EDITOR: Disappointingly the editor of Australian Jewish News has so far refused to publish Professor Falk’s point-by-point refutation of the allegations made in AJN last week, so we publish it here:

The article starts by reporting ‘concerns’ over my visit to Australia in response to speaking invitations in Sydney this July to address Israel/Palestine relations. At the outset I should say that my true position has always been to identify the conditions for peace between the two peoples. What has made my views controversial in the more militant pro-Israeli circles is my contention that a sustainable peace as distinct from a ceasefire depends on respect for Palestinian rights and an end to Israeli violations of international law. In my reports to the UN for the six years I served in this unpaid UN post, I attempted to do this in an objective, fact-based manner sensitive to the application of international legal norms. When I began my term as Special Rapporteur I made a formal appeal to extend my mandate to cover Palestinian violations of international human rights law, but this effort was rejected by the Human Rights Council after considerable debate by governmental representatives.

As for the specific allegations in the article, let me respond as best I can from a remote location far from my office. First of all, I have never ‘endorsed’ conspiracy theories, the allegation undoubtedly referring to my very limited writing about the 9/11 attacks on the United States. It is true that I wrote a favorable foreword to David Ray Griffin’s first book on the subject, A New Pearl Harbor, but it is also true that the book raises 17 questions that were at the time unanswered in the official account of the attacks, and deserved to be answered convincingly to put doubts to rest. It should be appreciated that Griffin, a close friend, is a distinguished professor of religious philosophy who is a founder of ‘process theology’ along with his academic colleague John Cobb. In subsequent commentary on my blog and in journalistic pieces I repeated in various ways that valid suspicions remain about the official version of the 9/11 attacks, but I have never supported conspiracy theories that offer alternative versions as to what happened. To plead for a removal of suspicion is not to allege ‘conspiracy,’ although when such suspicions are not removed, further doubts naturally emerge, but in the spirit of skepticism not an instance of conspiracy thinking.

It is true, especially while serving in an unpaid position in the UN as Special Rapporteur, I was accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’ or a ‘self-hating Jew’ guilty of spreading anti-Jewish ‘tropes,’ but these accusations came from similar sources as this defamatory article. Although frequently a critic of the behavior of states, especially from the perspective of international law and morality, I have never directed my criticism at the ethnicity or religious identity of any people, including of course, Jews. In this vein I have been critical of Israel for its state policies as I have been of many other governments, including my own. I have consistently affirmed my Jewish identity, and it is a nasty slur to suggest otherwise or to merge my criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitic attitudes. Those that do so never examine the reasonableness of arguments contending that Israel is guilty of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The article in the Australia Jewish News also refers to my contention that Israel subjugates the Palestinian people in a manner that violates the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. This conclusion emerged in the course of a jointly authored contract academic study commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Council for West Asia (ESCWA). The study reached this conclusion on the basis of available evidence, but makes no claim of being legally authoritative. It was removed from the ESCWA website on instructions from the UN Secretary General after representatives of Israel and the United States demanded the repudiation of the report, and threatened dire consequences if this was not done. It is notable that the head of ESCWA at the time, Rima Khalaf, resigned in principle rather than follow the SG’s instruction. It seems relevant to note that the Report was never ‘repudiated’ by the UN and in fact received the endorsement of member governments of ESCWA.

Three additional allegations warrant a brief explanation. First, a 2007 article called ‘Slouching Toward a Holocaust in Palestine’ was a journalistic statement of concern about Israel’s practices toward the civilian population of Gaza, with particular reference to reliance on tactics that seemed fairly described as ‘collective punishment,’ which is unconditionally prohibited by an occupying power in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention covering ‘belligerent occupation,’ and a mainstay of international humanitarian law. The piece made an admittedly provocative reference to collective punishment of German Jews in Hitler’s Germany. It was meant to be a shocking reference, a wakeup call that sought to encourage a more humane and legally appropriate approach to the civilian population of Gaza, long denied basic rights. It was not meant as a comparison of Nazi and Israeli orientations, but I admit that it could be so interpreted, and was for that reason, perhaps, an inappropriate way to express my position.

Secondly, the posting of an anti-Semitic cartoon. Unlike the article, this was a complete mistake that was the result of an accidental oversight on my part. As implied in the article, the cartoon has nothing to do with Israel. It was concerned with the American opportunistic influence exerted over the International Criminal Court in The Hague, illustrated by its actions against Gaddafi in conjunction with the NATO operation in Libya in 2013. As I have explained many times, when posted I never noticed its anti-Semitic character because the image of the Jew was so small on the Google image page as to seem indecipherable and irrelevant. When this was brought to my attention the cartoon was immediately removed from the blog, and if the text of the post is read it makes no reference whatsoever to Jews or mentions Israel. The bad faith of critics such as the author of this derogatory article was demonstrated by completely ignoring my explanations, and even more so by widely disseminating a greatly enlarged version of the cartoon that tries to convey the impression that it was impossible for me not to have known of its anti-Semitic content when I posted the cartoon.

Thirdly, my comments at the time in reaction to the official coverage of the Boston Marathon terrorist event, which attracted some prominent criticism. Let me say that my point was simple and banal, and made by many others without evoking such angry reactions. I suggested that American foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular reference to Israel, was bound to have reverberations, including inducing extremists and disturbed persons to engage violently. I think this is a fact, borne out by experience of such sociopathic behavior. I denounced the terrorist violence of the Boston Marathon bombing at the time and never suggested that the U.S. change its policies in response. In this sense, my comments were torn from context to create effects never intended by me.

Finally, the article refers to several high-profile public officials, including the UN Secretary General at the time, who repeated such allegations, criticizing my views and behavior. As far as I know all of these allegations followed upon letter writing campaigns that repeated the insults, distortions, and defamatory remarks of this article, often organized by UN Watch, an NGO operating out of Geneva known for such tactics as ways of discrediting anyone voicing serious criticisms of Israeli state policy. When I inquired about the SG’s remarks to his chief assistant, he sheepishly acknowledged that ‘we didn’t do due diligence,’ which is UN-speak for admitting that my piece on which the denunciation was based was never read.

My professional life was mainly devoted to scholarship and teaching, the core of which was as a faculty member at Princeton University where I spent forty years as a professor of international law. I repeat in conclusion what I expressed at the outset. My entire career has been devoted to work for peace with justice at home and abroad, including in many settings apart from Israel/Palestine. To suggest otherwise is a clear example of character assassination.

Richard Falk
San Foca, Italy
June 22, 2019