Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel

{Originally published March 1, 2017 at Al Jazeera}

Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel
Long before Israel erected separate communities, the United States perfected the art of the artificial divide.

by Stanley L Cohen

For years, Israel has sold, and we in the United States have bought, the cheap peel-away sticker that it is the “lone democracy” in the Middle East.

It has a nice, assuring ring to it, sort of like “opportunity” or “peace”, whatever these chants may, in practice, mean. But, like beauty, it remains very much in the eye of the beholder, and like reality, sooner or later the truth surfaces, no matter how well its fiction is packaged.

We in the US are damn good at packaging ourselves, and our charade of equality and justice is second to none. We sell stuff; lots of it. Much of it false. Very much like a willing stepchild, Israel has learned from us that if you say something long enough with vigour, power and money to back it, it begins to take on a surreal life of its own, no matter how much reality puts the lie to its embroidery. Indeed, we are quite accomplished at obfuscation. We know it all too well. We’ve hidden behind the fog of it for so long that, even today, those who remind us that the earth is, in fact, not flat, remain heretics to be scorned. Have we found the weapons of mass destruction yet?

Long before Israel erected separate communities divided by will of law to segregate its Jewish citizens from its almost two million Palestinian Arab ones, the US perfected the art of artificial divide.

With the accuracy of delusion, from coast to coast, could be heard the refrain that race-based segregation was lawful as long as the facilities provided to each race were equal.

For decades, the legal fiction of “separate but equal” was the mantra that state and local governments, throughout the US, held out to justify the artificial, indeed lawful, separation of tens of millions of Americans on the basis of race and nothing more.

Whether in services, facilities, public accommodations, transportation, medical care, employment, voting booths or in schools, black and white were segregated under the cheap shibboleth that artificial isolation of the races insured equality, as long as the conditions of their separation were legally equal.

These laws came to be known simply as Jim Crow.

Enter Jim Crow

Indeed, the idea that race or religious separation was not only preferable, but helpful to one another’s ability to chart their own separate but equal course, became a perverse intellectual exercise which fundamentally did nothing more than exalt the supremacy of one race at the expense of another.

Putting aside, for the moment, the reality that facilities and services offered to African Americans were almost always of lower quality than those available to their counterpart white Americans, eventually the US Supreme Court had had enough. It held that separate could never be equal, even where there was a match in opportunity and facilities.

As noted in the seminal 1954 case of Brown v Board of Education, a school-based challenge to the notion of equal segregation, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

In words that eventually took hold first in education, then elsewhere throughout the US, the unanimous court noted:

“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society … It is the very foundation of good citizenship … Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.”

These words were penned but six years after Israel was granted statehood by the United Nations. Nevertheless, some 62 years later, Brown’s command remains a linchpin of any meaningful democratic ideal and, yet, evermore elusive in Israel, which takes pride in the falsehood of the same supremacist claptrap rejected long ago.

Separate schools

In Israel, Palestinian schoolchildren account for about 25 percent, or about 480,000 pupils, of the state’s total student population. Palestinian and Jewish students, from elementary to high school, learn in separate institutions.

As noted in Brown v. Board of Education, institutionalised discrimination in the education system impedes the ability of students to develop the skills and awareness to participate on an equal footing, as individuals, in a free society.

In Israel, this is no accident. It is very much the result of a conscious effort to build a permanent educational, social and political advantage of Jews over their Palestinian counterparts.

In 1969, the state passed a law that gave statutory recognition to cultural and educational institutions and defined their aims as the development and fulfilment of Zionist goals in order to promote Jewish culture and education.

In that light, in Israel, Palestinian children receive an education that is inferior in nearly every respect when compared with that for Jewish children.

Palestinian schools receive far less state funding than Jewish ones – three times less, according to official state data from 2004. In Jerusalem, it is half the funding.

This underfunding is reflected in many areas; including relatively large class sizes and poor infrastructure and facilities. Many communities have no kindergartens for three and four-year-olds. Some schools lack libraries, counsellors, and recreation facilities. Their students get fewer enrichment and remedial programmes and special education services than do Jewish children.

Palestinian students are also underrepresented in Israel’s universities and higher education institutions.

Recent studies indicate that only 10 percent of Palestinian citizens were attending undergraduate programmes, and 7.3 percent and 4 percent were pursuing masters’ and doctoral degrees respectively.

Palestinian academics account for just about 1.2 percent of all tenured and tenure track positions in Israel’s universities.

Like a full range of public spending policies that privilege the Jewish majority, government support for student tuition fees, subsidised housing and employment opportunities is available only for those who serve in the Israeli army which, as a practical matter, excludes Palestinians.

No less pernicious, for Palestinian citizens of Israel, is their inability to live and work where they choose.

Community segregation

In 1952, the Israeli state authorised the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency to function as quasi-governmental entities in order to further advance the goals of the Zionist vision, to the detriment of minorities including those with Israeli citizenship.

Under the Land Acquisition Law of 1953, the land of 349 Palestinian towns and villages, approximately 1,212 square kilometres, was transferred to the state to be used preferentially for the Jewish majority.

In 1953, the Knesset bestowed governmental authorities on the Jewish National Fund to purchase land exclusively for Jewish use. The state granted financial advantages, including tax relief, to facilitate such purchases.

Today, 12.5 percent of Israeli land is owned by the Fund, which bans the sale or lease of it to non-Jews under the admitted premise that it’s a “danger” for non-Jews to own land in Israel.

In 1960, the state passed a law stipulating that ownership of “Israeli lands”, namely the 93 percent of land under the control of the state and the Fund, cannot be transferred in any manner.

In practice, this means that in some 700 agricultural and community towns throughout Israel, housing applicants are screened by Jewish boards with the ultimate power to accept or reject applications to settle in these locales.

These boards, which include representatives from the World Zionist Organization and the Fund, consider a range of criteria such as “suitability to the community’s social life” and the town’s “social and cultural fabric”.

The admission process all but guarantees that almost all Israeli towns and villages will remain Jewish enclaves, and are but a tease to those Palestinian citizens who desire to live in equality in fully integrated communities.

Is it any wonder then, that today, in Jim Crow Israel, few Palestinian citizens have been found to be suitable for these communities?

By virtue of state control over the racial makeup of municipalities throughout Israel, most Palestinian citizens are limited to residence and employment in the acutely overcrowded Palestinian towns and villages.

In fact, since 1948, the State of Israel has established hundreds of additional Jewish communities, without permitting the construction of any new Palestinian municipality whatsoever. Indeed, of Israel’s total area, just 2.5 percent comes under Palestinian municipal jurisdiction.

Of Israel’s 40 towns with the highest unemployment rates, 36 are Palestinian and the average employed Palestinian citizens of Israel makes just 58.6 percent of what a Jewish Israeli makes. About 53 percent of the impoverished families in Israel are Palestinian.

Inequality from the Israeli Parliament

Over the years, the Knesset has used the veneer of democracy while acting arbitrarily to ensure that demographic and political control remains exclusively in the hands of the state’s Jewish citizenry and parliamentarians.

For example, in an effort to maintain a Jewish demographic majority, the Family Unification Law of 2003 prohibits Palestinian citizens of Israel from reuniting with their spouses who live in the West Bank or Gaza. As a result, more than 150,000 children born of these so-called mixed marriages are denied the most elementary rights and privileges attendant to Israeli citizenship.

In a series of other laws, the Knesset has not only imposed a broad range of limitations on freedom of movement, speech and access to the political system for Palestinian citizens, but imposed ideological boundaries on the platforms of political parties to which they may belong.

By design, such laws thwart the ability of Palestinians to impact upon a political process which, daily, dictates every phase of their lives, but yet leaves them essentially powerless to bring about any fundamental change in the system itself. These restrictions necessarily deny Palestinian citizens an equal opportunity to play a meaningful role in the political life of Israel, otherwise available to their Jewish counterparts.

Under its most recent attempt to stifle its Palestinian minority, the Knesset proposed legislation that would enable the suspension of elected representatives of the public not because of criminal wrongdoing on their part, or even because of a breach of settled legislative protocol, but simply because their political agenda is objectionable to the Jewish majority.

Under other legislation, Knesset members may strip Palestinian MKs from their elected seats if they voice opposition to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Indeed, recently a Palestinian MK, Haneen Zoabi, was suspended from parliamentary debates for six months when, on the floor of the Knesset, she called Israeli soldiers “murderers” for their role in the Mavi Marmara incident that took the lives of nine pro-Palestinian activists.

On other occasions, the Knesset has imposed severe restrictions on travel by Palestinian MKs, both domestically and abroad.

Currently, there is a law that bans any political party which challenges the existence of Israel as a “Jewish” state or which advocates equal rights for all of its citizens irrespective of ethnicity. Another law empowers the interior minister to revoke citizenship of people who violate “allegiance” to the state.

An elusive pursuit for justice

That Israel has become a land where laws are enacted to obstruct the free exercise of core political rights of its Palestinian citizens is beyond dispute.

Ultimately, in any truly “democratic” society, citizens are able to seek redress for institutional or private injuries through an independent judicial system wed to no result but equal protection and justice for all, no matter the race, creed or religion of those who seek its protection.

It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental or essential arbiter of the rights of all than a judiciary that operates under no obligation but to see that justice be done without consideration of the ethnicity of those who come before it.

Yet, by design, in Israel, the pursuit of justice by Palestinian citizens is an elusive chase indeed; one calculated to perpetuate second-class citizenship very much the way African Americans were long held in the US under the arcane practice of separate but equal.

For example, more than 200 major rulings issued by the Supreme Court of Israel have been translated into English and published on the court’s website along with the original Hebrew decisions. Although the majority of these pronouncements are relevant to Palestinian citizens of Israel, none has been translated into Arabic.

In the history of Israel’s Supreme Court, there have been but two Palestinian male justices.

Currently, all but one of its 15 members is Jewish. No Palestinian woman has ever served on the Israeli Supreme Court. At the district and magistrates court level, Palestinian judges make up less than 5 percent of those who occupy a judicial position, and even fewer who preside over labour courts.

Historically, the Israeli Supreme Court has sided with majoritarian values in what can only be described as a wholesale abdication of its responsibility to see that justice be done for Palestinian and Jew alike.

Thus the Supreme Court has upheld the restrictions of the 1950 Law of Return which permits every Jewish person to immigrate to Israel and obtain citizenship, yet denies the same protection to Palestinians, even those who were born in the area that is now the State of Israel.

Likewise, the Court has upheld the legality of the January 2003 family unification ban that bars a Palestinian citizen from raising a family in Israel with a Palestinian spouse from the Occupied Territories. The controversial law was introduced as an amendment to the 1952 Citizenship Law, which determines citizenship for non-Jews.

In 2014, the Court dismissed a petition by Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel challenging the continued Judaisation of Palestinian-owned land originally confiscated largely from Palestinian refugees inside Israel. According to Adalah, the court’s decision “entrenches racial segregation” and, writes Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large Annie Robbins, “will result in the continued concentration and containment of the Palestinian population in Israel”.

These are but a few of the many decisions of the Supreme Court that have adversely affected Palestinian citizens of Israel on the basis of their second-class status and little else.

The definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish one makes inequality and discrimination against its Palestinian citizens a political goal.

The marriage of “Jewish” and “democratic” ensures discrimination against non-Jewish citizens and necessarily impedes the realisation of full equality for all citizens of Israel.

Israel has become better at this “subtle” nuanced sale of an imaginary narrative than we in the US ever dared dream.

What, however, the “Jewish” state has not yet come to grips with, is that eventually myths about equal opportunity and justice for some 20 percent of its population prove specious and that, ultimately, time swallows all such fallacy, whether by operation of law or, tragically, all too often, through violence.


An Open Letter to American Jews

Originally published in Counterpunch November 25, 2016

“An Open Letter to American Jews”

Proud Jews are those that can look others in the face who commit or support crimes against humanity in Palestine and, with no hesitation whatsoever, shout-out “J’accuse” … the self hating ones are those that commit the crimes or simply walk away in boneless silence.

Israel and its sightless, obedient supporters have now come full circle in absolute perverse denial. For years they’ve successfully packaged and sold the fairy-tale that Zionism and Judaism were one in the same… an historic enlightened conflation of shared purpose and belief which, in reality, was born of little more than vicious political convenience (or is it connivance?) in eastern Europe.

Like Malcolm said, the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. It’s finally backfired. It’s about time.

Through massacre after massacre, outrage after outage, whenever anyone dares to condemn Israel’s systematic brutality of millions of Palestinians the indictment always comes down the same… “anti-Semite”.

Challenge the illegal occupation… you’re a Jew hater. Confront Israeli apartheid… you’re a Jew hater. Battle ethnic cleansing… you’re a Jew hater. Support BDS… you’re a Jew hater. And if you’re Jewish and hold Israel accountable for the grand obscenity it’s proven to be since day one, you are worst of all…a self hater. On and on and on the crafted diversion goes and long has, fleeing the very public reality of Israel’s enduring inhumanity to millions of stateless people.

Of course, when hundreds of Holocaust survivors who live in Israel called the most recent high tech carnage in Gaza in 2014 “genocide”, it drew the line. Even the Zionist state was not so crass or politically craven as to publicly label them Jew haters because they had the principled audacity to call it to task for the slaughter of thousands of defenseless women, children and elders. No, that would be exploiting the exploitation called the Holocaust that Zionist cheerleaders have employed for 70 years as so much cover for one of Israel’s own making… as it thumbs its nose at the world and commits unspeakable mayhem against Palestinians. To Zionists, survivors who screamed out with dignity and honor… “genocide,” were pathetic… just old and feeble.

For years, with little more than sleight of hand and a large Western rubber stamp, Zionists have been able to package and vend, with brazen bully success, the message that one cannot attack deadly and criminal Israeli policies without mechanically crossing the line into the hinterland of antisemitism. Well… those days are gone… as team Israel has finally foisted itself upon its own petard.

One need not have surgical precision in their view of the political universe to observe that as the world has become increasingly educated and, thus, more sympathetic to the desperate plight of Palestinians, Zionists have raced to develop new, even more brutish, strategies to recast a narrative based on little more than pure Hollywood fiction. Sorry… Exodus is very much an obsolete illusion, today, with all of its heroic figures long since passed on to old age.

The hallway of Zionist hard-sell is today very public. In its most glaring form it includes intimidating Western countries such as the UK, Canada, France, and Netherlands who shudder at the mere thought of being called “anti-Semitic” for the audacity of permitting their citizens to speak their minds openly and freely about the malevolence that is Israel. To them, and other states that seek to silence those who support BDS as a peaceful grassroots means of expressing opposition to a tyrannical state, Israel owes a great debt of thanks. After all it’s not easy to welcome, indeed embrace, conspicuous ignorance as you draw a deep cloud of denial around the object lesson of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. No matter what your flag, war crimes are still war crimes whether carried out against or by you.

In other ways, demonstrably racist activity has moved Israel into a leading role in the effort to stage-manage 21st Century cyberspace. For example, under the autocratic shine of national honor, it has inspired, if not empowered, Zionist hackers to attack pro Palestinian web sites worldwide spewing forth Islamaphobic rage at those with the temerity to seek an alternative view about unfolding events in Palestine otherwise largely ignored or censored by Western media.

So, too, it has employed an army of social media activists skilled enough to read jejune slogans but completely at a loss when confronted with the dark, fact-based truth that is Israel. After-all, how many times can a cue card equate Muslim with Jew hater before a mindless 18 year old paid $10.00 an hour finally says enough and saunters off to the beach?

Likewise, during its last two onslaughts upon Gaza, Israel moved quickly to shut down all of its internet passage-ways in an unmistakable effort to prevent the world from learning in real-time about the nature and extent of its brutal assault upon the enclave’s two million defenseless residents.

While these are but a few of the most recent public moves by Israel to intimidate or silence political or social opposition, with alarming frequency its policy has been to break bread with some of the most hateful, supremacist groups and activists in the world.

How long ago was it that neo-Nazis sought to march in Skokie Illinois, in Nazi uniforms screaming out zeig-heil while they carried placards that read “White Free Speech” and “Free Speech for the White Man” to a community with a population of thousands of stunned Holocaust survivors? And in that same year, the KKK sought to hold, in the same town, a rally for its brand of racist ideology.

Yet, today, Zionists seem to have no problem whatsoever sitting down strategizing with proud supporters of the Klan and other white supremacist groups. Indeed, the Zionist Organization of America will fete, this weekend, noted white supremacy and antisemitism promoter, Steven Bannon, at its yearly hate fest.

This celebration of religious and racial supremacy and intolerance should come as no surprise given the organization has signed onto the Trump plan of profiling Muslims, calls Black Lives Matter a “hate group” and has warned college students against inviting such notables as Noam Chomsky and former President Jimmy Carter to speak at campus assemblies lest they spread their “dangerous messages.”

Make no mistake about it Bannon and his fellow purveyors of hate have never been shy in exploiting abhorrence of Jews and a host of other minorities based upon race, religion, sexual identity or immigrant status. Nor have they been timid at all when it comes to exalting calls for violence to sweep clean an America they perceive as being too black, too immigrant, too Jewish, too Muslim and too soft.

Indeed Bannon is a member of a Facebook page that has openly featured explicit racist and violent material replete with overtures for deadly criminal activity. Thus, for example, their posts feature an image of the president dressed as an SS officer. In other places they celebrate the Confederate flag and urge a military coup in the United States. Elsewhere, they highlight a photo shopped picture of Obama with a watermelon and praise a police officer who called the President a “Fucking Nigger”… that ought to be “executed as a traitor.” This is the message that inspires the President’s chief advisor.

Yet, today, Zionists celebrate Bannon as he and his Klan buddies have finally figured out it doesn’t take much to get a free pass for their palpable hatred of Jews… all they need do is to offer up their much in demand backing of an Israeli state driven by the same treacherous supremacist views.

It seems to Zionists a healthy dose of unabashed antisemitism… directed at Jews… is suitable today as long as it’s dressed up in obedient support for Israel… especially when it comes from the mouth of the top advisor of the President-elect and his inner circle of friends.

Bannon has long been denounced by democrats, republicans and civil and human rights organizations, alike, for having made the Breitbart website a welcome forum for neo-nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites. Nevertheless, his appointment was welcomed by the Israeli Ambassador to the United States who noted that “… we look forward to working with the Trump administration… including Steve Bannon, in making the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever.”

There is nothing at all new about the selective application of the all too expedient brand “anti-Semite”. Indeed, it is the mark of Cain quickly applied to principled students and faculty who support the peaceful effort of BDS to bring about justice for Palestine, yet is completely ignored when confronted by classic anti-Semitic vitriol coming from the mouths of pro Israel patrons.

Indeed, the net balance affect has long been a significant driving force in determining when blatant sign-posts of antisemitism were to be over-looked for the broader “good” of Israel; where those who challenge Israeli policies were to be vilified and those who praise them applauded no matter how much or long their distaste for Jews.

The late “Christian Zionist”, Jerry Falwell, is one such prime example. Denounced by Jewish critics for having said that he believed the “Antichrist” would be a Jew, despite this, and other like anti-Semitic statements, Falwell was ultimately resurrected by Zionists who found greater benefit in his overall political support of Israel than his marked distaste for Jews as a whole.

There is nothing remarkable about today’s Zionist reach to build hate fueled bonds with supremacist groups both in and outside of the United States. Zionists have shown a willingness, if not an ease, throughout their 130 plus year history of working with classic anti-Semitic governments and groups to further their revisionist self-centered view of history. There is abundant precedent.

Beginning long ago in Czarist Russia, the Zionist marriage of political convenience went on to flourish with some in the Axis powers during World War II. It later found comfort with its Balfour friends in Palestine, and has reached new heights in the West through an apparently unbreakable bond with the bigoted evangelical right.

Thus, parliamentary votes throughout the member states of the EU to recognize the sovereignty of the State of Palestine have been opposed by a unique marriage of Zionist and local neo-Nazi interests. This coalition of convenience and hatred should come as no surprise however given a joint effort to target a wave of desperate Muslim refugees and a shared aversion to any semblance of Justice for Palestinians.

In Ukraine, Israel abandoned the safety of its shrinking Jewish population to the political expedience it reaped from its support of the neo-Nazi putsch that ousted its elected pro-Russian president. In France, the National Front, with proud age old roots in French fascism has once again risen to significant power. Not at all shy about its racist and anti-Semitic image, the Front has found support nonetheless from Israel which paid one of its leaders a warm welcome when he traveled to the Holy Land to curry votes from French Jews who now call it home. Sound familiar?

There is nothing remarkable or new about Israel’s recent rapport with some of the worlds most repressive … indeed totalitarian and racist regimes. It has never shied from a march down a long passage way filled with the painful screams of political prisoners, dissidents, or those perceived by virtue of their race, religion or activism to pose a threat to the autocratic rule of the state, be it in Israel or elsewhere.

Israel’s support for South African apartheid, ’til literally its very end, is well known, providing materials for the building of its nuclear weapons. Long after UN-imposed sanctions against apartheid Rhodesia, it continued to provide Uzis and helicopters. In more than a dozen other African countries Israel funded and trained military repression of anti-colonial uprisings and/or dictatorship. It sold arms and provided training to Rwandan military and Hutu militia that carried out genocide against the Tutsis.

In South America, Israel armed Guatemalan death squads, Nicaraguan Contras, Pinochet’s Chile, and the military junta in Argentina which resulted in the “disappearance” of thousands of opponents of a regime which not only openly espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric, but specifically targeted and disappeared numerous Jewish civilians.

In Southeast Asia, Israel provided aid to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia and, in the Pacific Region, funded the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. In Iran, during the rule of the Shah, the secret death squad (SAVAK) received training from Israel and purchased over 150 million dollars in arms from it. Never known for its selfless virtue, Israel was to benefit… the Shah was one of the first leaders in the region to recognize it as a state.

These are but a few glaring examples of dozens of instances where Israel has supported, if not propped up, supremacist and racist regimes… many known for their utter and extreme anti-Semitic vitriol and manifest hatred of Jews. But, with remarkable agility, if not indifference, it has become practiced… indeed expert… at balancing the self interest of its own rapacious agenda with the reality of the often anti-Semitic neo-fascist regimes and movements its supports throughout the world.

With this practiced experience it seems that Zionists are eminently equipped to handle the emerging face of antisemitism, nay, overt odium for Jews which, with Steve Bannon and company, will soon move from the inner sanctum of Trump Towers to the inner circle of the White House.

Given its history of support for anti-Semitic allies it comes as no surprise that Zionists believe they will be able to stage manage overt hatred for Jews and other minorities from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What is, however, stunning is that, for the first time in recent memory, they appear perfectly willing to abandon the false conflation of Zionism and Judaism by supporting a collective of white ethnocentric supremacists who support the Zionist agenda in Israel yet hate Jews in whose name it is claimed that agenda has been built.

Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book

Originally published in Counterpunch September 30, 2016


Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book

You have a 17-year-old daughter… let’s call her Rachel, or perhaps Nadia… raised in a home where dialogue, debate and disagreement have been served as so much a mainstay of the family dinner every night for years. On holidays, it just meant longer and louder arguments with more folks to piss off. Yet, nothing made you prouder. She had flourished in a “safe-zone” where her view and voice did not take a back seat to any others simply because she was young, female or provocative in her thought. It doesn’t get any better than this.

One day the search for the right college begins. Sure, the distance from home and physical layout is important and her personal safety paramount, but that’s just the start. You’ve got this list of grand, impressive, perhaps historical, universities to check out with reputations for not just academic achievement but with a well settled commitment to free speech and thought; a safe zone… safe from outside intimidation that seeks to limit or suppress how she grows… not just as a student but more important, a human being.

University is intended to be a melting pot, a grand experiment of sorts, to unite the diverse not in “acceptable” uniform thought but in the notion that ideas must be free and robust to be healthy… all ideas… the good, the bad, the uncomfortable. Yet, today, all across the United States it seems that purity of thought has become synonymous with the idea of a sound “healthy” education. It’s not by accident that free speech and association is under attack from coast to coast in ways unseen since the academic purges that targeted largely “radical” Jews of the 50’s brought to us by a guy named McCarthy. He too had this notion that good thought must necessarily adhere to a checklist of sanitized ideas. That safe speech and association demanded a line of logic dictated by the powerful and pervasive.

American Bred Academic Repression

The McCarthy era was not the first in this country where petty political or academic demagogues sought to impose their view upon craven institutions of learning to win votes or curry favor with powerful benefactors. In 1832, a member of the University of Virginia’s student Jefferson Society publicly declared his support for the emancipation of slaves, which led the faculty to declare, “there should be no oration on any distracting question of state or national policy, nor on any point of theological dispute.” He was driven from the school. In 1833, the Board of Trustees of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati banned an antislavery society formed by students and some of the faculty, declaring that”education must be completed before the young were dismissed for their views.” In 1856, after professor Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick at the University of North Carolina favored the Republican Party, the North Carolina Standard called the party “incompatible with our honor and safety as a people,” and faculty repudiated his views. After being burned in effigy by students, Hedrick was fired after refusing to resign or change his anti-slavery views.

By 1917, America had entered the Great War, and the suppression of academic freedom quickly reached extraordinary levels not to be seen again on college campuses until the recent attack on the BDS  Movement.

At that time the New Republic reported more than 20 cases of professors fired because of their refusal to support the war; no doubt many more belief-triggered firings went unreported. In a University of Michigan “War Aims” course, students were warned about “the wild excesses of the revolutionists,” [pgs 165-166] being told that “a surprising number” of them were Jews.

World War I fear-mongering about radicals and seditious speech made repression in academia predictable in years to come, leaving the university community an “atmosphere… charged with fear.” In 1915 a controversial leftist economist named Scott Nearing was fired from various teaching positions because of controversial classroom views which challenged child labor and religious and social orthodoxy that went so far as to advocate “ the ruthless redistribution of property.”

In the 1920s, a journalism professor at Ohio State was fired for treating a coal strike favorably, and pacifist leader John Nevin Sayre was barred from speaking at the University of Oklahoma [pg.166]. A 1920 survey by the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, [pgs. 166-167] “Freedom of Discussion in American Colleges” found that “an increasing number of schools were (1) prohibiting outside affiliations for political groups, (2) placing increasing restrictions on speakers, and (3) censoring the faculty’s right to express liberal opinions.” Sound familiar?

In the 1930s, liberal professors were under fire in various parts of the United States for a wide range of political stands deemed offensive to conservative university administrators and trustees… much of them race related. Academic careers were ruined because of “unsound” positions on race relations that violated social norms such as holding teas that included both white and “colored” people and supported granting scholarships to “negro” graduate students.

McCarthy and earlier academic repression destroyed lives and reputations; more important, as a nation, indeed as a people, these purges set us back, dramatically, creating a poisoned environment that forced free thinkers to choose between their beliefs and safety and cost our young dearly as they struggled to become the leadership of generations to come. If, however, there was a common thread among earlier academic tyranny and politically correct academic dogma it was generally homegrown and imposed. Today’s purity of thought is different. It finds impetus and funding not in the halls of town meetings or domestic politics but in the global view of Israel, a foreign autocracy which seeks to control the narrative and dialogue of our transcendent young in our own country.

Israel’s Influence Today On US Academics

For Israel it’s not enough to invade our lecture halls at prestigious schools such as De Paul, the University of Illinois, Oberlin, CUNY or Columbia to drive“controversial” pro-Palestinian academics of the likes of Finkelstein, Salaita, Karega, Schulman, Massad and Dabashi from college lecterns; or to strong-arm a university such as Berkley to suspend a course that presents a view of settler colonialism at odds with the Zionist narrative. Indeed, now through well funded pro Zionist proxies Israel seeks to fundamentally redesign those same halls to promote and suit its own geopolitical needs and interests

Recently, from coast to coast, well funded organizations such as the Amcha Initiative and the Canary Mission have labored to intimidate university administrators and faculty in an effort to punish what they call anti-Semitism in the classroom. In the name of acceptable academic freedom, these groups promote an Israeli view of free speech, one where diversity of thought is under constant attack in the class rooms and the streets in an effort to silence Palestinian dissidents and their supporters by one means or another.

The Israeli History of Academic Freedom

The idea that Israel is indifferent to core principles of free speech and association, and fears an open exchange of ideas, is a debate without disagreement. Any conversation about how it views the importance of academic freedom and the state’s right to control unfettered access to information must, of course, begin with its well documented, indeed unparalleled, history of targeted, often deadly, assaults upon institutions of learning and their students throughout the Occupied Territories.

Israel’s brutal onslaught upon the academic infrastructure of Gaza in 2014 is well known It’s too recent to forget that in some 50 days of round the clock bombing it completely destroyed 26 primary and secondary schools and damaged another 122, including 75 UNRWA schools. Of Gaza’s 407 kindergartens 133 were damaged and 11 totally destroyed. Four universities sustained significant damage and loss of life among their staff and student populations. In one deliberate attack upon the north Gaza branch of Al Quds Open University, 22 students were killed. Although the exact number of students who were injured or lost their life during the summer of 2014 is unknown, 490 Palestinian children were killed and 3000 wounded. It is believed that 9 academic and administrative staff of higher education institutions were killed and 21 injured, and 421 college students killed with 1,128 injured.

In an earlier attack on Gaza’s educational infrastructure in 2009, Israel destroyed 18 schools and damaged 280 out of 641 others, including 14 of its 15 higher education institutions.

Make no mistake about it, Israel views Palestinian education not as a fundamental right but a political impediment, preferring isolated, if not silenced, generations of students to young women and men with the academic ability and experience to challenge it in the market place of ideas at home and abroad.

Thus, between 1988 and 1992 Israel closed, yes closed, all Palestinian higher education institutions during the 1st Intifada, preventing any students and teachers from attending classes, using libraries or obtaining clinical experience. Although now once again open, institutions of higher education in the occupied West Bank function under a reign of academic intimidation… at times sheer terror… that moves well beyond the border of criminal. As so much the norm, Israel raids universities throughout the West Bank. Among others, Birzeit University, the Arab American University, Polytechnic University and Al Quds University in East Jerusalem have been frequently targeted by the Israeli military which has attacked and arrested students, destroyed university property and equipment and seized student organization materials.

Over the last four years Al Quds University in particular has been a favorite target of marauding Israeli soldiers which have raided its main campus on some three dozen occasions. During these attacks more than 2000 students have been injured, and 12,000 evacuated as soldiers discharged thousands of tear gas canisters and rounds of ammunition. Several hundred students have been seized for “investigation” with many detained without formal charges. To this day some remain isolated under military custody. In the school year of 2013-2014 alone, more than 600 lectures were canceled at Al Quds, with a thousand students withdrawing from active enrollment too traumatized to continue with classes.

Even where Palestinian education has been permitted to proceed without physical assault, Israeli censorship of Palestinian schools is ever present… sanitizing references, symbols and history from texts, sparing no grades including kindergarten, in a readily transparent effort to rewrite a long, well documented and illustrious past. Years ago Israel began the formal process of cleansing written Palestinian history of signposts it considers contrary to acceptable, controlled education or which it believes pose a “threat” to its unitary supremacist view of the world.

For example, among other things, the logo of the Palestinian Authority has been removed from book covers and all pictures of Palestinian flags removed from textbooks, even in the coloring books for six-year olds. All mention of the Nakba (catastrophe of 1948) and the right of return has been expunged as if a mere figment of the imagination of millions of Palestinians. Poems, songs and stories about the beauty of Palestinian landscapes and villages, the resistance of the first and second Intifadas and Israeli checkpoints have been deleted from all texts, video and audio representations. All mention of Jerusalem as Al Quds has been sanitized along with any note of Israel as an occupation force of the Palestinian capital. The one million plus Palestinians living inside Israel “proper” have been stripped of their identity and go unmentioned as Palestinians anywhere in Israeli controlled education. In middle school textbooks almost an entire history book has been redacted leaving blank pages for students to gaze at, chapters once rich with detail about events from the Balfour declaration of 1917 through the Nakba, as if they too were little more than provocative historical fiction.

Israel’s Attack On Free Speech And Academic Freedom For Jews

In all fairness to Israel, its drive to control the narrative of 68 years of its Occupation and Apartheid has not been limited at all to just Palestinian educational circles.

In March 2011, the Israeli Knesset passed the so-called Nakba law authorizing the Finance Minister to reduce state funding to an institution if it engages in an “activity that is contrary to the principles of the state.” Although ambiguous in its reach, the law did specifically include those that reject “the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and or commemorate Israeli independence as a day of mourning.

Recently Israel’s Education Ministry has disqualified a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country. Among the reasons stated for the banning of “Borderlife” is the need to safeguard “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector,” and the belief that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity.”

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the strongest art museum in the country, recently canceled an exhibition of works by the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei which was also going to feature portraits of thousands of Palestinian refugees and refugee camps by Israeli photographer Miki Kratsman.

Inside universities, Jewish students and faculty often police the academic environments acting as so much the monitors of “dissident” professors. To avoid public vilification, job loss, imprisonment, or worse, educators have been known to redact information that might be used to otherwise punish external political groups and activists that oppose government policies. More than once academic purity has driven some of Israel’s most respected Jewish scholars from prominent teaching positions. Thus famed Professor and author Ilan Pappe who supports the academic boycott of Israel was himself boycotted at Haifa University. After receiving several death threats and condemnation by the Knesset, he moved his work to the University of Exeter in 2008. Professor Ariella Azoulay of Bar-Ilan University was denied tenure because of her “controversial” political associations. And in what can only be described as an effort to silence political dissent and opposition from an entire department at Ben Gurion University, the Council for Higher Education moved, albeit unsuccessfully, to close its politics and government department because it had faculty accused of being left-wing.

Elsewhere the freedom of expression of largely Jewish students has been impaired. In one case, Haifa University, with the support of the student union, prohibited a group of students from holding a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead. In a similar case, it prohibited a demonstration against events surrounding the flotilla from Turkey to the Gaza Strip. In a third instance, the NRG-Maariv website alleged that Tel Aviv University prevented a reporter from a regional radio station in “Judea and Samaria” from covering a conference on the subject of the Nakba.

Students at a number of Israeli universities report that often they cannot receive authorization for activities such as campus demonstrations, lecturers, setting up a stall, or distributing leaflets. And, on those rare occasions when they do, approval is often withdrawn at the last moment, without any meaningful explanation. Not rare at all, student organizers of demonstrations or teach-ins are summonsed to a disciplinary committee.

Academic Freedom And Free Speech In The US

This is not Israel. I want Rachel and Nadia to stumble, perhaps even fall, as they ready themselves to assume the mantle of leadership in this world. Orthodoxy simply means more of the same broken path. I want them to be free to exchange provoking rough-and-tumble ideas with Robert and Tarik. At times, it will go smoothly, at others it will make them cringe with the pain that can, indeed must, devolve into tense, uncomfortable debate. It’s what’s called the marketplace of competing ideas. There is nothing wrong or unhealthy with yelling or even crying over belief. It’s one of those universal bridges which for time immemorial has transcended the narrow limitations of national boundaries and oaths.

Today’s free speech debate between Zionists that seek to control the argument and those that struggle to resist its corrupting narrow view of our world is not new. Tension between the powerful and those that dare to challenge their stretch is here as old as the Republic itself. Though each generation has confronted different demons in different ways, at day’s end, it has always come back to the notion of free and robust speech as the best vehicle for knowledge and change. Ironically one of the most eloquent explanations of the First Amendment’s critical role in the search for truth was penned by none other than a Zionist, Justice Louis Brandeis in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 375 (Brandeis, J., concurring). Justice Brandeis’ words bear repeating:

“Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law – the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.” Id. at 375-76

When US Congress chases votes and not the law

When read broadly, the legislation will generate future unforeseen applications of the so called 9/11 law.

Originally published in Al Jazeera In Depth 02 Oct 2016 12:48 GMT |

The United States Congress’ historic vote to defy the president’s veto, thereby passing into law the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), may spark new hope for victims of state violence in general.

By an overwhelming margin in both houses of the legislature, American senators and congressional representatives have defied Barack Obama, while playing to the public mood,in creating legislation that for the first time permits civil lawsuits in US trial courts to proceed against Saudi government officials, by the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks, as well as property owners.

While tailored narrowly, the broader meaning may have future applications to various struggles, including the fight for Palestinian justice.

Before now, foreign governments, their employees and agents deemed to be liable in some capacity – even an indirect one – for the deaths of Americans or the destruction of American property avoided any lawsuits by invoking the concept of “sovereign immunity”.

Blanket protection

Federal courts here simply refused such cases, rejecting them on the basis of a blanket protection for governmental actions by foreign powers.

In practice, this stripped the courts of jurisdiction over damage suits by citizens, and mostly established a “balance of litigation” whereby foreign governments reciprocally denied their citizens the right to sue the United States in their home courts.

Conflicts between nations were left to the diplomats, without injured parties messing up the picture. For 15 years, 9/11 victims’ families – emboldened by the many striking connections, real and postulated, between the al-Qaeda hijackers and Saudi officials – have banged up against sovereign immunity, as an impassable barrier to getting what they perceived as a fair hearing for their damage claims.

“The new legislation … apparently strips the Saudis, and perhaps other foreign powers, of sovereign immunity in cases where terrorism has occurred in the United States, and can be tied to an overseas governmental actor.”

I experienced first-hand the barrier of sovereign immunity in ground-breaking litigation I filed in a US court in 2002, seeking damages for a class of Palestinian-Americans injured, kidnapped or killed, or who lost property, in Israeli terror attacks against civilians in the occupied territories and Lebanon in the preceding decades.

On behalf of these US citizens, we used elements of the Alien Torts Claims Act, anti-piracy statutes and various human rights conventions to sue Israel and the United States, as well as arms manufacturers.

Some of our plaintiffs had lost their homes, some lost internal organs and some their lives. Ultimately, all the defendants in the case were ruled protected by sovereign or qualified immunity, and the case did not proceed much further then past preliminary stages.

The new legislation – sharply opposed by Obama and the diplomatic establishment, which fears an onslaught of retaliatory suits against the United States – apparently strips the Saudis, and perhaps other foreign powers, of sovereign immunity in cases where terrorism has occurred in the United States, and can be tied to an overseas governmental actor.

Yet many aspects of this new legal position remain to be understood, raising interesting questions.

Americans seeking damages

Because the Equal Protection clause of the US constitution extends rights equally to all citizens, we can expect many other attempts by Americans seeking damages against foreign powers to invoke the new law in its fullest legislative intent, even though it was written specifically to aid the 9-11 families.

How trial judges handle those cases will require close examination, case by case, on how “terrorism” is defined, and how one defines “United States territory”.

For example, if “terrorism” can be taken to mean the deliberate use of violence by state or non-state actors against civilian, non-combatants with the intent of causing death or injury or to affect a government policy, then Israel’s periodic violent onslaughts against population centres in Gaza and the West Bank which include US citizens certainly fits the definition.

Yet this violence would still be protected in US courts by immunity, as happening outside the US.

Yet conceivably, unprotected foreign state violence against a US citizen might occur in cases where US territory were defined by a trial judge as extending to embassies and offices, customs desks at foreign airports, US airline flights, military bases overseas, and other potential “gray areas” where US legal authority attaches.

One can imagine, say, a Pakistani-American shot in the eye with a rubber bullet while at the US consulate in Karachi to pick up a new passport, as government troops fire deliberately at peaceful demonstrators outside the gates – such a plaintiff in a US court would clearly want to invoke the new JASTA advantage and try her luck with the judge.

Limited jurisdiction

If enough such cases made their way through US trial courts, it is conceivable that the legislative intent of the Act – to give US citizens their day in court, to make their case for recovering damages against a foreign power that has used violence against US citizens on liberally-defined “US ground” – might be judicially construed to grant limited jurisdiction to cases broadly interpreted as within the spirit of the law.

For example, if US government development funds are used to build a medical centre for Palestinians in a West Bank town and staffed and operated exclusively by US citizens, including Palestinians, and in the course of an Israeli air raid destroying the centre, a US citizen is killed – would that citizen’s family have a viable claim against Israel under a broad application of the intent of JASTA in a US Court?

While it is diverting, from a lawyer’s perspective, to imagine scenarios in which the benefits of JASTA help more people than simply those 9/11 families desirous of a Saudi settlement, it is very unclear just how this new law will deploy over time.

The Obama administration has vigorously opposed this legislation for this very reason, and for the even greater danger it poses in exposing US military, diplomatic and civilian personnel to reciprocal lawsuits in foreign courts by aggrieved parties overseas.

While the JASTA law does not extend justice to all victims of state violence against civilians, it points the way towards a future judicial setting in which such violence – be it committed by the US, or Israel, or any totalitarian state – may one day be held to account.

Stanley L Cohen is a lawyer and human rights activist who has done extensive work in the Middle East and Africa.

Boycotts, Now and Then: an Open Letter on BDS to the City Council of New York

Boycotts, Now and Then: an Open Letter on BDS to the City Council of New York

First published in Counterpunch  SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

Like the religion of my youth and the country of my birth, I just don’t know the City of my life any more. Several days ago in what can only be described as a one sided political prisoner exchange, a quid pro quo of suffering, the craven New York City Council held a session to “debate” a proposed resolution on how best to convert constitutionally protected BDS speech and activity into per se anti-Semitism… a perverse leap of faith similar to the sinister shroud of supremacy worn by the Reichstag supporters of the 30’s at a time when today’s Palestinians, were yesteryear’s Jews.

In announcing that the peaceful and pure political speech of BDS was not constitutionally protected and now most unwelcome in New York City, the resolution’s sponsor inadvertently became the movements best salesman by correctly describing it as an international effort “to boycott, divest from and sanction the people of Israel (including) its academic, cultural, and civil society institutions.”

Yes, Councilman Cohen (no relation), BDS is precisely about delegitimizing Israel, a pariah state that has flaunted international law since its very inception by embracing apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing as so much an essential and proud way of life for millions of illegal immigrants and so-called settlers. And yes, Mr. Cohen, right again, by design, BDS does indeed go well beyond simply “protesting… government policies” by targeting “…all facets of Israeli society.” That’s the aim. To send a loud unmistakable message to the people of Israel that silence is complicity and that to remain complicit is to invite the collective political, economic and social discomfort that should, indeed, must come with blind support of a government that targets and tortures millions of Palestinians for no reason other than their heritage, religion and historical right to a nation whose theft began in 1948 and continues on day by day by day.

Although I was not present, witnesses describe an angry hate filled session; a public meeting filled with spit and Islamaphobic taunts coming from the largely vetted Zionist audience egged on, all the while, by their pet councilmen and women. To the pro Israeli, anti First Amendment bloc, the mere mention of any support of BDS triggered the all too familiar and convenient chorus of “anti-Semite”… even the half dozen or so rabbis who attended to voice their support for BDS and opposition to the Council’s attempt to stifle dissent were not spared J’accuse. It mattered not that the air was heavy with principle and calls for justice and a powerful example of protected participatory government at its best- it was anti-Semitic. It always is… whenever people dare to challenge Israel or its official narrative packaged and sold like none other.

Not long after it began, police moved in to clear the public session of its BDS supporters, those daring enough to display pro Palestinian placards or flags; those foolish enough to believe that a City Council meeting was about dialogue and debate and not just a politically staged event to provide “participatory” cover for a decision long ago rubberstamped through a well placed political contribution or bargained for exchange.

My city is one that relishes debate… the good, the bad, the ugly, the true and the false. We thrive on disagreement and diversity. It’s what makes us great… different than everywhere else in this country, if not the world. It’s not a city of racial or religious orthodoxy. It’s not a city that welcomes purity of any sort, let alone that of thought or speech. Yet today’s jejune City Council has started us down that precise slippery slope deigning to become censors of what it is that we are free to say and feel, what it is we can and cannot do in ensuring that our peaceful voice is heard.

To say that I am embarrassed for most of these 51 lost souls who oversee and represent 51 different districts within our five boroughs and which, interestingly enough, has a Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus comprised of twenty-five of the fifty-one members… but one away from the majority… is to describe New York as simply a City with a lot of people.

In New York, the City Council (which oversees the fourth-largest governmental budget in the United States, just behind that of the federal government, California and New York State) is supposed to provide the checks and balances of our local government. By design it wears many hats, not least of which is to represent the heart and soul of its millions of constituents; New Yorkers who see themselves as very much a part of a vibrant and opinionated political, artistic and social community both local and international. Just hop in a cab and listen to a driver rave on at his radio while he follows a breaking news story some seven thousand miles away that has nothing to do with his shift, or his life, but has him engaged as if it were unfolding right then and there before him

Unfortunately, as evidenced by the most recent private sale of a public trust, today’s City Council is not one which understands let alone respects its own history… an electoral journey often fueled by fierce independence and determined integrity in the pursuit of justice within, not just the narrow confines of our five boroughs, but our world as a whole. Was it so long ago that an earlier City Council unanimously passed anti-apartheid legislation kick-starting a national movement intended to, and which ultimately did, break the back of apartheid South Africa. Like today’s BDS effort, the 1985 City Council bill was supported by a broad coalition of unions, activists and academics. Like today’s BDS effort, it targeted all facets of South African society including not just its academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, but individual South African citizens as well, in its challenge to long-term institutional segregation that had resisted most forms of international criticism until the disinvestment campaign came along. Sound familiar?

Indeed, in proposing the legislation, Upper West Sider Ruth Messinger explained, “We’re going to cut off all loan monies for South Africa from New York Banks. The city has finally begun to realize the extraordinary leverage it has with its funds. It’s only a beginning.”

A year earlier, then Mayor Koch created a panel to measure possible responses New York City could take to pressure the South African government… and the panel recommended withdrawing municipal employee pension funds from companies doing business there. While others city and state governments undertook similar measures, the $665 million pension investment withheld by New York was by far the largest American fund to disinvest as political/economic pressure directed at a regime no more repressive than that of Israel since the occupation of Palestine began nearly 70 years ago.

On other occasions the City Council has moved to make its voice heard on matters far from the East River that rubbed up against well-settled international norms and laws. Thus, in 1997, the City Council, with the support of then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, passed a measure that called for New York City to withdraw deposits and investments from banks that did business with some 16 countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Egypt, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Pakistan, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Sudan and Vietnam for alleged religious persecution of minorities. The bill would make more than one-third of the world’s business population off-limits to the city, and cause tremendous economic and social hardship to more than a half a billion citizens of the world because of the conduct of their respective governments. In supporting the bill City Councilman Thomas Dunne, a Manhattan Democrat, called it a moral issue for the city.

“Just like in South Africa and in Northern Ireland, New York City can stand as a leader in the battle for human rights around the world,” Dunne said. “As an international city, New York has a responsibility that’s far beyond the borders of our five boroughs.”

Historically, the City Council has often moved to ensure the widest possible reach of human rights be it for its own citizens, those in other states or abroad. Often its resolutions have been groundbreaking and not at all popular for the times. Thus, on February 16, 1951, at the height of Jim Crowe, the New York City Council passed a bill prohibiting discrimination against African Americans in city-assisted housing projects. The bill was directed mainly at the Stuyvesant Town housing project. One month later, the Brown-Issacs Bill became law in New York City, making racial discrimination in public housing developments a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine and prison term for the owner of any housing development constructed with public assistance found to discriminate on account of race, color, or nationality. Stuyvesant Town, long a symbol of discrimination, was barred from using race as criterion in tenant selection.

Years later, the City Council was to pass Human Rights Law Title 8 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York. Under its current form the NYCHRL protects New Yorkers against actual or perceived discrimination based on sixteen categories. Categories include race, color, creed, ages, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, partnership status, any lawful source of income, status as a victim of domestic violence, status as a victim of sex offenses, stalking or lawful occupation.

From this code and our collective commitment to diversity and justice, New York City has seen a wide range of powerful political protests and statements in support of the right of individuals to chart their own course in pursuit of personal rights and beliefs that do not interfere with those of others who call this City home. So, too, Title 8 has been quick to serve as the legislative impetus to challenge abhorrent practices, even private ones, which would reduce the rights of our citizenry on the basis of their minority status, whatever they might be.

For example, in its most recent application, Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the City Council called for a city-wide boycott of Chick-fil-A, a private business owned by a devoutly Christian family whose owner had announced that he believed marriage is just between a man and a woman and that any other union offended core standards of decency. In supporting the boycott, Councilman Dromm, who founded the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee and organized the first Queens LGBT Pride Parade and Festival, noted that the restaurant supports groups that impart “…a strong anti-LGBT message by forcing their employees and volunteers to adhere to a policy that prohibits same-sex love… it is outrageous that Chick-fil-A is quietly spreading its message of hate by funding these type organizations.”

Last year Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that because the council is “committed to celebrating and respecting the diversity” of the city it would not have an official presence at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because of rules that prevent gay and lesbian groups from identifying themselves while marching.

In 2015 the City Council honored Ethel Rosenberg on what would have been her 100th birthday for “demonstrating great bravery” in leading a 1935 strike against the National New York Packing and Supply Co., where she worked as a clerk. At the height of Cold War hysteria Ms. Rosenberg was executed for treason having been convicted with her husband for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

In 2007 a group of primarily African American New York City Council members called for a resolution to “express profound regret” for the city’s role in chattel slavery. The New York City Council members who introduced the resolution wanted the city to apologize for its role in sustaining and benefiting from the slave trade where 12 million Africans were physically coerced into a life of bondage in the Americas. This comes in light of various attempts made by lawmakers to absolve the country of its associations with slavery.

And in 1994 in an outpouring of love led by City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, City Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi and Mayor Giuliani, IRA leader Gerry Adams, once imprisoned and denounced by the British as a Northern Irish terrorist, received multiple awards and praise from city officials. Describing Adams as a “civil rights activist,” Giuliani specifically cited the “North’s suffering under an outside occupation force.” Where have we heard this phrase before?

In New York, City Council boycotts have not been limited to human rights abuses abroad but have targeted a wide range of domestic activity, often defying popular political sensibilities and the voting allure of the day. Thus, in 1978 the City Council supported a nation-wide citizen’s boycott directed at the Southern based textile giant J.P. Stevens for labor law violations. In proving the apple can in fact fall very far from the tree, then Governor-elect Mario Cuomo declared “…to shun the products of J.P. Stevens as you would shun the fruit of an unholy tree.”

In 2011, a different Council passed a resolution calling for a boycott of the state of Arizona and all of its businesses and tourism including U.S. Airways (based in Tempe), the Diamondbacks ballclub and the Grand Canyon in reaction to a law that allowed police officers the right to ask residents to provide immigration documentation. In noting that the Council had “…concerns about how the boycott can hurt working-class people,” Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez of Washington Heights nevertheless compared it to the 1980s anti-apartheid boycotts against South Africa, concluding “…we believe that…it is necessary.”

We are a city of dissidents, of creative free spirits and thinkers, of independent women and men who do not suffer fools lightly. New Yorkers have made it a calling standing up to the petty popular, and the passing fancy. We have survived draft and race riots and an unprecedented attack of terror in lower Manhattan which took the lives of thousands. We’ve given comfort to runaway slaves and refuge to those in flight from injustice at home and abroad alike. We’ve embraced, indeed welcomed, thoughts very much taboo elsewhere. We are a City with streets and boulevards that honor fallen free thinkers and movements; those who scoffed at tyranny and, by doing so, often paid for their acts of defiance and courage with their all.

To drive through the five boroughs we call home is a passageway of dramatic history and sacrifice. Where but New York do you find the names Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, King, Robeson, Tubman, Juan Pablo Duarte, Mother Hale, Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Gleason, El Grito de Lares and Toussaint Louverture intersecting corners named for the Young Lords, Buffalo Soldiers and Abolitionist Place.

Given our clear and long history of commitment to the unpopular voice, and the difficult battle, what is there that drove this most recent effort by some in the City Council to sully the name and tradition of its predecessor councils? It’s far too easy and “nuanced” to blame the corrupting political influence of AIPAC or the blind obedience to Israel shown almost uniformly by our City’s Jewish politicians. No, it’s more basic and tawdry than that. This resolution was very much government at its worst; business as usual, a quid pro quo, an exchange of votes with one caucus currying favor with another driven not by principle, but mere patronage.

Indeed, in supporting the resolution, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s said all the right things its Zionist sponsors wanted to hear. Calling BDS a “…harmful, exclusionary campaign aimed at undermining the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States,” the speaker delivered on a promise she had made to the Jewish caucus last year. The reality of it is, she could care less about either the BDS movement or Israel. Informed sources at City Hall report that this was a simple, bargained for, exchange with Viverito delivering the power of her position and her caucus in exchange for Jewish council members supporting her earlier resolution that President Obama commute the sentence of legendary Puerto Rican Independista, Oscar Lopez Rivera now unjustly serving his 35th year of imprisonment of a 55 year sentence following his conviction for seditious conspiracy as a leader of the FALN.

The irony of the Speakers cheap political ploy is that Rivera himself would, like Mandela, reject any deal that required of him that he sacrifice his principles and his support of others engaged in armed struggle, let alone peaceful protest, to obtain his own liberty. Like Mandela who when offered his freedom after 17 years of imprisonment if only he renounced violence but instead walked back to his cell to do 10 more, Rivera years ago refused to accept President Clinton’s commutation offer which would have required of him to renounce the use of “terrorism” to obtain independence for the Caribbean commonwealth.

So Madame Speaker, the next time you pass the Statue of Liberty remember it sits as a beacon of hope, equality and justice in the East River of New York, the capital of the free and fierce world, and not the Jordan River which runs red with the blood of Palestinian civilians trapped by the bondage of apartheid and occupation. BDS.


November 8, 2016 Offers No Relief For Palestine

Additionally published September 13, 2016 at al Jazeera , highly edited, under title “Harder times for Palestine if Clinton wins US election”

November 8, 2016 Offers No Relief For Palestine

STANLEY L. COHEN New York, 9 September 2016

As Hillary Clinton approaches the final weeks of her climb to the apex of American public life and power, the breadth and scope of her many years operating at the highest levels of our ideological system cannot be denied. Unlike her clownish, “reality-television”opponent—who has never served in government, and on his best days, appears to possess less maturity and intelligence than a three-year old child—Ms. Clinton, the former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator, has an ample record of positions, official acts and personal opinions, for better or worse. Trump’s autocratic personal style and retro “strong-man” orientation—flouting his deep ignorance on any topic, and avowed intention to “bomb to hell” every problem—suggests the real estate blowhard will be a great friend to Israeli militarism and the ever-expanding occupation of Palestine. Yet, in fact, keen observers with more memory than perhaps the current Selfie Age requires, know well that it is Ms. Clinton who has proven herself for over two decades to be among the most hawkish, pro-Israel figures in modern official US history.

Truly, have the Palestinians ever faced a worse pair of prospects in the American electoral season? A psychopathic, New York real estate narcissist vs. a hardline, party Zionist: whoever wins (and anything can happen in this unlikely election), we know it won’t be good for Palestine.

The ironies run deep with the Democratic candidate. Ms. Clinton holds the unprecedented distinction of being the first major party nominee for U.S. president, man or woman, ever to have actually visited the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank—a trip she made at her husband’s side in the final weeks of 1998, when President Bill Clinton faced impeachment at home over his marital infidelities. Together, they attended the ribbon-cutting on the new Gaza airport, observed a signing of a new Palestine National Charter, and met frantically to shore up the Wye River Accords among its signatories, signed earlier that fall. Ms. Clinton’s meeting and embrace of Suha Arafat, of course, became the stuff of New York City tabloid newspaper legend, with the New York Post and the Daily News screaming in Zionist unison as if the First Lady had, by touching a Muslim woman, given herself and the White House ideological leprosy.

I recall a pleasant day, months after her visit, walking around the new $83 million airport in the summer of 1999, with local Rafah friends—not a single commercial flight had been permitted, and the complex stood shimmering and empty in the blazing midday heat, almost a mirage. The paint on the walls still smelled new, and for kicks, we rode fast in a civil defense jeep down one of the empty runways, past the control tower and the main terminal. The next year, the whole place would be blown to bits by Israeli warplanes, the tower a smoking ruin, the runways full of bomb craters. The Clintons were long-gone by then, of course, and no one in the U.S. government raised a bit of objection to what was both the symbolic and the practical demolition of Palestinian’s aspirations to fly free of the occupation—after all, it was Gulf State and German money that built the place, who cared if the Israelis wanted it destroyed?

But I remember just as well, that very same year, how Ms. Clinton traveled again to Israel in her effort to win the US senate seat for New York held by Daniel Moynihan—himself a staunch protector of Zionism. It needs explaining, for foreign readers, that Israel is like the “sixth borough” of New York City—a required campaign stop for any politician hoping to win election in this town, and every congressman makes a necessary pilgrimage there to genuflect before the power of the Israel lobby, and to assure New Yorkers that they love Israel more than the next candidate. It is a sloppy mess—US politicians competing for AIPAC help in getting elected, kneeling to kiss the ring of a foreign power every two years—but an enduring, illustrative spectacle of our ideological truth.

Yet that summer, Hillary Clinton out-did any other Democratic politician in her craven fawning, when she gratuitously included the Zionist formula for subjugating Jerusalem in an official letter to an Orthodox Jewish union, writing that she believed the city to be “the eternal and indivisible capital” of Israel, and promising to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. The verbal formula, of course, has long been a shibboleth of hard-core Zionist plans, and her adoption of it was deliberate and not accidental. A few years prior, Republican Zionists in the Congress passed a bill (the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995) ordering President Clinton to move the embassy, or face consequences—however, the language of the law contained a presidential waiver, and Clinton invoked his waiver to get out of complying, preserving the status quo. This grotesque pantomime has continued every year for the last twenty years, as Congress renews the law, and each president opts out on the implementation, and the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

At the time, many of us in the anti-Zionist cause wondered if the First Lady had been naïve, or manipulated, in her clumsy ploy to pick up AIPAC support—after all, her adoption of the outrageous language of Israeli conquest and annexation stood in sharp contrast to both her party and her husband’s official position (not to mention international law), and contradicted the U.S. State Department’s policy. If she did not understand the dangerous implications of the language, then her competency was in question; if she did, then her politics represented a shift for the party. There was simply no version of the fabled “two-state solution” that did not include half of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Thus, any politician advocating the language of the Zionists on an “indivisible” Jerusalem essentially says, “the Palestinians don’t matter,” and their national aspirations will not be honored. As it happened, even George W. Bush’s White House kept invoking the waiver on the renewed law, and Senator Clinton never had to account for her earlier campaign trail Zionism.

But from her years toiling in the White House, the Senate, and the State Department— a rigorous education unmatched by few in our political history—we might wonder, without irony, if Ms. Clinton has undergone any transformation since that summer, and where that process has brought her today.

Sadly, her years of experience have made her more canny about the workings of power, but do not appear to have changed her mind—she remains the greatest Israel hawk on the Democrat side. While she backed away from the language of the embassy move as Secretary of State—an idea in contravention of State Department policy—her Zionist ethos has remained strong. As a senator, she has visited the illegal wall destroying Palestinian life, and praised it for its guarantee of Israeli security; she has at times visited Jerusalem, and called it “Israel;” and as a presidential candidate, her campaign took up the hated formula again, extolling Israel’s “right” to an “undivided Jerusalem as its capital” in a position paper (“Standing with Israel Against Terrorism”) available on the Hillary website as late as 2010, but now apparently scrubbed away.

Just as alarming for Palestinians is the candidate’s language today, on her official campaign site. A quick perusal of her current Israel page, “Hillary Clinton and Israel: a 30-Year Record of Friendship, Leadership and Strength,” gives the general drift of her Zionism—record-breaking military budget increases for the Israeli war-making machine; opposing the Goldstone Report; criticizing the U.N. for its bias against Israel; intelligence sharing initiatives with the Mossad; and so on. In her promises for the future, when she is president, she vows to “defend Israel on the world stage,” by opposing “anti-Israel bias” in international forums (by this, we understand, the International Criminal Court and human rights venues); and to “stand up against” the BDS movement, while cutting off efforts to recognize Palestinian statehood.

The past years of Democratic rule have not been kind to the Palestinians—while President Obama’s pronounced personal dislike for the racist Netanyahu has at least dialed-back the most egregious Israelophilia, the fact remains that this president has presided over the biggest run-up in Israeli military aid in American history. Despite what Likud hawks think about Obama, he has been their best friend ever, accounting strictly by the dollar. And a Hillary Clinton presidency promises more of the same—but with the added concern that in her past record, she has shown a shocking disregard for, and fundamental disinterest in the Palestinians, their hopes and aspirations. Ms. Clinton will not—as Obama did upon election—be visiting any Arab capital with a proffered fig leaf. If, as Shakespeare warns us, “What’s past is prologue,” Ms. Clinton can be expected as president to mount the ramparts of Fortress Israel, and vigorously wave the flag—perhaps more aggressively than Bush or Reagan, or any president before her, portending grave trouble ahead for Palestine.


“Partners in Crime”

BDS is a war Israel can’t win

BDS is a war Israel can’t win

Israel’s apologists would call the BDS campaign “immoral”, but the slander is laughably false.

By Stanley L Cohen

Israeli think-tank fellow Yossi Klein Halevi, writing recently in the Los Angeles Times would have American readers believe that the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement is “immoral” and threatens the peace of “the region’s only intact society”, while simultaneously boasting it can’t touch Israel’s health and global economic integration.

Yet his reasoning from “morals” rings hollow, and amounts to little more than the shilling of the professional apologist industry deployed on Israel’s behalf throughout the Western media, in the never-ending defence of the oppressive status quo in Palestine.

Halevi excoriates BDS, disingenuously, for making the Jewish state “the world’s most pressing problem” today, while extolling Israel’s freedoms and national righteousness. Of course, his complaint manages to engage in both self-pitying and craven boosterism at the same time – a kind of perverse humble-brag.

No, Mr Halevi, Israel is not the world’s greatest problem – rather, Israel is Palestine’s great, existential, enduring problem for a people who have lived their whole lives under the constant, brutal and de-humanising occupation of this enlightened state.

Palestine’s ordeal

Most of the world has been content to overlook Palestine’s ordeal – fatigued by 68 years of this conflict, and understandably inured to the epic suffering of its people, who understand that their tragic condition can only hold its attention briefly.

The endless failed international “peace” efforts, the vicissitudes of negotiations, and periodic spasms of violence have become like the weather – always there.
This is precisely why the BDS movement has come to figure so prominently in Palestinian hopes – it side-steps the moribund “peace process” and banks on people-power as leverage against state and institutional power, applied against a responsive economy, such as Israel’s.

In the view of Palestinians, the state of Israel has never possessed legitimacy, not by international standards, as it was founded on expulsion, land-theft and military occupation. The BDS movement approaches this abstract issue by offering practicable action for citizens in the West, while the official international community dithers away the decades, leaving Palestinians worse off than ever before.

That such leverage should be applied to Israel is entirely justified. After all, autocratic dictatorships with closed economies, lacking – in Halevi’s celebratory words – “an independent judiciary, a free press, universal healthcare and religious freedom” are not typically responsive targets to protest campaigns for justice, like that of the BDS movement.

Citizens in America don’t propose a boycott of North Korea – the US government does that for them, making it illegal to do business with that outlaw state: yes, the very same US government which blocks every effort by the United Nations and international courts to address the illegality of Israeli settlements, military occupation, collective punishment, economic enslavement, and wholesale destruction and murder of a captive population.

Advantages of civil society

If America’s obstruction of international law did not shield Israel from accountability, there would be no need for BDS.

Because Israel possesses all the institutions and advantages of civil society, then presumably its economy and citizens would therefore be responsive to an effective grassroots campaign of boycott and economic push-back.

And if the campaign were to succeed, this same society might be expected to search its collective soul over its choices – and challenge its government’s policies.

This obvious point seems to have escaped Halevi, and others, who brand the movement as “immoral, because it perpetuates the lie that Israel is solely or even primarily to blame” for the Palestinian condition. Yet if we look around the room, who else is there?

Who attacks Palestinians’ cities with warplanes and tanks, walls them in, isolates them from contact with the world, cuts off their electricity, destroys their infrastructure, takes their water, and builds on their land after evicting them?

Who puts their teenagers in jail, takes their farms, cuts down their olive trees? It isn’t North Korea; it isn’t Putin’s Russia; it isn’t a rapacious China. Israel is the author of the present Palestinian condition, as it has been for decades, with its American backers, and there isn’t much point rehashing the failure of Camp David, or Oslo, or the Palestinian leadership since 1936, or 1948, or 1967.

BDS leaves that debate to “think-tank” intellectuals like Halevi and others. Justice for the Palestinians will not be achieved through debating societies.

BDS offers to its supporters a non-violent, crowd-sourced, material response to the intransigence of Israel and her rampant, continuing illegality. Israel’s apologists would call the campaign “immoral”, but the slander is laughably false.

The logic of justice

BDS compels no one to join it; it constrains no one but by force of reason, and the logic of justice.

In Halevi’s topsy-turvy morality, it is the BDS movement that sins against moral law, in persuading people, institutions and governments to vote with their wallets and their consciences on the rights of Palestinians – rather than Israel, which claims legitimacy to the world, even as it continues to build new settlements on Palestinian land, and subjugates its people to military occupation, dispossession and violence, in violation of international law.

The propagandists of Israeli power understand all too well that BDS is the first clear-eyed, internationalist movement of people – not governments, not Western “quartets”, not the UN Security Council – to look at Palestine with fresh eyes and accurate information. It demands that until Israel ceases its occupation and oppression of millions of Palestinians, there cannot, and should not, be any “business as usual” with the regime.

If Israeli critics want to smear BDS as “bigoted” – a dog-whistle for “anti-Semitic” – because of its endorsement of the Palestinian Right of Return, let them address the historical truth: at least 800,000 Palestinians were expelled en masse, in the creation of the Israeli state – that number has since grown to 7,000,000 stateless refugees with another 4 million internally displaced within their own nation.

No effort has ever been made by official Israeli society to acknowledge and address this simple reality – that many elderly Palestinians living in UN camps, or Gaza City slums, or the West Bank, remember their homes in places such as Jaffa, Yibna, or the numerous towns and villages erased from the map.

It serves no use to deny this fact – perhaps a good starting point for intellectuals like Halevi would be in saying, yes, it is not too late to admit those rights and seek redress, together with the Palestinians.

BDS is brave enough to put the Right of Return up front, as a moral position; if Israel were ready to move forward, it could do the same. Who knows – perhaps good things could come from starting from the truth.

And what of Israel’s boast of its progressive freedoms? They do not withstand scrutiny in the slightest – religious freedom, for example, is under clear attack for every Muslim who wishes to worship at al-Aqsa, or travel to Jerusalem, or leave Gaza and return again, with access routinely denied.

Through Israeli military travel bans on Palestinians, families are separated, unable to worship or observe religious rituals together, or attend the mosque of their choice.

Likewise, any progressive Reform Jew or Jewish American visiting will tell you that Orthodox Judaism does not welcome them, either – Israel’s Rabbinate monopolises official control over the very legitimacy of being Jewish, and denies marriage rights to thousands of couples, even going so far as to jail couples marrying illegally, or rabbis conducting such ceremonies.

Orthodox cultural control

Under Orthodox cultural control in Jerusalem and elsewhere, women are subordinated literally to a “back of the bus” status, and segregated without access to full social freedom and the right to work.

As for an independent judiciary, Palestinians never see it, instead enduring the injustices of military courts and the state security apparatus leaving thousands of them including children as permanent political detainees denied the most fundamental rights, while its civil courts refuse jurisdiction over Palestinian complaints.

And Israel’s “free press” leaves much to be desired. Halevi appears to be ignorant of the targeting of Palestinian journalists in recent years for arrest and prosecution in military courts under “incitement” laws; or the Israeli Defence Forces’ censoring of social media in the Occupied Territories.

The absurd equivocation of  Halevi and his colleagues in the “Love Israel” industry hits a shrill note, asking American readers to accept that the BDS movement “is itself a crime”.

But free and open debate of the true status of Israeli occupation in Palestine, and the organising efforts to convince states, businesses and people to stop investing in Israel’s bloody enterprise, is hardly criminal. In America, it is known as “the marketplace of ideas”.

We are all free to argue for justice as we see it, and BDS has had more than a decade of mounting success because its arguments convince reasonable people of the truth – no one is buying any more the tired, old brand of “Israel, the Enlightened Democracy”.

BDS is the brave and steady labour of people of conscience to move the stalled, bogus “peace process” forward by applying economic pressure, plain and simple.

The old narrative of a blameless Israel, fighting off Palestinian “terrorists”, is a hard sell, and BDS will continue to build on its successes because Israel’s defenders can no longer suppress the truth, or sweep it under some wishful fantasy of a benevolent, progressive Israel that doesn’t exist, and never has.

Originally appeared in Al Jazeera Opinions




**Stanley L. Cohen is a U.S. based attorney and human rights activist who has done extensive work in the Middle East and Africa. He has handled prominent international cases including that of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook. He has served as a consultant to Middle East governments and Movements including Hamas and Hezbollah and NGO’s and foundations in Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He has sued Israel, the US and Egypt on behalf of Palestinians for human rights violations and represented Radio Station 786 on a free speech case in South Africa. A frequent visitor to the region Cohen has been the subject of numerous interviews in all media over many years and addressed numerous human rights conferences in the Middle East, Gulf and Africa. The list of those he has defended and worked for throughout his career is extensive and can be found on istanleycohen.org He also has a blog at https://cagedbutundaunted.wordpress.com/

Stanley Cohen unbound: Radical lawyer out of jail, headed abroad

Stanley Cohen unbound: Radical lawyer out of jail, headed abroad

March 17, 2016 | Filed under: Community,News,People | Posted by: The Villager

Stanley Cohen during an interview earlier this month at a Downtown law firm where he is currently serving as a consultant.

stanley-1-600x399 sarah ferguson

Photo by Sarah Ferguson

BY SARAH FERGUSON | Going to prison can be a radicalizing experience. So what happens when you take a radical attorney and lock him up in a federal prison camp in northeast Pennsylvania for 11 months on criminal tax offenses?

Not much, according to former East Village attorney Stanley Cohen.

“Prison didn’t touch me. It didn’t change me. It didn’t soften me, it didn’t harden me,” says Cohen, who started a blog called “Caged But Undaunted” during his stay at Camp Canaan in Waymart, PA.

The LES’s most infamous defense lawyer also served three months at a Bronx halfway house and is now doing five more weeks of home confinement at his Upstate New York cabin in the foothills of the Catskills. Cohen, who is in his early 60s, was convicted last April on charges of “obstructing and impeding” the Internal Revenue Service. In essence, the I.R.S. got him for failing to file timely returns from 2005 to 2010, for failing to report some $35,000 in cash transactions, and for running a largely cash business in which he kept slack or no records.

In court, prosecutors alluded to millions of dollars in cash Cohen received from clients, many of them pot growers and smugglers from the Mohawk Nation’s Akwesasne Reservation on the Quebec border.

Cohen insists the notion that he was rolling in the dough is ludicrous. He says his prosecution on tax charges was part of a broader effort of political retribution aimed at silencing a radical defender who has spent the last three decades representing the rights of other radicals, outcasts and the oppressed. It’s a not too preposterous theory, considering that he has represented everyone from Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and Kathy Boudin of the Weather Underground to East Village squatters and Occupy Wall Street protestors, the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah members of the Mohawk Nation and the Anonymous hacktivists known as the “PayPal 14.” (Cohen’s former law partner Lynne Stewart was convicted in 2010 of aiding a terrorist by helping her client communicate to followers from prison.) In 2002, he filed suit against Israel, accusing it of war crimes.

“They started investigating me in 1997, for material support of terrorism, because I was involved in a half-dozen battles with them over terrorism cases,” Cohen alleges, referring to inquiries launched over the years by the F.B.I. and Treasury and Justice departments.

“My case was not about taxes,” insists Cohen, who says he took the plea agreement only because the lengthy legal fight was “bankrupting” him, straining his family, and making it difficult to practice law.

“Am I banned from Israel and Egypt and Kuwait because of taxes?” he demands. “Shouldn’t that sort of say something? There isn’t a f—ing federal prosecutor in the United States who believes this is about f—in’ taxes,” maintains Cohen, who had to give up his Avenue D loft when he went to prison.

Prosecutors at the Northern District U.S. Attorney’s Office in Syracuse, where Cohen’s tax case was tried, insist their beef with him was not political. Asked whether the case against Cohen was politically motivated, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick responded succinctly: “It was not.”

Cohen is still battling the I.R.S. in civil court over exactly how much in back taxes he still owes. But he was never fined for his tax offenses — a point he considers telling: “Go find another f—ing I.R.S. criminal prosecution in the United States without an order that you must repay a certain amount of money as part of your sentence. We looked. It doesn’t exist.”

Clearly undaunted, Cohen sat down with The Villager earlier this month for a wide-ranging interview in the offices of a Downtown law firm. Cohen says he was hired by the firm to consult on a big pro bono project, just two days after he entered the halfway house.

Although Cohen’s law license is currently suspended, he has not been disbarred. Rather, his law license is now “pending review” — meaning it is under the discretion of the New York Bar Association whether it will be reinstated once his full sentence has been served.


VILLAGER: So it’s not a given that you will lose your law license?

STANLEY COHEN: The haters are going around saying I’ve been disbarred, but it’s not true. In fact, there are those who believe that it’s highly significant that I wasn’t disbarred. There are those who believe the grievance committee sees — “There’s something going on here.” (Cohen moves in conspiratorially and casts a wink.)

V: So you can still help prepare legal cases?

S.C.: If your license is suspended or pending, you can’t even practice until it is resolved. But I can still be a consultant. I can’t give legal advice — which I’m not — and I can’t go into court. But I can research, and I can write, and I can set up pro bono projects.

V: What was it like in the Big House?

S.C.: I did 10 months and three weeks in a prison “camp” that was very much like a f—ing Boy Scouts barracks. It was a camp, which is no bars, no cells, no barbed wire, no keys, no guns. One hundred twenty men in a bunkhouse with communal showers and communal bathrooms, making 12 cents an hour. And then we’re attached to one of the ugliest maximum-security prisons in the United States, filled with about 1,000 guys doing at least 20-year sentences, and 500 doing life without.

[Cohen’s blog includes the interviews he did with his fellow prisoners, some living in the camp and others he encountered when he worked the red-eye shift at Canaan’s maximum penitentiary, packing lunches during a three-week lockdown.]

V: And how did prison deal with you as a radical attorney?

S.C.: I was designated a C.M.I., which is a Centrally Monitored Inmate. Within three days of my arrival, I had to sign a document which identified me as a C.M.I., that said quote unquote, “Because of inmate Cohen’s high public persona, his career of controversy, and the access to the media and the cases he’s handled, the Bureau of Prisons has decided he has to be a monitored inmate.” They wanted to keep me under their eye as much as possible; so when I got there, I was immediately assigned to the plumb librarian job of the law library. There were like 50 guys waiting to get the librarian job — [but] they gave it to me because it was 20 feet from the administrative offices, and people could walk by day in and day out and see me.


While in prison, Cohen says he received more than 100 interview requests — including one from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria wanted to follow up on Cohen’s foiled efforts to negotiate with spiritual leaders of ISIS and Al Qaeda to intercede to obtain the release of American hostage Peter Kassig, who was beheaded by ISIS last November — just before Cohen reported to prison. The British Guardian did an 8,000-word series on Cohen’s role in the hostage negotiation, though the story did not receive much play here in the U.S. Unfortunately, according to Cohen, the Bureau of Prisons has a rule forbidding any filming or taping of interviews, so the CNN interview got scrapped.

Cohen says he was also visited by London playwright Chris MacDonald, who is writing a play about Cohen, and who spent a weekend “taking notes up his arm” while being monitored by the acting warden of the camp.

In addition, Cohen taught three terms of law classes to his fellow inmates, covering topics ranging from civil rights and American government, to the revolution that toppled apartheid in South Africa, the Israeli/Palestine conflict, and human rights law.

“I did serious stuff,” shrugs Cohen. “My classes were volunteer, they were at night, you got no credit for attending. And yet they regularly drew attendance of 30 people — about a third of the camp,” he adds.

“One of the guys who attended all my classes told me, ‘I love your classes. I feel like we’re in college. We’re like adults, like men. We discuss. We’re not dumbed down, we’re not f—ing idiots.’”


V: What was your hardest thing about being behind bars?

S.C.: Nothing about prison was hard for me — zero. There’s isolation and despair, there’s dirt and boredom, and there’s periodic violence — sometimes psychic, sometimes physical. None of that was a big deal. The biggest problem, especially in camps, is you’re powerless to take care of family problems. You get your periodic phone calls and visits; you get a certain number of e-mails now in prisons. But it’s not like your wife or husband or son can just pick up the phone and say, “I’m having a problem,” and you intervene and then they don’t have to worry about it… . All you can say is, “It will be all right, you have to deal with it.”

Low-security prisons and camps are designed to hurt you by hurting your families. The prison doesn’t hurt you. The camps themselves are a f—ing joke. Sixty percent of every man and woman in federal prison in the United States has been convicted of a nonviolent offense and/or poses no risk of danger to the community. They do not have to be in prison. The whole purpose is to punish the person, and the greatest retribution is meted out to wives, husbands and children on the outside. That’s where they get you, that’s where they f— you up. I have a strong partner of many years, but she had problems.

V: How was the food?

S.C.: Terrible. I’m a vegetarian. I had a friend of mine [in prison] who made me salads. There are exchange systems. I lived on a lot of oatmeal, a lot of nuts. I didn’t eat in the camp cafeteria at all the last five months. I would, however, go in two meals a day and get meals for friends who were big. I mean, breakfast was at 6 a.m. every day, lunch at 10:45 and dinner at 4. Who wants to eat lunch at 10:45?

I went in heavy because I’d been traveling a lot and hadn’t been taking care of myself before I went to jail. So I lost 23 to 24 pounds — roughly two pounds a month, and got back to my normal weight.


The Villager reached out to Cohen again over this past weekend, following his release from the halfway house, to ask how he was enjoying his relative freedom, under home confinement in his Catskills retreat.

Cohen said he was battling a terrific chest cold but seemed otherwise nonchalant about it all. He said he was keeping busy cleaning up the lawn, writing his blog and catching up on Turner Classic Movies with his longtime partner, artist Joni White. According to the terms of his sentence, he is now allowed to travel domestically related to his work and things like health appointments, but must spend each night at home.

Ever the troublemaker, Cohen says he’s been blasting tweets about the state of Gaza, promoting B.D.S. campaigns against Beyoncé and J. Lo and Springsteen because of their plans to play Israel, and of course, harping on the current trainwreck of a presidential election. (He’s got more than 20,000 Twitter followers.) Since he got out, he says he’s received a half-dozen death threats via Twitter and online from “white national socialists” who are pissed about something he wrote about Trump and Sanders.


V: Aren’t you at all worried about putting yourself back in the government’s — or your haters’ — crosshairs?

S.C.: Let us be very clear about this. Serious political lawyers put ourselves in the firing line all the time. It is what we do. Have there been times when I said f— you to the beast and exposed myself and let myself be vulnerable? Of course. Comes with the turf.

The government spent five years looking for hidden proceeds, because they are used to scammers and a–holes. They aren’t used to people like me. They’re not used to political fighters. They assumed that Stanley Cohen was getting rich because of the work he did — that Stanley Cohen was doing it for the money. It’s all nonsense. So they spent five years looking for offshore bank accounts and hidden dollar amounts and stock portfolios, and found nothing, zero, because there was nothing.

What they didn’t get — what they really didn’t get — was I didn’t give a f—. Who gives a f—? Was I reckless in certain regards? Absolutely. Did I not give a f— about some of their rules and regulations? Abso-f—ing-lutely. Did I see them as being intrusive? Absolutely. In my sentencing memo, it says, “Stanley Cohen has to be one of the best defense attorneys around… There’s no doubt he is an indefatigable force on behalf of his clients. But he’s a lousy businessman.” Really?

V: So what’s next?

S.C.: I’m thinking about bank robberies… No, seriously, what am I going to do? Even once I get my license back — and I’m convinced I will — my days of running a major national criminal defense firm are done. I will continue doing international human rights work — maybe political cases, terrorism cases. I expect to become an expat and live abroad — essentially reversing the past 20 or 25 years of living in the United States and traveling abroad three or four times a year. I will now live abroad and travel to the United States three or four times a year. I’ll reverse it.

V: Any idea where you’ll go?

S.C.: My partner has agreed that there are a certain number of countries that she will go live with me in. She’s an artist, she’s got a gallery, a small studio in Florida which she wants to maintain. We’re looking in the Gulf States somewhere, we’re looking in Lebanon, where she and I have been. We’re looking in South Africa… The countries I am thinking about are the countries that are very vibrant and in flux, in one way or another in a state of revolution. So they are involved in human rights struggles.

V: So you’ll pick up where you left off abroad?

S.C.: Look, I represent some very serious people. And I have been aligned with some very serious political movements for many years. And I have been a consultant to foreign governments. So I could do this tomorrow — never pick up a law book, never cross-examine a witness, never step into a courtroom again — and continue. I’ve got teaching offers in a half-dozen countries that I could do. I could be a consultant in many places.

Two weeks ago, when the South African Muslim Lawyers Association tried to get Shimon Peres arrested there, I was a consultant in that case. I was part of the strategy that — well, it didn’t work at this point, the special prosecutor said the case was not likely to prevail — but I was part of that.

V: But will you keep a place here?

S.C.: Oh, I’m not giving up the cabin. We want to look for a place on the Lower East Side — just to stay connected. Something small, one bedroom.

V: Seriously? You can afford to rent on the LES after the case just bankrupted you?

S.C.: Yeah. We’re gonna look.

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{Please look for Part Eight (The final chapter) of “It Ain’t The Promised Land” (Stanley’s time at Camp Canaan Prison) which will be posted in a few short weeks}