INDEX (stories follow)
the American president has “unequivocally adopted the essence of the Israeli-Zionist narrative.” Plocker might have said the same about all top American political leaders and the U.S. media as well. The American conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by the story that most Israelis tell.
ZIONISM = RACISM
Friday 27/05/2011-.Today in the weekly march in Bil’in organized by the Popular Committee Against the Wall with the participation of US student delegation of American universities , one young men were injured, and dozens of people suffered from the effects of tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers. Dozens of Palestinians were joined by international and Israeli activists, The march began in the center of the village after Friday prayers. In the area above the wall, demonstrators raised the Palestinian flag, and pictures of the imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. Participants chanted nationalist slogans in favor of the right of return, and slogans calling for an end the occupation . At the eastern gate of the wall, Israeli soldiers fired a shower of tear gas;; they also sprayed ‘stink’ water, water treated with a chemical that gives it a foul smell that can’t be removed from people’s clothes. Among those injured were Ibrahim Bornat, 28, who was hit by a tear gas canister in the eye and shoulder , had to be treated by ambulance and then transferred to the medical compound in Ramallah . The soldiers also fired tear gas into the olive groves, with the purpose of setting fire to them. Fortunately, the people of Bil’in were able to put
Not to be outdone by Muammar Qaddafi’s mercenary African army, the IDF too recruits Africans to put the screws to West Bank Palestinians. Two Congolese twins enlisted in the IDF and were assigned to the Kfir brigade, whose mission is to patrol the West Bank. Kfir is known as one of the most brutal of IDF units because it operates the checkpoints, performs the late night searches, and generally does the dirtiest work of Occupation.
Yisrael HaYom, Israel’s right-wing daily funded by Sheldon Adelson, proudly profiled the military induction ceremony at the Western Wall for Regis and Jess Mkomo, 21 year-old twins who are Congolese refugees. Their mother of course is extraordinarily proud of them, saying that they were babies of 4 years when they arrived in Israel and that the country had turned them into ‘real men.’ Men with guns that is. Which they will undoubtedly use as all the other members of their brigade do to harass Palestinians under Occupation.
It does me good to see that the nation believes in them and relies on them and gives them a chance. It’s also a great honor to the [Congolese] community as this is the first time anyone has [been allowed to] enlist. This is a good example how the children of foreign workers and refugees can contribute a lot to the nation.
Regis also talks proudly of this opportunity to serve his adopted country:
I am on the way to becoming a soldier and I will fight on behalf of the nation. I don’t feel different either in the army or in terms of my citizenship. Israel is my home. I lived here all my life.
His brother Jess says that he knew almost all his life that he wanted to be a combat solider so he could “defend the nation and defend his mother.” One of the leaders of the Israeli Congolese community notes that:
African refugees generally have a negative connotation within Israel, but that this proves that we have a good side and a desire to contribute to the State of Israel. This is a great honor for us.
I wonder whether after beating a Palestinian boy, or speaking harshly to a Palestinian grandmother any hint of the savage irony of their situation will creep into their consciousness. These boys were plucked from the chaos of the Congo and brought to a different and better life in Israel. All well and good. But what does the State do to them (an enterprise they participate in gratefully)? It turns them into the same sort of brutal soldiers who forced their family into exile in the Congo in the first place. All of which proves that Israel itself, a nation born at least partly out of the suffering of the Holocaust, can lose its bearings and sense of historical irony.
I only hope that the Mkomo twins will remember this verse from Exodus in the course of their military service while policing the West Bank:
Remember the stranger, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Palestinians are today’s Israelites, the stranger seeking justice and freedom after decades of bondage under Occupation. It is a terrible irony that boys who themselves were refugees less than two decades ago will now be enforcing Israel’s will against another degraded people. What have we done?
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The Israeli rape victim, P., has been joined by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel in appealing the gag order (the appeal is displayed here with P’s identity excised) protecting alleged rapist and Channel 2 News reporter, Yoav Even. I am hoping that even if this appeal fails that they will succeed in bringing the case before the Supreme Court, which takes a dimmer view of such blanket gags than the lower Israeli courts do. As I wrote earlier, the Israeli police have opposed the gag almost from the start. It is only the defendant and the judge who’ve agreed that he should be protected.
If you are a Hebrew reader, you may read the verbatim transcript of P.’s statement to the police concerning her rape. This was the document I translated into English and paraphrased in my blog post. I assure you that however troubling you found my version, the Hebrew is more so. Not that I’m discouraging you from reading it. Just the opposite. If any Israel, man (or woman for that matter), has any doubt that P. was raped, you owe it to yourself and the truth to read this. I note that an entire gang of earlier commenters who waxed indignant about my accusing a possibly innocent man of a crime he may not have committed, somehow haven’t continued with their hue and cry since I published P. rape statement. Nor have they recanted their previous defense of Even. They’ve just–gone silent. Hmmm.
I especially urge this reader–who wrote a deeply objectionable comment here in which he praised the effort of a blogger known by the apt name, Mala Fide (or “Bad Faith”) to expose P’s identity–to read the original Hebrew transcript. Mala Fide stole the disguised image I displayed here of P. and urged anyone who might know P. to publicly “out” her on the presumption that she was a liar and smearing the reputation of an innocent man. Clearly, Mala Fide doesn’t like women, or perhaps he just doesn’t like women who were raped or claim they were raped, or perhaps he just doesn’t like anyone but himself. I don’t know what Troll’s problem is. He’s the one who published this comment earlier:
|Submitted on 2011/05/26 at 11:22 AM[URL suppressed]
In Mala Fide is working hard to find the name and unedited photo of the false rape accuser so that true justice can be served!
My most excellent and sharp friend, Dena Shunra did a little research on our friend, Troll, to discover that he’s been posting his six comments from a company computer using the JP Morgan Chase servers, which likely means he is an employee of the bank. You’d think people like this posting objectionable material would have half a brain about their behavior and at least protecting their sorry asses.
So I naturally wrote to the company e-mail address (for abuse) listed for the corporate IP address Troll used to report that he was using JP Morgan Chase IT resources to publicly urge that a raped woman’s identity be exposed, thus opening her to further degradation and humiliation and possibly physical harm. No response from Chase. But I’m happy to say that since I posted my last reply to Troll advising him of the action I’ve taken, he’s mysteriously disappeared. I guess he got the message.
Israelis might care to know that JP Morgan Chase has an extensive corporate presence in Israel. You might want to consider that when you make decisions on where to bank or invest your money. If I ever hear a response from the bank’s IT department about this incident I’ll let you know. I did offer them 24 hours to respond to me before I posted this, but they didn’t.
If you’re an Israeli, you may want to let Channel 2 know that you don’t wish to see on your TV screen a reporter who may’ve perpetrated the type of brutality portrayed in P.’s statement. Just as you don’t enjoy seeing the image of Roni Daniel, the station’s senior military correspondent, who appears to have obstructed justice by making unwanted contact on behalf of his friend, Even, with the victim before she filed charges.
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Cameron drops Israel ‘racist’ charity
27 May 2011
Stop the JNF Campaign: Media ReleasePrime Minister David Cameron has quietly terminated his status as an Honorary Patron of the controversial Jewish National Fund (JNF). His office confirmed he had “stepped down”. For many years leaders of all three main political parties became Honorary Patrons of the JNF by convention. According to Dick Pitt, a spokesperson for the Stop the JNF Campaign, “Cameron was the only leader of the three major parties remaining as a JNF Patron. This decline in political support for the JNF at the highest levels of the political tree may be a sign of the increasing awareness in official quarters that a robust defence of the activities of the JNF may not be sustainable.”The news of Cameron’s move has reached Palestinians in refugee camps, people whose land is under the control of the JNF. Salah Ajarma in Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp was “delighted to hear the news that the British Prime Minister has decided to withdraw his support for this sinister organisation involved in ethnic cleansing. My village, Ajjur, was taken by force from my family and given to the JNF who used money from JNF UK to plant the British Park on its ruins. For the Palestinians who were evicted from their villages and have been prevented from returning, Cameron’s withdrawal is another victory on the road to achieving justice and freedom for the Palestinians”.The JNF chairman Samuel Hayek defends the work of the organisation saying, “for over 100 years we have had one mission: to settle and develop the Land of Israel” as pioneers of the “historic Zionist dream”. The registered charity claims their work, especially in the Negev region of Israel, deals with “the rising demographic challenges faced by Israel”. In recent months the JNF’s activities in the Negev have received extensive international media coverage, linking them to the demolition of Palestinian Bedouin villages and confiscation of the land of the village. Campaigners report that “even Israeli courts have criticised the JNF as an organisation that discriminates against non-Jews and there is mounting evidence of the JNF’s involvement in Israel’s programme to change the ethnic composition of areas inside 1948 Israel as well as in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. It is not acceptable that such an organisation is allowed to operate in the UK, much less to enjoy charity status”.
Now taking my earlier post together with this one, if the EUMC working definition of antisemitism were to be accepted it could, subject to overall context, be construed as denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” since the activities of the JNF are clearly necessary for establishing and maintaining the State of Israel as a state for Jews. If campaigning against the JNF is ok, then the EUMC working definition is definitely not ok.
The Jewish Leadership Council has written to the equalities watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to express its concern at moves within the Universities and Colleges Union to reject the widely-accepted definition of antisemitism.
Well Trevor Phillips has replied and David Hirsh of the Engage website has reported, kind of, on the reply thus:
He says that he is “surprised” that UCU had brought the motion on the definition of antisemitism “without consulting the EHRC” at all.He expects UCU’s National Executive Committee to discuss the motion with the EHRC as Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, even if it passesEHRC stands by the MacPhearson Report, which requires organisations to start from the perception of the victim. Trevor Phillips says:”..if the object of harrasment or attack regards her treatment as being anti-semitic, even if the perpetrator maintains that their action is politically motivated, the presumption is that the victim’s perception is what defines the incident”.On the issue of reporting incidents – both for students on campus and academics inside UCU – he says: “Nothing should be able to prevent Jewish students (or any other group, for that matter) being able to complain of harrasment, racism or anti-semitism”He suggests that there could be legal problems under Human Rights and Equality law if the motion is fully enacted.
What Hirsh reports is almost all accurate in that Phillips did say most of those things, but let’s have that last para again:
He suggests that there could be legal problems under Human Rights and Equality law if the motion is fully enacted.
Now the only thing that I could find in Phillips’s letter that looked anything like that was this last paragraph:
Finally, in practice, the international human rights treaties like the UN’s Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Human Rights Act and the UK’s mew exemplar Equality Act 2010 give us the guidance we need on this matter, in particular in equality duties imposed on the latter. Nothing should prevent Jewish students (or any other group, for that matter) being able to complain of harrassment, racism, or anti-semitism. Such complaints should be taken extremely seriously by every institution; and it would be hard to imagine any institution which did not provide appropriate remedies for students’ complaints being able to comply with its legal duties under the 2010 Act.
Unless I am missing something, and taking the letter as a whole, Phillips appears to be saying that Jews can and should expect protection from racism regardless of the UCU motion. And look at the bit that Hirsh doesn’t mention at all:
neither we (EHRC) nor the EUMC has ever considered the EUMC’s working definition to be wholly definitive; therefore its retention or abandonment should not be seen as an indication of what should be regarded as anti-racist [sic] or anti-semitic conduct.
Now Phillips could be saying anything about the working definition itself. He could think it contains too much or too little. He could think it is plain wrong or even right but he does not seem to be saying that its abandonment could cause “legal problems under Human Rights and Equality law if the motion is fully enacted.”
Overall, whilst it would be nice to see Trevor Phillips distancing himself more from the working definition, his letter is hardly a ringing endorsement of it. Hopefully, if the JLC pushes harder the EHRC will have to openly dismiss the working definition just as, hopefully, the UCU is going to in just a couple of days.
In a tough statement, a spokesman for the Board [of Deputies of British Jews], the JLC [Jewish Leadership Council] and the CST [Community Security Trust] said: “After several years of promoting discriminatory boycotts and ignoring the resignation of dozens of Jewish members, UCU has never taken claims of antisemitism in the union seriously. Now, in a final insult to its Jewish members, UCU is cynically redefining the meaning of ‘antisemitism’ so it never has to face up to its own deep-rooted prejudices and problems.“The joint representations by senior communal leaders to the leaders of UCU, the EHRC and the TUC send a clear signal that our community will not sit back and allow further red lines to be crossed as the boycotters unleash moves designed to curtail the rights of British Jews on our campuses.”
Let’s just have another little look at the section of the working definition that troubles Palestine solidarity types:
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (for example claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
The EUMC Definition goes on to state that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
Now I have always understood antisemitism to be racism against Jews so clearly point 3 could be considered antisemitic if there was some agreement as to the symbols. And point 5 is definitely antisemitic in that all Jews cannot be held responsible for anything. But points 1, 2 and 4 are definitely not antisemitic unless of course you do hold all Jews responsible for the State of Israel. So this redefinition of antisemitism that is being presented by the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust (and also Engage) asthe definition is itself antisemitic and is itself a cynical redefinition. Still, the pro-zionist Jewish establishment seems determined to get its own way on this one so it could run and run for a while.
A big question for me is what they intend to do with the working definition if they do get it established as conventional wisdom or even in law regarding hate crime and incitement. We could see lots of Jews being rounded up for antisemitism and all for speaking out against the last of the colonial settler states.
57 % of Israelis support Barack Obama’s speech on Middle East peace, and are critical of that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Netanyahu remains popular, just not his hard line stance against peace).
For a canny explanation of the real background of Netanyahu’s attack on Obama, see also Ira Chernus in Tomdispatch. Ira’s Yiddish phrase,”Tuches aufn tish,” is worth the price of admission.
See also The Jewish Voice for Peace’s refutation of Netanyahu.
The Palestine Mandate of 1922, read together with Article 80 of the UN Charter, confers on Jews the right of settlement in areas of that Mandate that subsequently fell under Jordanian control.These areas of course include East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The government of Israel is therefore fully entitled – indeed obliged – to permit and facilitate Jewish settlement there.Those who oppose this settlement need to reflect on whether they are not indeed, at least in some sense, “carrying on Hitler’s work”.Professor Geoffrey AldermanLondon NW9
And here’s the response:
Professor Alderman (letters, 23 May) says that any opposition to Israeli settlements is “continuing Hitler’s work”. Nazi policies included Lebensraum (with forced evictions to make way for people of a specific ethnicity), ghettoisation, and withholding human rights based on race. I think the comparison to Nazism is gratuitous, offensive, and irrelevant. But if one is brazen enough to make it, one should at least think it through fully.James IngramLondon SE1
It’s funny how some zionists jump through hoops to accuse others of trivialising the holocaust and yet when one of their own commits the offence we don’t hear a peep out of them.
[Note to TomDispatch Readers: This site will take the Memorial Day weekend off. Remember as well that the popular TD offer of a signed, personalized copy of Adam Hochschild’s new book, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, in return for a $100 contribution to this website has only a week left. Check it out here or here. Tom]
It’s been like dueling banjos in Washington this week. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu each got to say the same thing at length and at least twice. Last Thursday, the president gave his “Arab Spring” speech in which — after a reportedly “furious phone call” between Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — he included the following line: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
And a storm of commentary burst forth. Though this, it was said, had long been a privately agreed upon American presidential position, it had never before been stated publicly by a president (or perhaps any other top U.S. official). Netanyahu was reportedly incensed and on Friday could be found “hectoring” a polite but uncomfortable-looking Obama before the cameras in the Oval Office on the “indefensibility” of those 1967 borders. On Sunday, Obama nonetheless went before the wildly pro-Israeli lobbying group AIPAC and gave a speech restating his position on the 1967 borders, but qualifying it as well.
On Monday, to rapturous ovations, Netanyahu appeared before the same crew to restate his position on the indefensibility of those borders and on Tuesday before Congress — in an invitationinitiated by the House Republican leadership and clearly meant to embarrass the president — he did it again to more standing ovations (29 of them).
It was a clash of titans over a difference so basic that… in November, the two governments were theoretically in accord on the very same point. Chris Nelson of the insider Washington newsletterThe Nelson Report has just uncovered a “joint statement” agreed to and issued after a Netanyahu meeting with Secretary of State Clinton last November which said in part: “The Prime Minister and the Secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that ‘the United States believes that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.’”
No screaming. No complaints. No hectoring. Nothing. An old Miller Lite ad comes to mind: “Tastes Great. Less Filling.” Or perhaps the immortal lyrics given to Eliza Doolittle in the musicalMy Fair Lady: “Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words!… Is that all you blighters can do?”
All that sound and fury signifying, well, maybe nothing at all. As TomDispatch regular Ira Chernus points out, it’s not just what the president says, but what he does that counts. And when it comes to doing, with George Mitchell, Obama’s special Middle Eastern envoy (appointed on his second day in office) abruptly quitting — whether in frustration, despair, or disgust we don’t know — there’s no evidence that the president will do anything at all when it comes to those 1967 borders, not before the 2012 election anyway.
Let’s give David Bromwich, writing on the President’s Thursday speech for the New York Review of Books, the last word for now: “Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy — a policy fought for in particulars, carefully sustained, and traceable to his own intentions.” (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Chernus discusses the strange, looking-glass world of Israeli-Palestinian nonnegotiations, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
Israel and the Palestinians Through the Looking Glass
The Myths That Underpin the Failure of American Policy in the Middle East
By Ira Chernus
Tuches aufn tish: Buttocks on the table. That’s the colorful way my Yiddish-speaking ancestors said, “Let’s cut the BS and talk about honest truth.” It seems like a particularly apt expression after a week watching the shadow-boxing between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that brought no tangible progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The truth, like the table, is usually hard and uncomfortable. President Obama’scarefully hedged public call for a two-state solution along Israel’s 1967 borders may indeed represent a new step. Maybe it will even prove part of some long-range game plan that will eventually pay off. But here’s the problem: as of now, Obama shows no inclination to back his words with the power the U.S. government could wield. Until he does, those words won’t provoke any change in Israel’s domination of the Palestinians.
And there’s a deeper issue. The influential Israeli columnist Sever Plocker pointed to the heart of the matter: the American president has “unequivocally adopted the essence of the Israeli-Zionist narrative.” Plocker might have said the same about all top American political leaders and the U.S. media as well. The American conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by the story that most Israelis tell.
Tuches aufn tish. Let’s be honest. The Israeli story doesn’t merely distort the truth, it turns the truth ass-backwards. Eerily enough, its basic claims about the Palestinians more accurately describe the Israelis themselves.
The Israelis might as well be looking in the mirror and talking about themselves when they say things like “They are the aggressors; we’re the victims just defending ourselves.” That’s part of an Israeli-generated myth of insecurity whose premise is that Israel bears all the risk in the conflict with the Palestinians. Obama fed into that myth in his recent “Arab Spring” speech when he called, in effect, for an even swap: the Palestinians would get a state and the Israelis would get security, as if the massively stronger Israelis are the main ones suffering from insecurity.
In the process, he repeated a familiar mantra, “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable,” and offered a vague warning that “technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.” Perhaps that was a coded way of hinting that someday some other Mideast nation might have a handful of nuclear weapons — as if any of them could threaten Israel, which already has as many as 200 nukes and can surely build more.
Obama did make one reference to what he called “the assumption of Palestinian security.” That’s how the Israelis typically phrase their long-standing hope that the Palestinian police will become what Netanyahu once called Israel’s “sub-contractors,” taking over from Israeli soldiers the job of quashing resistance to Israel and its policies. Again, the premise is that Israel bears all the risk.
Yet the Palestinians are far more insecure than the Israelis. Like any victims of colonial military occupation, they’re constantly subject to the threat of death and destruction without notice, at the whim of the Israeli military, and increasingly from Israeli settlers as well. Over the last quarter-century, the conflict has killed roughly eleven Palestinians for every Israeli who died. And yet you’ll never find this line in the speech of an American politician: “Our commitment to Palestine’s security is unshakeable.”
Obama did declare that “every state has the right to self-defense.” In the next breath, however, he demanded that a new Palestinian state must have no army. Would any sovereign nation accept such a demand, especially if its closest neighbor had dominated and pummeled its people for years and possessed by far the most powerful military in the region? Yet the idea of a “demilitarized” Palestinian state is a given in the U.S. and Israel, as if the only conceivable future threat could come from those occupied, not from the former occupier.
The staggering power imbalance between occupier and occupied points to another looking-glass-style distortion that dominates America’s conversation about the issue: the absurd idea that the two parties could negotiate as equals, that the weaker of the two, which has already given up approximately 78% of its territory, must be the one to make the major compromises, and then operate as a nation from a position of utter weakness.
Obama told a meeting of Jewish leaders in private that he knows the truth of the situation: “Israel is the stronger party here… And Israel needs to create the context for [peace] to happen.” But as long as his public words reinforce the myth of Israel’s insecurity, the Israelis can safely resist any demands for change.
Staring into the Mirror
The Israelis justify their intransigence with yet another looking-glass claim: “We want peace more than anything, but they have no interest in peace.” Israelis love to repeat a phrase coined decades ago by their foreign minister Abba Eban, speaking about Arab leaders: “They never miss a chance to miss a chance for peace.”
In reality, it’s the Palestinians who should lodge that complaint against Israel. “Israel’s right needs perpetual war” is the way the eminent Israeli intellectual Zeev Sternhell sums up the situation. Netanyahu, like all right-wing Israeli leaders, has in fact built his career on his image as the toughest of hawks when it comes to the Palestinians. With the Israeli electorate shifting steadily rightward in the twenty-first century, that image serves him better than ever. So, even as he pleads his devotion to peace, he shows no interest in actually ending the conflict — and the creeping Israeli program of ongoing settlement-building in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank only guarantees that the conflict will continue.
As it happens, however, the need for an enemy, and so for an ongoing conflict, isn’t restricted to the political right or the settlers. “Our enemies have made us one, and, thus united, we suddenly discover our strength” Theodore Herzl wrote in Zionism’s founding tract, “The Jews’ State.” And perceptive Israeli commentators have been asking for years what would hold Israeli Jews together if they had no common Arab or Palestinian enemy. That is still “the defining question” for all Israelis, according to Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset: “Can we continue to exist without a perennial adversary, without being victims of persecution?”
Sadly, the answer for most Israelis seems to be: no. A prominent Jewish columnist in the Jerusalem Post said it best: “Israelis get mad when you tell them we don’t have to keep going to war, that we’re strong enough to deter our enemies… People don’t want to hear anything about possibilities for peace… All they want to hear is ein breira, we have no choice, it’s either fight or die.”
Israeli political life suffers from “a real obsession,” according to the editors of Israel’s most respected newspaper, Haaretz, “a sense that we are constantly under attack.. an insanity of persecution.”
That’s an old story, of course. “Israel’s position today is similar to its position after the wars of 1948 and of 1967,” an editorial in Haaretz noted: “The potential for negotiations was there, but the [political] cost was considered too high. Now, too, maintaining the status quo appears to be preferable to making changes that Israelis perceive as threatening, even if they do not necessarily pose a genuine danger.”
The recent Hamas-Fatah reconciliation gave Israelis a new imaginary danger to worry about. The news of Palestinian unity launched a verbal tsunami in Israel, a flood of warnings that a far-right theocratic ideology might easily take control of a Palestinian state. President Obama fed that fear when he said “Hamas has been and is an organization that has resorted to terror; that has refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. It is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process.”
“Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda,” Netanyahu responded.
It’s just another case of Israelis staring into that mirror. Hamas has, in fact, been moving steadily toward a form of secular nationalism and greater political moderation. Its government in Gaza is busy fending off threats from the true theocrats of the Muslim right, who despise Hamas. The rare volleys of Hamas rockets that now come into Israel are triggered by and responses to Israeli attacks.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has been saying for years that he and his party are absolutely willing to accept a two-state solution — implicitly accepting the permanent existence of Israel — as long as a majority of Palestinians approve it. Meshaal now speaks of “peace” rather than merely “truce” and views the infamous Hamas charter, calling for the destruction of Israel, as no longer relevant.
When it comes to the all-important question of recognition, it’s Israel that refuses to recognize Hamas as a legitimate party or the Palestinians’ right to be a democratic state and choose their own government. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been doing exactly what it accuses Hamas of doing — opening the door to increasingly reactionary, racist, and theocratic laws. “Public opinion polls point to increasing extremism, bordering on racism, in Jews’ opinion of Arabs,” as Haaretz has noted, so “it’s no wonder there is no public pressure on the government to advance the peace process.”
Israel is fast coming under the sway of far-right theocrats, and “ever more Israelis are infected by the symptoms of Messianic thinking: ‘We are right, and the whole world is wrong; hence we must no longer listen to anybody,’” as one Israeli Jewish columnist observed.
Then there’s the upcoming vote in the U.N. General Assembly in September, when Palestine is expected to be granted full status as a nation. In his speech, Obama echoed the Israeli line that the Palestinian push for recognition there will harm chances for peace. In fact the vote would promote the peace process by pushing a nay-saying Israel closer to what it now fears most: finally being forced by irresistible world opinion to negotiate peace rather than become a pariah state.
There’s one last point that Obama and American public discourse get absolutely backwards: the idea that being a friend of Israel’s means endorsing its popular narrative, which offers no more truth than Alice’s looking-glass. Real friends don’t enable their friends to engage in self-destructive behavior. Real friends wouldn’t let them get so drunk on a delusional story that they have no compunctions about driving what might otherwise be a peace process off a cliff.
The U.S. has the power to push the Israelis away from that cliff and head them in a new direction. There’s real truth in the common Israeli joke that the U.S. is “the eight-ton elephant that can sit down anywhere it wishes.”
Yes, Obama can put his tuches anywhere he wants. If he ever feels politically safe enough, he just might put it on the table. Then, Israel might have to leave the looking-glass world and agree to start genuine peace negotiations.
Ira Chernus is a TomDispatch regular and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Read more of his writing about Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. on his blog. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Chernus discusses the strange, looking-glass world of Israeli-Palestinian nonnegotiations, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Ira Chernus
“It’s time to recognize this basic truth: Israel is not what’s wrong about the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East.”
I’m guessing this Bibi gem won one of those 29 Congressional standing ovations on Tuesday.
Probably a facepalm – or laugh-out-loud – moment for many Israelis. Here’s our PM in plain view of the entire world, demonstrating in first person what is domestically known as the Ugly Israeli: a ridiculously arrogant, pushy, free-riding, zero-self-awareness caricature of a person. (For Americans, think about that rude sloppily dressed Yankee tourist barging into a vegetarian restaurant in India and demanding a hamburger.)
Or as Carly Simon would put it: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about YOU.”
But seriously. Leaving aside the pitiful circus that Congress becomes when they do Israel, and also leaving aside Bibi’s bad personal taste, most Israeli Jews would agree with some version of his statement, and a majority is suspicious or outright hostile towards Obama’s gentle attempts to nudge us towards acknowledging reality.
How can we be so collectively blind? What follows below is not a polemic, but rather an attempt to provide some insight to a nation that sees itself, in some ways, as sitting outside history and not subject to its laws.
What is this History that we are Ignoring?
One problem when discussing Israel-Palestine, that the first thing to go down the drain is that simple beautiful principle: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.”
To try and mitigate this problem, below is a simple (incomplete, time permitting) list of major, glaring, important existential facts that most Israelis nowadays either completely ignore, or brazenly defy that they have any practical implications.
A friendly tip: this can be used a self-selection list. If you find most of the facts in the list unbearably false, twisted, maliciously selective or unfair, just save yourself the time and go elsewhere.
But before you do so, consider this: the point in this diary is not to claim who’s morally “right” or “wrong” (my stand on the matter is well-known, and although it is not 180-degree opposed to Bibi’s, it is certainly well over 90-degrees away from him).
The point is to demonstrate that from a practical standpoint, Israel is now facing a multi-dimensional historical train wreck, mostly of its own making. Yet it is precisely this train wreck that the Israeli mainstream – whether in its brazen Bibi version, or in its more savvy Olmert-Livni-Barak version – is still ignoring.
And the diary further tries to explain why this deliberate blindness to history, from an Israeli insider’s perspective.
– Historically, for centuries Jews in Palestine were a small minority with no national aspirations until near the end of the 19th Century;
– The trickle of national-minded Jewish immigrants to Palestine (later known as Zionists) received a major boost when they became officially sponsored by the British colonial power that took control of the country in 1918;
– Around 1950, following the Holocaust, a local war and Nakba, Jews became a majority in the land and a 90% majority within the new State of Israel, largely emptied of its Palestinian population.
– World powers (which earlier pushed a Jewish state down the region’s throat via the UN) were lightning-quick to recognize and integrate Israel into the world community, even though in 1950 it was little more than a huge refugee camp for people sharing little in common except a religious heritage and nowhere else to go. The West went on to bankroll Israel’s economic stabilization, and to abandon and punt towards the future the teeny side problem that the majority of Palestinians in the land have, virtually overnight, become penniless refugees.
– Fast-forward 57 years: in 2007, Jews once again stopped being a majority in Israel-Palestine (due to “demographic realities” – genuine ones, not the fabricated one of settlement-building). They are now still a plurality, but are scheduled to be outnumbered by Palestinians sometime over the coming decade AFAIK. Outside Israel, Jewish demographics are stagnating at around 5-7 million worldwide, and most of the young generation lives an affluent secular life, tends towards mixed marriages and is not expected to generate a mass immigration wave to Israel in any foreseeable future.
– Last but not least: the less than 6 million Jews now living in Israel are surrounded by over 150 million Arabs, who unlike them are quite aware of this history, roughly in the context in which I presented it – and whatever spins Bibi or “moderates” like Thomas Friedman might spin about the Arab Spring, the issue of injustice to Palestinians still matters very much to citizens across the Arab world, and ranks very high on their to-do lists for their governments. Yes, those would be the same citizens who just rebelled against their leaders and are installing popularly-based governments.
In short, your average Middle Easterner might disagree that Israel meets the definition of “What’s right about the Middle East.” But as we sadly know, 1948 is not the end of the story.
I don’t want to add 50 bullet-points here and lose the audience. So let’s summarize in a paragraph: even though the initial economic integration and exploitation of the Occupied Territories and their residents had generated for Israel what is to this date still the greatest economic boom in Israeli history, in 1967-1973 (don’t believe? check it out on gapminder.org). – despite this, continuing to stick with Occupation has exacted an increasing toll upon Israel in every conceivable way. Moreover, no country – not even the US – has recognized Israel’s claim to control any of these territories by right (as opposed to as a “temporary measure”).
Are We Really Ignoring This?
In one word: yes. Consider for example the single biggest cost, in my opinion of Israel’s Occupation: the loss of its democracy. Any typical Israeli, not just wingnuts like Bibi, will argue with you blue in the face that Israel is a democracy, and that the Occupied Territories have “nothing to do with it”, are “irrelevant” or whatever. Forget for a moment the West Bank; bring up the issue of what the regime is in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, and they’ll say “East Jerusalem Palestinians are all citizens.” Wrong, of course; they are only residents; the Shin Bet secret police keeps a close tab on them; their rights to residency, property ownership and travel abroad are far more limited; and most saliently – if they linger abroad too long, they lose their residency rights automatically and simply cannot return except as “tourists”.
Most Israelis – including, to my astonishment, my own mother who is progressive, well-educated, has mostly “lefty” offspring and has lived in Jerusalem for most of the past 40 years – did not know that simple fact, that the Palestinians who live in her city have to live under a structurally inferior citizenship status. Heck, most Israelis don’t know anymore where the 1967 lines pass on the ground, because the settlements and “Israel proper” have been so thoroughly integrated in so many places. But tell Israelis that the integration of our flagrantly undemocratic control of the West Bank, with the supposedly pure democracy of “Israel Proper”, means that Israel is not a democracy anymore – and they will throw a hissy fit and see you as a lunatic self-hater (if you are Jewish) or an anti-Israel type (if you’re not).
Moreover, tell Israeli Jews that we must, must, must end the Occupation or Israel might simply implode or explode – and they will shrug “what’s the rush?” Most will add some lip-service saying that the “settlements” (which – see above – they cannot really identify; what they mean is places with people who look like settlers, Orthodox and crazy) – the “settlements” are wrong of course, Palestinians need their state of course – but, but – the punch line will be some currently-fashionable version of “there’s no one to talk with on the other side.” Which really boils down to the immortal Bibi phrase opening this diary: the rest of the Middle East, esp. the Palestinians, is just innately wrong, and we – the innately right ones, will just have to stiffen our upper lip and hang tough until they become more civilized.
This is what some 80%-90% of Israeli Jews think nowadays. Everything else is semantic decoration.
So Why This Blindness?
I mean, ok, you don’t have to like or even respect your neighbors, esp. considering all the bad blood. But where’s the pragmatism? I mean, 6 million and 150 million, loss of majority in the country itself, erosion of popular support across the entire world, the refusal of any country even our friends (upon whom we rely like air to breathe) to recognize any part of the Occupation, etc. etc.?
Here’s the deal. Any person, any group, any nation has their share of exceptionalism – some irrational level of hubris and unwillingness to acknowledge their true nature. But in Israel this is taken to the absolute extreme: we honestly think that history, and the laws of nature in general, do not apply to us.
There are very good reasons for this. It is easy to forget, especially in the US (where nearly all 535 members of Congress are thoroughly trained to forget it). But Israel itself is neither a natural, nor even a likely, phenomenon. The Jewish national project in Palestine was spearheaded by a band of misfits with various extreme ideologies; it had taken 50 years – against immense odds – for it to even reach the mainstream of the Jewish world.
But what the leaders of soon-to-become Israel have demonstrated at nearly every turn is an uncanny ability to leverage and surf the huge historical upheavals of the 20th Century, and to take advantage of every lucky break. Time after time has the Zionist train seemed to head into a brick wall – and time after time the wall miraculously crumbled at the last moment, or a side-spur materialized out of thin air, and Zionism – later Israel – emerged not only unscathed but actually empowered.
I am not giving specific examples. If you know any of the history, you will find them yourself.
Moreover, another tendency that Zionism and Israel have demonstrated, is a brazen willingness to experiment on itself. The Hebrew language which seems so natural on the lips of millions of Israelis (including myself) is really known to linguists as “modern Hebrew” (opposed to Biblical Hebrew). As recently as 1900, according to accepted lingustic definitions, it simply did not exist. It was created by thousands of those crazy initial pioneersforcing themselves to talk with their children not in their native languages (mostly Yiddish), but in a language they were inventing on the fly based on the ancient Biblical structures. It worked; in my opinion, modern Hebrew is Zionism’s greatest unqualified success. A more famous social experiment – the Kibbutz movement – while posting great achievements, is now largely seen as a failure with generations growing up in kibbutzim mostly deserting them with deep psychological scars, and others not taking their place.
But a far greater experiment is the Occupation itself. The mere willingness of a nation to tamper with its own regime and shatter its own laws in order to achieve some limited practical outcome (in this case, de-facto expansion of borders without acknowledging the expansion) – is so unimaginable to people outside Israel, that foreign leaders and even experts continue to misunderstand what has actually transpired on the ground post-1967.
But in Israel this tinkering is taken for granted and seen as natural. We can fly through walls. We can jump off buildings. If we say we are a “democracy”, we can re-define the term as we wish so that we still fall under it – or simply stare at our non-democracy in the face and ignore its true nature. We can subjugate our entire society to a huge and corrupt military, and still claim that it does nothing to us, that we are in fact a vibrant life-loving civil society.
Instead of counting our blessings, being grateful for the immense, truly generous breaks history has afforded us over 63 years, and moving off the fast lane – we Israelis delude ourselves that these astounding privileges and being bailed out for failure after failure are our God-given right, and are insulted to the point of hysteria whenever reality manages to bite us. Like the famous quote from George W. Bush’s inner circle, Israel believes in making up its own world, its own reality, its own rules.
It is this deep self-conviction with which most Israeli Jews communicate their delusional and a-historical view of their nation, that fools many outside observers, most of all Diaspora Jews with longtanding ties of friendship and family. These “friends of Israel” then go on to promote the delusions as if they were the Gospel Truth, and thus help Israel continue running away from itself and gamble the entire nation away – straight into the increasingly unavoidable abyss.