Category Archives: Governance

Suppressing academic dissent for a foreign power

Freedom of speech faces a massive assault by a foreign power and their domestic allies on America’s college campuses.

The war in the First Amendment is being waged on behalf of an increasingly  belligerent and isolated foreign power which has forged an alliance with the same forces of the radical right which had traditionally been dangerous foes of its inhabitants.

That foreign power is, of course Israel, a nation which has in the course of a few decades become the tail wagging the American dog.

And now an right wing Israeli politician is literally altering American foreign and domestic policy to comply with his imperial ambitions by redefining a social evil into a bludgeon to beat those who decry the Israeli imperial ambitions.

Forthwith, Natan Sharanksky‘s 3D definition of antisemitism:

I believe that we can apply a simple test – I call it the “3D” test – to help us distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism.

The first “D” is the test of demonization. When the Jewish state is being demonized; when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is anti- Semitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.

The second “D” is the test of double standards. When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored; when Israel’s Magen David Adom, alone among the world’s ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross – this is anti-Semitism.

The third “D” is the test of delegitimization: when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all peoples in the world – this too is anti-Semitism.

That the standards are riddled with logical fallacies should be self evident, but let us give a few examples.

Comparison of Israeli policies to those of the Nazis can be perfectly legitimate, as in Hitler’s sequential gobbling up of territory, declaring each annexation the last, right up until. . . Likewise, comparison the inaction of Nazi troops to the lethal beatings of dozens of Jews by native antisemites in Kaunas, Lithuania, during the earliest days of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union is 1941 to the 1982 massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians and Shiites in Lebanese Sabra and Shatila refugee campaigns by Christian militiamen as Israeli troops stood by and watched. Likewise, both Nazi Germany and Israeli engaged in campaigns for Lebensraum [one state seeking a Großdeutschland, the other a Greater Israel], and both states were self-defined ultimate havens for those of an elect and exclusive identity. While, unlike the Nazis, the Israelis haven’t engaged in a campaign of unrelenting genocide, they have, like the Nazis, created a a state with dual class of citizens. So some comparisons are perfectly, just as are some notable events in the history of the United States, as many African Americans and Native Americans can testify.

As for double standards, consider the Israeli government’s ruthless pursuit of critics of its own policies while simultaneously adopting policies with Apartheid-era South Africa and the ruthlessly repressive Saudi regime.

Equating deligitimation of Israel with antisemitism is to declare that Jews don’t exist apart from a geographical entity, a argument that, on its face, negates nearly two millennia of  Jewish history.

Real antisemitism is essentialism, the claim that Jews qua Jews are fundamentally different, and as such are to be excluded or annihilated, or barring those extremes, penalized simply for existing. Prior to the Enlightenment, antisemitism was more theological than essential, and while European Jews were reviled as accursed Christ-killers, confined to ghettos, and forced to wear distinguished garb, hats, or badges [the Nazis weren’t the first to mandate the wearing of stars], Jews could escape Christian antisemitism to a significant degree simply by converting. Racial antisemitism of the sort practiced by the Nazis allowed for no escape, and Germans whose Jewish parents had converted long before they were born were marked for death as surely as the most observant of the Orthodox.

Make no mistake: Real antisemitism is despicable. But Sharansky’s redefinition is simply a justification of ethnic imperialism.

Nonetheless, relentless pressure from Israel and its political machinery in the U.S., epitomized by not limited to AIPAC, has led to the adoption of Sharanky’s potted definition by the U.S. Department of State.

And now that definition msy be coming to the University of California, as Glenn Greenwald notes at The Intercept:

One of the most dangerous threats to campus free speech has been emerging at the highest levels of the University of California system, the sprawling collection of 10 campuses that includes UCLA and UC Berkeley. The university’s governing Board of Regents, with the support of University President Janet Napolitano and egged on by the state’s legislature, has been attempting to adopt new speech codes that — in the name of combating “anti-Semitism” — would formally ban various forms of Israel criticism and anti-Israel activism.

Under the most stringent such regulations, students found to be in violation of these codes would face suspension or expulsion. In July, it appeared that the Regents were poised to enact the most extreme version, but decided instead to push the decision off until September, when they instead would adopt non-binding guidelines to define “hate speech” and “intolerance.”

One of the Regents most vocally advocating for the most stringent version of the speech code is Richard Blum, the multi-millionaire defense contractor who is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. At a Regents meeting last week, reported the Los Angeles Times, Blum expressly threatened that Feinstein would publicly denounce the university if it failed to adopt far more stringent standards than the ones it appeared to be considering, and specifically demanded they be binding and contain punishments for students found to be in violation.

The University of California is merely the latest front in the battle for free speech on America’s college campuses in the face of an onslaught of pressure from Israel and its powerful allies, notes UC Berkeley’s Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, in a discussion with Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestinian Legal (formerly Palestine Solidarity Legal Support) and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network:

Reports Expose Zionists Stifling Dissent on US Campuses

From the transcript:

PERIES: Judith, the Stifling Dissent, the report done by Jewish Voices for Peace, what are the types of incidences or suppression here that are, you know, categorically that led you to issue such a report?

JUDITH BUTLER: Yes, well, first let me just say that I think Jewish Voices for Peace is enormously pleased to be publishing its report at the same time that Palestine Legal publishes its, its report. And I think these two reports should be read together, and they should–they should be understood as an indication of a, of a, of a growing indignation on the part of many people concerned with campus politics and academic freedom.

With these tactics of intimidation, and in my view and the view of the report, really, there are kind of four general areas of concern. One is intimidation, the intimidation of students, undergraduates, graduates. Intimidation of faculty, especially contingent faculty and nontenured faculty. Censorship of intervention into the curriculum we teach them, books we, we teach, and sometimes also not allowing faculty or activists to speak on campus when their views don’t coincide with mainstream Zionist understandings of the state of Israel and Palestine.

I think there’s also, in addition to intimidation and censorship, there is another way to limit debate, which is simply to say, as Hillel does, any speaker who doesn’t actually defend the same view of Zionism that they hold to is not welcome at Hillel. So those students, mainly Jewish students who come to Hillel to understand their world and to understand Jewish values, are not allowed to actually hear a variety of viewpoints about Zionism at, at Hillel itself. Why, why–why wouldn’t Hillel be a place that invites an open and robust debate? So what we’ve seen is the production of Open Hillel, a group of students who had to, to break off from Hillel because it limited debate so severely.

And lastly, of course, we’re also seeing forms of retaliation. Some of them are implicit. Young faculty members or graduate students who take certain kinds of critical positions on the state of Israel are being threatened with the loss of job, we did see that in the Steven Salaita case. They’re being threatened with, with, with professional devastation and limitation. And also some state assemblies are now under pressure trying to pass alws that retaliate against individuals or institutions that have supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. All of, all of these are, are issues of great concern.

And if all this sound like a familiar issue to your friendly neighborhood blogger, it is.

Quote of the day: The Pentagon plays with fire

Again, and this time it’s with China, says former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, reports China Daily:

“We do something to the Chinese every week that we wouldn’t like them to do us,” Brzezinski told a seminar on peace in Northeast Asia on Friday.

“Every week we fly air missions right on the edge of Chinese territory. Would we like it if the Chinese planes fly right next to San Francisco, or Los Angeles? This is a serious problem,” he said, adding that US naval ships are sailing very close to Chinese territorial waters.

Brzezinski described such practice from the Cold War days as “antiquated and one-sided.” “I could see that also produces some serious incidents, very serious kind of incidents,” he said.

Not Sweet: Big Sugar & Big Science Collude

A dentist with a strong sense of compassion and the skills of an investigative UC San Francisco post-doctoral fellow Crista Kearns has devoted herself to exposing the pernicious interface between three powerful institutions, government, the sugar industry, and academia.

What triggered her curiosity was the failure of federal guidelines to include cautions about sugar guidelines for the education of diabetic patients in healthy food choices. This led her to the discovery of a potent nexus of corruption, where fear of the loss of corporate clout and funds has intimidated legislators to set recommended daily maximums for sugar intake, recruited academic scientists to produce distorted research findings, and launched public relations campaigns to hide the real nature of our sweet addiction.

Kearns has written extensively about the politics and health consequences of Big Sugar’s products, and in this presentation to the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, she outlines some of her findings.

From UCTV:

Sugar Industry Manipulation of Research: Implications for Oral Health

Program notes:

The UCSF School of Dentistry hosted the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, featuring presentations related to nutrition, sugar, and oral health worldwide. This presentation by Dr. Cristin Kearns, from the UCSF School of Medicine is one of a series of three presentations that address the science connecting the diet, nutrition, and oral health, as well as the challenges in setting guidelines and policy to reduce sugar consumption and improve nutrition worldwide. Recorded on 05.05.2015.

What make Kearns even more unique is her skill as an investigative journalist [as in these two articles for Mother Jones] as well as as an academic [as in this peer-reviewed research in PLOS Medicine].

Writing for Mother Jones, she described the critical turning point in her life, after she became frustrated with the failure of those federal diabetes education guidelines:

I already had a demanding schedule managing dental operations for Kaiser Permanente’s Dental Care Program, so I gave up TV and spent my evenings staring at Google search results instead. It took a while to hone my searches, but I eventually found enough evidence to convince me there was a story to be had. I quit my day job and dug deeper, getting away from the internet and into the musty paper archives of university libraries.

Fifteen months later, near the end of my financial rope, I tried not to get overexcited when I came across a promising reference in a library catalog of files from a bankrupt sugar company. The librarian who had archived the files wasn’t sure they contained what I was looking for; the bulk of the collection consisted of photos kept around to document the impact of the beet sugar industry on farm labor.

There in the library reading room, standing over a cardboard storage carton, I opened a folder and caught a glimpse of the first document. I sunk down in my chair and whispered “thank you” to nobody in particular. For there, below the blue letterhead of the Sugar Association, the trade group that would become the focus of our story, “Sweet Little Lies,” the word “CONFIDENTIAL” leapt off the page. I didn’t yet know what I had, but I knew I was on the right path.

Kerans also has her own blog, Sugar Politics.

Andrew Cockburn dissects high tech warfare

From The Laura Flanders Show on Telesur English, Andrew Cockburn [Harpers Magazine Washington editor] examines the pernicious psychological and prodigious profits reaped from America’s transition to boots on the ground to drones in the air:

Andrew Cockburn: Modern War

Program notes:

This week’s episode focuses on modern warfare and US imperialism. Is drone warfare here to stay? It’s one of the few things Republicans and Democrats agree on. Andrew Cockburn has been a rare critical voice on the subject. He is the Washington editor of Harper’s magazine and the author of several nonfiction books on war and international politics. His new book is Kill Chain: The Rise of High-Tech Assassins. And later in the show, an excerpt from a new film about a young man held in the US prison at Guantanamo – Fahd Ghazy.

Quote of the day: Fuku-ed up from the get-go

From the The Fukushima Daiichi Accident, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s final report on the three-reactor-meltdown disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 16,000 dead and more than 2,500 missing:

A major factor that contributed to the accident was the widespread assumption in Japan that its nuclear power plants were so safe that an accident of this magnitude was simply unthinkable. This assumption was accepted by nuclear power plant operators and was not challenged by regulators or by the Government. As a result, Japan was not sufficiently prepared for a severe nuclear accident in March 2011. The Fukushima Daiichi accident exposed certain weaknesses in Japan’s regulatory framework. Responsibilities were divided among a number of bodies, and it was not always clear where authority lay.


The regulation of nuclear safety in Japan at the time of the accident was performed by a number of organizations with different roles and responsibilities and complex interrelationships. It was not fully clear which organizations had the responsibility and authority to issue binding instructions on how to respond to safety issues without delay.

The regulatory inspection programme was rigidly structured, which reduced the regulatory body’s ability to verify safety at the proper times and to identify potential new safety issues.

The regulations, guidelines and procedures in place at the time of the accident were not fully in line with international practice in some key areas, most notably in relation to periodic safety reviews, re-evaluation of hazards, severe accident management and safety culture.

The Empire Report: The corrupt Saudi state

In her latest edition of The Empire Files, Abby Martin takes on the corrupt Saudi royal house and their brutal campaigns of repression and class warefare, armed and supported by Barack Obama’s government.

Sexual repression, assassinations of labor leaders, and massacres of political protesters have been part of the House of Saud’s leadership style for generations, and Abby Martin lays it all out in context.

From Telesur English:

The Real House of Saud – Saudi Arabia’s Oil-For-Tyranny

Program notes:

Meet the new head of the United Nations panel on Human Rights: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abby Martin takes us inside the brutal reality of this police-state monarchy, and tells the untold people’s history of resistance to it. With a major, catastrophic war in Yemen and looming high-profile executions of activists, The Empire Files exposes true nature of the U.S.-Saudi love affair.

Berkeley politics: Corrupt business as usual

In Berkeley, a town where developers are kings and poor people are being gentrified out of existence, genteel sleaze is the order of the day, as we noted recently.

The latest example to raise a stink in the normally complacent mainsteam media comes from the Oakland Tribune, under the headline “Berkeley council member profited from police chief’s public home loan.”

Here’s the gist from the story by reporter Thomas Peele:

In a move that ethicists call fraught with conflicts and cronyism, a city council member who voted to give Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan a $500,000 housing loan from public funds later worked as his real estate agent and took a commission on the chief’s purchase of a home, records show.

Councilmember Lawrence Capitelli said he split the nearly $30,000 commission on the $1.185 million sale with another agent in his office at Red Oak Realty, where he was a partner. The firm also took a cut of the commission. Capitelli’s questionable role in the 2010 home sale came to light this week after the Bay Area News Group published a story Sunday that showed how at least 33 local governments use taxpayer funds to help top public officials pay for housing.

A Berkeley city council member since 2004, Capitelli insists he did nothing wrong by representing Meehan after the council voted in November 2009 to loan the chief $500,000 because the two hadn’t discussed representation at the time of the vote.

But the Oakland Tribune story is a bit late, given that former mayoral candidate and Berkeley gadfly Zelda Bronstein had reported the same story three years ago for the Berkeley Daily Planet, a fact Peele failed to acknowledge in his story.

From her 31 October 2012 report:

On November 10, 2009, Laurie Capitelli joined the rest of the Berkeley City Council in approving the appointment of Michael Meehan as the City’s new police chief, effective December 13, 2009. The resolution of approval authorized “a housing assistance loan of up to $500,000 for the purchase of a residence within the City of Berkeley”.

In 2010 Chief Meehan moved into a home in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in north Berkeley. I assume that he used his $500,000 loan from the City to purchase that property, which sold for $1,185,000. The seller used an agent from Northbrae Properties; the buyer used Red Oak real estate agent and Berkeley Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.

What makes the story more interesting is that Capitelli is the successor-apparent to Mayor Tom Bates, who is now in his final term of presiding over giveaways to his real estate developer pals.

Bates controls a city council majority elected in campaigns where the primary bankrollers are folks who are eager to gentrify every part of the city, and their gaze is now fixed on the city’s last remaining sanctuary for lower-income people of color.

As for the police chief, he’s the same fellow who gave his officers free rein to lay into peaceful as well as violent “Black Lives Matter” protests, and who has overseen an increasing militarization of the department, including military camouflage uniforms for his SWAT teams and landed one of those ugly Pentagon mine-resistance assault vehicles for his troops.

So forget any notion of Berkeley as a liberal bastion. The only part of Berkeley City Council politics with a liberal bent is the succession of meaningless resolutions — and even there the inevitable hot button issue is anything having to deal with Israel.

From the 15 September San Jose Mercury-News:

Cheryl Davila didn’t realize that she had waded into a minefield when she wrote a Human Welfare and Community Action Commission resolution calling for city divestment in Israel. Davila was removed from the commission by Councilman Darryl Moore just before the panel took up the issue on Sept. 16.

Davila said she wrote the resolution after reading about the 2014 military operation in Gaza, during which more than 2,000 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis lost their lives. She had also recalled that Berkeley had been among the first entities to divest from the apartheid state of South Africa decades earlier.

In part, the resolution asks the city manager to “examine the feasibility of divesting all city of Berkeley direct holdings in companies complicit in ongoing violations of human rights and international law under Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Which brings us back to Capitell. Back in 2010, after Israel’s bloody Operation Cast Lead invasion of Gaza, the he was scheduled to co-sponsor a city council resolution condemning the attack. That was when the same crew of ZioNutsies who organized a campaign of intimidating Berkeley Daily Planet advertisers because the paper published letters to the editors and op-ed scribes critical of Israel sprung into action.

Three comments posted to an article at JWeekly, a San Francisco Bay Area publication, report what happened next:

BLOG CapitelliThe Capitelli “watchdog” website was pulled.

Spizter and Gertz, along with now bankrupt PR guru Jim Sinkinson, were the key players in the war on the newspaper.

The site smearing the Daily Planet remains, a celebration of what the Israeli think tank the Reut Institute [advisers to the Israeli government] hails [PDF] as a successful “price tag” attack.