Sunday, March 21, 2010

Israel's Latest Insult

As almost everyone must know, the latest episode in the saga of Israeli contempt for the United States (literally, the hand that feeds this beast), exploded recently when Israel announced, at the very moment when Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel trying to pave the way for newly-announced peace negotiations, that it was building 1600 new dwellings in the area of East Jerusalem historically occupied by Palestinians. These will be illegal (International intergovernmental organizations such as the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, every major organ of the United Nations, and the European Union have declared that the settlements are a violation of international law. see wikipedia) dwellings for Israeli settlers—the most rabidly anti-Palestinian, violent members of the Israeli nation. The announcement clearly took Biden by surprise, and he responded with appropriate umbrage. So, in subsequent days, did the State Department, announcing that Secretary of State Clinton had upbraided Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (himself the most right-wing head of state Israel has had in a long time) for the “insult” to American peace-making attempts. More tellingly, perhaps, the American military, in the persons of Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus pointed out the same thing to Israel that Biden had: Israel’s actions, by further inflaming anti-American hatred among Muslims, endanger American troops in the Middle East. One might add that they also endanger American lives in general, both at home, and abroad.

None of this seems to matter, of course, to the zealots now in power in Israel, and their supporters in the United States. The pro-Israel lobby has been ringing the phones off the hook complaining about President Obama’s “anti-Israel policies” and even his alleged hatred of Israel and love for the Palestinians. This in the face of Obama’s having bent over backwards to curry favor with AIPAC during his presidential run, and for his recurrent announcements of the inseparable bonds joining the two nations. But for the pro-Israel lobby, nothing an American president does is ever good enough. It is not enough that for 60 years American presidents have been virtual handmaidens to Israel’s aggression against Palestinians; have pretended not to notice that Israel, alone among Middle Eastern nations, has developed nuclear weapons and now has a stockpile of more than 200 of the most advanced of them; and have supplied Israel with billions upon billions in military aid, to the point where it is now the 5th most powerful military on the planet—this with a tiny population of 5 million or so. Nor is it enough that American administrations have blocked all sanctions against Israel’s war crimes via its veto in the United Nations Security Council, and have propagandized almost as feverishly as Israel itself to characterize Palestinians and Arabs/Muslims in general as terrorists. No, it will apparently never be enough until every last Palestinian is hounded and terrorized and starved sufficiently to abandon the entire territory which Israel claims as its own—all of historic Palestine, which Israeli Zionists call Eretz Israel: greater Israel. That is the plan, and the United States of America is expected to go along with it, help implement it, no matter the danger to its own national interest and the safety of its citizens. To not do so is to be accused of being “anti-Semitic” by the pro-Israel lobby: AIPAC, the ADL (anti-defamation league), AIPAC-loyal Democrats in Congress, the propagandists on Commentary Magazine and in the general media, and on and on.

One example of this was the reaction of U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) to the State Department’s criticism of Netanyahu; she called it an “irresponsible overreaction.” This was about the same as the Anti-Defamation League’s criticism, which called it a “gross overreaction” (could it be that the two worked out their language together?). No doubt more colorful and extreme language will be forthcoming. So will more extreme pressure on both Democrats in the Congress (a huge percentage of their funding comes from American Jews), and the Obama administration. Whether it will be able to weather the storm, maintain its perfectly legitimate stance, and/or pressure Israel to pull back from its illegal and inflammatory settlement activity, is an open question. But as Chris Hedges wrote recently on TruthDig, the current flap has inspired a perhaps more dangerous dilemma: it has put Liberal Jews on the Spot. Hedges means not only liberal Jews in the United States, but those in Israel as well—people like A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, and the novelist Amos Oz. These are the people who have traditionally “anguished” over Israeli crimes, but taken a kind of strange pride in their anguish. As Norman Finkelstein described it in Hedges’ article, their stance said, “Isn’t it beautiful, the Israeli soul, how it is anguished over what it has done?” But the report of the classic Jewish liberal, Judge Richard Goldstone, whose Goldstone report on the Israeli invasion of Gaza noted the disproportionate military force used against Hamas militants and the failure to take adequate precautions to protect the civilian population, has blown the cover of these liberals. If a man who calls himself a Zionist, a man whose daughter moved to Israel, a man who sits on the board of governors of Hebrew University in Jersusalem and who has an honorary degree from that university—if such a man can condemn the Gaza invasion in such terms, and even indict Israel for its continuing occupation, its blockade, its torture of Palestinians, its willful decimation of their economy, and its erection of the so-called “security wall” creating an apartheid state—then Jewish liberals can no longer take refuge in their traditional anguish. As Finkelstein says:

“Goldstone did not perform the role of the Jewish liberal, which is to be anguished, but no consequences. And all of a sudden Israeli liberal Jews are discovering, hey, there are consequences for committing war crimes….’you have to go to the criminal court.’” (from Chris Hedges, Israeli Crackdown Puts Liberal Jews on the Spot, TruthDig, 3/15/2010).

In short, if liberal means belief in the rule of law, then the Goldstone Report makes clear that “it is impossible to reconcile liberal convictions with Israel’s conduct.” Of course, many groups both within Israel and in the United States have known this for a long time. Many of my heroes in the American Jewish community, people like Noam Chomsky, Barbara Lubin, Norman Finkelstein, Dennis Bernstein and Nora Barrows Friedman of KPFA’s Flashpoints, and many many others, have for years researched and publicized and condemned Israeli brutality toward Palestinians. Many groups and individuals inside Israel itself have done the same thing, risking their positions and lives to condemn their own government’s policies: peace groups like B’Tselem, the New Israel Fund, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, as well as countless scholars like Uri Avnery, and young people—the so-called refuseniks—who refuse compulsory military service. The Israeli government has, to be sure, noted all this, and has recently undertaken a crackdown on all such groups, including NGOs trying to help the Palestinians survive. Whether it will succeed in silencing all dissent and aid within the country is not yet resolved.

What the two initiatives suggest, however, is that the right-wing zealots in Israel are gaining ground, and seem to be willing to risk alienating even the United States in their push to ethnically cleanse the territory they see as theirs by biblical right. Any effort by outside parties, such as the Obama administration, to seek peace—even so minimal and fraudulent a peace as the “peace process” has sought over the years—clearly thwarts this long-term goal. The only question that remains is the simple and obvious one: how long will the U.S. government tolerate the preferencing of this so-called ally over all other national interests, including the safety of its own citizens? How long will campaign contributions from wealthy American Jews so distort the political process that it puts the entire nation at risk? How long will government officials who take the oath of office to defend and protect this nation violate that oath by ignoring, and even amplifying obvious threats to its well-being and the well-being of its citizens? Does Obama have the courage to take this on, to threaten the cutoff of all aid if the insult is not rectified, if Israeli violations of international and humanitarian law are not stopped? The next few months should be very instructive in this regard.

Lawrence DiStasi

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