Richard Falk: No issue needs more open debate than moral and political cost of I/P policy (going back to USS Liberty!)

On June 8th the eminent legal scholar Richard Falk gave this speech at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. Falk is the former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and he is a professor of international law at Princeton University, and a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is impossible to summon the power of this speech with an excerpt. Here is my partial transcript:

No issue confronting American society more needs the kind of open discussion that I hope we will have this evening than the realities of the Israel Palestine conflict and how it has distorted the American reality.

There is an important price that is more than the monetary price tag. There is a moral and a political price tag that has been associated with allowing such an oppressive structure to be subsidized and to be complicit thru such a long period of time in the subjugation of a people deprived of its land and deprived of its rights.

My approach to the Israel Palestine conflict does not proceed very much from religious identity or on the basis of my national identity but it really is an expression of my human identity and I think if we want to live on this planet successfully we have to more and more think as humans not as Americans, not as Jews or Christians or Muslims. We have to retain the pride in those identities but they have to be part of a human experience and the more that we allow ourselves to be human the more likely we are to take suffering seriously and when we take suffering serious we become inevitably committed to the struggle for justice. 

I really think that’s what this whole set of issues, in the end, is about. And Rev. Lang referrred to the importance of courage and compassion and I think that also is really part of what is involved here. I would say less courage, although the hostility to truth seeking in this area sometimes requires at least stubbornness if not courage but what I really think it demands of all of us is responsibility.

Taking seriously our sense of freedom and opportunity as citizens to engage as we can in trying to solve a situation that has been so productive of violence and suffering and injustice. And so I would say responsibility and compassion are what guides my understanding of these issues and the compassion is something very fundamental in our historical space I believe. Because living in a more and more crowded planet that is fragile and exquisitely complex we need more and more to be able to think feel and act as if the other is not an object but a subject. We have to find ways to have sympathy with the circumstances of the other and if we allow ourselves to do that suffering does becomes intolerable. In a way I think what seeking the truth leads us to do is to bring us into contact if we allow ourselves with the suffering and therefore to recognize that it is intolerable to live passively in the presence such a condition.

…….

We meet tonight June 8th on the 45th anniversay of the Israeli attack on the American espionage vessel the USS liberty. This happened a long time ago but it illustrates for me the fundamental distortion of our sense of reality that has been fostered by this disturbing relationship between our government and the government of Israel because this attack on the USS Liberty was a deliberate attack by the Israeli government. It has been well confirmed including by former CIA operatives, [and by] Stephen Green among others, and the reason for this attack was that this ship was listening to the messages between Tel Aviv and the Israeli forces on the Egyptian border. And the Israeli leadership, particularly the military commander Moshe Dayan, at the time didn’t want the US to hear the Israeli plan to attack Syria and occupy Golan Heights. And the US at that time was very nervous about doing anything in Syria because that could easily draw the Soviet Union into the conflict and escalate the situation in ways that were potentially extremely dangerous. So there was a motive for attacking the USS Liberty.

And what I think is really extraordinary about this is that Israel, the supposed closed ally, would conduct such an attack. The ship was well marked and in international waters, but what is more revealing and more disturbing is that the American government would suppress the reality of what happened and engage in a coverup all these years that was originally ordered by Lyndon Johnson, the president at the time.

And even then 45 years ago the US government was more willing to allow this criminal sacrifice of his own people than tell the truth of what happened and why– apparently because Johnson was worried about a domestic Jewish backlash that would result if Israel was blamed for the attack. But what I really think is important about this is the degree to which we need, as citizens and as human beings to pursue the truth and we cannot rely on our government unfortunately to transmit the truth even in such a situation where Americans serving as naval officers and seaman were the deliberate objects of lethal attack. I think we should all think about what that tells us, what does that incident tell us about this whole relationship?

The other anniversary which  overlaps with what happened with the Liberty was the Six Day War. The June war in 1967 which again was presented to all of us, including myself I must admit, as a war in which  Israel had no choice but to defend itself against the prospect of aggression. It’s only now that we’re beginning to get ripples of reality.

(cites Miko Peled/LATimes)

..Israel did not perceive a threat in 1967 and they understood that there was no way that the Arab neighbors could attack them with any effect. But what they did see was an opportunity for expansionism and they saw an opportunity to destroy the military capabilities of their Arab neighbors. And so what was presented, again with the complicity of our government because the intelligence was available, was a completely false conception. A war of aggression was portrayed as a war of necessary self defense, that Israel’s survival was at stake.

And again this is very disturbing on a number of levels. But in a certain sense at the most fundamental level because it illustrates that even in these most vital issues of war and peace one cannot trust our own popularly elected government to tell its own citizens the truth. In situations where people are dying and being killed one would have hoped that that kind of cover up and dishonesty would be a form of treason that is regarded as a crime against the people. But we tolerate, almost we legitimize, lying by the state for whatever strategic or domestic priorities it may have at a particular time. But it tell us that we have to depend on our own capacities to find the truth and pursue the truth without accepting  public manipulations of a sensitive and controversial political reality.

At only 14:45 minutes into the speech, this is Falk’s opening. I highly recommend the entire presentation.

Appreciation extended to the sponsors: the American Friends Service Committee, the National Lawyers Guild, the World Affairs Council and the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, among others. And thanks to Todd Boyle for the recording.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani
Posted in American Jewish Community, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Media, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 29 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. this speech is so killer! he nails it with the USSLiberty.

    can’t recall who posted and alerted us yesterday in comments. please let me know for the hat tip.

  2. GJB says:

    This also brings to mind the Jonathan Pollard situation. People wonder why he remains in prison, this spy for a “friendly” country. But as the Liberty affair points up, Israel’s interests and the US’s do not necessarily coincide. Was he involved in plotting a similar assault on US interests? We may never know, but whatever he was up to must have been pretty egregious for our Government to buck the Lobby for so long by keeping him locked up.

  3. Les says:

    When Johnson twice called back planes the Navy had sent to determine what had happened during the attack on the USS Liberty, he made cemented the power of the Israel Lobby, going so far as being a Commander-in-Chief willing to sacrifice US sailors under his command to the Lobby.

  4. lysias says:

    Former BBC newsman Peter Hounam made a persuasive case in his book Operation Cyanide-Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III that the attack on the USS Liberty was the product of a conspiracy between Israel and LBJ’s administration. Allegedly, the plan was to sink the Liberty with all hands aboard before it could get off any SOS message (the initial Israeli attack was on Liberty’s antennas and transmitters — it just so happened that one of the transmitters was down for repairs, was therefore not hit by the Israeli heat-seeking missiles, and could therefore be used to get off an emergency SOS). Egypt would then be blamed for the attack, and that would serve as an excuse for the U.S. to enter the war on the Israeli side.

    I wouldn’t say Hounam proves his case, but he makes a very plausible one, and it does serve to explain quite mysterious events — the Israeli attack, LBJ’s reaction, and the subsequent cover-up.

    As a retired reserve member of the branch of the Navy to which the Liberty belonged (the Naval Security Group,) I must say I was disappointed — but not surprised — by the absence of media coverage of the anniversary of the attack a couple of days ago.

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      “I must say I was disappointed — but not surprised — by the absence of media coverage of the anniversary of the attack a couple of days ago.”

      I wasn’t surprised either. Too many zionists in too many influential positions for a true airing of the cost of America’s support of this cesspool.

    • Keith says:

      LYSIAS- “Egypt would then be blamed for the attack, and that would serve as an excuse for the U.S. to enter the war on the Israeli side.”

      I really don’t want to get in an extended discussion of the highly speculative aspects of the USS Liberty attack, however, I think the notion that the Johnson administration colluded with Israel to sink the ship as an excuse to involve the US is ludicrous. The US did not want to be directly involved, and why should they? All of the intelligence agencies predicted that Israel would win decisively and easily. Much better to remain formally outside the conflict, yet reap the benefits of the destruction of Nasser and of Pan-Arabism, a potential threat to US Middle East dominance. Below is a quote from Norman Finkelstein on this very topic and a link to Citizen’s Mondoweiss comment which contained it.

      “The Israelis are saying, what do you mean we’re not going, they’re threatening us, they’re gonna attack us, they’re gonna destroy us, it’s gonna be another Holocaust. Each time they said that President Johnson asked another one of the intelligence agencies, there were at least a half dozen, he keeps asking them, what’s gonna happen if there’s a war? Over and over again the intelligence agencies keep saying 2 things. Number one, there’s not chance Nasser’s going to attack. None at all. And number two, if he does attack, to quote Lyndon Johnson, as he said to the Israeli Eban, “you’re gonna whip their ass.” In fact the CIA predicted the war would be 7 days long, 7 to 10 days.” (Norman Finkelstein)
      link to mondoweiss.net

      Anyone interested in a slightly more detailed discussion can go to this link:
      link to saskck.blogspot.com

      • Well Keith, Johnson did cover up the attack. Such treason would be consistent with the treason of a false flag operation.

        Johnson obviously didn’t give two shtts about the sailors one way or the other.

        The coverup itself was ludicrous, so the theory of a false flag op is not too ludicrous at all.

        I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that a Soviet submarine witnessed at least some of the attack, and that is why the ship wasn’t successfully sunk, silencing all US witnesses.

        • Keith says:

          CHARLES BARWIN- Israel was the only country in the war zone militarily capable of such an attack. The Egyptian air force had been destroyed on the ground. Postulating Johnson colluding with Israel to commit a false flag operation bound to fool no one in order to involve the US in a war which they knew that Israel would easily win is hardly persuasive, particularly since Johnson’s main concern appears to be Israel going too far resulting in a confrontation with the USSR which could escalate out of control. There is no evidence whatsoever that Israel tried to disguise the attack or pretend to be Egyptians. If that had been the intent, the attack itself would have to have been substantially different to even be plausible. But hey, when have facts ever gotten in the way of a conspiracy theory.

        • lysias says:

          Stephen Green recounts in his book Taking Sides how a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance unit was secretly stationed in the Negev Desert a few days before the 1967 war began, and proceeded to conduct aerial reconnaissance for the Israelis against the Egyptians.

          I don’t think this is consistent with our view of the policy of the LBJ administration at the time. They talked a good game about wanting peace, but that was window dressing.

        • lysias says:

          I meant to say “with your view”.

  5. lysias says:

    I well remember the atmosphere at Princeton University at the time of the 1967 Middle East war. Everybody, including myself, believed the mythology that Israel was endangered. I was an undergraduate there then, and Falk was a professor. (Falk audited the previous year a course in elementary Italian in which I was registered, and which was taught by A. Bartlett Giamatti, later to be president of Yale and Baseball Commissioner. He was a very serious student in the class.)

    The media at the time did report the attack on the USS Liberty, but I believe they very much downplayed it. I don’t recall it affecting my thinking at all, at the time. I was quite shocked when, a few years later, I read the memoir of Liberty veteran LCDR James Ennes, Assault on the Liberty, a few years later.

    Falk has had the courage to say that he believes there has been a government cover-up of 9/11 and to express support for the work of David Ray Griffin.

  6. seafoid says:

    “But in a certain sense at the most fundamental level because it illustrates that even in these most vital issues of war and peace one cannot trust our own popularly elected government to tell its own citizens the truth”

    Has anyone a link to Finkelstein saying he doesn’t think Obama believes a word that comes out of his mouth ?

    The truth of how the world really is is sickening and it’s much nicer to listen to Miley Cyrus.

    I saw a quote recently that went something like “If you are slim and popular and don’t think a lot the world can be a nice place”

    Like this person at 2.27

    link to eranvered.com

    • The truth of how the world really is is sickening and it’s much nicer to listen to Miley Cyrus.

      but a sickening aspect of the occupation is israel won’t allow palestinians to have stars. something, someone truly talented and wonderful entertainment-wise comes along and they poison it, steal it away or kill..it is only for the outsiders or the privileged to have an illusion outside of the conflict. for the palestinians that is not allowed. they crush them with every action.

      • seafoid says:

        Annie

        Palestinian society is very resilient despite all the crap the Jews of Israel throw at it . Despite all the shite that goes with being Untermenschen in the Zionist space they still eat their food and listen to their music and drink Turkish coffee not Nescafe and so on. And tabbouleh has parsley. And even if they don’t have stars they have role models. I think the Zionists thought once they won the war it would be the end but they don’t understand those things very well. Behind all the arrogance and cruelty is much uncertainty and insecurity. That is why they need Michael Oren to project the horseshit.

  7. American says:

    Impossible to say how much admiration I have for Falk as brave human being.
    Impossible for me to express the disgust I have for our UN Amb and US State Dept and every other Israel firster and our garbage government who tried to get him removed from the UN by calling him anti semitic for telling the uncomfortable truth.

    Thank you Falk…you’re one in a million and one in a million about sums up the number of the free and the brave truth tellers on planet Orwell these days.

  8. Sin Nombre says:

    While he doesn’t put it in these terms—which certainly seems just—Falk nevertheless seems to understand that the attack on the Liberty was sort of the natal moment of the current Israeli policy towards the U.S. One that has shown over time to be a sort of disguised aggression, to the point where one might ask whether it’s better to be Israel’s enemy than it’s “friend.”

    • American says:

      “One that has shown over time to be a sort of disguised aggression, “..Sin Nombre

      A psycharist would have to explain it and I’m not one. But life experience has taught me a few things…one of those being that there are some people who will sort of hate/resent you for doing something for them or helping them even when it’s totally out of empathy, and in particular, sometimes dislike you even more so when it’s out of human charity or sympathy with no repayment expected. I don’t know what causes a person to resent a person who has helped them but it happens. Maybe it’s ego or whatever in admiting needing help. With the zionist I think the more they depended/depend on the US the more they secretly resent us, like to think of us as fools and dupes even though zionist Israel can hardly exist without America and the generous gentiles…or the generous Germans or the good will of the non Jewish world at large. Some zionist like Netanyahu get a personal thrill from humilating US leaders or putting the US as a whole in it’s place. Behind the speeches of friendship and ect is a very viseral personal dislike of us among many zionist. Since they need us to exist and yet that need interfers with the “power “they see themselves as having they have to regard ‘us as inferior things’ to be used, not as friends they are ‘dependent’ on, in order to keep the illusion of their power being derived only from natural zionist superiority.

      • Taxi says:

        Chinese saying: Why do you hate me? I never gave you anything.

        Acknowledging thus the inherent resentment of the ‘taker’.

  9. piotr says:

    FALK: “But in a certain sense at the most fundamental level because it illustrates that even in these most vital issues of war and peace one cannot trust our own popularly elected government to tell its own citizens the truth”

    This is so grim that it is hard to answer. Perhaps there is a better chance that a dictator would be frank about war, like Mussolini who kept telling that he just likes wars. Especially small ones.

    What is more complicated is why people go for that crap. I think that the message that we are ruled by liars of our own choosing is to hard to bear, it kind of makes no sense, and most people want to have sense, and to feel secure and protected. And here comes this rotten Prof. Falks and tells me that nothing makes sense and that we should be afraid. Are there any rotten vegetable at hand?

    SIN NOMBRE: one might ask whether it’s better to be Israel’s enemy than it’s “friend.”

    Is it better to be the good goat and have our throat slit on the altar, or the bad goat that is driven into the desert?

    • Daniel Rich says:

      @ piotr,

      side note: Q: Is it better to be the good goat and have our throat slit on the altar, or the bad goat that is driven into the desert?

      R: Depends on what we’re having for dessert [aka option nr. three].

    • OlegR says:

      /What is more complicated is why people go for that crap. I think that the message that we are ruled by liars of our own choosing is to hard to bear, it kind of makes no sense, and most people want to have sense, and to feel secure and protected. And here comes this rotten Prof. Falks and tells me that nothing makes sense and that we should be afraid. Are there any rotten vegetable at hand?/

      Makes people feel important.(You are not idiots that choose other idiots or thieves to rule you, you are actually oppressed and lied to by dark forces beyond your imagination and you have to oppose them)

      • talknic says:

        OlegR says:
        June 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm

        (You are not idiots that choose other idiots or thieves to rule you, you are actually oppressed and lied to by dark forces beyond your imagination and you have to oppose them)

        If you say so… Humans have a choice, believe without question. Or question. When you question the Hasbara, it falls to pieces every time

  10. Kris says:

    Annie–this is what comes up when I try to “share” this article on facebook:

    Richard Falk
    link to mondoweiss.net

    LBJ suppressed the truth about the USS Liberty attack out of fear of endangering Jewish supporters

    “Endangering Jewish supporters”? This must be a typo, so maybe you could correct it. Also it would be better to have the title of the article, instead of just “Richard Falk,” for those of us who want to share it on facebook, so that those facebook friends who don’t want to think about Israel/Palestine will at least be exposed to as much info as will fit in the title.

    For the “thumbnail,” it would be better to have the picture of Richard Falk. Thanks–

    • thanks kris. the title and ‘thumbnail are both editorial decision/choices (i am not an editor). originally it was the title of the talk.

      i will pass on this suggestion. thanks

      btw, when i tweeted it i changed the tweet because it was too long to fit which i do think discourages lazy people from tweeting.

  11. RoHa says:

    “it really is an expression of my human identity”

    Is this allowed?

  12. Les says:

    Once upon a time there was a magazine in most libraries called Vital Speeches. Falk’s eloquence makes his speech the Vital Speech of the moment and likely of the year and possibly of the decade. Dennis Bernstein’s Flashpoints on KPFA this evening gave it the whole hour. Rehearing Falk makes clear the eloquence of the man.