Professor Richard Falk is a distinguished academic expert on international law with some 40 books under his belt and a lifetime of learning and teaching that has taken him on a journey through some of the best universities in the United States. Naturally, he was not on the radar of what Jewish feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin calls the “Pro-Israel Mafia” until he was appointed to several high level UN Palestine-related posts including the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.
In these positions as a human rights watchdog he has proven himself perfectly willing to strongly criticize Israeli human rights policies. In 2007, he famously compared the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza with Nazi treatment of Jews- warning of a possible impending “collective tragedy” in an article than will only be judged in retrospect as either provocatively alarmist or prophetic, but certainly was morally sincere and rationally-driven.
Naturally, however, this is not allowed.
It was at that point that groups like UN Watch – associated with the American Jewish Committee– and the Anti-Defamation League, who share an almost comical willingness to find anti-Semites under every door and who don’t hesitate to engage in cherry-picking and personal smear campaigns—decided it was time for Richard Falk, who is Jewish, to go (see here, here and here.)
But this past Friday, they gained one especially big new ally in their latest push to rid the UN of Richard Falk-the Obama Administration. (US Ambassador to UN, Susan Rice had previously called for Falk’s head for suggesting what a significant number of Americans already believe– that the US government might have been less than fully forthcoming about the events surrounding 9/11.)
But what happened? And how did this campaign move from a small blog to the floors of US Congress in a matter of days?
Well, ostensibly, the issue is a cartoon posted in Richard Falk’s blog (the inset is of the cached image as it originally appeared, the original post here. Falk has since removed the image and written plausible explanations and apologies here .)
On June 29, Richard Falk wrote a blog post about NATO’s hypocritical abuse of the International Court of Law in the case of Libya and bringing charges against Qaddafi. The post is a broader analysis of the use of international law in the service of power and mentions only briefly Israel in the context of the US and Europe as examples of hypocritical selective deployment of international accountability. He included a cartoon of a dog with a big USA label peeing on Blind Justice while eating the remains of a body. This was, he felt, the right visual representation of his blog post about US hypocrisy.
When Falk, who by his own admission is 80 – and anyone over 40 knows what age does to eyesight – posted the cartoon, he claims he didn’t see a tiny Star of David scrawled on the hat of the dog; he said the dog looked like it was wearing a helmet and not a Jewish skullcap as others have since contended. Falk picked the image because of its commentary about the USA hypocrisy. (In my entirely unscientific yet unintentionally humorous test in my office, I showed the cartoon exactly as it appeared to several colleagues including a young man with excellent eyesight who happens to be the son of a rabbi. He kept asking over and over, “But where’s the Star of David? I don’t see it!” The fact is that if you don’t know to look for it, it is hard to find unless you see the image in really big resolution.)
But according to the ADL and UN Watch and the right-wing smear machine (which likes to mention that Falk is suspiciously married to a Turkish woman as proof that he isn’t actually Jewish), Richard Falk is an anti-Semite who knowingly posted a cartoon portraying Jews as vicious dogs. For them, the only necessary context is his prior record of standing up for Palestinian rights with unapologetic language.
By July 6, UN Watch had gotten Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to follow their script faithfully on the floor of Congress.
Falk has absolutely no record of anti-Semitism. But of course, he does have a record of making extremely strong statements about Israel’s human rights record- which is the real source of the visceral hatred for him and others like his UN his predecessor South African John Dugard- and UN investigator Richard Goldstone. It’s a well trodden path of smears and attacks and its pretty clear that not even Mother Teresa would come away unscathed after going through the Israel-advocacy machine.
An end to Israeli exceptionalism
Finally, I think Richard Falk did the right thing by apologizing and removing the cartoon which clearly many people found to be offensive. It’s simply a fact that different people see different things… and if you’re human you’ve at some point unintentionally offended people. But it’s worth interrogating the confusion around the very premise of the charge that the cartoon is anti-Semitic.
It’s important to note that the infinitely more prominent USA on the dog has aroused no similar massive outcry for Falk’s ouster by American patriots. That’s because people are perfectly capable of understanding the difference between even strident political criticism of a government–the lifeblood of a democracy–and the wholesale condemnation of its people. In the case of Israel- the line between the government and the Jewish people as a whole is deliberately obscured and groups like the ADL never hesitate to use this confusion to their advantage, making virtually all criticism of Israel subject to potential condemnation as a form of anti-Jewish hatred.
This is the essence of Israeli exceptionalism which leads to the situation we have now- a country that claims all of the benefits of being a western style democracy with little of the accountability. (Aside from the increasingly permanent occupation of another people, Israel gives to Jews a whole range of special privileges including rights to land and political freedoms that non-Jews, 25% of the population, don’t have.)
It was Israel that decided to call itself the homeland of the Jewish people, to use the Magen David– the Star of David as its most prominent feature on its flag, to demand that other countries specifically recognize it as a Jewish state. So when understandably many people conflate the policies of the Israeli government with Jews (to my great sadness), groups like the ADL and the AJC and the Conference of Presidents of Jewish organizations turn around and call them anti-Semites for doing so. That’s the gift that keeps on giving and I can think of few more cynical ways to exploit real suffering and the good will of others.
If UN Watch, B’nai B’rith International, the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League have a problem with Falk, it should be based on substantiated well-argued facts. Not slander and empty personal attacks. And if they want to get truly serious about wanting the world to treat Israel no differently than any other country, then I for one will be the first to sign up.
In the meantime, their behavior fuels exactly the kind of boy-who cried wolf cynicism about real anti-Semitism that makes many Jews fearful that when we REALLY need allies, we’ll just be greeted with eye-rolling.