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Basic Law Is Basic Displacement

I read with appreciation the deeply felt Voice piece “Troubling Flags Fly on State Street — Not in My Name” and felt dismayed by the hostile letters written in reaction. Having served for six years as UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Occupied Palestine (2008-2014), I can affirm that Marcy Winograd’s treatment of the issues arising from the denial of basic Palestinian rights corresponds with the tragic realities of the situation.

It is important to keep in mind that when the Zionist Project was launched internationally by the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the Jewish population of Israel was about 8 percent of the population. The complex developments over the course of the intervening century justify the impulse to establish a Jewish homeland and sanctuary, but they in no way justify the forcible displacement and subsequent repression of the Palestinian people.

Any fair-minded assessment of the relationship of the two peoples would notice that ever since the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state, its territorial and ideological ambitions have unlawfully expanded at the expense of the Palestinians. This dynamic culminated in the passage of a Basic Law in 2018 by the Knesset that vested the right of self-determination exclusively in the Jewish people, thereby completing the process of Palestinian displacement, expulsion, and marginalization that has been continuous since 1948.

The venomous letters written in response to “Troubling Flags” are filled with distortions and misrepresentations. I will mention just a few of many. To contend that she is invoking Richard Spencer as a positive source is utterly defamatory. What she wrote is that someone of Spencer’s ilk looks to Israel for inspiration while at the same time exhibiting the crudest forms of hatred for Jews. This double standard is worth notice and commentary, not angry dismissal. And for the author of “The Ugly and the Bigoted” to pretend that Israel has lived up to Theodore Herzl’s recommended empathetic approach to the Palestinians is to be utterly insensitive to or totally uninformed about the Palestinian ordeal.

For the author of “Zionism Is Not Racism” to write that “most Zionists have no colonial mindset at all” is to miss Winograd’s point altogether. True, most Zionists root their beliefs in ideas of biblical entitlement or a response to the Holocaust and the heritage of anti-Semitism, and hardly pause to grasp what such claims have meant for what was a Palestinian state with a large Arab majority population. The British and French also did not have ‘colonial mindsets’ in an explicit sense, justifying their colonialism as ‘white man’s burden’ or ‘a civilizing mission.’

What Winograd obviously seeks is a just peace for both peoples that can only be attained if Zionists were to embrace a spirit of equality and seek a future based on shared or equal sovereignty. As long as Palestinians are oppressed in what was their own, country resistance will continue and nonviolent global solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is vindicated.

Richard Falk is a research fellow with UCSB’s Orfalea Center and an emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University.

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