In the last two days, Israeli forces have killed at least 15 residents of the Gaza Strip and wounded over 30. Among the dead are two young boys (see here and here), while the wounded included a reporter from the Ma’an News Agency and his pregnant wife. Militant factions in Gaza have responded to the Israeli assault by launching several homemade rockets at Southern Israel, leaving two injured and no one dead.
The Israeli army claimed that it initiated the assault on Gaza in order to kill two alleged militants who supposedly “masterminded” a brazen and deadly terror attack near the Israeli city of Eilat in August of last year. The army also claimed the two were planning a new operation. According to Al Jazeera English’s Jerusalem correspondent Paul Brennan:
The Israeli army is saying these two people it targeted with its clinical airstrike on Friday night were senior militants who were plotting an attack.
The Israeli army says that last year’s attack on the road that runs alongside the Egyptian border, where eight people were killed and 25 Israeli soldiers were wounded, was masterminded by the two men they targeted.
“Zuhair Al-Qaissi and Mahmoud Al-Hannani were said to have been behind these attacks, and the Israeli army said that these two men were planning a similar attack and that is why they launched their aerial clinical attack.
The Jerusalem Post, which functions as a virtual bulletin board for the Israeli army, told a similar story: “The IDF said it decided to bomb Qaisi’s car due to intelligence that he was plotting a large terrorist attack along the border with Egypt,” the paper reported, “similar to the one the [Popular Resistance Committee] carried out last August that killed eight Israelis.”
As is so often the case, the Israeli army is lying.
Few congressional candidates have excited the progressive base of the Democratic party as much as consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren has. With her tenacious advocacy for a consumer protection agency to fight unfair lending practices and her consistent framing of economic issues in terms of structural inequality has earned her enthusiastic promotion from major progressive figures from Markos Moulitsas to Rachel Maddow to Michael Moore.
Warren has focused her race against incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown almost entirely around issues of economic justice, placing her quixotic battle for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the center of her campaign narrative. During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Warren boasted that she succeeded in creating the bureau despite opposition from “the toughest lobbying force ever assembled on the face of the earth.”
While progressives celebrate Warren for her fight against the big banks and the financial industry’s lobbying arm, they have kept silent over the fact that she has enlisted with another powerful lobby that is willing to sabotage America’s economic recovery in order to advance its narrow interests. It is AIPAC, the key arm of the Israel lobby; a group that is openly pushing for a US war on Iran that would likely trigger a global recession, as the renowned economist Nouriel Roubini recently warned. The national security/foreign policy position page on Warren’s campaign website reads as though it was cobbled together from AIPAC memos and the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry by the Democratic Party hacks who are advising her. It is pure boilerplate that suggests she knows about as much about the Middle East as Herman “Uzbeki-beki-stan-stan” Cain, and that she doesn’t care.
Warren’s statement on Israel consumes far more space than any other foreign policy issue on the page (she makes no mention of China, Latin America, or Africa). To justify what she calls the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel, Warren repeats the thoughtless cant about “a natural partnership resting on our mutual commitment to democracy and freedom and on our shared values.” She then declares that the United States must reject any Palestinian plans to pursue statehood outside of negotiations with Israel. While the US can preach to the Palestinians about how and when to demand the end of their 45-year-long military occupation, Warren says the US “cannot dictate the terms” to Israel.
Warren goes on to describe Iran as “a significant threat to the United States,” echoing a key talking point of fear-mongering pro-war forces. She calls for “strong sanctions” and declares that the “United States must take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon” — a veiled endorsement of a military strike if Iran crosses the constantly shifting American “red lines.” Perhaps the only option Warren does not endorse or implicitly support is diplomacy. Her foreign policy views are hardly distinguishable from those of her Republican rival, who also marches in lockstep with AIPAC.
The same progressives who refused to vet Barack Obama’s views on foreign policy when he ran for president in 2008, and who now feel betrayed that he is not the liberal savior they imagined him to be, are repeating their mistake with Warren. With AIPAC leading the push for war at the height of an election campaign, there is no better time to demand accountability from candidates like Warren. Who does she serve? The liberal grassroots forces that made her into a populist hero or the lobby seeking to drag the US into a dubious, potentially catastrophic war? It is far better for progressives to grill her on her foreign policy positions before the campaign is over than after the next war begins.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on the depressingly predictable consequences of US-led sanctions against Iran: they have reinforced the regime’s hold on power and enriched the elite while wrecking the lives of millions of middle and working class Iranians. The Times’ Robert Worth made prominent note of the fact that sanctions were motivated at least as much by President Barack Obama’s domestic political ambitions as they were by American foreign pollicy interests:
Yet this economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West and complicating the effort to deter Iran’s nuclear program — a central priority for the Obama administration in this election year…
Ordinary Iranians complain that the sanctions are hurting them, while those at the top are unscathed, or even benefit. Many wealthy Iranians made huge profits in recent weeks by buying dollars at the government rate (available to insiders) and then selling them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market. Some analysts and opposition political figures contend that Mr. Ahmadinejad deliberately worsened the currency crisis so that his cronies could generate profits this way.
More pointless, politics-driven economic warfare is on the way. At the prompting of United Against A Nuclear Iran, a neocon front group whose board members have already urged “military action” against Iran, the Senate Banking Committee recently approved a new round of sanctions that would force the “Swift” telecommunications industry to expel Iranian banks. The New York Times noted that the Swift sanctions “would be financially catastrophic for Iran if carried out fully, according to proponents and sanctions experts.”
One Democratic congressional aide who supports the Swift sanctions touted the Senate legislation as a collective strangulation of the Iranian population, remarking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “every time that a new sanctions bill is passed, the noose gets tighter around the neck of the Iranian economy.”
A co-sponsor of the Swift sanctions, Republican Senator Mark Kirk, has been the largest single recipient of AIPAC-related donations in Congress. Kirk’s desire to collectively punish the Iranian people for anything their government might or might not have done is unconcealed. In an October 2011 appearance on a Chicago-area radio show, Kirk spent his time harumphing over a transparently trumped up Iranian government terror plot. But the host interrupted the senator with an important question: “Are you really going after the government of the country, or are you taking food out of the mouths of the citizens?‘”
Kirk’s reply neatly encapsulated the sadistic consensus in Washington: “It’s okay to take the food out of the mouths of the citizens from a government that’s plotting an attack directly on American soil.”
In 2005, a group of graduate students at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS) participated in the school’s annual diplomatic simulation. The high-pressure scenario required the students to negotiate a resolution to a standoff with a nuclear-armed Republic of Pakistan. Mara Karlin, a student known for her hawkish politics on Israel and the Middle East, played President of the United States.
Though most of the participants were confident they could head off a military conflict with diplomatic measures, Karlin jumped the gun. According to a former SAIS student, not only did Karlin order a nuclear strike on Pakistan, she also took the opportunity to nuke Iran. Her classmates were shocked. It was the first time in 45 years that a simulation concluded with the deployment of a nuclear weapon.
That year, Karlin received a plum job in the Bush administration’s Department of Defense where, according to her bio she was “intimately involved in formulating U.S. policy on Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel-Palestinian affairs.” Lebanon was a special area of focus for Karlin. She claims to have helped structure the Lebanese Armed Forces and coordinated relations between the US and Lebanese militaries.
According to the former SAIS student, Karlin was a favorite of Eliot Cohen, an ultra-hawkish professor of strategic studies at SAIS, which is regarded in American foreign policy circles as a training ground for the neoconservative movement. Through Cohen’s connections among the neocons occupying key civilian posts in Bush’s Defense Department, the former student claims Cohen was able to arrange an attractive sinecure for Karlin. Besides Karlin, the ex-SAIS student told me Cohen has promoted the career ambitions of many former pupils, including Kelly Magsamen, who worked under Cohen in the Bush administration and now oversees the Iran portfolio in the Obama administration’s State Department.
Today, Cohen is among Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney’s top campaign advisers. He is the primary author of Romney’s foreign policy white paper, which attacks Obama for “currying favor with [America’s] enemies” and “ostentatiously shunning Jerusalem.”
The paper urges a policy of regime change in Iran including possible coordination with Israel on military strikes to prevent the Iranian regime from developing a nuclear weapon. It is an aggressive Republican election season document presenting a concoction of post-9/11 unilateralism and unvarnished neo-imperialism as the antidote to a sitting president Cohen accused of “unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic and moral sphere.” More importantly, it suggests that a Romney administration’s foreign policy might look remarkably similar to – and perhaps more extreme than – that of the Bush administration.
I recently spent three weeks in Lebanon to research the Palestinian refugee situation and the effects of the uprising in Syria on the region. I will be writing extensively about my trip when I return from Israel-Palestine later this month. For now, I have posted my appearance on Transit, a current affairs/political interview program on Lebanon’s Future TV (the official network of the Hariri family’s Future Party). To my complete surprise, the producers decided to air the complete, uncensored “Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem” video in the middle of the interview. The video punctuated a lengthy discussion of issues ranging from AIPAC to the Tea Party to the Palestinian statehood resolution to Barack Obama’s disappointing presidency. I appear at the 1 minute mark in the first clip:
On May 22, thousands of supporters of America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, converged on Washington for the group’s annual conference. For two days they watched Democratic and Republican congressional leaders pledge their undivided loyalty to the state of Israel, and by extension, to AIPAC’s legislative agenda. Speeches by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted the conference, with Obama attempting to clarify his statement demanding that 1967 borders be the “starting point” for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
I interviewed several AIPAC delegates in the streets outside the conference. While few, if any, of them were able to demonstrate the slightest degree of sophistication in their understanding of the Israel-Palestine crisis, they had been briefed inside on how to respond to critics. No one I spoke to would concede that Israel occupied any part of Palestinian territory; none would concede that Israel had committed acts of indiscriminate violence or that it had transferred Palestinians by force; one interviewee could not distinguish Palestine from Pakistan. With considerable wealth and negligible knowledge — few had spent much time inside Israel — the delegates were easily melded by the cadre of neoconservative and Israeli “experts” appearing in AIPAC’s briefing sessions.
As the day wore on, many delegates waded into confrontations with members of Code Pink and Palestine solidarity demonstrators who had set up a protest camp across the street. With conflict intensifying on the sidewalk, Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin invited AIPAC delegates to express themselves from the protest stage. There, their most visceral feelings and deeply held views about Israel-Palestine crisis were revealed. See it for yourself.
The police investigation into the Itamar murders remains under a gag order. No individual Palestinian has been accused or even named as a suspect by the police. However, the resident of the neighboring Palestinian village Awarta, who have suffered for years from settler pogroms, are being collectively blamed and punished. According to a report by three International Solidarity Movement volunteers living under curfew in Awarta, Israeli soldiers and settlers have rampaged through the village in recent days, seeking murder suspects and the satisfaction that comes with retributive violence.
The soldiers reportedly destroyed property, stole money, defecated on the floors of homes, and blindfolded and beat residents, leaving one 28-year-old man so badly injured he had to be smuggled to a hospital in Nablus. Afterwards, approximately 300 masked settlers descended on the town and attacked its residents, breaking the arms of two men.
”Why do you have to punish all this people?” an ISM activist asked one of the soldiers. ”We have to punish these people so they will understand,” the soldier reportedly replied.
Jewish settlers from East Jerusalem filmed themselves humiliating a local Palestinian man, or, as they called it, “lower[ing] the confidence of Palestinians in the neighborhood].”
The one-two punch of settler “price tag” attacks carried out under the watch of the army and with the encouragement of state-funded religious nationalist rabbis is common all over the West Bank. Most Jewish Israelis view the army with reverence, and are reluctant to criticize its conduct under any circumstance. And though settler violence is considered a matter of controversy in Israeli society, a new poll shows that a staggering number of Israelis support the pogroms meted out by fanatical settlers against defenseless Palestinians.
A new Ynet-Gesher survey of 504 Jewish Israeli adults revealed that 46 percent of Israelis support settler “price tag” terror. Only 33 percent of those polled believed that price tag attacks were “never justified.” A sectoral breakdown shows that a wide majority of religious nationalist and ultra-Orthodox respondents support the attacks: 56 percent of “traditional” types, 70 percent of those identifying as Orthodox, and 71 percent of the religious nationalists declared price tag violence to be justified. The most remarkable finding, in my opinion, is that 36 percent of secular respondents support settler terror. Even though 56 percent are against the practice, this is a remarkably high number for a population segment that lives primarily inside the Green Line. (The poll results and Ynet article detailing its contents are only in Hebrew at the moment).
68 percent of all of those polled stated their belief that rabbis had the power to stop price tag attacks (for fairly obvious reasons, this opinion is shared by only a minority of religious nationalist settlers). In Safed, a mixed city in Northern Israel that is home to Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, local Orthodox youth have staged a string of vigilante attacks on Palestinian-Israeli residents. The attacks include the stabbing of a Palestinian Christian man, the torching of Palestinian cars after a Jewish-Arab dialogue meeting, and a wave of racist vandalism. The violence follows Eliyahu’s declaration that the “seducing” of Jewish girls by Arab men was “a form of war” and his drafting of a letter forbidding renting property to Arabs. (55% of Jewish Israelis support the content of Eliyahu’s letter).
Above: Settlers assault Palestinian girls on their way to school in occupied Hebron
Eliyahu recently admitted that the Shin Bet beseeched him to speak out against price tag terror after the Itamar murders. “I told [the Shin Bet agent], if you expect me to stop someone engaging in ‘price tags,’ you’re mistaken,” Eliyahu said. “I don’t work for you. But I want to tell you that unless the government takes action, the public will feel a need to take action. And if you don’t act, even if I stand with my arms wide open, I won’t be able to stop those who would act.”
While taxpayer funded rabbis like Eliyahu (he is literally a state employee) incite with impunity against Palestinians, and cheer on the terror attacks that flow from their words, letters are circulating through the US Congress condemning the Palestinian Authority for incitement. One of the letters, co-authored by Senators Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) — Kirk is arguably AIPAC’s greatest tool in Congress — demanded that the Palestinian Authority “stop allowing the incitement that leads to such crimes [as the one committed in Itamar].” Though no individual Palestinian has been named as a suspect in the crime and the PA has condemned the murders, top lawmakers like Gilibrand and Kirk have already convicted every Palestinian, providing congressional cover for more destructive raids, vandalism, and price tag terror.
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.