May 16th 2021

The Big Question Posed by Human Rights Watch’s Report 

by
James Zogby

Dr James Zogby serves as the President of the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC. He co-founded the organization in 1985 and for the past two decades has been involved in a full range of Arab American issues. He also co-founded the Palestine Human Rights Campaign in the late 1970s, and later co-founded and served as the Executive Director of the American-Arab-Anti-Discrimination Committee. He serves on the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Committee as well as on the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr Zogby hosts a weekly television show called, “Viewpoint with James Zogby” and writes a weekly newspaper column, “Washington Watch”.

While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question.

I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression.

Defending Palestinian human rights has long been my passion – and my vocation. I founded the Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC) almost one-half century ago. In the 1970’s, we issued our own reports on some of the very same policies covered in the HRW study. I, therefore, felt some degree of validation reading their presentation of Israel’s: systematic effort to cleanse the Galilee and the Negev of Arabs; refusal to allow Palestinian refugees and those internally displaced access to their homes and properties; crippling stranglehold on Gaza and impact on the lives of that region’s civilian population; efforts to ensure Jewish demographic dominance in what they call “Greater Jerusalem”; and deliberate policies designed to corral Palestinians in the West Bank into Bantustans, replicating the way they dealt with their Palestinian citizens in the Galilee. I also felt enraged because these inhumane policies​, though known (and reported on) for decades​, have been ignored by policymakers. 

I also felt a deep hurt as I recalled the many Palestinian victims of Israeli abuse whom I’ve known over the years – those who: were tortured; had their homes demolished or lands confiscated; were illegally kidnapped and expelled; detained for years without trial; or were refugees, forced to flee and longing to return to their homes.

And I grieved for those human rights champions I knew who had devoted their lives to the cause of justice and helped guide my early work: the human rights attorney, Felicia Langer; the President and Vice-President of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, Israel Shahak and Uri Davis; the poet, Mayor of Nazereth and Knesset Member Tawfiq Zayyad; and the courageous West Bank mayors Abdul Jawad Saleh, Fahd Kawasmeh, and Mohamed Milham – who were taken by occupation authorities in the dark of night and expelled from their homes and country. At one point, while reading the report, I wept at the thought that none of these heroes had lived to see the day when the racist system against which they worked so hard was finally being called out by the name it deserved - Apartheid.   

What’s new, of course, in this HRW report, aren’t the details of the charge sheet. It’s that HRW has removed the argument that liberals in the US have used to absolve themselves from criticizing Israel. When confronted with past reports on Israeli abuses, their two most common responses have taken two forms of nervous dismissal: either – “If we focus on these matters, it will make the Israelis less willing to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians;” or “If the Israelis continue on this path, a two-state solution will be impossible and Israel will become an apartheid state.”

As the title of the report makes clear, that threshold has been crossed. By calculated Israeli design, the two-state solution is no longer possible​; apartheid and persecution define the reality that exists in the entire area under Israeli control.

Relying on the accepted definitions of these crimes in international law, “A Threshold Crossed” methodically lays out the case that Israel is guilty of: Apartheid – that is, “inhumane acts committed in the context of systematic oppression by one racial group over another, with the intent to dominate the marginalized group; and Persecution, that is, “severe abuses of fundamental rights committed with discriminatory intent.”

To date, the responses of Israel and its supporters in the US to the HRW report have been predictable. They worked themselves into a frenzied rage throwing every imaginable insult they could at HRW and the report’s leadership – “fabricated,” “a pack of lies,” “anti-Semitic.” The reactions of liberals have been more interesting, since they have long held that HRW reports on other countries as the “gold standard.” They have, therefore, twisted themselves in knots trying to maintain their concern with Israeli practices while still falling back on the two-state mantra.

In both instances, it was clear that the report hadn’t been read​, and in all likelihood​, wouldn’t be read because of the discomfort it will cause. And this too is infuriating.

My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” And as you read it, ask yourselves just one question: “Are Palestinians full human beings whose lives are as valuable as those of any other people?” If you decide the answer is “Yes,” then I ask​, how can you be silent and acquiesce in the face of the horrific systematic abuse to which Palestinians have been forced to endure? And how can you continue to tolerate the denial of Palestinian rights to the sanctity of their homes and properties and their fundamental rights to life and liberty?

If you remain silent, continue to find ways to absolve Israel’s behaviors, or refuse to consider measures to end these abuses, then you are, in fact, answering “No, Palestinians are not full human beings whose lives are as valuable as those of any other people” – and you, in effect, become complicit in these continuing crimes against humanity.  

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Sep 11th 2021
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Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
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Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "