23 December 2007

23 December 2007 - Israel through comic books

You may have seen this already, but it's a fairly interesting look at how Israel's been incorporated into a few comic book lines over the last couple of decades.

19 December 2007

21 December 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Final Paper

In re Israel/Palestine (Pollak, J., Dissenting)


This course considered “the case against Israel” in the strongest possible terms. Each week, we examined a new charge, backed by the best evidence Israel’s critics could muster. Some opposing evidence was admitted; both “pro-Israel” and “anti-Israel” research assistants were enlisted to suggest materials; and allowance was made for all points of view in our deliberations. Yet our classroom “court” was stacked heavily in favor of the “prosecution.” Israel stood alone in the dock for most of the proceedings. The professor, as “prosecutor,” also played the role of “presiding judge,” deciding which readings to include and exclude, what topics should be addressed, who should speak and when. The duties of “defense counsel” often fell to a few students acting on their own initiative. The “jury” of enrolled students was also biased against the accused: this was a self-selecting panel, selected further by the prosecutor.

Israel did not receive a fair trial here. Any “conviction” would be reversed on that basis alone. Yet it was possible, even based on the largely one-sided evidence presented, to acquit Israel on every charge. I therefore respectfully but vigorously dissent from the preconceived and unjust judgment towards which this course earnestly attempted to steer its participants.

Charge 1: Israel expelled the Palestinians

The evidence that was introduced to substantiate this charge came largely from sources that were discredited by their wanton inaccuracy. Historian Ilan Pappé, for instance, claimed that Jewish forces “began” the 1948 war, but also admitted they had acted “in retaliation.”[1] He also claimed that Israeli forces had been provoked by mere acts of “vandalism,”[2] though evidence from Benny Morris’s historical account proves that these were in fact murderous terror attacks.[3]

Morris argued convincingly that the Palestinian refugee problem had been created as the result of multiple factors. Even if Israeli actions such as “Plan Dalet” had played a role in Palestinian flight late in the war, we cannot conclude that they met the legal standard of proximate cause. As Morris noted: “Plan D[alet] was not a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestine’s Arabs.”[4] The contributory role of the Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab states must also be considered. The immediate cause of the 1947-49 war was the violent rejection of U.N. Resolution 181 by the Arab world. Such violence had a history dating back to the Arab revolt of 1936-39, the 1929 Hebron massacre, and anti-Jewish riots of 1920.[5] Later, after the war, the Arab states failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate the suffering of the refugees.

As Alan Dershowitz pointed out, “although some Jews were happy to see them leave,” and Israel’s military offensive “certainly contributed to the flight,” there is no way to assign all or even most of the blame to Israel.[6] Even Palestinian historian Nur Masalha admitted there was no “master plan” to expel the Palestinians.[7] Israel is therefore not guilty of this charge.

Charge 2: Israel wrongly expropriated Palestinian lands

Israeli legal scholar David Kretzmer provided evidence that the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 and similar laws affecting Arab property were “draconian.”[8] In inquiring whether these laws were justified, we must also weigh Israel’s legitimate national interest in securing its borders and resettling Jewish refugees. In addition, we must consider several mitigating factors. Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) frequently intervened to protect Arab property, and fair compensation was often paid to owners.[9] Today, Arabs may lease lands from the state as well as the Jewish National Fund, and discrimination in property ownership has been declared illegal.[10] Palestinian ordinances, by contrast, make land sales to Jews a crime punishable by death.[11]

The prosecution then sought to show that Israel could be viewed as a colonial power, and drew analogies to the Native American and Mexican cases.[12] These analogies are both irrelevant. Israel did not follow a characteristic settler-colonialist pattern of development,[13] nor did Israel foment war or violate treaties to seize Arab land. Furthermore, lands obtained prior to Israel’s independence were purchased, not expropriated.[14]

The prosecution’s description of Israel as an “ethnocracy” is a crude caricature of Israeli society. Arguments by Sandy Kedar contended that Israeli property law enforces existing inequalities,[15] but this critique could also apply to any other country. There may be good reasons to revisit Israel’s land laws, and to guard against attempts to weaken Arab land rights.[16] But these are political, not legal, concerns. Weighing all the factors, the verdict must be not guilty.

Charge 3: Israel’s Jewish character violates Arab rights

Many states in the Middle East and beyond have an explicitly ethnic or religious character. The first sentence of the Irish constitution cites the Holy Trinity;[17] the very names of some of Israel’s neighbors refer explicitly to their Arab identity.[18] Palestine’s Draft Constitution defines Palestine as “part of the Arab and Islamic nations.”[19] The prosecution’s argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would require Jews to forfeit their right to self-determination so that Arabs might fulfill theirs, in defiance of international law. It would also require us to credit the assumption, implied by Hassan Jabareen, that Arab claims to the land are superior and unique.[20]

Ruth Gavison provided a convincing justification for Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, based on the universal right of self-determination and on a utilitarian test that balances the benefits of a Jewish Israel to Jews against the costs to Arab citizens.[21] She argued that the Law of Return “does not discriminate among citizens. It determines who may become one,”[22] in a context in which non-Jews, including Arabs, still immigrate according to ordinary procedures.[23] She also pointed out that Arabs in Israel today enjoy the liberty to oppose Israel’s Jewish identity democratically, and that Israel’s Jewish identity may violate Arab interests, but not Arab rights.[24]

It may be prudent for Israel to consider providing special recognition and protection to its Arab minority, especially as it begins the long-overdue task of writing its constitution. Alan Dowty suggested that the Arab minority is nearing the twenty percent threshold that is associated in other countries with ethnic power-sharing arrangements.[25] But Israel’s Jewishness, in itself, violates no fundamental individual or collective Arab right. Israel is not guilty of this charge.

Charge 4: Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens

Israeli law bars discrimination against Arabs. In addition, Israel has begun to close the gaps in public spending between Jewish and Arab municipalities, and has begun to implement affirmative action programs in the public sector to address persistent inequalities.[26]

The prosecution argued that such legal equality was insufficient. One reading criticized what it called “facially neutral” discrimination, which allegedly allowed inequalities to persist in the allocation of public resources.[27] The authors suggested that Israel should adopt new procedural review mechanisms; these may be useful as policy, but they are hardly evidence of de jure discrimination. The prosecution also produced Yishai Blank, in person, to testify about educational discrimination. Under examination, he retreated from his claim that there was de jure discrimination in Israel and began referring to “quasi-legal discrimination.” In his assigned article, he argued that Israeli courts could have adopted a more activist approach towards school integration, but admitted that they had defended it on several occasions.[28] He downplayed the element of parental choice—that Arab parents might wish their children to attend Arab schools.

In sum, the evidence tended to disprove the prosecution’s allegations about official discrimination against Arab citizens. Inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel remains a serious social and political challenge that may require more active legislative intervention. But Israel is not guilty of enacting, or even tolerating, legal discrimination against its Arab citizens.

Charge 5: Israel discriminates against Mizrachi Jews

Of all the charges against Israel, this was the most malicious. Relations among groups of Israeli Jews are extraneous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, there is simply no legal discrimination against Mizrachi Jews in Israel. Israel has gone to extraordinary lengths to assist Jews from Arab countries, and Ethiopian Jews, to immigrate. Mizrachi Jews have climbed the highest rungs of Israeli society. These facts are uncontested. Even Claris Harbon’s text admitted: “Mizrahis were never legally categorized as a discriminated group by de jure legislation.”[29] It is true that some Mizrachi Jews occupy low a socioecoomic status, and some may have suffered past discrimination.[30] These problems are not unique to Israel and pale in comparison to the legal and social disabilities suffered by Jews in the Arab world, which were not explored. Moreover, as the second speaker acknowledged, the majority of Mizrachi Jews would reject the prosecution’s characterization of their status, steeped as it was in radical anti-Zionist jargon.

Israel is clearly not guilty of this charge. It is worth noting that while the fate of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was largely overlooked in examining the Palestinian refugee problem, various claims about those refugees were admitted as relevant to accusations of discrimination against Mizrachis. Such manipulation of the historical evidence is simply unfair.

Charge 6: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is illegal

It is a matter of indisputable historical fact that Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive, just war and therefore legally. One imaginative theory suggested the duration of Israel’s occupation might render it illegal.[31] If that were so, then some of Israel’s adversaries might be held liable for refusing to negotiate for many years. The prosecution also introduced the International Court of Justice (ICJ) 2003 ruling on Israel’s security barrier.[32] This deeply flawed opinion, issued by a court that lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and a panel that included judges from two of Israel’s opponents (Jordan and Egypt) in that conflict, minimized both the defensive nature of, and the legal basis for, Israel’s occupation of these territories.

Israel’s legal stance on the occupation has historically been that the territories are not “occupied” since it did not take control from a sovereign power with a legal claim. It therefore maintained that the Fourth Geneva Convention did not apply, but that it would consider itself bound anyway by the Convention’s humanitarian provisions and by the customary law of belligerent occupation.[33] Israel appears to have retreated from these arguments in recent years, admitting that its presence in the territories is an “occupation”[34]—though doing so long after it had withdrawn from most Palestinian cities under the Oslo Accords.[35] In any case, Israel’s stance is irrelevant to the original question. The occupation, for better or worse, is legal. Not guilty.

Charge 7: Israel failed to fulfill its duties as an occupying power

The prosecution acknowledged that the Palestinian standard of living in the territories, as measured by a variety of indicators, had improved substantially during the first twenty years of occupation, though still lagging behind Israeli standards.[36] Israel also granted Palestinians the right to petition the HCJ directly, a unique step for an occupying power.[37] The prosecution argued, however, that Israel had introduced laws and regulations that resulted in the integration of the Palestinian economy on terms favorable to Israel.[38] Tax revenues collected from Palestinians were not spent on insurance for Palestinian workers, nor invested in infrastructure (e.g. new hospitals) that would benefit Palestinians in the territories.[39] This, it charged, was dereliction of duty. Furthermore, citing Article 43 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, the prosecution argued that changes to existing law in occupied territories could only be justified by the need to promote order and civil life,[40] and that Israel had fallen short of this standard.

If Israel had been required to create a self-sufficient and politically autonomous Palestinian polity, then it failed in its duty. If, however, Israel was merely required to improve Palestinian welfare, then it met its duty, over and above the international standard. One may fault Israeli policy on political and moral grounds, but not legal ones. Israel is not guilty, again.

Charge 8: Israel’s settlement policy is illegal

Some international legal authorities consider Israel’s settlements in the territories illegal. In the ICJ case, even the dissenting American judge agreed that settlements violated Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides that an “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”[41]

Eyal Benvenisti noted Israel’s defense that settlement is voluntary and does not displace Arab inhabitants.[42] It is also different in scale and purpose from the mass deportations undertaken by aggressor nations in the Second World War, which were the specific acts the drafters of 49(6) intended to prevent. Israel has also argued some settlements were built for legitimate security reasons, and that the 1949 armistice line was never an international boundary.

The prosecution conceded that Israel’s strict reading of 49(6) may have been correct. In addition, it is clear that the ICJ not only exceeded its mandate in ruling on the settlements, but also based its findings on UN General Assembly (GA) resolutions, which are not binding law. Ruth Wedgwood pointed out that the ICJ failed to consider Israeli arguments on these issues, and suggested it should have left the questions of borders and settlements to future diplomacy.[43]

The legal basis for Israeli settlement is questionable, especially given its scale.[44] The Israeli government knew of the legal and political dangers of settlement and has often abdicated its responsibility to enforce its own laws against settlers. Nevertheless, it cannot be said that the settlements are illegal per se. They exploit a lacuna in international law. Certain settlements may be illegal under both Israeli and international law, and their removal might be an urgent priority, but the existence of settlements itself is not necessarily illegal. Israel is, again, not guilty.

Charge 9: Israel failed to recognize the Palestinian right to resist by force

The majority of the participants agreed, by a vote of 11-4, that a Palestinian guerilla fighter not wearing a uniform had a right to kill a uniformed Israeli soldier in occupied territory. There is, in fact, no such “right.” There are, however, ample legal provisions for an occupying power to take measures necessary to ensure the security of its soldiers. Arguments for a “right” of Palestinian guerillas to kill Israeli soldiers therefore invite Israel to take preventative measures against Palestinian civilians, such as checkpoints, curfews, and searches. Furthermore, a guerilla fighter wearing civilian clothes forfeits the status of non-combatant. It is true that Article 44(3) of Protocol I to the Fourth Geneva Convention allows guerilla fighters to disguise themselves as long as they carry their arms openly. However, Israel has not ratified this deeply flawed protocol, drafted during an era of Cold War proxy conflicts, and does not consider this provision binding.

The majority of the participants refused to decide whether armed Palestinian groups have a right to kill Israeli civilians, inside or outside of the occupied territories. Yet the report of Amnesty International made clear: “The deliberate killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups amounts to crimes against humanity.”[45] There is no Palestinian right to kill civilians under international law and therefore Israel cannot be found guilty of denying it.

Charge 10: Israel’s responses to Palestinian terrorism are illegal

We considered two types of response in particular: (a) military action targeted at members of Palestinian armed groups; (b) Israel’s security barrier (“wall”) along and beyond the 1949 armistice line. With regard to (a), Israel must obey international humanitarian law, which prevents the deliberate targeting of civilians. The laws of war also prevent Israel from attacking military targets if such attacks are expected to cause a disproportionate number of civilian casualties. Though Israel has not ratified Protocol I, the HCJ has recognized Article 51 of the treaty as customary international law and has held that Israeli forces must not cause civilian damage that is “excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”[46] Israel may have occasionally violated this proportionality standard, but has generally obeyed it.

With regard to (b), Israel’s security barrier—only a “wall” for a small part of its length—may be justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which recognizes member nations’ right of self-defense, and which the ICJ largely ignored. Israel cannot build a barrier anywhere it wants; the HCJ has balanced national security interests against the costs to Palestinians living along the barrier’s path, and has sometimes ordered it to be moved.[47] In principle, however, it is legal and has been extremely effective in preventing civilian deaths. Israel is not guilty on both (a) and (b).

Proposed remedies: a “binational” state and the “right of return”

One of the remedies suggested by the prosecution was the creation of a “binational” state. The classic model of the binational state was presented by a minority of left-wing Jews prior to 1948 and involved recognition of two national communities, equal power-sharing arrangements, and Jewish immigration to the point of parity. That model failed to win any public support among Palestinian Arabs. The version of “binationalism” presented by Lama Abu-Odeh’s model was in fact a one-state solution that meets maximalist Palestinian demands.[48] In any case, neither a binational state nor a unitary state would be viable. Multi-ethnic states have a sad history in the Middle East. Even in Europe, docile Belgium may be unraveling. Sharing Jerusalem, as some proposed, may be possible; dissolving Israel into Palestine is not. The two-state solution is not ideal, and faces many challenges, but it remains the most popular and least costly remedy.

We were then presented with the “right of return” as a fait accompli. Yet UNGA Resolution 194 does not provide an explicit right of return and was opposed by the Arab states.[49] Few Palestinian refugees want to live in Israel, in any case, suggesting room for compromise.[50] We considered various proposals, from repossession to symbolic recognition to compensation, with Palestinian claims offset against the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The difficulty of determining the value of lost assets was immediately apparent. Overall, it is likely that the best solution would be negotiated between the two sides, not determined by judicial fiat.


If the true intent of this course had been fully to consider “legal issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it failed. A more appropriate title would have been “The Case Against Israel.” The participants were presented with bogus historical accounts and radical legal theories and encouraged to find ways to justify Palestinian violence and respond to Israeli arguments. Yet this case may be decided in favor of the accused even on the basis of the evidence presented, such as it was. None of the eleven charges against Israel was proven beyond a reasonable doubt; few of the remedies sought would provide a just, peaceful or stable outcome. The only appropriate decision would be to dismiss the accusations and to order both sides to reach a compromise. Not everything Israel does is right, moral or politically wise. Some of its actions deserve harsh criticism. Yet on these “legal issues,” it has been acquitted many times over.

[1] Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine 40 (2006).

[2] Id.

[3] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited 65 (2d ed. 2004) (“two buses were attacked and seven Jewish passengers shot dead”; Morris noted, at 139 n. 1, that there is some dispute as to whether the Arab motive was robbery or retaliation for earlier attacks by Jewish paramilitaries, in turn responding to British raids. In any case, Pappe ignored the Jewish deaths. The pages in Morris referred to fall outside the assigned reading.)

[4] Id. at 164.

[5] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 88-160 (2d ed. 2001).

[6] Alan Dershowitz, The Case For Israel 80 (2003).

[7] Nur Masalha, The Politics of Denial: Israel and the Palestinian Refugee Problem 54 (2003).

[8] David Kretzmer, The Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel 2-4 (1990).

[9] Id. at 38. (This page and the one above were also outside the reading but from the same text.)

[10] See Ka’adan v. Israel Land Administration, HCJ 6698/95 (2000).

[11] What about land? Does Israel discriminate against Arabs owning land?, Palestine Facts, http://palestinefacts.org/pf_1991to_now_israel_land.php.

[12] Joseph Singer, Re-Reading Property, 25 New Eng. L. Rev. 711, 718-22 (1992); Joseph Singer, Well Settled?: The Increasing Weight of History in American Indian Land Claims, 28 Ga. L. Rev. 481, 528-32 (1994); Guadalupe Luna, Chicana/Chicano Land Tenure in the Agrarian Domain: On the Edge of a “Naked Knife”, 4 Mich. J. Race & Law 39, 39-50, 133-37 (1998)

[13] Hannah Arendt, The Jewish Writings 434-35 (2007).

[14] Dershowitz, supra note 6, at 23.

[15] Sandy Kedar, On the Legal Geography of Ethnocratic Settler States: Notes toward a Research Agenda, 5 Current Legal Issues 401 (2003)

[16] A racist Jewish state, Ha’aretz, Jul. 10, 2007, available at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/884358.html.

[17] Ireland Const. pmbl.

[18] e.g. Arab Republic of Egypt, Syrian Arab Republic.

[19] Palestine Draft Const. art. II (2003).

[20] Hassan Jabareen, The Future of Arab Citizenship in Israel: Jewish-Zionist Time in a Place with No Palestinian Memory, in Challenging Ethnic Citizenship (D. Levy & Y. Weiss, eds., 2002)

[21] Ruth Gavison, The Jewish State: A Justification, in New Essays on Zionism 10 (David Hazony et al. eds., 2006).

[22] Id. at 25. The current Israeli government is attempting to revise the law in any case.

[23] See Dershowitz, supra note 6, 156-57; see also Bennett Zimmerman et al., Voodoo Demographics, Azure, Summer 2006, No. 25, available at http://www.azure.org.il/magazine/magazine.asp?id=308.

[24] Id. at 23.

[25] Alan Dowty, Is Israel Democratic? Substance and Semantics in the “Ethnic Democracy” Debate, 4 Israel Studies No. 2, 1, 10 (1999).

[26] U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Thirteenth Periodic reports of States parties due in 2004 Addendum ISRAEL, U.N. Doc. CERD/C/471/Add.2 (Sep. 1, 2005).

[27] Eyal Benvenisti and Dahlia Shaham, Facially Neutral Discrimination and the Israeli Supreme Court, 36 N.Y.U. J. Int'l L. & Pol. 677 (2004).

[28] Yishai Blank, Brown in Jerusalem: A Comparative Look On Race and Ethnicity In Public Schools, 38 Urb. Law 367 (2006).

[29] Claris Harbon, “Affirmative Squatting in Israel: Mizrachi Women Correct Past Injustices, Berlin Law and Society Association Conference 12 (2007).

[30] Meyrav Wurmser, Post-Zionism and the Sephardi Question, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2005.

[31] Orna Ben-Naftali et al, Illegal Occupation: Framing the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 23 Berkeley J. Int'l L. 551, 554-55 (2005).

[32] Legal Consequences cf the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, 2004 I.C.J. 136 (Jul. 9).

[33] David Yahav et al., Israel, the “Intifada, and the Rule of Law 15-25 (1993).

[34] Kelly Wallace, Sharon: ‘Occupation’ Terrible for Israel, Palestinians, CNN, May 27, 2003, http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/05/26/mideast/ (statement to Likud Party on May 23).

[35] Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government, Isr.-PLO, Sep. 13, 1993.

[36] Meron Benvenisti et al., The West Bank Handbook: A Political Lexicon (1986).

[37] Lisa Hajjar, Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza 5 (2005).

[38] Eyal Benvenisti, The International Law of Occupation 123-29, 141-44 (1993).

[39] Meron Benvenisti, supra note 36, 179.

[40] Eyal Benvenisti, supra note 38, 7.

[41] Quoted in Construction of a Wall (Decl. Buergenthal).

[42] Eyal Benvenisti, supra note 38, 140-41.

[43] Ruth Wedgwood, The ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Israeli Security Fence and the Limits of Self-Defense, 99 Am. J. Intl. L. 52 (2005).

[44] David Kretzmer, The Occupation of Justice 77 (2002).

[45] Amnesty International, Without Distinction: Attacks on Civilians by Palestinian Armed Groups, Jul. 11, 2002, available at http://www.amnesty.org/en/report/info/MDE02/003/2002.

[46] Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v. Government of Israel, HCJ 769/02 (2006) at 1.

[47] See Beit Sourik Village Council v. Government of Israel, HCJ 2056/04 (2004); see also Yassin v. Governmet of Israel HCJ 8414/05 (2007) (the Bil’in case).

[48] Lama Abu-Odeh, The Case For Binationalism, Boston Rev., Dec. 2001/Jan. 2002, available at http://bostonreview.net/BR26.6/abu-odeh.html

[49] Dore Gold, Tower of Babble 55 (2005).

[50] Khalil Shikaki, The Right of Return, Wall St. J., Jul. 30, 2003, available at http://www.arts.mcgill.ca/MEPP/prrn/PAPERS/shikaki.htm.

17 December 2007

16 December 2007 - Karsenty spiked by the Crimson

If anyone's wondering why I haven't posted about the Karsenty event, it's because the Harvard Crimson--which sent a reporter along, who interviewed Karsenty and several audience members, as well as the event organizers--decided to spike the story.

As soon as I have a video link to the recording of the event, I'll post it here.

12 December 2007

12 December 2007 - Disgrace! Harvard Capitulates

Yesterday, Harvard President Drew G. Faust announced that the university will organize a committee to investigate free speech on campus. This entirely unnecessary effort is a pathetic capitulation to radical anti-Israel professors and to their spurious contention that criticism of Israel is suppressed on campus. The radical faction is led by the same people who pushed Larry Summers out in 2005.

Let’s call this campaign what it really is: an attempt to privilege anti-Israel speech, and to target outspoken advocates of Israel like Professor Alan Dershowitz. Much will depend on who is selected for Faust’s committee, but even if the investigation is carried out objectively, Matory and his minions will atill terrorize the supine scholars. It’s up to us students to sort things out. We are in it for the long haul.

UPDATE: I was about to correct my description of the committee when I saw the comment below correcting me, and I agree with it. Yes--the university is "considering" a committee. A very important distinction.

11 December 2007

11 December 2007 - A big day for free speech at Harvard

Later today, the Harvard faculty will meet and possibly re-consider Professor J. Lorand Matory's bad-faith motion on "civil dialogue."

Tonight, Philippe Karsenty will present his lecture, "The Al-Dura Hoax Is Over Tonight," on campus.

We shall see who are the real friends and foes of free speech at Harvard.

UPDATE: The agenda for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting includes Matory's motion as the very first item on the docket. Yet last week Matory claimed he was unaware whether his motion was going to be discussed at the December meeting. It is hard to believe he was telling the truth.

The motion is being presented as follows, with a substitute motion by Dean Shinagel:

1. Continued discussion of docket item 2 from the Regular Meeting of November 13, 2007

Professor J. L. Matory moved:

That this Faculty commits itself to fostering civil dialogue in which people with a broad range of perspectives feel safe and are encouraged to express their reasoned and evidence-based ideas.

Explanatory Note:

The context for this motion is outlined in an opinion piece by Professor Matory, “Israel and Censorship at Harvard,” which was published in the Harvard Crimson on September 14, 2007.

Dean M. Shinagel will move to substitute the following:

That the Faculty reaffirm the guidelines set down in its 1990 legislation concerning freedom of speech.

Recordings of Matory's address last week have been posted on the Solomonia blog.

10 December 2007

10 December 2007 - Interactive Models of Peacemaking

Today I'm presenting my research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government with Sapir Handelman.


All interested are invited to attend.

08 December 2007

09 December 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 12

The last week of class was a bit of a dud, really. We discussed various ways of implementing the Palestinian “right of return”—taking for granted, of course, that such a right existed. Just to provoke some debate, I proposed that Palestinian claims be offset against the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and then whoever was owed the balance would get a check from the international community.

Nobody really seemed taken by this proposal, or the others on the table, offering various kinds of restitution to Palestinian refugees. Debate sputtered as an exhausted class wound to a close. The professor closed with some observations on the menorah, Israel’s national symbol: Jewish state OK, but not at the cost of expelling Palestinians. And so we ended where we began: in Israel’s “original sin.”

The readings for the week were only a little more interesting. We read Sari Hanfi’s attack on the Israeli understanding of Palestinian debates on the “right of return,” which sees that “right” as a threat. His treatment seemed overly harsh and wilfully naïve. It is to be expected that this “right” would be viewed as a threat in the context of the history of the conflict, especially in the midst of the second intifada.

Hanafi also addressed the subject of “researching return.” In 2003, Palestinians researcher Dr. Khalil Shiqaqi released the results of a survey among Palestinian refugees that indicated that while the majority wants recognition of the “right to return,” the majority does not want to return to Israel. Such research has contributed to the unfolding debate among Palestinians, which is a good thing.

It seems that a fair trade for Israeli recognition of what Hanafi calls “the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” might be Palestinian acknowledgement of what was refused in 1948—namely, Israel’s right to exist a Jewish state. That does not mean an “exclusive” Jewish state, which is something Zionists have never sought. We read Nadim Rouhana’s arguments on this point, which struck me as disingenuous.

Rouhana’s claim that “Nowhere in mainstream Zionist discourse was it ever seriously considered to share the land with its people” is false and easily disproved by reading Herzl’s own writings, as well as other sources. What is “exclusive” is Rouhana’s concept of Palestine as Judenrein—the idea that Zionism was purely an external, colonial phenomenon that could only be fulfilled through force.

He quotes Hannah Arendt in the course of his argument, but Arendt in fact took the opposite view. Rouhana also miminizes the role of Palestinian violence, acknowledging it but arguing that Israeli guilt is the real source of fear. A reading by Alon Harel pointed out that “the majority of the interests served by Palestinian return could also be served—at least partially—by establishing a Palestinian state.”

We also read a selection from Benvenisti, Gans and Hanafi that provided some substance on the issue of compensation. Their analysis was somewhat biased, however: for example, it failed to note the overly broad UNWRA definition of “refugee.” Also, they endorse the idea that “Palestinian refugees were themselves the indirect victims of the German displacement of Jews,” which is abhorrent.

It is hard to imagine Israel accepting the burden of compensation for a problem that it bears, at most, partial responsibility for creating. It seems more likely that a collective fund will be created with contributions from the international community (as usual, the Arab states will likely escape responsibility). Most Palestinian claims would then be adjudicated internally. One can imagine variations on this theme.

Finally, we read a bit of Raef Zreik, who shares Rouhana’s misconceptions about Israel and history. These lead him to draw analogies to apartheid South Africa. It is clear from his description of the supposed similarities and differences between the two that he does not understand South African history, either. Yet he still rejects a rights-based approach as not radical enough! A fitting end to the course.

08 December 2007 - Philippe Karsenty comes to Harvard

This coming Tuesday, French media critic Philippe Karsenty will be speaking at Harvard University as the guest of the Harvard Law School Alliance For Israel and Harvard Students for Israel.

The details, for anyone in the Boston area, are as follows:

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11th, 7:30 p.m.

Karsenty's address received a mention in last week's Jerusalem Post.

07 December 2007

07 December 2007 - Two different perspectives on the same event

This week's Harvard Law School Record published an article by Justice For Palestine about the Chomsky event, on the same page as an article by yours truly. The contrast is quite striking. I submit both testimonies to the jury: which is more credible?

Justice for Palestine; Justice for All

by JFP Board

Events hosted by Justice for Palestine (JFP) at HLS tend to provoke strong reactions. While such reactions may be unavoidable, we believe that JFP stands above all for open discussion. What we truly seek to provoke is critical thought and re-examination of easy assumptions and mainstream stories. Thus, we value every opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation about the thorny legal, political, and moral questions presented by one of the longest military occupations of recent history.

One of JFP's recent events, which took place last Thursday, was a panel entitled "40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA" in recognition of the fact that these dates are defining moments in the Israeli-Arab conflict, and that Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans are the conflict's central agents.

The panel featured a nuanced discussion between several well-known American scholars on the history and future of the issue. Linguist and activist professor Noam Chomsky of MIT challenged the mainstream historical account of the development of peace proposals since the 1970s, presenting an alternative narrative of Israeli and American scuppering of peace deals proposed by the international community and the Arab states.

Historian and political economics professor Beshara Doumani of UC Berkeley focused on the question of Palestinian agency and provided an internal critique of the form of Palestinian political organization. Doumani argued that Palestinian political organization must develop to more inclusively take account of the different constitutive groups that together form the Palestinian people.

Social psychologist and conflict resolution professor Nadim Rouhana of George Mason University argued that certain political and social processes within Israeli society not only stand in the way of an end to the conflict, but in fact exacerbate it and intensify its danger. While criticizing the view that the conflict is one of legal and power symmetry between the parties, he urged all Palestinians to seriously engage the Israeli Jewish community to resolve the deadlock.

During the following question-and-answer session, moderated by HLS professor Janet Halley, the panelists discussed the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Chomsky argued that the implementation of such a right was completely impractical, as the Taba negotiations of 2001 demonstrated; Doumani and Rouhana differed about whether Palestinians could, or ethically should, give up a fundamental human right, notwithstanding its ability to be realistically implemented.

In response to another question asking whether the panelists believed that the Palestinians had never had true agency to address their situation and, if so, how they viewed the first intifada, Chomsky agreed that the first intifada exemplified Palestinian political agency, but pointed out that it was suppressed by the Israelis.

Rouhana noted that the Palestinian political experience, though by no means lacking in agency, was fundamentally shaped by its experience as an indigenous population unable to successfully resist foreign settlers, and Doumani pointed out that his critique of the Palestinian political movement centered around the issue of focusing Palestinian agency.

By hosting this panel, JFP aimed both to spark a genuine dialogue within the Harvard community and to emphasize that justice for Palestinians is an objective which does not imply injustice to anyone else. (Indeed, if anything, the speakers on the panel reiterated that a solution predicated on justice for all involved in the conflict would be the only means of achieving its long-term resolution.)

JFP does not endorse particular answers. Rather, we are committed to asking questions, critiquing pre-packaged ideological solutions on all sides of the issue, and generating different ways of thinking about answers. We seek to do this through civilized and critical conversation, and we gauge each of our events by its effectiveness in attracting an audience of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. By these standards, last Thursday's panel - attended by a broad range of individuals from the Harvard and larger Cambridge communities - was a resounding success.

JFP is only one piece of the puzzle. Even at HLS there are other organizations active in relation to this issue. What JFP seeks to provide, however, is a unique and in-depth perspective that has often, regrettably, been absent from serious public debate in this country. True to the spirit of HLS and the study of the law, justice is central to our agenda. We hope that critical engagement with this debate and these issues will take us further down the road towards justice for all, without which, we believe, there cannot be justice at all.

This piece was written by the board members of Justice for Palestine at Harvard Law School.

JFP Panel Promotes Gridlock in Middle East

by Joel Pollak

It all began with a traffic accident. Twenty years ago this month, a fatal collision that killed four young Palestinians sparked widespread rioting in the West Bank and Gaza. Deadly confrontations with Israeli soldiers led to further protests. The intifada was born. Israelis woke up to the reality of two decades of occupation. Palestinians woke up to a long-suppressed national consciousness, and demanded a state alongside Israel.

That critical historical moment was all but forgotten at the panel discussion hosted by HLS Justice For Palestine last Thursday evening in Austin North, entitled "40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA." Ironically, it fell to me, in my capacity as president of HLS Alliance For Israel, to remind the 200-plus crowd that Palestinian history has been more than a series of helpless defeats.

The evening's refrain was an admonishment to Palestinians not to take seriously the agreements and promises of last week's Annapolis peace conference, and to reject the path to the two-state solution in favor of a more radical ideal. The speakers were Noam Chomsky (MIT), Beshara Doumani (Berkeley), and Nadim Rouhana (George Mason), who differed only in the precise details of the hopelessness they prescribed.

Chomsky threw up this gem: "If a constellation of forces arose that forced the Israelis to accept the right of return, they would use their nuclear deterrent to destroy the world." Next, Doumani complained that "Palestinians in the occupied territories are being force-fed a state" and reiterated his published view that statehood would mean "preempting, rather than delivering, self-determination."

Not to be outdone, Rouhana offered his own counsel of despair: "Israel as society and state is becoming ready to commit crimes against humanity on a scale that exceeds what is happening now. They are ready, prepared, and willing to do that." Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he declared. "We have to de-colonize Israel within the pre-1967 borders, and after the 1967 borders."

Hearing all of this, I was tempted to wonder whether Chomsky, Doumani and Rouhana were Zionist agents in disguise. If Israel really were committed to destroying the Palestinians, it could hardly have picked a more unscrupulous bunch of propagandists to convince Palestinians to give up the struggle for statehood and accept that they are doomed to be the passive victims of history, never its agents.

Even Chomsky's exaggeration of Israeli nuclear capabilities and designs could well serve such purposes. Never mind that Israeli leaders have specifically rejected the idea of attacking civilian targets even if the existence of the state were at stake. It is useful for Israel's enemies to fear the massive retaliation Chomsky promises; it's the best way to establish an effective threat, short of actually nuking something.

But Chomsky's effectiveness as an Israeli provocateur is limited by his disregard for the facts. For example, he claimed on Thursday that Arab states offered Israel a two-state solution in a UN resolution in 1976. However, that year's UN resolution on the "Question of Palestine" failed to even mention the word "Israel," and Yasser Arafat continued to reject the two-state solution until December 1988.

Even small facts could not escape unharmed. Chomsky claimed, for example, that Ha'aretz is "Israel's leading daily," yet it barely has one-tenth the circulation of Yediot Aharonot. And neither Chomsky nor his fellow panelists mentioned Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians. They also repeatedly described the Second Lebanon War of 2006 as an Israeli "invasion," neglecting Hezbollah's initial raid as well as the thousands of rockets it fired at Israeli cities.

Doumani was more useful from a hard-line Israeli point of view, regurgitating radical slogans that would make even left-wing Israelis suspicious of Palestinian commitment to the peace process. "Palestinians have the right to use any means necessary including force," he claimed, adding weakly that Palestinians had to "discuss" non-violence. And this after years of suicide bombing and self-destructive civil war!

Rouhana played right along, vowing: "There is simply no way that Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state." He also argued that Israel's achievements as a society "could not have been done without force and violence." These are views one typically hears from the most intransigent Israelis, explaining why Israel should not negotiate at all, and why the Palestinian proto-state should be allowed to destroy itself.

The late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is often denounced for having said of Palestinians: "They did not exist." But they still do not exist for Chomsky, Doumani, and Rouhana. There is no event in recent Palestinian history, good or bad, for which they hold Palestinians responsible. Everything is determined, in Doumani's words, by the "iron law" of Israeli, British and American control.

George Orwell observed that nationalism "may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty." Such is the Palestinian nationalism of Chomsky, et al. These are not "pro-Palestinian" activists. They have little to say about the achievements and prospects of the Palestinian people. They are simply against Israel, not for Palestine.

If the Palestinian people are to succeed in fulfilling the aspirations they first began to articulate twenty years ago, they will have to ignore the Chomskys of the world and use Annapolis as the foundation of a new, positive nationalism that aims to establish a state alongside Israel in peace, security and harmony.

Joel Pollak is President of HLS Alliance for Israel.

05 December 2007

04 December 2007 - Matory can't take the heat

Today I went to hear an address by J. Lorand Matory, the Harvard professor who proposed a motion at last month’s faculty meeting affirming “civil dialogue,” on the grounds that critics of Israel “tremble in fear” on campus. Matory seems to have lost the debate on the merits, especially after these pieces in the Harvard Crimson and these blogs at Commentary and the New Republic (followed by Matory’s response):

Academic Dishonesty” – Crimson staff editorial

Harvard Sucks” – Adam Goldenberg, Crimson columnist

Who’s Really Trembling?” – Julia Bertelsmann, Crimson op-ed contributor

’Free Speech’ at Harvard” – Eric Trager, Commentary

Harvard, Censorship and Anti-Semitism” – Martin Peretz, New Republic

Orwellian Uses of Free Speech” – J. Lorand Matory

Today’s lecture was entitled “What’s Troubling About Zionism: An African-American Perspective.” I thought this might have indicated that Matory, having failed in his free speech ploy, was going to play the race card. Actually, Matory said little—and knew even less—about black American views of Israel. He spent most of the time simply talking about his life, his experiences, his views—himself.

He began by describing his childhood in Washington, D.C. and his early exposures to Jews. His father took him to something called the Jewish Ethical Society. There, he said, he was taught that Israel was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Little did he realize, he said, that when he was enjoying his milk and cookies he was also “imbibing the justification for settler colonialism.”

This was only one of several myths that were later shattered for the young Matory, including the mouse on the Mayflower and the cowboys and Indians (he suffered, poor fellow, the trauma of admitting to his friends that he backed the Indians). Nonetheless, his early encounters with Jews were formative. He told us, bizarrely, that he read his first Playboy magazine at the Society; he had found it in the trash.

“Jewish people were, and still are, our good neighbors and friends,” he continued. “I hated the Nazis and what they had done to Jewish people.” But he had come to see Israel as a settler-colonialist regime. “How could they feel so little guilt, that in the middle of the 20th century, when everyone else was moving towards human rights and independence, they were setting up a new settler colony?” he asked himself.

“I had reservations about persecuted Europeans having safe haven on lands stolen from black and brown people,” he said. “I saw myself in the Palestinians.” He then presented a shockingly crude and inaccurate history of the Arab-Israeli conflict: Jews steal land from Arabs, Israel supports apartheid South Africa, Cynthia McKinney loses her congressional seat because of the pro-Israel lobby, and so on.

Matory then turned a critical eye on the Arab states—not for their rejection of Israel, but for their treatment of black people. “Many Arabs call me ‘abd, or slave, and contemptuously so. People in the Sudan are riding roughshod over people they consider black like me.” He added that the Cherokee nation recently voted to expel its black members, illustrating the “lack of identification among the oppressed.”

“None of this justifies Israeli atrocities towards Palestinians,” he said. But he had “never sensed that when African-Americans have stood up for Palestinian rights and paid the price that we could count on reciprocal support from the Arab and Muslim world.” (This was a message apparently aimed at his hosts, the Harvard Law School Justice For Palestine, which he evidently took as a proxy for Arabs.)

And what “price” was that? A price so heavy, he said, that black critics of Israel refuse to stand up “for fear they will be crushed by the bull elephant of Zionism.” He gave several examples of what he claimed was the suppression of criticism of Israel at Harvard: the “un-inviting” of several speakers, the “loss of career opportunities” (he gave no evidence), and, most recently, the faculty decision to table his motion.

Matory claimed that the faculty had “illegally” cut off debate, although according to reports in the Crimson there simply weren’t enough professors there to form a quorum. He also claimed that Harvard had canceled an invitation to UK poet Tom Paulin because of his “criticisms” of Israel (he neglected to mention that Paulin had said that Jewish settlers “should be shot dead”—hardly mere criticism).

He also spoke about the cancellation of an appearance by Norman Finkelstein at the Harvard Book Store (a private shop not affiliated with Harvard); the legal and political battles by Alan Dershowitz to stop publication of Finkelstein’s anti-Dershowitz rant, Beyond Chutzpah; and an alleged boycott organized by the owner of Wordsworth Books against WBUR, the local National Public Radio affiliate.

All these, he said, created an atmosphere of fear for critics of Israel at Harvard. The suppression of anti-Israel views, he said, was in the same category of “absurdity” as the exclusion of Hamas from the Annapolis peace negotiations. He complained about receiving hate mail, and about “resistance from a moneyed and media-connected Israeli defence force” (whether in general or particular, I couldn’t tell).

Having rested his case, Matory opened the floor for questions. What he had said until that point struck me as radical and perhaps even antisemitic (“moneyed and media-connected”), but not particularly unusual. But he had maintained a cool, dulcet-toned demeanor, speaking evenly and articulately, doing his best to charm his audience. I was not prepared for what was to follow.

The first questioner was a left-wing Israeli who said that in his two years at Harvard, he had been to more pro-Palesitnian events than pro-Israel ones, and yet had never experienced repression of any point of view. The Harvard Book Store, he said, wasn’t even part of Harvard—

“Did I say it was?” thundered Matory.

“No, but you suggested that it was connected, and the Harvard Coop—“

“Did I ever mention that?” Matory boomed.

I was amazed by Matory’s sudden and unprovoked anger. I jotted in my notes: “EXTREMELY combative.” Matory responded in the same way to most of the questions asked. There were a few friendly ones: one fellow from the community claimed Matory was being suppressed by Dershowitz, who had dared to write an article about the whole affair. “How is that suppression?” I interjected, to no avail.

Nimer Sultany, an Arab citizen of Israel, asked Matory to describe the different attitudes of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Middle East issue. It struck me as a strategically stupid question, because King’s support for Israel is fairly well-known. Matory claimed not to know what they felt—this in a lecture on African-American perspectives on Zionism—but added that “many people believe the reason he was killed was that he was venturing into areas not dealing with American life,” implying that he might even have been set up by Zionists.

An undergraduate student asked Matory to justify his historical claims. “Five Arab armies invaded Israel in 1948—“

“That’s irrelevant!” he shouted.

“And the Jewish refugees from Arab countries—“

“That has nothing to do with the dispossession of Palestinians!”

He asked her a question, then continued to shout her down. “You’re silencing me,” she said patiently.

“No, I am not,” he declared.

“You asked her a question,” I interjected.

“It was a rhetorical question!” he cried. “This is not a factual issue.” That is, the facts are as I say they are, and the way I say they are is beyond debate. Undaunted, she persisted with her questions. “If you really believe in free speech, why have you only brought copies of your own articles to this meeting [which were being handed out as she spoke], and not copies of articles that disagree with you?”

“I don’t have to represent other views!”

“Then how can you claim to support robust debate?”

The moderator called on the next person to ask a question, but Matory interrupted to tackle the student again. “If someone runs into my car, and I run out of it screaming, the problem is not my screaming but the guy who ran into my car,” he bellowed.

“Five Arab states invade. Who’s driving the car?” she asked.

“It’s as if someone took over my house, and I’m shouting ‘Get out of my house!’” he yelled. “And they refuse to leave. ‘Get out of my house!’”

After this weird exchange, the questioner resumed. It turned out that he was none other than the former owner of Wordsworth Books, Hillel Stavis, whom Matory had excoriated for allegedly organizing a boycott of WBUR. Stavis extended his hand to Matory, who took it, but after that things soon got ugly.

Stavis began recounting his version of events, and he was clearly irritated by the way Matory had portrayed things. “I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony,” he said. “I don’t know where to begin.” He decided to start by saying that he had never hosted Norman Finkelstein at his store, but he had never had Alan Dershowitz, either. He had stocked a “preponderance of anti-Israel literature in my bookstore,” easily measured in board-feet, since that was what was published more often.

“It is slander,” Stavis continued, “to say that I led a boycott of other sponsors” of public radio in Boston. What happened, he said, was that he had been a supporter of WBUR for 20 years, until the second intifada. Concerned by the station’s coverage of events, he sought a meeting with editors Jane Christo and Kevin Klose.

Stavis asked them why WBUR was constantly airing stories about Palestinian refugees from 1948, but had never once aired a story about Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Klose said that WBUR had indeed aired such stories, and Stavis, taking a risk, offered him a $100 wager that the station had never done so. After weeks of research, Klose came up with nothing but a passing comment on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross—a program not even produced by the local affiliate.

After that, Stavis said, he decided to stop contributing to WBUR. Other contributors did the same. Yet he had not encouraged them to do so, he said: “I defy you to find a single shred of evidence that I told anyone to boycott WBUR,” he challenged Matory. At the same time, he noted, his own store had been relentlessly picketed by protestors who claimed that he was trying to silence criticism of Israel.

“In the end,” he said, “my business went under. Maybe the protests had something to do with it. Personally, I blame Amazon.com. But I never organized a boycott.”

Matory then responded, arguing that Stavis had indeed organized a boycott, citing a 2002 article in the Boston Globe as his source. Stavis then said he would consider legal action, and Matory shouted something back, and Stavis, irritated, muttered “bullshit” under his breath. “You see?” cried Matory triumphantly. “That is how he behaves. He tries to stifle free speech by threatening to sue me.”

(I’ve since read all the Globe articles on the topic, and in each one Stavis makes it clear that his decision to withdraw funding form WBUR was his alone. The articles also note that Stavis sits on the board of CAMERA, the Committee For Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, which was encouraging boycotts of NPR at the time. But as for a direct connection between Stavis and a broader WBUR boycott, there’s none save his own withdrawal of support. In any case, there’s nothing coercive or repressive about withholding voluntary contributions to a nonprofit, or even encouraging other people to do so!)

I managed to get the last word in, and it was—for me, anyway—worth the wait. I asked Matory why, if he claimed that critics of Israel were subject to unfair attack, he routinely attacked fellow Harvard professors for their opinions without actually substantiating his claims. “Name one,” he said.

“Well, I don’t want to get sidetracked,” I responded, “but let me mention just one. In your recent article, you attacked certain views on race and gender. It’s clear you meant Larry Summers. I find it interesting that you were the one who proposed a motion to censure Summers for expressing his views. You tried to chase him out of the university. So are you really for free speech, or just free speech for yourself?”

“I didn’t try to chase him out of the university,” he said. “I believe he has the freedom to express his views as a member of the faculty, and I welcomed him back to the faculty. But I felt that his views were improper for a university president who has to make important decisions for all of us. And anyway, the real reason he had to resign was that he had poor relationships with the university administrators.”

“I see,” I responded. “And did you propose a motion about that?”

“No,” he said, “but there was also the issue of his financial dealings in Russia…”

“Oh,” I said. “Surely you proposed a motion on that.”

“No,” he said.

“So you censured him because of his opinions.”


“You ran him out of a job, didn’t you?”

That was the end of it. Matory had no answer in the face of clear evidence of his own hypocrisy. I found him to be an excessively vain man, determined to cast himself as a hero of the “oppressed,” a martyr in the fight against the “moneyed and media-connected” interests. He claims to be the champion of free speech, but he can’t take the heat of debate, and turns into the Incredible Hulk when faced with basic questions. In truth, Matory has less to fear from censorship than exposure.

03 December 2007

03 December 2007 - Stop the hysteria

I am very much in favor of negotiating agreements, and even attaching a certain urgency to the peace process. But Israeli and American leaders have been running around and telling everyone that the sky will fall on our heads if Annapolis fails. This strikes me as a dangerous sort of hysteria, especially given that the chances of success are small and that time is something Israel can, for once, afford.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Ha’aretz last week: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” That doesn’t strike me as the wisest posture to strike going into a new round of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Olmert, by the way, seems to like inflating the power of American Jews to Mearsheimer-and-Walt-like proportions, and then doing the opposite. Last Wednesday, Olmert said: “The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us, because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents."

Earlier, however, on Monday, Olmert denied that Jews in the Diaspora had any say over the future of Jerusalem, saying that “the government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel.” Well, which is it? Are American Jews the masters of Israel’s fate? Or are they a marginal group, easily flicked aside? The real answer is neither, but for Olmert’s changing purposes they are both.

Adding to the desperate confusion, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice compared her experience growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era to the experiences of both Israelis and Palestinians. That is not only inaccurate but unwise, because it might be construed as support for a single-state solution as the only means of bringing about “full integration.”

The peace process is very important. But it is not, at this stage, desperately important. The most urgent priorities are ending violence and terror in Gaza; improving the Palestinian economy; and forming a united front against Iran. Olmert and Rice are both effectively lame ducks. This might inspire them to work for peace, but their personal deadlines are not necessarily everyone else’s deadlines.

02 December 2007 - Israel/Palestine: Week 11

Last week’s class coincided with the opening of the Annapolis summit between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the representatives of several Arab states. One might expect that the readings would have focused on legal issues relating to the two-state solution, beyond Jerusalem. Instead, we chased the binational dystopia—not a proposal for co-operation, in this instance, but for ending Israel.

Our guest speaker was Beshara Doumani, who also featured on the Chomsky panel last week. He didn’t really want to talk about the binational solution, but on “realistic” political options for Palestinians. These included reconceptualizing the idea of the Palestinian political community, mobilizing against the Annapolis proposals for statehood, and demonizing Israel as usual. Very realistic, indeed.

Doumani claimed (in class and in the assigned reading) that Zionists, the UK and US always failed to make room for Palestinians. Excuse me? Who accepted, and who rejected, partition? Who accepted, and who rejected, 242? He also declared that a Palestinian state would prevent self-determination. I told him in response that if Israel really wanted to destroy the Palestinians, he would have been a useful accomplice.

Faced with this criticism, Doumani—having lectured us for half an hour—complained that I was speaking for too long. Ah, the classic cop-out. He was comforted later on by the many students who agreed with him or took what he said seriously. Later he claimed that Israel bore responsibility for what is happening now in Gaza (up to the level of "war crimes"), and implied that American Jews were to blame for goading the world to align against Iran. He claimed I had misunderstood him. I think I understood too well.

We also discussed the binational state (which most people liked in theory). Our basis was an essay by Lama Abu-Odeh, who confuses “binationalism” with proposals for a unitary state. “single political society”; Palestinian claims to Israeli resources—these are just the old rejectionist recipe, containing none of the elements of binationalism, which at the very least requires power-sharing among representatives of two national communities.

Abu-Odeh might be surprised that some of her ideas resemble proposals made by Vladimir Jabotinsky in the early twentieth century. Her version of Jabotinsky’s federalism, however, is rather comical: she proposes that Jewish regions be taxed to pay for Arabs ones. She also expects Mizrachi Jews to move to Palestinian areas; the opposite would be more likely, as Arabs flocked to “European Jewish” regions.

True binationalism died, in no small part due to lack of Arab support in 1947. It was buried in the Middle East by the Lebanese Civil War. It has since been further undermined by the shocking history of Arab persecution of minorities, for example in Darfur. The two-state solution remains the only way to advance the aspirations of both peoples. What a shame we have given it such meager consideration.