Tuesday, April 25, 2017

New York Times continues to flunk geography

The New York Times responded swiftly to pressure last week from Israel and its supporters.

When the paper published an opinion piece about the new hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners, “a rash of readers” objected, according to Liz Spayd, its public editor – who insulted with her word choice even as she backed their case.

The readers were angered, she suggested, by a “distorted characterization” of Marwan Barghouti, the article’s author.

When the piece was originally published online a week ago Sunday, Barghouti was described at the end as a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” After complaints, an editor’s note was appended the following day, stating that Barghouti had been convicted in an Israeli court on “five counts of murder and membership of a terrorist organization.”

Of course, the Times never adds such caveats regarding Israeli leaders who write for the newspaper, even when war crimes they oversaw are detailed by the UN or human rights organizations – perhaps because the international impunity they enjoy means that their Palestinian victims never have their day in court.

It’s far easier for the paper to cite convictions in the colonizer’s courts than to highlight the misdeeds of powerful war criminals who evade justice.

Endless debate?

By contrast with its swift reaction to the Barghouti op-ed, the paper has still not corrected a clear error of fact about Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank to which I alerted it last month.

The error was contained in an article by Russell Goldman on The Walled Off Hotel, a project by the British graffiti artist Banksy.

According to Goldman, the windows of that “nine-room guesthouse” in Bethlehem “overlook the barrier that separates the territory [the West Bank] from Israel.”

That is plainly wrong. The wall – or “barrier” – is not built along the 1967 boundary between present-day Israel and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Rather, it penetrates deep into the West Bank, cutting Palestinians off from their land.

Overall, some 85 percent of the wall extends into the West Bank.

I wrote to the paper several times in March seeking a correction. Beyond automated emails, I got no response.

Both the public editor and the foreign desk ignored me.

Another article about Banksy’s hotel that the Times published in April was also misleading.

Ian Fisher, author of that article, described the wall as an “ugly 26-foot symbol of all that separates Israelis from Palestinians.”

Once again, the Times was implying that the wall separates Israel from the West Bank. Vital context on Israel’s policies of colonization were omitted by Fisher, the paper’s latest bureau chief in Jerusalem.

Fisher adds that the wall has been “endlessly debated.” Part of the debate, he suggests, is whether it constitutes a prison for Palestinians, a “security measure that worked” or even “400 miles of proof of the failure of negotiations.”

He doesn’t mention that despite its land grabs of Palestinian territory, long stretches of the wall have not been completed, or that the end of suicide bombings in Israeli cities can better be explained by Palestinian factions’ abandonment of the tactic.

Fisher also neglects to mention that the International Court of Justice ruled the wall illegal back in 2004.

Repeated corrections

The reticence I have encountered from The New York Times lately appears to be new.

I have been in contact with that paper for many years. Its journalists and editors have repeatedly corrected articles at my urging.

They have generally been prompt. But they have not always been gracious.

In a May 2003 telephone conversation, a New York Times editor, Bill Borders, called me “obdurate” and “bull-headed” for having the temerity to argue that a former colleague of mine, Dr. Fadel Abu Hein, had been arrested by the Israelis rather than allowed to leave the scene of fighting – in which he did not participate – “unharmed.”

Weeks later, the newspaper ran a new article that updated his status by asserting, “A prominent Palestinian psychologist who was detained after Israeli troops razed his family home and killed three of his brothers who were Hamas militants has pleaded not guilty to charges of weapons possession and incitement, his family said.” So, the newspaper admitted he was detained, but did not report precisely when this occurred.

At best, this was an implicit admission of having got the story wrong the first time.

The uneven response by the news media matters because Americans are more likely to be aware of – and oppose – Israeli expansionism if they are given accurate information.

Almost 15 years ago, I wrote about how The New York Times was misinforming its readers on basic details regarding the Middle East.

In 2005, the Times’ then public editor Daniel Okrent agreed with my suggestion that the paper’s reporting was too focused on an Israeli perspective.

But the paper is still flunking geography today.

Capitalism: Competition, Conflict and Crises, Lecture 1: Introduction to Course


Macron Headed to the Presidential Polls on May 7th is Expected to Knock Out Le Pen


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why did Ambedkar publicly burn the Manu Smruti in 1927?

Towards Equality: Why did Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar publicly burn the Manu Smruti on December 25, 1927?

Manusmruti Dahan Din

Eight-eight years ago, on December 25, 1927, huge strides were made in the movement for self-dignity of Dalits. Under the leadership of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, a small town/village, Mahad in Konkan, the coastal region of Maharashtra, made history.

Manusmurti Dahan Din. The day that the text of caste Hindus epitomizing hegemony, indignity and cruelty to Dalits and mlecchas (that included women) was publicly burned in a specially constructed symbolic funeral pyre before Dr Ambedkar and thousands of volunteers gathered to protest and agitate.

The Mahad satyagraha (peaceful agitation and protest) had been organised so that Dalits (untouchables) could drink from the Mahad (Chavadar) water tank, a public water source open to all. A previous legal notification of the Collectorate authorised free access to all. Despite the existence of this order, caste hegemony and oppression had not created conditions for access to this facility for the oppressed. On the eve of the protest, caste Brahmins had obtained a stay order from a local court against untouchables accessing water from the tank!

Pressure of an unimaginable kind was put by caste Hindus to somehow abort the protest. This included tightening access to any public ground for the proposed meeting. Finally, a local gentleman Mr. Fattekhan, who happened to be a Muslim, gave his private land for the protest, extending solidarity with the struggle. Arrangements for food and water as also other supplies had to be made meticulously by the organisers facing a revolt in the village. A pledge of sorts had to be taken by the volunteers who participated in the protest. This pledge vowed the following:

I do not believe on Chaturvarna based on birth.

I do not believe in caste distinctions.

I believe that untouchability is an anathema to Hinduism and I will
honestly try my best to completely destroy it.

I will not follow any restrictions about food and drink among at least all Hindus.

I believe that untouchables must have equal rights to access to temples, water sources, schools and other amenities.

The arrival of Dr. Ambedkar to the site of the protest was cloaked in high drama, faced with the possibilities of all kinds of sabotage from other sections of society. He came from Bombay on the boat "Padmavati" via Dasgaon port, instead of Dharamtar (the road journey), despite the longer distance. This was a well-planned strategy, because, in the event of boycott by bus owners, the leaders could walk down five miles to Mahad.

In front of the pandal where Dr Ambedkar made his soul-stirring address, the "vedi" (pyre) was created beforehand to burn the Manusmruti. Six people had been labouring for two days to prepare it. A pit six inches deep and one and half foot square was dug in, and filled with sandalwood pieces.

On its four corners, poles were erected, bearing banners on three sides. The banners said, 

1. "Manusmruti chi dahan bhumi", i.e. Crematorium for Manusmruti.

2. Destroy Untouchability and 

3. Bury Brahmanism.

It was on December 25, 1927, in the late evening, at the conference, that the resolution to burn the Manusmruti was moved by Brahmin associate of Ambedkar, Gangadhar Neelkanth Sahastrabuddhe and was seconded by PN Rajabhoj, an untouchable leader. Thereafter, the book Manusmruti was kept on this pyre and burned. The Brahmin associate of Ambedkar, Gangadhar Neelkanth Sahastrabuddhe and five six other Dalit sadhus completed the task. At the pandal, the only photo placed was that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. This has been interpreted to mean that, at this stage the Dalit leadership, including Dr. Ambedkar had yet to be disillusioned with Gandhi.

In his presidential speech Ambedkar said that the aim of the movement was not only to gain access to the water or the temple or to remove the barriers to commensality; the aim was to break down the varna system which supported inequality in society. He then told his audience about the French Revolution, and explained the main points of the Charter of Human Rights enunciated by the French Revolutionary Council. He pointed out the danger of seeking temporary and inadequate solutions by relating how the rebellion of the plebians of Rome against the patricians failed, primarily because the plebians sought only to gain a tribune of their choice instead of seeking to abolish the system dividing society into patricians and plebians.

In the February 3, 1928 issue of the Bahishkrit Bharat (his own newspaper) he explained the action saying that his reading of the Manusmriti had convinced him that it did not even remotely support the idea of social equality.

The root of untouchabilty lies in prohibition of inter-caste marriages, that we have to break, said Ambedkar in that historic speech. He appealed to higher varnas to let this "Social Revolution" take place peacefully, discard the sastras, and accept the principle of justice, and he assured them peace from our side. Four resolutions were passed and a Declaration of Equality was pronounced. After this, the copy of the Manusmruti was burned

One sees here a definite broadening of the goal of the movement. In terms of the ultimate goal of equality and of the eradication of the varna system, the immediate programme of drinking water from the Mahad water reservoir was a symbolic protest, to herald the onset of a continuing struggle for dignity.

The other crucial points of Dr. Ambedkar’s speech were:

“…So long as the varna system exists the superior status of the Brahmans is ensured….Brahmans do not have the same love of their country that the Samurai of Japan had. Hence one cannot expect them to give up their special social privileges as the Samurai did in the interest of social equality and national unity of Japan. We cannot expect this of the non-Brahman class either. The non-Brahman classes like the Marathas and others are an intermediate category between those who hold the reins of power and those who are powerless. Those who wield power can occasionally be generous and even self-sacrificing. Those who are powerless tend to be idealistic and principled because even to serve their own interest they have to aim at a social revolution. The non-Brahman class comes in between; it can neither be generous nor committed to any principles. Hence they are preoccupied in maintaining their distance from the untouchables instead of with achieving equality with Brahmans. This class is weak in its aspiration for a social revolution…..We should accept that we are born to achieve this larger social purpose and consider that to be our life’s goal. Let us strive to gain that religious merit. Besides, this work (of bringing about a social revolution) is in our interest and it is our duty to dedicate ourselves to remove the obstacles in our path.

There was a strong reaction in the section of the press, perceived to be dominated by the entrenched higher caste interests. Dr Ambedkar was called "Bheemaasura" by one newspaper. Dr. Ambedkar justified the burning of Manusmruti in various articles that he penned after the satyagraha. I n the February 3, 1928 issue of the Bahishkrit Bharat (his own newspaper) he explained the action saying that his reading of the Manusmriti had convinced him that it did not even remotely support the idea of social equality. To burn a thing was to register a protest against the idea it represented. By so doing one expected to shame the person concerned into modifying his behaviour. He said further that it would be futile to expect that any person who revered the Manusmriti could be genuinely interested in the welfare of the Untouchables. He compared the burning of the Manusmriti to the burning of foreign cloth recommended by Gandhi. Protests the world over had used the burning of an article that symbolised oppression to herald a struggle. This was what the Manusmurti Dahan was.


The tactical retreat

Meanwhile, condemned by a sudden Court ruling to hold back the satyagraha of drinking water from the public water tank, Dr Ambedkar explained the dilemma faced by on the one hand the government/British Collector and entrenched high caste interests.

In a note entitled ‘Why the Satyagraha was Suspended’ in the 3 February 1928 issue of the Bahishkrit Bharat, Ambedkar said:

“The untouchables are caught between the caste Hindus and the government. They can attack one of the two. There is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that today they do not have the strength to attack both of them at the same time. When the caste Hindus refused to concede the legitimate rights of untouchables as human beings willingly and on their own initiative, we thought it wise to arrive at a peace (agreement) with the government…… There is a world of difference between a satyagraha launched by caste Hindus and one launched by untouchables. When the caste Hindus initiate a satyagraha it is against the government and they have community support….. When the untouchables launch a satyagraha all the caste Hindus are arraigned against us.”

He observed further that the agitation of the untouchables was not limited to the Mahad water tank. It had been launched to achieve the larger goals the untouchables had set for themselves. The answer to whether it could have been sustained depended upon one’s estimate of the loss and the hurt that would have resulted from the satyagraha and the means that were available to protect the people from this loss and hurt. If the people had seen that they could not recover from the loss inflicted on them by one satyagraha in Mahad they would never rise again to join another satyagraha. This question had to be weighed.

What stands out is the openly rational, almost calculated approach to the strategy of the struggle and a willingness to present it as such. There is no effort to obfuscate or mystify it. Ambedkar responded to the concern that the withdrawal of the satyagraha would give caste-Hindu slanderers an opportunity to scoff at the untouchable leaders, by saying merely that he had not launched the satyagraha to win their approbation.

The Social Context of an Ideology, Ambedkar’s Social and Political Thought, MS Gore, Sage Publications

Thursday, April 20, 2017

New US bill would punish settlement boycotters

New bill in Congress backed by AIPAC aims to thwart international measures to hold Israel accountable for settlements built on occupied Palestinian land.

US Senator Ben Cardin is once again trying to pass legislation designed to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
During the last Congressional session, the Maryland Democrat succeeded in sneaking language into a must-pass trade bill making it a “principal negotiating objective” of the United States “to discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel” while negotiating trade deals.
This discouragement of BDS extended to boycotts of products originating from settlements in what the bill euphemistically referred to as “Israeli-controlled territories.” All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights are illegal under international law.
But with the Trump administration’s skepticism toward free trade deals and its withdrawal of the United States from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, it seems unlikely that the United States in the near term will be leveraging anti-BDS pressure through trade negotiations as Cardin envisioned.
With BDS continuing to gain momentum, Cardin went back to the drawing board and introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act on 23 March, designed to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The powerful Israel lobby group duly made the bill one of its top legislative priorities.
The Senate version of the bill – S.720 – currently has 18 cosponsors – 14 Republicans and four Democrats.
Its counterpart in the House – H.R.1697 – introduced by Illinois Republican Peter Roskam, has 91 co-sponsors at present, about two-thirds of them Republicans.
The bill opposes the creation of a database of Israeli settlement companies by the UN Human Rights Council and any efforts to boycott those companies’ products.
According to Cardin and the other original sponsors of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, the bill also seeks to “prevent the implementation of similar ‘blacklists’ or boycotts in the future.”
It aims to do so in a heavy-handed manner: by imposing governmental sanctions – denial of loans, fines and even potentially jail time – on companies complying with calls from the UN Human Rights Council to boycott Israeli settlement products.
Shrewdly shrouded
If it becomes law, the bill could also sweep up in its broad ambit companies refusing to do business with Israeli settlements whatever their source of inspiration for doing so may be. These sanctions would also apply to potential future international governmental calls for a broader boycott of Israel.
The draconian nature of the bill is shrewdly shrouded. None of the above-mentioned sanctions are specified in the actual text of the bill.
Only by closely examining the underlying laws which would be amended by this bill does its intent become evident: to harshly punish those companies which exercise their First Amendment-protected right to engage in boycotts of Israeli settlement products.
The bill seeks to amend two laws – the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 – to accomplish its aim.
The Export Administration Act is the primary law which makes it illegal for US corporations to comply with the Arab League boycott of Israel. The Department of Commerce maintains an Office of Anti-Boycott Compliance to ensure US corporations do not participate in the Arab League boycott and to fine those that do.
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would amend this law to encompass “restrictive trade practices or boycotts fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or requests to impose restrictive trade practices or boycotts by any international governmental organization against Israel.”
Even if a corporation was not responding directly to a call from an international governmental organization to boycott Israel or even settlement products, it could still run afoul of this bill if its actions are perceived to “have the effect of furthering or supporting” this boycott.
The potential penalties for violating this bill are steep: a minimum $250,000 civil penalty and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years imprisonment, as stipulated in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
The bill specifies that international governmental organizations include the United Nations and European Union, a clear indication the legislation is intended to counteract the limited steps the UN Human Rights Council has taken to catalog Israeli settlement products and the EU’s labeling – but not prohibition – of those products.
Protecting settlements
The bill also amends the Export-Import Bank Act to make it possible for the bank to “deny applications for credit” to corporations whose policies and actions “are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with citizens or residents of Israel, entities organized under the laws of Israel, or the Government of Israel.”
The legislation refers back to the definition of BDS enshrined in law in the last congressional session to include “Israeli-controlled territories,” thereby making the harsh sanctions applicable to actions solely targeting Israeli settlements.
The bill concludes with a dubious stipulation that nothing in it “shall be construed to alter the established policy of the United States or to establish new United States policy concerning final status issues associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict, including border delineation, that can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties.”
However, by establishing such stringent penalties for corporations that respond to nascent international governmental organizations’ efforts to end trade in Israeli settlement products, the bill does in fact attempt to dramatically alter US policy.
Growing consensus
For the past 50 years, official US policy has held that Israel’s settlements are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and illegal under international law. The bill seeks to undermine this determination by penalizing companies refusing to do business with Israeli settlements and conversely attempts to legitimize their status.
Under existing law, corporations can only be penalized for adhering to the Arab League boycott of Israel. Cardin’s bill would vastly widen this net by also ensnaring corporations that support international governmental organizations’ boycotts of Israeli settlement products or even those which are perceived as furthering those boycotts.
Last year, Human Rights Watch urged that all corporations had to end all business in or with settlements in order to comply with their human rights obligations, and that governments are responsible for taking steps to discourage settlements.
“Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources,” Arvind Ganesan, director of the group’s business and human rights division, said.
There is also a growing consensus among international legal scholars that trade in settlement goods violates international law.
Activists are organizing against this bill because they believe that if passed, it could stymie campaigns by the Palestine solidarity movement to pressure corporations to cut ties to Israel or even with Israeli settlements.