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George Baumgarten

U.N. “Rapporteur” Calls for Boycott of Settlements, Says Israel Tramples On Arab Rights

George Baumgarten, U.N. Correspondent


Richard Falk is a minor official, little-known outside the U.N. or the hyper-involved Jewish community. But his name should be better known among us, because he is no friend to the Jewish state and has an established platform he regularly uses to criticize it. And he is one of our own. He has been called (as he readily acknowledges) a "Jewish anti- Semite", and is—but for his obscurity—one of Israel’s harshest critics, in addition to dabbling in "conspiracy theories" as to the culpability for the September 11 attacks. Recently, he held a press conference at the U.N., to further promote his assertions ranging from spurious to oddball.

A "rapporteur’, under the U.N. system, is one who—as the French term implies--is charged with reporting back to the General Assembly on a particular topic, country or issue before the United Nations. What is most critical about such "reporting" is the requirement that the rapporteur be—above all else—impartial. Richard Falk, who has been involved in the Israel-Palestine issue in one way or another for over a decade, leaves serious doubt--to say the least--as to his impartiality. In fact, he has on numerous occasions gone out of his way to even "trash" the State of Israel, and its international reputation.

Richard A. Falk was born 82 years ago, and has been an academic for many years. He presumably has been a member of the Bar, but his Wikipedia biography is short on details, both as to his graduate and even undergraduate education. For many years, he taught International Law at Princeton University. He now serves on the faculty—apparently the adjunct faculty—of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In his capacity as the "rapporteur" on Palestinian rights (Officially, on "The Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967"), Falk is understandably required to report periodically to the General Assembly (his fellow rapporteurs—on such varied topics as the Right to Food and Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran—must periodically do likewise). What made this periodic report particularly—and peculiarly—bizarre was his unprecedented suggestion as to a boycott of settlements.

Falk’s report is not long—just under 21/2 pages. But it makes clear, from the top of the first page, the clear prejudice of his outlook: "…the Government of Israel continues to refuse to cooperate with my efforts…". And just one short paragraph later: "Israel has a long track record of non-cooperation with official undertakings of the Security Council". But the Report goes beyond these recitations of past actions. "My present report", Falk writes, "focuses on the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem". Israeli settlements, according to Falk, now control over 40% of the West Bank

(How he can make this statement is not clear, since no map or chart was included with the Report.). Some 500,000—to 600,000 Israelis are said to live in the Palestinian Territories, of whom 200,000 are in East Jerusalem.

Falk places his recommendation in the context of the U.N.’s "Global Compact", an agreement among businesses worldwide who cooperate with the United Nations. He notes that its Principle 1 provides that "Business should support and respect the protection of international proclaimed human rights". And its Principle 2, notes Falk, provides that businesses should "…make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses". Since many companies do profit from trade with the settlements, they should therefore be boycotted. He names several such companies (Caterpillar, Volvo, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola et al.). Some gave "meaningful and helpful responses", but most—including all those mentioned above-- were apparently not intimidated by his proposal.

Just what action—by the Security Council, Global Compact or anyone else—will result from Falk’s report obviously remains to be seen. But the boycott proposal did not seem to get any "traction", however supportive any Council members may have been.

To say that Professor has an "ambivalent relationship" with his own Jewish identity would be—to put it mildly—a gross understatement. In an essay entitled Richard Falk: On Jewish Identity, published in his new blog (established for his 80th birthday), Falk acknowledges that some people "…contend that I am a self-hating Jew, which implies that sharp criticism of Israel and Zionism are somehow incompatible with affirming a Jewish identity". Falk claims that religious identities—inter alia—are forms of "tribalism". And has a serious problem with the Jewish concept of the "chosen people", which he emphatically rejects. He believes that this implies "the inferiority of ‘the other’" (i.e., all non-Jews are somehow inferior").

This is not the place to burden or bore the reader with Falk’s rambling and convoluted rejection of Zionism (eg., the Balfour Declaration was a "...purely colonialist encouragement of the Zionist project", etc.). He also says that "…yes I am Jewish, and proud of it, but I am equally indigenous, Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim…to the extent that I allow myself to participate in their rituals…". The man is obviously trying to convince his readers of his universality, but it does come off as a bit strange…to say the least.

I asked Falk, at his press conference, why Motorola selling a cellphone in Ariel, Modi’in or the Etzion Bloc makes them more "complicit" than selling it to someone in Tel Aviv. And why should the world regard Israel’s administration of land acquired by force of arms any differently than it regards land so acquired by any other sovereign state? In another long, rambling answer, Falk granted that "…we could have framed the boycott recommendation more broadly". He also noted that he had communicated with the companies in question, and received just a few responses. He then rambled on, saying "…it is not our role to say that this occupation is better than other occupations".

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Abraham Foxman of the Ant-Defamation League accused Falk of "…using the imprimatur of the U.N. to advance a biased agenda fueled by anti-Israel animus which erodes the credibility of the U.N.".

Falk has also dabbled in conspiracy theories, questioning whether there wasn’t some U.S. role, in the commission of the 9/11 mass-murder atrocities. In response to a colleague’s question, he made it clear that he still gives some credit to such wild and specious accusations.

Whether Falk’s latest farcical report will lead to any U.N. action is doubtful. But one cannot help but wonder what he really and truly hopes to accomplish with such fantastical proposals and defamatory statements. The future of his outlook…still remains to be seen.

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