An Open Letter to Lorde: Creativity is Love – It dies in the service of hate.

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Dear Lorde,

My name is Todd and I’m a 30 year old New Zealand Maori doctor in mental health, normally based in Wellington. I’m also a fellow musician and a supporter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli Apartheid.

Listening and playing music is a kind of sacrament. I’m sure you will agree with me on its beautiful potency. My Dad is a singer and as a kid would drag me to country music contests and his Roy Orbison gigs. I developed a deep love for music and its transcendent capacity.

But our mutual love for music and its creative expression cannot be blind to that which is destructive and opposed to creation.

I am writing to politely ask you not to play your wonderful music in Tel Aviv.

If you are willing to heed the urgent plea from Palestinian civil society – a collection of  unions, women’s groups, NGOs, humanitarian agencies and charities – and support the BDS movement, you would send a powerful message of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Israel explicitly relies upon culture to normalise and validate it’s image – it is an explicit part of its ‘hasbara’, or cultural public relations. This is reflected in the fact that Israeli artists are often only given grants on the understanding they support the occupation, or refrain from criticism.

The freedom of Palestinian artists is obviously creatively and physically restricted, but you can see that many artists in Israel are themselves not free – they must implicitly support the political situation, one ever more dominated by extremist and racist right-wing ideology.

As New Zealanders we can be an important part of this conversation. Israel is a colonial-settler society, just like us. We have much to do to address ethnic disparities in our own backyard, but we have travelled this painful road too. Our advice and solidarity needn’t be a provocation, indeed it should be delivered in the spirit of friendship.

If you were to stand with the oppressed it would be a powerful recognition of not just Palestinian rights, but the rights of the victims of colonial-settler societies everywhere, including New Zealand.

I can understand how it may feel inappropriate or a hindrance to be pulled from the artistic world into the maelstrom of politics. Personally, my belief is that an artist’s final and ultimate loyalty is to creation itself and not always to society. I suspect this is also part of the reasoning of those who ignored the plea and played in Tel Aviv. On one level they don’t believe matters related to human rights and injustice sit above the need to create and express their art. They also fall victim to the idea that their creative act can bridge the political divide – that there will be some ‘kumbaya’ moment.

Sadly, they forget that creation is a loving act and a process of construction. Art does have its splintering qualities of course – rearrangement, dissection, apposition – but in the end what is produced is a new relationship – a binding of things together. If you allow your art to be hijacked in the service of an agenda based upon destruction and erasure (both metaphorical and literal) then you betray creation. In that role you stop being an artist, and what you express stops being art.

I fear that playing in Tel Aviv risks diminishing the integrity and quality of your art. It makes it into the means to the hateful ends of another. It ceases to be about expression, individual revelation and love. Love is at the core of any meaningful aesthetic experience. I don’t have the slightest doubt that love is what you will seek to impart in Tel Aviv. But it is a sad perversity that ultimately you will be doing so in the service of hate.

I’d be the first to own up that the problems of this world can easily overwhelm our optimistic energies towards their correction. This can cause us to turn from them. One person can only do so much. That is why solidarity is the well-spring of change.  Amnesty International articulates this beautifully – we must not “scream at the darkness”, we must “light a candle”. The Palestinian people and the BDS movement is not asking you to take too much of this issue on your shoulders, nor to do anything more than the average person can do.

We are just asking you to light your candle. It is a testament to your creativity and personality that it would burn very bright indeed – taking us one step closer to illuminating the darkness.

Best wishes and in solidarity

Dr. Todd Smith

 

 

Jerusalem and Peace: The Price of Oligarchy

The debt to donors and their narrow interests created by an oligarchic system will always be paid, no matter the price – be that a ‘Peace Process’ and the very lives of those involved.

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Someone once commented on the ‘banality of evil’. Watching the various interpretations and responses to Trump’s recent decision on Jerusalem has made me think about this. Whilst the competing political issues and the complexities of the Israel/Palestine issue are always important, as they are in this example, we should not neglect the fact that underlying this decision is something far removed from the religious, ethnic or colonial-imperialist arguments and counter-arguments. At the bottom of this reckless decision, and the evil that may be unleashed by it, is a sad banality.

We should not lose sight of the fact that, for Trump, this decision was made primarily for domestic reasons. He stated this himself quite openly, declaring that it was an election promise and congratulating himself for keeping it. Of course, the important question is: a promise to whom? The Evangelical base is the obvious culprit – let’s not forget that Zionism’s most vehement and numerous supporters in the United States are Republican-voting Evangelical Christians, not Jews. For Evangelical Christians, the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land is a requirement for the fulfilment of Armageddon – the final miserable evening when Jesus returns and the majority of the world’s population is summarily damned. Trump is then simply doing what the insipid logic of modern politics demands – he is “shoring up his base.”

But Trump really made a promise to someone much more important – his biggest donor. Sheldon Adelson, the fellow Casino-magnate, owner of right-wing Israeli press and fervent Zionist has been open about his financial support being contingent on an aggressive affirmation of Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. Recent reports suggested he was increasingly frustrated that Trump was delaying in fulfilling his promise – with the associated threat of withdrawing financial support.

To this end, Trump appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner, himself a fervent Zionist, to lay the groundwork for this move, under the guise of being deployed to reactivate the moribund ‘Peace Process.’ Kushner appears to have found ideological affinity with the new Crown Prince and current Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman, whose major achievement appears to be the fanboy-named ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ and the creation of a humanitarian disaster in Yemen. As this romance has bloomed, official commentators have noted a softening of Saudi Arabia’s stance with respect to Israel/Palestine, commensurate with a redoubling of its animosity towards Iran.

Kushner then appears to have formulated a ‘peace plan’ with Saudi Arabia which was then recommended to Jordan. Unfortunately, although predictably, it was a heavily one-sided proposal in favour of Israel. It did not include provisions for the right of return of refugees, it did not indicate East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and it relegated that state to a non-contiguous area of land approximating the Gaza Strip and West Bank – essentially a collection of scattered islets, reminiscent of the “fried chicken” so derisively offered by Israel, that could never realistically be considered a state, let alone be consistent with the international position of two states living side by side with respect to the pre-1967 borders.

Others have noted that Trump likely eventually received a ‘thumbs-up’ from Saudi Arabia prior to making his announcement, given with the advice that the Arab states remain too divided to mount a collective and meaningful response. The quality of this response remains to be established – although statements from the extraordinary session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, held yesterday, are promising. Mahmoud Abbas, the long embattled leader of the Palestinian Authority at least managed to state the obvious, meaningfully, for the first time.

“We shall not accept any role for the United States in the peace process – they have proven their full bias in favour of Israel.”

The Palestinian Authority should perhaps be thankful to Trump for his obviously impartial stance. It has allowed for the ‘Peace Process’ – long a masquerade – to be exposed as fatally flawed. The interesting question thus raised is whether or not this was an intended consequence of Trump’s decision. Previous administrations have played a much more deft game of measured statements, in turn allowing them to make a (not very believable) pretence to neutrality. Trump seems to have missed the memo.

One answer is that there is a longer game afoot, the contours of which we aren’t yet able to fathom. I doubt this. The other is that Trump has just gone and messed up vis a vis the normal protocol of the United States on this issue. The outcries from foreign policy institutes and ‘think-tanks’ seems to imply such an error.

But how could this happen?  Trump appears to have disregarded the will of most senior advisors and current and previous diplomats. Why? Because he is a powerfully driven Zionist? Of course not.

The answer is because, in the end, oligarchy wins. It is the eternal bond which must always be preserved  – the pact between wealth and fate. And for Trump, as for oligarchy, there is only one supreme rule – favours for favours. One in cash, one in kind. Trump’s decision is a reflection of the golden rule of international and (especially in the United States) domestic politics. This relationship sits below the cleavage between competing historical or political views on the Israel/Palestine issue, indeed below the cleavage of any significant political or ideological conflict. Arms deals to competing sides in a  conflict springs to mind as an obvious example. The conflict itself is immaterial. It is the banality at the core that really matters.

The Israel/Palestine issue is a cauldron of ideology, passion, truth and the distortion of truth. We could spend a long time discussing the racist, colonial-settler ideology of Zionism and the goals of its proponents, such as Sheldon Adelson. I’ve touched upon the complexity of the Arab world in relation to this issue also – a history that can be understood in sectarian, ethnic and cultural terms, but is best understood in US and Western imperialist terms. All of this history is absolutely relevant and important, no doubt.

But what interests me the most in this current scenario is that when everything is stripped away, what is left is the basic pact of oligarchy. Trump wanted more money and in particular more power – he wanted the Presidency. He then made a promise to an influential man with more money than him, racist colonial-settler views, and a newspaper chain capable of laying the groundwork for the normalisation of those views. Then, just last week, Trump fulfilled that promise. That is the bones of it.

Can it really be much more than that? Does anyone really believe Trump is even capable of a politically ideological crusade? I don’t. I doubt he has the requisite passion for any issue. His primary concern is himself, followed closely by his donors. His ideology is ‘Me’ – and for ‘Me’ to be protected I must ensure I protect those who provide ‘Me’ with power.

Of course the Israel/Palestine issue is definitely not just about money or personal power, especially for those deeply involved in it on either side. It is about religion, human rights, justice, imperialism, colonialism etc. My point is that for Trump it is just about that. For him the issue itself is almost irrelevant – Jerusalem may as well be on the moon. This is not to say that those around him are not ideologically driven. Mike Pence is an evangelical Christian, John Bolton is the worst kind of US imperialist and Jared Kushner is a clear Zionist – although we shouldn’t forget his more prosaic financial concerns given his investment in businesses in the Occupied Territories.

I have no doubt these people have the ear of Trump and helped to grease the wheels a bit. But in the end the decision was formulated in his mind alone – the mind of an infantile and insecure megalomaniac. I have little doubt that the final thought before a decision was “will this help me stay powerful and important?” And the answer was simple – “yes, because of my donors.”

Bernie Sanders helped bring the corruption of politics by money and vested interests, the emergence of an oligarchy, to the forefront of the US election. This improvement in the public consciousness cannot be understated. The purpose of this piece has been to lay out that, especially for Trump (but by no means exclusive to him) the debt to donors and their narrow interests created by an oligarchic system will always be paid, no matter the price – be that a ‘Peace Process’ and the very lives of those involved.

Policy decisions, even momentous ones like this with such wide-ranging international ramifications, are in the end made by rich people in pursuit of their own individual values and goals. As a system of governance this is terribly dangerous – the values and goals of a single person may be heinously distorted and their grip on reality may be tenuous. So it is in this case.

Trump is the apotheosis of this Faustian bargain. He is not really a person with ideas, opinions, visions or goals. He is not an ideologue. He is simply the perfect oligarchic node – a husk of a person – spurred on by the imminent threat of a narcissistic wound. He is the perfect combination of idiocy, amorality and insecurity. Money in, favours out, no questions asked. He also has the added benefit of being a buffoon – so the newspapers can be distracted by his latest inane utterance, while the structural and long-lasting reforms are often missed. Indeed his buffoonery is very useful to those with more ideologically driven agendas.

As long as policy is created for the enrichment and betterment of a particular wealthy class, and not in the interests of society as a whole, the very survival of our species is jeopardised. This is most true and pressing in relation to decisions on the environment and nuclear proliferation. In the current Israel/Palestine scenario, this diabolical covenant has thrown a match into a regional tinderbox. The fire that results obviously relates to the complexities and competing politics of the Israel/Palestine issue. But we should not excuse the crucial fact, least of all forget it, that the fire also results from that ever-present enabler of our worst impulses, money, and from the political power it is able to purchase.

theredgreenpen

 

 

The lazy logic of Dr. Cumin and the Israel Institute of New Zealand

Dr-David-CuminThe Israel Institute of NZ, under the leadership of Dr. David Cumin, yesterday gave a press release supporting the United States’ irresponsible decision to claim Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Furthermore, they suggested the New Zealand government make the same declaration.

As is typical for propagandist language and thought, Dr. Cumin attempts to support his fervent wish for this action with distortions of reality and absurd and inaccurate comparisons.

“Although the US Government passed legislation in 1995 that required their Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, implementing the legislation has been postponed every six months for the past two decades because of national security fears.”

This is misleading. The decision has been postponed by successive governments because it is inconsistent with international law and undermines former declarations that the status of Jerusalem must be part of the overall negotiations for a two-state solution. It is also quite a cynical and illogical comment.

There can be little doubt that the passage of time has not reduced the “national security fears” in the region – the situation remains as volatile as ever. What then has changed to permit this course of action? If Dr Cumin. means what he says, it is an admission that threats to national security and the associated fears of reprisal have been deemed an acceptable cost of this manoeuvre. Hardly a good-spirited policy decision.

Let’s also not forget that after making his statement, Trump then proceeded to do exactly what all previous administrations have done since 1995 – namely sign the waiver that he just denounced.

“Today’s announcement, by Trump, simply formalises that two decade old piece of legislation – but it’s an extremely welcome move which finally recognises that a sovereign state should have the right to determine the location of its own capital and that terror should not win”.

The authors then contend that this is all very logical and normal – don’t all other states have the “right to determine the location of their capital”? This is of course a very lazy sentence, and ignores the fact that half of the capital in question was taken by force in 1967 and is still considered by the United Nations as occupied territory.

For what can only be considered theatrical license he rounds off the paragraph by claiming that this move somehow declares that “terror should not win.” Terror is of course a word that has lost all meaning – one the powerful and those who speak for them use for acts of aggression perpetrated against them. Their own actions are by contrast never “terror”. Examples of Israeli terror and disproportionate aggression are too numerous to mention – we need look no further than here and here , or perhaps here.

Dr Cumin’s arguments then become even more embarrassingly simplistic:

“The current situation is untenable. It’s the equivalent of foreign nations refusing to accept Wellington as the capital of New Zealand and choosing to locate their embassies in Palmerston North or Auckland. We’d be outraged”.

Except of course it’s nothing like that at all – given the fact New Zealand isn’t Israel and Wellington isn’t Jerusalem.

Dr Cumin continues:

“It’s a pity that we weren’t able to lead this as we have done on other issues where we’ve seen injustice taking place – but at least there’s now a precedent that we can follow to correct a decades old snub”

Indeed it is a pity – New Zealand has a proud history of leading when it comes to injustice predicated on racial and ethnic hatred and bigotry, namely against apartheid South Africa. Dr Cumin will predictably denounce any such comparisons, although the United Nations disagrees with him. If apartheid was a system that discriminated against a particular ethnic and racial community, with different rules for each, then the Palestinian oppression has obvious parallels. And if the current Israeli regime’s disdain for a two-state solution is to be accepted then what are the alternatives? The resulting ‘Jewish State of Israel’ will have a Palestinian majority. It can therefore either be a democracy (and not a ‘Jewish State’) or a ‘Jewish State’ but not a democracy.

It is especially twisted and sad that Dr Cumin should call upon New Zealand’s history of denouncing violence and racial or ethnic oppression, to justify support for precisely that kind of oppression.

“The proposed US Embassy will be located in West Jerusalem and will still comply with current international conventions. That means that Arab Palestinians still have the opportunity to have a capital in East Jerusalem. It is up to their leadership to decide if they want to continue political violence and ‘days of rage’ or if they want to negotiate for a better future for all”.

Dr Cumin knows very well that the policies and rhetoric of both the United States and the current Israeli government are in conflict with the professed goal of two states living side by side together in peace. This is often quite openly commented on by politicians in Israel. He is therefore being misleading when he pretends that it is an inevitability that East Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state.

He is also well aware that the ability to “negotiate for a better future for all” has been an abject failure, precisely because the United States is obviously not a neutral or disinterested arbiter. If there is any clear message from Donald Trump’s announcement, this is it. The United States has disqualified itself from being the negotiator in a so-called ‘Peace Process.’ It strains good sense that they have been able to pretend to be neutral for so long.

As to the comments denouncing a ‘day of rage’ – we need to think openly. If you are already oppressed, living under a military occupation, and forced to negotiate with the occupier by a third party that actively supports and enables that occupier, what reasonable course of action is left to you? I am not supporting violence by any means – but the Palestinians are entitled to feel rage, and are equally entitled to express that via mass protest.

Additionally, the Palestinians have made inroads into utilising other more official mechanisms, most notably the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. But whenever they try to do so, they are criticised by the Israeli state and its propagandist messengers, like Dr Cumin, for taking ‘unilateral action’. They should ‘get back to the table.’ They are told, in not so many words, to go back to begging to their abusers.

Unfortunately for the Israelis, Donald Trump just broke the table. I suspect that should the Palestinians call for negotiations under the auspices of a truly independent nation or body, Dr Cumin would still not be satisfied, because the ‘Peace Process’ has never been about resolving the issues, only buying time for the current perpetual stalemate, while the reality on the ground, slow annexation, continues apace.

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The sad reality of these statements is that Dr Cumin either has critical flaws in his intelligence and reasoning, or he is being deliberately obtuse in the service of perpetuating Israeli propaganda. I suspect he is more than educated enough to recognise the faults in his logic.

As I have said on other occasions – the core issues and conflicts in the Israel-Palestine issue are not complicated. A five year old can understand them. Moreover, there is already an international consensus on what to do, supported by the majority of nations on the planet. The only reason obvious realities can appear so complicated or opaque is due to the deliberate misinformation, mischaracterisation and Orwellian trickery employed by people like Dr Cumin in the service of a racist and aggressive ideology.

Peaceful New Zealanders, Palestinians and Israelis deserve better than him.

theredgreenpen

 

The ‘Peace Process’ has always been a lie – how can the facilitator of injustice be the negotiator for peace?

It’s interesting to watch the fallout from Donald Trump’s brazen move today to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is a very cynical one that will have unpredictable and unsettling ramifications for the region. That much is obvious.

But the resolution of this ongoing occupation will only happen when we have managed to dispel a series of Orwellian mantras that obscure the realities of the issue. These are myths which must die before anything can meaningfully change. Chief among these is the façade known as the ‘Peace Process’.

The ‘Peace Process’ is basically the recycled political term for perpetual and deliberate stalemate, which then allows incremental annexation of Palestinian land and stepwise erosion of Palestinian human rights. Central to this lie is the image of the United States as some kind of benevolent, neutral arbiter.

Nothing could be more absurd. The United States has either actively or indirectly supported the crime of Israeli occupation and aggression since 1967. Anyone who’s followed this issue honestly knows this. Democrat, Republican, a ‘Moderate’ or a ‘Hawk’ President, it makes no difference.

The Peace Process is itself the biggest barrier to peace, because it pretends that the United States is a disinterested arbiter.

Enter Trump. One of the potentially useful things about Trump and his administration of cowboys is their lack of nuance. So for example, where Obama may appoint as Secretary of State a seasoned politician with the skill to understand the relationship between foreign policy and the interests of oil companies, Trump just appoints the former head of Exxon Mobil.

It’s the same in this scenario. Trump can’t help but appear completely impartial and biased towards Israel. And this may be the silver lining. Of all the breathless denouncements discussing the threat posed to the ‘Peace Process’ by this new policy, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, has made the most useful comment and the one that we need to most urgently heed – the United States can no longer pretend to be a neutral arbiter.

This is a crucial reality. The ‘Peace Process’ may be over, but it is not over just because one side has been unwilling to shake hands with the other. It is over, and always has been, because the party that is supposed to be moderating the negotiations is fatally biased.

This isn’t a surprising or revelatory point by the way. This has long been known by Palestinians who live under occupation. As with anything, the ignorance belongs to us – by which I mean supposedly educated, liberal Western citizens. The Israeli-Palestine issue is not a complicated one – a five year old could understand the basic problem and what needs to be done. More than this, there is an accepted understanding of what needs to be done that is supported by a vast majority of nations.

The reason that reality is so easily denied is, as ever, a matter of propaganda. There is an intricate and systematised propaganda apparatus created by the Israeli state, supported by the United States, and lazily reiterated by Western media outlets.

Consider how powerful and effective this lie-machine is – it has taken a mentally impaired megalomaniac blaring out his untrammelled support for Israel to finally open people’s eyes to a long obvious fact – that having the United State’s play negotiator is the absolute height of absurdity.

This is the great craft of propagandist machinery – to make absurdities seem reasonable. To make obvious facts into their opposite.

But the skill of former US administrations to present a façade of impartiality has allowed the US to hold this role. Which in turn has allowed Israel to continue to degrade the rights of Palestinians and to continue their annexation with impunity. This ultimately has stymied the ability of someone like Mahmoud Abbas to make a comment like the one he made today. Trump’s behaviour has, in part, allowed him to do so.

In the face of such prejudice, the most logical step is for a genuinely neutral country with international respect to take over the job of interlocutor and negotiator. I’ve always thought that New Zealand has the potential to be this kind of country, although the extent of our involvement in a network of illegal surveillance and the loss of our sovereignty to US interests in these domains certainly threatens our image of neutrality. Still, I live in hope. Another nation, perhaps one of the BRICS nations, may be more suitable. This is also an opportunity for the European Union to put into practice its professed discontent over Israel’s expansionist and aggressive actions.

In the world of politics and public relations, words mean everything. People always make comment on why it is this particular issue provokes such strong passion. I don’t think that’s difficult to answer. It is simply staggering in its injustice – and the only reason that injustice is allowed to continue is because the nation pretending to be the negotiator is actually the facilitator. It’s really that simple.

If we consider ourselves responsible people, if we wish to live in an age where we feel enlightened and want to talk about privilege, then we need to stop and examine the language that permits ignorance. We must assess its utility to the powerful.

In this upside-down, frightening hall of Orwellian deceit, the ‘Peace Process’ is just a propagandist term which in the real world means the deliberate maintenance of an unjust status quo: the slow annexation of Palestinian land, the degradation of Palestinian rights and freedoms and the wholesale, periodic slaughter of innocent men, women and children whenever Israel feels it necessary to “mow the lawn”.

The ‘Peace Process’ needs to die an ignoble death – it has been walking dead for a long time anyway. And may Trump’s lack of understanding of the ‘reasonable’ way of talking about these issues and his apparent ignorance of the stifling rules of international diplomacy be the precipitant for its demise.