NEW YORK — Michelle Alexander, a now-famous scholar for her work on race relations and her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” calling for public discourse on how Israel oppresses Palestinians. A significant part of her column analyzed how Martin Luther King would not have stayed silent on the current state of affairs.
David Harris responded with what the Times of Israel called a “Featured Post,” titled “Michelle Alexander’s NY Times column hits new low.” Harris serves up an astonishingly biased opinion piece that repeatedly challenges Alexander in ways that reveal his belief in debunked Zionist narratives of the history and the present state of Israel. Considering how the Times of Israel chose to feature and thereby endorse the blog post, I felt compelled to respond and break through the myths and false analysis of the commentary. After all, Harris referred to Alexander’s article as a “flawed and polemical piece” and I could not help but to think the same should be said about Harris’ article.
Further, Harris suggested that the New York Times routinely publishes anti-Israel articles when he wrote “[the Times] isn’t exactly new to such pieces.” Yet Harris never supported this assessment of alleged bias with other examples or analyses of the Times past articles on “Israel-related matters.”
It is an especially odd allegation given the New York Times’ coverage of the 2014 Massacre of Gaza. The Times ran a seemingly daily comparison of the number of dead Gazans to the number of rockets fired from Gaza. This rocket count included a large number of “enhanced fireworks,” as Norman Finkelstein calls them, that inflicted negligible damage.
So the New York Times’ comparison showed how many thousands of dead Palestinians vs. how many projectiles that lacked targeting capability and therefore lethality, except for blind luck. When reporting on war and death, such a trivialization of the carnage is anything but anti-Israel bias. Further, does the New York Times now have a weekly count of the rockets fired from the Great March of Return (zero) – compared to the number of Palestinians killed (180 through 12/28/18) and wounded (10,066) by Israeli snipers and other soldiers safely out of harm’s way?
Harris continued on to state, “she present[ed] no convincing evidence that [Martin Luther King] would have agreed with her premise.” Yet a number of Alexander’s paragraphs provided a substantial analysis of why he would, including King’s explicit change of heart on the issue after the 1967 Israeli invasion of neighboring lands. Alexander wrote:
“Ultimately, King canceled a pilgrimage to Israel in 1967 after Israel captured the West Bank. During a phone call about the visit with his advisers, he said, ‘I just think that if I go, the Arab world, and of course Africa and Asia for that matter, would interpret this as endorsing everything that Israel has done, and I do have questions of doubt.’”
Somehow Harris fails to mention this after noting King was a “staunch friend of Israel,” which was the case at an earlier point in time.
Harris then misinterprets Alexander’s “breaking the silence.” Alexander was not suggesting she was the first to do so as Harris indicates. Indeed Alexander notes others’ work that obviously came before her. What Alexander said is that there remains a challenge to speaking out against Israel and she admits she has refrained from doing so in the past. Essentially she is breaking a silence that she and many other have failed to break in the past. In this way, she is leading others to do the same.
“Countless outrages” alleged without justification
Then Harris enumerates “countless outrages” without substantiating any of them. Since all are standard Israeli talking points, each is worth addressing:
- “She unabashedly applauds boycotts of Israel.” Alexander chose to highlight that some large Christian religious organizations have shifted their investments away from companies profiting from the occupation. She also noted that newly elected U.S. Representatives support a boycott and one teacher lost her job for refusing to sign a pledge against a boycott as a condition of employment. Should Alexander be ashamed of supporting such activities, as Harris implies?
Further, this type of protest is how one presses for change in a foreign country, as was the case with South Africa. According to the 1982 Supreme Court decision NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., boycotts are protected free speech. So how is this an outrage? Harris does not say.
- “Falsely accuses the Jewish state of apartheid.” What does one call Israel’s sovereignty through military law over Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for over 50 years with no end in sight? Democracy? Only if one considers such Palestinians as non-humans.
- “Approvingly cites extremist voices like the misnamed Jewish Voice for Peace.” Once again, Harris makes a subjective comment without establishing how JVP is extremist or misnamed. JVP does not call for violence, but rather demands the rights due Palestinians as human beings and under international law. How is that extremist?
- “Endorses the Palestinian ‘right of return.’” This is an odd outrage on two fronts. First, the Palestinian right of return is based upon international law. Israel agreed that membership in the UN according to UN Resolution 273 was conditional upon “Israel’s stated agreement to comply with Resolution 194.” UN Resolution 194 provided for “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.”
Israel has never implemented this Palestinian right of return and, in fact, blocked such a return with laws enforced at gunpoint. Further, the current weekly massacre of Gazans is a direct Israeli response to the Palestinian unarmed protest demanding their right of return.
Second, Israel has enshrined into law the right of Jews to obtain citizenship in Israel based upon a “right of return” that goes back to a supposed connection to the land from well over a millennia ago. Yet Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed in 1947-8, just 0.07 millennia ago, do not enjoy a similar right. It would seem the outrage is in the obviously hypocritical position of supporting the Jewish Right to Return upon an ancient connection to the land, but denying the Palestinian Right to Return supported by international law, with living members of the expelled still holding keys to their homes and deeds to their lands.
- “Which would mean the end of Israel.” The Palestinian right of return would mean that if incentives were not sufficiently provided for the refugees to not return, then there would no longer be a Jewish majority. Merely because the ruling class of the state loses it majority status, gained by virtue of Ethnic Cleansing, it does not mean the end of the state. No, it means the nature of the state ends, but not the state itself. Should the Palestinian right of return finally happen, attendant with the application of the so-called democracy of Israel to all people equally, then Jewish citizens of Israel could no longer rule with the tyranny of the majority oppressing the minority. This is no more an end to Israel then there was an end to South Africa. What the return of Palestinians implies though is that Israel would be compelled to become a just state for all who have a right to live there.
- “Veers dangerously close to anti-Semitism with references to Jewish money.” My guess is that Harris is implicitly acknowledging the flow of large amounts of money from Jewish donors to Israel since in this incidence he writes “dangerously close,” rather than use one of his affirmative summary judgements.
- “Charges the country with endless acts of oppression against both its Arab citizens (who, in reality, are fully active in just about every aspect of Israeli life, including the Supreme Court) and Palestinians.” First one should note the propaganda, the outright lie actually, of this terminology. When Harris refers to “Arab citizens,” he is referring to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Then he refers to those who do not have citizenship living under Israeli sovereignty as Palestinians. Harris is seemingly implying these two different groups of people have a different heritage.
What they actually have is different historical circumstances. The so-called Arab-Israelis are Palestinians who remained within the internationally recognized Green Line after the 1947-8 war. The so-called Palestinians live without citizenship under Israeli domination in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Yet both groups are Palestinian. In essence, the terminology is an attempt to wipe out the idea that there were Palestinians that lived in the territory prior to formation of Israel and deem those whose who are not citizens as somehow outsiders or infiltrators to the land.
Secondly, when it comes to “endless acts of oppression,” I direct readers to two Facebook Pages I co-founded and manage to show the daily “outrages” Palestinians suffer under Israeli oppression. The first, Palestine 365, provided one article for each day in 2016 to show that when the mainstream media is not covering the region, there are constant Israeli provocations through its military rule and apartheid laws. We felt compelled to show that Israel’s massive periodic attacks against Palestinians were not simply due to a breakdown in ceasefires after Palestinians allegedly instigated a new “cycle of violence.” Rather these breakdowns are the result of a constant series of provocations committed by a brutally oppressive Israeli regime that left the defenseless little choice but to finally resist.
In fact, this was the plan that Israeli demographer Arnon Sofer created for Gaza: Make conditions for a sealed-off Gaza so miserable that Palestinians would be compelled to rebel and the Israelis would have to “kill and kill and kill.”
We created a follow-up page, Palestine 365, the Ongoing Oppression, to show additional acts of oppression since 2016. A recurring theme in both pages is that the events covered rarely receive American mainstream media coverage.
Distortions of history
With a limitation on length, we will review only a few more of Harris’ completely biased comments. Harris wrote:
For [Alexander], Israel was settled by European Jews, suggesting outsiders, but there is no reference to the nearly one million Jews expelled from Arab countries.”
Yet there is no doubt the Zionist project was conceived and executed by European Jews, not Arab ones. In addition, Harris fails to acknowledge that the 850,000 Jews that left Arab countries did so after the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-8. Is Harris suggesting that such a blowback is not entirely within human nature and that the predictable outcome was not caused by the Zionist actions? Apparently so. Further, the exodus, not all of which was forced, had periods of ebbs and flows. One such period followed the Suez Crisis after Israel, followed by Great Britain and France, attacked Egypt. Is such an exodus surprising then as well? Yet Harris leaves out these important aspects of history.
Later in the article, Harris accuses Alexander of not understanding the history of the 1967 War. Harris writes, “Nor is there any explanation of how Israel came into possession of the West Bank in 1967.” Here Harris is referring to the Zionist narrative that Israel was under attack in 1967. Historians have revealed this is not the case, though. Citing my own article in Public Comment:
In 1967, Israel initiated a war with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Supposedly a defensive maneuver, Israeli archives reveal that the IDF Chiefs of Staff realized there was no threat from the Egyptian forces mobilizing in the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, the Chiefs of Staff identified that the Egyptians were not ready for war and thus the situation provided an opportunity, not a threat. They convinced the reluctant civilian government to approve the initiation of war and thus captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights in six days. The generals believed they had completed the job of 1948.”
Of course, Harris cannot write an article defending Israel without name-dropping Hamas. After all, Hamas’ resistance to Israeli oppression is only the work of terrorists according to Harris’ propaganda. Perhaps Harris might also mention that both the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have reported on Israel’s role in creating Hamas. Harris might then mention that Hamas was duly elected to power in Gaza in 2006 and did not take undemocratic control until Fatah, with the support of Israel and the U.S., attempted a failed coup. Thereafter, the Israeli siege of Gaza began — a siege in its 12th year with all of its attending horrors, including massive periodic attacks and unsuitable living conditions created by Israel’s complete control of the Gaza Strip (with Egyptian complicity). In short, it is an occupation from outside the concentration-camp boundaries that Harris also fails to note.
Thus Harris’ attack on Alexander’s editorial is a thorough example of Israeli propaganda. Perhaps I would not have dug so deeply into a one writer’s blog, but the Times of Israel called it a “Featured Post.” As such, the periodical endorsed this flawed analysis that therefore demanded a detailed response. Calling Alexander’s editorial a “new low” was a hyperbolic act of click-bait to appeal to the Times of Israel’s readers. One that lacked journalistic and editorial integrity.
This article is dedicated to the memory Tarin Schendler, a co-founder of Palestine 365 and Palestine 365, the Ongoing Oppression. When Tarin tragically lost her life in a car accident, the world lost a bright and enthusiastic woman with her heart in the right place. R.I.P. Tarin.
Top Photo | Palestinians, international and Israeli activists wearing masks of U.S. President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. are blocked by an Israeli soldier during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 20, 2013. Bernat Armangue | AP
Ian Berman is an entrepreneur and former corporate banker at leading global banks in New York City. He now focuses on financial advisory services and writing about representative government, equitable public policies and ending American militarism and Israel’s continuing colonization of Palestine.
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