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Archive for the ‘U.S.-Israel Strategic Alliance’ Category

Protestors gathered on Capitol Hill this past Sunday to express their disapproval of U.S.-supported Israeli occupation of Palestine, an occupation that now exceeds 40 years. A small but diverse and lively crowd, the protestors collectively argued for adherence to applicable U.N. resolutions and international law, protection of Palestinians’ individual human rights and cultural right to self-determination, and the restoration of justice as a practical means of achieving peace.

On the other side of 3rd Street, a counterdemonstration of about 50 “pro-Israel” protestors gathered to express their disagreement. Oddly, these protestors argued for the same abstract principles as their counterparts up on the hill. They claimed to be on the side of peace, supporting democratic values and human rights, and their chief argument centered on denouncing violence and terrorism.

Both groups of protestors allege that truth and moral high-ground was on their side, exclusively. If two groups of people, so diametrically divided over something, forthrightly espouse the same interests, then how can there be conflict?

The conflict, as I understand it, is preordained simply because only one truthful and accurate historical record exists. Each argument, however, employs its own version of history, allowing each to claim fundamental superiority over the other, and on the same ostensible pretenses of justice. Either selective ignorance of historical events or outright dishonesty is at work in one (or both?) of these arguments. An open-minded and independent review of history is necessary in order to responsibly choose a side.

Respecting that the stance of the American Government has been continuously and unconditionally supportive of Israel for nearly 60 years, it is wise to look outside our own mainstream sources so as to eliminate bias. The results of such inquiry, I have found, are unpleasant for those sympathetic to the Israeli cause, and the arguments of the counterdemonstrators, I had noticed, bespeak shameful but silenced awareness. Consider the substance of their central arguments (and logical rebuttals):

1. Israel has the right to exist (this perspective is undisputed by the other side; it succeeds only in distracting people from the pertinent issues)

2. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East (ignoring this argument’s irrelevancy, for democracies are as capable of human rights abuses as any other government, it is a distortion of the truth. Many pro-Palestinian parties in the Middle East -alleged terrorist organizations by the U.S. and Israel- are characteristically democratic and have acquired legislative representation in Middle Eastern governments peacefully through free elections; it is typically the governments of the United States and Israel that behave undemocratically)

3. Israel departed the Gaza Strip but has sustained over 1000 rocket attacks since. (Israel also built a wall around Gaza, isolating its inhabitants from participation in social, cultural, and political life outside. In omitting Israeli violence, which claims the lives of nearly nine times as many children as Palestinian violence, this argument does not present any new information fairly or constructively. It also fails to address the issue of occupation in the West Bank and Golan Heights, far more strategic land areas than Gaza)

4. Israel is the only country that outlawed the use of torture (also irrelevant, also a distortion, it might be worth considering that confessions obtained through torture are admissible in Israeli courts -a different discussion point for a different debate)

5. The Israeli occupation of these territories constitutes “prophecy-fulfillment” (this is an ideological perspective, effortlessly refuted by presenting an opposite ideology that is also conveniently exempt from factual or logical support)

While my personal bias is unabashedly on the side of the Palestinians, I feel these talking points are worthy of examination from any angle. Recognize that as Americans, our culture is not neutral on this issue, that outside the United States and Israel, there is widespread disapproval of Israel’s human rights record, and that this is not a politically contentious issue in the international arena, where violations of international law affect political causes negatively.

-Daniel Black

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This spring break (in the snow), I discovered Mosaic. This Peabody Award winnig show is only available on LinkTV or via a free video podcast; its relative anonymity, however, should not detract astute news consumers. Mosaic presents a collage of video clips from various Middle Eastern news sources and offers a Middle Eastern viewpoint on world events. Mosaic also publishes a weekly intelligence report. The document, itself a collection of opinion pieces and news stories relating to the Middle East, is available free of charge and by email subscription on the show’s website.

Since American media systematically excludes the opinions of Middle Easterners, Mosaic offers Americans a rare glimpse into regional Middle Eastern politics and an opportunity to witness the effects of American foreign policy on Middle Easterners. Relying on alternative news sources, the intelligence report and the TV show broaden the spectrum of news sources and opinion. This week’s edition of the intelligence report, for instance, included a story about a new University of Maryland/Zogby International 2006 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey which found that most Middle Easterners “do not see Iran as a major threat to the region.”

When asked to identify two countries that pose the biggest threat to them, 85 percent of respondents said Israel and 72 percent said the United States. In contrast, only 11 percent identified Iran. Furthermore, a majority of respondents were supportive of Iran’s nuclear program, even though more than half also believe that Iran has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. According to the survey, 61 percent believe that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, with only 24 percent agreeing that Tehran should be pressured to stop it.

Interestingly, two-thirds of those surveyed in the UAE and just over half in Saudi Arabia agree that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, despite the issue’s sensitivity among Gulf Arab monarchies. While broadly approving of Iran’s nuclear program, just over half — 51 percent — of those surveyed believe Iran has ambitions to achieve weapons capability, with only 27 percent believing that Iran is intent on using its program for civilian purposes.Of the world leaders admired most by respondents, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was first, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came in third, despite the fact both are Shia Muslims and the latter is not Arab. French President Jacques Chirac and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came in second and fourth respectively.

Conversely, U.S. President George W. Bush, former and current Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were identified as the four most disliked world leaders. Respondents also view Hezbollah more favorably since the July-August 2006 war against Israel. More than two-thirds — or 68 percent — of those surveyed said they had a more positive attitude toward Hezbollah after last year’s war; including 58 percent and 50 percent respectively in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As much as the dire situation in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the political standoff in Lebanon, have opened up fissures between Arab Sunnis and Shias across the region, the University of Maryland/Zogby International poll shows that fundamental attitudes towards the role of the United States in the region are overwhelmingly negative. Furthermore, Sunni Arab regimes’ fears of an Iranian ascendancy are not shared by those they rule.

“The public of the Arab world is not looking at the important issues through the Sunni-Shiite divide,” Shibley Telhami, a scholar at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy who conducted the poll, told Inter Press Service. “They see them rather through the lens of Israeli-Palestinian issues and anger with U.S. policy. Most Sunni Arabs take the side of the Shiites on the important issues.”Indeed the Bush administration has a job ahead of it to win over hearts and minds in the region. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed stated they had unfavorable attitudes — 57 very unfavorable and 21 percent unfavorable — towards the United States. More than two-thirds of those surveyed, or 70 percent, said their attitudes towards America were based on U.S. policy, while only 11 percent said they was based on American values.

Despite the fact that Middle East democracy promotion forms the core of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, 65 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe democracy is a real U.S. objective in the region. In fact when asked what they considered to be motivating U.S. policy in the Middle East, “controlling oil” (83 percent), “protecting Israel” (75 percent), “weakening the Muslim world” (69 percent), and “desire to dominate the region” (68 percent) were identified as extremely important factors.

When asked what steps the United States could take to improve its regional standing, 62 percent identified brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal based on 1967 borders. A significant minority of respondents identified withdrawal from Iraq (33 percent), and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula (22 percent) as well. More than half (52 percent) ranked U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict as “extremely important.” When asked to identify their biggest concern about the consequences of the Iraq War, just under half (49 percent) feared that Iraq may be divided, 42 percent feared Iraq remaining a destabilizing factor for the region, while 42 percent cited a continued U.S. dominance of the country as their biggest concern. Only 15 percent highlighted Iran becoming a more powerful state as a major concern. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration expected that cultivating a Shiite-led pro-Western democracy in Baghdad would weaken Iran’s theocratic republic and erode Hezbollah’s influence. A new and powerful Iraqi ally would also enable the United States to ease its strategic dependence on Saudi Arabia, an ally which became less trusted after 9/11, the administration’s thinking went.

But Iran has been able to exercise influence in Iraq and Iraq’s Shiites have cooperated with the United States on their own terms, dashing hopes of politically overhauling the Middle East through empowering Shiites. Last year’s Israel-Hezbollah war compelled the Bush administration to reverse this position and return to seeking an alliance with pro-Western Sunni regimes in an effort to contain Iran. While this latest strategy brings the Bush administration closer to the political leadership of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, the Sunni Arab populace in these countries does not see things the same way as their leaders.

In fact the Maryland/Zogby poll reveals that skepticism of the United States’ role in the region, resentment at lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and affinity for regional figures who are seen to be standing up to America and/or Israel are still widespread. And despite the sectarian conflict in Iraq and simmering tensions in Lebanon, Iran is not seen as the bogeyman of the region. Perhaps the Islamic Republic is more popular in the broader Middle East than it is within its own borders.

America’s policy in the Middle East cannot ignore Arab history, perception and opinion. If we wish to reduce the threat of ‘terrorism’ or Islamic religious extremism, we must pursue a symbtiotic relationship; American policy cannot undermine the needs and desires of Middle Easterners—such an approach generates resistance and terrorism. If we want to reduce so-called anti-Americanism then we must secede, in some respects, to the demands of the region. We must pull out of Iraq, abandon our blind support for Israeli policy towards the Palestinians (not the state of Israel), allow Iraqis to control their own natural resources, and negotiate with the regional powers.

Our current policy (to extend American hegemony and influence across the Middle East and allow American corporations to control the region’s natural resources) undermines Middle Eastern sovereignty and democracy. In crafting a new approach, we must consider the needs and viewpoints of Middle Easterners– and that’s what Mosaic is all about.

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Since the invasion of Iraq, I’ve argued that the Bush doctrine, specifically the invasion of Iraq, has radicalized Muslim extremists and increased America’s vulnerability to terrorism. What’s even more damning, still, is this administration’s willingness to risk the lives of millions of Americans to gain strategic influence in the Middle East and control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Prior to the invasion, the Bush administration knew that a military action against Iraq would spark a Jihadist Renaissance; they ignored this threat.

Moreover, bellicose rhetoric or action against Iran will have the same effect there, as the 9/11 attacks had here. After the attack on America, Americans united around Bush. If half of us didn’t support Bush before 9/11, the attacks forced us to rally around our President; after all, he was all we had. We trusted President Bush to protect us from the threat of terror. Who else could we have turned to? Many Americans enlisted in the army and our government promised to avenge the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans.

The invasion of Iraq, like the conflict in Afghanistan before it, has had the same effect on extremist Muslims around the world. Thus it comes as no surprise when Mother Jones Magazine reports that “the Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third…the Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of the Al Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea.”

If we ever hope to reduce or even eliminate terror we must, as Noam Chomsky has argued, stop participating in it. We have to pull out of Iraq. We have to negotiate with Iran and Syria. We have to reassess our blind support for Israel. We have to place the security of our people ahead of economic or strategic ambition.

— Igor Volsky

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Last November, former president Jimmy Carter published a book appealing for a peaceful resolution to the violent conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors entitled: Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Unique and unprecedented, this book offers its reader a perspective that seldom receives public attention.

Jimmy Carter accounts his personal experiences and involvement with influential leaders of several Middle Eastern countries. Numerous historical events that oftentimes are foggy or shrouded in the American Public’s general understanding are discussed openly. Carter draws from his first hand knowledge, and, to an extent rarely seen in mainstream literature, implicitly acknowledges the humanity of all peoples affected by this conflict.

On the whole, I found the book very easy to read, thorough and intensely candid, and apparently written with the understanding that it broaches a subject frequently abused on those rare occasions it is actually discussed. It was, unfortunately, encumbered with a religious facet that I felt diminished its scholarly value.

Stemming from Carter’s forthright and non-biased disclosures is the unsurprising consequence of passion-driven personal assaults against the president’s character. Carter’s work has, unfortunately, been interpreted by many as nothing more than an unfounded attack against Israel, sympathetic to the cause of violent fanatics who are intolerant of a Jewish state, and unruly diplomatic behavior unbecoming of a former U.S. president.

The most heated criticism against Carter’s book is his describing Israel’s treatment of non-Jewish inhabitants in the occupied territories as apartheid. Responses in defense of Israel’s treatment have been swift and strong; critics denounced the comparison of Israel to South Africa as absurd, claiming that Carter’s doing so compromises his credibility. If the comparison is inappropriate, then Carter should be commended for clearly agreeing. The final chapter of the book, the one most bitterly unwelcome for its apartheid analogy, says in its second paragraph that “the driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa,” (pg. 189) then acknowledging the difference between Israel’s and South Africa’s respective motives. The analogy, it is important to understand, is based not upon motive, but upon method; to the extent that the analogy is informative and accurate, Carter beseeches the reader to consider critically the reality of Israeli/Palestinian apartheid and its caustic social effects on the marginalized people so affected.

Another recurring claim from Carter’s critics is that he attributes blame for the region’s instability exclusively to the Israelis, a critique that is simply untrue. As a matter of convention, President Carter links the diminishing prospects for peace with those individuals who, through the employment of sectarian violence, routinely derail collective efforts to establish such a peace, and he notes that these activities are not specific to any religion or ethnicity but are observable in a small, fanatical portion of each.

Carter never espouses the use of violence taken by some Palestinians as a means of conflict resolution. Early in the book, in fact, Carter expresses in plain English that some Palestinians respond to Israeli occupation by attacking Israeli civilians, describing such behavior as “morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive” (pg. 15). He revisits, as necessary, this sort of criticality of the Palestinians throughout his book while apportioning similar criticism to Israeli politics and behavior with greater frequency, a style I did not find inappropriate considering how underrepresented the latter is in the literature that our culture is accustomed to seeing.

Implicit but clear, Carter’s overarching conclusion from reviewing the historical record and assessing the present state of affairs is that baseless aggression, originating from sentiments reducible to mere hate, fear, intolerance, and ignorance, will deter efforts toward peace, independent of which side that aggression comes from, and it certainly comes from both. Carter deplores the inclusion of violence in any stratagem that aims for stability and identifies the process as inherently counterproductive, a standard that some Israeli sympathizers, it appears, find unpalatable when applied not strictly to the oppressed, but when applied to themselves, as well.

The final oft-heard shot against President Carter I will address is his highly publicized refusal to debate the Israel/Palestinian conflict with Alan Dershowitz. Considered by many to be a leading scholar and an authority on Israel’s history and politics, Alan Dershowitz, a law professor of Harvard University, was Brandeis University’s choice to debate Jimmy Carter after the president accepted an invitation to lecture there. Carter declined the offer to debate Dershowitz, expressing that he had no inclination to converse with a man who “knows nothing about the situation in Palestine”. Although this chain of events has evoked varied analyses of Carter’s motives and merits, I find it unfair to discount him solely because of whom he will and will not talk to. A man who insults the memory of a deceased holocaust survivor, accusing her of Nazi collaboration, simply because her son writes books exposing his plagiarism and scholarly misconduct is not a man I’d like to debate with either.

These and many other criticisms of the book and its author fail to acknowledge the simple problem called to attention by President Carter. His nerve to bluntly express the plain and obvious has made him a target. The sharpest criticisms that his work has drawn are concerned not with the social issues of its focus, they are concerned with savagely bludgeoning his credibility, a dialogical vector that, I believe, has as much productive potential as the six years of dialogical silence that the author scrutinizes.

Understanding the chronic tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians requires a clear-eyed assessment of affairs in which one’s predispositions and biases are suspended. It is a remarkable failure of precisely this sort of suspension that characterizes this new book’s media-hype comet-trail. Although Carter offers as factual an account of his own involvement as he is realistically able to narrate in a single volume, attempting to cover broad topics extensively but concisely, the over-emphasized response it has generated, which comes mostly from Israel-sympathizers, condemn Carter for his audacity to express things in conflict with their ideology.

–Daniel Black

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Yesterday, the Congress approved ethics reforms which “prohibit House members or employees from knowingly accepting gifts or travel from a registered lobbyist, foreign agent or lobbyist’s client. Lawmakers could no longer fly on corporate jets. In addition, congressional travel financed by outside groups would have to be approved in advance by the House ethics committee and immediately disclosed to the public.”

As the Ethics Committee (officially named the Committee On Standards and Official Conduct) prepares to clarify, interpret, and define the term ‘lobbyist’ and the types of organizations prohibited from influencing lawmakers with free gifts or travel, the Hill is reporting that “state and local government agencies and some foundations, such as AIPAC and the Aspen Institute, want to be exempted from the new rules.” According to the Jewish daily, the Forward:

Jewish groups, though supportive of most measures, are concerned about two aspects of the reform: the ban on privately funded congressional travel, and the limitations on earmarks. Both measures might — depending on the final language adopted — restrict actions of Jewish and pro-Israel groups on Capitol Hill.

All-expense-paid tours to Israel are among the most common overseas trips made by members of Congress and their aides. Watchdog groups, using data from congressional filings, have reported that Israel is the leading destination for privately sponsored congressional trips.

[…]

Jewish groups are now lobbying Congress to make sure that educational trips, such as those to Israel, be allowed to continue even under the new restrictions being considered. “Trips to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation have long been considered among the most substantive, educational and valuable trips available for members of Congress,” Aipac spokesman Josh Block said. “While in Israel, members have the opportunity to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, academics, journalists, elected officials, hearing from speakers representing diverse views across the political spectrum, and get a personal, firsthand view of issues of great importance to American policy in the Middle East.”

If past behavior is an indicator of future results, AIPAC will be exempt from the new ethics rules. The Israeli lobby has a stronghold on American foreign policy; Democrats, and Republicans receive large campaign donations from so-called pro Israeli groups, Israel’s PR firms shape U.S. media coverage and our economic dependence on the middle east ensures a pro-Zionist bias in legislation and public debate. Speaker Pelosi has been praised for her “straight-A record on Israel” and the United States annually grants Israel billions of dollars in aid.

While AIPAC’s free trips to Israel may be educational in the historical sense, they give Israel a greater advantage and opportunity to promote her agenda. Such trips minimize the plight of the Palestinians and provide Israel with an opportunity to indoctrinate American lawmakers. The goal of the new ethics rules is to inject greater equality into Congressional decision making. These rules both prohibit rich special interests from buying access to lawmakers (something the public can’t afford to do) and limit the influence of the special interest dollar on Congressional positions, votes and decisions.

If the Democrats hope to bring more fairness and democracy into the legislative process, then AIPAC should be first on their list of organizations whose overwhelming influence proscribes free debate and discussion.

— Igor Volsky

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The Associated Press is reporting that “Palestinian gunmen killed three young sons of a senior Palestinian intelligence officer Monday, pumping dozens of bullets into their car as it passed through a street crowded with schoolchildren in an apparent botched assassination attempt that could ignite widespread factional fighting.” The boys’ father, Baha Balousheh, “a Fatah member, was a lead interrogator in a crackdown on Hamas a decade ago.” Fatah members suspect that Hamas is behind the murders, although the group denies any involvement.

The killings are a tragedy, (and they deserve condemnation) to be sure, but this may be one of the few times the Associated Press has reported on the deaths of Palestinian children in such detail; empathetic reporting is usually reserved for Israeli casualties. This article is the exception:

The car was soaked in blood. A child’s backpack, emblazoned with cartoon characters and the word ”Friend,” lay on the front seat, covered in blood. Another schoolbag was in the back.

Four more people were wounded in the attack on Palestine Street, which is lined with nine schools. The attack sent children in the area running for cover, some dropped to the ground, others fled in panic.

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, 801 Palestinian minors have been killed by the IDF in the occupied territories; two died in Israel. I’m not aware of any American reporters who have extended Palestinian casualties of Israeli aggression the space, detail and ‘human impact’ they deserve. (If Israel were the aggressor, this report would never fly.) But the above serves the needs of American policy: the sectarian nature of the attack exemplifies the disunity of Palestinian government, Fatah, America’s ally, is portrayed as a victim of Hamas aggression and Hamas is presented as a criminal entity. This meets American policy objectives.

— Igor Volsky

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The UN Human Rights Council “voted 32-1 with 14 abstentions to declare illegal Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights and demand that Israel rescind its decision to impose its laws and jurisdiction on the area, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.” In reporting on this story the Associated Press, like the Washington Post, couldn’t help but echo the official Washington line.

The AP made no mention of Israel’s egregious human rights record and instead attempted to suggest, twice in its article, that the council unfairly focused on Israel and not on traditional American enemies, whose records are ripe for review. Again, the outrage, as it was expressed by the AP, reflects the belief that US allies are beyond the reach of law, no matter their actual violations, while US adversaries are fair game. Thus the quality of one’s human rights record is determined by one’s proximity to the global super power. The AP dismissed the resolution as preposterous, without even pretending to review the record, (unnecessary given the operating doctrine stated above) and suggested that at least in the Golan Heights, Syrians are enjoying a booming economy.

According to the Israeli Ambassador to international offices in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon “Under Syrian possession, the Golan Heights were used to launch constant attacks against Israeli civilians,” Levanon said. “Today, the Golan Heights is more peaceful than ever, stable and thriving. The economy is booming, fields are blossoming, and everyone is enjoying the benefits of democracy.” The AP digests these comments at face value, without quoting a single Palestinian source.

Again, the conventional wisdom states that Israel is targeted not because of its record, which does not even merit review, but because of its status as a Jewish state. Here again, we are eager to exploit and manipulate the history of anti-Semitism in order to silence international criticism of state action.

These are the kinds of stories which pass for ‘reporting.’ The media, Washington, Israeli PR firms establish a framework which negates any need for intellectual thought, investigation or critical analysis. So when it comes to Israel, power speaks; our media reports.

— Igor Volsky

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