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NYU Graduate Student Union repeals pro-BDS resolution

June 28, 2016
by Lawrence Gulotta

NYU Graduate Student Union repeals pro-BDS resolution – International – Jerusalem Post


According to the FB page GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine

June 21 at 10:17pm ·

Amazing news! Not only has UAW accepted our appeal to nullify GSOC-UAW Local 2110‘s BDS resolution, they have taken it one step further. No UAW-affiliated union, including student unions at 15 universities, is allowed to endorse BDS. You can read the letter from the President of UAW International, as well as our press release, at this link.

As we celebrate this victory, keep in mind that the battle is far from over. The NYU AWDU caucus, which holds a strong majority of GSOC’s elected leadership, has made BDS an official part of their platform, and they even mentioned it in their statement on the Orlando shooting. Several new (contested, but active) stewards and summer unit representatives are involved BDS activists, and one of the candidates for Fall Unit Representative expressed their enthusiasm for BDS in their candidate statement. But we are optimistic that, despite the challenges, we will continue to have success in our fight for open dialogue and academic freedom, and this new ruling from UAW International is a significant victory along that path.


Also see here, which includes the letter to Maida Rosenstein, head of UAW 2110:


Also see here, which I reproduce in its entirety:


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United Auto Workers Union
CONTACT: Julie Kushner, (860) 674-0143


NATIONAL – An independent review board of the United Auto Workers (UAW) – a union that represents more than 30,000 graduate workers coast to coast – this month issued its final decision upholding the earlier decision of the International Executive Board (IEB) that the resolution on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) adopted by members of Local 2865 at the University of California in December 2014 exceeded its authority under the UAW Constitution.

After the board reviewed the constitution, bylaws and details of the vote at Local 2865 as well as the appeals from a UAW member and the local union, it concluded on May 16th that Local 2865’s vote to support the BDS resolution exceeded its authority under the UAW Constitution.

“The UAW is comprised of a very diverse membership and the strict adherence to our democratic principles is the only way to ensure fairness and that the best interests of all our members are protected,” said Julie Kushner, Director, UAW Region 9A. “We remain focused on supporting graduate workers’ fight for rights and benefits at the universities where they work, and helping to make sure they win on the issues that matter to them most, including fair wages and benefits, clear and reliable scheduling and contract enforcement.”

The UAW currently represents about 400,000 active workers and 580,000 retired workers and is responsible for making political decisions and endorsements that reflect the majority of its membership. Members advocating for BDS include fewer than 3,000 workers nationwide – less than 1% percent of UAW membership.

The UAW’s robust, independent review process and structure is unique to the US labor movement, with a set of independent legal scholars – the Public Review Board (PRB) – that helps to ensure that members’ best interests are protected.

From coast to coast, graduate teaching assistants and research assistants are forming their unions with the UAW and winning a voice at the table to help make their universities the best they can be. The UAW currently represents workers at 45 university campuses, including at the University of California, University of Washington, University of Connecticut, and at New York University (NYU). After an eight-year effort to win back their union after the Bush-era NLRB stripped bargaining rights in 2004, NYU graduate workers supported by the UAW won a neutrality agreement with the university administration in 2013 and negotiated another ground breaking contract that was ratified in 2015.

Since then, the UAW has supported active graduate worker campaigns to form their unions at Columbia, Harvard, the New School, and more, and with workers at Columbia, UAW is leading the legal challenge of the 2004 NLRB ruling that stripped graduate workers of their union rights.



Learned of this today


By DANIELLE ZIRI  |  The Jerusalem Post  |  06/23/2016 18:42

NYU Graduate Student Union repeals pro-BDS resolution

“Whatever ‘pledges’ union members may or may not have taken does not free them from their responsibilities as employees of NYU, which rejects this boycott,” said the group’s parent union.

New York University banner. (photo credit:NYU PHOTO BUREAU)


NEW YORK – Two months after the Graduate Student Union at New York University voted to join the Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel, the decision was repealed by the group’s parent union, the United Auto Workers.

The decision made this week was the result of some members of the NYU student union (GSOC) filing an official appeal against the April decision, claiming it violated the UAW constitution’s own bylaws.

The appeal, signed by Ilana Ben-Ezra, member of GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine, pointed out that the resolution is illicit because it violates the UAW’s pledge “to maintain free relations with other organizations.” Ben-Ezra also noted that the resolution goes NYU’s official position and “vilifies” companies that are members of the parent union.
The UAW decision in favor of Ben-Ezra stated that no subordinate body of the parent union can endorse BDS, which affects graduate student unions at more than 15 universities, including others which have passed similar resolutions. It noted that GSOC’s resolution was indeed “contrary to the position of the International Union” and is void of “force or effect.”

In response, GSOC for Open Dialogue on Israel and Palestine said it “applauds and thanks” UAW for “being the first international labor union to take a strong moral stand against BDS, openly denouncing the movement’s discriminatory practices.”

Informed Grads, a student group at the University of California, which also saw its pro-BDS decision overturned, also thanked UAW for “not tolerating academic and cultural discrimination against union members based on national origin and religion, and vilification against Israelis and UAW members who are of Jewish lineage.”
In April, when the NYU student union voted in favor of the BDS resolution, university President Andrew Hamilton expressed opposition to the decision.

“A boycott of Israeli academics and institutions is contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas,” he said at the time. “NYU will not be closing its academic program in Tel Aviv, and divestment from Israeli-related investments is not under consideration. And to be clear: whatever ‘pledges’ union members may or may not have taken does not free them from their responsibilities as employees of NYU, which rejects this boycott.”




The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire 104th Commemoration

April 4, 2015
by Lawrence Gulotta

Labor Leaders Mark 104 Years Since Deadly Fire at Greenwich Village Factory

I paid my respects today on the 104th year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire at the corner of Washington Place & Greene Street, Greenwich Village, Washington Square NYU campus (Class of 1972). Many children wearing red fire helmets in attendance,accompanied by their teachers. BP Gail Brewer & Council leader Mark-Viverito spoke as did the NY Central Labor Council leaders and a Rabbi led us in prayer.The NYFD had two fire trucks parked on Greene St. & a table set-up w/literature & FREE packages of batteries for smoke detectors. The same NYFD set-up is being used in Midwood, in the wake of the horrific fire and deaths of seven family members. Shirtwaists were hung from poles and each shirtwaist had inscribed a name of a victim. The back of the shirtwaist carried the victim’s age. They were all so young. The mood was commemorative & somber. The return to Alma Mater complete, I took the 6 train back to work.

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: “Reconstructing the Universe” & Mauro Caneli’s, “Giacomo Matteotti’s Murder and the Rise of the Totalitarian State”

October 29, 2014
by Lawrence Gulotta

 I was impressed by the Guggenheim show on Italian Futurism

Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe

I felt however, that there was a missing piece of the narrative. According to Mauro Canelli, the Guggenheim Group was invested in Sinclair Oil’s designs on Italian and Italian colonial oil fields in Libya, for example. . This is new material and is based on declassified files.

Margherita Sarfatti’s Milano salon included Mussulini and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Sarfatti became a Minister of Culture during the early years of the regime. She is spotted in a film at Rockefeller Center in the 1930s bantering with Diego Rivera, while he worked on the murals.

Sarfatti was likely Mussolini’s art dealer while she stayed in New York. Sarfatti’s relationship to Italian Futurism and Marinetti, a member of her salon, remains to be explored.

Mauro Caneli : “Giacomo Matteotti’s Murder and the Rise of the Totalitarian State”  is NOT an art & architecture talk & book. It provides new information about the context which Futurism developed. I would call these “revelations” from declassified historical documents. ; (English & Italian with translation)

Outstanding presentations at NYU’s Casa Italiana by Mauro Caneli,  Giacomo Matteotti’s Murder and the Rise of the Totalitarian State. 
There are startling revelations @ 1:24 minutes concerning the role of American business and the rise of Italian Fascism and Mussolini and his brother,. Arnaldo Mussolini . Sinclair Oil (financed through the Guggenheim Group), Morgan Bank & General Electric were the principal American companies involved in a financial scandal in Italy in the early 1920s.  Mussolini’s bother was the intermediary with the Americans and quietly sold off Italian oil exploration rights including exploration rights in the Italian colony Lybia.  The Italian Ambassador to Washington had been an engineer working for the Guggenheim Group, Generoso Gaetani. Sinclair Oil  financed the Fascist newspapers, and other activites. You may remember Sinclair Oil and its role in the Tea Pot Dome scandal. 

EssaysJune 6, 2014

The Matteotti murder, 1924-2014

The Matteotti murder and the origins of Mussolini’s totalitarian Fascist regime in Italy
This paper was delivered on June 2 at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò NYU on the occasion of Italian National Day and the 90th Anniversary of Matteotti’s murder

The barbaric murder of Matteotti, committed on 10 June 1924, marked the end of the so-called ‘legalistic’ period of the Mussolini administration. Prior to that date, Mussolini had been skillfully navigating between intransigent currents and moderate sectors of Fascism.

The hardliners considered the moderate outcome of the March on Rome to have been a betrayal of the Fascist revolution. The moderate Fascists, to the contrary, considered the revolutionary period of Fascism to have come to an end with the formation of the Mussolini government.

That is certainly not to say that the moderate Fascists rejected the use of violence in the political struggle. Rather, they believed that if it were left up to the ‘ras,’ it would prove to be a self-defeating boomerang. They feared that violence, employed and displayed on a widespread, uncontrolled basis, would ultimately undermine the consensus of the moderate social classes that had looked favorably upon the formation of the Mussolini government.

The leading figures of moderate Fascism therefore believed that the control already exerted by the Fascist government over the Ministry of the Interior, the state police, and the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (National Security Volunteer Militia), was sufficient for the purposes of ‘centralizing’ the activity of political repression. They were in favor of a calibrated, discreet form of “state violence”. They were not in favor of an established “state violence”, while the hardliners in the National Fascist Party were actively advocating. This viewpoint led to the idea of establishing a Fascist Ceka, a repressive body under the direct orders of the prime minister.

Mussolini was pursuing a strategy of ‘duplicity. On the one hand he displayed a formal respect for the political procedures and the institutions of the liberal state, on the other, through the Fascist Ceka, he began to intimidate the most active anti-Fascist leaders.

Between 1922 and 1924, despite Mussolini’s repeated assurances of his respect for the rule of law, acts of violence had continued to be perpetrated against the opposition.
Mussolini advocated to establish the Ceka as early as the period immediately following the March on Rome. He did so because he considered the liberal institutional context as an obstacle to the totalitarian prospects of Fascism.

Mussolini summarized the need for Fascism to work around the garantismo (‘respect for civil rights’) of the liberal system in a statement he made, a few days after he formed his government:

“all governments undergoing a transition need certain illiberal branches to take care of their adversaries.” […] Control of the official agencies of the state” would allow the Fascist government to “drape a cover over all its illegal acts of violence.”

Mussolini entrusted the establishment of the secret police to two of his closest colleagues, Cesare Rossi, the head of his press office, and Giovanni Marinelli, the administrative secretary of the National Fascist Party. The Ceka operations relied upon the services of a group of former Milanese arditi (‘Italian assault soldiers from the First World War’). Their heads were Amerigo Dumini and Albino Volpi, longstanding loyals of Mussolini.

Dumini had been a key figure in all the punitive expeditions organized in Tuscany by the Florentine Fascists. Rossi had begun the establishment of the Fascist Ceka under cover. He was its true mastermind. The men who carried out Ceka operations were ensured they would be exempt from legal consequences by the presence at the top of the state police of General Emilio De Bono, who had been one of the organizers of the March on Rome.

During the years that De Bono was the chief of the national police (1923-1924) no punishment was ever inflicted for the assaults on Giovanni Amendola, Cesare Forni, or Alfredo Misuri, or for the attacks on Alberto Bergamini and Ulderico Mazzolani. And none of the hundreds of Roman Fascists who carried out the devastation of Francesco Saverio Nitti’s villa was identified.

The Mussolini government was particularly concerned for the relentless activity of Giacomo Matteotti, the young secretary of the Partito Socialista Unitario (PSU, or unified Socialist party). The party had been established, twenty days prior to the March on Rome, by the social-reformist component led by Turati, in a breakaway from the Italian Socialist Party.
Matteotti was a consistent and rigorous reformer who considered reforms to be nothing more than a way of overturning capitalist society in order to begin the process of constructing a new society. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1919.

The democratic procedure and respect for the institutions remained central for Matteotti. He was in favor of “the democratic and parliamentary way to Socialism.” In October 1922, he left the PSI to found the PSU, largely driven by an aversion to Communism and the Bolshevik model, a direction in which at the time the maximalist component of the PSI seemed to be tending. Turati, who appreciated his considerable organizational skills, asked him to become the secretary of the new party.

Matteotti had had an opportunity to study the Fascist squadrismo at its birth; in the Polesine area where he was born, Fascism had manifested itself in an especially crude and violent form. Matteotti’s attitude toward the Fascist government was always rigorously intransigent. He was unwilling to consider any truce, any accords, or collaboration of any kind between Socialism and Fascism. He often clashed with other members of the party who believed it was necessary to ‘collaborate’ with the Mussolini government. He therefore found himself engaged in a struggle on two fronts: an external battle against Fascism and an internal battle against the ‘collaborationists’.

He saw both battles as intimately linked: the more successful he was in highlighting the reactionary nature of Fascism, the more difficult it would be for the ‘collaborationists’ to establish alliances with the Mussolini government. In order to keep ‘collaborationists’ clear of any cabinet-level compromises, Matteotti had to carry on an exhausting campaign of denouncing the crimes and violence of Fascism, while pointing out the incompatibility of Fascism and democracy.

Matteotti embodied the characteristics of the modern political leader. He had begun traveling earlier than most, developing a personal culture open to the influences of the most mature European Socialism. He had an uncanny grasp of the laws of economics and finance. He had published a pamphlet, A Year of Fascist Domination, in which he examined, on the first anniversary of the advent of Fascism, the actions of the Mussolini government, and disputed, point by point, all of its claimed achievements.

In the young Socialist deputy, Mussolini had found a combative, resolute, and well-prepared adversary. In order to restrict Matteotti’s activities outside of Italy, Mussolini had ordered his passport confiscated, but that did not prevent Matteotti from continuing to travel outside of Italy. He merely had himself smuggled across the border in secret. He had thus succeeded in making a number of journeys, between 1923 and 1924, to France, Belgium, and England.

In the first few days of May 1924, upon his return from a secret trip to England, he visited the Rome police headquarters yet again to request the return of his passport. He explained that he needed it for a brief trip to Austria between the 7th and 10th of June to take part in a demonstration of the Austrian Social Democratic party.

His strategy of attack against Fascism had only been reinforced by the outcome of the national elections of April 6th 1924, in which his party had enjoyed an encouraging success. This marked a confirmation of the support given by substantial sectors of the working class and the urban middle class to his intransigent opposition to the Fascist government.

During the session of May 30th 1924, the Fascist government, in violation of established parliamentary procedure, proposed an approval en masse of the newly elected members of the majority. Matteotti, after depicting an unsettling national panorama of violence and criminal behavior, had provocatively demanded the blanket annulment of the elections.

Matteotti’s speech was repeatedly interrupted by furious reactions from the majority, but the young Socialist parliamentarian had courageously continued his speech to the very last word.
As he was exiting the Chamber of Deputies, to his colleagues, who were eagerly congratulating, it is reported that he replied, “Now you need to get ready to hold a wake for me.”
The Chamber of Deputies closed its doors, and was scheduled to resume its session on Wednesday June 11th, when debate would begin on the administration’s estimated budget.
While waiting for the inauguration of the new legislature, Matteotti spent every afternoon in the library of the Chamber of Deputies. He would emerge from his home at 4:00 o’clock, and would not return until 7:30 pm. That routine was interrupted on 5 June by the unexpected news that, police headquarters had agreed to return his passport, though it was valid only for travel to Austria.

Matteotti went to pick up his passport, thus leaving the government uncertain whether he planned to leave for Austria on 7 June or remain in Rome to take part in the opening session of the Chamber of Deputies. He had already decided to remain in Rome.

On the afternoon of June 10th, Matteotti once again left his home at 3:30 pm. Waiting for him on the Tiber embankment was a Lancia Lambda, and inside the car were his killers.
He was assaulted, beaten violently, and knocked unconscious; he was then loaded into the car, which departed at high speed in the direction of the Ponte Milvio. His lifeless body was not found until August 16th, in a grave dug twenty kilometers outside of Rome.

All the same, due to a fortuitous set of circumstances, the police had already succeeded, just two days after his kidnapping, in identifying the murderers and recovering the automobile. The condition of the vehicle’s upholstery, spattered with enormous pools of blood, made it clear that Matteotti was unlikely to be found alive. The five murderers, all identified and arrested, were all members of the Fascist Ceka: Amerigo Dumini and Albino Volpi, the two unquestioned heads of the Ceka, the driver Augusto Malacria, and Amleto Poveromo and Giuseppe Viola.
On August 20th the remains of the young Socialist deputy were transported by train to Fratta Polesine. Along the route, an overwhelming crowd paid a final tribute.
The murder of Matteotti, and the fact that the identity of his killers pointed directly to Mussolini, triggered a very grave crisis in the Fascist government.

That crisis was overcome only by the convergence of a number of factors: Mussolini’s political skill, the divisions within the opposition, and the weakness of the king, who was unwilling to ‘order the resignation of’ Mussolini, for fear of a ‘leap into the dark.’

In these situation, Mussolini was able to begin the most authoritarian phase of his regime.

The preliminary investigation against the murderers was influenced by the shifts in the political climate, and therefore developed in two distinct phases. In the first phase, from June to December of 1924, the investigation, conducted by Mauro Del Giudice and Umberto Tancredi, two capable and determined magistrates, pointed to a willful murder.
The magistrates achieved major steps forward, leading to the arrest not only of the actual material perpetrators of the murders, but also of the secondary instigators, Cesare Rossi and Giovanni Marinelli. The preliminary investigation not only proved the existence of the Fascist Ceka, but also succeeded in establishing its responsibility for quite a few crimes before the murder of Matteotti.

After January 1925, the preliminary investigation suffered from the resumption of political initiative by Mussolini and Fascism. By the spring of 1925, justice Del Giudice and Tancredi had been replaced by Nicodemo Del Vasto and Antonio Albertini, both indulgent toward the regime. Del Vasto was in fact Farinacci’s brother-in-law.
The two magistrates directed the preliminary investigation toward a theory of the involuntary nature of the murder. The government, in its turn, prepared to rescue those who had been arrested, both perpetrators and instigators. By July 31, 1925 a decree providing amnesty for all political crimes, explicitly meant to rescue Matteotti’s killers.

The verdict of the preliminary investigation, dated December 1st, 1925, found that the murder of Matteotti was involuntary, and called for the release from prison of Rossi and Marinelli. The trial of the five perpetrators, held in Chieti in March 1926, concluded with the acquittal of Malacria and Viola and the conviction of Volpi, Dumini, and Poveromo. They were however spared their sentence by the amnesty.

The body of historical research has been striving for decades to provide a thorough and adequate response to the important questions of who was responsible and what were the motives for the murder of Matteotti.

Until recently the proceedings of the Matteotti investigation have remained classified. In 1991 however, I was able to access full copies that Giuseppe Emanuele Modigliani, himself an antifascist who was the lawyer of the Matteotti family and fled Italy in 1925, brought with him to France and untrusted to Gaetano Salvemini.

These documents have made it possible:
a) to reconstruct the origins, the development and structure of the Fascist Ceka.
b) to establish the identity and the political personality of perpetrators and instigators: Dumini and his comrades were not five clumsy killers, as claimed by the prosecutors, but rather loyal and skilled soldiers of Fascism. These soldiers, with their silence, in complicity with the government, saved Fascism and Mussolini himself.
c) to reconstruct in a more detailed manner the phases of the planning and execution of the murder, making it very clear that the five killers received direct assistance from Mussolini and from the highest ranks of the National Fascist Party, before, during, and after the murder;
d) to establish in what amounts the personal guilt, both direct and indirect, of perpetrators and instigators.

From prison, Dumini managed to send several letters to his lawyer, Vaselli, who handed them over to Mussolini. In a passage from one of these letters he stated: “And you must know that in the Forni affair, as in all the others, we were only the perpetrators of the crime, just as Rossi and Marinelli were simply transmitting the orders. Is it clear that we are all dancing with a mine beneath our feet? And I don’t mean only the defendants.” In this phrase, the roles and the responsibilities of the Ceka are clearly laid out: Mussolini ordered the crime, Rossi and Marinelli “transmitted” Mussolini’s orders, and Dumini and his comrades perpetrated the crimes as commanded.

In another letter Dumini declared: “I, or perhaps I should say we, […] have the right and the duty to defend ourselves however we can—[…] because we have no intention of undergoing a terrible and irremediable punishment for a crime that we certainly did commit—but which was imposed upon us, and which we carried out—like so many others before it—with blind obedience, and only after we were assured in the most absolute terms complete criminal immunity.
These documents have also made it possible to emphasize the flimsiness of the political motive, which has been traditionally used to explain the crime as Mussolini’s reprisal for Matteotti’s bitter denunciation before the Chamber of Deputies on May 30th, 1924.

Records show however, that the murder was ordered ten days before May 30th. In a telegram dated May 20th, Dumini ordered several Milanese members of the Ceka to leave for Rome. On the morning of May 22nd, Ceka chief, Albino Volpi arrived in Rome, accompanied by three other members of the organization, Panzeri, Poveromo, and Viola.
The five gave false names at the Hotel Dragoni where they stayed. The Austrian, Otto Thierschwald, was charged with tailing Matteotti and keeping his home under surveillance. In short, the preliminary investigation determined that Matteotti’s killers, all of them Milanese arditi, gathered in Rome on May 22nd, and began tailing Matteotti on the following day.
The proceedings of the preliminary investigation also excluded that Dumini had nothing more in mind than to administer to Matteotti the traditional harsh clubbing, and that the ‘Fascist lesson’ ended in tragedy involuntarily.

Dumini himself was careful not to avail himself of that version in his defense, since he was aware of the unanimous testimony of passersbys who had witnessed the kidnapping.
The clear determination of the attackers to carry their victim away from the scene of the assault conflicted with the usual pattern of Fascist punitive expeditions, which normally ended with the “punished” victim bleeding on the asphalt.

Dumini further added that he had never planned or organized the kidnapping, but that it had been a spur-of-the-moment decision, taken in complete independence.
Records once again plainly contradict Dumini’s version. Several witnesses stated that the Lancia had been noticed the night before driving around Matteotti’s home. The investigation revealed that Dumini reported to the highest Fascist hierarchies; his name appeared in the pay-book of the ‘fondi neri’ (slush fund) of the prime minister’s press office. He operated under Rossi’s or Mussolini’s direct order.

It was highly improbable that he would undertake the kidnapping of such prominent figure as Matteotti.

Dumini must have feared that he was about to be abandoned by the regime, and – in another letter – wrote that he considered necessary: “a complete, cautious, and intelligent review of not only our entire trial history, but particularly, the entire line of action that I began on October 20th, 1924, the date on which I assumed complete responsibility—both planning and execution—for the Matteotti murder.

The records of the preliminary investigation therefore, leave little doubt that the killing of Matteotti was a premeditated, willful murder, executed at the command of the Fascist hierarchies.
In order to fully understand the reasons for the urgency and the apparent improvisation with which they acted, it is crucial to explore the question of the real motive for the murder, and the Ceka’s original plans.

The investigation’s record indicate that Dumini’s original plan was to kill Matteotti during his trip to Austria.

It is quite likely that if Matteotti had boarded the train, someone would have followed him and taken action in the Austrian capital. The investigators reached this conclusion from the deposition of the Austrian Cela member, Otto Thierschwald, who confessed that the release of Matteotti’s passport was meant to have the murder executed in Vienna.

Matteotti actually picked up the passport and persuaded the men of the Ceka that he was actually preparing to travel to Vienna. On that Saturday Dumini arranged to have the deputy’s home placed under close surveillance. When Thierschwald reported that Matteotti had not left his home, Dumini went to Rome’s Termini station to carefully inspect the train departing for Vienna.

On the following morning, the five were certain that Matteotti had not departed, and that he was planning to speak on June 11th, during the opening session of the Chamber of Deputies.
It was then, that the emergency plan for the criminal operation was put into action. Dumini sent a telegram to Volpi on the morning of the 8th, ordering him to “depart immediately” for Rome and to take with him the “skillful driver.” Volpi arrived in Rome on the morning of June 10th with Augusto Malacria who drove the Lancia Lambda.

The element of improvisation in the execution of the murder is explained by the haste imposed by Matteotti’s supposedly change of plans. The time available for them to act had shrunk to just two days, Monday the 9th and Tuesday the 10th of June. Since the library of the Chamber of Deputies was closed on Monday, the Ceka was left only the Tuesday to commit the murder.

Indeed, on June 10th, there were only two brief moments that were favorable for carrying out the kidnapping: when Matteotti left his home, at 3:30 pm, or when he returned home. The killers chose the first probably because it was easier to predict his departing time and because he would certainly be alone, while that could not be said for his return home.
Why did they want to prevent Matteotti from addressing the Chamber of Deputies?

As early as the day following Matteotti’s kidnapping, rumors had begun to circulate that his speech for June 11th, included the revelation of serious cases of corruption that involved high officials of the government and the National Fascist Party. Among these, he would have allegedly made explicit references to bribes accepted by Italian high officials in the Sinclair oil concessions.

The preliminary investigation also obtained depositions concerning the participation of the duce’s brother, Arnaldo Mussolini in the final phases of the negotiation of the agreement between the Fascist government and Sinclair Oil.

It all began in April 1924, when Matteotti, from Brussels, where he had traveled to take part in the congress of the Belgian Socialists, traveled in great secrecy to London to meet with high officials of the Labour Party.

We now know that he discussed with the Labour Party officials the negotiations that the Fascist government was conducting with the American company Sinclair Oil. These negotiations concerned exclusive concessions to Sinclair on oil exploration on Italian territory.

The Labour Party officials listened to his account with great interest, as the British government now owned the nationalized APOC, or Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the most powerful competitor of the American oil trust. In that period, the APOC was working to gain a foothold in the Italian market.

In Italy, the American Standard Oil exercised a full-fledged monopoly through SIAP, the Italian-American Oil Company, which controlled 80 percent of the market. But the growing Italian demand for oil had placed the Mussolini government in the presence of a clear alternative: either undertake an oil exploration policy that would progressively free the country from its dependence on Standard Oil, or else continue to depend on the American company for its oil supply.

The Sinclair Oil negotiations had begun through the Italian ambassador in Washington, Gelasio Caetani. In their first phase were conducted in Washington and New York, between Caetani and Harry Foster Bain, director of the U. S. Bureau of Mines, the federal agency that oversaw oil policies. Caetani, the scion of an aristocratic Roman family, was a mining engineer. He moved to New York at the turn of the twentieth century to study at Columbia University. He had worked for the Guggenheim group, and established working relationships with the leading American financial groups. In part because of these connections, Mussolini had appointed him Italian ambassador to the United States. When Caetani began to take interest in the activities of Sinclair Oil, he was also operating as a man trusted by the Guggenheim group. Likewise, Harry Foster Bain was tied to the Guggenheim group and to Sinclair Oil, and when, during the Harding administration, he became the director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, he transformed his office into a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil.

In the summer of 1923, Caetani had conveyed Sinclair Oil’s offer to Italy. He had no difficulties persuading Mussolini, who found collaboration in the minister of National Economy, Orso Mario Corbino, representative of the interests of the northern Italian electrical industrialists, but also, through his position as president of the Italian subsidiary of General Electric, allied with the Morgan Bank. Corbino had always maintained that it was necessary to open the Italian oil market to foreign capital, and so he quickly supported the Sinclair Oil project so fervently that he acted as an intermediary between Mussolini and the negotiator in Italy for the American oil company, the Sinclair vice president Arthur C. Veatch. The negotiations were successfully concluded with a verbal agreement between March 7th and 10th, 1924. In violation of the mining laws then in effect, the Italian government assigned Sinclair Oil an exclusive concession for oil exploration in Sicily and in northeastern Italy. The agreement allowed Sinclair Oil to exploit these vast areas for a period of ten years, because it was only after the expiration of that period that the agreement required the oil company to identify certain restricted areas in which to undertake production for the rest of the term of the concession: fifty years.
Moreover, the American oil company was given extraordinary tax benefits. The contract was something of a windfall for Sinclair. Mussolini demanded that Veatch keep the agreement secret at least until after the April 6th elections; this clearly showed that he knew the agreement, with the foreseeable cloud of suspicions and conjecture concerning the legitimacy of the operation, would make a tempting target for the opposition parties in the run-up to the election.

There is a particularly disconcerting aspect to the story: as increasingly worrisome news reports concerning the involvement of Sinclair Oil in the Teapot Dome scandal filtered back to Italy from the United States, Mussolini, instead of breaking off negotiations, accelerated them, finally concluding an agreement in the space of a few days. But once the agreement was stipulated, he refused to receive Veatch out of fear that news of any meetings might leak out and be published by the press. In fact, the official document signing took place on May 4th, 1924.
Upon his return to Italy from England, Matteotti showed an interest in the Sinclair Oil case. He wrote an article in mid-May 1924, though it was only published after his death, in July 1924, in the British magazine English Life. This article, titled Machiavelli, Mussolini and Fascism, is crucial to our understanding of his trip to London. Prior to that trip, Matteotti had never shown the slightest interest in the lengthy negotiations that preceded the signing of the oil exploration agreement.

In contrast, upon his return from England, in his article for an English magazine, he explicitly declared that he knew quite a few things about the agreement. It is therefore entirely reasonable to theorize that in London he had been given much more than just a few generic tips concerning the Sinclair case.

The article clears away any doubt on the matter: Matteotti definitely was persuaded that there had been corruption at work behind the agreement with Sinclair. It is worthwhile to point out that, even though the article was published, it has never been cited in the literature concerning Matteotti, because historians have always ignored its existence. It was however included among the exhibits of the preliminary investigation.

In that article, Matteotti stated that Sinclair Oil in Italy was nothing more than a pawn working on behalf of Standard Oil. Sinclair Oil – he wrote -“is connected with the octopus-like Standard Oil Trust.” After denouncing the agreement as contrary to national interest, Matteotti proceeded to make a statement that was pregnant with meaning and with consequences and constitutes the most significant part of the article:

“We are already aware – wrote Matteotti – of many grave irregularities concerning this concession. High officials can be charged with treasonable corruption or of the most disgraceful jobbery”.

The other question that has always haunted all attempts to interpret this matter can be summarized as follows: did the Fascist government actually fear Matteotti’s presence on June 11th? And if so, why?

The investigation papers prove that in fact the government did fear the beginning of the parliamentary session, and expected an attack on the “Sinclair concessions.” The evidence takes the form of a telegram sent in early June, in the name of the Minister of National Economy, to the Italian embassy in Washington: “Urgently required by the tenth of this month information requested in my telegram 2475 especially concerning relations existing between Sinclair and Standard and Anglo Persian.”

The words (“by the tenth of this month”) clearly show that this was not a routine request. If we recall that on June 11th the Chamber of Deputies was scheduled to open again, with a discussion of the estimated national budget, we are led to conclude that the Mussolini government, in the person of the minister with jurisdiction, expected to be called upon by the opposition to account for its actions with respect to the Sinclair concessions.

Concerning the link between the profit motive and Machiavelli, Mussolini and Fascism, the political motive, there is an invaluable report from Epifanio Pennetta, the chief of the office of judicial police who stated that the motive for the murder was not to be sought in the “political reasons alone, but rather in the need to silence the Honorable Matteotti who was determined to stir up a scandal against the financial groups, in their relationships with politicians.”

Pennetta confirmed: “From the moment I began investigating this murder I had the impression, concerning the motive, that aside from the political motives, there were other motives of a financial nature. The material perpetrators and their instigators were evidently immediately bent on a political vendetta; others instead would take advantage of their state of mind for the defense of their personal interests.”

Pennetta continued with an interesting version of the negotiations that had led to the final version of the Sinclair concessions. “It is well known that the Sinclair company asked for exploitation rights to all the oil deposits in Italy. When that request was met with serious objections, the Sinclair company pretended to be satisfied with the regions of Sicily and Emilia, with the involvement of the Nafta company of Genoa for the coastal deposits and the Saper company for the other regions. To all appearances, the two companies were in competition with the Sinclair company, while in fact they were in cahoots with Sinclair.” Pennetta concluded that the Honorable Matteotti “intended to stir up a scandal in the Chamber of Deputies in relation to the oil agreement.” Also, the judicial investigator stated that Sinclair Oil, apparently independent, was actually working in concert with Standard Oil.

Other statements corroborate this thesis. One of the killers, Amleto Poveromo, as early as the years 1935 and 1936, explained that the objective of the Matteotti kidnapping was in fact to take documents that were in his possession.

Subsequently, in the wake of the insurrection of April 25th, 1945, after he had been taken prisoner by the partisans, he stated that, in the days prior to the murder, Dumini had told him that it was necessary to kidnap Matteotti, because the parliamentarian “was going to make a major speech to the Chamber of Deputies and that it was therefore important to get the documents that he had with him because they were embarrassing for Mussolini and the Party.”

In July 1945, when he was questioned by the magistrate running the preliminary investigation in Milan, he stated that he had learned “from Volpi of the existence of an order, though he did not know who had given it, to kidnap the Honorable Matteotti and take his documents from him.” He further reported that on the night of June 10th, after their return to Rome, Dumini had immediately left again “with the {borsa}, in order to deliver it, I believe, to Marinelli and to Cesare Rossi.” Confirmation of the veracity of this business interests came in the mid-1980s with the discovery and publication of the testament of Dumini.

Released from prison, he had begun to annoy Mussolini, demanding proper compensation for the role he had played as the savior of the regime in the Matteotti affair. Dumini was convinced that Mussolini had no intention of negotiating with him, and fearful for his physical safety, wrote an account of the Matteotti murder, which he managed to smuggle to the law offices of a pair of lawyers in Texas, Martin Arnold and Hugh L. Robertson. He immediately thereafter informed the highest ranks of the PNF (or National Fascist Party) of the existence, outside of Italy, of a document describing the murder. In his written account, he revealed that the order to kill Matteotti had been given to him for reasons that were both political and financial in nature.
Matteotti represented “the only genuine serious adversary of Fascism.” Dumini reported that in Fascist circles, it was an accepted fact that Matteotti’s imminent parliamentary offensive against the Mussolini administration would focus “as much on financial policy as on the scandals that had erupted and then subsided in connection with the oil business.”

Dumini confirms that the decision to kill Matteotti was based on the “menacing presence of the file on petroleum, and the fear that it might be presented in the Italian parliament.” According to Dumini, in Fascist circles, there was a certainty that Matteotti was in possession of the “proof of certain frauds in which were involved—in a malodorous and regrettable lack of ethical rigor—a certain deal linked to oil, the stock exchange, and foreign currency; it even appeared that the brother of the head of the government was implicated in these dealings.”
Poveromo’s reference to the documents that were handed over by Dumini to the two instigators, Rossi and Marinelli, brings up a final question: what finally happened to the documents that Matteotti had with him when he was kidnapped? The envelope made of heavy paper, bearing the emblem of the Chamber of Deputies, along with the documents that it contained, was never found, and continues to constitute a powerful argument in favor of those who claim that it is in the content of those documents that we should seek the motivation for his murder.


Observations on war and warfare in the Middle East on the 100th Anniversary of World War I

October 17, 2014
by Lawrence Gulotta

Observations on war and warfare in the Middle East on the 100th Anniversary of World War I:

The Arabs, like the British & French, could be savage but I’m skeptical that the level of savagery ever reached the intensity of today’s barbarisms in Iraq and Syria.  Trench warfare in WWI was barbaric. Desert warfare was savage and cruel.  Suicide bombing was not used by the Arabs during the various WWI campaigns involving Lawrence.  I’m aware of Japan’s use of the suicide bomber and all the ritual display of piety to the Sun God and Emperor. I’ve seen the Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian sects performing comparable religious rituals preparing for martyrdom.  The Japanese targeted warships and the Arabs have targeted civilians. The FLN in Algeria is often cited as precedent for terrorist action against colonialist patrons at pizzerias, cafes, bus stops, markets, train stations. The attacks against civilian colonial French were murderous actions but not suicide bombings, per se. Who can ever forget the Gillo Pontecorvo’s movie, “Battle of Algiers” (  ). With the latest Gaza-Israel war still smoldering, we have seen truly deadly,  bizarre behavior from Hamas and the deaths of approximately 2,200 innocent civilians in Gaza. It is impossible to fight a conventional war against Hamas without committing a war crime. The conflict is designed to achieve this end. War crimes are the lingua franca of modern wars. Both sides commit war crimes. The Middle East has devolved into  a war crimes zone. War crimes can materialize at anytime and place.

There is some mention of using civilians as shields during WWI & II but it doesn’t appear to be the modus vivendi for nation state armies. You can find examples of city-states or small nation states, or ghettos, whose people’s backs were against the wall and you will not find anything comparable to Hamas’ use Gazan children, though the stories are also horrifying.  If you fight against Hamas you will commit war crimes. It is part of the definition of warfare in the Region.  David Mc Reynolds calls Hamas “irresponsible.” Certainly a starting point but adolescents are irresponsible. Hamas shouldn’t be treated like a haughty adolescent, or an errant child. If you are a “non-nation state,”  I suppose you may think you can get away with barbarism and war crimes.

 The latest revelations concerning the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens continues the bloody,  surreal, byzantine subterranean saga of the Palestinian Arab at war. Kidnapping and murder are the preferred method to “spark” conflict. Ransoming of kidnapped victims has become a  dependable income stream for ISIS. The income stream from ransom activity could be collateralized  for more weapons purchases and military aide.  ISIS is inclined to commit war crimes establishing its reactionary Caliphate. “Who lost the Tigris and Euphrates ?”

The Syria is littered with war crimes committed by the Assad government as well as the appalling human rights violations and crimes committed by the Opposition.

I believe it is a mistake to ignore  war crimes committed during Protective Edge 2014 by either side.  The Hamas military’s use of civilians is scandalous and criminal. The apparent disproportionate use of force by Israel in areas of civilian habitation is intolerable. Hamas & Hzbollah use homes and apartment buildings as sites for missiles and storage of missiles. The statement by Marjorie Cohn needs a re-write. It needs to find balance and proportion in the assignment of blame for war crimes, especially when the Middle East itself is an enduring war crimes zone.


Beyond “Battle of Algiers” The Middle East as a War Crimes Zone.

August 24, 2014
by Lawrence Gulotta

There was savagery in the deserts of the Middle East during World War I. Interestingly,  the historic internecine conflict between  Sunni & Shite  did not play  a major role.

I’ve recently read  “Lawrence In Arabia ” War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson (     ) and attended a lecture by Michael V. Korda, author of  “The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.”    (  The author was joined by Dr.Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State,  with  New Yorker magazine writer Adam Gopnik moderating,  at the Society of Ethical Culture Auditorium on Central Park West at a New York Historical Society event.  During his tenure as editor-and-chief at Simon & Schuster, he worked with Dr. Kissinger on his various books and they have remained friends.  I thought Dr. Kissinger served as Korda’s  “hood-ornament”  at the podium. Korda’s presentation was spirited and accompanied by visuals. I have not yet read his book.

My perspective on the Great War has been sharpened by Margaret MacMillan’s “The War that Ended Peace;  the road to 1914. ”{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A6%22}

Based on this brilliant, though limited introduction, I offer the following observations on war and warfare in the Middle East on the 100th Anniversary of World War I:

The Arabs, like the British & French, could be savage but I’m skeptical that the level of savagery ever reached the intensity of today’s barbarisms in Iraq and Syria.  Trench warfare in WWI was barbaric. Desert warfare was savage and cruel.  Suicide bombing was not used by the Arabs during the various WWI campaigns involving Lawrence.  I’m aware of Japan’s use of the suicide bomber and all the ritual display of piety to the Sun God and Emperor. I’ve seen the Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian sects performing comparable religious rituals preparing for martyrdom.  The Japanese targeted warships and the Arabs have targeted civilians. The FLN in Algeria is often cited as precedent for terrorist action against colonialist patrons at pizzerias, cafes, bus stops, markets, train stations. The attacks against civilian colonial French were murderous actions but not suicide bombings, per se. Who can ever forget the Gillo Pontecorvo’s movie, “Battle of Algiers” (  ). With the latest Gaza-Israel war still smoldering, we have seen truly deadly,  bizarre behavior from Hamas and the deaths of approximately 2,200 innocent civilians in Gaza. It is impossible to fight a conventional war against Hamas without committing a war crime. The conflict is designed to achieve this end. War crimes are the lingua franca of modern wars. Both sides commit war crimes. The Middle East has devolved into  a war crimes zone. War crimes can materialize at anytime and place.

There is some mention of using civilians as shields during WWI & II but it doesn’t appear to be the modus vivendi for nation state armies. You can find examples of city-states or small nation states, or ghettos, whose people’s backs were against the wall and you will not find anything comparable to Hamas’ use Gazan children, though the stories are also horrifying.  If you fight against Hamas you will commit war crimes. It is part of the definition of warfare in the Region.  David Mc Reynolds calls Hamas “irresponsible.” Certainly a starting point but adolescents are irresponsible. Hamas shouldn’t be treated like a haughty adolescent, or an errant child. If you are a “non-nation state,”  I suppose you may think you can get away with barbarism and war crimes.

 The latest revelations concerning the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens continues the bloody,  surreal, byzantine subterranean saga of the Palestinian Arab at war. Kidnapping and murder are the preferred method to “spark” conflict. Ransoming of kidnapped victims has become a  dependable income stream for ISIS. The income stream from ransom activity could be collateralized  for more weapons purchases and military aide.  ISIS is inclined to commit war crimes establishing its reactionary Caliphate. “Who lost the Tigris and Euphrates ?”

I believe it is a mistake to ignore  war crimes committed during Protective Edge 2014 by either side.  The Hamas military’s use of civilians is scandalous and criminal. The apparent disproportionate use of force by Israel in areas of civilian habitation is intolerable. Hamas & Hzbollah use homes and apartment buildings as sites for missiles and storage of missiles. The statement by Marjorie Cohn needs a re-write. It needs to find balance and proportion in the assignment of blame for war crimes, especially when the Middle East itself is an enduring war crimes zone.

This is the statement by Marjorie Cohn

National Lawyers Guild, Other Legal Organizations Urge International Criminal Court to Investigate War Crimes by Israeli, U.S. Leaders in Gaza

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Center for Constitutional Rights, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Arab Lawyers Union, and American Association of Jurists (Asociación Americana de Juristas)sent a letter on Friday, August 22 to Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging her to initiate an investigation of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity committed by Israeli leaders and aided and abetted by U.S. officials in Gaza.  Under the Rome Statute, the ICC has the power to hold individuals criminally accountable for the most serious of crimes.

“In light of the extreme gravity of the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, in particular the large number of civilian casualties and large scale destruction of civilian property, including schools, mosques and hospitals, and the ongoing incitement to genocide perpetrated by Israeli political figures and leaders, the [NLG] and endorsing organizations strongly urge the Office of the Prosecutor to use its power under Article 15 of the Rome Statute to initiate a preliminary investigation” of crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“[Under the Rome Statute, an] individual can be convicted of a war crime, genocide or a crime against humanity  . . . if he or she ‘aids, abets or otherwise assists’ in the commission or attempted commission of the crime, ‘including providing the means for its commission’,” the letter reads.  “By transferring financial assistance, weapons and other military aid to Israel, members of the U.S. Congress, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have aided and abetted the commission of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity by Israeli officials and commanders in Gaza.”

The letter states that on July 20, 2014, in the midst of criminal behavior, Israel requested, and the U.S. Defense Department then authorized, the transfer to Israel of ammunition from the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition.  And in August 2014, Congress overwhelmingly approved, and Obama signed, a $225 million payment for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

“Israel’s clearly disproportionate use of force against the 1.8 million residents of Gaza appears to have little to do with any claim of security,” the organizations wrote, “but seems to be calculated to exact revenge against Palestinian civilians.”  The letter quotes statements of Israeli officials advocating vengeance against “the entire Palestinian people” and “calling for the internment of Palestinians in concentration camps in Sinai and the destruction of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza.”

Allegations of War Crimes

The letter lists the following war crimes, and cites supporting factual allegations for each crime:

  • willful killing (over 2,000 Palestinians, 80% civilians)
  • willfully causing great suffering or serious injury (wounding nearly 10,000 Palestinians, 2,200 children)
  • unlawful, wanton and unjustified extensive destruction and appropriation of property (tens of thousands of Palestinians lost homes, severe damage to infrastructure)
  • willful deprivation of fair trial rights (450 Palestinians held without charge or trial)
  • intentional attacks against civilians or civilian objects or humanitarian vehicles, installations and personnel (bombing of numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances, mosques)
  • intentionally launching unjustified attacks, knowing they will kill or injure civilians, damage civilian objects, or cause long-term and severe damage to the natural environment (use of ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations,” as defined in UN Human Rights Council [Goldstone] Report) (Israel virtually flattened town of Khuza’a).

Allegations of Genocide

Article 6 of the Rome Statute defines “genocide” as the commission of any of the following acts with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily harm to members of the group; or (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part.

The letter says, “In light of the fact that Palestinians in Gaza had no ability to flee for safety, it must be assumed the responsible Israeli officials knew that huge casualties and destruction of civilian property and infrastructure were certain during the massive bombardment by land, air and sea of the occupied Gaza Strip.”  The letter also lists “the repeatedly inciting public statements made by Israeli officials before and during the course of Operation Protective Edge and the history of Israel’s repeated bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps and populations in Lebanon and in Gaza” as evidence that “Israeli officials may be implementing a plan to destroy the Palestinian population, at least in part.”

Allegations of Crimes against Humanity

Article 7 of the Rome Statute defines “crimes against humanity” as the commission of any of the following, when part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) murder; (b) persecution against a group or collectivity based on its political, racial, national, ethnic or religious character; or (c) the crime of apartheid(inhumane acts committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another racial group, with the intent to maintain that regime).

The letter states, “Israeli forces have killed, wounded, summarily executed and administratively detained Palestinians, Hamas forces and civilians alike.  Israeli forces intentionally destroyed the infrastructure in Gaza.”  It also says Israel keeps Palestinians caged in “the world’s largest open air prison,” and “controls all ingress and egress to Gaza, and limits . . . access to medicine and other essentials.”  Finally, the letter cites arbitrary arrest and administrative detention; expropriation of property; destruction of homes, crops and trees; separate areas and roads; segregated housing, legal and educational systems for Palestinians and Jews; the illegal barrier wall encroaching on Palestinian territory; hundreds of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land; and denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland because they are not Jews.

The signatories to the letter conclude that “[t]he initiation of an investigation would send a clear message to all involved either in committing or in aiding and abetting of the aforementioned crimes that they stand to be held personally accountable for their actions.”

It remains to be seen whether the ICC will exercise jurisdiction in such a case since neither Israel nor the United States is a party to the Rome Statute.  But if the ICC determines that Palestine can accede to the Rome Statute, the ICC could take jurisdiction over crimes committed by Israelis and Americans in Palestinian territory.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is also deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the U.S. representative to the American Association of Jurists (Asociación Americana de Juristas).  Her next book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues, will be published in September 2014.

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor Reprinted from the New York Times

Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism

ISIS Atrocities Started With Saudi Support for Salafi Hate

Last week, Saudi Arabia donated $100 million to the United Nations to fund a counterterrorism agency. This was a welcome contribution, but last year, Saudi Arabia rejected a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. This half-in, half-out posture of the Saudi kingdom is a reflection of its inner paralysis in dealing with Sunni Islamist radicalism: It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it.


Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe.

Most Sunni Muslims around the world, approximately 90 percent of the Muslim population, are not Salafis. Salafism is seen as too rigid, too literalist, too detached from mainstream Islam. While Shiite and other denominations account for 10 percent of the total, Salafi adherents and other fundamentalists represent 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.


Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates.
I lived in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city, Jidda, in 2005. That year, in an effort to open closed Saudi Salafi minds, King Abdullah supported dialogue with people of other religions. In my mosque, the cleric used his Friday Prayer sermon to prohibit such dialogue on grounds that it put Islam on a par with “false religions.” It was a slippery slope to freedom, democracy and gender equality, he argued — corrupt practices of the infidel West.
This tension between the king and Salafi clerics is at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s inability to reform. The king is a modernizer, but he and his advisers do not wish to disturb the 270-year-old tribal pact between the House of Saud and the founder of Wahhabism (an austere form of Islam close to Salafism). That 1744 desert treaty must now be nullified.



Dr. Ziad Majed

Professor for International Relations, American University (Paris)

Right and Left against the revolution

24. May. 2013

Support to Syria revolution against Assad regime in Yemen. Picture: FreedomHouse2, Original:, License: CC BY 2.0

Why is it that the far Right and certain far-Left groups in a number of Western nations agree in their hostility to the Syrian revolution?For a while now this question has nagged at a number of Syrian friends, who have been shocked by the positions and commentary of various writers and journalists, all of whom criticize the revolution from an overtly hostile perspective, or even defending the regime.

We may go further: Why is it that the Syrian revolution fails to mobilize activist circles within global (or “Western”) civil society, despite the media’s near constant coverage of events and the consequent fact that there exist thousands of images and films depicting the tragedies that Syrians are living through?

The answer to this question appears to be complex, dependent on a set of factors, which are governed both by aspects of the political and cultural perspective on the Arab region as well as the political and ethical standards that guide stances and written opinions on the region’s affairs. These influences contrive to make sympathy or solidarity with the revolution very timid, at least when compared with the zeal with which attacks on the revolution are expressed.

The “complexity”

One of these factors is the fact that many political parties and movements are afraid of taking positions on “conflicts” in the Middle East. They sidestep the issue by pleading their “complexity”: too much wars and conflicts, and increasingly divisive religious sectarianism, many of whose effects might reach out across the Mediterranean to its northern shores.

Another factor is the culturalistic approach employed by researchers whose task is to compare and categorize global issues and conflicts, especially those associated with the Arabs and their countries. To these culturalists, Arabs appear to be a people who “favour violence as a means of resolving conflict”, drink deep from the well of extremism and whose ability to shrug off the burden of Oriental despotism and move to democracy or liberation is ever in doubt. Seen in this way, the violence that accompanies the revolution is not exceptional, not in a broader context of perpetual civil war, and neither does it call for outrage or urgent action.


One more important issue is Islamophobia, embraced by the extreme Right for racist reasons, and by certain Left-leaning groups on the pretext of espousing secularism, freedoms and women’s rights. So it is that the wordsmiths of the far-Right find common ground with certain individuals on the far-Left in their support for the Assad clan, the first motivated by hostility to “Islamists”, the second by their “secularizing and modernizing discourse”. To these we may add the “minorities” obsessives, whose constant, wretched refrain is the threat posed by the “majority”. To summarize or translate, all of the above might justify the murder of Syrians on the basis that they are socially conservative Islamists and prefer tyranny because it oppresses the majority to keep the minority safe and sound.In this they commit a grave moral failing and give voice to a religious racism and assorted stereotypes diametrically opposed to the human rights and progressive values they claim to respect.

Yet another aspect is the ease with which many political activists have surrendered to conspiracy theories, out of fascination, the desire to give an impression of understanding the way things really work and a conviction that international relations are essentially malevolent in nature. Some on the Left are pretty much addicted to this kind of thing, though they lost their monopoly on their production some time ago now. Bolstered by such beliefs, they refuse to look at the Syrian people, their aspirations and their sufferings and instead make do with clichéd claims about international relations and regional conflicts in terms that explain the “hidden truth” behind the surface appearance.

The conspiracy-theory

The conspiracy-theory is closely linked to another matter: the condescending attitude displayed by certain progressive writers and opinion-makers in analyzing issues that affect populations in the Arab world. They tend to ignore questions such as human dignity and individual freedom, and they rarely touch on aspects of political sociology in their analysis. What concerns them are borders, oil, geo-strategy, the influential roles of regional states and the “decisions” the West makes about them. Some, of course, look to China and Russia, hoping a return to the Cold War. In this they too touch on racism, albeit from a position of “defending” what they consider to be “the interests of Arab world” against “Western imperialism”, dealing with whole nations as if they were abstract entities devoid of flesh-and-blood people with rights of their own, or as if these populations were mindless, mute monoliths whose progress must always be plotted for them, misled by Western lies and mobilized by the media (as if by remote-control). The only solution? To rally around the one who “protects” them from “foreign attack”, even if he crushes them in the process.

There are also those intellectuals and thinkers, many of whom have bravely championed the Palestinian cause, who have steadfastly refused to back the Syrian revolution pleading their fear of Syria’s fragmentation and the spread of chaos, a situation which would “play into Israel and America’ hands” as they say.

Finally, we have those western writers whose fame and credibility rests on decades spent resident in Arab countries criticizing their home countries’ policies towards the region, who are now ready to lie and deceive just to keep their place in the spotlight, stir controversy and counter what they portray as complacent “mainstream” attitudes in their media. Now of course, these mainstream attitudes are no longer in conflict with the “humanist” values they always claimed to take into account.

We could add other factors, of course: the viewer-fatigue and boredom displayed by large segments of Western public opinion towards Arab revolutions, particularly in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral triumphs in Egypt and Tunisia, the war in Libya and the protracted nature of the Syrian revolution itself. We could mention the geographical location of the Levant, the US’s failure in the post-Saddam experience in Iraq, the (legitimate) doubts over roles played by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria and the region, and concerns over the impact of Syrian instability on the region as a whole (Israel first and foremost). No must we forget the exertions of the Syrian regime and its allies (Lebanese and Arab, plus a few European “experts”) who disseminated articles and information (sometimes fabricated and sometimes correct but taken out of context) about the revolutionaries, their activities and the horrors awaiting Christians in Syria and the Levant as a whole.

The Syrian regime and the revolt

All these factors combine to efface the underlying truth, which is uncomplicated and demands no great effort to take a reasonable moral and political position on it: the majority of a population in revolt against a regime that has ruled Syria since 1970, in which time it has shown not the slightest hesitation to commit massacres, to imprison citizens, to rob and exile them, all for the sake of holding on to its (dynastic) power and (mafia-like) privileges. As for talk of regional and international conflicts, of interests and political manifestos and alliances and fears, it certainly has a place in forming positions on this revolution (whether on the Right or Left) and should be expressed, but only after a firm position on the original issue has been stated: the Syrian people’s right to fight until they turn the page of 43 years of tyranny.

To conclude, the Syrian revolution today is not just fighting a brutal regime like the Assad regime, but it is also fighting this regime’s allies – Russia and Iran especially – and furthermore it is dealing with the putrid concepts, alternately racist, indifferent and immoral, bandied about by many Leftists and “anti-imperialists”. Until now, and for many reasons that should be looked into, it has not possessed a political leadership or media office responding regularly to all its enemies and their arguments. To make up for this lack so far, it is counting on bravery and perseverance, on exceptionally courageous and creative intellectuals, artists and activists, and on a great store of patience and hope which has allowed it to soldier on; a store not likely to be exhausted even as the pressure grows and difficulties mount, both within Syria and around it.


Posted by: Danny Postel <>

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I’m posting this to the Middle East list and want to make, briefly, some points.

First, I have no idea what contact the German author has with the American Left, but with the exception of a tiny fragment of the Left, which is supporting Assad (the same fragments supported Saddam Hussein), if there is a lack of support for the democratic revolutionary forces in Syria you can find the reason by skipping to the last paragraph – the failure of the “Syrian Revolution” to define itself, to achieve clear
leadershp. (I do not mock the opposition to Assad by quotes – but to underline the hard reality that the opposition to Assad includes a broad range of groups, some of which have pretty bad records of human rights violations – as does the Assad regime).

Second, assuming that all of us are united in opposing ISIS, it does not help the author’s position to argue that Assad is supported by Russia and Iran. It is true, they do support Assad, but the “rebel factions” which have no common front, no clear leadership, ar supported by the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Third, the Syrian tragedy is just that – a monumental tragedy. I do not have an answer for it – neither does the German author. There is a profound danger that if Assad is simply overturned we will see in Syria a repeat of events in Libya.
If I urge an end to all foreign arms to Syria (and I do), that is not an answer because I have no way to enforce it. Most tragic, many of those who are part of the US coalition against ISIS have made it clear that their priority is not the defeat of ISIS, but the defeat of Assad!!

David McReynolds
New York City