AIPAC, Gaza and Letters to the President

June 24, 2010

I was reminiscing recently about a very pleasant conversation I had with Stephen Walt, who, along with John Mearsheimer, wrote the explosive book “The Israel Lobby.” Both authors are aware that I disagree with their thesis, and yet Stephen and I were always able to have respectful conversations about it. Would that more conversations about Israel could be conducted in that manner.

But I also disagree with what I call the Chomsky Thesis. Chomsky, and some other analysts, believe that “The Lobby’s” power derives from its essential rapport with American policy aims, and that if it diverges from those aims, it would not prove much of an obstacle.

Saying “The Lobby” is not a considerable force is as false as saying it is the determinative element in US policy. It

Hillary Clinton and AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg at this year's AIPAC policy conference

clearly plays a serious role in American politics, and the more prominently domestic concerns play into an American President’s foreign policy decisions, the more powerful it is. (In fairness, I should note that Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book is rarely understood to encompass this view, though it can certainly be read that way)

“The Lobby’s” field of play is Congress. To the extent Congress can and will push back against a president on foreign policy, “The Lobby” will get it to do so when they disagree with that president’s policies.

It has often been the case that “The Lobby” tries to push the US into a harder line than Israel takes. It has done so again this week.

Letters to Obama

The Senate, almost as a body, has written to the President in full support of Israel’s version of the events aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla over Memorial Day Weekend. It re-states the position that the siege on Gaza is legal and was imposed to stop the import of weapons to Hamas, while ignoring the question of how children’s toys, coriander, mayonnaise and ketchup could be classified as weapons. It also asks the President to consider putting the IHH, the Turkish organization which is most certainly supportive of Hamas, on the list of terrorist organizations.

The letter, at this writing, was signed by 86 senators, and a similar letter is up to 322 signatures in the House. Read the rest of this entry »

Gaza: A Kadima-Made Quagmire

June 22, 2010

The political mudslinging between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni over the failure of Israel’s siege of Gaza would be amusing if it were not so disturbing.

The exchange basically comes down to Bibi saying that he inherited the Gaza siege from the previous government and Livni responding that under their version of the siege, the world wasn’t condemning Israel for it.

We’ll get back to Bibi in a moment, but let’s look at the depths of Livni’s disingenuousness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni

Livni is not just the current head of Kadima; she was Foreign Minister when the siege was enacted and when Israel wreaked havoc in Operation Cast Lead. Unlike Avigdor Lieberman, the FM in the current government, Livni was at the very heart of policymaking under Olmert. She cannot duck responsibility for Gaza.

Under the watch that Livni was a central part of, Israel enacted a policy that was needlessly cruel and ultimately self-defeating. For three years, the civilians in Gaza have been devastated. They, not Hamas, bore the brunt of Israel’s policies. They, not Hamas, were impacted by Israel barring all sorts of household items, cleansers, foodstuffs, coffee, cigarettes, and other consumer products.

These effects were far from unexpected; they were the sole intent of the policies. This was the very definition of collective punishment. Read the rest of this entry »

Recommended reading: Bernard Avishai on BDS

June 17, 2010

I will continue to defend the rights of those urging sensible economic actions against the occupation, as I did when writing about the divestment proposition at UC Berkeley. Such efforts, even if I don’t agree with them are not, by definition, anti-Israel, much less anti-Semitic. As I’ve said, there are such strains within those movements, and we must consciously discern between those who are trying to bring legitimate economic pressure against the occupation and those who are motivated by animus towards Jews or some bizarre Zionist conspiracy theories.

But I do not believe BDS is an effective strategy strategy, even though Israel’s own sometimes cruel and always harsh and self-destructive are lately giving that movement a good deal of steam. Bernard Avishai, an economist, professor, writer and activist explains very well why this is a dead-end strategy. His article was published in The Nation and at his blog here.

Whether you support BDS or not, I think considering Avishai’s clear-headed arguments, which do not demonize the BDS movement but merely argue about the tactic, is well worth your while.

Solving the Hamas Question

June 16, 2010

Few events are as badly misunderstood as the 2006 election that brought a stunning victory for Hamas.

The factors that led to that electoral victory were:

  • The perception that Fatah had failed utterly to make any significant gains for the Palestinian people
  • The widespread corruption that was the norm for Fatah at that time
  • The in-fighting in Fatah which caused not only disillusionment, but also led to more than one Fatah candidate in numerous districts, splitting the vote
  • Only the smallest factor was a moderate rise in religious nationalism among Palestinians

Hamas enjoyed a certain temporary popularity, more as an alternative than anything else. Much of the current dilemma involving Hamas arises not from their electoral victory but from the coup that the US and Israel attempted to engineer, backing Fatah in Gaza, which was thwarted by Hamas’ pre-emptive strike and led to Hamas ejecting much of

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

Fatah completely from Gaza and taking unilateral control.

I bring this up because a friend asked me how Hamas might be undermined today. The answer is both pragmatic and involves no devious tricks or the use of force.

The first step is easing the Gaza siege so that the people can rebuild destroyed homes and business, and resuscitate their economy. Already, even Israel has conceded this can be done without compromising security measures. And that it can be done while largely bypassing Hamas.

From there, Fatah and Hamas must be pushed toward forming a unity government that would have only one purpose—facilitating new elections for the Palestinian Authority. Polls have consistently shown that Fatah would emerge the winner, while Hamas would be a significant minority party. The most recent poll shows that the gap between the two is widening as Salam Fayyad’s popularity is increasing significantly. Read the rest of this entry »

Democrats United In Support of Flotilla Raid

June 15, 2010

MJ Rosenberg reprints dozens of Democrats’ statements on the Gaza flotilla fiasco today in his Media Matters piece.

He doesn’t bother with the Republicans, which are worse, but also to be expected. And the Democrats he quotes include some supported by J Street. This points to a pretty wide consensus of opinion.

I found MJ’s closing line interesting. He writes, pithily, that “Our United States Congress hard at work, doing what it’s told.”

But I’ll say I have no doubt they heard from AIPAC and other, similar advocacy groups. And some, I’m sure, did indeed parrot the party line, wanting to curry favor during this election year.

But I also think that many of them didn’t need to be told what to say and didn’t say what they did because they heard it from AIPAC.

Then-Senator Obama addressing AIPAC on the campaign trail

Let’s face it, there’s more than just political pressure behind the fact that ostensible liberals turn into hawks when it comes to Israel.

Israel’s general approach to terrorism is not much different from our own American version—it’s just the context that makes the biggest difference. We are not anxious to indict Israeli behavior when it comes to real security given the methods we employ in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re not exactly the same, but they all fall under the new rubric of fighting terror.

There’s also the fact that I do not believe many of our elected officials really know that much about the Israel-Palestine conflict and give little real thought to what Israel’s best interests are. They also can’t really understand what America’s interests in the region are, beyond political expediency.

Members of Congress track many issues, even those who focus more on foreign policy. When I’ve listened to Gary Ackerman or Howard Berman speak, I perceive a big gulf between their knowledge of the Middle East and that of their staffers. That’s a reflection, too, of the fact that Israel is a domestic political issue for them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Three Panels: Investigating the Flotilla Fiasco

June 15, 2010

Israel is trying to address the massive criticism it is facing over the flotilla fiasco by empowering not one, but three different investigative panels.

It’s not likely to work.

The military investigation, which was the first one empaneled, was intended to address internal criticism that the operation was poorly planned and executed. This is likely to be the most effective panel in terms of its own mandate, but it obviously won’t address international concerns.

The most recent announcement by the state comptroller is actually the most likely to come up with something serious.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss

Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is planning to look into the government’s decision-making process, something which really does need attention. This was initiated by Lindenstrauss himself, and as such is the most likely to yield credible results.

But the comptroller’s investigation will be limited and will not cover the military’s “the tactical or operational aspects of the raid,” nor the legal aspects that the public commission is tasked with.

The main panel, headed by retired justice Jacob Turkel, is already understood to be a sham. Turkel himself has no significant expertise in these matters. Another member, Shabtai Rosen, would have seemed a much better choice to lead the panel, since, as a recipient of the Hague Prize for international law he has by far the most credibility of anyone involved with this panel. The third member, Amos Horev, a retired general, is not known to be a lock-step supporter of all military decisions, but is also not someone inclined toward really sharp criticism. Read the rest of this entry »

Resolving the Gaza Siege Conundrum

June 13, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla disaster has shone a light on the siege of Gaza. After three years, the international community has finally stood up and said this must stop.

Now the question is how.

I’m reminded of a meeting I had about a year ago with several State Department officials. Already, the Obama

President Obama and President Abbas met this past week in Washington

administration had made it clear that Gaza was not an issue they wanted to deal with. They preferred to advance the peace process with Mahmoud Abbas and hope Gaza would just go away.

That was never going to happen, of course, but the Administration still seems to want to avoid dealing with Gaza if at all possible. The flotilla massacre made it impossible.

At that meeting, I went through the list of reasons why the siege on Gaza was both unjust and against Israel’s better interests. I stressed throughout, and continue to do so today, that Israel has legitimate security concerns that it has every right to address. But that right does not mean all restraints are off.

So after some discussion, I was asked what I thought should be done about it. I believe my answer to them still holds today as a way to address both Hamas and the rights of the people in Gaza. Read the rest of this entry »

We Now Hate Turkey, So the Armenian Genocide DID Happen

June 9, 2010

Spencer Ackerman has an excellent and succinct post on the hypocrisy abounding now that the American Jewish leadership has decided Turkey is an enemy, so they have stopped lobbying against recognition of the Armenian genocide.

He’s nicer about it than I am.

This has long been something I’ve found truly disgusting, and an example of how when it comes to a choice between being a Jew and marching lock-step with Israel, the so-called “pro-Israel” Jewish forces don’t even blink and abandon Judaism, our community and our heritage without a second thought.

WE ARE JEWS!!! HOW CAN WE DENY A GENOCIDE FOR CYNICAL POLITICAL PURPOSES???

And can anyone seriously doubt that such is exactly what happened?

This hypocrisy is not merely academic, now that AIPAC’s dissembling on behalf of Turkey has come to an end. It is that same trait that is on display on a daily basis in the denial of suffering in Gaza. Read the rest of this entry »

Helen Thomas Scorned, Caroline Glick Praised

June 8, 2010

Helen Thomas made an extremely offensive, off the cuff remark, and has now announced her retirement.

I met Thomas some years ago; she is definitely someone who shoots from the hip, and she has, for quite some time, been in a position where she could do so. She has generally asked tougher questions, on the Middle East as well as many other issues, than other reporters because she has had virtually guaranteed access to the White House.

I have enormous respect for the work she’s done as a journalist. But I have absolutely no sympathy on her for the

The now-fallen Helen Thomas

reaction her remarks have garnered. They were offensive and inappropriate. Her apology, which I believe was sincere, didn’t really address the offensive content of what she said.

Some, like Think Progress’ Matt Duss, have pointed out that similar comments regarding Palestinians have not garnered serious criticism. He’s right. Still, I do believe that while anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry remains shamefully tolerated in the US, had Thomas’ comments been directed at African-Americans, women, or other groups in this country who have made some progress in fighting discrimination, she would have been in just as much trouble.

In any case, there was a great outcry, and Thomas, who could be argued to be the premier serious female reporter in the country, has retired as a result.

In Israel, the premier woman journalist in the country went a hell of a lot farther, in a premeditated, rather than an impetuous fashion. And there is hardly a peep in response in her home country.

Caroline Glick is well-known to readers of right-wing e-mail lists, and of course, of the Jerusalem Post, where she is the deputy managing editor and a regular columnist. She is also a fellow at the extremist neoconservative Center for Security Policy in Washington. Read the rest of this entry »

United States of Denial

June 6, 2010

One can never accuse the neo-conservatives of a lack of hubris.

Liz Cheney, daughter of Dick and Lynne Cheney, offers a prime example of this in an interview on ABC News. While Cheney was admitting the massive mistake the Bush Administration made in pushing for Palestinian elections in 2006, Cheney condescends as follows:  “I don’t think they [the Palestinians] were ready for it. I don’t think we should have pushed it.”

No, Liz. It is we who were not ready for it, and to a lesser extent, our friends in Fatah. Indeed, even the Israeli government, then under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, turned more and more cool to the idea as the elections approached, fearing significant gains for Hamas (despite some re-writing of personal histories, exceedingly few expected an outright victory for Hamas, let alone the overwhelming one that occurred).

Liz Cheney

Those elections, held under occupation in exceedingly difficult conditions, were universally praised as free and fair, and the results generated far less controversy than many American elections, including both of those which brought Cheney’s boss, George W. Bush to office.

The Hamas victory was due to three major factors:

  • The ineffectiveness of Fatah’s leadership in ending or easing the occupation. The second intifada had simmered down in early 2005, but the revised and intense measures Israel had put in place during the intifada were mostly still in place by the end of that year. Palestinian life was perhaps at the lowest point it has been, before or since. While many Palestinians questioned the intifada, that question was often based in the notion that Fatah, under both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas had so badly blown the negotiated approach that the intifada was the only choice many Palestinians saw.
  • Corruption in Fatah. In 2006, before Salam Fayyad reformed many Palestinian institutions, corruption within Fatah continued apace. There is little doubt that corruption was a major problem under Arafat, who dealt with it as part of his system of control. Abbas was not so inclined, but also did very little to stem the tide of corruption in the PA.
  • Poor organization of campaigns by Fatah. In 2005, the Fatah party was on the verge of splitting in two. Although in the end, the breakaway group, al-Mustaqbal, agreed to stay with the party, out of fear of handing Hamas victory, the damage was done. In numerous districts, Fatah ran multiple candidates, splitting the vote. Read the rest of this entry »