January 05, 2013

On the dismissal of Richard Falk by Human Rights Watch

Richard Falk, law professor and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, was apparently sacked by Human Rights Watch from one of its advisory bodies following a witch-hunt campaign launch by UN Watch. UN Watch, trolling for more money from its secret donors, boasted of the “success” on its website.

After the UN Watch smear job was taken up as a whole by the French Jewish lobby association CRIF, Falk replied, and one can read his open letter on his blog. Regluar commenter here Deir Yassin left this informative post on Falk's blog that would help introduce the reader to this fabled organization. 
CRIF spend most of their time accusing even the slightest critique of Israel of being antisemitic. The list of French Jews that have been accused by them is endless, and you’re in good company: Etienne Balibar, Rony Brauman, Michel Warschawski, Eric Hazan….. Everytime there’s a documentary about Palestine or Israel on French national television, they send letters complaining about anti-semitism if it doesn’t start and end with the HaTikva and Am Israel chai. “Lorsque Sharon est venu en France, je lui ai dit qu’il doit absolument mettre en place un ministère de la Propagande, comme Goebbels” [when Sharon came to France, I told him that he must absolutely create a ministry of Propaganda, like Goebbels], Interview of Roger Cukierman, leader of CRIF, Haaretz, 26 september 2001.
UN Watch isn’t picky. It lists pretty much every speck of dirt it can find on Falk. A lot of it is ridiculous. Supposedly, Falk is a “Hamas supporter” on the strength on the opinion of some official of the Palestinian Authority. One would think that being shunned by a lemming of Quislings should be a badge of honor for anybody. PA officials are notorious for accusing anyone who calls them out on their subservience to Israel as “Hamas supporter.” An even more preposterous accusation is that Falk attempted to “downplay, reinterpret and justify” Khaled Meshaal‘s call “to destroy Israel.” Falk merely pointed out  that on Israel Hamas speaks through both sides of its mouth. Surely, that should be reassuring to Israel’s apologists. As the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is proving to whoever tends to forget, and as the ANC is proving no less in South Africa, massacring miners, some resistance organizations hold a big For Sale sign behind their raised fist.

Other accusations are flogging dead horses. Falk posted a cartoon with potential antisemitic notes. He was notified and promptly removed it. Raising the issue again is simply indecent and a measure of the people who are behind it. UN Watch in fact flogs this particular dead horse twice, recording separately the offense itself, and a second time that Falk was criticized for it by another UN official.

Other accusations are, while twisted, not as trivial. I have read enough of Falk’s musings to come to the conclusion that he often combines pointed analysis with a descent into whacky territory. Un Watch  accuses him, for example, of accusing Israel of “planning a 'Palestinian Holocaust.'” This is a barefaced lie. Here is what Falk wrote in 2007:
The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy.

In other words, in 2007 Falk accused Israel of intentionally creating “life endangering conditions” and suggested that this has the potential to deteriorate into genocide. One could debate. But it is undeniable that 1) a desire to see Palestinians gone (or indeed pretend they never existed) is inherent in the very logic of Zionist settler colonization, has been amply expressed by many Zionist leaders, not to mention football stadium crowds, and also amply documented by scholars. 2) the manufactured health conditions in Gaza have been and are at crisis level. And 3) things can get worse. Other genocides, for example, the Armenian one, followed similar paths from "endangering life" to full genocide.

But Falk didn’t end there. The article begins with a gratuitous comparison with and discussion of the Holocaust, which serves no discernible purpose at all except to highlight Falk's identity, weaken the argument and make the author look lacking in judgment. It then follows with an even wackier argument, typical unfortunately, that finds the potential international and US abetting of an Israeli genocide yet-to-happen “morally worse” than the corresponding complicity in other, actual 20th century genocides. Leaving aside the Nazi holocaust and the shameful across-the-board refusal of Western countries to accept Jewish refugees (Switzerland even lobbied the Nazis to stamp J in Jewish passports, to better stop them at the border),  Falk forgets that the US armed and supported the perpetrators of genocide in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and East Timor. Falk mentions the genocide in Rwanda as an example of Western countries “doing nothing to  stop” genocide, while completely ignoring the serious and credible allegations that France played a role in the genocide. That France supported the genocidal government and trained its troops is beyond dispute.

What purpose does this rhetoric serve, why separate and create hierarchies, not to mentioned false hierarchies, between victims? Why is every wacky conspiracy theory about the US and Israel credible while known, documented Western involvement in other genocides is downplayed? Falk starts by reminding us that he is an American Jew. And while that makes his energetic commitment to supporting Palestinian rights both admirable and understandable, it is hard to find anything admirable in belittling other victims of genocide, as if the fact that the Tutsis for example weren’t massacred by Jews makes them less deserving in Falk’s eyes.

To be clear, it is illegitimate to complain, as Israel’s willing apologists often do, that Falk devotes himself only to Palestinian rights and is thus neglecting other victims of atrocities. Everyone has a right to choose one's engagements, and Falk’s Jewish identity is as legitimate a reason as any to focus one’s engagement on Palestine. But focusing one’s energies on Palestine and imagining fictional reasons why Western complicity in the Palestinian case is “morally worse” are two separate things. Human rights and liberation are not zero sum games. When victims are made to compete against each other, it is always at the benefit of maintaining some form of oppression. Accountability for one genocide only come at the expense of others when some victims turn their coats and join perpetrators. True, uncompromising resistance to oppression depends on the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” That spirit is utterly negated when one starts selecting between worthier and less worthy victims. To falsely promote such competition between victims as Falk does comes at the expense of solidarity and is detrimental to all struggles of justice.

Falk’s walks on the wild side provide UN Watch enough ammunition, including his endorsement of 9/11 conspiracies and, of course, the boneheaded defense of his ignorant endorsement of Atzmon’s antisemitic “book.”  There is no point on defending Falk on these points (although they do not prove UN Watch allegations!). He is wacky and at times profoundly ignorant. But while that has to be conceded, it cannot be left at that.

First, so what? UN Watch has not uncovered a single paragraph in any of Falk’s copious professional work, including his UN reports about Israel, that does not meet the standards of required competence. We can be assured of that since if they had had anything they would have published it. They did throw the kitchen sink at him after all. The only accusations that (very partially) stick to him belong to his personal musings. That he is biased against Israel is neither here nor there. When you are charged with investigating human rights violations in an area, being biased against the government holding power in that area ought to be part of the job description. The only relevant question is the quality of Falk’s output; on that UN Watch is as silent as it is on Israel’s criminal record.

Apropos that, HRW fired Falk at the behest of one of the most corrupting and corrupt NGOs in the history of that three letter infamy. Had Falk supported Israel’s crimes, UN Watch would never have complained about his alleged antisemitism. Known antisemites are welcome guests in Israel and are even given VIP tours of the Knesset. I won’t be surprised to find out that antisemites are among those funding UN Watch. UN Watch went fishing in Falk’s off-the-job record because this is a wretched, anti-human, anti-freedom and anti-rights organization dedicated to witch-hunting critics of Israel.

What that all means is the Human Rights Watch fired one of its prominent legal advisers for its off-the-job personal opinions. That’s simply wrong, although I am afraid that it is a tough argument to make in a era when a US court justifies firing a dentist assistant for the crime of being “irresistible.” Human Right Watch fired Falk because it must please its wealthy donors. And the perspective of these donors is the one the dominates: all people are like fully-owned office furniture; rolling chairs are not supposed to have personal opinions that clash with the decor.

These are the times we live in, and it is worth considering that it isn't irrelevant to the question of human rights. People who don't respect our right to be human are probably not going to do a good job defending our human rights. If HRW really cared about human rights, as a principle, not just as a reason to ask for donations, it could have started with defending the human right of Richard Falk to be Richard Falk, a distinct human being, with a distinct personality, foibles and flaws, and even wacky conspiracies theories and other hang-ups that in no way impede his ability to provide HRW with good advice about human rights in Palestine, without having that as a reason for dismissal. But anyone who has been near an NGO office knows that I’m being utterly utopian.

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