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By any measure, Charles de Gaulle was one of the greatest and most visionary statesmen of the twentieth century.  In France's darkest hour, amid military collapse and German occupation in 1940, he escaped to London and called upon his compatriots to carry on a struggle that most of them believed to be lost.  Four years later, he returned in triumph to head a provisional postwar government, from which he resigned two years later, frustrated by political squabbling and a return to business as usual.  In 1958, he was called out of retirement to avoid the danger of civil war resulting from a disastrous colonial war in Algeria.  He ended the war in Algeria, oversaw a mostly smooth transition to independence in the rest of France's remaining colonies, and preserved democracy and the rule of law in France itself, introducing a new constitution that remains in force today.  An early advocate of European integration, he built a strong partnership with France's longtime enemy, (West) Germany, and at the height of the Cold War, dared to dream of a Europe united "from the Atlantic to the Urals."  For the United States, he was an often difficult ally, and was a particularly outspoken critic of the American war in Vietnam, criticism inspired in no small part by France's own experience with costly and ultimately futile wars of decolonization.

One fact often forgotten today, as public opinion in France (as throughout Europe and much of the world) has turned increasingly against Israel and in favor of the Palestinian cause, is that France was once a strong supporter, ally, and trade partner of Israel, cooperating, notably, in the disastrous Suez invasion of 1956.  France was the first European nation to grant full civil rights to the Jews (in 1791), and was (and is) home to a substantial Jewish population, many of whom initially saw the Zionist project, with its social-democratic aspirations, as parallel to France's own republican tradition.  All of that changed in 1967, when Israel, as the result of a victorious war against its Arab neighbors, brought the west bank and Gaza under military occupation.

I recently came across several statements made by De Gaulle, then in his ninth year as president of France, regarding the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, which in light of current events struck me as amazingly prophetic.  As diplomatic tensions between Israel and Egypt escalated in the early months of 1967, De Gaulle appealed to both nations to preserve the peace.  On May 24, De Gaulle, at this point still an ally of Israel, gave the following warning to the Israeli Foreign Minister:

"Don't make war.  You will be considered the aggressor by the world and by me.  You will cause the Soviet Union to penetrate more deeply into the Middle East, and Israel will suffer the consequences.  You will create a Palestinian nationalism, and you will never get rid of it."

Of course, this well-meaning warning was ignored, and war broke out soon thereafter.  With American arms and assistance, Israel quickly defeated its enemies and occupied territories overwhelmingly inhabited by Palestinians.  De Gaulle recognized the danger that this situation posed for peace in the Middle East, and for Israel's own existence as a democratic Jewish state, and warned on November 27:

"Now, Israel is organizing on the territories it holds an occupation which can only lead to oppression, repression, expulsions, and against which there is already a resistance, which Israel calls terrorism."

Nearly fifty years later, with seemingly endless bloodshed and the loss of innocent lives on both sides, these warnings appear especially prescient.  Israel has consistently won the battle of arms, but the losses to its international reputation have been far more significant than any military objective it has been able to achieve, and much like France's own experience in the Algerian War, settler colonialism poses a deadly threat to its continued existence as a democratic state.  While I fear it may now be too late, the two-state solution, with Israel returning to the boundaries of 1967, remains the only path to a lasting peace.

[Note:  both De Gaulle quotes are taken from a recent book, Jay Winter and Antoine Prost, Rene Cassin and Human Rights:  From the Great War to the Universal Declaration (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 329-330.]

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Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 10:39 AM PDT

a purple state manifesto

by branch floridian

Like many (most?) people on this site, I followed the Zimmerman trial closely, and was deeply saddened and outraged by the verdict.  As a long-time Florida resident (though not a native Floridian), I felt the need to respond to the well-meaning, but in my mind, misguided, calls for a boycott of Florida that have appeared on this site.  I decided to call this diary "a purple state manifesto" because I think that much of what I have to say is relevant not just to Florida, but to other "purple states" like Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  So here goes:

Florida is a strange and confusing place.  We are an odd hodgepodge of the entire USA, with a few local quirks thrown in.  Greater Miami is as diverse and cosmopolitan as New York or Los Angeles.  The panhandle, aka the "redneck riviera," is the deep South.  The I-4 corridor, running from Tampa-St. Pete through Orlando to Daytona, is middle American suburbia, a traditional swing area that is now trending bluer.  We have very progressive liberals (Alan Grayson and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz come to mind), as well as paleo-conservatives and kleptocrats (like our current governor Rick Scott), and everything in between.  Florida has one of the largest Latino populations in the USA, and certainly the most diverse:  the Republican-leaning Cuban establishment is increasingly outflanked by Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and newcomers from throughout Central and South America.  Though often derided as "God's waiting room," Florida also has millions of young people.  When young people and minorities vote in Florida, Democrats win, as President Obama did in both 2008 and 2012.  When these constituencies stay home, as they did in 2010, we get stuck with people like Rick Scott.

This is part of a larger pattern in the purple states.  All of the states I mentioned in the first paragraph voted for President Obama in 2008, and were part of his historic victory, and are certainly integral to what Ruy Teixera called (perhaps a bit prematurely) "the new Progressive majority."  All but North Carolina also went for Obama again in 2012, and he almost carried NC again.  Unfortunately, in 2010, in an off-year election amid a terrible economy and (perhaps unrealistic) hopes that many progressives had for the Obama presidency, many infrequent voters stayed home, and we got governors Scott, Walker, Corbett, Kasich, McDonnell, etc, as well as Republican-led legislatures who gerrymandered the hell out of our purple states in post-2010 redistricting.  This dug a big hole that will take a long time for us to dig out of.  Since then, they have gutted public education, restricted women's rights, disenfranchised minority communities, and allowed ALEC and the Koch brothers to write our economic and environmental policies.

Are you disgusted by what these right-wing state governments have done in Florida and our other purple states?  Guess what?  So are we!  There are millions of progressives here in Florida and throughout the other purple states who are doing what we can to fight back.  But here's a thought:  instead of boycotts or gratuitous insults that won't change minds or policies, how about channeling your righteous anger toward helping us to boot these nut jobs out the door in 2014?  We could really use the help!  Whether your thing is making phone calls, knocking on doors, or donating money, help us win back Florida (and Wisconsin, and Ohio, and so on).  You'll not only feel better, but you'll make things better for millions of good people who deserve better than the abusive policies of the Tea Party and the snide condescension of the blue staters.

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