The Semantics of struggle

Richard Falk

By Richard Falk

Words Against the Grain

While reporting to the UN on Israel’s violation of basic Palestinian rights I became keenly aware of how official language is used to hide inconvenient truths. Language is a tool used by the powerful to keep unpleasant realities confined to shadow lands of incomprehension.

Determined to use the rather modest flashlight at my disposal to illuminate the realities of the Palestinian ordeal as best I could, meant replacing words that obscure ugly realities with words that expose as awkward truths often as possible. My best opportunity to do this was in my annual reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the General Assembly in New York.

My courageous predecessor as Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, deserves credit for setting the stage, effectively challenging UN complacency with language that looked at the realities lurking below the oily euphemisms that diplomat seem so fond of.

Of course, I paid a price for such a posture as did Dugard for me. Your name is added to various black lists, and doors once open are quietly closed. If the words used touched enough raw nerves, you become a target of invective and epithets. In my case, this visibility meant being called ‘an anti-Semite,’ even ‘a notorious anti-Semite,’ and on occasion ‘a self-hating Jew.’

Strong Zionist pressures have now been brought to induce legislative bodies in the United States to brand advocacy of BDS or harsh criticism of Israel as prohibited form of ‘hate speech.’ In April of this year pressures broad to bear by the British Jewish Board of Deputies led the University of Southampton to cancel a major academic conference on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

In relation to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the clarifying/offending words are ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘settler colonialism,’ and ‘annexation.’ The UN evades such invasions Read More »

Pope Francis visit to Palestine

By Richard Falk

Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land raises one overwhelming question: What is the nature of religious power in our world of the 21st century? Can it have transformative effects’?

Media pundits and most liberal voices from the secular realm approve of this effort by Francis to seek peace through the encouragement of reconciliation, while dutifully reminding us that his impact is only ‘ceremonial’ and ‘symbolic’ and will not, and presumably should not, have any political consequences beyond a temporary cleansing of the political atmosphere.

The June 6th prospect of Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres praying together in the Vatican as a step toward a peaceful end of the long struggle is, I fear, an ambiguous sideshow. For one thing, Peres as President of Israel is about to leave the office, and in any event, his position exerts no discernible influence on the head of state, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the approach taken by Israel in addressing Palestinian concerns.

It has long been appreciated that Peres is less than he seems, and beneath his velvet globe is a steel fist. Also, Abbas, although the formal leader of the Palestinian Authority and Chair of the PLO, is a weak and controversial leader who has yet to establish a unity government that includes Hamas, and finally provides political representation for the long suffering population of the Gaza Strip within global venues.

Yet it would be a mistake to ignore the significance, symbolically and materially, of what Pope Francis’ visit to Palestine heralds. Read More »