Trump’s Doomsday Jerusalem Speech

In 1995, a few short years after the official end of the Cold War when hope-filled nations were focusing on peace and prosperity, the United States Congress unanimously passed the “Jerusalem Embassy Act” into law.  The law recognized “Jerusalem” as the official capital of Israel. The passage of this law was left unnoticed by most. Few objected to a law passed by the preeminent power of the new unilateral world order. Fewer still understood the consequences of the law.

On December 6, Donald Trump reminded the world of the decision made years ago.  There was outrage, but the true implications of this decision were not discussed. Predictably, stories centered on Palestinians – and Jews.  Some justified the decision while others condemned it. Many reasoned that the Palestinians had to be defended.  While others thought that it was up to the Arabs and Moslems to challenge America’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Jerusalem question raised legal challenges to religious claims.  The cacophony of protests and cheers obscured the approaching doomsday scenario that had been in the making for decades.  Few understood.  None listened.  Others are in denial, believing religious zealotry to be a geopolitical game.  But what has been taking place under our noses is not a fight over real estate, or international law.  It is the power of madness, or the mad in power, that is enabling religious fanaticism to prevail at a cost to our collective humanity.

How could we not have seen this coming? Perhaps our logic challenged it; or our sense of decency denied the reality of what was happening.  It would seem too improbable, simply too far-fetched that we should denounce God with our science and yet usher in rupture to bring back the God science had disproved (Big Bang).  But how do we ignore Senator Broxon telling a cheering crowd “Now, I don’t know about you, but when I heard about Jerusalem — where the King of Kings where our soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel”.

And how do we ignore Benjamin Netanyahu taking ownership of Jerusalem stating that the Bible, the holy book for Jews and Christians, had justified it.  Should we then be surprised that rabbis sent a letter of gratitude to Trump, praising him for “fulfilling prophecies“.  Prophecies do not sit well with modernity; nonetheless, they exist.  And attempts to fulfill them are not new.

In 1990, there was an attempt by the ‘Temple Mount Faithful’ to bring a cornerstone for a reconstructed Third Temple to the Temple Mount. In 2000, Ariel Sharon staged a provocative visit to the Temple Mount and said:

The Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands. It is the holiest site in Judaism and it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount.

In 2006, the Israeli government began work on an exact replica of the Hurva synagogue on its original site. The story of the Hurva has received little attention other than coinciding with Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and that government’s insistence on building more illegal settlements.  But Hurva is the beginning of the end.  Rabbis have been tailored for the special kind of garments they will be wearing in a “rebuilt temple”.1)

Tragically for the world, such fanaticism is coupled with deadly weapons, thanks to the United States government. In 1999, Warner D. Farr, LTC, U.S. Army presented his findings in the Counterproliferation papers, Future Warfare Series No. 2, USAF Counterproliferation Center.  This fascinating report, among other things, sounded the alarm over the probability of Gush Emunim, a right wing religious organization, or others, hijacking a nuclear device to “liberate” the Temple Mount for the building of the third temple.

America continued to fund Israel’s activities and shielded it from criticism.

So while the Western media paints a doomsday picture triggered by Moslems, and Mr. Trump, on cue from his Israeli boss points the accusatory finger at Moslems, there are far more precarious scenarios that are kept hidden from the public. The irony being that the Moslems are the only ones safeguarding the world from a Doomsday scenario by refusing to abandon the one city where both Christian and Jewish Zionists want to bring the world to an end.

What is incomprehensible is why is it that the rest of the world is following this pied piper into Armageddon?   Surely is it not cowardice that prompts them to have Palestinians fight their battle.  Or perhaps they believe they can avert this religious zealotry in time to save their skins while continuing to make a prophet by shedding the blood of the innocent in Jerusalem.  How to explain their complicity and their madness other than to remind them to heed the words of Alexander the Great: “Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all”. 

  1. Tom MountainPreparing for the Third Temple, Jewish Advocate. Boston:Aug 22, 2008. Vol. 199,  Iss. 34, p. 9 (1 pp.

The U.S. is Not a Democracy, It Never Was

Photo by Daniel Huizinga | CC BY 2.0

One of the most steadfast beliefs regarding the United States is that it is a democracy. Whenever this conviction waivers slightly, it is almost always to point out detrimental exceptions to core American values or foundational principles. For instance, aspiring critics frequently bemoan a “loss of democracy” due to the election of clownish autocrats, draconian measures on the part of the state, the revelation of extraordinary malfeasance or corruption, deadly foreign interventions, or other such activities that are considered undemocratic exceptions. The same is true for those whose critical framework consists in always juxtaposing the actions of the U.S. government to its founding principles, highlighting the contradiction between the two and clearly placing hope in its potential resolution.

The problem, however, is that there is no contradiction or supposed loss of democracy because the United States simply never was one. This is a difficult reality for many people to confront, and they are likely more inclined to immediately dismiss such a claim as preposterous rather than take the time to scrutinize the material historical record in order to see for themselves. Such a dismissive reaction is due in large part to what is perhaps the most successful public relations campaign in modern history. What will be seen, however, if this record is soberly and methodically inspected, is that a country founded on elite, colonial rule based on the power of wealth—a plutocratic colonial oligarchy, in short—has succeeded not only in buying the label of “democracy” to market itself to the masses, but in having its citizenry, and many others, so socially and psychologically invested in its nationalist origin myth that they refuse to hear lucid and well-documented arguments to the contrary.

To begin to peel the scales from our eyes, let us outline in the restricted space of this article, five patent reasons why the United States has never been a democracy (a more sustained and developed argument is available in my book, Counter-History of the Present). To begin with, British colonial expansion into the Americas did not occur in the name of the freedom and equality of the general population, or the conferral of power to the people. Those who settled on the shores of the “new world,” with few exceptions, did not respect the fact that it was a very old world indeed, and that a vast indigenous population had been living there for centuries. As soon as Columbus set foot, Europeans began robbing, enslaving and killing the native inhabitants. The trans-Atlantic slave trade commenced almost immediately thereafter, adding a countless number of Africans to the ongoing genocidal assault against the indigenous population. Moreover, it is estimated that over half of the colonists who came to North America from Europe during the colonial period were poor indentured servants, and women were generally trapped in roles of domestic servitude. Rather than the land of the free and equal, then, European colonial expansion to the Americas imposed a land of the colonizer and the colonized, the master and the slave, the rich and the poor, the free and the un-free. The former constituted, moreover, an infinitesimally small minority of the population, whereas the overwhelming majority, meaning “the people,” was subjected to death, slavery, servitude, and unremitting socio-economic oppression.

Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”

When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.

In spite of certain minor changes over time, the U.S. republic has doggedly preserved its oligarchic structure, and this is readily apparent in the two major selling points of its contemporary “democratic” publicity campaign. The Establishment and its propagandists regularly insist that a structural aristocracy is a “democracy” because the latter is defined by the guarantee of certain fundamental rights (legal definition) and the holding of regular elections (procedural definition). This is, of course, a purely formal, abstract and largely negative understanding of democracy, which says nothing whatsoever about people having real, sustained power over the governing of their lives. However, even this hollow definition dissimulates the extent to which, to begin with, the supposed equality before the law in the United States presupposes an inequality before the law by excluding major sectors of the population: those judged not to have the right to rights, and those considered to have lost their right to rights (Native Americans, African-Americans and women for most of the country’s history, and still today in certain aspects, as well as immigrants, “criminals,” minors, the “clinically insane,” political dissidents, and so forth). Regarding elections, they are run in the United States as long, multi-million dollar advertising campaigns in which the candidates and issues are pre-selected by the corporate and party elite. The general population, the majority of whom do not have the right to vote or decide not to exercise it, are given the “choice”—overseen by an undemocratic electoral college and embedded in a non-proportional representation scheme—regarding which member of the aristocratic elite they would like to have rule over and oppress them for the next four years. “Multivariate analysis indicates,” according to an important recent study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination […], but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.”

To take but a final example of the myriad ways in which the U.S. is not, and has never been, a democracy, it is worth highlighting its consistent assault on movements of people power. Since WWII, it has endeavored to overthrow some 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically elected. It has also, according the meticulous calculations by William Blum in America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, grossly interfered in the elections of at least 30 countries, attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders, dropped bombs on more than 30 countries, and attempted to suppress populist movements in 20 countries. The record on the home front is just as brutal. To take but one significant parallel example, there is ample evidence that the FBI has been invested in a covert war against democracy. Beginning at least in the 1960s, and likely continuing up to the present, the Bureau “extended its earlier clandestine operations against the Communist party, committing its resources to undermining the Puerto Rico independence movement, the Socialist Workers party, the civil rights movement, Black nationalist movements, the Ku Klux Klan, segments of the peace movement, the student movement, and the ‘New Left’ in general” (Cointelpro: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom, p. 22-23). Consider, for instance, Judi Bari’s summary of its assault on the Socialist Workers Party: “From 1943-63, the federal civil rights case Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General documents decades of illegal FBI break-ins and 10 million pages of surveillance records. The FBI paid an estimated 1,600 informants $1,680,592 and used 20,000 days of wiretaps to undermine legitimate political organizing.” In the case of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (AIM)—which were both important attempts to mobilize people power to dismantle the structural oppression of white supremacy and top-down class warfare—the FBI not only infiltrated them and launched hideous smear and destabilization campaigns against them, but they assassinated 27 Black Panthers and 69 members of AIM (and subjected countless others to the slow death of incarceration). If it be abroad or on the home front, the American secret police has been extremely proactive in beating down the movements of people rising up, thereby protecting and preserving the main pillars of white supremacist, capitalist aristocracy.

Rather than blindly believing in a golden age of democracy in order to remain at all costs within the gilded cage of an ideology produced specifically for us by the well-paid spin-doctors of a plutocratic oligarchy, we should unlock the gates of history and meticulously scrutinize the founding and evolution of the American imperial republic. This will not only allow us to take leave of its jingoist and self-congratulatory origin myths, but it will also provide us with the opportunity to resuscitate and reactivate so much of what they have sought to obliterate. In particular, there is a radical America just below the surface of these nationalist narratives, an America in which the population autonomously organizes itself in indigenous and ecological activism, black radical resistance, anti-capitalist mobilization, anti-patriarchal struggles, and so forth. It is this America that the corporate republic has sought to eradicate, while simultaneously investing in an expansive public relations campaign to cover over its crimes with the fig leaf of “democracy” (which has sometimes required integrating a few token individuals, who appear to be from below, into the elite ruling class in order to perpetuate the all-powerful myth of meritocracy). If we are astute and perspicacious enough to recognize that the U.S. is undemocratic today, let us not be so indolent or ill-informed that we let ourselves be lulled to sleep by lullabies praising its halcyon past. Indeed, if the United States is not a democracy today, it is in large part due to the fact that it never was one. Far from being a pessimistic conclusion, however, it is precisely by cracking open the hard shell of ideological encasement that we can tap into the radical forces that have been suppressed by it. These forces—not those that have been deployed to destroy them—should be the ultimate source of our pride in the power of the people.

 

Zionism in the Light of Jerusalem

Photo by Emmanuel DYAN | CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an embarrassment. A salutary embarrassment.

It’s a clumsy, all-too-obvious unmasking of decades of bipartisan U.S. policy whose contempt for Palestinians has been cloaked with a smile and a handshake.

As such, it’s an embarrassment for the Zionist political and media elite that prefers to operate behind smiles and handshakes, and not flaunt their power.

It’s an embarrassment to liberal Zionists and “peace process” promoters everywhere—in the American political parties and media, in European conservative and social democrat governments, and in Jewish Zionist organizations. For fifty years, they have laser-focused attention on the post-’67 “occupation,” and done all that they can [nothing concrete], in solidarity with the Israeli Jewish peace movement [dwindling to insignificance in an increasingly fascistic political culture], to end the occupation [ minimize its cost to the Jewish state, ‘cause “no concessions, no withdrawals, no Palestinian state” is already proclaimed Israeli policy].

It’s an embarrassment to the Arab monarchs and the Palestinian Authority functionaries, who for decades have collaborated in the task of subduing Palestinian rage as Israel went about its colonizing project, holding out the promise that the good American Daddy and his kinder, gentler Israeli Jewish progeny would one day reward the Palestinians for their good behavior.

It’s an embarrassment to those liberals who want to portray Donald Trump as a uniquely evil interloper imposed on American politics by a foreign power, rather than understand him as the product of an American political culture that they helped to create while obtusely refusing to recognize what they were doing.

The only parties who are not embarrassed are the “hard”—that is, intellectually honest and consistent—Zionists in Israel and the United States (many liberal Democrats included) and Donald Trump himself, who is immune to embarrassment.

All this embarrassment provides a fine example of the positive repercussions of the “Trump-effect” that I discussed in a previous essay, which is steadily eroding the thin remaining patina of America’s “soft power” in the world, an essential support of the Euro-American imperialist alliance.

After all, Israel’s relentless Judaization of East Jerusalem, consistent with its long-held declaration of sovereignty over the entire city, was proceeding swimmingly, with only the feeblest occasional murmurs of protest, accompanied by massive countervailing deliveries of arms and money, from the peace-process-loving governments of Europe and America. Trump’s gratuitous, self-aggrandizing gesture, by unmasking that as the de facto acceptance of annexation that it is, only brings unwanted attention to the whole rotten game, and to the hypocrisy of those governments especially.

Good riddance to the pretense! As Noura Erakat says: “Trump has removed the emperor’s clothes to reveal the farce of the peace process…[He] has finally ended the United States’ double-speak and should have ended any faith that the US will deliver Palestinian independence or that Israel is interested in giving up its territorial holdings captured in war.” And Rashid Khalidi: “Trump may have inadvertently cleared the air. He may have smashed a rotten status quo of US ‘peace processing’ that has served only to entrench and legitimize Israel’s military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land for a quarter-century.”

In other words, Trump has suddenly and single-handedly destroyed American’s pose as the “honest broker” in the Middle east and the Solomonic arbiter of world affairs in general, in a way that forces the European and Palestinian political leaders to make an explicit break from what is now declared American policy. For now, of course, that break is rhetorical, but should it remain so—if European and Palestinian leaders do not work a political strategy independent of, and in opposition to, the United States—there will be no denying their capitulation and servility.

Indeed, Europe, in the person of the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, has already laid down the markers for itself: “Germany can no longer simply react to U.S. policy but must establish its own position…even after Trump leaves the White House, relations with the U.S. will never be the same.” Even after Trump leaves the White House. This is a recognition that the American regime—not just Trump, but precisely what he is the culmination of—is not a trustworthy and reliable partner for the management of global capitalist stability. This is what Trump is wreaking. And it’s a very good thing.

As excessive and gratuitous as Trump’s Jerusalem announcement was, there is no question that it is the culmination of American politics. It is the perfect example of how Trump is the symptom not the cause of long-festering political rot, the product not the antithesis of American political culture. His recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the fulfillment, exactly as Trump says, of a promise that’s been de rigueur for presidential candidates, and of the demand of a law (Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995) passed twenty-two years ago by overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress. Just six months ago, the Senate—including Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders—voted 90-0  to demand that Trump “abide by its provisions.” Schumer, who believes he’s on a mission from God to be the guardian of Israel, had last week criticized Trump for his “indecisiveness” about declaring Jerusalem the “undivided capital of Israel” and moving the embassy.

Who can forget the scene at the 2012 Democratic Convention, when an amendment to the platform declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital was adopted against the clear opposition of the majority? That was shoved down the party’s throat by Obama, who had it shoved down his throat by AIPAC. (It was language Obama had removed from the platform, which AIPAC browbeat him into restoring.) As I discussed in a post at the time, the blithely ignored floor vote was a display of Stalinist party discipline for which Obama was congratulated by an MSNBC roundtable including O’Donnell, Maddow, and Sharpton.

It was Obama, too, who (after becoming first American President to give bunker-buster bombs to Israel. He did that secretly, because he didn’t want it to be known that his really brave and progressive and highly-publicized peace-process demand that Israel stop settlement construction in exchange for such gifts, which Israel of course ignored, was another empty American bluff. And it was Obama who, in 2013, became the first American President to demand that “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state.” That was a new, gratuitous and excessive demand at the time, foisted on everyone by Netanyahu and AIPAC because they knew it would be unacceptable to the Palestinians. Obama’s adoption of that requirement, which has become locked into American policy, was no less damaging to the ostensible peace-process, with its infinitely-receding goalpost, than Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, and perhaps more contemptuous of the Palestinians. It’s the equivalent of demanding that “Native Americans must recognize that America is a White Man’s state.”

Really. Think about it.

So, whatever the problem is with declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, it’s not Trump’s. It’s America’s. It’s a problem the Democrats share responsibility for, and will not get us out of.

Past Prologue

Let’s name it clearly: It’s America’s problem with Zionism.

After the “You must accept the Jewish State” insult and the “You must accept Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish State” insult, can we dispense with the diversions? Can we recognize that the problem isn’t how many settlers are in which part of which city, or how long and where exactly the wall should be located, or the Green Line or the Blue Line, or, indeed, the “occupation”? Let’s, without any more fear or hesitation, name and critique the fundamental problem: Zionism.

Zionism is a colonialist project. Israel is a colonial-settler state. The fault lies in colonialism—you know, that thing where a group of people, who want the land somebody else is living on, take it. By subjugating, expelling, and/or exterminating the indigenous population. That’s what has to be named and opposed. Every other problem in the context is a derivative of that.

Zionism has the particular distinction of being the last major initiation of a blatant settler-colonial project. It was possible at the end of WWII (1945-8) because racism and ethno-supremacist colonialism were still integral parts of the Western worldview. The great world powers could still blithely dismiss the lives, land, and humanity of an Arab population as dispensable—secondary both to the aspirations of the largely European Jews who formed the Zionist vanguard and to the guilty consciences of European gentiles. It was compensatory colonialism, with the compensation paid by an expendable third(world) people.

In the post-WWII, post-holocaust context, Zionism had the further peculiar distinction of being able to conjure about itself an aura of virtue that effectively occluded the blatant injustice of the colonialism it is. Thanks to the consistent and intensive Zionist influence on Euro-American political, media, and cultural institutions, that aura has enshrouded Zionism for Westerners’ eyes for 69 years, long past colonialism’s sell-by date. That aura of virtue is what makes breaking up with Zionism so hard to do, for so many, to this day.

I’ve discussed more of the history and arguments about this in a previous essay. At this point, there is so much information available from so many channels, including Israeli scholars, that supporters of Israel who are intellectually-honest have a hard time denying that the Zionist conquest of Palestine was colonialist ethnic cleansing, and Israel a colonial state. Liberal Americans know very well that, if such a project were to be proposed today, they would denounce and reject it—no ifs, ands or buts. Today, any person of a modern, secular, liberal cast of mind recognizes the abolition and rejection of colonialism as one of history’s irrefutably progressive milestones, and would see any attempt at colonial conquest as an unacceptable historical crime.

Yet that is exactly what Israel is doing. Israel is exactly that attempt.

“Attempt” is an important word here. Zionists want to think all the nasty work of ethnic cleansing is in the ancent (1948) or at worst early-modern (1967 when liberal Zionists grudgingly acknowledge, colonial aggression was certainly past its sell-by date) past. They present Israel, whatever its nasty origins, as a finished historical product: a liberal democracy filled with juice bars and tech startups—which would be stable and progressive, if only the fanatical Arabs/Muslims would leave it alone.

Indeed, a favorite Zionists argument I’ve heard delivered as if it’s a killing rhetorical blow packed with irrefutable historical realism, is some version of: “So what, you’re a colonizer, too. American Indians!” Gotcha!

It baffles me that anyone thinks that’s an effective argument. Accepting the damining admission that the relationship between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs today is analogous to that between European settlers and Native Americans from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century (and leaving the ethics or that aside), one might start a reply with the following:

Being historically realist and all, we have to recognize that, tragically, over those four centuries, the Native American population was so completely ravaged that it now constitutes less than 1% of the population. If Native Americans were now the majority of the population in North America under white settler control; if they were engaged in a fierce resistance struggle to prevent being expelled or exterminated; if they had the support of hundreds of millions of their neighbors, as well as of populations and governments throughout the world, as well as of an established international ideological and legal framework that forbade and denounced the colonial project the white settlers were still trying to complete (while demanding that everyone recognize America as the White Man’s State)—then you would have a relevant analogy.

Sorry, but the Zionist project, Israel, is not finished. It is quite unfinished and precarious, and Israeli leaders know it. 

Back to the Future

This is so because the Palestinians are not defeated and have not surrendered. Too few of them have been exterminated; they have not been expelled far enough away; they have not been thoroughly enough subjugated. The existence and resistance of Palestinians put the lie to the idea that Israel is a stable, finished state and that the dirty work of Zionist colonialism is in the past. As the rallying cry of many Zionists in Israel today has it, they still have to “finish ’48.”

Israel is profoundly insecure. Not because of any external military threat, but because of the presence of the Palestinians. Their defiant presence is an intrinsic threat to the Zionist project.  External threats—whether ideological or economic or military, whether from specific countries or from the international community—derive from the presence of the Palestinians and what that implies about the legitimacy of the Zionist project in an anti-colonial, anti-apartheid world.

Every attack on Gaza, Lebanon, or Syria, all the hair-pulling anxiety over Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, and where the next war will just have to be, and how many Palestinians can be dispossessed or expelled how quickly before somebody in the world—especially Americans, and most especially American Jews—starts to push back, demonstrates that Israel is an unfinished colonial project that hasn’t quite figured out how to achieve the final submission of its colonial subjects. It was as true in 1999, when Edward Said said it, as it was in 1948, and as it is now: “the contest is as alive as ever.”

Indeed, the famous loaded question “Does Israel have a right to exist?” is posed by Zionists so insistently precisely because it is an unsettled question about the future. It’s not only about past events—whether Zionists back in the day had the right to establish the colonial entity they did, but also about a present, aspirational practice—whether they now have the right to establish the colonial entity they would like to. The question, really—and those hard-core, “finish ‘48” Zionists know it—is: Will Israel exist?

The question is also asking us: “Do you agree that it is right for Zionists to be establishing a colonial-settler Jewish State, ethnic cleansing and all?” Are you going to sign on for that?

Israel will only be finished and stable if it achieves that. One can argue that it’s almost there or that it’s a long way off, but done it ain’t.

That’s why we should take the opportunity that Trump’s latest embarrassment of American policy gives us to exit for good the phony two-state peace-process paradigm, to forthrightly name and reject Zionism and the colonialism it is. We need to go back to the future, to a proposal for a single, if bi-national, secular democratic state, a de-colonized polity in the territory of historic Palestine, where Arabs and Jews can leave in peace and equality. Something along the lines of the “secular, democratic state” the PLO called for in 1968 and the “full secular democracy” that Edward Said championed again in 1999.

Love It Loud

To be sure: I am not sanguine about this. The political way forward is not clear.

On the one hand, the exhaustion of the peace process and the Palestinian Authority is now a done deal, as I hope everyone now recognizes. At least as important, the de-legitimization of Zionism, is already well-advanced. Politically and ideologically, the actions and discourse of Israel and its partisans themselves do as much as anything to discredit Zionism. And, despite its being kept in the cultural shadows, more Americans are aware of the problems with the dominant Zionist narrative. The BDS movement is strong and growing.  On American campuses today, Zionism is losing the all-important ideological battle, especially in the crucial constituency of young Jewish-Americans, and the effects of that are radiating throughout the culture. The reality of this effect is demonstrated by the increased anxiety among the guardians of Zionism, with their increasing efforts to censor and suppress criticism of Israel, to define anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, and to outlaw anti-Zionism and the BDS movement. The arc of history is not bending toward Zionist colonialism.

To wax ironic, Zionism’s fatal weakness may be the effect of its greatest strength—its tenacious entwinement in our political culture, which is hard to overstate. We live in a country where powerful politicians and the wealthy donors who control them proclaim their fealty to Israel; where Israeli officials enjoy veto power over candidates for office down to the level of State Assembly. where the Secretary of State gives a “devoutly Zionist” speech and is still criticized for not being obsequious enough to Israel, where the Vice-President declares “I am a Zionist,” and where a President who was excoriated for avoiding service in the American army can say “I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch, and fight and die” for Israel, and nobody bats an eyelash.

Really, think about it.

Perhaps most vomit-inducing in the present context, it’s a country where the Congress has just overwhelmingly passed a bill de-funding the Palestinian Authority (except, at Israeli insistence, the PA security forces) if they give any support to any family member of a Palestinian convicted of what Israel calls “terrorism” (and others would call anti-colonial resistance), and at the same time that Congress allows the great charitable organization, The Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), to collect $50 million a night, tax-free to itself and tax-deductible to its donors. All that money is needed, over and above the $3.7+ billion the U.S. gives Israel every year, in order to provide extra-comfortable “well-being facilities” for the beleaguered Israeli “coed infantry units” who have the tough job of dragging Palestinian families from their homes and blowing them up—those families the PA is now forbidden to support. Friends of the IDF galas are hosted in New York by Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and in Los Angeles by Democratic billionaire Haim Saban, and entertained by celebrities like Seal and Israeli-born KISS-er, Gene Simmons (Chaim Witz). Bi-partisanship rocks.

America has become a Zionist country. And it shows. And it’s discomfiting. For the most powerful people and institutions in the United States, Zionism has become a core component of American ideology and politics, married, like nothing else is, to capitalism and imperialism as a co-equal existential imperative.

It’s a peculiar relationship because capitalism and imperialism do not need Zionism, and may even be weakened by it. Zionism is a surplus oppression. The excessiveness and gratuity of Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, which so many people recognize, is only a reflection of the excessiveness and gratuity of Zionism itself, which too many people have for too long taken for granted.

Dragging people from their homes and blowing them up is excessive, an atrocity too far. A partner whose addicted to such behavior will inevitably create trouble for the capitalist-imperialist family, which has enough problems of its own to deal with. It’s the U.S who insists, excessively, on including Zionism in a polyamorous arrangement, and who is, as can be expected in such cases, losing its mind over this misplaced affection, and endangering the core relationship.

This is what the German FM and other members of the European Frist Wives’ Club see in Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. This is what a lot of people see in all the state-destroying, jihadi-chaos-creating aggression from Iraq to Syria and heading toward Iran—all of which makes no sense until you understand that the American project throughout has been an overcomplicated ménage-à-trois: capitalism-imperialism-Zionism.

As Shoshana Bryen says: “The United States military, then, is a Zionist institution.” Bryen is herself a perfect example of the intimate relations between Israel and the American military, having made the rounds as former Director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA,, the prime meeting spot where Israelis entice senior American officers to see the world as Israel does), and as a lecturer at the National Defense University and the U.S. Army War College.

The hope is that it’s all becoming too obvious and too much—an embarrassment of too many riches for Zionism. It’s why Hillary Clinton’s campaign decided not to highlight—except to donors—her passionate love for Israel: “We shouldn’t have Israel at public events. Especially dem (Democratic) activists…. What about this as a base, and then she can drop in Israel when she’s with donors.” While the donors and elite still swoon, the arc of the Democratic base is bending away from Zionism—and the Zionists know it. 

There Is No Time

On the other hand, we have to recognize the persistent weaknesses of the Palestinians, who suffer constant, horrendous, human and material losses every day at the hands of a Zionist colonial machine. Israel, the Jewish State, has already established an apartheid regime, the late stage of colonialism, and has made clear that it is determined to extend that as far and as long as it can, with all necessary force. The illusion that America would do something to stop or reverse this has been finally shattered. Though it’s stance may be changing, thanks to the likes of Trump, and it is a medium- to long-term weak spot for Israel, the “international community” still grants Israel effective impunity.

The Arab countries? Ha! Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, and Egypt will supply the rope and tie the knot. The staunchest Arab supporters of Palestine—Iraq, Libya, and Syria—just happen to be the countries ravaged by that United States military institution. A weakened Syria and (non-Arab) Iran may give some assistance, but really, nobody’s coming to save the Palestinians.

External support in the way of boycott and sanctions will help also, but significant victories can only come from organized resistance by Palestinians themselves. The Palestinian political leadership which, as Noura Erakat says, “has abandoned confrontation with Israel as a matter of policy” would have to be changed. New leadership would have to emerge that renounces Oslo and forges a militant struggle for equal political and social rights, a multi-level strategy of resistance against colonialism and apartheid. This will be very tough, in a community that’s been ground down for decades by the Israeli-PA security apparatus, and the collaborationist mindset and economic interests that support it.

To be thoroughly frank: though militant non-violent civilian resistance must be the core of struggle, it has to be backed by some kind of armed power. The ANC’s victorious fight against South African apartheid was not confined to “terrorist” Nelson Mandela’s prison cell; his comrades were busy outside. A movement to defeat colonialism and apartheid must demonstrate the capacity not only to take punishment, but also to inflict it, to hurt the forces and institutions imposing Zionist oppression and to disrupt the normalcy of Zionist daily life. Everywhere, enemies of the IDF. No “well-being” respite. No justice, no peace. That is the only way victory over colonialism and apartheid ever has, or ever will be, won.

Since the Zionists’ founding spasm of brutal ethnic cleansing—expelling over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs while killing thousands of others—and since colonialism fell into disgrace, Israel has been constrained to pursue further ethnic cleansing in a fitful series of measures, with levels of brutality adjusted for various international political and ideological exigencies. But it has not ceased to probe those limits. Israel is working very hard to compress political time and make it suddenly possible again to exterminate or expel enough Palestinians (we’re talking at least tens of thousands) to stabilize Israel for most of a century. That’s one of the things Israel’s, and its American patron’s, support of jihadi chaos in the region, as well as its attempt to foment war with Iran, is all about. The fat lady hasn’t sung, but the orchestra is in full swing. The Palestinians don’t have forever to stop the music.

So, there’s no room for false hope or assumptions of inevitable victory. There’s an opportunity now for a successful fight to defeat Zionism, pitched precisely as struggle against colonialism and apartheid, and it must be seized quickly. It is also not impossible for Zionism to defeat the Palestinians in some effectively irreversible way, as it keeps trying to do.

It’s just the case—the practical, utterly realistic political case—that nothing, not a thing, can be gained by trying to revive the zombie two-state peace process that has been killed over and over again by the U.S. and Israel themselves. To seal the deal, Donald Trump just drove a stake through its heart. There is no two-state solution. There is only one state: either the one colonial, apartheid state that’s coalescing now, or the one democratic state of equal rights that justice demands.

For American left allies of Palestine, it’s time, past time, to clearly reject, not just the occupation of Jerusalem or the West Bank, but Zionism tout court.

Back to the future it is. Liberal Zionists like to imagine ’48 is finished in some democratically acceptable way. Militant Zionists know they still have to finish ’48 as ruthlessly as possible. Principled anti-Zionists—that is, principled anti-colonialists—have to work very hard to make sure that ‘48 ends in failure, and that Israel never becomes the finished colonial project it wishes to be.

The Epic of Our Awakening

Photo by Kevin Gill | CC BY 2.0

The hubris of the Neolithic mind has been much in evidence recently; witness the sexual predation of the economically, culturally or politically powerful on the weak; the many refusals to acknowledge our complicity in global warming and the bone-headed military, economic and social aggressions of our statutory leaders (see also sexual predation, global warming, above).

The ability of humankind to control events has never been more tenuous. Like it or not, we have ceded much of that control to the realm of those non-human actors that we have long ignored or, more recently, actively aggravated: now, we are collectively suffering real-life home invasions by the dark powers that we had thought safely relegated to the past, buried deep in our subconscious, or rendered impotent by our technological prowess. Is it possible that the overt expression of our atavistic aggressions is stirred by new realizations of our impotence?

Or, can we trace our bad behaviors to the first scratchings on rock of anthropomorphic gods – of the fetishization of the female form and the celebration of the virility of the bull? Have we distanced ourselves from each other and the environment and, in celebrating our otherness (our alienation) are licensed to predate with impunity, like the gods of old?

As the kids say, karma is a bitch: but it is also, more simply, less sexistly, a mirror. I was caught up in some of its pay-back earlier in the week, my temerity (surely another name for hubris) at having built a home for myself and my family in the Wildland Urban Interface was cosmically answered by the ravages of Southern California’s Thomas fire.

It is no longer necessary to hike in the moonlight to experience a monochrome world. Our house now lies dark amidst the ashes of the chaparral, wisps of grey smoke rising into a smoke-smudged sky.  But it looms intact, testament to the steel fire doors that protected its glazed openings, to the landscape management that eliminated much of the fuel within two hundred feet and to the gravel terrace and pool that shielded its northern, uphill flank.

On Monday evening, December 4, having been alerted to the approaching Thomas fire by our son, who lives eight miles away to the west in the small country town of Ojai, I began locking the sliding doors in place then, on turning the corner of our building saw flames leaping over the back ridge. This precipitated an immediate evacuation with time only to grab passports, abandon the half-eaten evening meal on the table, jump in the car, pick up our neighbor and exit north on State Route 150 to the three storey, exterior corridored Motel 6 in Carpinteria, an appropriately carceral environment in which to spend our first night as ecological refugees.

There followed a move north to Santa Barbara, the smoke following us. We filled our days scanning our devices for news of our home, of our neighbors, family and friends, and that palpable hyperobject, as Timothy Morton would have it, the fire. Up-to-date information, it turns out, was the first casualty of the event; maps generated by Ventura County and the state portal, CAL FIRE, consistently lagged well behind news channeled in the chaotic argot of social media – those fractal fictions sometimes gelling, amongst our three devices, sets of ‘friends’ and platforms, into real, current news. Out of it all we determined to conduct a reconnaissance run on Thursday, not altogether sure whether we would be able to get back into our neighborhood.

We were stopped six miles short of our goal by a road closure, but parked the car planning to walk in – confident, once inside the perimeter, that we could cadge a lift. Barely a mile into the google-projected two-and-a-half-hour walk, a friend drove by and took us to our properties.

Having confirmed the miracle of survival for both our house and newly completed guest-house, and mourned the loss of the house in which our neighbor had been staying (its owner in Los Angeles), we returned to the smoky, palm-etched Santa Barbara and next day we all three returned to Upper Ojai where standing and collapsed structures were set alike in an amazing chaparral landscape. Here stood skeletal trees, scorched rocks and ash in a grey scale that we realized reflected the intensity of the burn – the hottest areas beneath oaks bleached white while the bunch grasses’ impoverished fire-offerings of cellulose smudged the land an inky black. That evening I wandered our twenty-some acres (the minimum lot area for a single-family house in this zone). Starkly illuminated by my flash-light, the land was grotesquely shadowed like some bleakly expressionist stage set for a post-atomic butoh performance. Sharp, chemical smells of burnt wood were carried in the breezes that stirred trails of white ash from the runnels threading the land towards the gaping gorge of Bear Creek which channeled the hottest fire, focusing the explosive Santa Ana wind like the rifled barrel of a gun and driving the flames before it. The creek-side location of my neighbor’s house was fatal that Monday night as flames shot from it (we surmise) hungry to consume the caloric content of the wood framed house.

In the morning, I again tramped the land, less bewitched by the chiaroscuro of white ash and blackened branch and more enthralled by the opportunity to understand its revealed shape and behold this once in a generation burn cycle of the chaparral. The owner of the neighboring house, a landscape restoration ecologist, cherished her home but loves the land: indomitable, she will rebuild and is already counting the days to the explosion of wild flowers that will surely follow the winter rains. My survivor’s guilt is somewhat assuaged.

On the weekend before the fires, I had begun reading The Great Derangement, Climate Change and the Unthinkable, 2016, by Amitav Gosh. He writes that “the Anthropocene is precisely a world of insistent, inescapable continuities, animated by forces that are nothing if not inconceivably vast”.  Caught up in the fire-fueled Ojai diaspora, I was a tiny part of the global dislocations that are now, and will continue to be characteristic of our unfolding geohistory. In the immediacy of personal peril and threatened property loss, we may lose sight of our part in the great ideological, cultural and geographic shifts now upon us.  It may be of comfort to some that our domestic political arrangements are but awkward laggards in this epochal transformation.

That, indeed, is a part of Ghosh’s thesis: the domestic, human world of the novel (a primary source by which modern society has historically described itself) and where society has been situated within a “sense of place” – in Ghosh’s telling, one of the form’s “great conjurations”- is incapable of expressing the vast cataclysm of climate change, which can only be expressed in epics such as Gilgamesh, Ramayana or even the Odyssey which encompass multiple universes of the human and non-human. The “regularity of bourgeois life” supported by global networks of imperialism and now neo-liberalism threatens to be entirely displaced by the end of Modernity whose signature achievement, as Jacob Burkhardt has it, was in the “discovery of the world and man”. In the Anthropocene, we are discovering that we are not alone!

Upper Ojai is an area, like much of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, of intense oil production.  The oil seeps that still smolder at the bottom of our road were the source of tar to caulk Chumash tomols (reed canoes) and the first indication to Americans that there might be an exploitable resource beneath the chaparral. ‘Ojai 6’, just a mile away, was the first commercial well in California, drilled in 1865. Now, the air that we breathe here is laced with the toxins from burnt brush and from the burnt-over oil and gas production facilities in the area. The resource that generates great wealth in the counties and contributes, in its application as a fuel and industrial chemical, to the shift in planetary weather patterns, is thus doubly responsible for our present discomfiture.

The novel, in its portrayal of the “regularity of bourgeois life” has been displaced by a vast and unfolding petrochemical epic as the appropriate form for the recordation of our puny lives. We are freshly conscious of how society describes itself. We are freshly conscious of the agency of non-human actors as they intrude into the settled (and unsettled) patterns of domesticity in which we have ensconced ourselves. As I write, huge thunderclouds of bruised smoke arise to the west as the fires run their inevitable course to the sea.

But am I now fully awakened from the long sleep of Modernity, ready to eschew the comfortably pernicious trappings of the Neolithic mind?

The Shadow of Smuts on Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration

Photo by flowcomm | CC BY 2.0

U.S. President Donald Trump and Jan Smuts, a former prime minister of South Africa are politicians from two different eras who share two things in common.

Actions by Trump and Smuts, while separated by several decades, prompt many people in America and South Africa respectively to use the same word to describe each leader: racist.

And, Trump, like Smuts, has acted decisively on behalf of Israel.

Trump has created a “racially hostile climate” the President of America’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, noted recently.

The actions of Smuts and other white supremacist leaders in South Africa over a century ago triggered the creation of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912, three years after the formation of the NAACP in America. A long-time leader of the ANC was Nelson Mandela, the legendary activist/statesman.

Recently President Trump smashed decades of American policy with his declaration that recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In the early 20th Century Jan Smuts played a pivotal role in laying the foundation for the creation of Israel.

Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem received applause in Israel by top governmental officials and citizens alike. Trump received Israeli accolades despite the fact that a few months ago Trump publicly praised Israel hating Neo-Nazis after that rampage by racists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump proclaimed his declaration was “the right thing to do” irrespective of the fact that it flouts international law that has opposed Israeli occupation of Jerusalem since 1967. Trump said his declaration was simply a “recognition of reality.” Trump critics point out the ‘reality’ of Israel’s control of Jerusalem is tied to decades of the U.S. providing Israel with military aid, financial support and diplomatic backing that strengthened Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

America’s European allies, America’s Arab world allies plus adversaries Russia and China sharply condemned Trump’s declaration. World leaders, including the Pope, see Trump’s declaration as a huge barrier to a settlement of the festering Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Under the long discussed “Two State Solution” Palestinians sought Jerusalem as the capital of their independent nation.

The hands of South African Jan Smuts, were behind the Balfour Declaration, the November 1917 document issued by the British government that cemented British backing for the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

Israel was formally established in 1948, two years before the death of Smuts. Israel was established on land referenced in the Balfour Declaration as Palestine. British governments never fully enforced a provision of the Balfour Declaration that stated, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…”

Before, during and after the time when Smuts worked with then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to set in motion a homeland for the Jewish people, Smuts worked to obliterate the homeland rights of South Africa’s black majority.

South Africa’s 1913 Land Act, for example, forced blacks to live in reserves that occupied just 8.7 percent of that nation’s land. Smuts backed the 1913 Act that confiscated land owned by black Africans and barred blacks from buying land in their homeland. Solomon Plaatje, a founding ANC member wrote upon implementation of the Land Act “…the South African native found himself not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”

Smuts, during a 1917 speech in London, declared that South African governmental policy was to keep blacks apart “in our institutions, in land ownership and in many ways.” The segregationist policies Smuts pursued in the early 20th Century laid the foundation for the system of apartheid that the South African government formally instituted in 1948. British and American governments backed South Africa’s racist apartheid until the early 1990s.

Many critics worldwide of Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem claim it will aggravate the apartheid-like existence of Palestinians in Israel, the Gaza Strip and on the occupied West Bank where Jerusalem is located. Some critics, for example, liken Israeli government restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem as similar to the movement restrictions apartheid once imposed on blacks in South Africa.

Israeli government settlements on the West Bank, that violate international law and UN Security Council resolutions, have pushed Palestinians into reserve like enclaves.

A UN Security Council resolution adopted in December 2016 condemned Israel’s “construction and expansion” of settlements in all occupied territory including East Jerusalem. That 2016 resolution condemned “confiscation of land…and displacement of Palestinian civilians.” That 2016 resolution reaffirmed ten previous anti-Israel-settlement resolutions that date from 1967.

Days before Trump’s Jerusalem declaration an action related to Israel’s settlements was referenced in court documents for the guilty plea entered by Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn regarding lying to the FBI.

Reports on those Flynn plea documents state that Trump’s son-in-law and close advisor, Jared Kushner, ordered Flynn to lobby Russia’s ambassador and other ambassadors to block passage of another UN resolution condemning the growth of Israel’s illegal settlements. The U.N. Security Council approved that resolution.

Recent reportage also revealed the close relationship between Kushner, his family and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Kushner family has provided financial support for illegal settlements. Trump has designated Kushner as his point person to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

In November 2017 Trump Administration officials threatened to close the Palestinian consulate in Washington, DC. This threat was based variously on Trump claims that Palestinians needed to get ‘serious’ on peace talks with Israel and his administration’s objections to Palestinian plans to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate human rights violations by Israel in the occupied territories.

Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem commits the U.S. to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to erect a new embassy in that city to replace the current U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.

The same President Trump who is ready to expend massive federal funds for a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem has proposed gutting federal funding to improve housing and dilapidated communities for America’s poor.

Trump’s federal budget proposals call for eliminating the $3-billion Community Development Block Grant program. That program benefits low and moderate income communities with economic development and infrastructure upgrades. America provides Israel with $3-billion in military aid annually plus other financial assistance.

Trump’s budget plans propose elimination of the $950-million HOME program that funds affordable housing for low-income Americans. Trump’s budget also plans reductions in already underfunded operating and capital monies for federally funded public housing.

Jan Smuts, unlike Trump, is little known today outside of South Africa.

Interestingly, in South Africa, there is a movement to remove statues of Smuts and other prominent proponents of apartheid similar to movements in America for the removal of Confederate statues. Trump is a vocal opponent of removing Confederate statues/monuments.

A statue of Smuts is one of the 11 statues on the square across from the Parliament building in London. Famed former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pushed for that Smuts statue. There is a statue of Churchill in that square and statues of two of South Africa’s most famous equal rights activists: Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi lived for a while in South Africa where he worked as a lawyer before his return to India in 1914. While in South Africa Gandhi fought for better treatment of that country’s South Asian population. That activism led to Gandhi’s incarceration in the same Old Fort prison in Johannesburg that later held Mandela.

Jan Smuts opposed Gandhi’s equal rights activism and the equal rights efforts of the ANC that Mandela would lead.

The Global Retreat From Human Rights in the Trump Administration

Photo by JJBers | CC BY 2.0

Under the Trump Administration, we are witnessing an unprecedented U.S. retreat from the promotion of human rights. The U.S. has, of course, never fully championed human rights above all over policy preferences, namely economic and security interests. The new administration, however, has severely downgraded the importance of human rights, and in doing so has openly embraced a multiplicity of authoritarian governments, all the while rejecting U.S. commitments to multilateral human rights institutions.

Following World War II, global leaders recognized the need to establish multilateral institutions that championed human rights. As a result, they created the United Nations in 1945, constructed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, established the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1948, and wrote the American Convention on Human Rights in 1969. Thereafter, leaders have signed and ratified several international, human rights agreements. In the U.S., the record looks significantly different.

In the immediate post-WWII period, conservative senators blocked the U.S. from adopting many treaties, fearing that the international community might use them to overturn states’ rights and end segregation. Some conservative legislators have continued to voice concern for U.S. national sovereignty and states’ rights in the face of international treaties. Indeed, this was the reason that several Republican senators gave for refusing to support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, even though the treaty was modeled after domestic legislation.

On the other hand, some U.S. leaders have embraced human rights and, at times, secured the ratification of human rights agreements.

During the early 1970s, Representative Donald Fraser (D-MN) resurrected the idea of human rights within Washington by hosting a series of hearings within the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, which involved visits from victims of right-wing Latin American dictatorships. By the end of the decade, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter utilized the language of human rights to unite several factions within the Democratic Party – those concerned with the domestic behavior of communist governments, particularly in Eastern Europe, and those concerned with U.S. support for right-wing dictatorships, particularly in Latin America.

If there remained any question, though, concerning the Trump Administration’s position towards human rights, its stance has become clear over the last several months. The Trump Administration seems to believe that U.S. national security and economic interests take far more precedence over concerns about democracy and human rights. So long as authoritarian countries support U.S. national security and economic interests, Trump has largely ignored democracy and human rights violations. In authoritarian countries, however, that challenge U.S. interests, criticism has indeed ensued.

In his first trip abroad, Trump visited Saudi Arabia, during which he failed to offer any critique of the regime. This is a pattern that continued during recent trips to China and the Philippines. What is more, Trump has made a habit of promoting working relations with several authoritarian leaders. Most notably, Trump has evidenced an uncharacteristically warm disposition towards Russian President Vladimir Putin. Beyond him, Trump has invited Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Washington and praised the policies of similar strongmen in Kazakhstan and Turkey.

The U.S. has also begun to relax Obama-implemented restrictions on weapons sales. In March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lifted human rights conditions on the sale of fighter jets to Bahrain. Despite selling over $115 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, Obama terminated plans to sell the fighter jets to Bahrain lest it improve its human rights record. In May, Tillerson also quite plainly stated that the U.S. must place national security and economic interests over freedom and democracy. These moves will not be lost on authoritarian governments across the globe.

What about Trump’s approach towards multilateral institutions?

His administration has clearly evidenced disdain for them.

The U.S. has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord as well as UNESCO. And Trump has reserved much criticism for NATO and the UN more broadly. In addition, the U.S. has failed to appear before the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for hearings involving immigration policies.

At the same time, the U.S. has championed attempts by the OAS to push the Venezuelan government, another country that has condemned its IACHR hearings, to pursue several political-economic reforms. Venezuela, interestingly, remains one of few countries Trump has targeted. The real difference between countries like, on the one hand, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and, on the other hand, Venezuela, which Trump seemingly cares about, is support for economic and national security interests. While Venezuela has criticized the War on Terror, Bahrain has aligned with Saudi Arabia to target terrorist forces in the Middle East.

Despite some earlier questions concerning the new administration, it’s now clear that the Trump team possesses little regard for the global promotion of human rights.

The president seems to believe that only left-leaning governments that reject U.S. interests deserve criticism. Such a policy harks back to the darkest days of the Cold War – where the U.S. accepted, and even promoted, right-wing dictators, so long as they lavished praise upon the U.S. and targeted leftist activists.

The next few years will surely involve a struggle to keep human rights concerns on the agenda, but it’s a worthy fight that shouldn’t be abandoned amid the cacophony of domestic and foreign policy issues before us.

Trump’s Shameful Decision on Jerusalem

Photo by Elvert Barnes | CC by 2.0

I was called by an Irish radio station in Dublin to respond to President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What did I think was going on inside the US President’s mind, I was asked? And I replied immediately: “I don’t have the key to the lunatic asylum.” What might once have seemed an outrageously over-the-top remark was simply accepted as a normal journalistic reaction to the leader of the world’s greatest superpower. And re-listening to the speech that Trump made in the White House, I realised I should have been far less restrained. The very text of the document is insane, preposterous, shameful.

Goodbye Palestine. Goodbye the two-state solution. Goodbye the Palestinians. For this new Israeli “capital” is not for them. Trump did not even use the word “Palestine”. He talked about “Israel and the Palestinians” – in other words, of a state and of those who do not deserve – and can no longer aspire to – a state. No wonder I received a call in Beirut last night from a Palestinian woman who had just listened to the Trump destruction of the “peace process”. “Remember Kingdom of Heaven?” she asked me, referring to Ridley Scott’s great movie of the 1187 fall of Jerusalem. “Well it’s now the Kingdom of Hell.”

It’s not the Kingdom of Hell, of course. The Palestinians have been living in a kind of hell for a 100 years, ever since the Balfour Declaration declared Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, when a single sentence – in which our beloved Theresa May takes such “pride” – became a textbook for refugeedom and the future dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs from their lands. As usual, the Arab response this week was sickening, warning of the “dangers” of Trump’s decision, which was “unjustified and irresponsible” – this piece of fluff produced by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the so-called protector of Islam’s two holiest places (the third being Jerusalem, although he didn’t quite manage to point that out) – and we can be sure that in the coming days many an “emergency committee” will be formed by Arab and Muslim institutions to deal with this “danger”. They will, as we all know, be worthless.

But it was the linguistic analysis of Noam Chomsky when I was at university – he later became a good friend – which I applied to the Trump speech. The first thing I spotted was, as I mentioned above, the absence of “Palestine”. I always put the word in quotation marks because I don’t believe it will ever exist as a state. Go and look at the Jewish colonies in the West Bank and it’s clear that Israel has no intention that it should exist in the future. But that’s no excuse for Trump. In the spirit of the Balfour Declaration – which referred to Jews but to the Arabs as “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – Trump downgrades the Arabs of Palestine to “Palestinians”.

Yet even at the start, the chicanery begins. Trump talks about “very fresh thinking” and “new approaches”. But there is nothing new about Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, since the Israelis have been banging on about this for decades. What is “new” is that – for the benefit of his party, Christian Evangelicals and those who claim to be American supporters of Israel – Trump has simply turned away from any notion of fairness in peace negotiations and run with Israel’s ball. Past presidents have issued waivers against the 1995 Jerusalem Congress Act, not because “delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace” but because that recognition should be given to the city as a capital for two peoples and two states – not one.

Then Trump tells us that his decision “is in the best interests” of the US. But he can’t explain how – by effectively taking America out of future “peace” negotiations and destroying any claim (admittedly dubious by now) that the US is an “honest broker” in these talks – this will benefit Washington. It clearly won’t – though it might help Trump’s party funding – since it further lowers American power, prestige and standing across the Middle East. Then he claims that “like every other sovereign nation”, Israel has the right to determine its own capital. Up to a point, Lord Copper. For when another people – the Arabs rather than just the Jews – also want to claim that city as a capital (or at least the east of it), then that right is suspended until a final peace comes into existence.

Israel may claim all of Jerusalem as its eternal and undivided capital – as Netanyahu also claims that Israel is the “Jewish state”, despite the fact that more than 20 per cent of the people of Israel are Muslim Arabs who live inside its borders – but America’s recognition of this claim means that Jerusalem can never be the capital of another nation. And here’s the rub. We don’t have the slightest idea of the real borders of this “capital”. Trump actually acknowledged this, in a line that went largely unreported, when he said that “we are not taking a position on … the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”. In other words, he recognised the sovereignty of a country over all of Jerusalem without knowing exactly where that city’s borders lie.

In fact, we don’t have the slightest idea of just where Israel’s eastern border is. Does it lie along the old front line that divided Jerusalem? Does it lie a mile or so to the east of east Jerusalem? Or does it lie along the Jordan river? In which case, goodbye Palestine. Trump has awarded Israel the right to a whole city as its capital but hasn’t the slightest idea where the eastern border of this country is, let alone the frontier of Jerusalem.

The world was happy to accept Tel Aviv as a temporary capital – as it was to pretend that Jericho or Ramallah was the “capital” of the Palestine Authority after Arafat arrived there. But Jerusalem was not to be recognised as the Israeli capital even though Israel claimed it was. Then we have Trump stating that in this “most successful” democracy, “people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience”. I trust he won’t be telling that to the more than two and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank who are not free to worship in Jerusalem without a special pass, or the population of besieged Gaza who cannot hope to reach the city. Yet Trump claims his decision is merely “a recognition of reality”. I suppose his ambassador in Tel Aviv – soon, presumably, in Jerusalem (if only, so far, in a hotel room) – believes this tosh; for it was he who claimed that Israel only occupied “2 per cent” of the West Bank.

And this new embassy, when it is eventually completed, will become “a magnificent tribute to peace”, according to Trump. Given the bunkers into which most US embassies in the Middle East have turned, it’s going to be a place with armoured gates and pre-stressed concrete walls and lots of inner bunkers for its diplomatic staff. But by then, I suppose, Trump will be gone. Or will he?

As usual, we had the Trump waffle. He wants “a great deal” for the Israelis and Palestinians, a peace agreement that is “acceptable to both sides” – even though this is not possible when he’s recognised all of Jerusalem as Israeli before the so-called “final status” talks, which the world still fondly expects to take place between “both sides”. But if Jerusalem is “one of the most sensitive issues” in these talks, if there was going to be “disagreement and dissent” about his announcement – all of which he said – then why on earth did he make the decision at all?

Only when he descended into Blair-like verbosity – that the future of the region was held back by “bloodshed, ignorance and terror” – did it really become too much to stomach any more of these lies. If people are supposed to respond to “disagreement” with “reasoned debate, not violence”, what is the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital supposed to produce? A “debate”, for heaven’s sake? Is that what to “rethink old assumptions” means?

Enough of this twaddle. What more folly can this wretched man dream up and lie about? So what was going on in his befuddled mind when he made this decision? Sure, he wants to follow up on his campaign promises. But how come he decided to honour this promise but could not bring himself to say last April that the mass murder of a million and a half Armenians in 1915 constituted an act of genocide? He was obviously frightened of upsetting the Turks, who deny the first industrial holocaust of the 20th century. Well, he’s sure upset the Turks now. I’d like to think he’d taken that into account. But forget it. The guy is crackers. And it will take many years for his country to recover from this latest act of folly.

Natural Variability isn’t the Final Word on Climate Science

Photo by NASA Goddard Space | CC BY 2.0

Politicians recently visiting western Montana’s Lolo Peak fire tried to put the blame for the fire on lawsuits filed by environmentalists. Montana’s US Senator Steve Daines did mention the role of climate change, but quickly went on to say that the climate has always changed.

Well, yes, for sure. Changes in Earth’s temperatures and resulting climate have often been driven by forces beyond human control, and many such changes occurred well before humans existed. These familiar natural forces have changed the climate from hot to cold and from cold to hot, all without a lick of help from man, woman or child.

For example, it’s become plain that large volcanic eruptions can cast killing chills across the planet, crushing crops and making people miserable. For another example, El Niño—perhaps the most widely known expression of natural variability—periodically releases ocean heat that has a rippling effect across much of the planet.

So, yes, Daines’ remark wasn’t entirely hot air. Natural forces are clearly capable of changing the climate.

A recent attention-getting study turned up evidence that an earlier planetary hot spell was driven by volcanic magma under an extensive Siberian coalfield. Geologists put that initial study to the test and have twice confirmed that the hot magma scorched the coal above, thereby releasing lots of carbon into the atmosphere, which then increased atmospheric and oceanic temperatures. The resulting heat created extinctions long before there were humans to blame.

It’s the real world out there, with more than one thing going on at a time, so it’s no shocker that the forms of natural variability don’t always act alone.

One recent study cites evidence that natural variability in the form of a sulfur-loaded volcanic eruption may have had its cooling influence on North America complicated by the warming influence of another natural variation, El Niño.

All in all, and independent of any single line of evidence, the science on natural variability of climate is as good as it gets. Natural variation of climate is real, is influential, and isn’t going away.

A 2007 analysis in Science succinctly summarized the situation: “Rising greenhouse gases are changing global climate, but … natural climate variations will have a say.”

Natural climate variations will have a say, but they’re not the only voice in the climate choir, as Daines might have us believe.

Modern interest in the influence of greenhouse gases had its start with a hunch explored by mathematician Joseph Fourier in the 1820s. Fourier wondered why Earth isn’t too cold to support life. After all, the planet spins on its axis, turning half the globe away from sunlight every night. Why doesn’t everything just freeze in the dark?

Fourier wasn’t sure, but it was known by his day that our atmosphere is made up of several kinds of gases. That was enough to make him wonder if some of those gases might somehow hug enough heat to keep the planet from deep freeze. A contemporary journal published Fourier’s hypothesis, but it wasn’t until about 1860 that physicist John Tyndall put it to the test. With some simple experiments, Tyndall found that two atmospheric gases—water vapor and carbon dioxide—were especially good at holding heat.

Thirty years later, in the 1890s, a new normal had been established. The burning of coal was commonplace, and there was reason to suspect that it was enabling additions of carbon dioxide above the atmosphere’s normal levels. Curious about the consequences, physical chemist Svante Arrhenius put together a simple little model to estimate where it might lead.

With Arrhenius’ calculations, modern scientific climate prediction was off to an early start, even before the end of the 19th century. Although primitive compared to the climate calculations of today, Arrhenius’ model predicted a warmer world, with an eventual loss of ice and snow. We’re seeing his model tested in the real world today, as glaciers shrink, Arctic sea ice retreats and rainfall in mid-winter months signals a world too warm for snow.

None of which contradicts the science on natural variability. Earth is and will remain susceptible to natural variability capable of forcing its climate into change, in one direction or another.

Nor does natural variability contradict the science pioneered by Fourier 200 years ago. It’s still the real world out there, in all its complexity, and politicians shouldn’t be allowed the luxury of using natural variability as a smokescreen.

In Patriarchy, Sexual “Misconduct” Not Surprising

“I’m not surprised,” women say, in response to the flood of revelations of sexual “misconduct” by men, especially men in positions of power.

But none of us—women or men—should be surprised, because the United States is a patriarchal society and in patriarchy men routinely claim the right to own or control women’s bodies for reproduction and sexual pleasure. Men—liberal and conservative—know that just as well as women.

In such a society, conservative and liberal men will often disagree in public about the conditions under which they can rightly claim ownership. Conservative men argue for control of women within the heterosexual family. Liberal men argue for more expansive access to women. In public, the policy debates about reproductive rights and sexual access rage on. In private, conservative and liberal men claim their “right” to do as they please, which is why women sometimes find it difficult to tell conservative and liberal apart when it comes to behavior.

What kind of world has that produced? A sexually corrosive pop culture (both in dating practices and mediated images), with expanding sexual-exploitation industries (primarily prostitution and pornography), and routine sexual intrusion (the spectrum from sexual harassment to sexual assault). Women are routinely objectified in pop culture, reducing complex human beings to body parts for male pleasure. Men routinely buy and sell those objectified bodies for sexual pleasure, in person and on screens. And when men believe they can take those bodies without challenge, some men do just that.

Male or female, we are should not be surprised when in a patriarchal society—a society based on institutionalized male dominance—men exercise that dominance. Of course patriarchy is not static nor unidimensional, nor is it the only system of illegitimate authority. Patriarchy in 2017 is not exactly the same as in 1917; patriarchy in the United States is not the same as patriarchy in Saudi Arabia. Race, class, religion, and nation affect how patriarchy plays out in a specific time and place.

Patriarchy also is not immune to challenge. Feminism makes gains, patriarchy pushes back, and the struggle continues Women advance in business, politics, and education, and men assert their control over women’s bodies where they can get away with it.

Radical feminism is the term for that component of the second wave of feminism (in the United States, the phase of the movement that emerged in the 1960s) that most directly confronts men’s sexual exploitation of women. In the three decades that I have been involved in radical feminist projects, this analysis has become more useful than ever in explaining an increasingly corrosive society, the mainstreaming of sexual exploitation, and the epidemic levels of sexual intrusion.

Yet both conservatives and liberals routinely dismiss radical feminism as dangerous, out of date, irrelevant. Why would an analysis that offers a compelling explanation of social trends be ignored? My experience suggests that it’s precisely because of the power of the radical feminist analysis that it is avoided. U.S. society is unwilling, or unable, to confront the pathology of patriarchy, a system of illegitimate authority woven so deeply into the fabric of everyday life that many people are afraid of naming it, let alone confronting it.

I remember clearly my first exposure to radical feminist ideas, when I was 30 years old, in the late 1980s. I knew that the women making these arguments, specifically about men’s exploitation of women in and through pornography, had to be crazy—because if they weren’t crazy I not only would have to rethink what I had learned about the sex/gender system in patriarchy but also change my own behavior. But radical feminism wore me down—with evidence and compelling arguments, along with an undeniable emotional honesty. Once I let myself listen carefully, radical feminism not only explained the oppression of girls and women but also helped me understand why I had never felt I could live up to the pathological standards of masculinity in patriarchy.

I had been taught that feminism, especially radical feminism, was a threat to men. I came to understand that it is a gift to us. Not the kind of gift that makes one feel warm and fuzzy but instead challenges us to be better than our patriarchal culture asks of us, to reject patriarchy’s glorification of control, conquest, and aggression.

I’m about to turn 60, and the half of my life lived with a feminist analysis has not always been easy, nor have I magically overcome all my flaws. But radical feminism allowed me to stop worrying about how to be a “real man” and start figuring out how to be a decent person.

Living in New York, Missing Home

In my nuclear family -wife, daughter and sister- we consider ourselves blessed to have the opportunity of living in New York, a modern Babylon. My native city in Northern Argentina, called Tucumán, and New York, where I have lived for the last 50 years, are quite different; the former relatively small and gregarious, the latter big and anonymous.

The things that I still miss most in Argentina are my family, childhood friends, and the easier pace of life. That is why going back home to Tucumán has become almost a ritual for me. And, predictably, those trips have their bittersweet moments.

Bitter moments are learning the loss of loved ones, whose impact is greater when living far away. The loss is compounded by a feeling of nostalgia. It happens when realizing that the city one has left is now a totally new city. Pablo Neruda, the noted Chilean poet, poignantly expressed this feeling. Coming back to Chile after a long stay overseas, he wrote in the poem “Return to a City” (translated by Alastair Reid):

I come back not to return;
no more do I wish to mislead myself.
It is dangerous to wander
backward, for all of a sudden
the past turns into a prison.

These unsettling feelings are balanced by seeing again old friends and relatives and by the pleasures of the unexpected. On one trip to Argentina with my wife we traveled to Salta, a city further north. On the way, we stop at Amaicha del Valle, a small town in the mountains reputed—at least by the natives—to have the best climate in the world. Remembering that a cousin whom I haven’t seen in more 50 years lived there, we stop at many stores and public offices and I ask several people about him. Nobody knows him. I am deeply disappointed.

We have lunch at a popular restaurant and, having lost hope, I casually ask the owner, a jovial 80-year- old man who I later discover is a very good poet: “Of course I know him,” he laughs. “He lives just across the street.” I don’t quite believe him but he seems so sure that I cross the street and knock on the door. My cousin and his wife come out. He doesn’t recognize me. I take my dark glasses off. He still doesn’t recognize me, so I tell him who I am.

Our eyes moisten, and we join in a long embrace. Afterward, we go back to the restaurant where the owner regales us with great food and some of his wonderful poems. Life is beautiful. Later that same day, we returned to my hometown. Today is a hot day in a normally torrid city. I go to the city’s main square to listen to the State Symphonic Band.

The program includes music by Guastavino, a famous Argentine composer, and also by Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin. Although the concert is in the hot afternoon, the 60 musicians in the orchestra are all formally dressed in black. Their suits are old, and so are the rumbling loudspeakers, whose noise occasionally interrupts the performance. But the noises don’t bother me. I am captivated by the scene.

I am sitting near a bass player. My attention is drawn to the strange shape of his instrument. The bridge belongs to another bass, and its cords (two made of steel and two of nylon) are held together by a series of knots. The bass has a big hole and also a small crack on the side. None of this fazes the musician, who handled it lovingly, as if he were caressing the love of his life.

In the meantime, a couple dances under the shadow of a big and beautiful tree, as one of them holds their dog by the leash. I see the face of a woman who reminds me of the mother of a friend, both of them now dead. I feel another pang of nostalgia for what I think were better, happier times.

After the concert I approached the bass player and looked at his instrument, marveled that he could still play it. I couldn’t resist asking him how he managed to play an instrument in such a bad shape. He answers that the instruments are state property and that sometimes the handlers are careless. “But I love music, and I have to make do with what I have,” he tells me sadly…