Major US firms are warning Congress against passing legislation to impose new sanctions against Iran, saying such sanctions will further damage the US economy.
Boeing Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp. are lobbying to fend off tightened sanctions against Iran that business groups say will cut US exports.
Current legislation before Congress would expand a 1996 law penalizing foreign companies that invest in Iran’s oil industry. US firms, already barred from investing Iran, say their sales worldwide could be hurt by provisions that ban doing business with companies in Europe, Russia or China that trade with Iran.
“We are up on Capitol Hill talking about the collateral damage,” William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based group that represents Exxon and Boeing, said in an interview.
The US National Association of Manufacturers or NAM is also pitching some alarming findings. The group says a new round of tougher sanctions on Iran could cost the US, $25 billion in exports.
NAM says it’s also likely that up to 20,000 workers are laid off each year, if Congress allows the legislation to become law.
New ‘HRW’ report affirms Goldstone’s claim: Israel wantonly destroyed Gaza’s civilian infrastructure
In its official responses to the Goldstone Report, Israel has vehemently denied that it purposely and systematically destroyed Gaza’s civilian infrastructure during “Operation Cast Lead,” as the U.N. report alleges.
One of the many damning allegations in the report states that as the Israeli military began withdrawing from Gaza on January 15, 2009, “there appeared to be a practice of systematically demolishing a large number of structures, including houses, water installations, such as tanks on the roofs of houses, and of agricultural land.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a comprehensive, 134-page report today titled, “’I Lost Everything’: Israel’s Unlawful Destruction of Property during Operation Cast Lead.” HRW’s report comes to a similar conclusion the Goldstone Report does: Israel committed war crimes in Gaza when “Israeli forces caused extensive destruction of homes, factories, farms and greenhouses in areas under IDF control without any evident military purpose. These cases occurred when there was no fighting in these areas; in many cases, the destruction was carried out during the final days of the campaign when an Israeli withdrawal was imminent.”
As this latest report notes, the targeting of civilian infrastructure seems to have been official Israeli policy, according to statements made by Israeli officials. For instance, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai said, “we have to determine a price tag for every rocket fired into Israel,” and recommended that “even if they fire at an open area or into the sea, we must damage their infrastructures and destroy 100 houses.”
The HRW report examines 12 cases of “unlawful destruction” of civilian property, including the el-Bader flour mill, juice and biscuit plants, and seven concrete factories.
HRW recommends that Israel conduct impartial investigations into the cases the report documents, and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes. That will not happen, though, as a separate April 2010 HRW report concludes that “Israel’s investigations into serious laws-of-war violations by its forces during last year’s Gaza war lack thoroughness and credibility.”
In addition to that recommendation, the HRW report urges the United States to halt all sales of Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers until “an official investigation into the IDF’s use of these bulldozers to destroy civilian property in Gaza” concludes.
The report also repeats the Goldstone Report’s recommendations that if independent and impartial investigations by the parties involved in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict do not materialize, the International Criminal Court should get involved.
Earlier this year, after publication of my critical article on Noam Chomsky in Left Curve, I was asked by Khalil Bendib, a co-host of Voices of the Middle East and North Africa on Berkeley’s KPFA radio station, if I would be interested in debating Mitchell Plitnick of the Berkeley-based Jewish Voice for Peace on the issue of the Israel Lobby. I said that I would be glad to but assured him that Plitnick would never agree to it. Even when he apparently had agreed to do so in his initial response, I was still convinced, and told Khalil, that he wouldn’t do it, and I was proved correct. Khalil was then able to get Stephen Zunes to agree to come on the air with me and the debate was recorded on May 25 and broadcast on KPFA in two segments on the following two Wednesday nights2.
Was it a coincidence that the night before the taping, Plitnick gave a talk on the subject in Berkeley? And was it another coincidence that this article appeared and was circulated on the internet very shortly afterward? I will leave the answer to that to the reader.
I have below, reprinted Plitnick’s commentary, followed by my comments in bold face, section by section. I am sure you will understand, as you read along, why he was not anxious to debate and was determined to control what was said and printed.
Myth and Reality: Jewish Influence on US Middle East Policy
By Mitchell Plitnick, Director of Policy and Education, Jewish Voice for Peace (annotated by Jeff Blankfort without permission of the author):
Plitnick: In working for a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, we constantly bump into the fact that the powerful party is the state of one of history’s most oppressed groups. Some get frustrated by always having to address anti-Semitism while working toward a just resolution to the plight of the Palestinians. But we’re kidding ourselves if we believe for a moment that anti-Semitism is not an integral part of the problem.
Blankfort: That seems to be the role that Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has assigned for itself, to make sure that the issue of anti-Semitism is never far from the minds of those engaged in fighting for justice for the Palestinians and where it can inhibit activists from targeting Jewish organizations and institutions that support Israeli policies, such as AIPAC, the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish National Fund, and the Jewish Community Relations Councils, locally.
It is significant that the only publication issued by JVP to date was entitled, “Reframing Anti-Semitism,” which sets the parameters it deems acceptable for criticizing Israel, e.g., only specific policies may be opposed and not Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, and no link can be made connecting actions of the Israel lobby or the interests of Israel to the current war in Iraq. Regarding the former, what JVP is implying is that “anti-Zionism” equals “anti-Semitism,” which is identical to the position of the Anti-Defamation League and the organized Jewish establishment.
It is that history which creates the fear and anger that drive many Israeli policies. And if we fail to recognize the legitimate fear that history has instilled in the Jewish people, we fail before we start.
Apparently, we must forget the issue of settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians Arabs that predated the Holocaust, forget the issue of house demolitions, torture of prisoners, administrative detentions and collective punishment. It has all been done out of fear and so, it seems, we must make allowances for Israel’s crimes. For those who have not directly experienced oppression, the Zionist propaganda machine is around to make sure every Jew sees her or himself as a “victim,” enabling them to eat their cake and have it, too.
When dealing with the question of US support for Israel’s occupation, this awareness is especially critical. One of the classic anti-Semitic myths is that of Jews manipulating governments and other seats of power behind the scenes. That pretty closely describes the work of a lobby, and there is a powerful one, with a Jewish face, working to push particular policies regarding Israel. We need to understand that lobby, what its effect is, and what its nature is. That means asking, directly and fairly, is this a “Jewish lobby”, and does this lobby truly have the power to be a tail wagging the dog of American Middle East policy?
Who is ‘The Lobby’?
There is a real need to be clear about who “the Lobby” is. It is sometimes called “The Jewish lobby”, which is inaccurate and misleading, and foments just the sort of conspiracy theorizing we must avoid. It implies that a population of 5.2 million Americans dictates a very crucial area of foreign policy to a nation of over 296 million.
The term, “The Jewish lobby” is how it is referred to, and not too favorably, in Israel’s Hebrew Press, so perhaps, Plitnick should address that issue there. Here, it is generally referred to as the Israel Lobby or the pro-Israel Lobby, so Plitnick is creating a straw man. It is, however, out of fear of being labeled as an “anti-Semite” that people in the US do not emulate those in Israel. While a large pro-Israel constituency has grown among certain evangelical Christians, it does not lobby politicians in Washington as does AIPAC and other national Jewish organizations.
As for the lobby’s ability to influence policy, in a speech given on the same subject on May 24th, Plitnick answered that question:
“The lobby doesn’t have the power to make policy, but it has the power to block any change in policy”
If that doesn’t sound like it has the ability to shape policy, exactly what does Plitnick mean?
Former State Department staffer, Stephen Green, described the situation accurately in his classic Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations with Militant Israel, when he wrote, “Israel, and friends of Israel in America, have determined the broad outlines of US policy in the region. It has been left to American presidents to implement that policy, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and to deal with the tactical issues.”
In fact, it is only a segment of that 5.2 million US Jews that are involved—a third, at best—but it is highly organized. Politicians of both political parties who have been its victims, as well as historians who studied the subject, attest to the control that the lobby exerts over both Houses of Congress and there is ample factual evidence to back them up.
The face and voice of the lobby is Jewish, because Jews are the most sympathetic and most passionate about this cause. But the votes that the lobby can deliver are not Jewish votes. Christian Zionist groups, numbering some 20 million strong, having their biggest strengths in areas where there are few or no Jews, and also voting at high rates, give the lobby its voting power. This is why many of the most radical bills in Congress are brought by members from Bible Belt states with virtually no Jews in them.
Long before the Christian Zionists emerged as a political force, the lobby, directed by AIPAC, was already dictating policy to Congress and staffers from the AIPAC office were writing the critical legislation that would set US Middle East policy. The Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration and Syrian Accountability Act was one of its more recent accomplishments. While the Christian Zionists supply votes in states where there is a small Jewish population, the Senators and House members from those states are high on the list of recipients of funding from pro-Israel Jewish donors and PACs.
In the 2004 spending cycle alone, representing states without large Jewish populations, the following senators were 4th, 5th, 6th , 7th, and 8th, respectively on the list of pro-Israel PAC contributions: Harry Reid, (D-NV) 66,499; Samuel Brownback, (R-KS) 61,350; Evan Bayh, (D-IN) 59,000; Brad Carson, (D-OK) 58,600, and Robert Bennett, (R-UT) 57,250.
As for Jewish votes not being important, tell that to the shades of Harry Truman and LBJ among others. While the Jewish population is relatively tiny, the percentage of Jews who vote is not, and they tend to live in key states where their votes can determine the outcome of an election, such as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California.
These two groups can mobilize votes and sympathy. They can mobilize some significant money as well, but nothing like what major corporations can raise. Corporations, which have enormous lobbying networks and many ways of funneling perfectly legal contributions to favored candidates, and who are involved in the sale of military and hi-tech equipment, derive huge benefits from the ongoing state of hostility in the region.
The reason that the pro-Israel lobby has to give so much more money to the politicians than the other lobbies such as arms manufacturers, oil, etc., is that supporting Israel is arguably not in the US interest from any perspective and the contributions are necessary to buy the politicians’ cooperation. If Plitnick and JVP were to be believed, one would conclude that all the Black members of Congress who refused to [condemn] Israel for its arms sales to South Africa secretly supported apartheid, and that those members of Congress who opposed US policies in Central America but kept silent about Israel’s role in arming some of the most murderous regimes on the planet, were, in fact, secretly supporting them.
One must also ask why is it always possible to criticize a US president on the floor of Congress but never an Israeli prime minister?
Massive tax dollars flow to American corporations from aid to many countries in the Middle East, of which the annual aid to Israel is only one part. Israel receives by far the most aid, and 75% of all the aid must be spent with American corporations. Many Middle Eastern countries spend considerable money over and above the subsidies they receive from the US on American weapons and military technology.
The major arms purchaser in the Middle East, [Saudi Arabia], does not get subsidies from the US; its purchases subsidize the US arms industry.
Jews in the Forefront.
Just as we must not lose sight of the fact that Jewish “shadow control” is an old canard of anti-Semitism, we must also recognize that asking why American policy takes the form it does is a legitimate question. The fact that AIPAC, the ADL, B’nai Brith, the Conference of Presidents and other Jewish organizations work hard to convey to politicians and others that Jews have a large amount of power cannot be ignored. Jews’ actual political power, while considerable relative to our numbers, is easily dwarfed by more powerful sectors of American society, such as Christian groups and large corporations.
This is one of Big Lies that groups like JVP and those who would have us believe the lobby is little more than a cheering section continue to circulate. They would like us to believe that it’s really a perception of power, rather than real political power that gives the lobby its strength. Those who work and live in Washington know better. There it is so intimidating that it is simply known as “the lobby.” There is a good reason why half of the members of Congress and the leaders of both parties in the Senate and the House show up for its annual conferences.
Jews contribute a great deal of money to campaigns, but it is overwhelmingly given to Democrats and a great portion of it comes from wealthy Jews who historically have shown little attachment to Israel, but great attachment to the liberal-leaning ideals of the Democrats. Jewish contributions have never been based solely on Israel, and are less so now than they have been in the past.
Plitnick, of course, offers no evidence for this last statement. Jewish donors not only dominate the lists of major donors to both parties, the sums they give are equal or almost equal to those donated by non-Jews.
In 2002, an Israeli-American, Haim Saban, donated $12.3 million to the Democratic Party. All of the arms industry PACs together gave $14 million to both political parties the same year. It was headlines when Enron was reported to have given the Republican Party $6 million over 10 years, but the item on Saban’s donation—twice as much in only one year— rated only a few paragraphs in the New York Times. Moreover, Mother Jones’ 400 list of the leading individual donors for the 2000 election showed that 8 of the top 10 were Jews, and 13 of the top 20, and at least 125 of the top 250 were Jewish. At that point I stopped counting. While these donors obviously had other interests besides Israel, “There’s only one thing members [of Congress] think is important to American Jews—Israel,” Sen. Bernard Metzenbaum, told the 500 delegates to the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council in 1991 (Forward, 2/22/91).
AIPAC clearly played a pivotal role in its early days in the defeat of Illinois Representative Paul Findley and Senator Chuck Percy. However, claims of their influence on subsequent defeats of other members of Congress such as Pete McCloskey, Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney, as well as other public officials such as Adlai Stevenson and George Ball are much more dubious. It is the reputation that matters politically, and AIPAC certainly has that. But their actual ability to determine the fate of particular candidates has been greatly exaggerated, not least by AIPAC’s supporters and activists.
Here, Plitnick is clearly doing “damage control” for the lobby. Again, AIPAC’s reputation is based on its ability to do what it sets out to do. As one unnamed Congressman told Morton Kondracke in 1989, “it’s not out of any affection for Israel that there is no debate on aid. If there was a secret ballot, aid to Israel would be cut severely. But no one wants to wake up the next morning and have an opponent who has received a $500,000 war chest to run against you.”
Jews play a major role in American politics. Jews vote, give to campaigns and, as a group, are as active as anyone in the American political scene. But it is a huge mistake, and rooted in anti-Semitic mythology, to believe that Israel is more of a focus than many domestic issues for someone simply because they are Jewish. Nor is it true that all major Jewish contributors hold the same line on Israel, or even make Israel a priority. But the leading lobbyists for Israel are Jewish, a relatively small number of Jews activate much of the grass roots, and Jews are the ones who deal first and foremost with the media, with politicians and with public appearances. This allows supporters of Israel’s policies to blur the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.
While American Jews as individuals have other issues that they support, the organized Jewish establishment has only one issue and that is Israel. They may differ over various Israeli policies but they are united in their desire to maintain strong US financial and military support for Israel.
Further, when it comes to Congress, the biggest reason AIPAC is so successful is that there is no serious opposition. Elected officials see no political capital to be gained by voting against the wishes of the many constituents they hear from favoring unconditional support of Israeli policies and who enclose checks along with their comments. It’s not that they don’t believe that other voters would agree with them if they voted against the wishes of the pro-occupation lobby; it’s that they see no evidence that they would gain votes and support, while they are getting a message that voting against AIPAC’s wishes will cost votes and support.
There is opposition, such as the Council for the National Interest, made up of former victims of the lobby such as ex-Congressmen Findley and McCloskey, and former State Dept. diplomats but since JVP’s view, promulgated most notably by Professors Noam Chomsky and Stephen Zunes dominates “the left,” it gets no support from the progressive movement and, predictably, is frequently, and unfairly accused of being “anti-Semitic.”
But while Congress controls the purse strings, actual policy is not formed in Congress. Foreign policy is generally the purview of the Executive branch. Israel has cemented a “special relationship” with the US that has meant enormous foreign aid, unprecedented diplomatic protection and an American blind eye to many Israeli actions. This is rooted in policy formation, not in Congress.
It is a matter of record that every bill dealing with US Middle East policy originates in Congress and it is no secret that any piece of legislation that will affect Israel is either written by an AIPAC staffer or vetted by one before it even “goes to committee” at which an AIPAC representative will invariably be present.
Why then does Israel seem to get so much of what it wants from the US?
Polls consistently indicate that Americans support Israel, but do not agree with many Israeli actions and do not believe the US should be as biased toward Israel as it is.
When George H. W. Bush the First called a press conference and told the American people that he was trying to stop Israel from getting $10 billion in loan guarantees in 1991 and informed the public how much each Israeli was getting from the American taxpayers, the polls showed that 85% of the public agreed with him and several weeks later, by a 46 to 44 % margin, they were for halting all aid to Israel. Whenever the American public is told the truth about Israel, it’s so-called popularity among Americans has gone down. Even now, a number of PR firms are busy at work, trying to prop up Israel’s declining image.
The clearly dictatorial styles of governments in Egypt, Syria, Iraq under Saddam and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, contrast for Americans with Israel’s more developed democratic institutions. Israel in many ways looks like a European country. And for most Americans, the idea of a Jewish Israel is a familiar and comfortable one. In the post-Holocaust world, Israel has had decades of sympathy.
This was true but the gloss has warn off and more Americans are beginning to see Israel for what it is, a nation that believes it is above international law and can do what it wishes when it wishes where it wishes.
Arab-Americans were, until recently, a small and largely invisible community. All this creates an atmosphere where many Americans, including decision-makers, have long been disposed toward Israel.
They are disposed towards Israel because “decision-makers” gravitate to where the power lies, and in virtually every aspect of American culture and politics, it lies very heavily with Jews.
But decision makers work within the framework of what they perceive as the “national interest.” US geo-strategic interest in a strong Israel has been considerable for a long time. The idea that after WWII the US or any other major power would allow independent Arab governments to emerge and control their own oil resources is simply not credible.
What role has Israel played in this? Whenever there was a crisis, we have seen US troops, not Israelis.
Throughout the years of the Cold War, Israel was an indispensable ally for the US. It served, after 1967, as what former Secretary of State and NATO forces commander Alexander Haig called “the largest American aircraft carrier in the world.” It stood with the US in supporting Apartheid South Africa; was the ally the US turned to when it needed help facilitating the Iran-Contra deal; provided enormous support to US intelligence in covert operations, particularly in Central America; and continued to stand fast as a fundamental defense against Arab nationalism, protecting friendly regimes as it did in Jordan in 1970.
Haig was a megalomaniac. His statement is meaningless without substance. Israel supported South Africa because it saw its mirror image in the apartheid state, “a European population trying to stave off the mobs of indigenous natives.” Every arms deal it made in Central America and elsewhere it did in its own interest. Again, does Plitnick really believe those congress members who opposed the US intervention in Central America and apartheid in South Africa but who remained silent when Israel was involved in both areas, were only kidding us? That Ron Dellums, who dropped a measure from the anti-apartheid legislation that would have cost Israel $800 million for its arms sales to South Africa, was a secret supporter of the apartheid regime? That, in essence, is what he is implying. Warning Syria against siding with the Palestinians who were being massacred by King Hussein in 1970 was done in its interest and required no action on Israel’s part.
Like many of the decisions of the superpowers in those years, whether or not this was the right course for US interests is debatable.
Does he mean that there were arguments supporting apartheid, Iran-Contra, etc?
There were many misadventures during the Cold War, and often these were not just tactical errors, but the natural result of ill-conceived policies and political theories (dominoes, anyone?) Still, a wide spectrum of opinion in the Cold War years saw Israel as a key, if not THE key US asset. This did not stop all internal (rarely public) debate over how to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the starting point was always that Israel was a key ally and asset.
It behooves Plitnick to back up such a statement with evidence, but like the rest of this article it is opinion without fact. If there was an asset in the region it was Turkey, home to US air bases targeting the USSR, and until the revolution, many thought Iran. In Asia, the Philippines was more valuable as a base for actions in Vietnam
The end of the Cold War coincided, in essence, with the beginning of the Oslo Process. In this new era, the national interest argument is much less clear. Overt Israeli action on behalf of US interests is less viable. Still, much that made many American planners fawn over Israel during the Cold War remains true. Israel provides unqualified support for the occupation of Iraq. It saves American corporations billions every year in research and development by acting as a testing ground for American weapons and other technology, as well as by facilitating sales of American-made weapons all around the world.
It saves US corporations billions? Please Plitnick, show us the evidence. As to “facilitating sales of American-made weapons,” this is not only nonsense, but a lie that one frequently hears from Zionists engaged in doing “damage control” for Israel. Israel is competing with the US for weapons sales around the world and [US officials] are now upset that Israel has been selling weapons to China, incorporating US technology, which has caused a rift with elements in the Bush Administration.
But above all, Israel remains a Western outpost in the Middle East, one run by people of European descent who are not Muslim. There is just no danger that Israel will ever go the way of that once- “loyal” country, Iran, as Turkey, for example, someday could.
There is a danger that it will use its nuclear weapons, however, and just what does “a Western outpost” really mean? Just another cliché in an article replete with clichés.
The Palestinians continue to offer little to US geo-political interests. There is no way of knowing what a future that includes Palestinian self-determination would hold. The idea that popular hostility toward the US would virtually disappear in such a future is dubious; without Palestine, many other issues, including US support for some of the worst dictatorships in the region for decades, would still be there. The main concern remains: ensuring that Arab resources are primarily used to benefit Western powers, not the Arab people.
This era has also seen the rise of the neoconservatives and their institutions. While Jews are certainly prominent among the neocons, the perception that neocon and Jew are synonymous is an extreme exaggeration.
The neo-con movement has been a Jewish movement from the beginning, which started with Carl Gershman at the National Endowment for Democracy, and Tom Kahn, with the AFL-CIO’s Department of International Affairs, with Richard Perle working for Henry Jackson, with Norman Podhortez, Michael Ledeen, Irving Kristol, Douglas Feith, and on and on. One can count the number of non-Jewish neo-cons virtually on both hands.
Again, when it comes to Israel and the Middle East more generally, Jews are the face, in order to capitalize on people’s sympathy for a history of anti-Semitism. But prominent neocons (if we define neocon by their views and policies rather than whether or not they are Jewish or whether or not they were once leftists) include Richard Armitage, Bill Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, James Woolsey, Robert Bork, Lewis Libby, Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich and Ed Meese.
Whatever the politics of Bork and Meese, they are not active around foreign policy, nor is Bill Bennett and Fitzpatrick has had her day. Check out the PNAC list.
When it comes to Mideast policy, neocons have gotten a strong foothold at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, though they do not dominate it. But on this issue, WINEP does work with neocon institutions as well as more mainstream ones. WINEP has great influence on policy formation and maintains the intellectual foundation of a policy that is based on Israel being the key to US influence in the region.
Why doesn’t Plitnick tell us that WINEP is a creature of AIPAC, established as its think tank arm which provides it with direct access to the US media. That the neocons do not control it is irrelevant. It is 100% pro-Israel.
Current support for Israeli policies is the result of an entrenched foreign policy, and an aversion to taking a risk on a new one. This combines with the comfort level of decision-makers with fellow Caucasians, keeping a sort of “white male network” in place.
I am not sure that Israelis are viewed as “fellow Caucasians”, but Plitnick is apparently desperate for justifications for US support for Israel.
But the basic themes remain the same: the goal is Western control of Arab oil. Israel is a unique ally in that it stands by the US no matter what, and faces little domestic opposition when it does so, unlike England for example.
What does Israel have to do with Western control of Arab oil other than it wants some of it and that, at least partly, was what the US invasion of Iraq, was all about. No Israeli soldier has ever lifted a finger in behalf of US interests. There are quite a few Brits who have been stupid enough to have done so.
It provides deterrence; it provides testing for new American technology and facilitates weapons and hi-tech sales all over the world; and it is neither an unstable dictatorship like Saudi Arabia, nor could it ever have a government that would turn against its benefactor.
Again, it does not sell US weapons around the world. Not a Big Lie but an important one that folks like Plitnick, like Stephen Zunes, keep repeating.
American policy depends on the popularity of Israel in the US. The “almighty lobby” still needs to devote huge resources to PR to maintain that. Its power, as formidable as it is, is largely based in public perception of its strength and the absence of serious opposition. Its effects are mostly felt in the stifling of debate on the question of Israel, among the intellectual elites, in Congress and in the mainstream media.
If the lobby is able to do that, as Plitnick concedes here, we’re not talking about perceptions of strength but the real thing. Control Congress and the media and the policy will follow.
Policy continues to be decided by a perception of US interests, and the mainstream of that perception continues to see Israel as the key to US influence in the Middle East. Jews can be found on both sides of that debate.
Anyone reading this essay should wonder what side Plitnick is on.
The myth of the powerful lobby intimidates and disempowers many people. But the idea that policy is decided in halls of inscrutable power is equally disempowering. The fact is there is a way for us to change American policy. We, as supporters of a just peace have largely abdicated this ground, and we need to reclaim it.
The first thing that was abdicated was recognizing the truth and in this “essay,” Plitnick continues to suggest the movement maintain the same “head in sand” policy that has led us to this point.
We need to mobilize ourselves and our neighbors. Speak to Congresspeople, even the ones who seem overtly hostile to us. Write to newspapers, meet with their editors. We need to let representatives know we will vote for them only if they approach the Middle East fairly. We need to rally our neighbors and put our money where our ideals are. We need to articulate a reasoned, balanced and coherent alternative to current policy. We need to prove that we are as motivated for justice and peace as our adversaries are for what they believe in. If we can’t do that, we don’t deserve to win. Similarly, if we can’t plead our case as one that is in favor of the rights of all the people of the region, as one that acknowledges and honors the history of anti-Semitism that has brought about the support for the deplorable occupation and dehumanization of the Palestinians, then we also don’t deserve to win.
I am not sure who Plitnick means by “we,” but it is the Palestinians who have had their land stolen from them, not the Israelis and not American Jews. But there we have it, back to the beginning, lest we forget, honoring, no less, “the history of anti-Semitism.”
I have seen much of this movement over the years. It is clear to me that we can mount the case we need to mount, one where Israelis and Palestinians are treated as equals, as people with much tragedy in their historical consciousness. But we haven’t done it yet. Now is the time to start.
What Jews have in their consciousness is one thing and subject to debate. What the Palestinians have as their reality is quite another. With friends like Plitnick that reality does not promise to get any better.
And I fully understand why he was not willing to debate me, as I predicted beforehand.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, is set to travel to Greece for talks in an effort to improve historically tense relations between the two countries.
Erdogan, accompanied by almost a dozen cabinet ministers and more than 100 Turkish businessmen, arrives in Athens on Friday for the start of a two-day visit.
Dimitris Droutsas, Greece’s alternate foreign minister, said the visit would allow Greek officials to discuss investments and business opportunities.
“Business activity in Turkey has displayed impressive growth, and I think this is a very good opportunity, particularly in the economic situation Greece is going through,” he said.
George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, said his talks with Erdogan will include discussion of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. Greece supports Turkish accession, which has been delayed for years.
Turkey went through a banking crisis in 2001, so Erdogan may offer advice to his Greek counterpart, currently implementing a series of tough austerity measures to address a debt crisis.
Education will be another issue on the agenda with Turkish officials having reportedly promised to change passages in textbooks which portray Greece as a threat to Turkish sovereignty.
Turkey and Greece are both NATO member states, but they have been rivals for decades, particularly over Cyprus.
The island has been split since Turkey occupied its northern third in 1974, a response to an Athens-engineered Greek-Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. The two countries also disagree on sovereignty in some areas of the Aegean.
Turkish fighter planes routinely fly in airspace claimed by Athens, leading to regular mock dogfights with Greek jets. Though the dogfights are usually harmless, a Greek pilot died in 2006 in a mid-air collision.
Erdogan’s last official visit to Athens came in 2004. He canceled a scheduled trip last year for health reasons.
Turkey has installed Anti-Aircraft Hawk Missiles at a village close to the Syrian border in an attempt to prevent Israeli war jets from violating Turkish Airspace in case of an attack against Iran or Syria.
A Turkish paper reported that Turkey will not allow Israel to use its airspace to attack Iran, Syria or any other country, and will act against any such violations.
The anti-aircraft batteries were installed in the village of Kayeel, south of Turkey and located close to the Syrian border.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Turkish military official stated that the batteries are meant to protect Turkey and its airspace against any violations, including American or Israeli war jets should Israel or the United States decide to attack Iran or Syria.
Installing the batteries is more of a message than a military act as Turkey is not interested in any military combat but at the same time will not allow its airspace to be used in attacking neighboring countries, the official stated.
A primary reason Bush and Cheney succeeded in their radical erosion of core liberties is because they focused their assault on non-citizens with foreign-sounding names, casting the appearance that none of what they were doing would ever affect the average American. There were several exceptions to that tactic — the due-process-free imprisonment of Americans Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, the abuse of the “material witness” statute to detain American Muslims, the eavesdropping on Americans’ communications without warrants — but the vast bulk of the abuses were aimed at non-citizens. That is now clearly changing.
The most recent liberty-abridging, Terrorism-justified controversies have focused on diluting the legal rights of American citizens (in part because the rights of non-citizens are largely gone already and there are none left to attack). A bipartisan group from Congress sponsors legislation to strip Americans of their citizenship based on Terrorism accusations. Barack Obama claims the right to assassinate Americans far from any battlefield and with no due process of any kind. The Obama administration begins covertly abandoning long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects by vastly expanding what had long been a very narrow “public safety” exception, and now Eric Holder explicitly advocates legislation to codify that erosion. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation to bar all Terrorism suspects, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil, from being tried in civilian courts, and former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino — while noting (correctly) that Holder’s Miranda proposal constitutes a concession to the right-wing claim that Miranda is too restrictive — today demand that U.S. citizens accused of Terrorism and arrested on U.S. soil be treated as enemy combatants and thus denied even the most basic legal protections (including the right to be charged and have access to a lawyer).
This shift in focus from non-citizens to citizens is as glaring as it is dangerous. As Digby put it last week:
The frighting reality is that not even Dick Cheney thought of stripping Americans of their citizenship so that you could torture and imprison them forever — even right after 9/11 when the whole country was petrified and he could have gotten away with anything. You’ll recall even John Walker Lindh, who was literally captured on the battlefield fighting with the Taliban, was tried in civilian court. They even read him his rights.
I think this says something fairly alarming about the current state of our politics.
There is, of course, no moral difference between subjecting citizens and non-citizens to abusive or tyrannical treatment. But as a practical matter, the dangers intensify when the denial of rights is aimed at a government’s own population. The ultimate check on any government is its own citizenry; vesting political leaders with oppressive domestic authority uniquely empowers them to avoid accountability and deter dissent. It’s one thing for a government to spy on other countries (as virtually every nation does); it’s another thing entirely for them to direct its surveillance apparatus inward and spy on its own citizens. Alarming assaults on basic rights become all the more alarming when the focus shifts to the domestic arena.
It is not hyperbole to observe that all of the above-cited recent examples are designed to formally exempt a certain class of American citizens — those accused of being Terrorists and arrested on U.S. soil — from the most basic legal protections. They’re all intended, in the name of Scary Terrorists, to rewrite the core rules of our justice system in order to increase the already-vast detention powers of the U.S. Government and further minimize the remaining safeguards against abuse. The most disgraceful episodes in American history have been about exempting classes of Americans from core rights, and that is exactly what these recent, Terrorism-justified proposals do as well. Anyone who believes that these sorts of abusive powers will be exercised only in narrow and magnanimous ways should just read a little bit of history, or just look at what has happened with the always-expanding police powers vested in the name of the never-ending War on Drugs, the precursor to the never-ending War on Terrorism in so many ways.
What’s most amazing about all of this is that even 9 years after the 9/11 attacks and even after the radical reduction of basic rights during the Bush/Cheney years, the reaction is still exactly the same to every Terrorist attack, whether a success or failure, large- or small-scale. Apparently, 8 years of the Bush assault on basic liberties was insufficient; there are still many remaining rights in need of severe abridgment. Even now, every new attempted attack causes the Government to devise a new proposal for increasing its own powers still further and reducing rights even more, while the media cheer it on. It never goes in the other direction. Apparently, as “extremist” as the Bush administration was, there are still new rights to erode each time the word Terrorism is uttered. Each new incident, no matter how minor, prompts new, exotic proposals which the “Constitution-shredding” Bush/Cheney team neglected to pursue: an assassination program aimed at U.S. citizens, formal codification of Miranda dilutions, citizenship-stripping laws, a statute to deny all legal rights to Americans arrested on U.S. soil.
The U.S. already has one of the most pro-government criminal justice systems in the world. That (along with our indescribably insane drug laws) is why we have the world’s largest prison population and the highest percentage of our citizenry incarcerated of any country in the Western world. It is hard to imagine a worse fate than being a defendant in the American justice system accused of Terrorism-related crimes. Conviction and a very long prison sentence are virtual certainties. Particularly in the wake of 9/11 and the Patriot Act era, the rules have been repeatedly rewritten to provide the Government with every conceivable advantage. The very idea that the Government is hamstrung in its ability to prosecute and imprison Terrorists is absurd on its face. Decades of pro-government laws in general, and post-9/11 changes in particular, have created a justice system that strangles the rights of those accused of Terrorism. Despite that, every new incident becomes a pretext for a fresh wave of fear-mongering and still new ways to erode core Constitutional protections even further… Full article
A group of fundamentalist Israeli settlers torched, Wednesday night, an 11-Dunam olive orchard in al-Rababa valley, in Silwan, south of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Maan news Agency reported that three olive trees, over 300 years old, were burnt down while dozens of trees were partially burnt. The attack took place while thousands of Jewish settlers held a provocative procession in Silwan under extensive Israeli police presence. Yet, the police did not prevent the settlers from torching the orchard.
On Tuesday at dawn, May 4, a group of fundamentalist settlers torched the main mosque of the al-Lubban al-Sharqiyya village, south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The settlers attacked the mosque approximately at 3 a.m., rounded up several copies of the Holy Koran in one place and set them ablaze.
The fire caused excessive damage to the property of the mosque, including its ceiling, its ceiling fans and walls. Its 450 square meters of carpet and eight air conditioners were burnt also.
This is the third mosque to be torched by the settlers this year as the settlers torched a mosque in Yasuf village near Salfit, and another mosque in Huwwara town, near Nablus.
In April, settlers torched three Palestinian vehicles in Huwwara town, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus and sprayed “price tag” graffiti on a local mosque.
Two days after the attack in Huwwara, the settlers torched two Palestinian cars in Jinsafut village, near the northern West Bank city of Qalqilia. The settlers also sprayed the star of David on a building in the same village.
In December of last year, a group of settlers torched a mosque in Yasuf village, near the central West Bank city of Salfit, and also sprayed “price tag” on its walls.
Russia and Turkey have called for the inclusion of the democratically elected Palestinian government of Hamas in Middle East peace talks.
“Unfortunately Palestinians have been split into two… In order to reunite them, you have to speak to both sides. Hamas won elections in Gaza and cannot be ignored,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Ankara on Wednesday.
“Undoubtedly, all parties to this problem should be included more actively (in the process) in order to reach a solution. The process should not exclude anyone,” he added.
Medvedev agreed with the idea that no group should be excluded from the peace process. The Russian president urged the United States to work actively with other nations in the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. He also stated that a divided Palestinian administration could not help resolve the conflict.
Medvedev said the division “causes the Palestinians to regress.” He also warned that Gaza was “facing a human tragedy.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Medvedev was in Syria, where he met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Medvedev’s meeting with Meshaal and his later comments in Turkey received an angry response from the Israeli foreign ministry.
“The foreign ministry vehemently rejects the call from the presidents of Russia and Turkey to include Hamas in the peace process and expresses deep disappointment over the meeting between the president of Russia and Khaled Meshaal in Damascus,” it said in a statement issued on Wednesday. However, that was not the only thing about Medvedev’s visits that upset Tel Aviv. In a phone conversation before Medvedev left for Syria, Israeli President Shimon Peres had asked him to convey a message to Assad. But according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Medvedev did not agree because it contradicted Moscow’s stance.
“We did not have a special need to implement this message because this is our position — to live in peace and solve issues on the basis of the international legal framework adopted by everyone and which should now be implemented by everyone,” Lavrov told AFP.