Backtalk July 29, 2006

The Human Shields of Nazareth

Dear fellow activists,

… Jonathan Cook’s article clearly demonstrates that yet another journalist (Matthew Price) within the BBC has been “reporting” fallacies and hinting at a pro-Israeli stance.

This must be combated by truthful analysis, not counter-propaganda that the BBC in its entirety (or its reporting arm) is the tool of the state of Israel. This is ridiculous; the BBC is not a homogenous organization despite its overt branding. There are socialists who are reporters as well as reactionaries and Zionists. The suffering of the Lebanese is not blacked out from the BBC, and Newsnight clearly shows the scale of suffering and figures of deaths. These numbers can be disputed, but it is clear from BBC reporting that the Israelis are not acting defensively and to say “the BBC obliged by regurgitating this piece of racist nonsense” is plainly an overstatement. Some journalists are racist, yes, even most editors, but not all are….

~ Justin Baidoo

Jonathan Cook replies:

This is a misunderstanding of my piece. I did not attack the BBC’s journalists as racists or suggest they were providing propaganda for Israel. The biases are institutional in media organizations, and I speak from experience, having worked in a few. Most journalists are entirely unaware of those biases or of the pressures on them to conform. They see “doing their job well” in terms either of being professional or of career progression. Most dissident journalists are weeded out early on in the professional training and induction processes, which take many years. For example, most journalists in major media organization spend a lengthy period freelancing before they get a staff job. Editors and executives quickly spot someone who does not follow the rules.


Among the many preposterous statements made by Jonathan Cook is that “the Israeli government has not offered the Arab residents any protection … in the case of the Katyusha rockets.” In fact, the Israel government stopped building public shelters decades ago; rather, building codes require that all residential and business structures have their own shelters, and for the last nearly decade and a half, each residential unit must have its own. Much of the Arab population has generally disregarded building codes and zoning regulations, taking advantage of lax enforcement. Perhaps now Israel’s Arab population will begin observing some of these laws.

~ Ranon Katzoff, Israel

Jonathan Cook replies:

This is a common defense by Israeli Jews of their government’s failure to provide public shelters in Arab communities. (Another one is that Arabs don’t pay taxes.) The building regulations were changed in 1992, not decades ago. Arab families have been building their homes with shelters since then. But what about the rest, the majority in fact? They have no public shelters because the civil defense authorities have not provided funding for Arab communities. Are they not entitled to the same protection as Jewish communities?

The 1960s Antiwar Movement Revisited

A very thoughtful and well-balanced piece, as was your piece “Who Is ‘We’?” While I accept your critique of the society as organism, there is an equal problem of the individual as absolute and paramount. This can lead to either the totally selfish idea of “Me, Me, Me,” where it is all rights and no responsibilities, an anarchist society. Alternatively if “we” are only individuals, then too easily can “we” believe that we are ineffectual and incapable of having any impact on decisions….

Clearly, we do have to be, and believe that we are, part of a larger social group and believe that we do have some influence on how the group decisions are made.

Surely the real issue, as in any family or business, is the appropriate division of labor, of responsibilities and rights – at all levels. When decision-making, in areas where it is neither necessary nor appropriate, becomes too centralized – then we have the organic problem you describe. It would seem that Canada and the EU have been more successful in delivering grassroots self-determination, through a confederation system, where the center has limited jurisdiction. You could argue that on national defense, they are weak – possibly so, but clearly they do not have the military-industrial complex in control either and so retain real personal independence.

Personal liberty cannot be separated from the issue of a standing military, which overrides the real interests of the citizens. As an economist, you must surely see that the U.S. military-industrial complex and its total integration into government is not that different from the relationship that the Soviet military enjoyed in the USSR with the Politburo – with ultimately equally disastrous consequences. If it could not be removed/down-sized at the end of the Cold War, then only economic collapse will remove it now. Given the real state of the U.S. economy, this is only a question of when, not if. …

~ Allen Jay

David R. Henderson replies:

Dear Mr. Jay,

Thank you for your letter and your compliments on my two articles. You raise many points, and I won’t take the time to reply to all of them. But I do want to reply to what I see as the most important ones.

To state that “we” didn’t do certain things is not at all to say that there is no such thing as “we.” To take the simplest example, if three friends and I walk to a restaurant, it’s completely correct to say, in talking about us four, “we walked to a restaurant.” But when a U.S. Air Force pilot bombs a target, it’s incorrect to say, “we bombed a target.” The correct use of the word “we” there is to refer to the various people directly involved in bombing. And if, say, Bush or Clinton ordered the bombing, it makes sense to include them in the “we” who did the bombing. This is completely separate from the issue of whether you and I have responsibilities to each other. Some people have read my article and have concluded that I am making an ideological point about the role of the individual versus the role of the state. I’m not. I’m making a simple factual point.

Two more examples to drive the point home. First, if I look out the window and see someone being beat up, it doesn’t make sense for me to say, “we beat him up.” That doesn’t mean I don’t have some obligation to take some action to protect that person. Whether I have such an obligation is actually a pretty thorny philosophical problem, and thoughtful people of good will can disagree on it. What is not at issue is whether I beat this person up: I didn’t. To take my second example, I received a phone call last Sunday from someone who had read our local newspaper, the Monterey County Herald, and had seen an article about a proposal to place a tight limit on contributions to political candidates in Pacific Grove. I live in Pacific Grove. The caller, a friendly acquaintance who lives in Salinas, said, in a somewhat accusatory tone, “What are you guys doing over there?” I explained to him that I had nothing to do with this proposal and, in fact, had just read about it myself in the Sunday paper. He seemed to have trouble not blaming me. This is astounding. He seemed literally to think that I was responsible for the city council’s actions. He even asked what I was going to do to stop it, as if I had total power to do so. But is what he said any more incorrect than the statement I’ve seen from many eminent historians, who write that “we dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima”?

As for the point about whether we can be effective acting together, we can be. And, as Benjamin Franklin said, “Gentleman, we hang together or we shall hang separately.” He was making the point that we can often be more effective in groups supporting each other. That’s like the example I gave at the start about us walking to a restaurant. In sum, to say that we didn’t do things that certain people did is not at all to say that the concept of “we” has no meaning and is not at all to say that we can’t gain from working together.

I will leave your point about an anarchist society for another day. I just want to point out that two things. First, “anarchism” doesn’t mean what most people think it means, namely “chaos.” Here’s how my Webster’s Dictionary defines anarchism: a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups. So to equate anarchism with chaos is to make a prediction about the effects of anarchism. The prediction might be right and it might be wrong, but saying that anarchism would lead to chaos requires a logical argument, including evidence. Second, although I am not an anarchist, some anarchist economists I know, including David Friedman, a law professor at Santa Clara University (and author of the classic The Machinery of Freedom), and Jeff Hummel, Ben Powell, and Ed Stringham, all on the faculty of San Jose State University, could give you a run for your money.

Thank you again for raising these issues.


I just heard Justin Raimondo on that crackpot Laura Ingraham’s radio show. She is living proof that Dartmouth and UVA Law aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.

She is so typical of these neocon radio crazies. She talked to you as if you were a child, and then talked over you. She showed herself to be ignorant of basic political and historical facts. She wouldn’t let you make your points while attempting to discredit you.

As I write this she has David Frum on discussing you. This tells me something. This was a setup. Maybe these neocrazies know the American people are turning against them.

Listening to Frum attack you, I am amazed at the stupidity of the American people for letting this crowd take America down this path to disaster. If Frum and the neocrazies like fat Bill Bennett want to fight for Israel, they need to suit up, contribute their own money, and get into the action. Wouldn’t you just love to see those two phonies in the Israeli infantry sans American taxpayers’ equipment and money?

~ Bob Gentile, Atlanta, Ga.

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