Tag Archives: barack obama

Israel’s bogus case for bombing Gaza obscures political motives

This piece was originally published at Al Akhbar English

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.

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Progressive hero Elizabeth Warren tows AIPAC’s pro-war line

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.

Lifting the Hood Off Rick Perry: Was His Family In The Ku Klux Klan?

Members of Texas-based Klan chapters rally in 1992

Members of Texas-based Klan chapters rally in 1992

Texas Governor Rick Perry has opened a new issue to try to lift his floundering campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, insinuating that President Barack Obama just might not be an American citizen. Asked if Obama was born in the United States, Perry told Parade Magazine, in an interview published on October 23, “I have no reason to think otherwise.” But he then qualified his answer, stating, “Well, I don’t have a definitive answer.”

Perry’s comments on Obama’s background are puzzling, considering that the President has produced a long form birth certificate proving his U.S. citizenship. For those Republicans who have become known as “Birthers,” Obama’s documention is not enough. To them, he will always be under suspicion as an alien. Whether it is his brown skin, Arabic middle name, or African father that feeds the doubters, he remains the source of heavily publicized right-wing conspiracy theories, now given credence by Perry. According to an October 12 PPP poll, 39 percent of registered Republicans still do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.

But by channeling the paranoia, Perry may have opened himself up to unsettling questions about his own background and family history. In his stump speeches since announcing his candidacy, Perry almost invariably touts his humble roots, describing a hardscrabble but wholesome childhood in Haskell County, Texas, the origin of his small-town traditional values. Yet the New York Times has reported the pervasiveness of racist attitudes in Haskell County, where white residents referred to the segregated area on the other side of the tracks as “Niggertown.” The Times story followed the report in the Washington Post on the Perry family ranch in West Texas, where the governor  often entertained guests, called “Niggerhead.”

But both papers missed an additional important historical fact: Haskell County was home to an active, large and influential chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The genealogy of a prominent farmer and longtime resident of Haskell County, Oran Ewan Webb, refers to the Klan as a central facet of life in the county, noting:“There was a meeting of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at the O E Webb farm four miles east of Haskell on Monday night September 29, 1924. Public lectures were given by speakers of state reputation. Every officer of the Haskell County Klan was present. (Notice from Haskell newspaper).”

During the 1920′s, the Klan virtually controlled Texas state politics. According to the Texas State Historical Association:

“With a membership of perhaps as many as 100,000, the Klan used its united voting block to elect state legislators, sheriffs, judges, and other local and state officials. Its greatest success, however, was in securing the election of Earle Bradford Mayfield to the United States Senate in 1922. The following year the Klan established firm control of city governments in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls, and the order probably had a majority in the House of Representatives of the Thirty-eighth Texas Legislature, which met in January. By the end of 1922 the paid membership swelled to as many as 150,000, and Kluxers looked forward to even greater triumphs.”

Though Klan membership declined steadily after the Great Depression hit Texas, local chapters remained active throughout the civil rights era. The Times reported that when Perry entered Texas A&M in 1968, some students posed for yearbook photos in Klan robes, while others formed a dairy group called the “Kream and Kow Klub” — KKK. Today, an underground Klan chapter operates in West Texas, and in 2010 its members left fliers in a parking lot at Texas Tech University.

Perry may continue to believe, or pretend, that he does not  have a “definitive answer” to the question about Obama’s citizenship — even though the state of Hawaii does. But he must have a “definitive answer” to another question closer to home — whether members of his family belonged to the Klan, or attended Klan rallies. It is an indisputable fact that the Klan was a central component of the cultural and political heritage of Perry’s hometown. Were members of his family ever members of the Klan?  The national press has begun to put Haskell Country’s disturbing history of racism in the  spotlight. Given Perry’s gesture to the “Birthers,” it is now time to learn more about his background. What exactly were his family’s ties to the Klan, if any, and if so, why has he kept the information hidden from the public for his entire political career?

Rick Perry distorted historian, who likened Texans’ “inherent chauvinism,” “belligerence” to Israel (Updated)

Update #1: Perry repeated his mis-citation of Fehrenbach in the Wall Street Journal today.

Update #2: A friend wonders if Doug Feith, who is now advising Perry on foreign policy, was the one who slipped Fehrenbach’s quote in.

Yesterday, Republican presidential candidate and current Texas Governor Rick Perry attacked President Barack Obama and the Palestinian UN statehood bid in a foreign newspaper, the Jerusalem Post. Perry devoted most of the editorial to assailing Obama as anti-Israel. But buried in the op-ed, in a line intended to highlight the shared values of Texas and Israel, Perry quoted the historian T.R. Fehrenbach. “Historian T.R. Fehrenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of ‘civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies,’” Perry wrote.

Fehrenbach published an authoritative book on the ethnic cleansing of the Comanche Indians by the Anglo settlers of Texas. He wrote with deep sympathy for the indigenous population, and though he expressed a strong identification with Texan culture, he was harshly critical of the settlers’ cruely toward the native population. Perry’s quoting of Fehrenbach seemed curious, so I opened up my copy of Fehrenbach’s “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans” to see if he cited the historian accurately. When I found the passage Perry had pulled from, my suspicions were realized: Perry (or more likely some half-wit speechwriter) had distorted Fehrenbach’s original text and taken it wildly out of context.

The full passage Perry quoted from is on page 257 of Fehrenbach’s “Lone Star:”

The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land.

Fehrenbach would have agreed with Perry that Texas shared values with Israel. But unlike Perry, he thought that those values were all the wrong ones: hatred of the other, a reliance on violence to seize land, and a legacy of ethnic cleansing. According to Fehrenbach, what Israel did to the Palestinians in 1947 and ’48 — and continues to do — is analogous to the Texans’ treatment of the Comanches and Mexicans during the 19th century. The comparison highlights Israel’s distinction as the world’s last settler-colonial state; a country based on an anachronistic system of ethnic exclusivism. It is hard to imagine that Perry would have scored any political points by quoting Fehrenbach accurately. So instead, in the name of his presidential ambitions, he distorted and abused the writing of one of the Lone Star state’s most celebrated historians.

My Appearance on Lebanon’s Future TV

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:

Feeling the Ignorance at AIPAC 2011

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.

Top Republicans to welcome Netanyahu, who called 9-11 attacks “very good,” said anti-US terror helps Israel

Bin Laden's death is bad news for Bibi, who called the 9-11 attacks "very good."

Bin Laden's death is bad news for Bibi, who called the 9-11 attacks "very good."

In three weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Washington to address Congress at the invitation of Republican Majority Speaker John Boehner. The appearance was designed to undermine President Barack Obama, with Netanyahu, the ardent Republican from suburban Philadelphia, hectoring the Palestinians and the Iranian regime while pledging an eternal war against terror. Before a uniformly supportive Congress, the cocksure Netanyahu had hoped to present a stark contrast to Obama, the unpopular ditherer mired in bad economic news and a messy military stalemate in Libya.

With the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, a hit personally authorized by Obama, the tables have turned. Netanyahu rushed to complement the American president, and he will inevitably be compelled to praise him again and again when he arrives in Washington. This is one reason why Akiva Eldar wrote that Bin Laden’s killing was “bad news for Bibi.”

But even before he had announced his upcoming trip to Washington, Netanyahu offered evidence that he would prefer for Bin Laden to be alive and kicking. In the immediate wake of 9-11, the New York Times’ James Bennett asked Netanyahu what the attacks would mean for Israel’s relations with the United States. “It’s very good,” Bibi replied before quickly correcting himself. ”Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.” Netanyahu said the attack would ”strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we’ve experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.”

Before an audience at Bar Ilan University in 2008, Netanyahu restated his belief that 9-11 was, as he said, “very good.” “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” Netanyahu said during a conference about re-dividing Jerusalem in the event of a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Bibi’s logic was clear: as long as Americans could be duped into believing Israel was fighting its battle, the United States would support Israeli expansionism and intransigence. Bin Laden was useful indeed.

With Bin Laden gone, Netanyahu will likely try to sell Americans on new folk devils, from Hamas in Gaza to the nuclearized “new Hitler” in Iran. But these evildoers have expressed little, if any, interest in attacking the United States. And judging from Netanyahu’s past statements, he does not view this fact as “very good.”

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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