A few weeks ago, I came across an opinion article in the New York Times called “Chosen, but Not Special” by Michael Chabon. It didn’t lie outright, like Charles Krauthammer blithely stating that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza or IDF spokesmen claiming activists on the Mavi Marmara had ties to Al Qaeda.
What Michael Chabon was doing was much more subtle. Realizing he had no way of rationally or legally defending Israel’s violent takeover of unarmed civilian ships in the dead of night in international waters, the utterly preventable killing of nine civilians, and the kidnapping of hundreds more activists and theft of their ships and belongings, he instead resorted to the last refuge of the apologist: Dithering.
If you haven’t read the article, here’s the gist: Jews are very clever, but only anti-Semites believe Jews are so clever that they don’t make mistakes now and then. Israel was a little blockheaded when it came to this whole flotilla thing, but that’s OK, nobody’s perfect.
He says nothing about the need for an independent international investigation, much less any censure of Israel for its ‘blockheadedness.’ The victims of Israel’s behavior—the besieged people of Gaza, the families of the Turks killed and wounded, the thousands of Palestinians rotting in Israeli jails on political or fabricated charges—merit not a mention, apparently unworthy of the subterranean stream of pity he has for the lone Israeli combatant held by Palestinians or even of his condescending pity for the Turkish victims (whom he churlishly calls “the wasted dead with their cargo of lumber and delusions”).
Chabon’s self-involved dithering is one of many methods of taking the spotlight off Israel’s actions and responsibilities when the truth begins to cut too close to home. Another is the old stand-by, changing the subject to China’s repression of Tibet or Saudi Arabia’s repression of women and accusing of anti-Semitism anyone who dares ‘single out’ Israel when other people are doing bad things, too.
As Desmond Tutu said, “Divestment from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified because there was repression elsewhere on the African continent.” If global citizens can band together to right a wrong, it’s a positive thing, even if they can’t simultaneously right every other wrong in the world, too. No car thief has ever, as far as I know, been acquitted after saying, “But other people steal cars and get away with it all the time!”
We can ignore Israel’s crimes, which we are complicit in, and talk about the crimes of others instead. But this would make us dictionary-definition hypocrites.
Other apologists insist things are too complicated for anyone without a PhD in Middle Eastern studies to work out for herself, so we should remain ‘neutral.’ On the face of it, this sounds reasonable. It’s a sign of evolved rationality not to act too quickly, to learn as much as you can before taking a leap. This conflict is anything but simple, and our media paints a dim and largely one-sided picture that most Americans can’t make much sense of.
Still, it has never been easier to find ample evidence of Israeli violations of international law that cannot be explained or justified on security grounds, and to see that Israel is virtually never held accountable by any impartial legal system. Which means that being ‘neutral’ in this case is a bit like being ‘neutral’ during Jim Crow days. Under the system at the time, the courts and the media were anything but neutral, and white people were virtually guaranteed of getting away with discriminating against or even killing black people, no matter the circumstances.
The siege of Gaza, for example, is an act of collective punishment, which is manifestly illegal and, as many Israeli analysts have pointed out, only strengthens Hamas. Judge Goldstone’s report on Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza in early 2009 that killed 1,400 people, including over 300 children, is available on the world wide web. The International Court of Justice ruled the route of Israel’s Wall built on Palestinian land illegal in 2004, yet Israel continues to build wherever it pleases. Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are constantly threatened with demolition while Jewish settlements nearby go up at breakneck speed in an open attempt to ‘Judaize’ the occupied eastern half of the city.
In the southern Hebron hills, the settlers’ chickens are allowed more water and electricity than the Palestinians living in the area. Students are denied the right to study where they please, Gazan cancer patients can’t access life-saving treatment, and a father of three with an American wife was recently shot and killed under deeply suspicious circumstances by Israeli police in East Jerusalem, so far with no repercussions. Overall, Israel’s theft and violence have only increased as the Second Intifada wound down and Israeli body counts dwindled almost to nothing.
These were just a few outrages that came to mind first, with thousands more crowding behind them in plain sight. Ignorance is no longer a valid excuse for inaction.
No amount of dithering can mask the fact that Israel illegally boarded civilian boats in international waters on May 31, killed nine people, and kidnapped 600 more in waters where they had no jurisdiction. No amount of whataboutery can hide the fact that Israel engages in ethnic cleansing when it tears down Palestinian neighborhoods to build Jewish ones. No amount of ‘easing the blockade of Gaza’ can gloss over the fact that Israel’s control over an entire civilian population—the occupation itself—is intolerable. Even the West Bank, which for strategic reasons Israel has been treating better than Gaza, knows everything can crumble in a second at the whim of Israel.
Nicholas Kristof put it plainly in the New York Times: “The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable and costly to the country’s image. But one more blunt truth must be acknowledged: the occupation is morally repugnant.”
In the face of these bare truths, it’s natural for supporters of Israel’s government to resort to dithering, changing the subject, or fatuously claiming ‘neutrality’ while our country arms Israel, provides it with preferential trade relations, and protects it from international law. These are the only defenses they have left.
It’s our job not to let them get away with it. Silence, in this case, is complicity. As we speak, on our watch, good people are dying and millions more are living without basic freedoms. Doing nothing effectively supports the status quo of allowing Israel’s government to operate with impunity in our name.
If you have a chance, however small, to boycott or divest from companies that profit from the occupation or events that effectively whitewash the occupation, take it. It’s already having an effect, and it’s one of the few effective non-violent ways to make the occupation more costly to Israel than ending the occupation, as long as American and European governments apply no sanctions and enforce no laws.
Next time Israel guns down civilians, bombs a UN compound, or destroys a Palestinian neighborhood, don’t be shy about demanding swift action, impartial international investigations, and accountability. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s ‘too complicated’ for a mere mortal like you to know enough to follow your conscience on the anti-Apartheid struggle of our generation.
Pamela Olson doubts she can convince the unconvinced with one short article. To that end, she is writing a book called Fast Times in Palestine, which seeks to relieve the burden (and excuse) of ignorance in a way that is comprehensive, enjoyable, and universally-accessible.
In a remarkable interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, House Republican Leader John Boehner explicitly called for cutting Social Security in order to pay for the war in Afghanistan. The article reports:
“Ensuring there’s enough money to pay for the war will require reforming the country’s entitlement system, Boehner said. He said he’d favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them.”
In principle Boehner gave the Democrats as much ammunition as a serious political party could want. After all raising the retirement age and cutting Social Security benefits to pay for the war in Afghanistan is an idea that consistently polls in the high single decimals. We should expect every Democratic politician in the country to be jumping up and down demanding to know whether the Republican leader speaks for all Republicans.
That would be the case, unless of course the Democrats actually hold similar views. After all, several prominent Democrats have been saying in public recently that we will have to cut Social Security benefits (benefits workers have already paid for). These prominent Democrats also support the war in Afghanistan.
So, they may not use the same words as Mr. Boehner, but it seems that many Democrats may effectively agree that we have to cut Social Security to pay for the war in Afghanistan. It would be nice if they would insist that this is not true.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy
After reading Glenn Greenwald’s scathing rebuke several days ago, Jeffrey Goldberg composed himself enough to respond by inviting Greenwald to visit Iraqi Kurdistan, and let the rest of us know who is in his rolodex:
“As it happens, I was e-mailing yesterday with the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barham Salih, and I mentioned Greenwald’s critique.”
Goldberg’s contact with Barham Salih represents what is now one of the few tattered survivals of Israel’s ‘Periphery Doctrine,’ in which the Jewish state sought to offset the rejection it experienced from neighboring Arab regimes through alliances with the non-Arab states ringing the Arab world–Turkey, Ethiopia, Iran–and with minorities inside the Arab world like the Kurds and the Maronites. This policy hasn’t had a very good run. It was only a few days ago at Foreign Policy that Leon Hadar actually wrote its obituary.Israel has systematically lost its friends at the periphery–Iran, Ethiopia and now Turkey. Its adventures and attempts at kingmaking in Lebanon ended with tens of thousands of civilians killed, the Maronites politically emasculated, a decades-long occupation and war which traumatized its army, the politicization and militarization of the Lebanese Shi’ite community and the emergence of Hizbullah. Very recent history has shown Israel’s supporters in the US reacting against Turkey with the hurt and anger of a scorned lover: Goldberg himself stated with perverse glee
“I hope to be blogging more about Turkey’s disgraceful treatment of its Kurdish citizens!”
Mark Arax, among others, has documented the shameful, transparently expedient, volte face that the Israel Lobby took on the issue of the Armenian Genocide post-Flotilla.
One wonders how long this Kurdish-Zionist connection will last. When it does collapse, will Goldberg suddenly look forward to blogging about the treatment of Christian minorities by Kurds in Turkey (which is not good)? Or will other Zionist apologists suddenly discover that it was Kurds who did much of the actual killing on the ground in the Armenian Genocide and not Turks?
Hamas has rejected a prisoner swap proposal by the Israeli premier as deceitful, saying the movement wants the release of all the prisoners it has named in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a live address on Thursday said that Tel Aviv was willing to release 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit.
Shalit was arrested by Palestinian fighters in a cross border operation in June 2006, after he had infiltrated into Palestinian territory.
Netanyahu said he has agreed to the German mediation, which called for the release of 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, adding that he was “ready for immediate implementation.”
The hawkish prime minister said, however, that Israel would not meet any demand from Hamas, which has disclosed the list of 1,000 prisoners it wants released.
Netanyahu said he would not agree to the release of some 450 high-profile prisoners because they “will greatly strengthen Hamas’s leadership.”
Hamas, in response, said it was important as to who would be released and not how many. “Netanyahu is trying to delude Israeli public opinion and deceive the people,” said Ayman Taha, a senior Hamas spokesman.
In the past negotiations, Taha said, Israel had rejected most of those named by Hamas it wants released.
Amidst a grassroots uproar over funding for the military, the nuclear power industry has again forced $9 billion in loan guarantees onto an “emergency” war appropriations bill for Afghanistan and Iraq.
Citizen opposition helped delay a similar vote scheduled last month. Now green energy advocates are again asked to call Congress immediately.
The move comes as part of a larger push for federal funding for a “new generation” of reactors.
Because independent investors won’t fund them, the reactor industry has spent some $645 million in the last decade lobbying Congress and the White House for taxpayer money.
This $9 billion is for two new reactors proposed for the South Texas site, on the Gulf of Mexico, and another at Calvert Cliffs, Maryland.
Continued operations of the two reactors now at South Texas are threatened by oil gushing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon. Calvert Cliffs is just 40 miles from the nation’s capital.
French and Japanese companies are among the leading candidates to profit from the loans. “Nearly all the major parts that would go into new reactors will be built overseas,” says the Nuclear Information & Resource Service.
Last month the Southern Company officially accepted $8.33 billion in federal loan guarantees to build two new reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia. Georgia regulators are allowing ratepayers to be charged for construction as it proceeds.
In Florida, despite vehement protests, commissioners who voted against a massive rate hike to build new reactors were removed from the Public Service Commission by a utility-controlled legislative panel. The move, said the ousted commissioners, was “payback” for the opposition to the rate hikes.
The maneuvers surrounding the “emergency” war funding vote have been exceedingly complex. A major grassroots campaign is being waged to muster as many NO votes as possible against prolonging the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-WI) has linked war spending to cutbacks on salaries for teachers, among other things. He and others are believed to be opposed to using the bill as a vehicle to foist liability for new reactor construction onto the ratepayers.
Committee members are listed below. They can be reached via (202)224-3121. Call them NOW!
House Appropriations Committee members:
David R. Obey, Wisconsin, Chairman
Norman D. Dicks, Washington
Alan B. Mollohan, West Virginia
Marcy Kaptur, Ohio
Peter J. Visclosky, Indiana
Nita M. Lowey, New York
José E. Serrano, New York
Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut
James P. Moran, Virginia
John W. Olver, Massachusetts
Ed Pastor, Arizona
David E. Price, North Carolina
Chet Edwards, Texas
Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island
Maurice D. Hinchey, New York
Lucille Roybal-Allard, California
Sam Farr, California
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Illinois
Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, Michigan
Allen Boyd, Florida
Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania
Steven R. Rothman, New Jersey
Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Georgia
Marion Berry, Arkansas
Barbara Lee, California
Adam Schiff, California
Michael Honda, California
Betty McCollum, Minnesota
Steve Israel, New York
Tim Ryan, Ohio
C.A “Dutch” Ruppersberger, Maryland
Ben Chandler, Kentucky
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida
Ciro Rodriguez, Texas
Lincoln Davis, Tennessee
John T. Salazar, Colorado
Patrick J. Murphy, Pennsylvania
Jerry Lewis, California, Ranking Member
C.W. Bill Young, Florida
Harold Rogers, Kentucky
Frank R. Wolf, Virginia
Jack Kingston, Georgia
Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, New Jersey
Todd Tiahrt, Kansas
Zach Wamp, Tennessee
Tom Latham, Iowa
Robert B.Aderholt, Alabama
Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri
Kay Granger, Texas
Michael K. Simpson, Idaho
John Abney Culberson, Texas
Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois
Ander Crenshaw, Florida
Dennis R. Rehberg, Montana
John R. Carter, Texas
Rodney Alexander, Louisiana
Ken Calvert, California
Jo Bonner, Alabama
Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio
Tom Cole, Oklahoma
Russia’s refusal to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran means Tehran could turn to China as its main arms supplier, depriving Moscow of a serious source of revenue, a Russian daily suggested on Wednesday.
Moscow said in mid-June it would freeze the delivery of S-300 air-defense systems following a new round of UN sanctions imposed on Tehran on June 9. Security Council Resolution 1929 imposed a fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, including tougher financial controls and an expanded arms embargo.
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia’s losses will amount to the value of the contract plus penalties for breach of contract.
The S-300 contract is worth some $800 million, while Russian experts estimate the penalty for breach of contract at $400 million.
Furthermore, Iran could refuse to buy any more military products from Russia, leading to an estimated loss of $300 million to $500 million a year.
In another indication of a trend that should be worrying to Moscow, experts pointed to Iran’s decision to effectively end cooperation with Russia in the civil aviation sector.
Earlier in June, Iran banned its airlines from using Russian-built Tu-154 airliners on domestic and international routes. In addition, there have been reports of the imminent deportation of Russian pilots because the Islamic Republic already has “enough qualified flight personnel.”
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi warned on June 22 that Russia would be responsible for the consequences of its failure to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran.
Russia initially said the delivery of S-300 systems to Iran would not be affected by the new UN sanctions since they are not included in the UN Register of Conventional Arms, but experts from the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation concluded the missiles did come under the new set of sanctions.
A Kremlin source echoed that opinion on June 11, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was up to the president to make the final decision.
Moscow signed a contract on supplying Iran with at least five S-300 systems in December 2005, but nothing has been delivered. The United States and Israel have urged Russia not to fulfill the contract.
The advanced version of the S-300 missile system, called S-300PMU1, has a range of over 150 kilometers (over 100 miles) and can intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes, making it effective in warding off airstrikes.
Israeli Minister of Trade, Industry and Labor, Binyamin Ben-Elezier
Israeli Minister of Trade, Industry and Labor, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, says the world is tired of Israel and that Israel, rather than the Gaza Strip, is actually blockaded.
“We’re not the ones maintaining a blockade. We’re blockaded, utterly isolated. We’re in a situation where the world is tired of us,” the Jewish Daily quoted Ben-Elezier as saying in an interview in the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement.
“They’re tired of hearing our explanations, of showing empathy for our troubles, even if they’re real troubles. (The world is) Tired of understanding us. This business just isn’t working anymore. After 43 years, nobody wants to hear any more explanations about why this occupation is continuing and how we have nobody to talk to.” Elezier continued.
Born in 1936 in Basra in southern Iraq, Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer is the senior leader of the Labor Party’s hawkish wing, a tough-as-nails ex-general and currently the party’s grand old man.