Obama Throws Palestine Under the Bus September 25, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: aipac, hanan ashrawi, israel, israel lobby, israeli occupation, jewish settlements, jim lobe, netanyahu, obama politics, Palestine, palestine statehood, roger hollander, west bank
Published on Sunday, September 25, 2011 by Inter Press Service
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON — The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could not be more pleased.
Not only did the allegedly most “anti-Israel” president ever repeat, for the nth time, that “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable,” but also made crystal clear that Washington will veto any Palestinian application to the U.N. Security Council for statehood in his speech this week to the U.N. General Assembly.
Not once did he refer to Jewish “settlements” on Palestinian lands; nor did he even use the word “occupied” – or any declension of that word – to describe those lands and their people in an address that was largely, if ironically, devoted to celebrating this year’s Arab struggles to end autocratic rule in their region.
Nor was there a word about the plight of the still-besieged population of Gaza, or about the “1967 borders” as being the basis for any eventual two-state solution, a formula to which Netanyahu and his U.S. allies vehemently objected much to the consternation and exasperation of the White House only four months ago.
Indeed, President Barack Hussein Obama, as his right-wing and Islamophobic critics like to call him, said nothing to which even the most right-wing faction of Netanyahu’s government could object.
“I congratulate President Obama, and I am ready to sign on this speech with both hands,” enthused Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the far-right – some say proto-fascist – Yisrael Beiteinu party, while Netanyahu himself called Obama’s address to the U.N. General Assembly “a badge of honor”.
“Listening to him, you would think it was the Palestinians who occupy Israel,” Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian stateswoman, told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, noting what even the New York Times suggested seemed to be the “hypocritical” nature of Obama’s enthusiasm for Arab democracy movements.
“He presented a double standard when he disassociated the Arabs’ fight for their freedom in the region from the Palestinian freedom fighters, who deal with the occupation for 63 years,” she said.
“What we heard is precisely why we are going to the U.N.,” she added, sounding a theme that has been taken up all week by many Middle East specialists: By siding so ostentatiously with Netanyahu and against the Palestinian bid for statehood, Obama has forfeited Washington’s 20-year exclusivity as broker of the clearly broken “peace process” between the two parties – a point made implicitly by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for the General Assembly to upgrade Palestine’s status to a non-member state.
“Witnessing Netanyahu’s stubborn rejectionism and President Obama’s inability to move the ball forward, President Sarkozy appears to be acting on Obama’s prediction last May at AIPAC (the annual meeting of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee) – that … if there is no credible peace process, then others, including Europeans, will lose patience, and pursue alternatives to direct negotiations, including at the U.N.,” according to Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator now based at the New America Foundation here.
Such alternatives will likely become more urgent, he noted, as a result of the “post-Arab Awakening era, one in which Arab democracy will be less tolerant of Palestinian disenfranchisement than Arab autocracy ever was.”
So why did Obama, who, speaking at the same podium exactly one year ago, set a deadline of this week for an agreement on Palestinian statehood, capitulate so abjectly to Netanyahu and the Israeli right?
While his administration’s defenders claim it has everything to do with keeping the “peace process” alive and minimizing the chances of a new round of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, the answer is politics, or, more precisely, the perceived power of the AIPAC-led “Israel Lobby” in an election year.
“Once again, the transformational Obama has been sold out by the political Obama,” wrote David Rothkopf, a national security expert at the Carnegie Endowment, on his foreignpolicy.com blog early in the week.
Given his fading approval ratings and an economy that shows no signs of substantial improvement any time soon, the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill appear increasingly panicked over their re- election prospects in November 2012.
They will do nothing that risks alienating key constituencies, particularly Jewish voters in a couple of key “swing states”, but most especially Jewish donors who account for an estimated between 40 and 50 percent of all contributions to national Democratic campaigns.
Since the beginning of this year, but particularly since Netanyahu’s May visit where he was rapturously received at the AIPAC conference, his Republican – and some Democratic – allies have deliberately and repeatedly promoted the notion that Obama’s alleged pressure on Israel to freeze settlements and take other steps to advance the “peace process” was souring Jews, nearly 80 percent of whom voted for Obama in 2008, on the president and his party.
When, on the eve of this week’s U.N. meeting, a Tea Party Republican, who was endorsed by former Democratic Mayor Edward Koch to protest Obama’s allegedly anti-Israel policies, defeated a Jewish Democrat in a heavily Jewish New York City Congressional district that Democrats had held for nearly 90 years, that meme was transformed into conventional wisdom, thus setting the stage for Obama’s speech – or surrender – this week before the General Assembly.
In fact, however, only seven percent of the mostly Orthodox Jewish voters in that election said Obama’s policies toward Israel affected their vote, according to exit polls.
And, while there has indeed been a substantial erosion in Jewish approval of Obama’s performance, it has not been disproportionate to the loss of confidence in his leadership by the public at large, according to a recent Gallup poll.
That survey, undertaken from Aug. 1 to Sep. 15, found that a 54- percent majority of Jewish respondents still approve of Obama, 13 percentage points higher than his overall 41 percent approval rating, and similar to the average 14-point gap between Jews and the general public seen throughout his term in office.
“It’s really about donors, not about votes, except perhaps in Florida (where Jews make up about five percent of the electorate),” according to M.J. Rosenberg, a veteran Israel analyst at Media Matters who worked for years at AIPAC and on Capitol Hill where AIPAC wields its greatest influence.
“The surrender we’ve been watching lately is all about the money,” he said.
“What AIPAC and other key groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee do successfully is to convince both the White House and Congress that every dollar that comes from someone Jewish is about Israel, when, in fact, most Jewish donors are contributing because of a host of liberal causes they believe in – from social security and gay marriage to the environment,” he told IPS.
“But I’m sure that President Obama believes that his financial support from the Jewish community is heavily contingent on his backing for Netanyahu,” according to Rosenberg. “And right now, everything he does is motivated by his desire for a second term.”
© 2011 Jim Lobe
Jim Lobe has served as Washington DC correspondent and chief of the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service (IPS), an international news agency specializing in coverage of issues and events of interest to developing countries, from 1980 to 1985, and again from 1989 to the present.
Tags: east timor, egypt, foreign policy, gaza, history, imperialism, indonesia, Iran, iran oil, israel, israel lobby, Middle East, middle east history, middle eastern oil, Noam Chomsky, Palestine, roger hollander, saudi arabia oil, six days war, stephen majer, suharto, U.S. imperialism, west bank
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Tuesday 27 April 2010
Many of Israel’s critics blame an “Israel lobby” for the near-total complicity of the US in Israeli annexation, colonization and cleansing programs in the occupied West Bank. This complicity continues to the present, despite the “row” that erupted after the Israeli government humiliated US Vice President Joe Biden by announcing the construction of 1,600 settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem while he was visiting the country. Indeed, despite the apparent outrage expressed by top White House officials, the administration has made clear that its criticism of Israel will remain purely symbolic. However, as we shall see, the lobby thesis does little to explain US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Years after Noam Chomsky, Stephen Zunes, Walter Russell Mead and many others published their critiques of the Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer “Israel lobby” thesis, many of the sharpest critics of Israel continue to attribute US foreign policy in the Middle East to the influence of the lobby. Given the prevalence of the Israel lobby argument, and the latest diplomatic confrontation between the US and Israel, it is important to revisit the flaws in the thesis, and properly attribute US behavior to the large concentrations of domestic political and economic power that truly drive US policy.
US foreign policy in the Middle East is similar to that which is carried out elsewhere in the world, in regions free of “the lobby’s” proclaimed corrupting effects. The inflated level of support that the US lends Israel is a rational response to the particular strategic importance of the Middle East, the chief energy-producing region of the world. By building Israel into what Noam Chomsky refers to as an “offshore US military base,” it is able to protect its dominance over much of the world’s remaining energy resources, a major lever of global power. As we shall see, those blaming the lobby for US policy once again misunderstand US’s strategic interests in the Middle East, and Israel’s central role in advancing them.
Geopolitics and the US-Israeli Relationship
A central claim of the “Israel lobby” thesis is that the “lobby,” however defined, overwhelmingly shapes US policy towards the Middle East. Thus, if the argument were true, its proponents would have to demonstrate that there is something qualitatively unique about US policy towards the Middle East compared with that in other regions of the world. Yet upon careful analysis, we find little difference between the purported distortions caused by the lobby and what is frequently referred to as the “national interest,” governed by the same concentrations of domestic power that drive US foreign policy elsewhere.
There are states all around the world that perform similar services to Washington as Israel, projecting US power in their respective regions, whose crimes in advancing Washington’s goals are overtly supported and shielded from international condemnation. Take for instance the 30 years of US support for the horrors of the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor. In addition to the use of rape and starvation as weapons, and a gruesome torture regime, Indonesian president Suharto slaughtered 150,000 persons out of a population of 650,000. These atrocities were fully supported by the US, including supplying the napalm and chemical weapons indiscriminately used by the Indonesian army, which was fully armed and trained by the US. As Bill Clinton said, Suharto was “our kind of guy.”
Daniel Patrick Moynahan, US ambassador to the UN at the time of the Indonesian invasion, later wrote that “the Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook” to end the butchering of the East Timorese, a goal he carried out with “no inconsiderable success.” Yet this support was not due to the influence of an “Indonesia lobby.” Rather, planners had identified Indonesia as one of the three most strategically important regions in the world in 1958, as a result of its oil wealth and important role as a link between the Indian and Pacific oceans.
In some regions, as in Latin America where US clients like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and terrorist armies like the Nicaraguan contras spent years murdering defenseless peasants demanding basic human rights, the threat is mostly one of “successful defiance;” that is, a country defying US orders and getting away with it. Should the US tolerate one such case, the logic goes, it will embolden resistance to its dictates elsewhere. The danger underlying such defiance — referred to as “the threat of a good example” by Oxfam — is that a country will implement a successful model for independent development, refusing US dictates and seeking to direct much-needed resources to serve the needs of the domestic population instead of wealthy foreign investors.
Such thinking is deeply institutionalized and exhibited by US policy worldwide, going back to the very beginnings of the modern imperial era after World War II. It was clear from early in the war that the US would emerge as the dominant world power in its aftermath, and so the State Department and Council on Foreign Relations began planning to create a post-war international order in which the US would “hold unquestioned power.” One way it planned to do so was gaining control of global energy resources, primarily those of Saudi Arabia, which were referred to at the time as “the greatest material prize in history” by the US State Department.
As Franklin Roosevelt’s “oil czar” Harold Ickes advised, control of oil was the “key to postwar political arrangements” since a large supply of cheap energy is essential to fuel the world’s industrial capitalist economies. This meant that with control of Middle Eastern oil, particularly the vast Saudi reserves, the US could keep its hand on the spigot that would fuel the economies of Europe, Japan and much of the rest of the world. As US planner George Kennan put it, this would give the United States “veto power” over the actions of others. Zbigniew Brzezinski has also more recently discussed the “critical leverage” the US enjoys as a result of its stranglehold on energy supplies.
Thus in the Middle East it is not simply “successful defiance” that the US fears, nor merely independent development. These worries are present as well, but there is an added dimension: should opposition threaten US control of oil resources, a major source of US global power is placed at risk. Under the Nixon Administration, with the US military tied down in Vietnam and direct intervention in the Middle East to defend vital strategic interests unlikely, military aid to pre-revolution Iran (acting as an American regional enforcer) skyrocketed. Amnesty International’s conclusion in 1976 that “no country has a worse human rights record than Iran” was ignored, and US support increased, not because of an “Iran lobby” in the US, but rather because such support was advancing US interests.
Strategic concerns also led the US to support other oppressive, reactionary regimes, including Saddam Hussein’s worst atrocities. During the Anfal genocide against the Kurds, Iraqi forces used chemical weapons provided by the US against Kurdish civilians, killed perhaps 100,000 persons, and destroyed roughly 80 percent of the villages in Iraqi Kurdistan, while the US moved to block international condemnation of these atrocities. Again, supporting crimes that serve the “national interest” set by large corporations and ruling elites, and shielding them from international criticism is the rule, not the exception.
It is no coincidence that the US-Israel relationship crystallized after Israel destroyed the independent nationalist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser in a preemptive attack in 1967, permanently ending the role of Egypt as a center of opposition to US imperialism. Since before World War II, Saudi Arabia had happily served as an “Arab facade,” veiling the hand of the true ruling power on the Arabian peninsula, to borrow British colonial terminology. With Nasser’s Arab nationalist rhetoric “turning the whole region against the House of Saud,” the threat he posed to US power was serious. In response, the State Department concluded that the “logical corollary” to US opposition to Arab nationalism was “support for Israel” as the only reliable pro-US force in the region. Israel’s destruction and humiliation of Nasser’s regime was thus a major boon for the US, and proved to Washington the value of a strong alliance with a powerful Israel.
This unique regional importance is one reason for the tremendous level of aid Israel receives, including more advanced weaponry than that provided to other US clients. Providing Israel with the ability to use overwhelming force against any adversary to the established order has been a pivotal aspect of US regional strategy. Importantly, Israel is also a reliable ally — there is little chance that the Israeli government will be overthrown, and the weapons end up in the hands of anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists or independent nationalists as happened in Iran in 1979.
Today, with the increased independence of Europe, and the hungry economies of India and China growing at breakneck speed along with their demand for dwindling energy resources, control over what is left is more crucial than ever. In the September 2009 issue of the Asia-Africa Review, China’s former Special Envoy to the Middle East Sun Bigan wrote that “the US has always sought to control the faucet of global oil supplies,” and suggested that since Washington would doubtless work to ensure that Iraqi oil remained under its control, China should look elsewhere in the region for an independent energy source. “Iran has bountiful energy resources,” Bigan wrote, “and its oil gas reserves are the second biggest in the world, and all are basically under its own control” (emphasis added).
It is partially as a result of this independence that Israel’s strategic importance to the US has increased significantly in recent times, particularly since the Shah’s cruel, US-supported dictatorship in Iran was overthrown in 1979. With the Shah gone, Israel alone had to terrorize the region into complying with US orders, and ensure that Saudi Arabia’s vast oil resources remain under US control. The increased importance of Israel to US policy was illustrated clearly as its regional strategy shifted to “dual containment” during the Clinton years, with Israel countering both Iraq and Iran.
With Iran developing technology that could eventually allow it to produce what are referred to in the February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review as “anti-access weapons,” or weapons of mass destruction that prevent the US from being able to freely use force in any region of the world, this is a crucial moment in Washington’s struggle to seize control of Iran. This confrontation, stemming from the desire of the US to control its oil and destroy a base of independent nationalism, makes US support for Israel strategically crucial.
The “Israel Lobby” and US Pressure
If we adopt “the lobby” hypothesis, we would predict that the US would bend to Israel’s will when the interests of the two states diverge, acting against its “national interest.” Yet if US policies in the Middle East were damaging its “national interest,” as proponents of the lobby argument claim, that must mean that such policies have been a failure. This leads one to ask: a failure for whom? Not for US elites, who have secured control of the major global energy resources while successfully crushing opposition movements, nor for the defense establishment, and most certainly not for the energy corporations. In fact, not only is US policy towards the Middle East similar to that towards other regions of the world, but it has been a profitable, strategic success.
Indeed, the US’s policy towards Israel and the Palestinians is not to achieve an end to the occupation, nor to bring about respect for Palestinian rights — in fact, it is the actor primarily responsible for preventing these outcomes. To the US, Israel’s “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002 had sufficiently punished the Palestinians and their compliant US-backed leadership for their intransigence at Camp David. While the Palestinian Authority was already acting as Israel’s “subcontractor” and “collaborator” in suppressing resistance to Israeli occupation, in the paraphrased words of former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s deliberate destruction of Palestinian institutions provided the opportunity to rebuild them, and ensure an even greater degree of US control.
The settlement and annexation programs help guarantee Israeli control over the most valuable Palestinian land and water resources, ensuring Israel will remain a dominant society not easily pressured by its neighbors. To help achieve these goals, the US shields Israeli expansion behind a “peace process” in hopes that given enough time the Palestinians will concede more and more of what was once theirs. The primary concern is to present the appearance that the US and Israel are ardently crusading for peace, battling against those who oppose this noble objective. Though it is true that people across the region are appalled and outraged by Israeli crimes, such anger is a small consideration next to the strategic gain of maintaining a strong, dependent ally in the heart of the Middle East.
The reconstitution of an even more tightly-controlled Palestinian Authority, with General Keith Dayton directly supervising the Palestinian security forces, enabled the US to meet these goals while more effectively suppressing resistance to the occupation. Likewise, redeploying Israeli soldiers outside of Gaza allowed Sharon a free hand to continue the annexation of the West Bank while being heralded internationally as a “great man of peace.”
The treatment of Israel by the mainstream US media is also standard for all US allies. Coverage in the corporate press is predictably skewed in favor of official US allies and against official enemies, a well-documented phenomenon. Thus, proponents of the lobby thesis are missing the forest for the trees. What they see as the special treatment of Israel by the mainstream press is actually just the normal functioning of the US media and intellectual establishment, apologizing for and defending crimes of official allies while demonizing official enemies.
Of course, this is not to argue that there are not organizations in the US, like the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC, that seek to marginalize dissent from Israeli policy in every forum possible. Rather, I am pointing out that the power of these groups pales in comparison to other, far more powerful, interests and concerns. While the AJC or ADL may mobilize for the firing of a professor critical of Israel, for example, that argument is amplified by the elite-owned and controlled press because doing so serves their interests. Likewise, AIPAC can urge unwavering support for Israel on the part of the US government, but without the assent of other far more powerful interests, like the energy corporations and defense establishment, AIPAC’s efforts would amount to little. US policy, like that of other states, is rationally planned to serve the interests of the ruling class.
Israel could not sustain its aggressive, expansionist policies without US military aid and diplomatic support. If the Obama Administration wanted to, it could pressure Israel to comply with international law and resolutions, join the international consensus, and enact a two-state solution. While the “Israel lobby” thesis conveniently explains his failure to do so and absolves US policy-makers of responsibility for their ongoing support of Israeli apartheid, violence and annexation, it simply does not stand up under closer scrutiny.
Stephen Maher is an MA candidate at American University School of International Service who has lived in the West Bank, and is currently writing his masters’ thesis, “The New Nakba: Oslo and the End of Palestine,” on the Israel-Palestine conflict. His work has appeared in Extra!, The Electronic Intifada, ZNet and other publications. His blog is www.rationalmanifesto.blogspot.com.
US-Israel Rift Undermining Some Long-Standing Taboos March 15, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: aipac, David Petraeus, glenn greenwald, israel, israel lobby, Middle East, mike mullen, neoconservatives, netanyahuy, obama administration, roger hollander
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The rather extraordinary dust-up between the U.S. and Israel has, among other benefits, shined a light on two of the most taboo yet self-evidently true propositions: (1) our joined-at-the-hip relationship with Israel is a significant cause of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, fuels attacks on Americans, and entails a very high price for the U.S. on multiple levels; and (2) many American neoconservatives have their political beliefs shaped by allegiance to Israel.
As for the first: not only did Joe Biden tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel’s actions are endangering U.S. troops in the region, but — more important — as Foreign Policy‘s Mark Perry reports, both Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. David Petraeus within the last couple of months stressed the same causal connection to Obama officials: ”Israel’s intransigence could cost American lives.” It’s rather difficult to maintain the fiction that only fringe Israel-haters see the connection between our support for Israel and Muslim hatred toward the U.S. when two of America’s most respected military officials are making that case explicitly. Moreover, the Mullen/Petraeus alarm is almost certainly what accounts for the Obama administration’s sudden (and commendable) willingness to so publicly oppose Israel. As Perry says: ”There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers — and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military.”
As for the second point: I’ve previously noted the glaring contradiction among neoconservatives, whereby they simultaneously (a) tell American Jewish voters to vote Republican because the GOP is better for Israel and (b) insist that it’s anti-Semitic to point out that neoconservatives are guided by their allegiance to Israel when forming their political beliefs about U.S. policy. Obviously, anyone who does (a) is, by logical necessity, endorsing the very premise in (b) which they want (when it suits them) to label anti-Semitic. Neoconservatives constantly make political appeals to Jewish voters expressly grounded in the premise that American Jews are guided by allegiance to Israel (vote Republican because it’s better for Israel), yet then scream “anti-Semite” at anyone who points this out. When faced with this glaring contradiction, their typical response — as illustratively voiced by Commentary‘s Jennifer Rubin, after she argued in a 2008 Jerusalem Post column that American Jews should vote against Obama because he’d be bad for Israel — is to deny that “that the interests of the U.S. and Israel are antithetical” and insist that “support for Israel in no way requires sacrificing one’s concerns for America’s interests.” In other words: to advocate for Israel is to advocate for the U.S. because they’re interests are indistinguishable.
Yet here we have a major split between the U.S. and Israel, with key American military and political leaders explaining that the opposite is true: that Israeli actions are directly harming U.S. interests and jeopardizing American lives. And what is the reflexive, unambiguous response of virtually every American Israel-centric neocon? To side with Israel over the U.S. AIPAC, the ADL, Elliott Abrams, AIPAC-loyal Democrats in the House, Marty Peretz, Commentary, etc. etc. all quickly castigated the U.S. Government and defended Israel, notwithstanding the dangers to Americans posed by Israeli conduct and the massive price paid by the U.S. in so many ways for this relationship (by contrast, J Street called the administration’s anger towards Israel both “understandable and appropriate”). There’s nothing wrong with taking Israel’s side per se — one is and should be free to criticize one’s own government in its foreign policy — but incidents like this make it increasingly futile to try to suppress what is glaringly visible: that (as is true for numerous groups in the U.S.) a significant segment of the neoconservative Right (which includes some evangelical Christians and some American Jews) are guided in their political advocacy by their emotional, religious, and cultural attachment to another country, and want U.S. policy shaped in order to advance that devotion.
On a related note: there has been a long-standing effort to equate those who make this observation with anti-Israeli hatred or even anti-Semitism. Two widely-cited reports did exactly that with regard to me recently: this pseudo-scholarly report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and this post on the blog of the American Jewish Committee, both of which hurl all sorts of ugly though trite accusations at me for daring to suggest that some American Jews are guided in their political advocacy by allegiance to Israel. I’ll just note that the author of both “reports” is someone named Adam Levick, who — with extreme, unintended irony — lists this as his biography on his Twitter account:
I’m an American who just made Aliyah (moved to Israel), and love America and my new country.
If you’re going to try to render unspeakable the observation that some American neocons are devoted to Israel, it’s probably best to have the crusade led by someone with a different biography. As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing wrong per se with harboring cultural affections for other countries — many individuals in the culturally diverse U.S. do — but stridently denying what is so obviously true, and smearing those who point it out, does more than anything else to make something innocuous seem nefarious.
Finally, the reason Israel engages in this conduct is because it believes (with good reason) that U.S. officials will never (and cannot) take any real action against it, and the Obama administration — as reflected by the excellent questions posed yesterday to David Axelrod by ABC News‘ Jake Tapper — at this point still seems far from ready to do so. Still, there’s no denying that the very public condemnation of Israel by the Obama administration is unprecedented at least over the last two decades, will produce benefits on its own (including sentiments like this and this being increasingly expressed even among those Obama supporters who don’t typically speak out about this issue), and will subject Obama officials to serious political pressure and attacks, from which they ought to be defended. It’s true that none of this will ultimately matter unless the administration is willing to back this up with meaningful action — i.e., serious threats to change policy — but this last week was an important and substantial first step toward that vital goal.
Many of the issues I write most about here — from civil liberties erosions and radical, lawless National Security State policies to the wars that justify them — have their roots in our involvement in the Middle East, and our self-destructive, blind support for Israel actions is a major (though not the only or even primary) factor in all of that. It’s impossible to care about the former without wanting to do something substantial about the latter.
© 2010 Salon.com
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.
Answering Helen Thomas on Why They Want to Harm Us January 9, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War on Terror.
Tags: 9/11 commission, Abdulmutallab, al-balawi, anti-americanism, cia, civilian casualties, corporate media, counter terrorism, extremists, foreign policy, gaza, helen thomas, Homeland Security, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, israel, israel lobby, janet napolitano, john brennan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, lee hamilton, Media, michael scheuer, Middle East, muslim, Palestinians, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, suicide attack, suicide bomb, suicide bomber, terrorism, war on terror
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Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day.
After Obama briefly addressed L’Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote “must do better” on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the vapid remarks about channeling “intelligence streams,” fixing “no-fly” lists, deploying “behavior detection officers,” and buying more body-imaging scanners.
Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.
She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did.
Thomas: “Why do they want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”
Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents… They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”
Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”
Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”
Brennan: “I think this is a – long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”
Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”
Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how evil al Qaeda continues to pervert a religion and entice and exploit impressionable young men.
There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.
I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President limited himself to a few vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before he walked away from the podium:
“It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.”
But why it is so hard for Muslims to “get” that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to “justice and progress”?
Does a smart fellow like Obama expect us to believe that all we need to do is “communicate clearly to Muslims” that it is al Qaeda, not the U.S. and its allies, that brings “misery and death”? Does any informed person not know that the unprovoked U.S.-led invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displaced 4.5 million from their homes? How is that for “misery and death”?
Rather than a failure to communicate, U.S. officials are trying to rewrite recent history, which seems to be much easier to accomplish with the Washington press corps and large segments of the American population than with the Muslim world.
But why isn’t there a frank discussion by America’s leaders and media about the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States? Why was Helen Thomas the only journalist to raise the touchy but central question of motive?
Peeking Behind the Screen
We witnessed a similar phenomenon when the 9/11 Commission Report tiptoed into a cautious discussion of possible motives behind the 9/11 attacks. To their credit, the drafters of that report apparently went as far as their masters would allow, in gingerly introducing a major elephant into the room:
“America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” (p. 376)
When asked later about the flabby way that last sentence ended, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission, explained that there had been a Donnybrook over whether that paragraph could be included at all.
The drafters also squeezed in the reason given by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as to why he “masterminded” the attacks on 9/11:
“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed … from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”
Would you believe that former Vice President Dick Cheney also has pointed to U.S. support for Israel as one of the “true sources of resentment”? This unique piece of honesty crept into his speech to the American Enterprise Institute on May 21, 2009.
Sure, he also trotted out the bromide that the terrorists hate “all the things that make us a force for good in the world.” But the Israel factor did slip into the speech, perhaps an inadvertent acknowledgement of the Israeli albatross adorning the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Very few pundits and academicians are willing to allude to this reality, presumably out of fear for their future career prospects.
Former senior CIA officer Paul Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the few willing to refer, in his typically understated way, to “all the other things … including policies and practices that affect the likelihood that people … will be radicalized, and will try to act out the anger against us.” One has to fill in the blanks regarding what those “other things” are.
But no worries. Secretary Napolitano has a fix for this unmentionable conundrum. It’s called “counter-radicalization,” which she describes thusly:
“How do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point where they’re ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do we communicate better American values and so forth … around the globe?”
Better communication. That’s the ticket.
Hypocrisy and Double Talk
But Napolitano doesn’t acknowledge the underlying problem, which is that many Muslims have watched Washington’s behavior closely for many years and view pious U.S. declarations about peace, justice, democracy and human rights as infuriating examples of hypocrisy and double talk.
So, Washington’s sanitized discussion about motives for terrorism seems more intended for the U.S. domestic audience than the Muslim world.
After all, people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been mistreated for decades; how Washington has propped up Arab dictatorships; how Muslims have been locked away at Guantanamo without charges; how the U.S. military has killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; how U.S. mercenaries have escaped punishment for slaughtering innocents.
The purpose of U.S. “public diplomacy” appears more designed to shield Americans from this unpleasant reality, offering instead feel-good palliatives about the beneficence of U.S. actions. Most American journalists and politicians go along with the charade out of fear that otherwise they would be accused of lacking patriotism or sympathizing with “the enemy.”
Commentators who are neither naïve nor afraid are simply shut out of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). Salon.com’s Glen Greenwald, for example, has complained loudly about “how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.,” and how it is taboo to point this out.
Greenwald recently called attention to a little-noticed Associated Press report on the possible motives of the 23-year-old Nigerian Abdulmutallab. The report quoted his Yemeni friends to the effect that the he was “not overtly extremist.” But they noted that he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza. (Emphasis added)
Former CIA specialist on al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, has been still more outspoken on what he sees as Israel’s tying down the American Gulliver in the Middle East. Speaking Monday on C-SPAN, he complained bitterly that any debate on the issue of American support for Israel and its effects is normally squelched.
Scheuer added that the Israel Lobby had just succeeded in getting him removed from his job at the Jamestown Foundation think tank for saying that Obama was “doing what I call the Tel Aviv Two-Step.”
More to the point, Scheuer asserted:
“For anyone to say that our support for Israel doesn’t hurt us in the Muslim world … is to just defy reality.”
Beyond loss of work, those who speak out can expect ugly accusations. The Israeli media network Arutz Sheva, which is considered the voice of the settler movement, weighed in strongly, branding Scheuer’s C-SPAN remarks “blatantly anti-Semitic.”
As for media squelching, I continue to be amazed at how otherwise informed folks express total surprise when I refer them to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s statement about his motivation for attacking the United States, as cited on page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report. Here is the full sentence (shortened above):
“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”
One can understand how even those following such things closely can get confused. On Aug. 30, 2009, five years after the 9/11 Commission Report was released, readers of the neoconservative Washington Post were given a diametrically different view, based on what the Post called “an intelligence summary:”
“KSM’s limited and negative experience in the United States – which included a brief jail-stay because of unpaid bills – almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist … He stated that his contact with Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country.”
Apparently, the Post found this revisionist version politically more convenient, in that it obscured Mohammed’s other explanation implicating “U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” It’s much more comforting to view KSM as a disgruntled visitor who nursed his personal grievances into justification for mass murder.
An unusually candid view of the dangers accruing from the U.S. identification with Israel’s policies appeared five years ago in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board on Sept. 23, 2004. Contradicting President George W. Bush, the board stated:
“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.
“Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”
Getting back to Abdulmutallab and his motive in trying to blow up the airliner, how was this individual without prior terrorist affiliations suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents?
If, as John Brennan seems to suggest, al Qaeda terrorists are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” how are they also able to jump-start a privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al Qaeda/Persian Gulf?
As indicated above, the young Nigerian seems to have had particular trouble with Israel’s wanton slaughter of more than a thousand civilians in Gaza a year ago, a brutal campaign that was defended in Washington as justifiable self-defense.
Moreover, it appears that Abdulmutallab is not the only anti-American “terrorist” so motivated. When the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda announced that they were uniting into “al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula,” their combined rhetoric railed against the Israeli attack on Gaza.
And on Dec. 30, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Palestinian-born Jordanian physician, killed seven American CIA operatives and one Jordanian intelligence officer near Khost, Afghanistan, when he detonated a suicide bomb.
Though most U.S. media stories treated al-Balawi as a fanatical double agent driven by irrational hatreds, other motivations could be gleaned by carefully reading articles about his personal history.
Al-Balawi’s mother told Agence France-Presse that her son had never been an “extremist.” Al-Balawi’s widow, Defne Bayrak, made a similar statement to Newsweek. In a New York Times article, al-Balawi’s brother was quoted as describing him as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor.”
So what led al-Balawi to take his own life in order to kill U.S. and Jordanian intelligence operatives?
Al-Balawi’s widow said her husband “started to change” after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His brother said al-Balawi “changed” during last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians. (Emphasis added)
When al-Balawi volunteered with a medical organization to treat injured Palestinians in Gaza, he was arrested by Jordanian authorities, his brother said.
It was after that arrest that the Jordanian intelligence service apparently coerced or “recruited” al-Balawi to become a spy who would penetrate al Qaeda’s hierarchy and provide actionable intelligence to the CIA.
“If you catch a cat and put it in a corner, she will jump on you,” the brother said in explaining why al-Balawi would turn to suicide attack.
“My husband was anti-American; so am I,” his widow told Newsweek. Her two little girls would grow up fatherless, but she had no regrets.
Are we starting to get the picture of what the United States is up against in the Muslim world?
Does Helen Thomas deserve an adult answer to her question about motive? Has President Obama been able to assimilate all this?
Or is the U.S. political/media establishment incapable of confronting this reality and/or taking meaningful action to alleviate the underlying causes of the violence?
Is the reported reaction of a CIA official to al-Balawi’s attack the appropriate one: “Last week’s attack will be avenged. Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day.”
Revenge has not always turned out very well in the past.
Does anyone remember the brutal killing of four Blackwater contractors on March 31, 2004, when they took a bad turn and ended up in the wrong neighborhood of the Iraqi city of Fallujah – and how U.S. forces virtually leveled that large city in retribution after George W. Bush won his second term the following November?
If you read only the Fawning Corporate Media, you would blissfully think that the killing of the four Blackwater operatives was the work of fanatical animals who got – along with their neighbors – the reprisal they deserved. You wouldn’t know that the killings represented the second turn in that specific cycle of violence.
On March 22, 2004, Israeli forces assassinated the then-spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sheikh Yassin – a withering old man, blind and confined to a wheelchair. (Emphasis added)
That murder, plus sloppy navigation by the Blackwater men, set the stage for the next set of brutalities. The Blackwater operatives were killed by a group that described itself as the “Sheikh Yassin Revenge Brigade.”
Pamphlets and posters were all over the scene of the attack; one of the trucks that pulled around body parts of the mercenaries had a large poster photo of Yassin in its window, as did store fronts all over Fallujah.
We can wish Janet Napolitano luck with her “counter-radicalization” project and President Obama with his effort to “communicate clearly to Muslims,” but there will be no diminution in the endless cycles of violence unless legitimate grievances are addressed on all sides.
It would certainly also help if the American people were finally let in on the root causes for what otherwise gets portrayed as unprovoked savagery by Muslims.
This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com.
Tags: aipac, aipac conference, aipac lobby, aipac officials, Barack Obama, dick durbin, doj, gaza, glenn greenwald, israel lobby, israeli massacre, jeffrey goldberg, joe biden, justice department, larry franklin, michael crowley, netanyahu, persecution complex, roger hollander, rosen, shimon peres, weissman
(In this article Greenwald touches on a phenomenon that I have analyzed ever since I read about the Pinochet coup in Chile (on that other 9/11, 1973), where the U.S.-funded Chilean media generated a panic about the elected Allende government, alleging that it was about to establish a Communist dictatorship (echos of this ring today in Latin America where the same allegations are made about Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador). Public opinion was thereby manipulated to garner support of Pinochet’s bloody coup and aftermath massacres in order to “save” Chile from becoming a “victim” of ruthless Communism. We see this in so many points of history, where aggression needs to be justified as a poor “victim” defending itself (the sinking of the Main, the Bay of Tonkin, 9/11, etc.). Massive media campaigns were launched to alter pulic opinion behind the U.S. agressions in the Spanish American War and its aftermath where the “victim” U.S. ended up with Cuba and the Philippines as client states; and the same occurred to manipulate public opinion to support U.S. intervention in World War I. Post-World War II anti-Communist paranoia justified U.S. aggression and support of brutal dictatorships throughout Latin America (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc.) and Vietnam. The greatest “victim” of the 20th century, a poor soul who had no choice but do defend the fatherland against the Jewish conspiracy, was none other than Adolph Hitler. Today the United States terrorizes millions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, tortures with abandon, and spies illegally on its own citizens in order to protect the country from Isalmic Jihadists. Very important to add, of course, that real incidents — such as 9/11 — along with manufactured incidents are distorted to solidify the image of the United States, the most powerful nation in the history of the world with an atomic arsenal that could destroy the planet a thousand times over and military might greater that the rest of the world combined, as the poor “victim.”)
www.salon.com, May 2, 2009
One of the most common, harmful and downright pitiful dynamics in our political culture is the bottomless need of those who wield the most power to constantly parade around as oppressed, persecuted victims:
[S]uffice it to say that this day was long overdue. Rosen and Weissman did what a thousand reporters in Washington do everyday, hear about information that’s technically classified. The only difference is that these two worked for a demonized lobby.
AIPAC says 6500 people will attend the conference, including half the House and Senate plus such congressional leaders as Dick Durbin, Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer and Jon Kyl. Israeli President Shimon Peres speaks Monday morning and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks that evening.
Biden speaks on Tuesday. As a candidate, Barack Obama addressed the AIPAC conference last spring, vowing to do “everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Just compare Goldberg’s claim with Crowley’s facts. The idea that AIPAC is a “demonized lobby” that is treated unfairly in the United States generally — or by the Bush administration specifically, which commenced the prosecutions — has to be one of the biggest jokes ever to appear in anything having to do with The Atlantic. What other lobbying organization can boast of summoning to its Conference half of the U.S. Congress — as bipartisan a cast as possible — along with the Vice President, following the visit last year by Obama, who read faithfully from the organization’s script? With rare exception, Congressional action that AIPAC demands — even on as controversial matter as the Israeli attack on Gaza — not only passes the Congress, but often with virtual unanimity. Is there anyone who disputes that AIPAC is one of the most influential and powerful lobbying groups in the U.S., if not the most influential and powerful?
Just ponder the depths of irrationality and pathological persecution complex — the desperate need to self-victimize — necessary to claim that AIPAC, of all entities, is “demonized” and treated unfairly by the U.S. Government. AIPAC. But that’s the self-pitying, self-absorbed syndrome that drives so much of our political discourse (an amazingly high percentage of right-wing political dialogue in particular adheres to this formula: ”I am X and X is treated so very unfairly” — where X is virtually always among the groups wielding the most power: American, white, Christian, Republican, male, etc. etc.). It’s the same mentality that leads people to insist that the true victim in the Middle East is the same country that, by far, possesses the greatest military might and uses it most often. It’s a bizarre process of inversion where those who are most powerful insist on claiming that they are the weakest, most vulnerable and most oppressed.
Although it’s true — as I argued three years ago and again yesterday — that the prosecution of the two former AIPAC officials was wrong and abusive, that hardly means there was no wrongdoing here. Indeed, as part of this case, a former DOD official and aide to Douglas Feith — Larry Franklin — was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison for passing classified military information to these two AIPAC officials and to an Israeli official. The FBI agents assigned to this case continued through this week to insist that not only now-convicted Franklin, but also the two AIPAC officials, committed serious crimes and that there was ample evidence to prove their guilt.
There are very compelling reasons why the mere receipt and transmission of classified information by non-government employees should not be criminalized, and there appeared to be specific reasons — including a desire to protect classified information — as to why the DOJ decided not to proceed with this particular prosecution. But the mere failure by the state to obtain criminal convictions hardly precludes the view that the accused nonetheless engaged in wrongdoing — criminal, political, ethical or otherwise (ask those who deny that proposition what they think about O.J. Simpson, or Marc Rich, or the officers who beat Rodney King, or Bill Clinton, or George Bush). ”Presumption of innocence” means the government can’t treat someone like a criminal in the absence of a conviction after due process is accorded; it does not mean that citizens are barred from believing the person did something wrong. There are many reasons aside from innocence why the state may decide not to prosecute someone.
Similarly, there are many possible motivations that drove the Bush DOJ to pursue these extremely unusual and deeply misguided prosecutions against these two AIPAC officials. Whatever those motives might be, the idea that it was because the Bush administration harbored animus towards AIPAC or that AIPAC is a marginalized and oppressed group in the United States is so painfully ludicrous that it’s truly surprising that someone can express it with a straight face. But self-pity and blinding self-absorption are potent afflictions, and it’s thus not only possible — but extremely common in our political discussions — to witness those who exert the most influence and power petulantly insist that everything is stacked against them and everything bad that happens to them is an unfair by-product of their weakness, persecution and oppression.
Freeman Affair Puts Israel Lobby in Spotlight March 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: aipac, america israel public affairs, anti-freeman, broder, charles freeman, congress, daniel luban, Dennis Blair, foreign policy, intelligence council, israel, israel government, israel labor party, israel lobby, jim lobe, kadima, lieberman, likud, mark kirk, mearsheimer, Middle East, neo-conservatives, neoconservatives, nic, Obama, obama administration, pat lang, roger hollander, schumer, settlement movement, stephen walt
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Published on Friday, March 13, 2009 by Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON – Although the successful campaign to keep Amb. Charles “Chas” Freeman out of a top intelligence post marked a surface victory for the pro-Israel hardliners who opposed him, the long-term political implications of the Freeman affair appear far more ambiguous.
Freeman’s withdrawal has provoked growing – if belated – media scrutiny of the operations of the so-called “Israel Lobby”, and aroused protests from a number of prominent mainstream political commentators who allege that he was the target of a dishonest and underhanded smear campaign that, among other things, accused him of shilling for the governments of Saudi Arabia and China.
For the neo-conservatives who led the charge against Freeman’s appointment, his withdrawal may therefore prove to be both a tactical victory and a strategic defeat.
At the same time, the Freeman affair has highlighted the yawning disconnect between the career professionals in the intelligence and diplomatic communities, from whom Freeman enjoyed strong support, and political leaders in Congress and the White House, none of whom came to his defense publicly.
Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who has been a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the occupied territories, withdrew from consideration as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) on Tuesday. He did not go quietly into the night, however, releasing a statement in which he struck back at his critics.
“I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country,” Freeman wrote.
“There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.”
The motives for the anti-Freeman campaign are themselves a matter of debate. Virtually all of his chief attackers were neo-conservatives, whose views generally reflect those of the Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, and other reflexive defenders of Israeli government policies. Many observers viewed it as self-evident that their hostility to him was based on his often bluntly-spoken belief that U.S. and Israel’s interests in the Middle East were not necessarily convergent.
In the media, the campaign against Freeman was waged mainly by neo-conservative organs, such as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and by The New Republic, a generally liberal weekly that, however, routinely attacks Israel’s critics.
In Congress, it was led by politicians such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and Rep. Mark Kirk, all of whom have strong ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby group whose members range from far-right supporters of the militant settlement movement in Israel to more moderate factions sympathetic to the relatively centrist Kadima and Labor Parties.
Freeman’s critics sought to portray their attacks on him as rooted not in his criticisms of Israel but in his allegedly compromising ties to Saudi Arabia and China, including his leadership of a think tank that was partially funded by a member of the Saudi royal family and his service on an advisory board of China’s largest oil company.
In the mainstream media, however, few seemed to buy into these claims. The most widely read U.S. newspapers, which had all but ignored the controversy as it raged in the “blogosphere”, attributed his withdrawal to the unacceptability of his views on Israel policy – in the process going further than ever before in putting the Israel lobby in the national spotlight.
The New York Times headlined its story “Israel Stance Was Undoing of Nominee for Intelligence Post”, while the Washington Post confirmed that AIPAC, which had insisted it had no position on Freeman’s appointment, had indeed quietly provided critical material about him to inquiring reporters.
A Los Angeles Times editorial explicitly referenced “the Israel lobby” as the force behind Freeman’s withdrawal, adding, “We do not believe that Israel should be immune from criticism or that there is room for only one point of view in our government.”
And while the Post’s editorial page, like the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal, had hosted anti-Freeman op-eds early in the campaign against him, its veteran political columnist, David Broder – long viewed as the embodiment of Washington centrism – praised the former ambassador as “an able public servant” and wrote that “[t]he Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place.”
Broder was not the only prominent centrist to react harshly to the anti-Freeman campaign. Others included the Broder’s fellow Post columnist, David Ignatius, The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan (who called the campaign “repulsive”), Time’s Joe Klein (“assassination”), and Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf (“lynching-by-blog”). Freeman has also been invited as the guest of Fareed Zakaria, a regular columnist for Newsweek and the Post, on his regular Sunday CNN program on foreign policy, “GPS.”
In the end, the attempts by Freeman’s critics to make the story about anything but Israel may have backfired. Instead, discussion of the role of the Israel lobby in forming U.S. foreign policy appears to have acquired more mainstream legitimacy than ever before.
The long-taboo subject became a matter of public debate in 2006, when two prominent political scientists, the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer and Harvard University’s Stephen Walt, published their article “The Israel Lobby”, later expanded into a book. The two argued that a powerful lobby, centered on but not limited to AIPAC, exerts a “stranglehold” on U.S. foreign policy debates and stifles any criticism of Israeli policies, to the detriment of both the U.S. and Israel.
Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis was instantly controversial. Critics accused them of perpetuating age-old anti-Semitic tropes about the covert Jewish domination of politics. Mainstream critics of Israel have been reluctant to align themselves with the two, even when they have reached some of the same conclusions.
In the wake of the Freeman affair, however, Mearsheimer and Walt appear to be getting a new hearing. The Los Angeles Times went so far as to suggest that the attacks on them may have been overstated.
“[T]he battle over Freeman…seems to have exposed more sympathy for a Walt/Mearsheimer view of U.S.-Israel relations than one might have expected to be out there,” wrote Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, one of Freeman’s harshest critics. “People like Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan are now fairly indistinguishable from Stephen Walt.”
Goldfarb intended the comment as an insult, but it may nonetheless have contained a kernel of truth.
While the Freeman affair may have shifted the parameters of debate on Israel policy, it has also exposed fissures and resentments between the national security bureaucracy and the U.S. political leadership.
Some veteran observers, such as the “Nelson Report”, an influential private newsletter, compared Freeman’s treatment to the McCarthy era when long-time government Asia experts were deemed responsible for “losing China” to the Communists and hounded out of the foreign service by the so-called “China Lobby”.
Col. Pat Lang, the former top Middle East analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who signed a letter of support for Freeman, told IPS that the saga had caused a “tentative feeling of disappointment” about the new administration within the intelligence community.
“It’s very disheartening for people who viewed Freeman’s appointment as the return to some standard of intellectual excellence or integrity”, he said, adding that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Adm. Dennis Blair, who went to the Senate and strongly defended his appointee, may be the next target for Freeman’s antagonists as they push for alarmist intelligence on Iran.
“I’m concerned about what these characters are going to do about Blair, because Blair really stood up to them, and their general reaction to that is to wage a war of annihilation against people who do that,” Lang said.
Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.
Who will save Israel from itself? January 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: al-jazeera, al-Qaeda, ceasefire, gaza, geneva convention, gideon levy, haaretz, hamas, hezbollah, human rights, humanitarian crisis, International law, Iran, israel, israel lobby, israeli military, israelis, Jimmy Carter, lebanon, mark levine, Middle East, non-military targets, Obama, Palestine, Palestinians, red cross, Richard Falk, rockets, roger hollander, rogue state, siege, Syria, tzipi livni, un, War Crimes, west bank
The Israeli government’s justifications for the war are being scrutinised [GALLO/GETTY]
Mark LeVine, www.aljazeera.net
January 12, 2009
One by one the justifications given by Israel for its latest war in Gaza are unravelling.
The argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas broke a six-month ceasefire has been challenged, not just by observers in the know such as Jimmy Carter, the former US president who helped facilitate the truce, but by centre-right Israeli intelligence think tanks.
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, whose December 31 report titled “Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report,” confirmed that the June 19 truce was only “sporadically violated, and then not by Hamas but instead by … “rogue terrorist organisations”.
Instead, “the escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement” occurred after Israel killed six Hamas members on November 4 without provocation and then placed the entire Strip under an even more intensive siege the next day.
According to a joint Tel Aviv University-European University study, this fits a larger pattern in which Israeli violence has been responsible for ending 79 per cent of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the second intifada, compared with only 8 per cent for Hamas and other Palestinian factions.
Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry seems to realise that this argument is losing credibility.
During a conference call with half a dozen pro-Israel professors on Thursday, Asaf Shariv, the Consul General of Israel in New York, focused more on the importance of destroying the intricate tunnel system connecting Gaza to the Sinai.
He claimed that such tunnels were “as big as the Holland and Lincoln tunnels,” and offered as proof the “fact” that lions and monkeys had been smuggled through them to a zoo in Gaza. In reality, the lions were two small cubs that were drugged, thrown in sacks, and dragged through a tunnel on their way to a private zoo.
The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any international leader or journalist who will meet with them.
With each new family, 10, 20 and 30 strong, buried under the rubble of a building in Gaza, the claim that the Israeli forces have gone out of their way to diminish civilian casualties – long a centre-piece of Israel’s image as an enlightened and moral democracy – is falling apart.
Anyone with an internet connection can Google “Gaza humanitarian catastrophe” and find the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories and read the thousands of pages of evidence documenting the reality of the current fighting, and the long term siege on Gaza that preceded it.
The Red Cross, normally scrupulous in its unwillingness to single out parties to a conflict for criticism, sharply criticised Israel for preventing medical personnel from reaching wounded Palestinians, some of whom remained trapped for days, slowly starving and dying in the Gazan rubble amidst their dead relatives.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has flatly denied Israeli claims that Palestinian fighters were using the UNRWA school compound bombed on January 6, in which 40 civilians were killed, to launch attacks, and has challenged Israel to prove otherwise.
War crimes admission
Additionally, numerous flippant remarks by senior Israeli politicians and generals, including Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, refusing to make a distinction between civilian people and institutions and fighters – “Hamas doesn’t … and neither should we” is how Livni puts it – are rightly being seen as admissions of war crimes.
Indeed, in reviewing statements by Israeli military planners leading up to the invasion, it is clear that there was a well thought out decision to go after Gaza’s civilian infrastructure – and with it, civilians.
The following quote from an interview with Major-General Gadi Eisenkot that appeared in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in October, is telling:
“We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these [the villages] are military bases,” he said.
“This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised.”
Causing “immense damage and destruction” and considering entire villages “military bases” is absolutely prohibited under international law.
Eisenkot’s description of this planning in light of what is now unfolding in Gaza is a clear admission of conspiracy and intent to commit war crimes, and when taken with the comments above, and numerous others, renders any argument by Israel that it has tried to protect civilians and is not engaging in disproportionate force unbelievable.
International laws violated
On the ground, the evidence mounts ever higher that Israel is systematically violating a host of international laws, including but not limited to Article 56 of the IV Hague Convention of 1907, the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention (more specifically known as the “Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949″, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the principles of Customary International Humanitarian Law.
None of this excuses or legitimises the firing of rockets or mortars by any Palestinian group at Israeli civilians and non-military targets.
As Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur, declared in his most recent statement on Gaza: “It should be pointed out unambiguously that there is no legal (or moral) justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and that such behavior is a violation of IHR, associated with the right to life, as well as constitutes a war crime.”
By the same logic, however, Israel does not have the right to use such attacks as an excuse to launch an all-out assault on the entire population of Gaza.
In this context, even Israel’s suffering from the constant barrage of rockets is hard to pay due attention to when the numbers of dead and wounded on each side are counted. Any sense of proportion is impossible to sustain with such a calculus.
Israeli commentators and scholars, self-described “loyal” Zionists who served proudly in the army in wars past, are now publicly describing their country, in the words of Oxford University professor Avi Shlaim, as a “rogue” and gangster” state led by “completely unscrupulous leaders”.
Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University, has declared that Israel’s actions in Gaza are like “raising animals for slaughter on a farm” and represent a “bizarre new moral element” in warfare.
“The moral voice of restraint has been left behind … Everything is permitted” against Palestinians, writes a disgusted Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy.
Fellow Haaretz columnist and daughter of Holocaust survivors, Amira Haas writes of her late parents disgust at how Israeli leaders justified Israel’s wars with a “language laundromat” aimed at redefining reality and Israel’s moral compass. “Lucky my parents aren’t alive to see this,” she exclaimed.
Around the world people are beginning to compare Israel’s attack on Gaza, which after the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers was turned literally into the world’s largest prison, to the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Extremist Muslims are using internet forums to collect names and addresses of prominent European Jews with the goal, it seems clear, of assassinating them in retaliation for Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Al-Qaeda is attempting to exploit this crisis to gain a foothold in Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, as well as through attacking Jewish communities globally.
Iran’s defiance of both Israel and its main sponsor, the US, is winning it increasing sympathy with each passing day.
Democratic values eroded
Inside Israel, the violence will continue to erode both democratic values in the Jewish community, and any acceptance of the Jewish state’s legitimacy in the eyes of its Palestinian citizens.
And yet in the US – at least in Washington and in the offices of the mainstream Jewish organisations – the chorus of support for Israel’s war on Gaza continues to sing in tight harmony with official Israeli policy, seemingly deaf to the fact that they have become so out of tune with the reality exploding around them.
At my university, UCI, where last summer Jewish and Muslim students organised a trip together through the occupied territories and Israel so they could see with their own eyes the realities there, old battle lines are being redrawn.
The Anteaters for Israel, the college pro-Israel group at the University of California, Irvine, sent out an urgent email to the community explaining that, “Over the past week, increasing amounts of evidence lead us to believe that Hamas is largely responsible for any alleged humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.
I have no idea who the “us” is that is referred to in the appeal, although I am sure that the membership of that group is shrinking.
Indeed, one of the sad facts of this latest tragedy is that with each claim publicly refuted by facts on the ground, more and more Americans, including Jews, are refusing to trust the assertions of Israeli and American Jewish leaders.
Even worse, in the Arab/Muslim world, the horrific images pouring out of Gaza daily are allowing preachers and politicians to deploy well-worn yet still dangerous and inciteful stereotypes against Jews as they rally the masses against Israel – and through it – their own governments.
What is most frightening is that the most important of Israel’s so-called friends, the US political establishment and the mainstream Jewish leadership, seem clueless to the devastating trap that Israel has led itself into – in good measure with their indulgence and even help.
It is one that threatens the country’s existence far more than any Qassam rockets, with their 0.4 per cent kill rate; even more than the disastrous 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon, which by weakening Israel’s deterrence capability in some measure made this war inevitable.
First, it is clear that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, it cannot stop the rockets unless it agrees to a truce that will go far to meeting the primary demand of Hamas – an end to the siege.
Merely by surviving (and it surely will survive) Hamas, like Hezbollah in 2006, will have won.
Israel is succeeding in doing little more than creating another generation of Palestinians with hearts filled with rage and a need for revenge.
Second, Israel’s main patron, the US, along with the conservative Arab autocracies and monarchies that are its only allies left in the Muslim world, are losing whatever crumbs of legitimacy they still had with their young and angry populations.
The weaker the US and its axis becomes in the Middle East, the more precarious becomes Israel’s long-term security. Indeed, any chance that the US could convince the Muslim world to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons has been buried in Gaza.
Third, as Israel brutalises Palestinians, it brutalises its own people. You cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this scale without doing even greater damage to your soul.
The high incidence of violent crimes committed by veterans returning from combat duty in Iraq is but one example of how the violence of occupation and war eat away at people’s moral centre.
While in the US only a small fraction of the population participates in war; in Israel, most able-bodied men end up participating.
The effects of the latest violence perpetrated against Palestinians upon the collective Israeli soul is incalculable; the notion that it can survive as an “ethnocracy” – favouring one ethnic group, Jews, yet by and large democratic – is becoming a fiction.
Who will save Israel from herself?
Israelis are clearly incapable. Their addiction as a society to the illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental illness.
As Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman described it on January 10, “Israel has created an image of itself of a madman that has lost it”.
Not Palestinians, too many of whom have fallen prey to the same condition.
Not the Middle East Quartet, the European Union, the United Nations, or the Arab League, all of whom are utterly powerless to influence Israeli policy.
Not the organised Jewish leadership in the US and Europe, who are even more blind to what is happening than most Israelis, who at least allow internal debate about the wisdom of their government’s policies.
Not the growing progressive Jewish community, which will need years to achieve enough social and political power to challenge the status quo.
And not senior American politicians and policy-makers who are either unwilling to risk alienating American Jewish voters, or have been so brainwashed by the constant barrage of propaganda put out by the “Israel Lobby” that they are incapable of reaching an independent judgment about the conflict.
During the US presidential race, Barack Obama was ridiculed for being a messiah-like figure. The idea does not sound so funny now. It is hard to imagine anyone less saving Israel, the Palestinians, and the world from another four years of mindless violence.
Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and the soon to be published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.
The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.