I saw a link to this talk a few days ago, and now another was sent to me by a friend: the extraordinary lecture given by Richard Falk at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. The live audience was not especially large, and there has been no press coverage, and who is Richard Falk anyway? Yes, an eminent Princeton international law professor, now an emeritus. As a college student nearly 40 years ago I remember reading and admiring his work, though somehow was not deterred from commencing a long detour through neoconservatism.
Even those of us gripped by the centrality of the Israel-Palestine struggle and who find the issues surrounding it to be at the strategic and moral center of American foreign policy quite seldom find anything all that new to say about it. In this realm Falk’s quietly delivered talk before a modest audience was nothing short of extraordinary. For without delivering new information, without even being an exceptional act of synthesis, it manages to put the key questions into a moral context, to give them an order in a way few have managed to do.
Some of his points are bold — he takes note, for example, that that he is speaking on the 45th anniversary of Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty (which Israel has claimed, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, to have been an accident) but ponders more what it means not that Israel attacked the ship, which after all made a certain kind of sense for Israel, but that the U.S. did everything it could to suppress any investigation of the incident.
His larger point is that the unequal and unprecedented relationship with Israel, in which the superpower continuously defers to its client, has distorted and corrupted the American mentality in dealing with foreign affairs. Falk finds it lamentable that American governmental officials, for fear of provoking the Israel lobby, are reluctant to say critical things about Israel which they know to be true. Other consequences are more subtle–the militarization of our foreign policy, or growing disdain for international law, or indeed for any sort of foreign policy not based on sheer power is, in part, an American bending to Israel’s optic. It is said often that our unconditional support of Israel is bad for Israel, which it may well be. But Falk’s point is that it has profoundly disabled us, helping to blind us from seeing the world in a rational and truthful way, helping to sever America from the pursuit of its own best ideals.
I don’t really know what a prophetic voice would sound like in this age, even less what would be “Jewish prophet.” But that is the phrase that Falk’s talk summoned in me. I also don’t doubt that there some lesson to be derived from the fact of this talk being delivered in an Episcopal church, even if I can’t say precisely what it is.