Obama’s UN speech ‘nothing new’

Barack Obama, the US president, has urged countries in the United Nations to get behind Middle East peace efforts in an address at the UN General Assembly. But Ali Hasan Abunimah, a Palestinian-American journalist and co-founder of Electronic Intifada, an independent web site about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, said Obama’s speech did not represent anything new. “That bodes very ill for the peace process that he’s so invested in,” Abunimah told Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, speaking from the US state of Indiana.

“Let’s judge him not by what he says, but what he does.”

South African Academics Call for Boycott of Ben Gurion University

A long brewing South African campaign at the prestigious University of Johannesburg to cut off academic links with Ben Gurion University due to its complicity and racist practices has won the endorsement of John Dugard, Desmond Tutu, Breyten Breytenbach, Allan Boesak, Mahmoud Mamdani and almost 200 other academics from 22 academic institutions in South Africa.

SOUTH AFRICAN ACADEMICS SUPPORT THE CALL FOR UJ TO TERMINATE RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAELI INSTITUTION

As members of the academic community of South Africa, a country with a history of brute racism on the one hand and both academic acquiescence and resistance to it on the other, we write to you with deep concern regarding the relationship between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). The relationship agreement, presented as ‘merely the continuation’ of a ‘purely scientific co-operation’ is currently being reviewed owing to concerns raised by UJ students, academics and staff. For reasons explained below and detailed in the attached Fact Sheet, we wish to add our voices to those calling for the suspension of UJ’s agreement with BGU.

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Reese Erlich: “Stop using the word ‘terrorist'”

Defining what a terrorist is and isn’t is a major dilemma. What one may consider terrorism, another may consider resistance. So where does one draw the line? Reese Erlich tackles that topic in his latest book “Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence, and Empire.” Erlich is a veteran journalist who has covered U.S. foreign policy for decades. He has freelanced for National Public Radio, Radio Deutsche Welle, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, and writes for The San Francisco Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News.

Drawing on firsthand interviews and original research, Erlich argues that yesterday’s terrorist is often today’s national leader and that today’s freedom fighter may become tomorrow’s terrorist. By branding all of American’s opponents as “terrorists,” it makes it more difficult to look beyond the individual or the political group and understand what they are really all about. I caught up with Erlich recently and here’s what he had to say.

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Omar Khadr has lost one third of his Life in US Custody

by Andy Worthington

Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen in Guantánamo, was seized in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002, when he was just 15 years old. On September 19 he turned 24, and has grown, physically, into a man during the eight years and two months he has spent in US custody, first at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and, since October 2002, at Guantánamo. At heart, however, he remains a child, whose youth has been stolen from him by the US authorities responsible for detaining him, and by the Canadian government, which has refused to demand his return.

I don’t want you to reflect, however, particularly on the abuse to which he has been subjected throughout his detention, or on the US government’s shameful refusal to rehabilitate him, rather than punishing him, as required by its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which includes the agreement that all States Parties who ratify the Protocol “[r]ecogniz[e] the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities,” and are “[c]onvinced of the need [for] the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

I don’t want you to reflect particularly on the Canadian government’s shameful refusal to demand his return to his homeland, despite severe criticism by the Canadian courts, or on the Obama administration’s shameful refusal to cancel his scheduled trial by Military Commission, on war crimes charges that — even if the allegations are true — are not war crimes at all, as Lt. Col. David Frakt, the military defense attorney for another former child at Guantánamo, Mohamed Jawad (who was released last August), has explained.

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American Public Opinion and the ‘Special Relationship’

by John Mearsheimer

There is no question that the United States has a relationship with Israel that has no parallel in modern history. Washington gives Israel consistent, almost unconditional diplomatic backing and more foreign aid than any other country. In other words, Israel gets this aid even when it does things that the United States opposes, like building settlements. Furthermore, Israel is rarely criticized by American officials and certainly not by anyone who aspires to high office. Recall what happened last year to Charles Freeman, who was forced to withdraw as head of the National Intelligence Council because he had criticized certain Israeli policies and questioned the merits of the special relationship.

Steve Walt and I argue that there is no good strategic or moral rationale for this special relationship, and that it is largely due to the enormous influence of the Israel lobby. Critics of our claim maintain that the extremely tight bond between the two countries is the result of the fact that most Americans feel a special attachment to Israel. The American people, so the argument goes, are so deeply committed to supporting Israel generously and unreservedly that politicians of all persuasions have no choice but to support the special relationship.

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Can A Muslim Truly Be An American?

There are numerous ways to approach this question. From a legal standpoint, many Muslims are American, having been born in the United States. Many Muslim immigrants are in possession of a United States passport, an item that ideally would be the only criterion by which one is judged “American.” National identity is only partly informed by formal citizenship, however. In the United States today, as throughout its history, citizenship is invested with crucial symbolic features. Most of the symbolic features of proper American-ness involve race or religion (wherein, say, Jews or African Americans aren’t seen to be fully American ideologically or, in some cases, legally). Another, often related, feature is political belief: dissent from what politicians and corporate media deem the national interest isn’t traditionally a welcome feature of true American-ness (i.e., the normative American). In turn, the politically-mainstream white Christian is the truest American of all.

Current conceptions of the normative American can best be detected in the recent imbroglio over the “ground-zero mosque,” a histrionic misnomer popularized by right-wing media. The proposed Muslim community center two blocks from the northeastern tip of ground zero, actually called Cordoba House, has created a national frenzy that compels us to reassess the symbolic qualities of citizenship in the United States. By expressing such loud opposition to the community center, a significant portion of Americans has again reinforced a limited definition of American-ness, in this case one that excludes Muslims from the full rights of citizenship.

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Government ‘politicising’ Pakistan aid

It has been over six weeks since heavy rains caused devastating floods across Pakistan and the UN has launched an unprecedented disaster appeal for $2bn. Pakistan has already received more than $1bn in emergency donations but some opposition politicians accuse the government of playing politics with international aid money. Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder asked the politicians representing both the opposition and the government if the flood victims are receiving aid regardless of their political affinity.

Zionist Dialectics: Past and Future

Excerpted from Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave: 2009).

by M. Shahid Alam

My God! Is this the end? Is this the goal for which our fathers
have striven and for whose sake all generations have suffered?
Is this the dream of a return to Zion which our people have
dreamt for centuries: that we now come to Zion to stain its soil
with innocent blood?”

Ahad Ha’am, 1921

This study has employed a dialectical framework for analyzing the destabilizing logic of Zionism. We have examined this logic as it has unfolded through time, driven by the vision of an exclusionary colonialism, drawing into its circuit – aligned with it and against it – nations, peoples, forces, and civilizations whose actions and interactions impinge on the trajectory of Zionism, and, in turn, who are changed by this trajectory.

It would be a bit simplistic to examine the field of interactions among the different actors in this historic drama on the essentialist assumption that these actors and their interests are unchanging. Instead, we need to explore the complex ways in which the Zionists have worked – and, often have succeeded – to alter the behavior of the other political actors in this drama: and, how, in turn, the Zionists respond to these changes. Most importantly, we need to explore all the ways in which the Zionists have succeeded in mobilizing the resources of the United States and other Western powers to serve their specific objectives.

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Drones on Trial: Narrowing the Gap Between Law and Justice

by Jerica Arents

I received an education yesterday.

I wasn’t in a classroom.  I wasn’t laboring over a paper, strategizing in a small group, poring over a textbook or hustling across campus.  I was sitting as a spectator in the front row of Judge Jansen’s courtroom in Clark County, Nevada.

Fourteen peace activists were on trial for trying to hand-deliver a letter to the base commander at Creech Air Force Base in April of 2009. Their letter laid out concerns about usage of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, for surveillance and combat purposes in Afghanistan. The Creech 14 believe that the usage of remote aerial vehicles to hunt down and kill people in other lands amounts to targeted assassination and is prohibited by international and U.S. law.  Soldiers carrying M16s stopped them after they had walked past the guardhouse at the base entrance and a few hours later Nevada state troopers handcuffed the Creech 14 and took them into custody.

The next day, they were charged with trespass to a military facility and released.  The charges were later dropped, then reinstated. Defendants, upon learning of a September 14, 2010 court date, had ten months to plan for their trial. They decided to represent themselves pro se and to call, as expert witnesses, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Colonel Ann Wright and Professor Bill Quigley, the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  What were the chances that a Las Vegas court that normally handles traffic violations and minor offenses would admit three expert witnesses to testify on behalf of defendants charged with a simple trespass?  Slim to zero in the view of most observers.

In an opening statement, Kathy Kelly summarized what defendants would prove regarding their obligations under international law and their exercise of rights protected by the U.S. constitution.  The judge told her, quite firmly, that any testimony unrelated to the charge of trespass would be disallowed.

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