I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM: I was watching a popular prime-time TV talk show the other night when the host made passing reference, as part of a gag, to the anatomical real estate occupying the no man’s land between the scrotum and the anus. Wow, I remember thinking, we really aren’t in Kansas anymore. Even more striking was the utter lack of reaction. No eyebrows were raised. No phone lines got lit up. No plugs got pulled. Not one person mentioned it the following day. Nothing. But imagine if someone on that same show — on any show — were to speak critically of Israel and that nation’s treatment of the Palestinians. Hell would have to freeze over and the icicles be sucked dry before we could pencil in time for that discussion. At least in this country.
I make this admittedly awkward rhetorical point only because Richard Falk, a certified Santa Barbara Big Brain, international law professor cum laude, and United Nations factotum, finds himself — yet again — in serious hot water about remarks made in a recent blog about the Boston Marathon bombing and the United States’ “obsequious” support for the government in Tel Aviv and the “Beltway ethos of Israel first.” For these critical remarks, Falk has been predictably denounced as an anti-Semite. Because Falk happens to be Jewish himself, he is, naturally, castigated as the proverbial “self-loathing Jew.”
What else could he possibly be?
We already have a black man in the White House.
We’re on the verge of gay marriage.
Maybe in my lifetime, we can debate the Palestinian issues without having to duck incessant accusations of anti-Semitism. At some point in the distant future, scientists will discover that it is, in fact, theoretically possible for the human brain to simultaneously support the state of Israel while vehemently opposing the policies of its government. But by then, I’ll have pushed up my last daisy.
Having read Falk’s 1,500-word commentary, I can tell you it doesn’t say what its detractors allege; it does not, for example, blame the Boston bombing on the United States’ one-sided support for Israel. It’s also not nearly as incendiary as a lot of what Falk has written over the years. Falk’s defenders in town describe their friend as both a passionate defender of the Palestinians and a delightful genius. One might think a delightful genius would better calibrate his words for strategic effect. Given the shock value of Falk’s language over the year, he’s effectively helped marginalize Israel’s critics. In several instances, for example, Falk has compared Israel’s Palestinian policies to that of the Nazi Holocaust. He’s sought to temper such comparison with qualifications, but once you drop the N-bomb, you can’t walk it back. At that point, the argument is officially over, and you lost. In other words, with enemies like Richard Falk, Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu might not need that many friends.
Normally I don’t waste my breath on the Middle East. Even despair is a finite resource. And besides, what would be the point? But we’ve just fought two wars in that region and appear on the brink of a third and even possibly a fourth. In this context, it might be in our self-interest to do what we can to turn the volume down. All strife does not magically disappear if and when Israel and the Palestinians work things out. But a whole lot does. In this context, we can no longer afford the luxury of allowing our friend Israel to continue pretending all its oppressions are justified in the name of national security. We need to have a serious discussion. There need to be peace talks. Hell, even the new Pope says so.
Falk enters the discussion because in 2008, the United Nations appointed him “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” He got that position not just because he’s a passionate advocate of Palestinian rights, but because he’s got the credentials to make his opinions matter. Falk didn’t just teach international law during the last 50 years — mostly at Princeton and more recently at UCSB — he wrote all the text books on the subject. In Falk’s latest missive, he expresses chagrin that the Obama Administration has given up pushing Netanyahu to the peace tables. As long as the United States is so aligned with Israel, he suggested, “the American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.” An uncomfortable proposition, perhaps, but seemingly radical only in the United States. In light of the Boston bombing, he does suggest some reflection on America’s global role is in order, noting that we’ve been lucky that the “blow back” to date hasn’t actually been worse. In closing, he asks, “How many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy?”
For this, the Wall Street Journal demanded with indignant incredulity, “What the Falk?” The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said she was “outraged” by Falk’s “vitriol.” Her Canadian and British counterparts denounced Falk as an anti-Semite, as has United Nations Watch, a knee-jerk pro-Israel outfit that’s been offended by anything Falk has ever said. Falk’s point, of course, was valid, if not obvious. But his timing was stupid. Perhaps he could have waited ’til the blood had dried from the streets of Boston. Over the years, Falk has used his United Nations post to preach to the choir. Comparing Israel to the Nazis may play well in Beirut or Ankara. But in places like Kansas, it’s a certified conversation killer. I know we don’t live in Kansas anymore. But if invading Syria or Iran is seriously on the table, I’d like to preserve the option of moving back.