- Obama’s refusal to jettison the special relationship is an abrogation of his responsibility
- Israel’s cult of victimhood: ‘Barefoot’ soldiers on the high seas
- Farewell Helen Thomas
- All Palestine is divided into four parts
- Let them eat chips
- What would Obama have said about Bull Connor?
- In Israel, discrimination against Palestinians justified because they ’strike terror in our hearts’
- The ‘Times’ runs Michael Chabon on the flotilla
- Sullivan asks how to redeem the Jewish state
- Even ‘The Jewish Week’ says what CFR can’t: Israel is a liability
|Obama’s refusal to jettison the special relationship is an abrogation of his responsibility
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
Guilt by association is weak adjudicatory framework, but that’s not true of guilt by active association. America is rightly experiencing some of the Flotilla Massacre fallout. As Israel’s patron, protector and enabler, Israeli actions mean American responsibility.
I’m beginning to think that the Israeli-perpetrated Flotilla Massacre is a game-changer (Israel’s Soweto?). And I like Dan Drezner’s analogy that America is to Israel as China is to North Korea. But there is one very important difference – China is an ascendant global force, while American influence is dwindling.
As I’ve written before, I think that decline is due in part of the failures of American monetary policy, martial overextension, and opportunistic regional state powers. The deregulatory failures of American monetary policy are the responsibility of everyone who’s had a hand in engineering the American financial regulatory framework over the past thirty years (that’s every president since Jimmy Carter and other heavyweights like Chris Dodd and Alan Greenspan).
George W. Bush started, and Barack Obama has escalated three unwinnable wars (GWOT, Iraq, Afghanistan). And Barack Obama has now started a new war in Pakistan (or is it an extension of the GWOT?). My point isn’t that George W. Bush and Barack Obama shouldn’t be killing people arbitrarily; it’s that killing people is just very expensive, especially when they’re on the other side of the world. And finally, states mostly act to enhance their global influence and prestige. When the global policeman’s (bully) cocksure swagger looks increasingly like a belabored stagger, you seize the moment. So Iran will get the bomb, Russia will exert increasing control over historical Soviet states (and Western Europe too, probably), China will increasingly dictate the terms of economic codependence, Turkey will grab the moral mantle, and Brazil will continue to challenge the Monroe doctrine.
The Flotilla Massacre forced me to rethink my first analysis of American decline. I realized that I missed a crucial element: the willful abdication of national responsibility by the American political leadership.
Barack Obama is an intelligent person who reads deeply and widely. I take it for granted that the American president has access to all of the information you and I do, and more. And while I accept that his time is valuable, the presidency is at core a decision-making job. As the Decider-in-Chief, Obama can’t afford to not know things.
Here are some things Barack Obama can’t afford to not know:
1. Israel is a strategic liability;
2. Israel’s status as a liability is not static. It is getting to be a greater and greater liability (this is an important point. Turkey, a NATO ally is increasingly at odds with America due to Israel’s action);
3. The Israel drag on America increases more and more as America declines (as America shrinks, that drag is felt more acutely);
4. Your job as the American president is to do what’s best for America (i.e., forestall American decline);
If I could graph the American-decline-to-Israel-liability-relationship I’d draw two lines, one representing American decline (AD) and the other representing Israel’s liability value (IL). The AD line would start at some arbitrary point high up on the Y-axis, while the IL line would start at the X-Y intercept (zero liability, although that was never true). The X-axis represents time in this case. So over time, the AD line gets drawn out horizontally and develops a negative slope (America is declining), while the IL line develops a positive slope (increasing liability). The point where the two lines cross ought to be the sweet spot where America can no longer afford to indulge Israel; the rational outcome in this case. I’d argue that we’ve been fast approaching the AD-IL intersection, if we haven’t reached it already.
But Barack Obama’s abrogation of responsibility acts as a wildcard here. Put differently, we just can’t know objectively when Israel will cost too much to maintain – the sweet spot exists in theory only. That’s because the willful refusal to safeguard America against another country’s political misadventures belies policy-making irrationality. American leaders seem content to crash and burn with their client state.
Viewed through another lens however, Barack Obama’s abdication of national responsibility becomes more understandable, rational even. To the extent that Barack Obama’s job is to get reelected, his behavior makes sense. America is second to nothing, except Barack Obama’s political ambitions. Of course there are structural pressures on the American president, but presidential prerogative is still his own. His refusal to correct course because of the impact on midterm or presidential elections is what I’m talking about.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Barack Obama is the like the AIG CEO who, upon realizing his short-term bonus potential, signed off on the underwriting of what we now know were toxic asset-linked CDOs. The shareholders – you and me – are hurting. The irony is that by pursuing toxic policies, Obama is creating a state that few people should want to lead; after all, who wants to preside over the fall of Rome.
|Israel’s cult of victimhood: ‘Barefoot’ soldiers on the high seas
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
Why are Israelis so indignant at the international outrage that has greeted their country’s lethal attack last week on a flotilla of civilian ships taking aid to Gaza?
Israelis have not responded in any of the ways we might have expected. There has been little soul-searching about the morality, let alone legality, of soldiers invading ships in international waters and killing civilians. In the main, Israelis have not been interested in asking tough questions of their political and military leaders about why the incident was handled so badly. And only a few commentators appear concerned about the diplomatic fall-out.
Instead, Israelis are engaged in a Kafkaesque conversation in which the military attack on the civilian ships is characterised as a legitimate “act of self-defence”, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it, and the killing of nine aid activists is transformed into an attempted “lynching of our soldiers” by terrorists.
Benny Begin, a government minister whose famous father, Menachem, became an Israeli prime minister after being what today would be called a terrorist as the leader of the notorious Irgun militia, told BBC World TV that the commandos had been viciously assaulted after “arriving almost barefoot”. Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website, meanwhile, reported that the commandos had been “ambushed”.
This strange discourse can only be deciphered if we understand the two apparently contradictory themes that have come to dominate the emotional landscape of Israel. The first is a trenchant belief that Israel exists to realise Jewish power; the second is an equally strong sense that Israel embodies the Jewish people’s collective experience as the eternal victims of history.
Israelis are not entirely unaware of this paradoxical state of mind, sometimes referring to it as the “shooting and crying” syndrome.
It is the reason, for example, that most believe their army is the “most moral in the world”. The “soldier as victim” has been given dramatic form in Gilad Shalit, the “innocent” soldier held by Hamas for the past four years who, when he was captured, was enforcing Israel’s illegal occupation of Gaza.
One commentator in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper summed up the feelings of Israelis brought to the fore by the flotilla episode as the “helplessness of a poor lonely victim, confronting the rage of a lynch mob and frantically realising that these are his last moments”. This “psychosis”, as he called it, is not surprising: it derives from the sanctified place of the Holocaust in the Israeli education system.
The Holocaust’s lesson for most Israelis is not a universal one that might inspire them to oppose racism, or fanatical dictators or the bullying herd mentality that can all too quickly grip nations, or even state-sponsored genocide.
Instead, Israelis have been taught to see in the Holocaust a different message: that the world is plagued by a unique and ineradicable hatred of Jews, and that the only safety for the Jewish people is to be found in the creation of a super-power Jewish state that answers to no one. Put bluntly, Israel’s motto is: only Jewish power can prevent Jewish victimhood.
That is why Israel acquired a nuclear weapon as fast it could, and why it is now marshalling every effort to stop any other state in the region from breaking its nuclear monopoly. It is also why the Israeli programme’s sole whistle-blower, Mordechai Vanunu, is a pariah 24 years after committing his “offence”. Six years on from his release to a form of loose house arrest, his hounding by the authorities — he was jailed again last month for talking to foreigners — has attracted absolutely no interest or sympathy in Israel.
If Mr Vanunu’s continuing abuse highlights Israel’s oppressive desire for Jewish power, Israelis’ self-righteousness about their navy’s attack on the Gaza flotilla reveals the flipside of this pyschosis.
The angry demonstrations sweeping the country against the world’s denunciations; the calls to revoke the citizenship of the Israeli Arab MP on board — or worse, to execute her — for treason; and the local media’s endless recycling of the soldiers’ testimonies of being “bullied” by the activists demonstrate the desperate need of Israelis to justify every injustice or atrocity while clinging to the illusion of victimhood.
The lessons imbibed from this episode — like the lessons Israelis learnt from the Goldstone report last year into the war crimes committed during Israel’s attack on Gaza, or the international criticisms of the massive firepower unleashed on Lebanon before that — are the same: that the world hates us, and that we are alone.
If the confrontation with the activists on the flotilla has proved to Israelis that the unarmed passengers were really terrorists, the world’s refusal to stay quiet has confirmed what Israelis already knew: that, deep down, non-Jews are all really anti-Semites.
Meanwhile, the lesson the rest of us need to draw from the deadly commando raid is that the world can no longer afford to indulge these delusions.
A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.
|Farewell Helen Thomas
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
It’s good that Helen Thomas will no longer be in White House press briefings. Not because she sullied the reputation of the Washington press corps with a few undiplomatic remarks, but because those who lack her boldness and bluntness will no longer be able to use her presence to foster the illusion that American journalism still values courage.
When Thomas was asked during a White House Jewish Heritage Celebration on May 27 (before the Mavi Marmara massacre) whether she had any comments on Israel, she said without a pause: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”
“It’s their land,” Thomas asserted, referring to the Palestinians and baldly challenging the notion that Israel was founded on land that belongs to the Jews. When asked where the Jews should go, she said they should “go home” — to Germany, Poland, America or from wherever else they had emigrated to Israel.
As soon as the video of Thomas’ remarks was made public, Washington’s mechanisms of tribal discipline swiftly kicked into gear.
Her words were “unconscionably callous and vile,” said Andrew Sullivan. “Thomas deserved what she got,” said Dana Millbank. Both saw her departure as a loss, yet just as President Obama deemed her words “out of line,” no one in Washington was willing to go to the heart of what she said.
In 1948 three-quarters of a million Palestinians were driven out of their homes by Zionists in order to make room for the creation of a Jewish state. For that reason, Helen Thomas, an American of Lebanese descent, apparently believes — as do most people in the Middle East — that the Jewish claim to “own” the land on which Israel was created is a claim based on religious dogma rather than historical fact.
Those families who still possess the keys to homes they lost and the legal titles to land on which they were built, see the issue not as one of “disputed territories” but as one in which colonizers — like America’s settlers — grabbed land and then tried to disguise their acts of dispossession by invoking divine authority.
As Thomas has been dumped by her agent, forced to retire and is now ostracized by colleagues who disingenuously profess their admiration for her journalistic courage, Washington once again displays itself as a unique and rather pathetic satellite of Israel.
As the world condemns Israel’s latest act of unconscionable brutality, America’s media willingly turns its attention to the “unconscionable” words of an 89 year-old woman who had the audacity to say a few blunt words about the Jewish state. Oy veh!
(This article is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.)
|All Palestine is divided into four parts
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
The Free Gaza Movement and the Freedom Flotilla have succeeded in drawing attention to Israel’s siege on Gaza, which has turned the Strip into a giant prison. There is another aspect to the Gaza prison however, highlighted by Amira Hass in her column today, and that is the systematic separation of Gaza from the West Bank, beginning in 1991.
We have come to believe that the Palestinians (like the Gauls) are divided in three parts: refugees, citizens of Israel and residents of the Occupied Territories. In fact however, they are now divided in four. We can no longer relate to Gaza and the West Bank as a single entity, as much as two-state advocates would like us to. Internal Palestinian divisions have certainly played their part, but it is hard not to see an Israeli design behind all of this. Apart from the obvious cui bono parameter, creating such divisions among Palestinians is a long-standing Israeli policy – one that has certainly served Hamas well, over the years.
We have also come to view the settlements as the main obstacle to a two-state solution, and Israeli settlement policies as the clearest sign of Israeli bad faith. The isolation of Gaza from the West Bank however, to the point of making any kind of union between the two virtually impossible (socially, economically, educationally, religiously, politically, emotionally), is no less devastating – or intentional, as Amira Hass claims – in terms of the feasibility of a two-state solution. The process goes well beyond the lack of a physical “safe passage”, promised by Israel at the earliest stages of Oslo and repeatedly pulled out of its hat as an “incentive” for Palestinian concessions. The latest Israeli move in this direction would appear to be the new “anti-infiltration law”, designed to enforce even stricter segregation between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Beyond the political ramifications of such a policy, the consequences for Palestinian society and families may even dwarf the lack of cement and fuel in Gaza.
|Let them eat chips
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
From the Reuters article “Israel eases Gaza embargo to allow snack food“:
The irony is that every Israeli “concession” to allow more into Gaza only raises the question of why the blockade exists in the first place.
|What would Obama have said about Bull Connor?
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
On Thursday evening, three days after the Israeli attack on the activists attempting to bring aid to the people of Gaza, Larry King interviewed President Obama on CNN. Towards the latter part of the interview, the President was asked about his thoughts on these events.
Many Democrats, especially Jewish-American Democrats, believe that this is an acceptable and even-handed diplomatic response to the recent tragedy.
What if President Obama was a non-Christian white man holding the office of President of the United States and he was interviewed on May 6 1963, just 3 days following the attack on civil rights activists in Birmingham, Alabama (wikipedia info on attack is below):
This reading is far from acceptable, even-handed, and diplomatic. On the contrary, it is condescending and offensive. To many people, in the United States and throughout the world who care about a just end to this dangerous conflict, President Obama’s answers to Mr. King were equally condescending and offensive.
If Presidents Kennedy and Johnson did not support civil rights activists and stand up to the terrorizing Southern officials, then African Americans might still be subjected to segregation. And President Obama never would have had the opportunity to be in the office he now holds. It is time for this President to stop being diplomatic and start supporting occupied people, as well as human rights activists, and stand up to terrroizing Israeli officials.
The Birmingham campaign was a strategic movement organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to bring attention to the unequal treatment black Americans endured in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign ran during the spring of 1963, culminating in widely publicized confrontations between black youth and white civic authorities, that eventually pressured the municipal government to change the city’s discrimination laws. Organizers, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. used nonviolent direct action tactics to defy laws they considered unfair. King summarized the philosophy of the Birmingham campaign when he said, “The purpose of … direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation”.
In the early 1960s, Birmingham was one of the most racially divided cities in the United States, as black citizens faced legal and economic disparities as well as violent retribution when they attempted to bring attention to their problems. Protests in Birmingham began with a boycott to pressure business leaders to provide employment opportunities to people of all races, and end segregation in public facilities, restaurants, and stores. When business leaders resisted the boycott, SCLC organizer Wyatt Tee Walker and Birmingham native Fred Shuttlesworth began what they termed Project C (for “Confrontation” – added by author), a series of sit-ins and marches intended to provoke mass arrests. After the campaign ran low on adult volunteers, high school, college, and elementary students were trained by SCLC coordinator James Bevel to participate, resulting in hundreds of arrests and an instant intensification of national media attention on the campaign. To dissuade demonstrators and control the protests the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene “Bull” Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs on children and bystanders. Media coverage of these events brought intense scrutiny on racial segregation in the South.
Not all of the demonstrators were peaceful, despite the avowed intentions of the SCLC. In some cases, bystanders attacked the police, who responded with force. Scenes of the ensuing mayhem caused an international outcry, leading to federal intervention by the Kennedy administration. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm’s way. By the end of the campaign, King’s reputation surged, Connor lost his job, the “Jim Crow” signs in Birmingham came down, and public places became more open to blacks.
The Birmingham campaign was a model of direct action protest, as it effectively shut down the city. By attracting media attention to the adverse treatment of black Americans, it brought national force to bear on the issue of segregation. Although desegregation occurred slowly in Birmingham, the campaign was a major factor in the national push towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in hiring practices and public services in the United States.
|In Israel, discrimination against Palestinians justified because they ’strike terror in our hearts’
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
Bnei Brak is a city of around 150,000, next to Tel Aviv. Apparently [according to Ynet], “notices against employing Palestinians in Israel without a permit” have been appearing in the last week.
And there was more:
Meanwhile, on Monday, there was a report on a row in the southern Kiryat Malachi municipality over road signs in Arabic. Shai Geffen, writing to the mayor, complained that the Arabic signs hurt the feelings of the public trying to bring up their children as Jews, as well as endangering life. Mayor Moti Molka has promised to act. [Thanks Awatef for the translation]
|The ‘Times’ runs Michael Chabon on the flotilla
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
I admire Michael Chabon so much–he wrote the line, “My homeland is in my hat,” in the Yiddish Policemen’s Union –that when I read his op-ed about the Gaza flotilla raid in the New York Times I tried to do a mind-meld and believe with him in the need for a Jewish state. The Passover dinners he talks about in the piece are mine, and his beloved “seichel,” Yiddish for shrewdness, is my mother and grandmother’s highest value (I have none). I walked up Lexington Avenue thinking of ways to believe in Partition, to save the Jewish state–some way to repartition the place so that you might actually preserve Jewish sovereignty and avert the political/moral crisis that is coming. Because if you know Jewish life, and Chabon is right in the middle of it, you know with a kind of helplessness that a great number of really smart Jews love the Jewish state.
Chabon’s theme is that the raid was “blockheaded,” and though he pities the nine killed, his devout sympathy is for the Jews. The essay is all about how Jews, notwithstanding our tradition of exceptionalism, turn out to be as stupid as everyone else. I don’t think he believes this. I don’t think I believe it. (Certainly we are more entitled than other people. How else could a novelist spend a whole essay talking about our history of persecution and say nothing, not a word, about the collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans.)
Chabon says that the first reaction of all Jews to the news of Israel’s actions was, How blockheaded! I didn’t feel that way, the Jews on the boat didn’t feel that way. But Chabon doesn’t mean all Jews, he means Zionists. And he has a serious Zionist point to make here: because of the Jewish sense of chosenness we are held to a higher standard, but if we gave up our exceptionalist airs, we could be judged like everybody else:
They are singling us out.
|Sullivan asks how to redeem the Jewish state
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
Sullivan has asked if there are any anti-Zionist columnists anywhere in the US, and is getting no response. No there are none. You get drawn and quartered. And in the same post he tries to justify Israel’s existence in light of his discovery of Richard Cohen’s 2006 statement that Israel’s founding was a “mistake”. I agree that the essential question is whether a Jewish state can be redeemed, and how. I am actually agnostic. But it requires wrestling with an essential issue, the 1948 issue, which Sullivan is on to in his way: Before Partition, the State Department warned Truman that a Jewish state could only be established and maintained by force. That was their solemn warning, and it was prophetic. The Arabs, they reported, didn’t want it. And in complete violation of U.S. policy, set by Roosevelt and Truman himself, the U.S. did not “consult” the Arabs about the issue, as promised. And ever since the Israelis, entitled by the Israel lobby’s guarantee of blind superpower support that is now beginning at last to crumble at the edges, have shown contempt for their neighbors’ completely-understandable response to dispossession and colonization, and not sought to come to terms, but demonized that resistance as Islamism, etc. Redeeming a Jewish state would on the American part require respecting at last issues of Arab self-determination and the right of return of refugees. It would require some motion toward the principle that all men are created equal. No a Jewish state would not be equal. But I would have a hard time objecting to dhimmitude if I were not implicated in it. Cf, the Japanese and Germans and Saudis. Thanks to Peter Voskamp.
|Even ‘The Jewish Week’ says what CFR can’t: Israel is a liability
Posted: 09 Jun 2010
I have to keep hammering on the Council on Foreign Relations, the craziness of its support for the sanctity of the special relationship between Israel and the U.S. at a time when Cordesman, Petraeus, Biden and Moor say that the special relationship is damaging the U.S. Well look: Now the Jewish Week is reporting the news! I thought the Council on Foreign Relations was supposed to be about the American interest, geez Louise.