Friday, February 15, 2013

BDS Panel at Brooklyn College Draws Crowd: Detractors Humiliated

Judith Butler began her February 7 talk at Brooklyn College in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel by saying, “Usually one starts by saying that one is glad to be here, but I cannot say that it has been a pleasure anticipating this event. What a Megillah! I am, of course, glad that the event was not cancelled, and I understand that it took a great deal of courage and a steadfast embrace of principle for this event to happen at all.”

In response to the public furor of last week, the Mayor of New York spoke out in defense of Brooklyn College.

Bloomberg said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the BDS movement, but “if you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

“The last thing we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run and base funding decisions on the political views of professors,” said the mayor. “I can’t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.”

Bloomberg’s decisive words effectively ended the New York City Council’s campaign against Brooklyn College for holding the Students for Justice in Palestine event.

Political Science teacher at Brooklyn College Robin Corey reported delightedly: “Now that the mayor, the New York Times, and just about everyone else have come down hard on all the government officials and politicians who tried to force my department to withdraw its co-sponsorship of the BDS panel, the “progressive” politicians have issued a second letter to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, in which they backpedal, backpedal, backpedal pull back from their earlier position. No longer, it seems, must we “balance” this panel or withdraw our co-sponsorship.”

BC Philosophy professor Samir Chopra sighs, “That it took a billionaire mayor to explain these simple matters to our progressive leaders is, well, what can one say?”

“While it was gratifying to see Dershowitz forced into retreat it is important not to exaggerate Bloomberg's role,” writes commentator John Halle.

“Some of those targeted by Dershowitz turned out to be experienced organizers and more than a little media savvy, deluging the twitter accounts of the officials, demanding answers from them and circulating via facebook a petition which quickly received over 2,500 signatures. Within days those local officeholders concerned with maintaining their reputations among their liberal constituents withdrew their names from the Fidler letter clearing the way for Bloomberg and the Times to issue ringing endorsements of academic freedom. And so what began as a potential fiasco ended as an inspiring lesson in grassroots organizing.”

As the instigator of the threats against Brooklyn College, Alan Dershowitz found himself at the brunt of not only mockery but the public shredding of his arguments.

Opined fellow New York attorney David Samel on Mondoweiss: “People often comment that Dershowitz is a clown who does not deserve the time and effort to discredit him. I could not disagree more... His brazen hypocrisy and serial dishonesty should be challenged regularly.”

“The outside agitators, like Alan Dershowitz, did us a favor. If they hadn’t tried to shut it down with City Council members, it would have been just another ho-hum event on campus,” said Jane Hirschmann, a member of Jews Say No (to occupation).

As a result of all the publicity, the panel discussion between Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti drew hundreds to the audience, filling the room to capacity, with more people turned away.

Butler exclaimed, “I thought it would be very much like other events I have attended, a conversation with a few dozen student activists in the basement of a student center.”

Gail Sheehy reported in the Daily Beast that “the forum went off without a single hateful word. At most, 100 protesters stood across from the Student Center... Police, out in force, were confined to directing traffic.”

BDS, the largest pro-Palestine civil movement, states three goals: end the occupation, end apartheid, and guarantee the right of return of Palestinians to their homeland. When Barghouti characterized the Israeli apartheid as more brutal than what American blacks went through before Martin Luther King Jr., he received a standing ovation.

Chemi Shalev reports in Haaretz, Israel: “Overzealous Israel defenders used a five-megaton bomb to swat a fly, and it blew up in our faces...The result of all of this surfeit and excess was a clear-cut, perhaps unprecedented PR coup for BDS and a humiliating defeat for Israel’s interests... the “pro-Israel camp” found itself, not for the first time, portrayed not only as heavy handed but a bit unhinged as well.”

Shalev concludes that “far too much of the public discourse on Israel has been dominated and dictated by super-conservatives and ultra-nationalists and the billionaires who fund them... who view any measured or nuanced debate about Israel as treason, who are hell bent on making their observation that liberals are turning away from Israel into a self-fulfilling prophecy... and will eventually erode the genuine bedrock of support that Israel enjoys in America.”

Professor Chopra is not so sure. “The pressure brought on Brooklyn College from the outside was an attempt to regulate discourse on campus. And in that, I fear it has succeeded in many ways. For one, this event does not make the controversial panel discussion on campus more likely. It makes it more unlikely. Which department or university administration wants to go through this fiasco again?”

This author does not share Chopra’s pessimism. For decades, BDS and other Palestine Solidarity groups have been kicked off campuses around the US due to angry threats from pro-Israel activists. The academic attack on Brooklyn College is standard. What is new is that the administration remained strong and refused to cancel the event.

Meanwhile, Gaza farmers are renewing a call for boycott of Israel to protest the destruction of their land and property as well as the 2006 Israeli ban on Palestinian exports, which devastated Palestinian agriculture, reports Electronic Intifada.

Palestinian farmers joined together with protesters Saturday to plant olive trees on Israeli-razed farmland and to implore international supporters to join the boycott of Israeli agricultural produce. They say the boycott is the “only hope for justice for Palestinian farmers being targeted by the Israeli army and oppressed by Israel.”

“We hope that it will put pressure on Israel to stop targeting us and allow us to farm our land as we used to.”

Thursday, February 07, 2013

NY Students Prevail

BCpressStudents who organize Palestine Solidarity events on US campuses have come to expect pro-Israel groups to bully and threaten the university administration in an effort to cancel their student activities, whether they are educational workshops or poetry readings.

But pro-Israel advocates crossed a line this month when they pressured Brooklyn College to cancel an event co-sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP). The crusade against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) along with torture advocate Alan Dershowitz, was so heavy handed that it provoked an international discussion on academic freedom in America.

Perhaps due to the worldwide attention, the college has (so far) refused to cancel the event scheduled for February 7, in which leading Palestinian rights activist Omar Barghouti and Jewish scholar Judith Butler are to discuss Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). 

“As with many similar events, the Brooklyn College event is under attack, based on completely unfounded allegations of anti-Semitism. The truth is, boycott, divestment and sanctions are non-violent tools with a long history of being used by civil society to make social change, notably in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and the civil rights movement here in the United States. In no way can it be construed as anti-Semitic,” reads a statement by Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP). 

Glenn Greenwald writes in the Guardian UK that “the ugly lynch mob now assembled against Brooklyn College and its academic event is all too familiar in the US when it comes to criticism of and activism against Israeli government policy… But this controversy has now significantly escalated in seriousness because numerous New York City elected officials have insinuated themselves into this debate by trying to dictate to the school’s professors what type of events they are and are not permitted to hold.” 

Al-Awda New York reports: “At first, the demand from Dershowitz and a handful of city politicians urged the Brooklyn College political science department to rescind its co-sponsorship. Now, Lewis Fidler, Assistant Majority Leader of the NYC Council, and several other members of the City Council are threatening to pull Brooklyn College’s funding unless the school cancels or condemns the event.”

“Imagine being elected to public office and then deciding to use your time and influence to interfere in the decisions of academics about the types of campus events they want to sponsor. Does anyone have trouble seeing how inappropriate it is – how dangerous it is – to have politicians demanding that professors only sponsor events that are politically palatable to those officials? If you decide to pursue political power, you have no business trying to use your authority to pressure, cajole or manipulate college professors regarding what speakers they can invite to speak on campus,” writes Greenwald.

According to Al-Awda, students all along the West Coast currently face similar censorship attempts. “Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim Student Association chapters in the large University of California system are being subjected to systematic silencing and intimidation at the local, statewide, and national level. Lobbying by well-funded pro-Israel groups has led to biased “campus climate” reports, a  California State assembly bill, and spurious federal complaints (leading to prolonged investigations); all deliberately and falsely conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewishness.”

According to their website, the US Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security is “charged with administering and enforcing the Antiboycott Laws under the Export Administration Act of 1979. Those laws discourage, and in some circumstances, prohibit U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League, and certain Moslem countries, including complying with certain requests for information designed to verify compliance with the boycott.” 

“Conduct that may be penalized include agreements to refuse or actual refusal to do business with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies, and agreements to furnish or actual furnishing of information about business relationships with or in Israel or with blacklisted companies… The penalties imposed for each “knowing” violation can be a fine of up to $50,000 or five times the value of the exports involved, whichever is greater, and imprisonment of up to five years. During periods when the EAR are continued in effect by an Executive Order issued pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the criminal penalties for each “willful” violation can be a fine of up to $50,000 and imprisonment for up to ten years.”

It certainly would seem to change the game, however, if a US company is being urged to boycott Israel by fellow Americans, not just by the Arab League. It may be time to change the law. At this point, however, the controversy is just about the right to discuss boycotting Israel! 

Ambassador Chas Freeman in his remarks to the December 2012 Jubilee Conference of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy talked about Israeli Hasbara and the control of narrative as an element of strategy. Freeman stated that manipulation of information is an essential element of modern warfare:

“In politics, perception is reality. Narratives legitimize some perceptions and delegitimize others. Narratives can be drawn upon to reinforce stereotypes by imposing favorable or pejorative labels on information and its sources. Such labels predispose recipients of information to accept some things as credible, to disbelieve others, and to regard still others as so tainted or implausible that they can and should be ruled out of order and ignored.” This approach “seeks actively to inculcate canons of political correctness in domestic and foreign media and audiences that will promote self-censorship by them.”

What we are seeing now is that pro-Israel Hasbara has lost its effect on people. It used to be that even just meekly asking why Jews support Israel would result in the cruel and sudden loss of childhood friends, but these techniques are no longer working. Students no longer feel ashamed or afraid of discussing Israel’s brutality against the Palestinian population. It still happens that people who advocate for Palestine are attacked, verbally or otherwise. But now, they are instantly embraced by a warm group of supporters who urge them to continue speaking. 

“We pledge to continue our organizing on campus, to highlight the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, and to support and elevate the voices of Palestinian organizers and liberation movements. We will continue to educate, engage students, and mount campaigns using the non-violent tactic of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Despite the threats of powerful figures, we vow to continue to demand justice for Palestine,” pledged the National Students for Justice in Palestine.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Golden Rule and the Gold Standard

Gold-e1303095107411In his book, “The Gold Dinar and Silver Dirham: Islam and the Future of Money,” Imran Hosein makes a compelling argument in favor of returning to the Gold Standard, a concern shared by many non-Muslim economists. 

Avik Roy writes in the National Review, “Investors see over and over again the pattern by which governments depart from hard-money policies (such as the gold standard) in order to engage in deficit spending, and then devalue their currencies in order to reduce the value of the debts they then incur. It is a story that all too frequently ends in credit default and economic collapse.”

Hosein similarly promotes the minting of Islamic gold dinars in order to produce what he calls a riba-free economy. Since paper money is subject to inflation and devaluing currency, a debt-based society must indulge in charging or paying interest, which is against Islam, and often results in financial slavery. Islamic law requires that debts be paid with items that have intrinsic value, such as dates or precious metals. 

Such views are viewed as threatening to the money lenders. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) prohibits gold-backed currencies for its member states. Thus, those who promote gold-backed money are often thought of as economic terrorists. 

Nevertheless, as the dollar continues to decrease in value, demand for gold has increased. Many countries have started minting Islamic coins, which have become very popular for trading as currency. Today, a gold dinar sells for $250 while a silver dirham is worth $6.53. Even in places like Norwich, England you can purchase a haircut or lunch using these Islamic coins, as a result of local community organizing.

Large banks and nations still use gold to settle their debts. The gold is (or was) stored at the Federal Reserve Gold Depository in New York City, or the similar institutions at the Bank of England and Bank of France. In 2009, an international scandal erupted when a German gold bullion dealer discovered that a gold bar was fake. 

What Really Happened reports in “Robbing Mali to Pay Germany” that: “Because many of the fake gold bars had the marking of US sources, nations began to ask for audits and tests of the gold bullion held in their name by the New York Federal Reserve. To the surprise of many, the New York Federal Reserve refused! Indeed the New York Federal Reserve refused the German government permission to simply look at their bullion!”

The German government has now demanded that their physical gold be repatriated back to Germany from both the Bank of France and the New York Federal Reserve. Switzerland also intends to repatriate all of their gold held by the New York Federal Reserve and other central banks.

“Both the Bank of France and the New York Federal Reserve have stated that the process of returning the gold will take years… The delay makes the situation clear. Neither the Bank of France nor the New York Federal Reserve actually have the gold Germany deposited.” 

Mali is one of the world’s largest gold producers. Together with neighboring Ghana they account for 7-8% of world gold output. As Germany started demanding their gold back from the Bank of France and the New York Federal Reserve, France (aided by the US) decided to invade Mali to fight “Islamists” working for “Al Qaeda.” 

Why are France and the US bombing Mali instead of just buying the gold they need? The problem is, China is able to outbid France and the US. Like the US and French interference in Sudan, this war is being waged to prevent China from investing in African minerals. Gold mining has also led to political unrest in the Congo. No doubt the Islamist struggle for Mali is deeply connected to the nation’s quest for self-determination, including the right to mine and sell gold in a way that benefits the people of Mali.

Even in the absence of war, gold mining is hard and dangerous work that comes with huge ethical considerations brought to light by environmentalists and fair labor activists. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated last year that the cost of cleaning up metal mines in the US alone could reach $54 billion. Major jewelry companies have come under pressure to show a traceable supply chain for their gold. JCK magazine reports: 

“The No Dirty Gold campaign calls gold mining one of the “world’s dirtiest industries,” claiming that one ring’s worth of gold production creates 20 tons of mine waste. The mining industry disputes that characterization and that figure, but no one doubts that gold mining—particularly its use of cyanide—affects the environment… Dirty gold mining has also brought health concerns and land disputes to communities surrounding the mines.”

“Typically, men live in gold mining camps for a month or two at a time, working 12-hour days, seven days a week. At the end of a 6- to 8-week shift, the men rotate out of camp to their homes for two weeks of rest. These long periods away from families have led to the rise of commercial sex workers in small villages near the mining areas. HIV infections are then spread into the general population when miners infect their spouses and unborn children. High rates of HIV infection have been recorded in every gold mining country, especially South Africa where some mines have reported one in three miners infected.”

As Muslims press forward, advancing the use of gold currency as halal money, we will need to balance our enthusiasm with concern for ethical investments that do not harm the environment or exploit workers. We must also become alert about the question of whether the gold we buy was stolen through war or if it was acquired in a fair manner.

“O ye who believe! Do not appropriate each others’ property and wealth in a manner that is unjust and unfair: Rather, let business be transacted in a manner that brings mutual satisfaction.” (Quran 4:29)