Born to Jewish parents in New York City on November 13, 1930, Richard Falk earned a BS degree in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1952, an LLB from Yale Law School in 1955, and an SJD from Harvard Law School in 1962. From 1955-61, he taught international law and criminal law at the Ohio State University College of Law. From 1961-2001, he was a professor of international law at Princeton University. And after his 2001 retirement from the Princeton faculty, he served as a Visiting Distinguished Professor at UC Santa Barbara. Today Falk is Professor Emeritus of International Law and Policy at Princeton University. During his long career in academia, he also taught at Stanford University and the University of Stockholm. He is the author or co-author of more than 20 books, and the editor or co-editor of numerous others. Moreover, Falk has written extensively for leftist websites such as CounterPunch and Znet.
Aside from his work in academia, Falk served variously as chairman and senior vice president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, where he is now a board of directors member. He is also a longtime editorial board member with The Nation. And he was formerly a prominent member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, which the CIA once characterized as “one of the most useful Communist front organizations at the service of the Soviet Communist Party.”
When Falk was a young man, he read and was influenced by the works of Karl Marx, Herbert Marcuse, and C. Wright Mills. In the 1960s he was a stalwart of the anti-war movement. On one occasion, Falk traveled as a peace activist to Communist North Vietnam. Over the course of his many years as an activist, one of Falk’s leading objectives was to “invok[e] international law as an appropriate restraint on American foreign policy.”
According to journalist Martin Peretz, Falk in the 1970s was “a defender of the Khmer Rouge,” the brutal Communist organization that ruled Cambodia from 1975-79 and was responsible for the deaths of millions.
In 1979 Falk was an enthusiastic supporter of the Ayatollah Khomeini, whom he hailed as a “liberator” of Iran. On February 16, 1979 – two weeks after Khomeini’s return to Iran after a 14-year exile – Falk penned an op-ed for the New York Times titled “Trusting Khomeini,” wherein he asserted that Khomeini’s closest advisers and appointees had “a notable record of concern for human rights.” Falk also wrote the following:
● “More than any Third World leader, he [Khomeini] has been depicted in a manner calculated to frighten.”
● “The news media have defamed him [Khomeini] in many ways, associating him with … virulent anti-Semitism” and “theocratic fascism.”
● “[T]he depiction of Khomeini as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false…. To suppose that Ayatollah Khomeini is dissembling seems almost beyond belief. … Having created a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on nonviolent tactics, Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane governance for a third-world country.”
In 1979 as well, Falk wrote:
● “[The Iranian Revolution] is amazingly non-violent in its tactics and orientation, despite extraordinary levels of provocation and incitement designed to induce violence. . . . One of the stereotypes that has been definitely fostered by the U.S. government to create confusion and resistance to the movement is that anything Islamic is necessarily reactionary. It is very important to clarify its real identity, which I think is progressive.”
● “The entourage around Khomeini, in fact, has had considerable involvement in human rights activities and is committed to a struggle against all forms of oppression. The constitution he proposes has been drafted by political moderates with a strong belief in minority rights. Contrary to the superficial reports in the American press about his attitude toward Jews, women, and others, Khomeini’s Islamic republic can be expected to have a doctrine of social justice at its core; from all indications, it will be flexible in interpreting the Koran, keeping the ‘book of research’ open to amendment and adaptation based on contemporary needs and aspirations.”
That same year, Falk compared the Soviet Union favorably to the United States: “[T]he Soviet role in the Third World has, up to this point, been less widely detrimental to the pursuit of human rights than has the American role.”
In the early 1980s, Falk was an endorser of a petition circulated by the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (NWFC), a Soviet-sponsored initiative that sought to further solidify the nuclear and military superiority which the USSR had gained during the post-Vietnam War era.
On May 1, 1982, at Princeton University, Falk was a panel speaker at a “Reconciliation with Vietnam” conference sponsored by an alliance of dedicated, hardcore members of the Socialist Workers Party, the CPUSA, and a number of CPUSA support groups and fronts.
In the early to mid-1980s, Falk was a board-of-directors member of Interlink, the U.S. affiliate of the Inter Press Service news agency. Fellow board members included such notables as Peter Weiss, Tom Harkin, and Dwain Epps of the World Council of Churches.
On March 14, 1986, Falk spoke at the New York Marxist School on the topic of political elections in the Philippines.
A strong advocate for “world government” and “global law,” Falk has called for the United Nations General Assembly to be given greater power to legislate and enforce its decisions. In 1999 he proposed, as an antidote to what he characterized as the rise of American fascism, the creation of a “Global Peoples’ Assembly” – a governing body whose members would “represent the worldwide voice of the people in action and decision making.” In practice, such an entity would be authorized to direct U.S. foreign and domestic policies, as well as the policies of other nations.
Falk also has recommended consideration of “allowing persons outside the United States to challenge policy affecting their well-being by way of binding referenda, or even by casting votes in national elections held within the United States.”
In an August 2002 article that he co-wrote seven months prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Falk stated: “Nothing in Iraq’s current behavior would justify a preemptive attack.” The “available alternatives to war,” he explained, included “the resumption of weapons inspections under United Nations auspices combined with multilateral diplomacy and a continued reliance on non-nuclear deterrence.” After the U.S. eventually attacked Iraq, Falk described the invasion as a “war of aggression” by America and its allies, and he likened it to the crimes of German Nazis in World War II.
In a 2003 article titled “Will the Empire be Fascist?” Falk portrayed such measures as the Patriot Act and the Domestic Security Enhancement Act as indicators of America’s “slide toward fascism.” He likewise condemned America’s “unaccountable military power,” its “uncritical and chauvinistic patriotism,” and its “authoritarian approach to law enforcement.”
In an interview conducted in 2003, Falk stated that “the domestic face of the American global design is revealed as a kind of proto-fascist mentality that is prepared to use extreme methods to reach its goals.” This, he added, was the sort of “mentality that is capable of fabricating a Reichstag fire as a pretext, so as to achieve more and more control by the state over supposed islands of resistance.”
In 2004, Falk attacked the Bush administration for what he called its “fascist conception of control” and “extremist American global strategy,”
Falk was one of 100 “prominent Americans” who signed an October 26, 2004 statement circulated by 911Truth.org which called for “immediate public attention to unanswered questions that suggest that people within the current [George W. Bush] administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.” Additional examples of how Falk gave credence to conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 include the following:
● In 2004, Falk wrote the foreword to the book The New Pearl Harbor, by David Ray Griffin, who has speculated that the 9/11 attacks were the result of an “inside job” whereby the Bush administration had foreknowledge of those attacks and yet permitted them to take place anyway, so as to create a pretext for subsequent military retaliation. “There have been questions raised here and there and allegations of official complicity made almost from the day of the attacks, especially in Europe,” wrote Falk, “but no one until Griffin has had the patience, the fortitude, the courage, and the intelligence to put the pieces together in a single coherent account.”
● In 2007, Falk came to the defense of Professor Ward Churchill, whom the regents at the University of Colorado were preparing to fire because of his incendiary comments regarding the 9/11 attacks. Specifically, Falk signed a statement that said: “All of us who value academic freedom should now stand in full solidarity with Ward Churchill. The outcome of his case at the University of Colorado is the best litmus test we have to tell whether the right-wing’s assaults on learning and liberty will stifle campus life in this country. Never in my lifetime have we in America more needed the sort of vigorous debate and creative controversy that Ward Churchill’s distinguished career epitomizes. We all stand to lose if his principled defense fails.”
● In March 2008, Falk told Kevin Barrett, co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, that he was skeptical about what he termed the “official version” of what had occurred on September 11, 2001. Said Falk: “It is possibly true that especially the neoconservatives thought there was a situation in the country and in the world where something had to happen to wake up the American people. Whether they are innocent about the contention that they made that something happen or not, I don’t think we can answer definitively at this point. All we can say is there is a lot of grounds for suspicion, there should be an official investigation of the sort the 9/11 commission did not engage in and that the failure to do these things is cheating the American people and in some sense the people of the world of a greater confidence in what really happened than they presently possess.”
● In a November 2008 piece titled “9/11: More Than Meets the Eye,” Falk wrote: “Any close student of 9/11 is aware of the many serious discrepancies between the official version of what took place and the actual happenings on that fateful day in 2001…. As far as I can tell, the real explanation is a widely shared fear of what sinister forces might lay beneath the unturned stones of a full and honest investigation of 9/11. Ever since the assassinations in the 1960s of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X there has been waged a powerful campaign against ‘conspiracy theory’ that has made anyone who dares question the official story to be branded as a kook or some kind of unhinged troublemaker. In this climate of opinion, any political candidate for high office who dared raise doubts about the official version of 9/11 would immediately be branded as unfit, and would lose all political credibility. It is impossible to compete in any public arena in the United States if a person comes across as a ‘9/11 doubter’.”
In mid-2008, Falk signed an online petition titled “An Open Letter to Barack Obama on Iran,” where the signatories told Democratic presidential candidate Obama that they were “deeply concerned about the stories in the press in the past few weeks suggesting that the Bush administration might be considering a military strike on Iran, that it might give a green light to such an attack by Israel, or that it might engage in other acts of war, such as imposing a blockade against Iran.” “We were heartened,” the letter added, “by your earlier comments suggesting that an Obama administration would act on the understanding that genuine security requires a willingness to talk without preconditions (something Iran has offered several times to no avail), and that threats and military action are counterproductive. We hope you will follow through on these commitments once in office, but also that you will speak out now against any acts of war by the Bush administration.”
In the wake of the deadly April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombings by two Muslim jihadists, Falk, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, suggested that the attacks were part of the post-colonial world’s natural and justifiable “resistance” to “the American global domination project”; that the police search for the perpetrators was in essence a “hysterical dragnet”; and that those who had been killed in the bombings were akin to proverbial “canaries” (in a coal mine) who “have to die” because of America’s “fantasy of global domination.” “In some respects,” wrote Falk, “the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks, and these may yet happen….”
Around 1980, Falk was listed as a “sponsor” of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC), a pro-PLO propaganda organization established in the late 1970s by James Zogby and John Zogby. According to KeyWiki.org: “The PHRC was an amalgamation of veteran Communist Party USA (CPUSA) members and supporters, Hanoi supporters …, black Marxists and extremist clergy, traditional PLO/Palestinian operatives and supporters, and white radical pro-PLO clergy.”
During the First Palestinian Intifada (late 1980s to early ’90s), Falk was a member of the Jewish Committee on the Middle East, an organization that advocated “a major change in U.S. Middle East policies and serious efforts to create a Palestinian State.” Fellow members included Joel Beinin and Noam Chomsky.
In 2002, while the Second Palestinian Intifada was in full swing, Falk drew a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli anti-terrorist measures. “Collective punishment of a people subject to the exigencies of a military occupation with territorial ambitions,” he wrote, “is clearly as much a form of terrorism as reliance on suicide bombers to explode deadly ordinance in places where innocent civilians abound.”
In April 2002, Falk revisited this theme of moral equivalence in an article he wrote for The Nation magazine, titled “Ending the Death Dance.” Some excerpts:
● “By designating only Palestinian violence as terrorism, Israel’s greater violence not only avoids stigma in the American context but has been officially validated by being treated as part of the struggle against terrorism.”
● “[W]hen a struggle over territory and statehood is being waged, it can and should be resolved at the earliest possible point by negotiation and diplomacy, [otherwise] the violence on both sides tends toward the morally and legally impermissible.”
● “When the Palestinians strike, their actions are never understood here [in the U.S.] as reactive and understandable, always provocative. Never has this been truer than with respect to the horrifying Passover bombing at Netanya and the equally horrifying Israeli incursion with tanks and helicopters throughout occupied Palestine.”
● “The same dynamic applies to the endless discussion about Yasir Arafat’s role. It is condemned, to varying degrees, while [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s bloody past is rarely mentioned.”
● “The Palestinian demonstrations that followed were notably nonviolent at the outset. Israel countered from the beginning by using excessive force, killing and seriously wounding demonstrators in large numbers, and by its practice of extrajudicial assassination of a range of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. At this point the escalatory spiral was initiated, with Israel acting with ever more force at each stage, ratcheting up the stakes to such a level that the Palestinians were being attacked with among the most sophisticated weapons of warfare, including very modern tanks and helicopter gunships. It was in the course of this process that Palestinian resistance gradually ran out of military options, and suicide bombers appeared as the only means still available by which to inflict sufficient harm on Israel so that the struggle could go on.”
Asserting also that “[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon is a much bigger obstacle to real peace than [Yasser] Arafat is or ever was,” Falk emphasized: “It is important to appreciate that on virtually every issue in contention, the Palestinians have international law on their side, including the Israeli duty to withdraw from land taken during a war, the illegality of the settlements under Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the right of refugees to a safe return to the country that wrongfully expelled them …”
In 2005, Falk wrote an article depicting Israel’s unilateral decision to withdraw from Gaza as a “gigantic exercise in diversionary politics.”
In June 2007, Falk published an article titled “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust,” in which he accused Israel of mistreating the Palestinians on a scale comparable to the Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews of Europe:
“Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy.”
Falk also insisted that the plight of the Palestinians was more horrific than that which had been suffered by the victims of the infamous genocide in Rwanda: “Gaza is morally far worse [than Rwanda], although mass death has not yet resulted.” In the same piece, he defended the genocidal terrorist organization Hamas:
“After winning the Palestinian elections, Hamas was castigated as a terrorist organization that had not renounced violence against Israel and had refused to recognize the Jewish state as a legitimate political entity. In fact, the behavior and outlook of Hamas is quite different. From the outset of its political Hamas was ready to work with other Palestinian groups, especially Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, to establish a ‘unity’ government. More than this, their leadership revealed a willingness to move toward an acceptance of Israel’s existence if Israel would in turn agree to move back to its 1967 borders, implementing finally unanimous Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
“Even more dramatically, Hamas proposed a ten-year truce with Israel, and went so far as to put in place a unilateral ceasefire that lasted for eighteen months, and was broken only to engage in rather pathetic strikes mainly taking place in response to Israeli violent provocations in Gaza. As Efraim Halevi, former head of Israel’s Mossad was reported to have said, ‘What Israel needs from Hamas is an end to violence, not diplomatic recognition.’ And this is precisely what Hamas offered and what Israel rejected.”
In March 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) officially appointed Falk to a six-year term as a “United Nations Special Rapporteur” (UNSR) on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” In Falk’s words, the purpose of this commission was “to ask whether Israel has used excessive force in responding to the Palestinian political demonstrations.”
In May 2008, Israel, objecting to Falk’s long history of incendiary rhetoric against the Jewish state, refused to allow him to enter the country as a UN representative.
In his position as UNSR, Falk routinely ignored Hamas’s deliberate efforts to murder Jews and to incite others to do the same. As the National Post reported in November 2011: “Falk takes pains to portray Hamas as ‘the elected government’ of Gaza – never mind that that the group seized power by throwing opponents off rooftops and shooting them in hospital beds. He speaks of a personal mission ‘to describe the actuality of Hamas’s position on contested issues.’ Falk’s support for the terrorist group is so extreme that even the Palestinian Authority – as revealed in a Wikleaks cable, and which Falk himself admits – has sought to remove him, on grounds that he is a ‘partisan of Hamas’.”
Falk’s initial report as UN Special Rapporteur – issued in August 2008 and summarized in a statement that Falk delivered to a General Assembly committee in October 2008 – repeated the narrative of the victimization of Palestine at the hands of Israel. Indeed, the report criticized Israeli roadblocks and the security fence built between Israel and the West Bank, without acknowledging that those barriers had been installed as last-resort measures in response to the stream of Palestinian terrorists infiltrating into Israeli population centers and detonating their suicide bombs. Falk also failed to note the recent removal of various roadblocks in the West Bank and the opening of intersections adjacent to Hebron and Shavei Shomron for Palestinian traffic.
In the same report, Falk blamed Israel for the health conditions in the West Bank and Gaza without acknowledging that Israel had granted permission for tens of thousands of Palestinians to enter Israel for medical treatment, despite the risk of terrorist infiltration. He condemned restrictions on the importation of goods to Gaza, without acknowledging the vast amount of arms smuggled into Gaza that prompted those restrictions. And he portrayed Hamas simply as “a concerned government” that had been “administering the Gaza Strip” ever since it “took over the administrative control in Mid June 2007.”
Missing entirely from Falk’s report was any mention of the multitudinous terrorist acts committed by Hamas, not only against Israeli citizens, but also against fellow Palestinians belonging to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas‘s Fatah party. In Falk’s calculus, the anti-Israel terrorists were merely exercising their “right to resist.” Thus he blamed everything on Israel, claiming that the Jewish state’s self-protective measures to stamp out terrorism at its source were, in essence, “persisting gross violations of the Geneva Conventions.”
In his October 2008 address to the UN General Assembly, Falk cited the continued “abuse of international humanitarian law” associated with the “separation wall”; “children fatalities due to Israeli use of excessive force” to quell supposedly nonviolent demonstrations; and abuses against Palestinians at border crossings. Falk also said it did not matter that Hamas continued to reject even the most minimal conditions for a truly peaceful solution – i.e., recognition of Israel’s right to exist, affirmation of past agreements with the Palestine Authority, and renunciation of terrorism. Rather, he maintained that UN money should continue to flow to Gaza, no matter what, and that Israel had no right to expect any assurances of security for its people because “oppressors” were not entitled to peace without “justice” for their “victims.”
When Israel in December 2008 launched Operation Cast Lead, an anti-terror campaign in Gaza, Falk repeatedly denounced all Israeli defense operations – including the seizure of Gaza-bound ships laden with weaponry – as “war crimes” deserving of Nuremberg-style indictments. He condemned the Jewish state for its “severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law”; for imposing “collective punishment” on the Palestinians; and for “targeting civilians” with its “disproportionate military response.” Falk also impugned the United States for being “complicit … in Israel’s violations of international law” by “knowingly providing the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks.” He accused Israel of “wide-ranging violations of the fundamental human right to life” that were causing a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza. And he said that Israel was “allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.”
A few days later (also in December 2008), Falk tried to enter Israel via Ben Gurion International Airport, and – as had occurred seven months earlier – he was turned away by authorities. The Israeli Ministry of the Interior explicitly cited Falk’s long record of anti-Israel hate propaganda as the cause of its decision to ban his entry. Simona Halperin, the director of Israel’s International Organization and Human Rights department, characterized Falk as a “completely unobjective” individual, citing his comparisons of Israelis to Nazis, and of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians to the Holocaust. “It is indeed rare that Israel bars entry in this manner,” Halperin explained, “but we cannot accept a situation in which an envoy arrives about whom it is known in advance that he will not carry out his role properly.”
In April 2010, Falk said he was “impressed by the Hamas effort to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel from the time of its election in January 2006, and its consistent effort to reestablish a ceasefire, including one for a long duration.” By the same token, he condemned “the refusal of Israel to take advantage of such diplomatic opportunities, and its insistence on treating Hamas as a terrorist organization with whom no negotiations can occur.” “It was a mistake from the outset,” Falk added, “not to take Hamas at their word as turning away from violence and toward political action. When initially elected, Hamas established a one-year ceasefire unilaterally, which they kept despite a series of Israeli provocations, including the assassination of Hamas leaders by missile attack…. To attach the label ‘terrorist organization’ is to signal an unwillingness to substitute diplomacy for violence and a refusal to lift the cruel and criminal siege that is now causing such damage to the physical and mental health of the entire civilian population of Gaza.”
In a September 2010 interview, Falk stated that while “I don’t agree with the tactics of killing civilians and terrorist tactics,” “the armed [Jewish] settlers [in the West Bank] are an ambiguous category.”
In March 2011, Falk said: The “continued pattern of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem combined with the forcible eviction of long-residing Palestinians are creating an intolerable situation” that “can only be described in its cumulative impact as a form of ethnic cleansing.”
In July 2011, Falk posted in his blog a cartoon showing a dog – with “USA” written on its body and a Star of David emblazoned on its skullcap – urinating on “Lady Justice” while it ravenously dismembered and devoured a bloody skeleton.
In July 2012, Falk wrote in his blog that “the organized Jewish community” was “responsible for the massive and enduring confiscation of Palestinian land and rights.”
Falk is a strong supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions (BDS)movement, a Hamas-inspired initiative that aims to use various forms of public protest, economic pressure, and court rulings to advance the Hamas agenda of permanently destroying Israel as a Jewish nation-state. In October 2012, Falk called for a boycott of all companies worldwide that maintained any sort of business dealings with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Specifically, he cited such companies as Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett Packard, and Motorola in the United States; Ahava, Elbit Systems, and Mehadrin in Israel; the Volvo Group and Assa Abloy in Sweden; Veolia Environment in France; G4S in the United Kingdom; the Dexia Group in Belgium; the Riwal Holding Group in the Netherlands; and Cemex in Mexico.
In a 2013 UNHRC report, Falk made no mention of Israel’s legitimate security concerns while stating that “the thousands of Palestinians detained or imprisoned by Israel continues to be extremely worrisome.” Moreover, hecalled for “the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the situation,” which he said included such offenses as “detention without charges,” “solitary confinement,” and “torture and other forms of ill, inhumane and humiliating treatment.”
Falk’s tenure as the UNHRC’s Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories endedon February 18, 2014. A few days later, he was at Princeton University to deliver the annual Edward Said lecture, named after the late Palestinian National Council member who had taught at Columbia University and agitated for the Palestinian cause. During his hour-long address, Falk spent a considerable amount of time praising Said. He also refused to refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; he described the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as “armed settlements”; he lauded the BDS campaigns and called for their continuance; and he spoke in favor of the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to Israel.
In early 2014 as well, Falk argued that Israel’s “oppressive occupation … seems designed to encourage residents to leave Palestine, which is consistent with the apparent annexationist, colonialist and ethnic-cleansing goals of Israel.” In prior interviews, he had accused Israel of “slouching toward genocide.”
In May 2014, Falk urged business and civil-society leaders alike “to join the growing global solidarity movement to resist the prolonged Israeli occupation and creeping annexation of Palestine.”
In 2017, Falk and Southern Illinois University professor Virginia Tilley co-authored a report that stated: “By developing discrete bodies of law… for each territory and their Palestinian populations, Israel has both effected and veiled a comprehensive policy of apartheid directed at the whole Palestinian people.” The report further claimed that “Israel has exploited this fragmentation to secure Jewish national-domination.”