.
TAHA DAWABSHEH: [translated] First, we condemn this ugly crime, which happened for the first time in history. People were sleeping, and the bats of the night came upon them to burn them. A toddler was killed a week ago, and his father died today. And we hope his mother and brother, Ahmed, recover in the hospital. We ask the community and all the free people of the world to help us and stand with us and our people, and we ask for protection committees for our village against the settlers.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, Jewish and Palestinian women are holding a hunger strike outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem to call for a renewal of peace negotiations. Members of the group Women Wage Peace have been fasting for the past month in alternating shifts, sitting in an open-air tent and inviting passersby to discuss how best to wage peace. The group has dubbed their mission Operation Protective Fast, a twist on Operation Protective Edge, Israel's military operation that left 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children, dead last summer. On the Israeli side, 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. The attack destroyed 12,000 homes in Gaza; another 100,000 were damaged. None of the destroyed homes have been rebuilt so far, due in part to the ongoing Israeli blockade. Women Wage Peace are urging Israeli cabinet and Knesset members to prioritize peace talks with Palestinians.
Well, our guest for the hour suggests the best chance for achieving a lasting peace in Israel-Palestine lies not in Netanyahu, but the United Nations Security Council, with the U.S.'s support, presenting both parties with clear terms for resumed peace talks. In a Democracy Now! special, we spend the hour with Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation's "big three" Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Siegman was born in 1930 in Frankfurt, Germany. Three years later, the Nazis came to power. After fleeing Nazi troops in Belgium, his family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. He later became head of the Synagogue Council of America. After his time at the American Jewish Congress, Siegman became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project.
Amy Goodman spoke to Siegman in May, shortly after he published a piece in The New York Times called "Give Up on Netanyahu, Go to the United Nations."
AMY GOODMAN: So, why don't you start off by talking about just what you are suggesting President Obama do?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, what I am suggesting he do, and what many others have suggested, as well, indeed for some time now, is that he finally act on a truth, that he understood for quite some time now—namely, that any government that is headed by Netanyahu not only is disinterested in pursuing a two-state solution, but indeed sees as its primary mission and goal, policy goal, is to prevent a two-state agreement. And he and his various governments have acted on the assumption that there is no occupation, that there may be disputes about how much land Israel has a right to annex to the state of Israel in the West Bank, but Palestinians do not have any particular right, certainly not a right greater than Israel has, to any part of the West Bank. That has been the working assumption of every government headed by Netanyahu. So for that reason, we have said for a long time to the president, in various communications and meetings with the Department of State and other—the White House over the years, that the peace process, the bilateral talks that have taken place, are all bound to fail, unless America's diplomacy is based on a recognition of this fundamental truth, that left to their own devices, Israelis will never agree—an Israeli government will never agree to a two-state solution that is remotely acceptable to the Palestinians. Consequently, it seems clear that the only way a two-state accord can be reached is if the U.N. Security Council, a third party—and of course the most reasonable third party to take the lead is the Security Council, because the various resolutions on a two-state solution adopted by the Security Council are the foundation of any peace process.
AMY GOODMAN: In March, newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to walk back his pre-election vow not to allow a Palestinian state. A day before the election, when asked if he was ruling out establishing a Palestinian state under his tenure, Netanyahu replied, quote, "Indeed." But he later tried to backtrack in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, after tremendous international outcry.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. What has changed is the reality. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian leader, refuses to recognize the Jewish state, has made a pact with Hamas that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. And every territory that is vacated today in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces. So—
ANDREA MITCHELL: But they are saying—
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We want that to change, so we can realize a vision of real, sustained peace. And I don't want a—I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that, circumstances have to change.
AMY GOODMAN: In the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu stressed his right-wing positions. He visited the Har Homa settlement and vowed to ramp up the construction of more settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. And he unequivocally ruled out allowing a Palestinian state, reneging on his nominal 2009 endorsement of a two-state solution. On Election Day, he also railed against Israel's Arab voters.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:[translated] Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in mass to the polling stations. The left-wing nonprofit organizations are bringing them in buses. Go out to the polling station, bring your friends and family, and vote Likud, in order to close the gap between us and the Labor Party. With your help and God's help, we will form a national government and protect the state of Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Prime Minister Netanyahu in his election campaigning. Henry Siegman, on the issue of Arab voters and on the issue of the two-state solution?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes. Well, one has to be extremely naïve to have waited for this admission and declaration, proud declaration, by Netanyahu that he never meant it, that when he embraced the two-state solution, he was lying, since it was not true. If one had to wait until then to conclude that he really has never meant to proceed with a two-state peace accord, for the simple reason that every action taken under by his government with respect to Palestinians who live past the '67 border, every action he has taken was consistent with Israel's ultimate permanent control of all of the territories, beginning with, of course, the settlement project. How is it conceivable that a government that is serious about reaching a two-state accord, a viable two-state accord, not just for Israel, but for the Palestinians, one they could conceivably accept, cuts the ground from under that state in the most literal sense, by annexing it to the state of Israel? So, if somebody had to wait until he made that statement, I mean, that's—for diplomats, that's rather pathetic. What it really suggests is that, because they're not stupid—they may be inept, but they're not stupid. And they understood, from the beginning, that they were dealing with a prime minister who had no intention whatever of yielding Israel's control. So they had to pretend that they believed that in order for their diplomacy to go forward. Otherwise, you know, they are unemployed.
AMY GOODMAN: And his call for Jewish voters to come out to counter the Arab vote?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, well, that tells you something about his commitment to a democratic state of Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: And the fact that he tried to walk—and the fact that he tried to walk back his statement against a two-state solution?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, and he reverted to his earlier diplomacy, as it were, because this has been his strategy from the very beginning, to put—he had to balance, on the one hand, his determination never to yield control over the West Bank with a public posture that enables the United States at least to pretend that a two-state solution is possible if the two parties negotiate successfully. And this, he has done wonderfully. So, the fact that he walked it back is really utterly meaningless.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Netanyahu's formation of a new government and who he has chosen to be his ministers.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Just to follow up on your previous question, the—he has now come out with a new ploy, which is—again, so wonderfully consistent with the totally dishonest approach he has had, from his very first government that he headed—to the issue of a two-state—ultimate two-state agreement. He has now proposed to the Palestinians that they sit down and negotiate the borders of the settlements. Now, on the one hand, that creates the impression that, A, he wants to negotiate—he wants a peace process—and secondly, he is open to some kind of agreement that might ultimately lead to a state, without yielding or in any way walking back his position that there is no '67 border, and consequently, there is no reason why Israel is obliged to withdraw from the territories. Now, I would hope that the Palestinians—quite clearly, they're not going to be taken in by this. But it would be interesting if they were to say, "Fine, it's a wonderful proposal, but let's do this in a fair way. Let us also discuss what we are permitted to do on your side of the '67 border, what settlements we can have there and what the borders of those settlements will be." And it's unfortunate that they have not challenged Netanyahu's government in that way.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think they haven't?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, I think it's just inept. I mean, this whole question of the eptness of Palestinian leadership is a very sad story—or I should say the ineptness of Palestinian leadership. The fact that they agreed, going back to the Olso Accords, or even going back to their—this goes back to 1988, their acceptance of Israel's legitimacy. One would have thought they would have said, at least conditionally, "We will be—we're ready to accept and declare, affirm Israel's legitimacy, if Israel is prepared to affirm the legitimacy of a Palestinian state along the pre-'67 borders." The fact that they did not do that and did not even raise the issue of settlements was a massive, massive blunder, and, I think, prepared—made it possible for Netanyahus, people like him, to play the game that they've played.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman. He's now president of the U.S./Middle East Project. We'll air more of Amy Goodman's interview with him in a minute.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That's "Palestinian Heritage" by Naseer Shamma. This isDemocracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Nermeen Shaikh. We continue our conversation with Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation's "big three" Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. Henry Siegman now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. Amy Goodman sat down with him in late May.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the issue of the ministers that—
AMY GOODMAN: —Prime Minister Netanyahu has now chosen working with him. Earlier this month, he appointed Knesset member Ayelet Shaked as his justice minister. During Israel's summer 2014 attack on Gaza, she approvingly posted an article on her Facebook page that called for the destruction of, quote, "the entire Palestinian people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure."
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes. Let me give you the list of appointees, ministerial and deputy ministerial appointees, beginning with Ayelet Shaked.
All of them—and there is Hotovely, who is now the deputy minister for the—of the Foreign Ministry. But since there is no foreign minister, she, in fact, will be running the Foreign Ministry. She has—the very first thing she did after her appointment was send out instructions to ambassadors, Israeli ambassadors across the world, to inform governments to which they have been assigned that the Bible specifically quotes God granting all of Palestine to the Jews, and consequently, the state of Israel will retain all of Palestine, because it follows the word of God. That's Hotovely.
Then there is Shaked, and you have just the minute—this is the minister of justice. This is her concept of justice, how to deal with the Palestinians.
Then there's Miri Regev, who was appointed the minister of culture. And her very first public statement in that capacity was that she just looks forward anxiously to—it's the term she used—to censor the work of the artistic community and to prevent them from creating art that insults the state of Israel. That's the minister of culture.
Then there's the minister—the deputy minister of defense, Eli Dahan. Now, all of these appointments, every single one of them, is on record as opposing a two-state solution, a lifelong record of opposition to a two-state solution. And Dahan is the one who thought, along with his minister, the full minister of defense, both of them thought it's a wonderful idea to have Palestinians limited to separate buses, the ones who live in the West Bank and travel to Israel, and not to permit them to travel in the same buses that Israeli Jews travel in. So that's Dahan.
Then he appointed a Silvan Shalom as the new head of the—the new chief of peace negotiations, should they resume—again, a person who is on record as bitterly opposed to a two-state solution. And on and on. He just—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's talk about Dore Gold, who is the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.
HENRY SIEGMAN: And there's Dore Gold, exactly, exactly, who is now the new director of the Foreign Ministry. And he, too, has a lifelong record of total opposition to a Palestinian state.
AMY GOODMAN: And extremely hawkish on Iran.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, when you look at that, you look at a government that is made up of people who are either racists, out-and-out racists, and people who are totally opposed to a two-state agreement, while at the same time being opposed to granting Palestinians in the West Bank Israeli citizenship. You somehow can't avoid this terrible realization that this state of Israel, that the Jewish people has prayed for, has supported, has seen as a historic change in the situation of Jews worldwide, has a government that is a racist government.
On my way down here, I recalled that some years ago—I think about 15 years ago—the Austrian government formed a new government that included the head of a right-wing political party, Haider. And the American Jewish community, as well as every organization in Europe, led a global campaign to convince governments to boycott that government because of that one racist and an extreme nationalist, a xenophobe, who was in that government. And, in fact, Europe, the European Union, decided to boycott him.
Here we have a government that has at least a half a dozen xenophobes, right-wing nationalists and racists.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! recently spoke to John Dugard, the former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories. He's now professor emeritus of international law at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He was born in South Africa. We spoke to him at The Hague, and he compared Israel to apartheid South Africa.
JOHN DUGARD: I'm a South African who lived through apartheid. I have no hesitation in saying that Israel's crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa. ... For seven years, I visited the Palestinian territory twice a year. I also conducted a fact-finding mission after the Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, 2009. So I am familiar with the situation, and I am familiar with the apartheid situation. I was a human rights lawyer in apartheid South Africa. And I, like virtually every South African who visits the occupied territory, has a terrible sense of déjà vu. We've seen it all before, except that it is infinitely worse. And what has happened in the West Bank is that the creation of a settlement enterprise has resulted in a situation that closely resembles that of apartheid, in which the settlers are the equivalent of white South Africans. They enjoy superior rights over Palestinians, and they do oppress Palestinians. So, one does have a system of apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territory. And I might mention that apartheid is also a crime within the competence of the International Criminal Court.
AMY GOODMAN: So those are the words of John Dugard, the former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, originally from South Africa. Henry Siegman?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, even before he made the statement, several years ago, an Israeli prime minister said that.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Olmert said that.
AMY GOODMAN: Ehud Olmert.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes. He said specifically that. He said that if we are not prepared to return virtually all, if not all—and this is a direct quote—"if not all of the territories" beyond the '67 border to the Palestinians, and to share Jerusalem, he said, we are not serious about wanting peace. And he said the consequence of this will be that Israel, while we can—while we can have disagreements about the border, but if we do not follow through on what is necessary for a peace accord, we will be seen as an apartheid state, because we will be an apartheid state. Now, he said that. And he said this is the great danger, if we delay reaching an agreement with the Palestinian that gives them a state of their own along the '67 borders. And he said, if we don't do that, then we may lose the support of American Jews, because apartheid is something that they cannot accept.
I recall telling him at the time, "You are right about apartheid, but I'm afraid you probably are not right about American Jews, because, in fact, apartheid, you don't have to wait until there is a majority of Palestinians, when you add the Palestinians who live—Arab citizens of Israel to the ones in the West Bank and in Gaza—you don't have to wait until they are a majority and they are totally disenfranchised or are second-class citizens. Even as a minority, a minority that has to live under these conditions, you have apartheid today. It exists now. It's not a future danger. And the problem is, if you keep identifying as a future danger instead of recognizing that it's a present reality, you will never reach that future, you will never recognize the truth of the system that you have there."
AMY GOODMAN: So what did then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert respond to you?
HENRY SIEGMAN: He did not disagree very violently.
AMY GOODMAN: So, why didn't something change then?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, he claims that he—he said that this is why he has—why he negotiated with Abbas. And he claims—he has claimed ever since—that if it were not for the war in Gaza, for which he was also in large part responsible, if it were not for the war in Gaza, those negotiations would have produced a two-state accord. And Abbas has confirmed this. He has said—he confirmed what Ehud Olmert has claimed ever since, namely that they had—that Abbas never walked away from those negotiations. Because Abbas was accused by the Israeli right to have turned down the most generous terms ever offered him by Prime Minister Olmert. And he said that this is not true. Olmert has said, in fact, he never walked away. What happened was that the Gaza war interrupted the negotiations, and they never were able to resume it, because at that point he came under—you may recall, he came under very severe criticism for some of his dealings with the paper bags filled with cash that were being handed to him.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, can you talk about what you call the center-left opposition to Netanyahu, the Zionist Union of Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, Tzipi Livni and Herzog can be counted on to spearhead an opposition, specifically on the issues of Israel's democratic character, to oppose efforts that will be undertaken from the word go by this new government. We talked earlier about Ayelet Shaked. She declared that her—one of her main missions will be to undermine Israel's Supreme Court and its ability to pass judgment on the constitutionality of laws passed by the Knesset that deprive the minority of its rights. So, I have no doubt that Herzog and Tzipi Livni will put up a very good fight and seek to prevent Shaked from achieving her goal, although there is a great deal of support within the Israeli Knesset today to do that to the Supreme Court.
But on the issue of the peace process, they are—the Labor Party and those affiliated with it, the other parties affiliated with it, are as incapable of reaching a two-state agreement without outside interference, without the Security Council or the United States taking a strong position, not very likely, but at least allowing the United States, allowing the Security Council to define very clear—a very clear framework for a permanent status agreement and not leave that up to the parties themselves. Without that, it's not going to happen, because they have now—take this last election, this recent election. Despite the fact that different people, particularly in the media, tried to get a clear statement from Herzog and Livni about a two-state accord that is based on the '67 lines, they refused to commit the party to that. So, there's just no way that they will produce an agreement that is conceivably acceptable to even the most moderate Palestinian leader without resort to the Security Council.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress. We'll be back with more in a minute.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was "String Quintet Number 4 in G Minor," composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Nermeen Shaikh. We continue our conversation with Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress. Over the years, Siegman has become a vocal critic of Israel's policies in the Occupied Territories and has urged Israel to engage with Hamas. He has called the Palestinian struggle for a state, quote, "the mirror image of the Zionist movement" that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. Amy Goodman interviewed Siegman in May right after he published an op-ed in The New York Times.
AMY GOODMAN: So lay out, once again, as you did in The New York Times op-ed piece, "Give Up on Netanyahu, Go to the United Nations," what you think the steps need to be right now.
HENRY SIEGMAN: The steps that need to be taken first is for the United States to develop a framework terms of reference for a permanent status agreement, based on the '67 lines, the sharing of Jerusalem and so on. If it is not prepared to do that itself, then it should at least ask the Security Council to do that. For that—for those terms of reference, either American terms of reference or Security Council terms of reference are to be presented to the parties and to say, "We would like you to reach an accord directly, in direct negotiations, without our interference. But here is a timeframe, not just terms of reference, but a timeframe within which you much reach such an agreement. If you can't, then we, the Security Council, will resume the process, and we will come up with a formula for the resolution of each of the permanent status issues that will be obligatory and will have to be implemented by the parties." And the Security Council, of course, under Chapter VII, has the authority to take measures, sanctions, to see that this is implemented.
AMY GOODMAN: And realistically, do you see President Obama doing this, in a sense, ceding power to the United Nations?
HENRY SIEGMAN: I cannot tell you that I have great—I have great expectations that he will do that. I think that he has at least the possibility—or there exists the possibility, since he, himself, has called for a reassessment of U.S. policy, of U.S.-Middle East peace policy, of allowing the Security Council to deal with it.
In this New York Times piece, I argued that the United States has two commitments that it made to the state of Israel. One commitment is to have Israel's back diplomatically, that when other countries try through diplomacy to press Israel to go to the U.N., or whatever, to take certain measures, that the U.S. will support the state of Israel. The other commitment is a security commitment, that the United States will always do what it takes to protect Israel's existence, in terms of supplying it with military hardware, specifically in case it is existentially threatened with violence from the outside. That's a commitment that I hope the U.S. will always adhere to and never abandon and never compromise.
But I pointed out that it can do that only if it at the same time does what it needs to do to bring about a two-state solution diplomatically, because if it fails to do that, then its military support, when Israel is threatened, will be seen by the world as the United States collaborating with Israel in the oppression and occupation and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people. And that is something the U.S. cannot afford. So, consequently, a condition for the United States meeting its commitment to Israel's security is that it must be free to do the right thing diplomatically.
AMY GOODMAN: I've talked about President Obama, but, of course, now the presidential election is heating up. Do you see any change in policy coming from the potential or already the declared presidential candidates, the Democrats or Republicans?
HENRY SIEGMAN: The answer is no. I do not see it.
AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state, certainly involved deeply in the foreign policy the U.S. pushed for Israel and Palestine?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes. Well, I wish I could believe that she might—she might, in fact, bring about the kind of a change, but I think that's an unrealistic expectation. In fact, you will recall that early in his presidency, when President Obama succeeded partially in getting Netanyahu to freeze the settlements—as it turned out, in the end, they produced—they constructed more enlargement of settlements than they had done before. But at least there was a pro forma freeze. And there were some question—the Israelis insisted that they have a right to continue building for the next generation, for kids who were being born, for natural growth.
It was Hillary Clinton, as foreign minister, said at the time, "No natural growth. Not even a single brick is permissible." So, that might suggest, to some, that she's a—that she's really tough and that she may in fact adopt a different approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don't believe that to be the case. I don't think that she is about to do that. And certainly, during the course of the election campaign, she is likely to say things to satisfy what the party believes it must say in order to retain Jewish support. She is likely to say things that would make it, even if she were inclined to change that policy, that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to change once she's in office.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, you said you don't hold out hope for American Jews putting pressure on a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. But hasn't American public—American Jewish public opinion changed significantly even since you were head of the American Jewish Congress, especially among young Jews and college students?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, there has been a change. And that change, with this younger generation, is exacting a very serious cost, which is to say that these younger people, many of them, are not joining counter-lobbies that are in a position to challenge AIPAC and the Jewish establishment that is part of the AIPAC operation, but they just—they leave the scene. They just disaffiliate. They just go on to other concerns.
AMY GOODMAN: But when polled, state a different opinion.
HENRY SIEGMAN: They state a different opinion. But it doesn't lead—for most of them, it does not lead. Some of them have gone to J Street. But J Street, while it has done, considering the resources at its disposal, I think, a wonderful job, but J Street is in no position, and I'm afraid will never be in a position, not in the coming decade or two, to challengeAIPAC. AIPAC has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress and will continue to have that stranglehold.
AMY GOODMAN: You were the head of two major Jewish organizations. You were the head of the Synagogue Council of America, as well as the American Jewish Congress. Your father was a leader in European Zionism. That is the way you grew up. Why have you changed your position over time?
HENRY SIEGMAN: I've changed my position basically for two reasons. First, because the Zionism that I was raised with is essentially the Zionism of the founders. The Zionist movement, from its very inception, was not a right-wing religious movement, not a religious/nationalistic movement. It was essentially a secular movement. The founders of the movement were socialists. They were left-wingers. They were people committed to democracy. Many of the Zionist founders did not even think in terms of a Jewish state. In fact, as someone pointed out to me recently, the title of Herzl's founding document in German was not "The Jewish State," but rather, "A State for the Jews," a state in which Jews could live and develop their culture. And the assumption was—and incidentally, what few people are aware of today—is that overwhelmingly the religious community, the Jewish religious community in Europe and in—such as it was at the time in the United States, overwhelmingly rejected Zionism because of its democratic secular character, primarily its secular character.
The Agudat Yisrael was the organization with which I'd say 80 to 90 percent of the Orthodox community in Europe identified with, and it was bitterly opposed to the Zionist movement and saw it as a heresy, as a Jewish heresy. I recall going to a school, a yeshiva, where ultimately I received ordination. I went to that school, and my teachers there regularly referred to the leaders of the Zionist movement—to Ben-Gurion, to Chaim Weizmann and the others—whenever they mentioned their name, they would say, "Yemach shemam vezichram," "May their name and their memory be wiped out." And that is what they said when they referred to Hitler, as well, "Yemach shemo vezichro." That was the Orthodox community at the time.
The Zionism that I identified with totally rejected that Orthodox Jewish sensibility when it comes to the Zionist movement. But that Zionism has been wiped out. It is not the—and perhaps even the memory of its leaders has been wiped out. And the kind of Zionism that exists today, as a Jew, I rejected completely, the one that's exemplified by—it's my Jewishness that leads me to reject it, to abandon it, to see it as shameful and as a betrayal of the very best and most important values of my religious and ethnic identity.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is it that you reject?
HENRY SIEGMAN: I reject the racism. I reject the sensibilities that these people, whose names we mentioned in the program, who are now all ministers, the anti-democratic sensibilities, the extreme—let me give you one example. Can you imagine—can you imagine if here in the United States we had two tracks for citizenship? One track to citizenship would be what our laws are today, but then there will be a fast track, run by the White House, which would be running—the White House, under the White House's jurisdiction, would be running a conversion program with priests, Catholic priests or Protestant ministers, and who would give—who would give citizenship on a fast-track basis to people who convert to Catholicism or to Christianity. The Jewish community would be outraged. That would be just inconceivable. But that's the situation in Israel today. There is a conversion office in the prime minister's office, that works with people who want to fast-track their citizenship, but they can do it only by converting to Judaism. Had you suggested that to the founders of the Zionist organization in Basel when they first met, everyone would have walked out through the doors. Who would have accepted that?
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, on the issue of the Israeli military assaults on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, which is what the Israeli military called it, the Israeli assault on Gaza, 2008 to '09, when President Obama was first elected, at that time, and then this past summer, what they called Operation Protective Edge—when you total the number of Palestinians killed, we're talking about thousands of them, many of them children. Do you expect to see another such assault?
HENRY SIEGMAN: It is very difficult for me to say that I can't imagine that they will repeat this. But I can't say—I can't say that. I must be able to imagine that they will repeat it, because when this last Gaza war was playing out, and as you pointed out, over 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed, and something like 500 Palestinian children were wiped out, the vast majority of Israelis not only supported it, but were critical of Netanyahu when he decided finally to bring it to an end. That, to me, was the most appalling thing I ever heard. I thought that there would be a sense of deep relief that this butchering, this turning of Gaza into a human abattoir, is coming to an end, even by those who felt it was necessary, but at least thank God it's coming to an end. Instead, they turned against Netanyahu for ending it—Netanyahu, of all people, and the military. So, in light of that, how can anyone say, "No, it will never happen again"?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Henry Siegman, former executive director of the American Jewish Congress. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. Henry Siegman now serves as president of U.S./Middle East Project.

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