Passenger information: Open letter to my blog – with addendum

By Richard Falk

I have been disturbed by the recent exchanges of personal attacks in the comments section of my blog. I realize that the subject-matter, and my views, are controversial, and attract strong responses for and against. I have tried to be broadly receptive to this broad range of opinions, and have excluded only those that have no substantive serious content. From my perspective some of these views are quite extreme, and as such provocative and deeply objectionable to those who see things differently. This tension among readers of the posts, not surprisingly, is mainly in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict, and relates to both my views and to those of some of those who take the trouble to submit comments.

I had the hope that the comment section could serve as a dialogic channel for the exchange of views, but I increasingly realize that this was an unrealistic wish. In my long academic experience I have found that dialogue is only mutually beneficial if there is a minimum of shared underlying understanding. If such an understanding is absent, the discussion quickly deteriorates, and becomes an exchange of angry views, and accusatory claims directed at the opinions of those who views are rejected. To be more concrete references to ‘Jew-hater’ and the like, or merging criticisms of the Zionist project with Judaism as religion or Jews as a people, create an atmosphere of discussion that I find unacceptable.

In the interests of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I am deeply critical of many aspects of Israeli behavior, especially in relation to the Palestinians, and strongly supportive of lawful Palestinian resistance to a prolonged occupation (that, incidentally, has become an increasingly transparent cover for annexation and apartheid) and to the overall Palestinian struggle to realize their inalienable right of self-determination, as well as other rights under international law, including those pertaining to Palestinian refugees.

My main motivation to write posts for this blog, a considerable investment of time and energy, is to have a self-monitored outlet for my views on a wide range of issues having long ago realized that the mainstream media in the West would generally not publish what I have to say. This conclusion was not fanciful, but is substantiated by a pile of rejection slips and equally frustrating experiences of having submissions accepted on condition that I soften my views if I was to be permitted to pass through various gates of informal censorship maintained, with great arrogance, by the NY Times and other august media establishments.

Some comments are critical of posts in view of my position as Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine for the UN Human Rights Council, and my failure to repudiate certain comments due to this affiliation. It should be understood that my UN appointment is an unpaid position that has certain guidelines in terms of the conduct of the mandate to which I adhere. I have done my best to fulfill my fundamental duty to the UN by doing my being truthful, accurate, and comprehensive in reporting on Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. I do not claim a UN credential in composing this personal blog, and consider it to be an exercise of my rights of free expression as a citizen of a constitutional democracy. At the same time, the implications that I am anti-Semitic or a covert self-hating Jew are deeply offensive, and seem to me consistent with many other efforts to confuse the domain of criticisms of Israel and Zionism with various forms of hate speech and racist emotions so as to insulate Israel and Zionism from various lines of criticism. It is also the case that certain pro-Israeli NGOs have consistently harassed me by issuing a variety of defamatory allegations, including pulling excerpts from the blog out of context and elaborating on their meaning in an inflammatory manner.

On this basis, I have decided to become much stricter about approving comments dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are many influential outlets for those with strong pro-Israeli, pro-Zionist viewpoints, and my modest blog is not needed to get such positions into the public domain. Consider the positions on the Israel/Palestine conflict adopted by the two main political parties in the United States to get a sense of the extent to which extremist pro-Israeli sentiments dominate the dissemination of views about the conflict.

Of course, there are other spheres of sharp controversy that overlap with my posts, for instance, the assessment of Turkish governance and foreign policy in recent years. Here, too, there are ultra-critical voices of current AKP governance that I find too ‘extreme’ and so far from my perceptions as to produce, at best, merely recurrent arguments, that is, various recycling of respective viewpoints, and not an engagement with substance within a framework of shared fundamental perceptions and presuppositions. In effect, one litmus test of a polarized society is that the abyss separating the essential worldviews are not reconcilable, and discussion excites emotions but it does not foster deeper understanding of the policy conflicts, but rather at best clarify the factual and normative foundation of the respective contradictory interpretation of current patterns of Turkish governance. I do not deny that many people enjoys such debates, but I am not one, and do not intend to allow this blog to become such a vehicle for polarized debate. I will, however, continue to publish comments that responsibly express even extreme viewpoints if they do not engage in personal polemics.

I hope that those with substantive interests will continue to submit comments, including harsh criticisms directed at my interpretations and analyses. I am interested in the connections between knowledge and policy, but not in argument or debate with those whose standpoint is radically different than from own, especially on the Israel/Palestine conflict. In relation to this conflict, I am deeply interested in an exchange of views with those that share my basic suppositions, and even within this constrained framework of inquiry, there are sharp disagreements, for instance, as between various one-state and two-state solutions, and their nature. My blog ethos can be summed up: Let many flowers bloom, but recognize that on this particular soil certain flowers will not flourish.

Short Addendum to the Open Letter to My Blog

As I should have anticipated the responses to my effort to set some rules of the road for my blog produced considerable feedback, which was equally divided between those who welcomed such monitoring to sustain a civility of tone and useful substantive debate and those who believed that debate should go forth without such constraints, and that it was my moral failure, even alleged cowardice, to control the comment section in this way. Some contended that there were benefits from even uncivil exchanges, a position I understand, but do not share. Several of the responses were, as earlier, accusatory toward my character, repeating old charges, some demeaned the character of others who submitted comments, and some derisive in their attitude toward the Palestinian and/or Arab or the Jewish people.

I want to restate ever so briefly that I will not in the future give my approval to comments that dwell on character failings of myself or other contributors to the blog or show no respect for the dignity of the Palestinian or Jewish people. Ethnic hatred and prejudice is the source of much suffering in our world and throughout history, and never heals wounds.

I acknowledge a special interest in the quest for a sustainable peace in relation to the Palestine/Israel conflict, however remote its achievement currently appears to be. Let me also be forthright in admitting that I feel no responsibility to respond to comments that do not accept as a political premise the relevance of the structure of oppression and disparity of circumstance that separates the Israeli reality from that of Palestinians living under occupation, in refugee camps, in exile, or as second-class citizens in Israel. As well, I am not inclined to respond to those comment writers who question the inalienable and elemental Palestinian right of self-determination in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, claiming that sovereignty is either ‘disputed’ or inheres by biblical or historical claim to Israel. Those who hold such position have many outlets for such views within the blogosphere and elsewhere, but for my purposes, such positions are outside the boundaries of responsible debate.

Finally, I realize that many blogs and online media comment sections operate with much more permissive rules of the road, or virtually none. I tried this, but feel it engendered, especially recently, an atmosphere of acrimony. Such a tone and spirit of intemperance is the very opposite of my goal in establishing and continuing the blog. This new more constrictive approach is one more experiment of mine undertaken in the hope of finding a workable arrangement consistent with my values.

With thanks and feelings of gratitude for all those who have participated in these discussions of my posts over the past couple of years in good faith whether in agreement or not with the positions being set forth. I hope to continue to discuss sensitive issues in ways that will undoubtedly infuriate some of those who visit the blog, but I hope if you choose to participate actively you will embrace this ethos of civility, which in my mind is inseparable from an affirmation of the dignity and sacredness of every person, as well as being a show of respect for the diversities of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and gender that currently constitute the human species.

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