Posted: 06 Jun 2010

A day or so back the Jerusalem Post ran a propaganda piece called “Duped,” saying that the Turkish passengers of the Mavi Marmara included a bunch of jihadists who were bent on a violent confrontation with Israel, and lo, they won. Norman Finkelstein sent along the article with one statement in it boldfaced:

Former senior navy officers were also quietly telling reporters that the navy had other options. One claimed that it was possible to sabotage the ship’s propeller or that the commandos could have boarded by sea.

I asked Finkelstein why he thought this was important: Did he think that the Israelis chose the violent path?

Finkelstein and I then had an exchange, with a lot of speculation on his part, which I will summarize in my own words (Finkelstein has scholarly, not bloggerly, standards for publication): Of course we don’t know what happened. But the Israeli allegations are on their face not credible. The final deciders on the attack, according to the Israeli press, were Netanyahu and Barak. Well, Netanyahu’s brother Jonathan was on the Entebbe raid in 1976 and was the only Israeli killed.

The Entebbe raid was of course great p.r. for Israel’s military prowess for several decades thereafter. In his prime, Barak was also a commando. He led the commando raid that assassinated senior PLO officials in Lebanon in 1973, another great p.r. stunt. Finkelstein speculates that Netanyahu and Barak wanted to stage a dead- of-night armed commando raid in order to prove after so many bungled operations that the Israeli army was still up to snuff.

And against the Turkish vessel–  because it’s the Muslim world that they want to impress. (Not to mention burnishing their personal reputations and enhancing political futures.) The simple fact is that they had nonviolent options and by their own reasoning — “we did not expect violent resistance” — they could have just boarded the boat in broad daylight. The only sensible conclusion is that they wanted some “daring” commando raid to use for p.r. They wanted to pull a rabbit from the hat — and instead drew corpses drenched in blood.

P.S. From the Times online today, “Operation Calamity”:

The relationship between Bibi and Ehud goes back more than 40 years. Barak was a commander of Israel’s equivalent of the SAS and Bibi was one of his young officers. In 1972 they were among the commandos who stormed a hijacked Sabena jet at Tel Aviv airport. Bibi was injured by a bullet in his hand. Barak went untouched. Ever since, Netanyahu has regarded him as his mentor.

Posted: 06 Jun 2010

I was struck watching a Canadian television broadcast of John Mearsheimer, David Frum, Peter Beinart, and Derek Penslar (University of Toronto, Jewish history) called “Israel’s Newest Critics,” that the real outlier in the four was not Mearsheimer but Frum who came off as shrill and was clearly parroting the party line (“unresolved sovereignty” for Palestinians as a status quo). Beinart and Penslar have moved close to the Walt-Mearsheimer position, and it is the Frums of the world who are stuck defending the indefensible: Bibi and Lieberman.

Weiss adds: I gather the show is the equivalent of Charlie Rose. It is called The Agenda with Steve Paikin. At about18:50 Frum launches into a shtetl joke, with the (polite, i.e., false) disclaimer that he does not know who on the show is Jewish, which prompts Steve Paikin to say, “We should nail that down right now.” Paikin asks each guest whether he is Jewish.

Of course, Mearsheimer is the only non-Jew. How unusual to have an expert who is not Jewish talking about the American Jewish community, the assigned topic. How unusual to have personal religious attachment openly identified. And of course the broadcast was not in the United States.

The Freedom Riders (and the flotilla)Posted: 06 Jun 2010

My old friend Eric Etheridge, a Mississippian, responded to my post saying that Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, who were killed in Mississippi in ’63, were like the Gaza flotilla members:

1. CSG were not Freedom Riders but Freedom Summer volunteers. Rides were 1961, Freedom Summer 1963. Rides were classic nonviolent direct action, targeting segregated bus and train stations. Freedom Summer was about registering black Mississippians to vote, which was a provocative idea, granted, but not nonviolent direct action.

2. Ironically, the focus on voting rights came in some part from the Kennedy Administration. Even while the Rides were still going on, Bobby Kennedy met with Diane Nash, CT Vivian, James Lawson and a handful of other movement leaders in DC and urged them to forgo any more nonviolent direct action and focus on voter registration, which they (the Admin) thought was much less confrontational and much less likely to lead to violence.

 Admin offered funding, indirectly, and other support to try to induce the movement to shift its focus. Of course, any provocation was at risk of being met with deadly violence in the South in the early ’60s, and voter registration, as it turned out, wasn’t any safer than Freedom Riding. For CSG, it was even worse.

3. Not sure how you intended the question about provocation in the headline of your post (“Did Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman provoke and incite their murderers in Philadelphia, MI?”). I think the Freedom Riders intended to provoke violence in the south, in this sense: Whites had been using violence for nearly 300 years to control blacks in the United States.

The Riders were essentially saying, if you (white Southerners) are going to keep doing this, we’re going to make you do it in public, for all the world to see. We are willing to die in public for our freedom. If you kill the first group, we’re going to keep sending more groups for you to kill. We’re not going to let you do it in the shadows anymore.

4. Which is not to say the Riders wanted to die, but that they were willing to die.

5. I think the Riders’ essential gambit was this: either the White South attacks us, and they lose, or they let us desegregate the bus stations, and we win. So either way, the Riders were going to win, as long as they could muster the effort, keep the Riders coming and stay nonviolent. I think this is essentially the Flotilla’s gambit, but frankly I don’t know enough to know.

6. It is interesting to see what happened since some of the Flotilla people fought back. I’m sure all the things being said about them would have been said about the Riders if any of them had fought back.

A Palestinian-American family slept. Till 9/11Posted: 06 Jun 2010

Editor’s note: Anyone who is active in Palestinian issues in New York has come to recognize an attractive, outspoken family– Debbie Mardon and Mahmoud Bitar and their kids Joel and Jenna. Debbie looks like the girl next door, but she is unstoppable, Mahmoud has the softest smile you could ever see. Jenna is a compelling speaker. It turns out the family took a long time to awaken to the issue despite Mahmoud’s Palestinian origins. In fact, Mahmoud went by the name Michael for 30 years. Debbie watched Fox News.

The cover story of the latest issue of the Indypendent, a free, New York City-based newspaper, tells the family’s story. Excerpt below. You can read Alex Kane’s whole article here.

When Debbie first met Mahmoud, she did not understand what it meant to be someone from Palestine. Mahmoud was uncomfortable with his heritage, and he let people, including Debbie when they started dating, think he was Jewish or Italian. Debbie recalls how “people said things to him like, ‘You’re not a Palestinian, you’re too nice.’”

Born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1958, Mahmoud was brought up immersed in the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He lived in Jericho, a city in the West Bank, for the first ten years of his life after his family moved there because his father had set up a station in Jericho selling fruits and vegetables. In 1967, when the Six-Day War broke out, Mahmoud and his family returned to Jerusalem after Israeli bombs killed three of his relatives.

As soon as Mahmoud and his two brothers were college-aged, their parents sent them to the United States. Mahmoud, now a U.S. citizen, arrived in the United States in 1977 on a student visa…

For most of their marriage and while raising Jenna and Joel, Mahmoud rarely talked about his childhood in Palestine.

“I never got a greater picture, it was just bad things were happening to the Palestinians, or at least my family that was Palestinian,” Jenna said. “I visited there before I knew what was going on, for three weeks, with my grandparents when they were alive. I lived the life they lived for a bit, saw the checkpoints, but I didn’t understand.”


The September 11, 2001, attacks jolted Debbie’s political perspective, and made Mahmoud more nervous about his background as a Palestinian, especially as thousands of Middle Eastern men were profiled and arrested throughout New York City.

Debbie had just dropped Jenna off at school when she returned home and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television.

Debbie turned to Fox News for clarity.

“That was the first time I started learning about foreign policy, and why someone would attack us,” Debbie said.

But Debbie and Mahmoud rarely discussed post-9/11 politics.

“We didn’t discuss it, I just listened. Debbie’s a leader by nature, so she always led with the remote control,” Mahmoud recalls. “She had the remote control with her so she would pick the information, and I would retreat when I had really had enough of it.”

Debbie’s family started attending the Redeemer Presbyterian Church almost 20 years ago. While they were initially drawn to the church, which met at Hunter College, by a smart and interesting pastor, over the years the congregation became a second family for all of them.

However, they were forced to leave this community in March 2008 after Mahmoud, who worked at the church on Sundays, was accused of stealing a CD of a church sermon. He was arrested by a City University of New York security guard and charged with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and misdemeanor theft — charges that Debbie and her family say were ridiculous and were later dropped.

“It was a small thing in the larger world, but it happened to us,” Debbie recalls. “I thought that we would be immune to all this, and that the community we were a part of would care about truth and care about justice being served, but they didn’t care about either of those things. It opened my eyes to greater injustices. I used to think that people who went to jail were probably guilty.

But now, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness! There are all these people in jail that are probably innocent.’ Michael could’ve gone to jail, but he had a private lawyer. What happens if you’re poor?”

Nine months later, on Dec. 27, 2008, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, beginning what would be a devastating assault.

“It was during Gaza that we started to awaken,” said Joel, who at the time was first foraying into politics by joining an antiwar organization at Hunter College and reading books about U.S. foreign policy and the Israel-Palestine conflict. “Killing civilians indiscriminately with U.S. weapons, paid for with our tax money, seemed to be so hideously wrong.”

During what Amnesty International called “22 days of death and destruction,” Debbie could not avoid the Gaza conflict, especially because Mahmoud’s brother Farid, who was glued to Al Jazeera’s coverage of the assault, was emotionally devastated.

Joel, who was reading books like Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, also started to talk with Debbie about the detrimental impact of U.S. foreign policy on Palestine.

After those 22 days were over, Debbie started going to lectures and protests about the conflict and soon found herself enmeshed in the world of Palestine solidarity activism. Although described as the “leader” of the household, she was the last person to finally call herself an activist.

The assault on Gaza also made Mahmoud become more engaged with the Palestine solidarity movement.

“It’s a natural conclusion to what happened in Gaza,” Mahmoud says. “Our breath is being taken out of us. I felt an urgency to start having a voice.”

In the last two years, the household has been transformed. Jenna describes how sometimes, before she goes to sleep, Debbie will run into her room and “just read me books out loud,” including passages from the work of Chris Hedges and Michael Parenti. “She’ll come and say, ‘I have to read you this passage, it’s so good’ and it’ll be something sad and depressing,” Jenna says, laughing.

These days, it is nearly impossible to miss Debbie and members of her family at activist events related to Palestine.

CFR party line ignores everything Cordesman, Petraeus and Mossad chief have been sayingPosted: 06 Jun 2010

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations continues his critique of me for going after the CFR for publishing five Jewish experts on the Gaza flotilla attack:

I know it’s Shabbat, but the least you can do is a little bit of research.

See the chapter I did with the Shibley Telhami in “Restoring the Balance,” which was a joint cfr/brookings effort. My US News essay on the Gaza invasion and the work I did on Iraq for Salon some years ago.

I think it undermines your implicit argument that all the Jews at CFR think alike.

Well, I did my homework (except for the book chapter), and I see that Cook’s work is Realist, in the sense that he argues that war/occupation doesn’t work in the Arab world. His US News piece during “Cast Lead” said that Israeli violence against Gaza is justified but it won’t work. His piece mentions “collective punishment” in passing, but without earnestness.

Similarly, his CFR piece on the flotilla raid doesn’t say a word about Palestinian conditions under the siege; it treats the raid as a disaster for Israel’s p.r. “across the Arab and Muslim worlds” with scarce mention of Europe. I had challenged him to show me one place where he or any of the other CFR experts makes an earnest statement on behalf of Palestinian human rights. You won’t find any. And in the U.S. News/Gaza piece, Cook was writing after there was clear evidence of atrocities/disproportionate attack.

Now I admit that Cook is measured. But move on to the other four CFR panelists. They’re way worse. There was Richard Haass telling Obama to forget about settlements and a Palestinian state and join Israel in confronting Iran. There was Les Gelb saying that Israel was right! at the Daily Beast, and blockades are good.  I won’t even look at the Elliott Abrams and Max Boot pieces. Those guys are lights-out neoconservatives.

So let us be clear that the political (and Jewish) diversity Cook brags on goes from his Israel-sympathizing realism on the left to the nuts on the right. There’s a party line here. Nobody at CFR questions the “special relationship.” And this at a time when the security establishment, Anthony Cordesman, General David Petraeus, and even Mossad chief Meir Dagan are saying that Israel has become a strategic liability for the U.S. Even Biden has privately said as much; but no one at CFR can say so.

Shouldn’t a bipartisan organization like the Council have some balance? CFR used to have people like Richard Murphy (former State Department) and the great Henry Siegman doing ME stuff. Now it has neocons and Cook.

Keep in mind that CFR just replaced Jim Hoge as editor of Foreign Affairs with Gideon Rose, who has said that 9/11 had nothing to do with Palestine, who gives a platform to Israel lobbyists, never has a word to say about the strategic implications of Palestine, and who I gather once worked as an intern for AIPAC. Rose is from a wealthy New York real estate family. His father led efforts to stop boycotts of Israel. 

Oh but there I go talking about Jews again. If I keep this kind of baiting up, the anti-Semites will take away my parents’ summer house, force Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan to do tax law, run Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod out of the two offices closest to the president, never mind what will happen to poor Larry Summers and Peter Orszag and Steinberg and Bernanke and Dennis Ross and Russ Feingold and Dianne Feinstein and — better shut up. Religion means nothing. Especially around the Middle East!

Israeli Strangelove now at Harvard calmly lays out ‘Armageddon scenario’Posted: 05 Jun 2010

To understand the news involving Israeli nuclear-armed subs off Iran, I recommend an important post by Jerome Slater on his blog about a crazy/chilling paper from a former high Israeli security adviser now at Harvard, named Chuck Freilich

Read the whole original post–which includes a link to Freilich’s paper–then ask yourself what in heaven’s name this guy is doing at Harvard? And how many other brains in Israeli command are as deluded as he is? (It suggests again how little Americans know about rightwing trends in Israeli society.)

In my excerpt from Slater, note once again the utter refusal by this Israeli strangelove to reckon with the Palestinian issue as anything that Israel has to deal with. No, Israel has endless Arab enemies. Also note Slater’s view that our Israel policy is not just a strategic liability, no, it’s making us a nuke target. Excerpt, with my emphases

[T]he latest, and surely the craziest employment of the rationality-of-irrationality strategy of nuclear deterrence: Chuck Freilich’s thirty-four page study and recommendations for Israeli policy, “The Armageddon Scenario: Israel and the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism.” 

Freilich’s core argument is that Israel must enhance its deterrence against nuclear terrorism by adopting a policy under which it will initiate nuclear attacks against any state or non-state group that has a “declared nuclear terrorist capability, a stated intention to acquire one, or an advanced suspected one.”

While Freilich does not refer to [Thomas Schelling’s] rationality-of-irrationality theory [act so crazy that your enemies will fear you might actually nuke them], that is clearly the logic of his argument.

Does he actually mean what he seems to be saying: that Israel should not merely retaliate against a state or terrorist group that attacks it with nuclear weapons, but should completely destroy, in advance, any unfriendly state or group that declares it has the intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, or is merely suspected of having such an intention?” Yes.

To be sure, there are all sorts of crackpot theories and arguments, particularly concerning the use of nuclear weapons, but most of them are unlikely to actually influence state policies. However, Freilich’s arguments are more ominous, since he is at very heart of the Israeli government-military-academic establishment: a former Deputy National Security Adviser to the Israeli government and an Israeli delegate to the UN, now a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center and a professor of political science at Hebrew and Tel Aviv universities.

The “Armageddon Scenario” was published by Bar-Ilan University’s Center for National Security Studies, a rightwing thinktank that is known to be highly influential within the Netanyahu government.

Here is Freilich’s argument. Israel (and the United States) faces a grave threat of nuclear terrorism, not only from a nuclear Iran, but perhaps “one which may be no less likely and actually far more difficult to counter [because]….those most likely to pursue nuclear terrorism may be fundamentally nihilistic and thus undeterrable… [they] may be prepared to pay any cost in lives – their own and others’ – in pursuit of their goal of destroying Israel.” Moreover, because al-Qaeda can blend in with the population and perhaps clandestinely set off a nuclear weapon in an Israeli or American city, there may be “no return address,” as he puts it, for retaliation.

The problem is real: Osama Bin Laden is known to be seeking nuclear weapons–which could be acquired by theft, loss of control over nuclear arsenals, or clandestine transfer or sales of nuclear weapons by North Korea or Pakistan– and he has openly threatened to use them against Israel and the United States. Freilich is hardly the first analyst to have noticed the problem, despite his modest claim to be “the first to examine the nature of the nuclear threat Israel faces and to propose potential responses to it.” However, the nature of his proposed responses is certainly original.

To begin, Freilich argues that the nuclear terrorism problem cannot be solved by political or diplomatic means and he has no criticism—not a word–of Israeli policies and behavior towards the Palestinians; rather, the underlying premise of his argument is that the Israeli occupation and increasingly harsh repression of the Palestinians have nothing to do with the hatred it has engendered in the Arab/Muslim world.

For those who find this premise to be preposterous the only solution can be a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole, precisely what has been offered to Israel by the Arab world since 2002.

Freilich not only rejects such a course, he argues—and this is also certainly original—that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would actually increase the threats to Israel: “Peace in the Middle East, although desirable, unfortunately will not provide for true reconciliation….For the radicals who will never accept Israel, a peace agreement will further increase their determination to try and restore ‘Arab rights’ by all means possible….A Palestinian state might create a sanctuary for terrorist organizations, which could use its territory, with or without its knowledge and cooperation, to develop and deploy a nuclear bomb on Israel’s borders and near major population centers. …The more Israel is accepted in the region and establishes peaceful relations with Arab states, the more the radicals will be determined to find new ways of achieving their goals.”

To meet this problem, Freilich concludes, Israel must adopt a new and more far reaching deterrence policy: “If the source of a terrorist nuclear attack against Israel is unknown, or if it is known to originate with al-Qaeda or Iran, Israel should make it clear that its response will be unlimited and include not just major population centers, but all sites of value, including those of major symbolic importance…such as Muslim cultural and religious sites.”

But even such draconic threats might not be sufficient, Freilich fears, to dissuade terrorist attacks. Therefore, Israel must go beyond deterrence and adopt a policy of preventive war:…

There is indeed a threat of nuclear terrorism against Israel and the United States—to this country, to a substantial degree, precisely because of its near-unconditional support of Israel. The best way to defuse this threat would be a negotiated and fair settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To be sure, while it is (shall we say) far-fetched to argue that such a settlement would increase the terrorist threat, it must be conceded that it might not eliminate it altogether: the conflict has gone on for so long, and with such terrible consequences for the Palestinian people, that the bitterness and hatred it has engendered in the Islamic world might continue for some time.

For this reason alone, it may not be the case that a two-state solution is the best way for Israel to solve its deterrence problem. Recently, despairing of the possibility that a two-state solution will ever be reached, a number of observers are considering a one-state solution: that is, a single Jewish-Palestinian binational democratic state.

Under the present circumstances, it is hard to see how such a fantasy could be realized: all the factors that now prevent a two-state solution–principally blind Israeli stupidity– would make a one state solution even more impossible. Yet, what might finally convince the Israelis—or at least should convince them—is the realization that the close intermixing of Jews and Arabs in a single state and in its major cities would be the best possible deterrent against any Islamic nuclear terrorist attack.

Remember that Herzl came up with Zionism when he heard Parisians crying ‘Death to the Jews!’Posted: 05 Jun 2010

One of my themes is that Americans, including me, have very little idea what Israeli society is really like. We are told by the lobbyists that it’s a democracy with shared values, but the reporters I trust, from Lia Tarachansky to Max Blumenthal to Jared Malsin, describe a society that is closing down in ugly ways, and you’d never know from reading Ethan Bronner in the Times.

Well here’s Neve Gordon, with a chilling report at LRB from Ben Gurion University. (I’ve given his account the headline I have because this account is another signal to me that Zionism has now run its historical course).

A Palestinian student with a Palestinian flag was shoved and had his flag torn from him by some of the pro-government protesters, who were chanting: ‘No citizenship without loyalty!’ In response, the Jewish and Palestinian oppositionists shouted: ‘No, no, it will not come, fascism will not come!’ and ‘Peace is not achieved on the bodies of those killed!’

At one point a Jewish provocateur, who is not a member of any group (and could even be a police agent), raised his hand in the air: ‘Heil Lieberman!’ The response of the pro-government students was immediate: ‘Death to the Arabs!’ Luckily the university security managed to create a wedge between the protesters, and in this way prevented the incident from becoming even more violent.

h/t Alex Kane. Earlier version of this post located Ben Gurion University in Tel Aviv. Shows how much I know. It is, commenters pointed out, in Beersheba. 

(Gulp) Israel deploys nuclear cruise missiles near IranPosted: 05 Jun 2010

The other day on Russian TV, Norman Finkelstein said Israel is a lunatic state and it has a bunch of nukes. Well the Times of London says: 

Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline.

The first has been sent in response to Israeli fears that ballistic missiles developed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, a political and military organisation in Lebanon, could hit sites in Israel, including air bases and missile launchers.

Oh and I theorized a long time ago that Obama caved on settlements because Israel has nukes and is out of control, and the game is containment.

‘NYT’ opens ‘inflammatory’ discussion–Israel as strategic liabilityPosted: 05 Jun 2010

Wow. The Times is beginning to open the door. It has a big Week in Review piece by Helene Cooper asking, “Washington Asks: What to Do About Israel” that begins with the disclaimer, this is an “inflammatory” subject.

(Guess what, we’ve been talking about it anyway.)

It is of course based on Tony Cordesman saying that Israel has become a strategic liability, and on David Petraeus saying that a few weeks back. Unfortunately the piece quotes Jeffrey Goldberg doing dialect, and Steve Israel (in addition to smart stuff from Jeremy Ben-Ami and Daniel Levy). Wouldn’t it be nice to quote the guys who started the quiet rush to the exits four years ago?

Mark my words: the lobby is too important to risk; the lobby is essential to Jewish nationalism (as Avraham Burg so wisely explained). Netanyahu has opened up daylight between the lobby and the U.S. president. So Netanyahu’s days are numbered.

The Helen Thomas momentPosted: 05 Jun 2010

I was surprised as anyone by the Helen Thomas video that came out the other day showing the veteran White House correspondent saying that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine,” and she wasn’t talking about the occupied territories. She said they should go back to Germany. One hears this type of comment in Palestine, too; I reported it from my Gaza trip a year back. 

The silver lining here is that Thomas, who is an Arab-American, was expressing maximalist feelings, and if you’re going to denounce her maximalist impulses, then it is only fair to expose maximalist policies on the other side. Ari Fleischer says that Thomas is in favor of “religious cleansing.” Well what is happening now– not just in angry people’s heads– but on the ground in Sheikh Jarrah and al-Walaje and so forth?

That’s a maximalist policy. Yes Arabs opposed Partition, but so did Jewish maximalists, and who has had the hammer for the last 63 years? And which side repeatedly defied international law, and Harry Truman too, when it came to letting the non-Jewish refugees of ’48 return to their homes following their cleansing? 

It’s one thing to say that Palestinians want to push Jews into the sea. And yes, some surely do. But who actually got pushed into the sea? The Palestinians in Jaffa, during the ethnic-cleansing of that Arab city. There are now Israeli art galleries in the old stolen Arab homes there. That land’s beauties must be shared.


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