Here’s something you haven’t read here before: well done to the Guardian !
Anyone wanting honest, factual reporting of events in Ukraine over the past month, could not have done better than to have relied upon the Guardian - mainly because of the on-the-spot reports from the excellent Luke Harding.
While the Morning Star has been spouting Putin’s propaganda about a “fascist” “coup” in Kiev, Harding gave us the facts: yes there were (and are) some very unpleasant extreme nationalists involved in the Kiev revolution, but they do not define that movement and Putin’s constant reference to them is crude, but effective, propaganda, coming as it does, from a regime that is itself only too happy to utilise extreme right-wing forces at home.
The Graun‘s resident public school Stalinist and Assistant Editor, Seamas Milne, predictably sides with Putin and Russian imperialism (with a minimal amount of embarrassment), but for once he and his friends were not able to annexe the editorial line, and the usually-craven Rusbridger seems to have stood his ground. As a result the paper has firmly denounced Putin throughout, and on the day after the Russian annexation of Crimea, the editorial was a memorable, no-holds-barred denunciation of this “illegal, neo-imperialist act” – a denunciation so powerful and true (especially with regard to the supposed Kosova analogy so beloved of Putin and his apologists) that it deserves to be reproduced in full:
Crimea: Mr Putin’s imperial act
The historic atrocities in Crimea were committed by Moscow, which slaughtered tens of thousands of Tatars.
So it has happened. Crimea has been annexed. A strutting Russian president sealed the fate of the once-autonomous Ukrainian republic with a speech to parliament yesterday in which he sought to wrap himself and the Black Sea peninsula together in the flag of his country. It was a bravura performance from Mr Putin, largely free of the ad hoc ramblings he indulged in at his press conference on 4 March, but nevertheless filled with purple rhetoric.
Without apparent irony he invoked his namesake St Vladimir in Russia‘s cause. It was in Crimea, Mr Putin said, that Vladimir, the Grand Duke of Kieff and All Russia, acquired the Orthodox Christian roots that would spread throughout Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. It was in Crimea that the noble Russian soldiers lay in graves dating back to the 1700s. It was Crimea that had given birth to Russia’s Black Sea navy, a symbol of Moscow’s glory. In his people’s hearts and minds, he said, Crimea had always been a part of Russia.
Quite how, then, his dimwitted predecessor Nikita Khrushchev had managed to hand it to Ukraine in 1954 was unclear, but that act had been a “breach of any constitutional norm” and could thereby be ignored. And by the way, Mr Putin intimated, Moscow had only failed to raise the issue of Crimea’s sovereignty during previous negotiations with Ukraine because it hadn’t wanted to offend its friendly neighbour. Now the west had cheated on a range of issues – Nato‘s expansion into eastern Europe, the “coup” in Kiev, the unnecessary prolonging of discussions over visa waivers for Europe – Russia felt inclined to accept a willing Crimea back into the fold.
So the self-justifications went on. There have been few clearer-eyed critics of Soviet-era propaganda than Milan Kundera, who once wrote that “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Watching members of the Duma wildly applaud Mr Putin, the phrase felt newly appropriate. In the modern struggle of memory, we should recall that when Mr Putin was asked two weeks ago if he considered that Crimea might join Russia, he replied “No, we do not.” We should recall his assertion that the troops without insignia on Crimea’s streets could have bought their Russian uniforms in local shops. And we should remember Kosovo.
Mr Putin made much of the parallel between Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and Russian actions in Crimea. In fact the differences between the two cases are stark. In Kosovo in the 1990s, a majority ethnic Albanian population was being persecuted by the government of Slobodan Milosevic. The region’s autonomy had been revoked, ethnic Albanians had been ousted from government jobs, their language had been repressed, their newspapers shut, and they had been excluded from schools and universities. By late 1998, Mr Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing was reaching a climax: Serbian army and police units were terrorising and massacring groups of Albanians in an outright attempt to drive them out. The Kosovans’ plight was the subject of intense diplomacy, which was rebuffed by Mr Milosevic’s government.
In Crimea, by contrast, despite Mr Putin’s characterisation of the emergency government in Kiev as “anti-Semites, fascists and Russophobes” whose tools are “terror, killings and pogroms”, there have been no pogroms, little terror, no persecutions of Russian-speaking citizens bar a bid, now dropped, to rescind Russian’s status as an official language. The historic atrocities in Crimea were committed by Moscow, which starved and slaughtered tens of thousands Crimean Tatars in the 1920s, before deporting them en masse in 1944. Almost half the deportees died from malnutrition and disease.
As Moscow takes a historic bite of Ukraine, Mr Putin would rather the world misremember Kosovo, or discuss the legality of the US-led invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan. The world has debated those wars before and should do so again. Today, let us see Russia’s move for what it is: an illegal, neo-imperialist act.
NB: Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty dissects Milne’s “shoddy arguments for Putin”, here.
Above: famine/genocide in Ukraine, 1932-33
Thanks to Roger McCarthy for drawing our attention to this article by Gary Brecher. It makes depressing reading and it should not be assumed that we endorse all the sentiments expressed. But it seems to be well-informed and is certainly well worth a read:
Reading the Anglo-American press babble on about Crimea is painful, if you know anything at all about that part of the world.
Mark Ames tried to wipe away some of the slime a few weeks ago in his article, “Everything You Know about Ukraine Is Wrong,” — and you can just assume that everything you know about Crimea is even wrong-er. Today I’ll try to take apart the nonsense going around about the Crimean Referendum and impending union with Russia.
It’s not easy diagnosing the psychotic episode brought on in the western media by Crimea, because anti-Russian stories are pushing two totally contradictory lines at the same time. Sometimes the party line is that Putin has gone crazy, and Russia is a joke, “a gas station masquerading as a country” that will pay a “big price” for grabbing the Crimean Peninsula.
Then there’s the neocon version of Russophobia, peddled by shameless old Iraq-Invasion boosters like Eli Lake. According to Lake’s latest in the Daily Beast, “Russia is invading Ukraine in the shadows.” The proof? Eli don’t need no stinkin’ proof. He’s been told that the dreaded SpetzNaz troops—Nazgul with black ski masks—are “spreading out” through the entire territory of Ukraine. His source? “U.S. officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.”
When you read a story by a shameless war shill like Lake, it’s fun to count the qualifiers and disclaimers:
“The same [Russian] special forces that appear to be rigging the elections in Crimea…”
“[t]he Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested a group of people led by a Ukrainian citizen who were said to be scoping out three of its most crucial military divisions…”
“The forces behind these operations, according to U.S. officials briefed on the updates in Ukraine, are likely the Spetsnaz…”
And finally, my personal favorite:
“On the ground in Ukraine, such confusion reigns that the role of Spetsnaz is hard to confirm. But its involvement would come as no surprise.”
If you’re old enough to have lived through the mass lobotomy that afflicted America in the leadup to the 2003 invasion, the phrasing and logic of that last quote should be painfully familiar. It amounts to this: “We have no proof but they [Saddam, the Russians, whoever you want to spend a few trillion blasting] did it anyway.”
I’m not saying Eli Lake has no more shame than a hungry weasel, but that’s what was said to me, on condition of anonymity, by the same Leprechaun who told Ralph Wiggum to burn things.
Whoops, I outed my Leprechaun source, and on St. Paddy’s day, no less. Well, no big deal—he happens to be gay, this leprechaun, so they wouldn’t have let him in the parade anyway.
You can reasonably assume that the same anonymous U.S. officials who told Lake that Russian special forces are behind all the uproar in Ukraine are the same geniuses who informed him, when he was cheerleading for the Iraq Invasion, that Saddam Hussein was tight with Al Qaeda.
Lake was so attached to that idea that even after the rest of the neocons admitted they might’ve been wrong—not that they ever apologized to the families of the dead—Lake was still looking for proof that Saddam and Osama were in it together and trying one more time in 2013 with a ridiculous claim that an “Al Qaeda conference call”—seriously, Eli said that—forced US embassy closures around the world.
The call, according to Eli, was “like a meeting of the Legion of Doom.” Especially since it turned out to be fictional, not to say totally made up, as anybody with the barest knowledge of insurgent technique knew the second they read Eli’s comic-book fantasy. Al Qaeda is headstrong but not stupid, or at least not stupid enough to do a 20-member “conference call.”
But the “Legion of Doom” theory is all Eli knows; it’s how he makes his living. It’s a template, the kind where you just fill in the bad-guy name and run it through the same old program. Out come the SpetzNaz and the anti-SpetzNaz funding, which is what Eli and his anonymous NatSec sources are all about anyway.
The two versions of Russia—McCain’s “gas station masquerading as a country” and Lake’s fearsome conqueror—both start from the same bitter knowledge, even if Senator McCain and Mr. Lake will never admit that fact in public. It’s a simple one: Russia will take Crimea, won’t pay a big price for it, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.
They all know Russia has a free hand in Crimea. Just look at McCain’s punchline: “A gas station masquerading as a country,” Why “gas station”? Because Russia is now the world’s #1 oil exporting nation, topping Saudi Arabia—that beacon of democracy and fine American ally—by more than a million barrels a day.
With reserves estimated at 80 billion barrels, Russia will have a stash of what everybody wants for a long, long time.
Which makes it kind of a big gas station, even by I-80 standards. “Two zillion pumps, no waiting!” And Russia’s gas station is never going to run short of customers. The oil market is like the recreational-drugs trade: Pundits may make up stories about “pushers,” but the truth is there’s always more demand than the supply can handle. Nobody needs to push those products; they sell themselves, and people will pay anything to get them. That means the people who own the world’s #1 “gas station” can pretty much do anything they want, like Arrakis, the only spice-exporting planet, in Dune. The crude must flow, no matter how crudely its Russian owners behave.
The only media that seem willing to acknowledge this are the finance sites. They can’t afford to let jingoism affect their bets, so they’ve been surprisingly clear-headed, saying outright that there’s nothing the West can do…
Analysts from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley have said Europe probably won’t back sanctions that limit flows of Russia’s oil and gas. European members of the Paris-based International Energy Agency imported 32 percent of their raw crude oil, fuels and gas-based chemical feedstocks from Russia in 2012.
It’s a sad day for America when you have to get your honest news from the pigs at Goldman Sachs, B of A, and Morgan Stanley. Kind of like Clarice having to walk through a gauntlet of tossed cum to hear Hannibal Lecter’s take on the latest serial killer. But the stats don’t lie: the EU gets a third of its energy from Russia, and no country on earth could survive a one-third cut in energy, especially an optional, self-inflicted one ordered by those up top on behalf of some people who, as far as anyone can tell, actually want to join Russia anyway. Read the rest of this entry »
BY ISAAC CHOTINER @ichotiner at New Republic (March 4):
The Increasingly Awkward Conservative Crush on Putin: Mad about Vlad
All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.
What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”
Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.
This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.” (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.
The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”
Sarah Palin, for example, said this last night to Sean Hannity:
Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not exercising that peace through strength that only can be brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue, that only a strengthened United States military can do.
Put aside the syntax for a moment and ask: is there not a bit of envy here? Isn’t Palin very clearly desirous of a tough-guy president who wrestles bears and drills for oil? (The swooning over Bush’s landing on that aircraft carrier was a telling sign.) Now read Rush Limbaugh:
In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were.
If only America wasn’t distracted by silly things like the Oscars, perhaps we would have the strength to stand up to the tough Russia. (On his web page, Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin.) In case the point isn’t obvious enough, Limbaugh continues:
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.
Limbaugh quite clearly wants this kind of leader.
Also on view over the past few days is the idea that Putin must be smarter and cagier and stronger: “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Russians are thus necessarily craftier than our weak and vacillating (key word) democratic leader.
The silliness inherent in all this talk is that when American presidents have generally acted above the law, or engaged in stupid and immoral wars, or bullied neighbors, or cracked down on domestic dissent, it has backfired in the worst ways on them and the country. (The examples are too obvious to list.) Moreover, I notice that conservatives seem to view some of Obama’s domestic actions–appointing czars, for example–as being the result of a vindictive, bloodthirsty, and authoritarian mindset. However absurd the particular claims may be (Cass Sunstein as Stalin), it is proof that the people who seem to secretly pine for an American Putin don’t really want one.
Orwell’s response to this sort of thinking was to write, of Burnham, “He ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country.” Of course this is not a guarantee that this crisis will play itself out in a way that is beneficial to American or Western (or Ukrainian) interests. But the presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right. (Olga Dukhnich, in The New York Times, makes the point that this crisis may backfire just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did. Whether correct or not, it is a nice counter to the reigning right-wing ultra-pessimism.)
Orwell closed his essay as follows:
That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order, shows what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.
It is now Team Obama that styles itself realist, in quite a different way than Orwell was talking about. And large chunks of the American right would now also scorn the term. What they haven’t scorned is the mindset, which is the problem in the first place.
Now The Sun (which, like the Mail, has a record of publishing pictures of young girls with little clothing on) joins in:
Look, the truth is that back in the seventies, the left (reformist and revolutionary) was all over the shop on this issue. I’m pleased to say that my comrades and I (in what’s now the AWL) took a firm line on the question of under-aged sex and supported the principle of an age of consent (gay and straight) of around 15 or 16 – but there were some on the left who didn’t. Even a candidate for leadership of the Labour Party (in 1992), Bryan Gould, expressed sympathy with PIE, in a letter politely declining their invitation to him to sponsor their campaign.
The fact that some now-respectable figures in the Labour Party didn’t regard this as a particularly worrying issue, and didn’t protest about the PIE’s affiliation to the NCCL at the time, is symptomatic of the way things were then. That doesn’t make it OK, but it’s how it was, as the left struggled to come to terms with sexual politics, and sophisticated paedophiles cynically utilised the gay rights/sexual liberation agenda to legitimise their cause in the eyes of naïve idiots on sections of the left at the time.
It’s significant that amongst the loudest voices raising the alarm about the PIE at the time were gay activists, who didn’t want to be associated with paedophilia.
The far left, with one or two exceptions (the IMG and the pre-fusion WSL, neither of which now exist) was hostile to the PIE.
I know it’s what old gropers and their apologists always say, but on this matter it’s true: the past is another country. That doesn’t excuse those who were negligent and/or indifferent at the time, but it is the context.
And, certainly, the Sun and the Mail have no right to witch-hunt anyone over this .
From Amnesty International:
North Korea is in a cateogory of its own for scale and breadth of human rights abuses. Now is the time for action
When Kim Young-soon was sent to political prison camp Yodok for ‘gossiping’ about former leader Kim Jong-il, her parents, daughter and sons were also imprisoned for ‘guilt by association’.
Each day, they were woken at 3.30am and forced to work until dark. When her parents starved to death, she wrapped their bodies in straw and buried them herself. Her children all died in the camp too.
Stand with the people of North Korea and demand action
In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (widely known as North Korea), there is no political opposition, no independent media, and no free trade unions or other civil society organisations.
The country has been in the grip of a devastating food crisis since the early 1990s, and nearly a million people have starved to death
At the heart of this vast network of repression and cruelty, are the political prison camps. Watch our video: the inside story of the prison camps
At least 100,000 people live in the prison camps. Satellite images we commissioned last year show the largest covering an area of approximately 215 square miles. Some people are sent there without charge, let alone a trial, and forced to work with little food or sleep.
Many die of overwork or malnutrition. Torture is rampant, and executions are commonplace.
A former guard at the country’s largest prison camp, Kwanliso 16, told us of women being raped by visiting officials then disappearing:
‘After a night of “servicing” the officials, the women had to die because the secret could not get out. This happens at most of the political prison camps.’ Former prison guard
Stand with the people of North Korea and demand action
Armed with evidence of the scale and depth of abuse within the country, we have been lobbying the United Nations to hold a Commission of Inquiry into North Korea for many years.
The inquiry began in March 2013, and published its final report today, laying bare the gruesome reality of life in North Korea. Among testimony given was an account of a woman forced to drown her own baby.
The world can no longer say it does not know what is happening in North Korea. And the North Korean regime can no longer deny this is happening. The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council must now use their power and influence to ensure action.
This must be the year the world acts on North Korea – pledge your support now
Karen Middleton Campaign Manager
Assad’s friends and supporters on the Stalinist and semi-Stalinist “left” have had little - in most cases nothing – to say about the report accusing his regime of the “systematic killing,” with photographic evidence of torture and starvation, of about 11,000 detainees.
When the Guardian and CNN broke the story on Wednesday, they made no secret of the fact that the report had been commissioned by the government of Qatar, which of course backs the rebels: I expected Assad’s western supporters and apologists to use this to attack the report’s credibility, even though the three authors are all former war crimes prosecutors with impeccable records, and their main source, “Caesar” provided photographic evidence that experts have pronounced genuine beyond reasonable doubt.
In fact, Assad’s UK supporters – the Morning Star, and the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ - have said simply nothing. One would like to think this was the result of embarrassment and shame. But these people know no shame. The truth is, they simply don’t care, and are betting on their man eventually winning. One doesn’t have to harbour illusions in the rebels (we at Shiraz certainly don’t) to be revolted by the degeneracy of a “left” that can give de facto support to this butcher, and turn a blind eye to killing and torture on an industrial scale.
One exception is the unabashed Assad supporter John Wight over at the miss-named Socialist Unity blog: this preposterous male model, jew-baiter and failed bit-part actor makes no secret of his panting, Gallowayesque admiration for tyrants and strong-men, and wallows in his world of conspiracy-theories. But at least (unlike his gaffer Nooman) he makes no secret of his love for the mass-murderer Assad, and – against all the evidence – simply refuses to accept the findings of the report.
By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):
Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.
This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.
Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.
The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.
The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.
Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.
Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies. So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress.
What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.
Given the enthusiasm with which the PSC and others push the claim that Israel is an “apartheid” state, and the suggestion that Mandela endorsed that view, the following article by Jeff Weintraub is of considerable importance:
The history of Israel’s relationship with South Africa, before and after the end of the white-supremacist apartheid regime, is a story with many complex, difficult, and deeply troubling aspects. That complexity was highlighted once again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute decision, on a pretext that looked pretty flimsy, to cancel his scheduled trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral on December 10—a decision so unwise and unfortunate, even scandalous, on the face of it that I still find it a bit inexplicable (though I’ve seen a range of speculative analyses). President Shimon Peres had a plausible-sounding medical excuse that also kept him away. Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu, he’s smart enough that he must have realized how bad it looked for both of Israel’s top political figures to be absent from Mandela’s funeral, so I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t some complicate behind-the-scenes angle here that we may eventually learn about. At all events, Israel was represented at the funeral by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and five other Israeli legislators (including one African-Israeli Knesset member, Penina Tamanu-Shata, who was born in Ethiopia).
I mention this recent unpleasantness mostly as background to a more important story about Mandela and his relationship to Israel, reported (below) by Alan Johnson, editor of Fathom. It confirms for me something about Mandela’s record of which I was only partly aware, and gives me new reasons to admire Mandela’s historic role and greatness of spirit.
Here is a statement that Mandela made as President of the African National Congress in 1993, the year before he was elected President of South Africa. (If you’re skeptical about whether the quotation is accurate, you can also find it on the ANC website.):
As a movement, we recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognise the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism. We insist on the right of the state of Israel to exist within secure borders but with equal vigour support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.
This formulation is clear, straightforward, and important. And as far as I can tell, it was Mandela’s consistent position through the end of his life.
Mandela and the ANC were, of course, thoroughly committed to the Palestinian cause and regarded the PLO as a fellow liberation movement. So it’s unsurprising, as well as entirely proper, that Mandela would have endorsed the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation and national self-determination. What is more striking, in this context, is that Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported Israel‘s right to exist. That is, he didn’t just indicate a willingness to accept Israel’s existence as an unavoidable (though perhaps unwelcome) fact of life, but asserted that Israel has a right to exist. And he supported Israel’s right to exist, explicitly and unambiguously, on the grounds that Jews have the same right to national self-determination as any other people. That cuts to the heart of what is as stake in the whole controversy. Everything else is details—though the details are obviously very important.
(Lest anyone think that I am overdoing the significance of Mandela’s position on these issues, it is worth noting that, to this day, almost no one in the entire Arab world has publicly accepted that Israel has a moral right to exist or that Zionism is a legitimate national movement—even people who, over time, have grudgingly come to accept the idea of making peace with Israel for reasons of prudence, realpolitik, or simple exhaustion. I can think of a few exceptions, but they can be counted on my fingers. As the New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner, who spent years covering the Middle East, wrote in 2003:
I once asked King Hussein of Jordan whether he considered Zionism legitimate. Did he accept that there was any historical basis to the Jews’ claim to a portion of Palestine as their homeland? He looked at me as if I were from Mars and ducked the question. Later, he told a Jordanian colleague that only a Jew could have posed such a strange question. Perhaps by the time of his death in 1999 he had softened his view. But his reaction still exemplifies that of the vast majority of Arabs today. Even the many who favor peace with Israel under certain conditions accept its reality but not its legitimacy. [....]
(“On the Israeli side,” Bronner added, “there are similar denials” regarding the legitimacy and moral claims of Palestinian nationalism—though nowadays significant numbers of Israelis, and certainly a major proportion of Israel’s supporters world-wide, do accept, at least in principle, that Palestinians have a right to national self-determination.) And I know people here in the US who have no desire to see Israel destroyed but who reject, or at least are uneasy about, recognizing the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish nation-state, though they have no trouble accepting the legitimacy of an Irish or Greek or Turkish or Egyptian or Palestinian nation-state—which means, whether or not they’re fully aware of it, that they don’t really accept that Jews have the same rights to political self-determination as other peoples.
In short, Mandela explicitly and unambiguously supported the principle that can be summed up with the formula “two states for two peoples“. Like it or not, that fundamental principle continues to be the only possible basis for a just, durable, and non-catastrophic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, in turn, can work only in the context of a more general Arab-Israeli peace settlement that includes genuine Arab acceptance of Israel’s existence and security. That outcome is by no means inevitable, and in fact there are many good reasons for feeling pessimistic about whether it will actually happen. But all the realistically conceivable alternatives lead to catastrophe. So it’s a good idea to take Mandela seriously on this matter, as on many others.
P.S. And speaking of the details … here are a few of Mandela’s statements to reporters during his visit to Israel in 1999, after retiring as President of South Africa. On the one hand: “My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands.” But on the other hand: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.”
Mandela made these statements toward the tail-end of the Oslo era, before the dramatic collapse of the supposed “peace process” in 2000. But they still sound like a good basis for a package deal. Some tendencies in the Arab world have been inching in that direction over the years (and the broad outlines of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement along these lines were put forward, albeit with significant gaps and ambiguities, in the Saudi-inspired Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002—which, so far, has not been followed up from either the Arab or the Israel side). Other tendencies have been moving even further away from it. All the available evidence suggests that a solid majority of Israelis are willing, in principle, to agree to a peace deal on this basis—but most of them have no confidence that it’s actually a realistically available option. What will happen in the future remains to be seen … though, again, excessive optimism would be foolish.
[Update 12/16/2013: I've been reminded that there is a a quotation from Mandela floating around the internet in which he accuses Israel of pursuing "apartheid policies" like the old South Africa. This quotation is often cited by people hostile to Israel. But it happens to be a fake. To be fair, it appears that the person who originally wrote that statement didn't pretend that it was an actual quotation, but instead meant it to suggest what Mandela would say if he were really expressing his innermost thoughts. But it now gets quoted and re-quoted as something Mandela actually said—which he didn't.]
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