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A New Low for The Nation: The Left and the Mid-East Crisis By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 19, 2002


THE MAJORITY of Americans learn that the fight of the Israeli people against terrorism is the equivalent of their own fight against terrorist forces, it is somewhat jarring to read the opinions of mainstream Leftistswhose analysis, outlook and take on the situation in the Middle East is so far-fetched that it seems at times they are living in a different world. With the publication by The Nation of political scientist Richard Falk’s article, “Ending the Death Dance,” the left-liberal magazine has hit a new low. Falk, a scholar who for years was a major Princeton University professor, and a stalwart of the anti-war movement in the ‘60s, is now Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Falk’s specialty is international law, and many will remember him as one of the principal intellectual forces behind the effort to hold the United States responsible for the commission of “war crimes” in Vietnam.

His assessment of the Middle Eastern situation has one overriding purpose: to convince his audience that the state terrorism he believes Israel is engaged in is not only the equivalent of Palestinian terrorism, but in fact is “greater.” Indeed, reading his words closely, his attempt is moreover to make the case that what many observers rightfully call the terrorist activities of Palestinian militantsespecially the homicide bombingsare in fact understandable responses to the American-backed colonial occupation of Palestine by Israel. This goal is not that of Falk alone. On Wednesday night, I attended a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ali, on the question of whether the Left should support the war against terrorism. Bringing up the issue of Israel and the current situation, Ali said that Palestinians had a right to use “any means necessary” to resist the Israeli “occupation” of Palestine.

The approach of people like Falk and Ali are likely to become the basis for the actions being planned by the new anti-globalist, New Left, anti-Israeli, anti-war movement, and therefore, their arguments must be dealt with and answered. Its first component is the charge that Israel, like the Russians in Chechnya, is engaging in “state sponsored terrorism.” To Falk, obviously, the Israeli Army’s response to the Passover bombings is the key example. Israel, in fact, tried hard to avoid doing what the Russians did in Chechnyawhich was to bomb into submission cities and homes. Israel, in contrast, sought at great cost to engage in a house-to-house search for Palestinian terrorists in cities like Jenin. Twenty-three reservists were lost, as we know, when they came across bobby-trapped men, who lured them to their deaths. While Palestinian propagandists spread false stories about a supposed Israeli “massacre” at Jenin, the evidence shows that Israel did whatever it could to avoid civilian casualties.

One of the key elements of Falk’s analysis is use of the old double standard. Israel’s response to terrorism on its people is described as state terrorism; that of the Palestinians are called “reactive and understandable.” Of course, he calls the Passover bombing at Netanya “horrifying,” only to immediately call Israel’s response “the equally horrifying Israeli incursion with tanks and helicopters throughout occupied Palestine.” When the United States responds to Al Qaeda, Falk calls its action on September 11 as “visionary terrorism that can neither be neutralized by negotiation or deterred.” Therefore a military response is justified. But when Israel engages in a military response after Yasser Arafat had turned down the Oslo accords and when his own forces have begun a major terrorist campaign, that is supposedly not a “visionary” form of terrorism but evidently what Falk sees as a different and more benign form.

As for the Oslo accords, Falk’s account of what happened at Oslo is so perverse that it almost is comical. Let us first once again go over what happened at there. Bill Clinton was the American President; Ehud Barak the very dovish Israeli Prime Minister. The purpose of Oslo was simple: to establish a Palestinian state in exchange for real peace; recognition of Israel by that new state and a guarantee of Israel’s security. It did not turn out the way its proponents had hoped. Clinton told Arafat: “If the Israelis can make compromises and you can’t, I should go home. You have been here 14 days and said no to everything.” Today, Dennis Ross, Clinton’s chief negotiator with Arafat and the PLO, has said that as the man who has spent more time negotiating with Arafat than anyone else, he has reluctantly concluded that Arafat does not want peace or a Palestinian state, but the replacement of Israel itself by a new state of Palestine.

At Oslo, Israel did everything possible to make peace. Barak’s government made the most generous territorial concessions ever offered by an Israeli government. At the same time, while Arafat publicly at first spoke the words of peace, his actions proved his heart was elsewhere. He did not disarm terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which Oslo required; instead he allowed, financed and called for their continuing terrorist war against Israeli civilians. The arms shipment from Iranfound on the Karine-A ship by the Israeliswas the final proof of how Arafat’s own goals were far removed from the hopes of those who saw a future of peace.

The result was the beginning of a shake-up and reevaluation among the hardest of Israeli doves and peaceniks. The well-known writer Shlomo Avineri, once a major leader of the Israeli peace forces, saw Arafat’s actions as having an effect similar to that of Western intellectuals who ended their faith in Stalinism and wrote about it in The God That Failed. Once “Arafat rejected the Clinton plan,” Avineri wrote, “and turned the right of return into a matter of principle, and denied that Israel has any right at all to the Temple Mount, it became clear that the Palestinians were not prepared for a historical compromise. In their eyes the talks were only a way of getting what they wantednot a painful process of give and take. Whoever expected Yasser Arafat to turn into Nelson Mandela was proved wrong, but admitting it is hard. Incredibly hard.”

Perhaps that is why Richard Falk not only cannot admit it, but indeedcomes up with the remarkable argument that Arafat’s only failure was that he did not explain how Oslo was a fraud that would have given the Palestinians nothing! The accords were “unacceptable,” Falk explains, because Arafat had no choice but to walk out when he realized that his people would have had a phony Palestinian state, composed of only “22 per cent of the original British mandated territory of Palestine…while leaving the 78 percent that was Israel out of the account.” In essence, any Palestinian state would have been one that left Palestinians “in a permanent position of subordination.”

Secondly, Falk claims it is wrong to say that Arafat “opted for terrorism.” Falk ignores the lengthy 35-year record of Arafat as a proponent and practitioner of terrorismfrom the Munich Olympics on through the years. But rather than view Arafat as a terrorist, Falk describes him as a “moderate” pressured by militants. One wonders what he will say about the evidence uncovered by Israel in the aftermath of its incursion about Arafat’s direct orders for terrorist actions? Instead, Falk credits Arafat with trying hard to prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad from acting in areas Arafat controlledignoring his continued arrest and then freeing of known terrorists. And he resurrects the foolish and discredited notion that it was Ariel Sharon’s “provocative visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque” that was responsible for the new intifada.

Next, Falk describes Palestinian actions as non-violent at first, and declareswithout evidencethat these supposedly non-violent actions were met by “excessive force” by Israelis including “killing and seriously wounding demonstrators in large numbers.” This unsubstantiated chargestated as if his stating it makes it sothen becomes the excuse for further Palestinian terrorist attacks. Moreover, Falk condemns what he calls “extra-judicial assassination of a range of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.” Let us pause for a moment. Falk is referring to the very selective assassination of major Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, men responsible for plotting and implementing major terrorist attacks on civilians. Israel’s actions, we might say, are the same as the US forces sought to implement against Osama bin Laden and his top associates in Afghanistan. Of course, if Israel instead bombed entire neighborhoods were these men were known to live, imagine what Falk would have then said.

Next are Falk’s most outrageous words. After arguing that Israel “attacked” innocent Palestinians with “the most sophisticated weapons of warfare,” the Palestinian “resistance,” which might better and more accurately be described as terrorist cells, “ran out of military options, and suicide bombers appeared as the only means still available by which to inflict sufficient harm on Israel so that the struggle could go on.” Look carefully at Richard Falk’s words. He is saying, in no uncertain terms, that suicide bombing was a just response reluctantly taken by Palestinian militants to Israeli terrorismpart of the “struggle” that has to continue. His citation of a Human Rights Commission report says a great deal about the irrelevance and bias of the United Nations. Hardly an “impartial understanding that Israel was mainly responsible for the escalations,” it is instead a very partial judgment of a bloc of Third World and cowardly European nations that court Arab oil interests by blaming Israelthe victimfor the aggression practiced against it.

Now that Israel has moved in to towns on the West Bank and Gaza, and acted to protect the safety of its beleaguered population, Falk argues that the “right of resistance…enjoyed by an occupied people” to the actions of their occupiers is what must concern the world’s peoples. And candidly, Falkthe apostle of peace in the 1960s and opponent of war crimessays such resistance “would seem to legitimize some armed activities.” In other words—Richard Falk is calling upon the Western Left to support the continued terrorism of Arafat and the PLO. It is, he says, simply a matter of “self-help.”

Finally Falk resorts to his own specialty, international law, and argues that it is firmly on the side of Arafat and the PLO. In Falk’s reading, Israel has to unilaterally return land it won as a result of victory against invading Arab armies in its past warswhile he says nothing, expectedly, about the PLO’s continued refusal to ever acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and to change its organization’s charter. So much is Falk in the hard-line Palestinian camp that he even faults the Palestinian Authority for allowing the US to try and function as an honest broker, and by declaring that Oslo would lead to such a bad deal that it would not have satisfied “even the most moderate Palestinian expectations.” Falk ends by mouthing the words about a “movement of solidarity with the well-being of both peoples;” i.e., Palestinians and Israelis. But the essence of his entire argument is, rather, for a movement in solidarity with Palestinian militants and terroristssimilar to that of sections of the far Left in the 1960s that sought solidarity with Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong. The giveaway is Falk’s citation of Sharon as leading a “criminal assault,” while nowhere does he condemn or seem concerned about the wave of homicide bombings. Thus he concludes that “Sharon is a much bigger obstacle to real peace than Arafat is or ever was.”

One country proposes major sacrifices for peace; those it negotiates with turn down its offers and opt for terrorism on behalf of their final goalthe destruction of Israel. And yet, to Richard Falk, the country that seeks peace is the one that is responsible for war. Another editorial in the same issue of The Nation declares that “most Jews consider themselves victims in this conflict, not aggressors.” And so they are. The point is that the Nation Left believes they are the aggressors, and the actual terrorists are the victims. It is a topsy-turvy world, and a confused and dangerous world-view that guides their analysis. Thus their editorial calls for “sanctions” against Israelmuch like “those imposed on South Africa.” In that manner, with its editorial and the Falk article, America’s once most distinguished voice of liberalism joins the lynch mob against Israel.


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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