Richard Falk is again in the headlines. The Professor Emeritus of Political Science, after a long career at Princeton, now the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council on Occupied Palestinian Territories, has called for a boycott of companies that do business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
This is against the background of a 2010 report Falk authored, that carried such headings as
- Continuing expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories
- The de facto annexation of East Jerusalem
- Expulsions from East Jerusalem as a means to annexation
- West Bank roads and international complicity in perpetuating the occupation
- Continuation of the Gaza blockade
- Abuse of children by Israeli authorities in the occupied territories
There is nothing in the 2010 report, or Falk''s most recent recommendations, about Palestinian intransigence or internal conflicts that stand in the way of settling the conflict, or the tens of thousands of rockets and other kinds of violence that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank continue to direct against Israeli civilians.
Falk thereby establishes himself in the long line of Jews who have taken extreme and one-sided positions against Israeli or Jewish interests. Richard Goldstone and Noam Chomsky are in the same cluster, along with some lesser known Israeli academics who urge boycotts against their own country and universities. Currently among our squabbles is one concerned with political scientists at Ben Gurion University who have so turned their Department of Politics and Government into an anti-Zionist bastion as to bring the Council of Higher Education--with a reputation that is respectful of academic freedom--to order its closure. Falk et al belong in the same encyclopedia article with medieval Jews who sought favor with Christian churchmen and princes by telling them of "anti-Christian" material in the Talmud. Thanks to them, Jews altered their sacred texts, and while some editions still note opinions about the proper relationship of Jews with "goyim," other editions fudge the issue by referring to "Egyptians," "Romans," or "pagans."
Falk''s reports are so extreme as to attract condemnation not only from Israel''s representative to the United Nations, but also from those of the United States and other western governments. According to an official American statement (issued 18 months in advance of the 2012 election)
"The report’s conclusions and recommendations are seriously flawed. The Special Rapporteur fails to adequately address the responsibility of Hamas in the lead up to the Gaza conflict, and indeed, seeks to minimize that responsibility. Falk also fails to address the real and serious abuses and violations of international law by Hamas in Gaza as it seeks to promote its radical agenda and entrench itself in power, including everything from unlawful killings to harassing NGOs, limiting their ability to provide humanitarian assistance. The Special Rapporteur also deliberately misconstrues elements of U.S. efforts to advance a comprehensive Middle East peace. His call for further boycotts and divestments from Israel is highly inappropriate, and, if implemented, would only serve to heighten tensions in the region and move the parties further from peace."
There is an intriguing contrast between Falk and two Israeli politicians.
The latest Falk flap comes at the same time as the announced union between two Israeli political parties in the run-up to this country''s election. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israeli our Home) have created a party they call Likud our Home.
The two individuals have worked closely, separated, and again came together since Lieberman''s first serious political office as Director-General of Likud when Netanyahu was party leader 1993-96, and then Director-General of the Prime Minister''s Office during Netanyahu''s first term 1996-97.
Initial responses to the party union from centrist and leftist politicians branded it extremist. Some Likud Members of Knesset also expressed their opposition. They accused their party head of moving too far to the right, perhaps out of concern that bringing politicians from Israel our Home into Likud would reduce their own chances of getting a high enough place on the new party''s list to assure their return to the next Knesset.
A fairer assessment is that the Netanyahu-Lieberman combine is right of center, but not extremist. Lieberman himself has moderated his pronouncements as Foreign Minister. Some Likud MKs accuse him of not being sufficiently clear in support of settlements. Labor Party leader Shelli Yehimovitch, when pressed by an interviewer to say that she would never coalesce with Likud our Home, avoided ruling out her participation in a post-election coalition with the new party. Individuals affiliated with Israel our Home in the current government, notably Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich, have both acted as responsible professionals, reflecting their backgrounds in the Foreign Ministry and the Police. They would fit with any left-of-center to right-of-center Israeli government.
Speculation is that the Netanyahu-Lieberman union will push three or four claimants of leading the Israeli center (Livni, Lapid, Mofaz, Olmert) to form some kind of unity. Until now, however, none of these self-appointed Messiahs have been able to accept second place on anyone else''s party list.
The moderation of the Israeli government (including Netanyahu and Lieberman in key positions since 2009) appears in the contrast between Israel''s actions vis a vis Gaza and the hyperbole of Richard Falk. Not only have Israel''s responses to periodic episodes of rockets and other attacks been measured and directed against individuals involved in the violence, but the moderation is apparent in what has not been discussed. Politicians, military personnel, and the media have avoided talking about some potentially juicy targets, including high-rise, upscale apartment blocks, that could--in an explicit--tit for tat--be turned to dust along with their occupants in response to rockets aimed at Sderot, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, and other Israeli cities and towns.
Gaza has miserable slums, but also some spiffy developments seldom portrayed by those concerned to emphasize Gazans'' suffering. Pictures are available here, here, and here.
Most rockets from Gaza land in empty fields, and most of those aimed at cities are brought down by Israeli anti-missile missiles. However, enough get through to civilian areas to cause deaths, injuries, property damage, and a great deal of anxiety. Israeli governments, including that led by Netanyahu and Lieberman, absorb the considerable domestic criticism about their inability to stop the violence coming from Gaza rather than ordering artillery and air strikes that in a matter of minutes could demonstrate to Gaza the cost of targeting Israeli civilians.
Those who know what U.S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman did to the Confederacy, what Harry Truman did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the British did to Dresden may be asking why Israel does not do it to Gaza. Or maybe to Tehran.
The Israeli reality is that such options are not in the discussion.
You want extremism?
Look to Richard Falk and not to Israel.