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Friday, November 19, 2010

Another mine explosion: Will the mainstream media get it right this time?

News is breaking today that 27 miners are missing after an explosion in a New Zealand mine. After all the hoopla over the Chilean miners, in which mine safety issues were rarely mentioned in news media accounts over the long months, journalists have another chance to get this story right.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

If you don't like the verdict, move to another "court"?

In his story in today's New York Times about the acquittal of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on all but one of 285 charges related to the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, reporter Benjamin Weiser states that "the result seems certain to fuel debate about whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying terrorists."

Could I pull out my editor's red pencil and change that to "the result seems certain to fuel debate about whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying [alleged] terrorists [who have been subject to torture during their interrogations]."

Ghailani may well have played an important role in the bombings, as prosecutors claim, and he will probably stay in jail for a long time for the one charge he was convicted of. But just because we don't like the verdict doesn't mean we can keep changing the rules of the game until we get an outcome we like.

Nevertheless, the Times is hosting a debate on the subject, and the Obama administration will have one more excuse to continue acting just like the Bush administration when it comes to lowering legal standards for convicting terrorist suspects.

Update: Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo, takes a similar position in a Times op-ed, arguing that a military commission judge probably would have suppressed the same witness evidence that the civilian judge did in this case. While I don't like arguments that are based on pragmatism rather than principle, Davis argues that the two go hand in hand, and most importantly that critics of civilian trials are flat wrong on both counts.


Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nazis were given safe haven in the U.S.

Someone has leaked a long-suppressed Justice Department report on this topic to the New York Times, which carries an article about it today. A heavily redacted version had previously been given, under the threat of a lawsuit, to the National Security Archive (an excellent group you should know about if you don't already); but the Times got its hands on the uncensored version. Read the story carefully, because reporter Eric Lichtblau gives some examples of sections that were originally redacted--no national security secrets, of course, just things that would be embarrassing to various past U.S. and foreign governments. (Oh, and the Obama Justice Department was among those who tried to keep it secret.)

The idea of compiling the report was the "brainchild" of the late Justice Department lawyer Mark Richard, Lichtblau reports. Richard  urged that it be made public but died last year while the fight to get it released was still going on. If you read between the lines of the article, you might even be able to make some guesses about who leaked it.

Photo: Wernher von Braun, former rocket scientist for Nazi Germany and later NASA space flight leader/Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Is debate about its history now taboo in Israel?

The photo at right is of Lisa Strombom, a PhD student at Lund University in Sweden. She has just completed and defended (yesterday) a thesis about the effective suppression in Israel of discussion about the nation's history, especially the oppression and exiling of Palestinians that accompanied its birth in 1948. The following is from the Lund University press release about her thesis, which makes interesting reading on its own. You can access the entire text of the thesis here and at the link given below.


Understanding the enemy’s view of history is important if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East. Unfortunately it has become almost taboo to create understanding for the opposite side in today’s Israel. This is the view of Lisa Strömbom, who defends her thesis in political science at Lund University on 12 November.
Lisa Strömbom has studied the history debate that took place in Israel during the 1990s when the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians looked promising. The Oslo Accords in 1993 were the closest they had come to a peace settlement since the state of Israel was founded in 1948.
During the same period, Israeli historians began to view the country’s birth with somewhat new eyes – the war that preceded the creation of the state was not as unblemished as had previously been claimed: it was not the case that the Jews began building their country in a fairly uninhabited region and that the Palestinians who lived there left the country on their own initiative or that of their elite.
“The history debate was not lacking in controversy, but it did exist and was very animated”, says Lisa Strömbom.
In 1995 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered and the Oslo Process stagnated. Since then, and in particular since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2001, the history debate in the Israeli media has ceased.
Textbooks that take up the Palestinian perspective on history have been revised or removed from classrooms. History teaching has also been complemented by a new subject, ‘heritage’, which gives a more ideological picture of Israel’s history.
“Today there is no longer any history debate in the Israeli press”, says Lisa Strömbom. “Powerful and influential nationalist forces label all questioning of the traditional Israeli history writing as anti-Israeli. Human rights organisations, peace activists and academics critical of society are branded disloyal to the state and are even described as a threat to its survival.”
As an example of how Israeli society has changed, Lisa Strömbom mentions the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who turned out en masse to demonstrate against the Lebanon War in 1982. Unlike previous wars, they considered that it could have been avoided and that the Israeli military had used excessive force. In the Gaza War, when, according to subsequent reports, there were a lot of attacks on the Palestinian population, large sections of Israeli civil society remained passive, which can partly be explained by strong campaigns of delegitimisation against all those who opposed the current government’s policies in different ways.
Lisa Strömbom defends her thesis on 12 November at 10:15 in Kulturen’s Auditorium, Lund. The title of the thesis is Revisiting the past. Israeli identity, thick recognition and conflict resolution. A PDF of the thesis can be found at: http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=1691351&fileOId=1691352

Attached files

  • Lisa Strömbom

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Courageous young Jews disrupt Netanyahu speech at Jewish Federations General Assembly


Young Jews Disrupt Netanyahu at Jewish General Assembly from stefanie fox on Vimeo.

I'm sure that some critics will try to brand the heroic activists who carried out this widely covered action as "self-hating Jews." Indeed, Netanyahu implied that in his response to them. As one who applauds such actions, and as a new member of Jewish Voice for Peace, my response is that we Jews who oppose Israeli policies--especially the theft and occupation of Palestinian lands--don't hate ourselves. Rather, we detest those Jewish leaders who have betrayed Judaic values of tolerance and social justice by using the Holocaust as an excuse for the oppression of other peoples.

PS--Due to a heavy teaching and writing schedule in New York this fall, this blog has been largely dormant. I am hoping that will change in the weeks and months ahead.

Update: A detailed explanation of this action, by Rae Abileah of CODEPINK and Jewish Voice for Peace, can be found here; and one of these brave activists explains, in the face of criticism, why he participated in it.

More update: Another of the five young Jewish protestors against Netanyahu and his policies, Matthew Taylor, explains his views in an op-ed in Haaretz.