Prof. Richard Falk. DR.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote the book « Achieving Human Rights« . Don’t you think that the many interventions of American imperialism, under the pretext of spreading human rights and democracy, have emptied the concept of human rights from its substance?
Prof. Richard Falk: I would place the stress on the discrediting effects of the disastrous American imperial intervention, and subsequent occupation, of Iraq starting in 2003. Especially when the allegation of hiding stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction proved false, the United States justified the intervention as a textbook liberation of the Iraqi people, an exercise in what was called ‘democracy promotion.’ Even earlier, the U.S. Government attempted to justify its regime-changing intervention in Afghanistan as beneficial for women, as an undertaking that was described under such headings as ‘women empowerment.’ As with Iraq, the intervention in Afghanistan has brought massive suffering to the people of the country, and discredited all claims that human rights and democracy could be achieved by military intervention.
Other factors in this period have also been responsible for the declining relevance of international human rights, above all the rising global tide of right wing populism and the control of governments by democratically elected autocratic leaders. Such leaders, led by Trump in the United States, are dismissive of human rights in their own country, and invoke human rights in an opportunistic and discrediting way to attack their geopolitical adversaries. Among the explanations of this trend is as a nationalist backlash against neoliberal globalization and in reaction to the pressures exerted on Europe and elsewhere by the failed interventions in the Middle East.
The major lesson to be learned is that human rights have to develop and evolve naturally within established societies and by the global spread of values associated with human dignity and equality, including respect for sovereign rights. Intervention, whatever its pretext, rarely contributes to the development of sustainable support for human rights, although claims to this effect often invoke the experience of World War II, and the imposition of durable democratic constitutional governments in Germany and Japan. These were special circumstances that are quite different from geopolitically driven imperial interventions by Western powers in non-Western regions, especially in countries formerly governed by European colonial powers.
In your book « (Re) imagining Humane Global Governance« , you propose a world rid of the domination of the US empire. Are the proposals you make and your vision of a more just world feasible in the short or medium term?
It certainly appears unlikely that the U.S. effort to maintain the first ‘global state’ (not an empire as generally understood) will be effectively overcome in the foreseeable future, although it is hard to tell in this period of reckless nuclear threats, possible trade wars, and high risks of a global economic collapse. The U.S. global network of foreign bases, numbering close to 1,000, navies in every ocean, the military control of atmospheric and cyber space, special operations units in more than 100 countries are the components of a global domination project, reinforced by globalized capitalism and the prevalence of American popular culture. Such realities at first seemed under challenge by Trump’s campaign calls for ‘America First’ recalibration of foreign policy, but so far the deep state has forced Trump as president to abandon the retreat from militarized internationalism.
You co-wrote with David Krieger the book « Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers« . Do you think that humanity is safe from nuclear war when we see the current escalation between the Trump administration and North Korea?
I think the danger of nuclear war is greater at this time than at anytime since the end of World War II. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 there were responsible leaders of stable mentality in control of the Soviet and American governments.Today the confrontation between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un exhibits highly unstable and belligerent personalities engaged in a dangerous bluffing game.As in poker, if both sides have poor hands and continue to bluff one another, the almost certain outcome is catastrophic for one or both.
The greatest world order deficiency at the present time is the absence of any adequate mechanism to promote global collective goods such as climate change, the avoidance of nuclear warfare, and the challenges of global migration flows. The UN is too weak to play such a role, serving mainly as an arena in which sovereign states pursue national interests either antagonistically or cooperatively, but when an important global or human interest is at stake, then geopolitics dominates, and the UN is neutralized. Some mainstream commentators and journalists in the U.S. have argued that American global leadership has since 1945 promoted global collective goods as well as its own interests. Such an argument, while never convincing, has lost all credibility in the years since the end of the Cold War, and since Trump became president, the U.S. role has actually been regressive with respect to global public goods as well practically all issues.
You assimilate the Nazi regime and the Israeli regime. Do you think that Nazism and Zionism are part of the same matrix?
I have been misunderstood on this issue. I have never attempted to ‘assimilate’ the two regimes, although a decade ago I made a comparison with respect to Israeli and Nazi reliance on collective punishment, with special reference to Gaza. In retrospect, I think even that limited comparison was a mistake on my part as it allows Zionist supporters to change the conversation, emphasizing the odiousness of the comparison and contending that it reflects an implicit anti-Semitism.
I do stand behind comparisons between Israel and other instances of ‘settler colonialism,’ and especially, with respect to the entrenching of ‘apartheid’ structures in establishing and maintaining ‘a Jewish state’ in a non-Jewish society faced with indigenous resistance.
How do you explain that those who are against the Zionist ideology and the fascist state of Israel are called anti-Semites?
I think it is a deliberate Zionist tactic to change the conversation from substantive issues and Palestinian grievance to the unworthy nature of the messenger. It is desirable to wound and hurt the messenger rather than to cope with the message. In recent years there has been a recognition in Zionist and Israeli circles that their counter-arguments are weak in any kind of substantive policy debate, and it serves their interests better to discredit their critics rather than attempt to defend the policies and practices of Israel. There is a campaign in Europe and North America to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism that is deeply dishonest and misleading, although given high profile credibility by some leaders such as the French President, Emmanuel Macron. Milton Viorst exhaustively demonstrates in his recent book on the history of Zionism that Jews have from the beginning of the Zionist movement been deeply divided as to the merits of Zionism. It is completely false and tendentious to equate Zionism with Judaism.
You were United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied. In your final report for the United Nations, you mentioned that Israel is practising an apartheid policy in the Palestinian territories. Why doesn’t the international community apply the same sanctions on Israel than on the apartheid regime in South Africa? Do not you think that international law is flouted by Israel?
The most direct answer to these questions is that geopolitics in the form of the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and Israel precludes imposing similar sanctions on Israel as to those applied against South Africa. As well, Europe is inhibited with respect to Israel by its sense of liberal guilt due to its failures to act robustly to protect Jews from Nazi persecution, and later genocide. Also, Israel has been effective in promoting its brand as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East,’ as a modern state, and as a powerful military actor that will respond to hostile acts against it. There is a growing global solidarity movement that is beginning to exert effective pressure on Israel through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) and by its success in waging a Legitimacy War against Israel (that is, gaining the sympathy of world public opinion, and increasingly occupying the high ground with respect to international morality and international law).
Israel continuously defies international law, and suffers no adverse consequences. International law supports all the major Palestinian grievances (relating to ending the occupation, removing the blockade of Palestine, the status of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the unlawfulness of the Separation Wall, and the numerous violations of international humanitarian law by Israel as the Occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions). Of course, when it seems to help Israel, it will make reference to international law (e.g. off-shore natural gas fields or sovereign rights) or by claiming its sovereign right to defend itself as it chooses.
In the exercise of your office as United Nations Special Rapporteur in the Palestinian territories occupied, have you been pressured or threatened by the fascist state of Israel?
I have not been threatened by Israel as a state, but continuously smeared by Zionist organizations and militant activists. I was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport while serving UN Special Rapporteur when I tried to enter Israel in 2008, confined at a detention center for 20 hours before being expelled. No explanation was given for my expulsion except the Foreign Ministry released a dishonest statement that I had been warned not to come. On the contrary, my itinerary had been shown to the Israeli consul in Geneva without any indication that I would face difficulties if I tried to enter the country, and my two assistants had been given visas to enter Israel. I believe Israel wanted to teach the UN a lesson for appointing someone to be SR who was perceived to be a likely critic as would be inevitable for anyone committed to an objective presentation of the facts and a professional interpretation of relevant law.
Ever since my UN appointment I have often been accused of being an anti-Semite and a self-hating Jew. In fact, the Wiesenthal Institute in Los Angeles listed me a few years ago as the third most dangerous anti-Semite in the world, behind only the Supreme Guide of Iran and the Prime Minister of Turkey. Such an accusation was quite ridiculous. I have never thought or spoken in racial terms against any people, and certainly not against the Jewish people who have suffered so often throughout history. It did make me feel that I must be doing a decent job on behalf of the UN to produce such a high profile, if disturbing, insult. To confuse criticism of Israel, given its behavior, with anti-Semitism has the negative effect of confusing public opinion as to the virulent nature of racial hatred of the sort that climaxed during the Nazi period in Germany.
You are a man committed to the Palestinian cause; can we say that the State of Israel is a terrorist state?
I refrain from using that kind of language, although I admire Thomas Suarez’s book that calls Israel ‘a terrorist state’ in its title, although I think the title diverts attention from the careful accumulation of extremely damaging evidence of the unscrupulous means relied upon by the Zionist movement in furthering its goals of establishing a Jewish state in non-Jewish Palestine. As earlier indicated, I think it is accurate to describe Israel at this point as an ‘an apartheid state,’ because its policies and practices have created a structure of systematic subjugation of the Palestinian people so as to sustain by force and ‘inhuman acts’ the pretension of being a Jewish state. Israel, also, does engage in terrorizing policies and practices toward the Palestinian people as part of its overall plan to subdue, control, and demoralize Palestinian resistance.
You wrote the book « Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace« . Don’t you think that another breath and another form of resistance are necessary for the Palestinian people to recover its land?How do you explain the current status quo?And what is the most adequate form of resistance to a rogue state like Israel?
The choice of mode of resistance is a question that can only be authentically answered by Palestinians. Over the years, various tactics have been relied upon by Palestinians with frustrations and successes.In many ways the 1987 First Intifada achieved a breakthrough in public understanding both of Palestinian recourse to a creative form of nonviolent resistance and to the degree to which the Palestinians were enduring collective victimization and a denial of fundamental rights at the hand of the Israelis.In my view, the current combination of Palestinian resistance, most recently in relation to attempted Israeli interference with the access of Muslims to the Al Aqsa mosque, and global solidarity initiatives, highlighted by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign seems to be an effective way of increasing pressure on the Israeli leadership, working toward a similar sort of recalculation of Israeli interests as finally led to the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa.It is up to the Palestinian leadership, which has now seemed to shift its center of gravity to civil society, to guide and shape the global solidarity movement. Since1945, the balance of forces in the world has been shifting from hard power to soft power. The side that wins the legitimacy war waged for the support of public opinion usually ends up controlling the political outcome in conflict situations, but sometimes at great costs and after a protracted struggle.All the anti-colonial wars can be well understood from this perspective. Being on the right side of history is almost a guaranty of an eventual Palestinian victory.
In all your works and in your course, Palestine is central. Can you explain why?
It has not always been true that Palestine has been my central concern. My political awakening was as an opponent of the Vietnam War.I was also involved as an activist in opposing apartheid in South Africa, and then as an opponent of the Shah’s rule in Iran. It was only in the late 1980s that I began to focus on the Palestinian struggle, partly due to my friendship with Edward Said.The more I learned the more dedicated I became, and the more dedicated I became, the more I was attacked, and that led me to feel even more committed. I have for complicated reasons been throughout my life drawn to identify with those who are vulnerable and abused, and to act in solidarity with them, learning from and inspired by their struggles. In this way my commitment to the Palestinian people will never weaken until their struggle ends in success, which I understand to be a sustainable peace for both peoples in which competing claims of self-determination are compromised on the basis of equality of rights.
Don’t you think that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, the neocons and their allies must be judged in a court like the one which judged the Nazis in Nuremberg? You are a member of several world organizations, including the Tribunal BRussells. Do you envisage future actions to bring these criminals before a competent court?
As I happen to be in Nuremberg at the moment attending a ceremony associated with the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award, the idea of accountability for war crimes has been very much on my mind. My basic conclusion is that Nuremberg itself was an exercise in ‘victor’s justice,’ although the defendants were fairly convicted. Ever since Nuremberg the political leaders of the dominant countries have enjoyed complete impunity when it comes to accountability under international criminal law. The extension of Nuremberg is confined to enemies of the West that are defeated in warfare and to leaders of Sub-Saharan African countries.Despite the encouraging establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, there has been no challenge to this operating distinction between accountability for the weak, impunity for the strong.Among the most positive legacies of Nuremberg is to provide a tool to civil society to assess the behavior of the strong countries and their leaders by reference to international criminal law. Such tribunals in Malaysia and Istanbul have adjudged George W. Bush, Cheney, and Blair guilty of severe international crimes. These results are important objective assessments even if unenforceable and may help delegitimize governments that engage in criminal behavior, which was the intention and effect of the Russell Tribunal session on whether Israel was guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.
In the past, when you were in office at the UN, you were the target of attacks among others by Susan Rice, Jen Psaki, John Bolton, even Ban Ki-Moon, aiming at your dismissal.Why do you scare the neocons?
I think personal these attacks reflected some concern that my UN reports while I served as Special Rapporteur on Israeli violation of Human Rights in Occupied Palestine were having a certain delegitimizing impact on Israel’s claims to be a democratic society and above the law. Such attacks were uniformly aimed at my credibility in my role as a UN observer and reporter, and never made any effort to challenge the substance of what was being reported. Often the language of the defamatory attack by prominent officials was lifted directly from letters urging such action by such NGOs as UN Watch, which had no scruples when it came to launching attacks on critics of Israel, especially if seen to have some impact on the discourse used within the UN System to discuss the Palestinian struggle.When I complained to the UN Secretary General’s office about these smears, I was reassured that my words were taken out of context, often lifted from my blog, and there was an admission that ‘we didn’t do due diligence,’that is, we didn’t read what you actually said but repeated the slurs circulated by Israel’s legions of paid and unpaid apologists.
You have prefaced « The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 » and wrote a chapter in « 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out » two books of David Ray Griffin about the attacks of 11-9, where you doubt the official version of the New York attacks. Many voices challenge the official version of events. Can you tell us how you came to these conclusions? Do you have anything new that confirms that these attacks are a false flag?
I am not an expert on 9/11 or the controversy surrounding the veracity of the official version of the 9/11 events. I know David Ray Griffin as a scrupulous scholar of great distinction, and respect his work at least to the extent of accepting his analysis that important unanswered questions relating to the official version have been continually evaded. I have recommended that people of good will adopt an ‘ethic of suspicion’ given our knowledge of the readiness of leading governments to engage in false flag operations and to hide or distort awkward facts that reveal complicity or gross negligence by the government whose society has been attacked by ‘an enemy.’ The U.S. record in this regard does not inspire confidence. At the same time, I am not knowledgeable enough about the interaction of critics and apologists to take a position on what really happened on 9/11, but the books should be kept open until a full accounting takes place.
False flags are not they necessary for the interventionist and warmonger policy of US imperialism?
This seems to be true. If not ‘false flags,’ at least manipulation of events so as to justify military action. This tendency is particularly frightening at present with Trump in the White House, someone with an alarming willingness to act impulsively and to use inflammatory language in fragile international settings (e.g. North Korea, Iran).
Can we say that Al Qaeda and Daesh have served the purposes of imperialism? Are they not at the same time the creation and useful idiots of the empire?
I am not sure how to respond to this question, and am reluctant to respond in a definite manner without more evidence, other than circumstantial considerations. There is no doubt that the 9/11 attacks attributed to Al Qaeda created a political mandate to pursue the neocon foreign policy agenda in the Middle East,which focused on regime-changing interventions starting with Iraq. Also, we should not discount the influence of Israel in pushing the U.S. in a similar direction.
You are a personality with an exceptional pathway. Do you plan to write your memoirs to give your testimony so precious of a Just and committed man to all the Earth’s resistance?
Thanks for these gracious and generous words of encouragement. In fact, I have spent the past few months climbing the foothills of that impossible mountain I call ‘a memoir.’ I am not sure how high I will get, and even if the climb is worth the effort, but I suppose I should be patient and give the process an opportunity to work itself out in the months and years ahead.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Prof. Richard Falk?
Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University where he taught for forty years. He was completing a Bachelor of Laws degree at Yale University and obtained his Doctorate in Law (SJD) from Harvard University. Prof. Falk began his teaching career at Ohio State University and Harvard. He is a renowned international law and international relations scholar who recently completed a six-year term as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine.He currently directs the “Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy” project at the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and also directs the “POMEAS Project on Politics in the Middle East after the Arab Spring,” at the Istanbul Policy Center, Sanbaci University.
Prof. Falk has dedicated his career to promoting justice and human rights through international legal institutions. In 2001 he served on a UN Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestine Territories, which examined whether Israel as the occupying power was carrying out its responsibility to protect the society that is subject to its control and evaluated the right of occupied Palestinians to engage in resistance. Previously he served as a member of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. Prof. Falk also acted as counsel to Ethiopia and Liberia in the Southwest Africa Cases before the International Court of Justice.
Prof. Falk is the author or coauthor of over 20 books, plus countless edited volumes and articles on the subjects of human rights, international law, and global institutions.
His books include: Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (2017), Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers(2012), A Global Parliament: Essays and Articlesco-author with Andrew Strauss (2011), Achieving Human Rights(2008), The Declining World Order: America’s Imperial Geopolitics (Global Horizons) (2004), Human Rights Horizons: The Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World (2000), Revolutionaries and Functionaries: The Dual Face of Terrorism (1988), etc.
Published in American Herald Tribune, October 05, 2017: https://ahtribune.com/world/north-africa-south-west-asia/palestine/1936-richard-falk.html
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.061017.htm