THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 8, 2009
OK, the Bertrand Russell psychodrama is also malicious but maybe not dangerously so. About six months ago, I came across a web posting announcing the formation of a Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Yes, it was one of those false kangaroo courts in which, from the Stalin era on, convenes not to evaluate evidence but to condemn. In loads of cases the verdicts brought quick impositions of the death sentence. One such process is now unfolding in Tehran, and its backers are Muslim millenarians and western leftists who are prone to support every revolution even if it is decidedly and objectively reactionary, nay, fascistic. This hangmen's jurisprudence will soon end its proceedings and it will end in blood. The Russell production will be a show trial.
The convener of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal, Ken Coates, is the chairman of the Betrand Russell Peace Foundation who has been in this unproductive line of work at least as early as 1975 when he and Noam Chomsky wrote their sympathizers (through the New York Review of Books, of course) to ask for help in raising 20,000 pounds, not a big sum for an organization with so many flashy supporters. Now, fast forward to 2009, and the occupiers of the Russell name are still out on the street pandering for support. Dorothy Day's sweet old Catholic Worker does better.
In any case, I looked up Ken Coates on google and, lo, I found two of them. One was the aforesaid whose biography is one of those left-wing tragicomedies, first a communist, then a Trotskyite, then a Bukharanite, self-styled supporter of human socialism, peace, democracy, disarmament and human rights. He may also be vegan and against the wearing of animal furs. Everybody to his own fixations. One of his many books is Confessions of a Terrorist, published (like most of his writings) by Spokesman Books. I don't know if Coates is a terrorist. But he sure is a spokesmen for terrorism.
The other Kenneth Coates is a Canadian professor of history and dean of the faculty of arts at the University of Waterloo. The author of five books on the history and rights of indigenous peoples, no less, (each published by distinguished imprints), he has written also on anti-Semitism and its deep relationship to hatred of Israel. On February 24, 2009, this Coates published a brave little essay in the National Post. It is called "Standing With the Jews."
There is something comically cosmic about the juxtaposition of two men by the same name, one a certified political hack who served so many vile gods and the other an honest scholar who happened on the question of Israel and saw evil stalking it.
I don't know if the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will ever actually convene. But there are lots of contenders for the franchise. A prominent exemplar is actually a one-man show: the retired Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice at Princeton, Richard Falk. Writing about Falk in the Middle East Quarterly (Winter 2002), "Professors of Palestine," Martin Kramer observed that "extracting...ex cathedra rulings from Falk is easy business."
(A random footnote: The man who endowed the Princeton professorship Falk held was Albertt G. Milbank, a founder of the eminent international law firm Millbank Tweed Hadley and McCloy. Just about the time F.D.R. became president, Milbank presented to the New York Academy of Medicine a proposal that mandatory state-wide health insurance be established and paid for from employee wages and employer profits. The country hasn't made much progress such.)
I met Falk in the early peace movement which actually was less of a peace movement than an American mobilization to push for the victory of the Viet Cong. Please, don't deny this. I was there and left because that's what it was. But Falk was a disciplined volunteer in the movement and issued convictions for war crimes left and right. No, that's not correct. He issued them only "right."
Sometimes Falk declares people "innocent." His most memorable verdict in this vein was published in the New York Times on February 16, 1979, and it was titled "Trusting Khomeini." The judgment was laughable then. "The depiction of Khomeini as fanatical, reactionary, and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false." He went on in this Times piece to assert that, "Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane government for a third-world country." Of course, this reminds me of Roger Cohen's Times column of February 22, 2009 in which, because he relies "on facts over words..." to grasp "the reality of Iranian civility... its sophistication and culture," he can assures us of the fate of Iran's Jews and its civilization more generally. In the 30s, a similarly soothing civility was the eine kleine nachtmusik that lulled the West to sleep about the Nazis.
Falk is now ensconced as the United Human Rights Council's legal factotum on Israel and Palestine. He has ample credentials in this regard, having decades ago found Ariel Sharon indictable for war crimes over the Christian Phalange's 1982 massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla, a massacre actually organized by Elie Hobeika who subsequently became minister of housing in one of those wall-to-wall governments of Lebanon, a paradigmatic one-state solution, so to speak, in a deeply riven land. This Maronite killer was assassinated in a car bombing 20 years after the death-happening in the two "refugee" camps. Happy anniversary, Elie.
A fine and funny stylist, Kramer also reminded us that "Falk is famous for his one-size-fits-all definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity." So, "in 1998...he warned officials responsible for implementing the United Nations sanctions against Iraq of their 'criminal accountability for complicity in the commission of crimes against humanity'." The persistence of American leaders in carrying out the sanctions regime "subjects them to potential criminal responsibility."
Jane Fonda is now back in this business, too. She's 72 years old and still very beautiful. But her moral compass is rather deranged. So what's new? Her moral compass was also deranged during the Vietnam war. And, no, she was not against the war. She wanted the phantom Viet Cong (which mysteriously disappeared promptly at war's end, and elegant Mme. Binh with it) and North Vietnam to win it. So Jane was to Hanoi what Rose was to Tokyo. When Joan Baez tried to get her to sign a public protest against the cruelty and barbarism of the Vietnam victors (and of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, too) she refused.
Now this ethical exemplar--Jane not Joan--has joined a group of film personalities to protest the special featuring of Israeli films at the Toronto Film Festival. It happens that Israel is in the midst of a blossoming of movies (as it is in dance), subtle, complex, artful, morally challenging to Israeli themselves. But Fonda has issued her dictum that Israel should not be honored by such special attention, actually in recognition of the hundredth anniversary of Tel Aviv. A joint statement, signed also by Danny Glover, David Byrne and tiresome Alice Walker, explicitly roots its protest in the wisdom of Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and outgoing U.N. General Assembly president Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann that Israel is an "apartheid state."
The document does not mention Mary Robinson, Medal of Freedom laureate of the Obama presidency. She, like the latter three and other elders, are members of what they themselves call "The Elders." They go back and forth to Israel and surroundings on missions of inquiry, to which they already know the answers. Last week, they arrived with an actual young'un, 59 year-old Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, the 261st richest person in the world and head of dozens of companies with the moniker "virgin." Attention everybody: he is for a two-state solution. Who isn't? Poor demented Jimmy Carter, certainly the least comprehending of our presidents in the 20th century, is not so sure. Jimmy is, I am reasonably confident, on his way to a one-state solution. By the way, which one state in the Middle East is a success at anything?
Ignoring entirely the essential history of Zionism and of international diplomacy after the First World War, Archbishop Tutu on his latest journey to the Middle East said that the Palestinians were doing the penance of the Nazis towards the Jews. This is the narrative the Palestinians favor largely because it clears them of their own passivity and reliance on other Arabs in the decades before World War II. But don't be too hard on the archbishop. It is pretty close to the president's telling in Cairo, as I wrote two months ago, and it was a tendentious, if not outright false telling.
So much for the interlocutors.