Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Great Islamophobic Crusade

Crossposted with TomDispatch.com.

Nine years after 9/11, hysteria about Muslims in American life has gripped the country. With it has gone an outburst of arson attacks on mosques, campaigns to stop their construction, and the branding of the Muslim-American community, overwhelmingly moderate, as a hotbed of potential terrorist recruits. The frenzy has raged from rural Tennessee to New York City, while in Oklahoma, voters even overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure banning the implementation of Sharia law in American courts (not that such a prospect existed). This campaign of Islamophobia wounded President Obama politically, as one out of five Americans have bought into a sustained chorus of false rumors about his secret Muslim faith. And it may have tainted views of Muslims in general; an August 2010 Pew Research Center poll revealed that, among Americans, the favorability rating of Muslims had dropped by 11 points since 2005.

Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous. But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. It was then that embittered conservative forces, voted out of power in 2008, sought with remarkable success to leverage cultural resentment into political and partisan gain.

This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America. Its apparatus spans continents, extending from Tea Party activists here to the European far right. It brings together in common cause right-wing ultra-Zionists, Christian evangelicals, and racist British soccer hooligans. It reflects an aggressively pro-Israel sensibility, with its key figures venerating the Jewish state as a Middle Eastern Fort Apache on the front lines of the Global War on Terror and urging the U.S. and various European powers to emulate its heavy-handed methods.

Little of recent American Islamophobia (with a strong emphasis on the “phobia”) is sheer happenstance. Years before Tea Party shock troops massed for angry protests outside the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, representatives of the Israel lobby and the Jewish-American establishment launched a campaign against pro-Palestinian campus activism that would prove a seedbed for everything to come. That campaign quickly — and perhaps predictably — morphed into a series of crusades against mosques and Islamic schools which, in turn, attracted an assortment of shady but exceptionally energetic militants into the network’s ranks.

Besides providing the initial energy for the Islamophobic crusade, conservative elements from within the pro-Israel lobby bankrolled the network’s apparatus, enabling it to influence the national debate. One philanthropist in particular has provided the beneficence to propel the campaign ahead. He is a little-known Los Angeles-area software security entrepreneur named Aubrey Chernick, who operates out of a security consulting firm blandly named the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination. A former trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has served as a think tank for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a frontline lobbying group for Israel, Chernick is said to be worth $750 million.

Chernick’s fortune is puny compared to that of the billionaire Koch Brothers, extraction industry titans who fund Tea Party-related groups like Americans for Prosperity, and it is dwarfed by the financial empire of Haim Saban, the Israeli-American media baron who is one of the largest private donors to the Democratic party and recently matched $9 million raised for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces in a single night. However, by injecting his money into a small but influential constellation of groups and individuals with a narrow agenda, Chernick has had a considerable impact.

Through the Fairbrook Foundation, a private entity he and his wife Joyce control, Chernick has provided funding to groups ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and CAMERA, a right-wing, pro-Israel, media-watchdog outfit, to violent Israeli settlers living on Palestinian lands and figures like the pseudo-academic author Robert Spencer, who is largely responsible for popularizing conspiracy theories about the coming conquest of the West by Muslim fanatics seeking to establish a worldwide caliphate. Together, these groups spread hysteria about Muslims into Middle American communities where immigrants from the Middle East have recently settled, and they watched with glee as likely Republican presidential frontrunners from Mike Huckabee to Sarah Palin promoted their cause and parroted their tropes. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the increasingly widespread appeal of Islamophobia is that, just a few years ago, the phenomenon was confined to a few college campuses and an inner city neighborhood, and that it seemed like a fleeting fad that would soon pass from the American political landscape.

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A BDS Debate at Princeton, with J Street, JVP, and me (this Wednesday)

PanelDiscussionPosterHoriz

This Wednesday (December 15) I will debate/discuss the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign with Jewish Voices for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkormerson and J Street U Director Daniel May at Princeton University. Princeton’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter recently attempted to pressure the school into offering an alternative in the cafeteria to Sabra Hummus, an Israeli product made by the Strauss Group, which has sponsored the IDF’s Givati Brigade (see heartwarming Givati t-shirts here). They failed to get the votes they needed, (I don’t know why more students didn’t vote for an alternative solely on health grounds, since Sabra contains the carcinogenic, extremely unhealthy preservative sodium benzoate), but in my opinion the SJP kids won by forcing the community to debate the occupation and discriminatory nature of the Israeli state. The debate I will participate in on the 15th represents, in my opinion, the role BDS has played in fostering a more open discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Though Daniel May disagrees with the BDS approach and will argue against it, he and J Street have also played a crucial part in creating space for open and honest debate about the conflict. Unfortunately, I learned yesterday that Whig Clio, Princeton’s debating society, could not convince any high profile “pro-Israel” figures to join the panel. The rumor is that no one they asked wanted to face me in a debate about the I-P conflict. I have no idea if this is true, and wonder why it would be, but whether it is or not, the fact that BDS opponents have resorted to empty terms like “delegitimization” in place of substantive arguments is evidence of how thin their case has become. You would think that this would be a debate they would be eager to engage in. But what can they say when Israeli quasi-governmental groups are partnering with anti-Semites to demolish villages inhabited by Israeli citizens? Not much, apparently.

GOD TV and the Jewish National Fund plant the Forest Of Hate

In August, I witnessed the third demolition of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in Israel’s Negev desert. It was a harrowing scene that I will never forget. And it has been repeated five times since then, forcing the residents to sleep in the open air while rebuilding their homes over and over. I knew at the time that the Jewish National Fund, a quasi-governmental organization that plants trees all around Israel, especially over destroyed Palestinian villages, planned to establish a forest on the land that Al-Arakib stood. But I didn’t know at the time that the financing for the forest came from an extreme dominionist evangelical broadcasting network called GOD TV, or that the forest, which already represented an insane plan since it was going to fill an arid desert with non-native trees, would be called “GOD TV Forest.”

GOD TV and Jewish National Fund’s Forest Of Hate from Max Blumenthal on Vimeo.

Since then, GOD TV’s real motives have come to light. And (surprise, surprise!), GOD TV personality and complete huckster Rory Alec makes no secret of his desire “to plant a million trees to prepare the land for the return of [God’s] son.” Once again, the Jewish — I repeat, Jewish! — state of Israel has partnered with open anti-Semites to dispossess the Palestinian un-people.

To illustrate the perversity of the JNF and GOD TV’s plans, I have embedded in this post a video I helped create that intersperses footage of Rory Alec promoting his End Times forest to his viewing audience with footage I shot of Al-Arakib’s destruction by Israeli forces. Alec is standing less than a kilometer from Al-Arakib in the video. By the end, he is seen giving a check to the mayor of Givot Bar, a Jews-only settlement in the Negev that requires residents to pony up 5000 shekels just to apply for residency (sorry, no poor Mizrahi Jews allowed to live here either!).

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The Carmel Wildfire is burning all illusions in Israel

The following piece was originally published at Electronic Intifada:

“When I look out my window today and see a tree standing there, that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia. Because every tree here was planted by us.”

— David Ben Gurion, Memoirs

“Why are there so many Arabs here? Why didn’t you chase them away?”

— David Ben Gurion during a visit to Nazareth, July 1948

JNF forests burning in Northern Israel (photo by Oren Ziv/Active Stills)

JNF forests burning in Northern Israel (photo by Oren Ziv/Active Stills)

Four days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to place thousands of migrant workers from Africa and Southeast Asia in a prison camp deep in the Negev Desert because, as he claimed, they pose a “threat to the character of [the] country,” a burning tree trunk fell into a bus full of Israeli Prison Service cadets, killing forty passengers. The tree was among hundreds of thousands turned to ash by the forest fire pouring across northern Israel, and which now threatens to engulf outskirts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Over the last four days, more than 12,300 acres have burned in the Mount Carmel area, a devastating swath of destruction in a country the size of New Jersey. While the cause of the fire has not been established, it has laid bare the myths of Israel’s foundation.

Israelis are treating the fire as one of their greatest tragedies in recent years. A friend who grew up in the Haifa area told me over the weekend that he was devastated by the images of destruction he saw on TV. His friend’s brother was among those who perished in the bus accident. Though he is a dedicated Zionist who supported Netanyahu’s election bid in 2008, like so many Israelis, he was furious at the response — or lack of one — by the government. “Our leaders are complete idiots, but you already know that,” he told me. “They invested so much to prepare for all kinds of crazy war scenarios but didn’t do anything to protect civilians from the basic things you are supposed to take for granted.”

On 3 December, Netanyahu informed the country, “We do not have what it takes to put out the fire, but help is on the way.” To beat back the blaze, Bibi has had to beg for assistance from his counterpart in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Israel’s American and British patrons. Israel is a wealthy country which boasts to the world about its innovative spirit — its US-based lobbyists market it as a “Start-Up Nation” — but its performance during the forest fire revealed the sad truth: its government has prioritized offensive military capacity and occupation maintenance so extensively that it has completely neglected the country’s infrastructure, emergency preparedness and most of all, the general welfare of its citizens.

Beyond the embarrassing spectacle of Turkish supply planes landing in Tel Aviv just six months after Israeli commandoes massacred Turkish aid volunteers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, or the confessions of impotence by the hard-men Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, the fire exposed a terrible history that had been concealed by layers of official mythology and piles of fallen pine needles.

“There are no facts”

Among the towns that have been evacuated is Ein Hod, a bohemian artists’ colony nestled in the hills to the north and east of Haifa. This is not the first time Ein Hod was evacuated, however. The first time was in 1948, when the town’s original Palestinian inhabitants were driven from their homes by a manmade disaster known as the Nakba.

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