Vinod Mubayi

The spectacle of the leaders of America’s elite academic institutions scurrying like suddenly exposed cockroaches, unable to respond clearly to questioning by thuggish McCarthyite politicians in Congress exposes the moral vacuum that exists at the top level of the leadership of institutions in the so-called free world, in the country that boasts of being the world’s oldest democracy. The majority of the students and faculty who are protesting Israeli actions at some of these universities have understood the lies and evasions of the ruling elite of their own institutions as well as of the country more broadly that aim to deny or sidestep the genocide being perpetrated by Israel in Gaza.

Nothing shows this more emphatically than the dichotomy between the views and votes of the political elites in the legislature and the executive and the sentiments of the people in the country especially the youth.

On the one hand, bipartisan political majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted 85% to 15% (366-58 in the House and 79-18 in the Senate) to send more than 26 billion dollars of military hardware to Israel without any conditions on its use knowing full well what it will be used for and how it will be used. The legislation also bars the US from contributing to UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, even as other US government officials warn of famine spreading in Gaza. Biden signed this bill into law and the assorted bombs and weapons started flowing to Israel immediately despite some pious hypocritical rhetoric from US leaders urging Netanyahu not to kill too many Palestinians. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only member of the US Congress of Palestinian origin, warned that “Our country isn’t just complicit in this genocide. We’re actively participating in it.”

On the other hand, if one considers the sentiments of the people, a different picture emerges. A 2024 Harvard survey shows that young Americans support a permanent cease fire in Gaza by a 5:1 ratio while a recent Quinnipiac University poll says 53% of Democrats oppose sending more military aid to Israel in its war against Hamas.

Two conclusions emerge from these facts. One, the legislators pay scant attention to what their constituents think. On reflection, this is not surprising. For the ruling elites, the needs of the American empire of which Israel is a significant symbol are far more important than the views of those who elected them. The second is the complete lack of a moral sense among the rulers at the horrors of the industrial-size slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza as well as their greatly increased repression in the West Bank by the occupying Israeli state and its settler population.  Thus, the complete moral vacuum exhibited by President Genocide Joe or his potential November opponent, ex-President wannabe Genocide Donald, stands in stark contrast to the honesty and courage displayed by student and faculty protestors who feel morally responsible when the common American’s tax dollars are being blithely used (and abused) to kill and maim tens of thousands of innocent women and children and commit war crimes. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has pointed out that “The intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are hors de combat is a war crime.” The mass graves discovered in the vicinity of Nasser Hospital in the town of Khan Younis in Gaza have been called a crime against humanity, carried out with Western complicity and bankrolled by U.S. taxpayers.

“Anatomy of a Genocide” a Report of the UN Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, was presented at the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council on March 24, 2024. The report analyzes the patterns of violence and Israel’s policies in its onslaught on Gaza, and concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met.

The popular radio program Democracy Now carried an interview with Hala Rharrit, an 18-year career US diplomat who recently resigned from the State Department, the third State Department employee, but the first Foreign Service officer, to do so. Rharrit, who served as the Arabic-language spokesperson for the State Department in the region, indicated her disagreement and dissatisfaction with US policy in the interview when she said: “We are not authorized to send military equipment, weapons to countries that commit human rights abuses. ICJ [International Court of Justice] has determined plausible genocide, yet we are still sending billions upon billions of not just defensive weaponry, but offensive weaponry. It is tantamount to a violation of domestic law. Many diplomats know it. Many diplomats are scared to say it.” She added: “I read the talking points that we were supposed to promote on Arab media. A lot of them were dehumanizing to Palestinians.” According to Rharrit, it is “corruption” in government that allows arms sales to continue. She pointed out “I could not help but be concerned about the influence of special interest groups, of lobbying groups on our foreign policy and, as well, on Congress — on the people that decide whether or not some of those shipments of arms get sent. The bottom line is that our politicians should not be profiting from war. And unfortunately, we have some institutionalized corruption that enables that.”

Juan Gonzalez, co-host of the popular radio program Democracy Now and a veteran of the 1968 famous anti-Vietnam War protest at Columbia University in New York City, writes in his blog Informed Comment of 04/24:

It is bad enough that presidents of major American universities are having their students and faculty arrested for “trespassing” on their own campus, with many of them suspended and forced out of their dorms…Those same presidents of leading institutions of higher education in the U.S. have stood completely silent as the extremist government in Israel has destroyed every last university in Gaza, leaving 88,000 students stranded and their education interrupted, for who knows how long. Many of them may forever be deprived of their degree. The Israeli military has also murdered from the sky 5,479 students and 261 teachers. This scholasticide is not an accident and it has nothing to do with a “war on Hamas” or “self-defense.” It is the typical gutting of a colonized people’s consciousness by a settler colonial state. These actions are intended to cripple Palestinian education and Palestinian culture in Gaza. Israeli leaders have made no secret of their hope to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from the Strip entirely.

Supporters of Israel and those in power at the national, state, and local levels have conflated opposition to Israeli genocide with antisemitism, an absurd comparison especially considering that a significant proportion of protestors happen to be Jewish, led by groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace. This ethnocentric pretext has been employed to violently disperse student and faculty protests at many colleges across the country. The events at Columbia University in New York City a few days ago where a small army of heavily militarized police brutally broke up a peaceful student protest that had occupied a college building and a portion of a lawn is a good example of the means and ways those in power are trying to prevent the masses from exercising their right of freedom of speech and assembly.

The pressure to forcibly eject pro-Palestinian Columbia students likely came internally from its Board of directors, the billionaires who also sit on the boards of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine as documented on the website of the Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a group of 89 student organizations that represent a large fraction of Columbia’s student body. The somewhat pathetic justifications offered by Columbia President Minouche Shafik in support of this decision, that had little support from the Columbia faculty, in her letter to the New York Police Department, have further publicly exposed the moral bankruptcy that prevails at all levels of government in the US from the Mayor of New York to the US President.

Adam Tooze, a faculty member at Columbia, has reproduced in a blog post (https://adamtooze.substack.com/p/chartbook-279-columbia-universitys) a telling quote made over a century ago by the iconic American historian Charles A. Beard. In view of the recent events at Columbia it seems fitting to reproduce it here:

I have been driven to the conclusion that the University is really under the control of a small and active group of Trustees who have no standing in the world of education, who are reactionary and visionless in politics, narrow and medieval in religion. Their conduct betrays a profound misconception of the true function of a university in the advancement of learning. 

(Charles A. Beard Upon his Resignation from Columbia University Oct 9, 1917).

The other “democracy” that shares a moral vacuum with the US with respect to the genocide in Gaza is the one that its leader is proud of calling “the mother of democracy.” From a factual standpoint, Modi’s description is in serious doubt. After a decade of his rule, that has seen a flowering of the India-Israel relationship including in particular a friendship with Netanyahu that has been dubbed a Modi-Bibi bromance, India’s descent into a Hindu Rashtra (Nation) is widely predicted if he wins a third term after the current, ongoing election. Historically, when India was one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement under Nehru it championed the rights of the Palestinians but the pendulum swung far in the other direction under Hindu nationalist rule of the BJP and Modi when ideologues “discovered” the close affinity between Zionism and Hindutva. Since then, the relationship has surged to such an extent that Netanyahu’s largest online fan club is believed to be located within the million-strong Hindutva troll army in India. The affinity is fed by the Islamophobia prevalent in both countries and that has burgeoned to such an extent in India under Modi that Genocide Watch last year highlighted a potential threat of genocide of the Muslim minority in India.

The journalist Meher Ali writing in The Wire of May 2, 2024 documented India’s increasing close military ties with key Israeli arms manufacturers and the fact that India is now the world’s largest importer of Israeli military exports. It is no surprise then that on April 5, when the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution urging an arms embargo on Israel calling on countries to “cease the sale, transfer and diversion of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel.” India abstained from voting in favor of this resolution.

In an article of April 11, 2024 “Labor and the Modi Bibi Bromance” published in the Boston Review, Michelle Buckley and Paula Chakravartty write “In December, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a personal request from his friend and political ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: expedite the supply of Indian construction labor and other migrant workers to Israel. Prior to October 7, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza made up the majority of workers in Israel’s construction and agriculture sectors, doing crucial, if invisible, work in the country’s apartheid society. But in the wake of the Hamas attacks, Israel terminated the work permits—more than two hundred thousand in all—granted by Israel to Palestinian workers from the Occupied Palestinian Territories including Gaza. To fill the gap, thousands of Indian workers will soon arrive in Israel; the first planeload of workers has already landed. In the coming month, tens of thousands more men, hailing from some of India’s poorest states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, are expected to join them.” Leftist trade unions in India, who have frequently expressed support to their Palestinian counterparts, have strongly opposed this export of Indian labor to a war zone in a practice that mirrors the British Raj’s export of indentured labor from India to various outposts of the Empire in the 19th century.

It is no surprise then that no condemnation of the slaughter of Palestinians by the Israeli military, not even a mild rebuke, has been heard from the Modi regime. The moral vacuum at the top in Delhi persists as strongly as the one in Washington, DC.

Since the theme of this editorial is on the moral aspects, or their lack, of what the rulers of “democratic” countries are allowing Israel, in the name of Zionism, to do what it is doing in Palestine, including Gaza and the West Bank, it seems apposite to close this piece with quotes from two notable authors, Naomi Klein and Pankaj Mishra writing about Zionism and the invocation of the Shoah [Holocaust of Jews by Nazi Germany].

With the advent of the Jewish holiday of Passover in the last week of April and the Seder meal on the second night of Passover, thousands of Jewish Americans and their friends got together in Brooklyn for what was described as a “Seder in the Streets to Stop Arming Israel” in the immediate vicinity of the home of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The noted author and political activist Naomi Klein, who is herself Jewish, gave a spirited speech at the rally denouncing Zionism as “a false idol”. She said:

It is a false idol that takes our most profound biblical stories of justice and emancipation from slavery, the story of Passover itself, and turns them into brutalist weapons of colonial land theft, roadmaps for ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is a false idol that has taken the transcendent idea of the Promised Land, a metaphor for human liberation that has traveled across faiths to every corner of this globe, and dared to turn it into a deed of sale for a militarist ethnostate. Zionism has brought us to our present moment of cataclysm, and it is time that we say clearly it has always been leading us here. It is a false idol that has led far too many of our own people down a deeply immoral path that now has them justifying the shredding of core commandments — “Thou shall not kill,” “Thou shall not steal,” “Thou shall not covet” — the commandments brought down from the mount. It is a false idol that equates Jewish freedom with cluster bombs that kill and maim Palestinian children. Zionism is a false idol that has betrayed every Jewish value, including the value that we place on questioning a practice embedded in the seder itself with its four questions asked by the youngest child. It also betrays the love that we have as a people for text and for education. Today this false idol dares to justify the bombing of every single university in Gaza, the destruction of countless schools, of archives, of printing presses, the killing of hundreds of academics, scholars, journalists, poets, essayists. This is what Palestinians call scholasticide, the killing of the infrastructure and the means of education.

The Indian origin author Pankaj Mishra (https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v46/n06/pankaj-mishra/the-shoah-after-gaza) writing in the London Review of Books describes the consequences of falsely equating Palestinians with Nazis and the moral vacuum in the Western countries about military occupation and killing of Palestinians.

In 1980, the Israeli columnist Boaz Evron carefully described the stages of this moral corrosion: the tactic of conflating Palestinians with Nazis and shouting that another Shoah is imminent was, he feared, liberating ordinary Israelis from ‘any moral restrictions, since one who is in danger of annihilation sees himself exempted from any moral considerations which might restrict his efforts to save himself’. Jews, Evron wrote, could end up treating ‘non-Jews as subhuman’ and replicating ‘racist Nazi attitudes.’ A political and media class in the West has ceaselessly euphemized the stark facts of military occupation and unchecked annexation by ethnonational demagogues: Israel, the chorus goes, has the right, as the Middle East’s only democracy, to defend itself, especially from genocidal brutes. As a result, the victims of Israeli barbarity in Gaza today cannot even secure straightforward recognition of their ordeal from Western elites, let alone relief. The liquidation of Gaza, though outlined and broadcast by its perpetrators, is daily obfuscated, if not denied, by the instruments of the West’s military and cultural hegemony: from the US president claiming that Palestinians are liars and European politicians intoning that Israel has a right to defend itself to the prestigious news outlets deploying the passive voice while relating the massacres carried out in Gaza. We find ourselves in an unprecedented situation. Never before have so many witnessed an industrial-scale slaughter in real time. Yet the prevailing callousness, timidity and censorship disallows, even mocks, our shock and grief. Many of us who have seen some of the images and videos coming out of Gaza – those visions from hell of corpses twisted together and buried in mass graves, the smaller corpses held by grieving parents, or laid on the ground in neat rows – have been quietly going mad over the last few months. Every day is poisoned by the awareness that while we go about our lives hundreds of ordinary people like ourselves are being murdered, or being forced to witness the murder of their children. Gaza has become for countless powerless people the essential condition of political and ethical consciousness in the 21st century – just as the First World War was for a generation in the West. And, increasingly, it seems that only those jolted into consciousness by the calamity of Gaza can rescue the Shoah from Netanyahu, Biden, Scholz and Sunak and re-universalize its moral significance; only they can be trusted to restore what Améry called the equilibrium of world morality. Many of the protesters who fill the streets of their cities week after week have no immediate relation to the European past of the Shoah. They judge Israel by its actions in Gaza rather than its Shoah-sanctified demand for total and permanent security. Whether or not they know about the Shoah, they reject the crude social-Darwinist lesson Israel draws from it – the survival of one group of people at the expense of another.

Top - Home