The Emperor’s clothes are still on, for now (while his heckler is roughed up, hospitalized)
May 24, 2011
Gliding down the aisle of the House of Representatives like a popular president about to deliver the State of the Union address, escorted by a phalanx of dozens of ebullient Members of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered a joint meeting of Congress today to a round of hearty handshakes and a thunderous standing ovation.
In a post-speech press conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gushed that Netanyahu delivered an “all-star” address, and Netanyahu proclaimed it a “great day” for Israel. And, in the self-contained world that is Capitol Hill, who could blame them for believing it to be so?
For in a world in which Israel finds itself as isolated as ever by a growing and successful Palestinian civil society-led international movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against its apartheid policies; in which Palestinians are taking matters into their own hands diplomatically and pushing to have the United Nations admit the State of Palestine as a full member of the organization this fall; and in which even the President of the United States appears disgruntled by Israel’s intransigent ongoing colonization of Palestinian land, at least on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu can still play the ace up his sleeve to aplomb and then chum around like the king of the castle.
There on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu still has friends like Senator Chuck Schumer, who told a Jewish radio program that “One of my roles, very important in the United States Senate, is to be a shomer [guard]—to be a or the shomer Yisrael [guard of Israel]. And I will continue to be that with every bone in my body.” With friends like these wrapped around his little finger, no wonder Netanyahu’s forcible denunciations of international law were met with such rapturous approbation by Members of Congress who applauded his rejectionism dozens of times.
This bonhomie was punctuated only once during Netanyahu’s hour-long speech, when a lone and courageous activist—Rae Abileah—from CODEPINK, disrupted it. CODEPINK organized a series of events and protests—“Move Over AIPAC”—to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last weekend. From the gallery, Abileah shouted “No more occupation, stop Israel[i] war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians, occupation is indefensible.”
Her protest was quickly shut down in a “hey rube” moment by AIPAC attendees in the gallery who assaulted and tackled her before she was hauled away by police, causing injuries to her neck and shoulders requiring hospitalization. At the same time, Members of Congress joined the AIPAC carnie thuggery by shouting down Abileah with boos before quickly resuming to feed out of Netanyahu’s hand.
Given both the intellectual mediocrity of the average Member of Congress and the Israel lobby’s deliberate strategy of electing and placing in key positions Members of Congress like Schumer, it is difficult to determine how much applause Netanyahu received due to ignorance of history and international law, and how much was due to their cheerleading for Israeli apartheid. Whatever the exact formulation, it amounts to a deadly combination that ensures Israel can continue to thumb its nose at the international community and oppress the Palestinian people while Congress keeps open the spigot of U.S. weapons to underwrite the job.
Only in an institution as self-delusional as Congress could Netanyahu pontificate with a straight face that the path of liberty “is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.”
Only before Congress would Netanyahu dare crow that there are now more than 650,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a full 30% more than the upper limits of previous estimates, making his offer to be “very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state,” and willing to make a “far reaching compromise” unadulterated hokum.
In the wake of 10,000 AIPAC lobbyists deluging Capitol Hill today, there is no doubt that Congress will overwhelmingly vote to pass AIPAC-written resolutions condemning the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement and Palestinian moves for UN membership, once again asserting that Israel is truly the best thing since sliced bread.
Netanyahu may well feel smug from his reception in the last bastion of such uncritical support for Israel’s apartheid policies toward Palestinians. While the rest of the world has long since discovered that the emperor has no clothes, his sycophants and enablers in Congress pretend that it is business as usual. They will then be surprised to wake up one day in the near future to see their beloved apartheid state sanctioned.
Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 350 organizations working to change U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. He is a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service.
We can only pray that Congress’s supine conduct before a rightwing foreign leader will have political consequences
May 24, 2011
In Israel they say that the occupation devoured Israeli politics so that everyone is beholden to the settlers, well the same thing is happening to American politics and today it was evident. I’m not the only one to feel shattered by Netanyahu’s bravura performance in Congress today laying claim to the West Bank as the ancestral Jewish homeland– and the Congress’s prostrate acceptance of his rightwing declarations.
“In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers,” he said to a standing ovation– I even saw John Kerry standing. “We are not the British in India. We are not the Belgians in the Congo.”
And Netanyahu got the same standing ovation when he said, crazily: “Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a difficult issue for Palestinians.”
No wonder David Welna of NPR has quoted John Mearsheimer as lead analyst in his piece tonight– a breakthrough by the gobsmacked media. Writes a friend: “With this speech Netanyahu becomes the right-wing politician of most serious national stature in America. He put a lot of work into the words, and the delivery. It was necessary to have some understanding of (a) history, (b) politics, and (c) character in order to see through it. The distortions were everywhere. But I doubt that 20 members of Congress were equipped to notice them. There must have been a dozen standing ovations. He has taken Hamas off the table, put the peril of Iran back on the table, and bound the U.S. to Israel under the sign of power and providence.”
ABC says there were 20 standing ovations, on MSNBC I heard there were 26. Staggering. Our president is overseas, and his spokesman Ben Rhodes was afraid to contradict Netanyahu in any way today. This is power of the lobby in our politics, and it looks as disastrous to me as the slave power’s ability to enforce unanimity in American politics in the 1850s.
Code Pink’s nervy presence reminds us that consensus for segregation and Vietnam also seemed impregnable once
May 24, 2011
The Code Pink “Move Over Aipac” demonstrations in Washington were extraordinary. There are not yet thousands ready to come to DC to demonstrate against AIPAC and its fellows’ dominance of American Mideast policy, but there were a few hundred. Medea Benjamin and her crew molded us into a creative, witty, and challenging force—one that caused manifest discomfort to the smug and well-heeled delegates inside the convention center. Watching Medea and her staff work, supervising the creation and painting of signs and banners, building the props like the grossly fat inflated “Bibi suit” with “Show Me the Money” emblazoned on it, the cardboard checkpoints, the “Boat to Gaza,” the songs, the chants, an electronic billboard truck displaying the faces of murdered and imprisoned Palestinians circling around the AIPAC convention, was a reminder that focusing on the concepts and debating points of politics misses more than half of it. Code Pink does organized political theater, as well as it could be done with limited resources. Moreover we had a blast doing it, a feeling amplified by all the signs the vast majority of the AIPAC people couldn’t bear our presence. No doubt they would have preferred us to be treated the way Israel treats peaceful demonstrators, with barrages of tear gas canisters and stink grenades and arrests in the middle of the night. But the DC police I thought did a good job ensuring that the space outside the convention center retained the freedoms of America.
I’m not sure if there are global MacArthur awards for charismatic leadership, and the former academic in me kept trying to recall what Max Weber had said on the subject. But Medea Benjamin is in a very special class. Our group was young and old, kippahed, headscarved, and Christian (and probably some Buddhists) But its dominant tone is derived from the fact Medea is a Jewish woman who argues from Jewish social justice tradition to shame the AIPAC’ers. When the conference opened early Sunday morning, we were there to greet them in our little park. The AIPAC’ers filed past, the women dressed to the nines in stiletto heels and as dresses as brief as middle age allows. A smug and self-assured crowd, which tried to give us dismissive and condescending smiles. “You know, the Palestinians didn’t do the Holocaust” began Medea over the microphone, which may be the crucial point, so seldom made in America, which is at the heart of all this. And then, as they were leaving in the evening, “Were you taught to believe that you are chosen? I was taught that all people are chosen. I was taught to believe in the Golden Rule.”
There were of course more accusatory chants, which we took to the gates of the conference center, referencing Israeli war crimes, ethnic cleansing, checkpoints, the nascent apartheid state between the river and the sea that Israel is rapidly becoming. It was delicious to see the delegates’ discomfort at these accusations. They live in a bubble of self-righteousness, where they are told continuously that only anti-Semites oppose Israel. They have the satisfied aura of those accustomed to having American politicians bow and scrape before them, say what they want said, write the resolutions they want written, pass the laws they want passed. So it has been for nearly two generations, long enough to seem part of the natural order.
And thus it was as if they almost couldn’t bear the sound of criticism, loud and pointed, in the streets of Washington DC. And yet, since there is surely intelligence and historical memory in the ranks of the AIPAC’ers, so there is knowledge that the opposition to both segregation and the Vietnam war began with small groups confronting a seemingly impregnable dominant power. I don’t doubt that some of the conventioneers have begun to recognize how tenuous is their hold on American discourse, how quickly it could crumble once the first cracks begin to show.
Code Pink has held these gatherings for the past few years, and every year has been bigger than the last. I hope for justice in Palestine, but failing that, next year’s should be twice the size and far more powerful still.
May 24, 2011
I just saw Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s speech to AIPAC last night. He took a rightwing foreign prime minister’s side against his own president:
No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else.
That’s flipping the bird at the 1967 lines. Do the American people get to discuss? And what about Chris Matthews’s claim that it’s just Republican leaders?
May 24, 2011
In his speech to Congress just now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that 650,000 Israelis live east of the Green Line, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This is an inflation of the usual figure of settlers, 500,000, and maybe he knows? 650,000 would represent about 10 percent of Israel’s population.
Netanyahu’s statement my be a claim, but it is also an indication of a belief that the Israeli right shares with one-staters– it is impossible to remove Jewish settlements, and so this is one polity.
Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO representative, said on CNN that Netanyahu had also understated the number of Palestinians living in Israel, from 1.3 million to 1 million. And so, by numbers, the Prime Minister performs a kind of cleansing.
May 24, 2011
Here is a report on the disruptions, from MoveoverAipac. And the videos:
May 24, 2011
After three and a half years, I’m delighted to announce that my book, Fast Times in Palestine, is between covers. It’s modeled in a sense afterUncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that didn’t try to pontificate about the evils of slavery but simply displayed these evils in the context of a story full of love, beauty, suspense, cruelty, and deeply human characters. It was therefore able to reach and move broad audiences.
Fast Times is non-fiction but it reads like a novel, with as many laugh-out-loud scenes as there are crushing horrors. The aim is to put things in a context that any American with half a heart can relate to at this crucial time. The hope is that after people like Mondoweiss regulars read it, they’ll pass it on to friends and relatives who can’t imagine why they’re so passionate about Palestine.
Below is an excerpt followed by ordering information. The main character in this excerpt is Qais, a Palestinian from Jayyous whom I was sort of almost dating, except that we could never get a moment to ourselves because of our crazy schedules — I worked in Ramallah while he studied in Jenin and helped his dad on their farm whenever he had time off — and because his family welcomed me as a daughter whenever I visited Jayyous, but they never let us be alone together. The only reason we could get to know each other well was because both of us spoke Russian and no one else did, so we could at least speak freely.
In this scene, Qais has carefully arranged his schedule so he can visit me in Ramallah for the first time.
A few days later, Qais called.
“I’m coming to Ramallah on Saturday morning, insha’Allah.”
My eyes widened. “Seriozna?” (Seriously?) The coming weekend would be his last before classes started again. And he wanted to spend it together. Maybe there was hope for us after all.
He laughed. “Yes. Insha’Allah.”
He called again on Saturday morning and said he was on the bus and would arrive in forty minutes if there were no checkpoints. I happily began cleaning the house, buzzing with energy, humming with possibilities.
By the time I finished and looked at a clock, I was startled to realize nearly two hours had passed. I called Qais’s number. He rejected the call.
Feeling some mixture of alarm and irritation, I texted,Bolshoi checkpoint?
Several minutes later, he texted back:
They booked my ID and the bus went i dont know wat wil happen. I am stopped with some bodyelse. Dont try to cal. I wil cal wen they leave me. My kissing to u.
My blood runs cold. This is how it starts. The soldiers take them off their bus, off the street, out of their house, and they disappear, maybe for hours, maybe for days, maybe for years. Palestinians can be held in Israeli jails for up to three months without charge or trial, a practice known as ‘administrative detention.’ The three-month sentences can be renewed indefinitely. I’ve heard stories of innocent people being held for years in Israeli prisons, of people being destroyed by the experience. No warrant. No charge. No phone call.
This isn’t arrest in any sense I recognize. This is government-sponsored kidnapping.
If the soldiers are just harassing him, he’ll call in a couple of hours. If they’re taking him for days or months, I’ll have to sit here as dreadful minutes drag into unbearable hours waiting for his call, my imagination getting worse as time goes on. I can’t concentrate enough to do anything but stare at my silent phone.
By the time four hours have passed, I am a basket case.
Shadi [Qais’s older brother] calls at four in the afternoon and says he’s been trying to call his brother all day with no luck. He asks me if Qais reached Ramallah.
“No,” I say. “He was stopped at a checkpoint. Soldiers took him off his bus.”
Shadi is silent for a moment. “Please call me if you hear anything.”
“I will. Same to you, OK?”
“Of course.” I hang up and think, Qais must have told Shadi he was coming to visit me, even though it was supposed to be a secret. A slight pang of betrayal is quickly replaced by the realization that it was a very sensible thing to do in a time and place where he knows he can disappear at any moment without warning.
Yasmine [my roommate, a sassy Communist from Gaza] shows up half an hour later with a cheeseburger and fries from the Checkers on Main Street. I haven’t eaten all day. She splits her food with me. I numbly choke it down.
She says reassuringly, “Don’t worry, habibti, they do this all the time. One time they took me off my bus at a checkpoint and made me stand in the sun for ten hours.”
She scoffed. “There is no reason. They just do this to humiliate us. He is not politically active is he? He is just a student. Maximum they will beat him and throw him in prison for a few days.”
I hope to God she’s right. But even that is more than I can bear imagining. He’s never been in prison before. If they keep him more than two days, he’ll miss the beginning of class. Even if he misses a single hour of his life, a day with his family, a week of class, it’s more than I can bear. Anything worse is beyond imagination, but I imagine it all the same.
Once while we were sitting on his porch in Jayyous, Qais told me about a cousin who’d been in prison for two months in unsanitary conditions and was suffering from terrible hemorrhoids and back pains, neither of which he’d suffered before. I think of Qais sitting next to me on the porch, whole and perfect, telling me about his poor cousin. Now maybe it is his turn.
The worst part is that even if they let him go and don’t hurt him, for every friend and mother and sister and daughter who’s ever felt what I am feeling (and much, much worse), the fears of some are justified. Some loved ones never come back or spend years of their lives being broken, caged, tortured, starved, injured and sickened, their dreams curtailed by the year, their hopes ground down into the most basic things they’d taken for granted before: respect, decent food, seeing their family. Never mind what they want to study, what lessons they want to teach their kids, where they want to travel or how they want to arrange their garden.
Hours before, my hopes for a nice visit with Qais were very important to me. Now all I dare dream is that he’ll be treated reasonably well and get to school on time. These dreams seem like almost too much to ask, whereas before they were a given. Imagine the whims of teenaged soldiers defining the boundaries of people’s hopes and dreams!
I call Shadi, but he still hasn’t heard anything. He sounds as worried as I am.
I call a friend named Mohammad Othman, a wiry peace activist from Jayyous who travels the world educating people about the situation in Palestine. We meet in a coffee house on Main Street.
“My brother was arrested one time while he was eating falafel in a restaurant,” he says. “The official report said he was throwing stones. But many witnesses, including Israelis, said he was not. I called a lawyer and human rights groups, and he was released after six days.”
“Six days! Surely they won’t keep Qais for six days…”
“And my best friend, who is also not political, was arrested eight days ago. He is still missing. We think he is in the Shin Bet interrogation facility in Petah Tikvah. I hope not. I’ve heard stories about the Shin Bet torturing and fatiguing prisoners to the point that they will admit to killing Yitzhak Rabin if only they can be left alone.”
My mind and stomach are spinning. I’m reminded of a time when I was fifteen and my mom asked me if I knew how to drive a stick shift.
“Sure,” I said confidently.
“How do you know how to drive a stick shift,” she asked, “if you’ve never tried?”
“I read a book about it.” They all laughed at me. Sure enough, when I tried to drive my brother’s little Honda Civic, I nearly dropped the engine out of the bottom of the car.
It’s the same difference, it turns out, between reading a thousand human rights violations reports and then having someone you personally care about disappear.
My body feels like I’ve been crying all day, but I’m too wrung out to cry. Yasmine and Mohammad seem almost embarrassed by how sensitive I am. In so many words they tell me to grow up. These things happen. If you want to live in Palestine and not be a complete greenhorn ajnabiya (foreigner), you’ve got to put a little starch in your spine.
On the one hand, I dread and fight against losing this sensitivity, because if I begin to accept things no one should ever accept, I’ll have lost a part of my humanity. But if I weep for every kid killed in Gaza, if I waste a day with my gut aching hollow and my back bent in dread and fatigue every time a friend disappears, I’ll never stand up.
But if we don’t put ourselves in others’ shoes now and then, we risk losing sight of the silent helpless horror that lies just below the surface of what we think we know. We can’t ignore it just because it is silent, snuffed out and shut up. It is there, manifestly, and it will come for all of us if we don’t put out the fires somehow.
I can’t stand the thought of going to bed without knowing where he is or what’s being done to him. But I don’t know what else to do. I lie in bed with my phone next to me until unconsciousness overtakes me.
I wake up in the morning, and the nightmare continues. I go to the office for something to do besides stare at my silent phone. I start writing the story of my weekend, trying to capture some of the feelings while they are still raw. It is impossible.
At half past seven, 32 hours after Qais disappeared, my phone rings. I see his name on my phone. My stomach seizes. Maybe it’s his family telling me that—
“Privyet.” (Hi.) It’s his voice, full of sardonic exasperation.
Warm tears of relief stream over my fingers and onto my phone. The only utterances I can manage sound clumsy and inarticulate.
“Qais, are you OK? What happened?”
He spoke in an indignant stream of Russian so fast I couldn’t understand it all, but I gathered that they had “checked his ID” for a few hours. “Kto ya, Bin Laden ili shto?” he asked. (Who am I, Bin Laden or what?) Then they tied his hands, blindfolded him, and told him to get into an army Jeep. He asked why. They said, “Just go.”
They took him to a settlement, tied him to a chair, and interrogated him about every aspect of his life. He had no idea if he would be in there for hours or years, and he was afraid he’d miss the beginning of school. They repeated questions incessantly. They terrorized and tormented a completely innocent person for thirty-two hours, not to mention his friends and family, and ruined all of our weekends. And there’s no one to appeal to. They are the law.
After we said good-night and hung up, I felt like a thread of unbearable tension holding me up sickeningly by the armpits had been cut. I was left fallen in a dazed heap in an old landscape of everyday concerns that now seemed unfamiliar and strange.
After all that, I just had to catch a taxi. Go home. Brush my teeth. Wake up the next morning, go to work, check my email. Life goes on. It keeps going on and on, with or without you. You ride the wave called ‘normal life’ because it seems easier. Every now and then, though, you catch a glimpse of just how mad it all really is.
You can find reviews, excerpts, and other information about Fast Times in Palestine at the author’s website. You can purchase the paperback for $14.95 directly from the author, through her Amazon-affiliated sell page, or from Amazon.com. You can also purchase it for Amazon Kindle or for iPhone, iPad, and other eReaders for $8.99.
May 24, 2011
Last night, Chris Matthews attempted to politicize support for Netanyahu, and say that Republicans line up for Netanyahu while Democrats support Obama. Well if he wants to drive that wedge, good for him, it might actually politicize the issue ultimately, but it’s not accurate as things stand. Cynthia Tucker responded to Matthews last night, saying, Democrats too! [line up behind Netanyahu against Obama]. And isn’t this the ultimate proof– in Politico today, Debbi Wasserman Shultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, meeting with Netanyahu and rightwing One-Jerusalem Sheldon Adelson!!! Get on that, Chris:
It’s a powerful enough force to bridge some divides among American Jews, as Netanyahu hosted a meeting with 10 prominent Jewish Democrats and 10 prominent Jewish Republicans, including Democratic Reps. Steve Israel of New York and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, at Blair House on Monday.
A source familiar with the discussion said “there may have been a little bit of airing of grievances about the politicization of Israel.”
While support for Israel is far from unanimous — there is a committed, bipartisan corps of lawmakers who side more closely with the Palestinians — it is overwhelming.
May 24, 2011
At Porter Speakman Jr’s site, here is Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, speaking at AIPAC:
Sadly, it is a culture infused with resentment and hatred. But it is this culture that underlies the Palestinians and the broader Arab world’s refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. And this is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the ’67 lines”.
May 24, 2011
I’m fed up with criticism of Israel being shouted down as anti-Semitic. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Here’s one simple reason why: a majority of the Jewish people lives in the Diaspora.
Just because this place, this strip of land, claims to represent us all doesn’t mean it does. And just because Israel claims to be the embodiment of the Jewish people’s longing for self-determination doesn’t mean it is.
Is brainwashing school-children self-determination? Is stuffing those same kids into uniforms and plunking them down, illegally, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories self-determination? Is keeping the nation chained to a conflict opposed by a majority of Jews self-determination?
Is this the dream of the Jewish people? Is this what it means to live freely, to be masters of our own fate? Are we not self-determinate as individuals in the United States and elsewhere? Do we not live freely and securely in America and in other democratic nations?
Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute and say that criticism of Israel is indeed an attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel. But why is that anti-Semitic when most of us live in the Diaspora?
I’m not going to deny the religious link to the land. However, it’s worth pointing out that that link isn’t ours alone. This place is also sacred to Christians and Muslims (and Haifa is holy for the Baha’i, I might add).
Further, the early Zionists didn’t emphasize the religious connection. And they didn’t necessarily have their hearts set on Palestine. Other ideas were floated: Argentina, Uganda.
And not to defend Zionism because Zionism—as it has manifested itself in expulsions, massacres, and occupation, as it has manifested itself in the denial of the most basic human rights—has become indefensible. However, for argument’s sake, let’s turn to the source of it all, Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State”, we see: “But we shall give a home to our people.”
Nowhere is it written that this home will be only for our people. Some, including Shulamit Aloni, argue that Herzl did not seek to found a “Jewish state.” And Herzl didn’t discuss maintaining a Jewish majority here.
(That is not to say, of course, that the six million of us who live in Israel should just get up and leave. The only just solution, in my opinion, is a bi-national, democratic state).
Back to the religious connection: when the state of Israel was established in 1948, my ultra-Orthodox great-grandmother—a woman who had herself survived pogroms and who lost family in the Holocaust—opposed the move. And while their numbers are not great, there are members of the religious community who remain opposed to the state. There are some who are also indifferent to the state—for them, their connection is to the land, regardless of the government. This accounts, of course, for the continued presence of Jews in Palestine long before Zionism existed.
Just because Israel claims to be a symbol of the Jewish people doesn’t mean we all recognize it as one. As an American-Israeli who lives in Israel, I have to say that I don’t see this country as a “Jewish state.” I see Israel as a place that is Jewish in numbers but utterly lacking a Jewish soul.
I see a place that, by claiming to be the sole representative of the Jewish people, denies the majority’s deep connection to Judaism. I see a place—which is home to a minority and governed by a leader who caters to an even smaller minority, the settlers and American right-wingers—that has co-opted our identity and reduced it to a piece of land and a demographic struggle.
I see a place that, by claiming that the Jewish people cannot exist without this state, denies hundreds of years of Diaspora history, culture, and languages. And if that’s not anti-Semitism, I don’t know what is.