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.”
We insisted that Jews should focus their outrage not at us, but at the statements the subjects of our video made, and recognize the extent to which they echoed the rhetoric of leading Israeli politicians, military figures, pundits and rabbis.
American-born Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg argued on his blog that the statements of “a drunken kid in a bar” have no journalistic value, and therefore we were unprofessional (“Racism, Amalek and Videotape ” 13 June 2009).
Gorenberg even asserted that because some of the people who appeared in our video were American, their racist opinions had no little or no connection to the Israeli situation. At the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ron Kampeas, who has disclosed that he purchased an apartment with an Israeli-government subsidized loan in a Jewish colony in occupied East Jerusalem, wrote that it’s “time for [Blumenthal] to grow up and put [his talents] to good use.” (“Best take so far on Blumen-journalism,” 5 June 2009).
Meanwhile, YouTube and Vimeo banned Feeling the Hate, while the Huffington Post’sRoy Sekoff refused to allow us to publish it, claiming in an email that it had no “real news value,” as though the soft core porn that accounted for the content on his and Arianna Huffington’s (now AOL owned) site each day did.
The most recent attack occurred on 11 February on King George Street, just blocks from the warren of seedy bars where we filmed Feeling the Hate. There, a group of drunken religious nationalist youths attacked Hussam Rwidy, a 24-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, stabbing him while they allegedly chanted “Death to Arabs!” Rwidy and his friend, Murad Khader Joulani, staggered into a nearby restaurant drenched in blood and begging for help. Hours later, Rwidy was pronounced dead (“The final moments of the martyred Husam Rwidy,” Wadi Hilweh Information Center — Silwan, 20 February 2011).
“A drunken brawl gone bad” was how several reports described the killing of Rwidy, parroting statements by the Jerusalem police that his death was the result of a fight. The two main assailants were initially indicted for manslaughter before overwhelming evidence forced Israeli government prosecutors to charge them with premeditated murder. As with the reaction by prominent Israeli media figures to Feeling the Hate, the racist behavior of Jewish nationalists was downplayed as a product of intoxication, if not dismissed altogether, while the incident was portrayed as an aberration. Any reflection about the trend of racial murders inside Israel was officially discouraged (“Murder of Palestinian highlights Israeli judicial discrimination,” 972mag.com, 23 February 2011). And so the band plays on.
With Feeling the Hate, we edited an hour of footage into a four-minute video that focused on the hatred many Jewish nationalists in Israel and the United States felt towards President Barack Obama. Our unreleased footage contains statements by the same kids about Palestinians. The political science major who said “I know my shit” but didn’t know who the Israeli prime minister was told us that the Palestinians should all be transferred to a small corner in the West Bank and kept there in a virtual cage. The boisterous young man with the mesh hat who remarked, “We don’t want any Nazi shit, Obama!” defended Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s proposal to strip citizenship from “disloyal” Palestinian citizens. These drunk kids in bars had a coherent, if very simplistic, ideological basis for their racism. It is called Jewish nationalism.
Because Jewish nationalism is an exclusivist project that defines everyone who exists outside the Zionist spectrum as a potential threat and an obstacle to the ultimate ambitions of Israel, racism directed against Obama and anti-Palestinian racism form a seamless thread. This thread connects automatically to the African and Asian migrant workers who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country” (“Netanyahu: Illegal African immigrants – a threat to Israel’s Jewish character,” Haaretz, 18 July 2010).
It is no coincidence that migrant workers in Israel are increasingly targeted alongside Palestinians in racist vigilante attacks. They are seeking a place in a country that views the removal of non-Jews from as much territory as it can gain control over as a national goal (“Police: Sudanese men stabbed by Israeli gang,” Ynet, 12 February 2011).
While young rightists attack migrants in the street, the government may warehouse some migrant workers in what Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has called a “concentration camp” in the Negev Desert (planners from the Israeli Prison Service described the camp as an “accommodation center” in official material) (“Knesset Speaker: Racist rabbi’s letter shames the Jewish people,” Haaretz, 9 December 2010).
Though Rivlin condemned the plan, he has simultaneously endorsed a $1.5 billion shekel proposal to build a wall along the border of Egypt. “The goal is to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature,” Netanyahu said about the proposed wall.
Her words rang hollow, not only because her party had co-sponsored many of the racist and anti-democratic bills winding their way through the Knesset (see “Can’t we all just get along — separately?” — David Sheen’s disturbing 24 February 2011 interview in Haaretzwith Kadima lawmaker Shai Hermesh on the “Communities Acceptance Law”), but because she has personally fanned the flames of extremism through her words and actions.
After the Israeli assault on Gaza in winter 2008-2009, Livni boasted, “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” (I Lost Everything,” Human Rights Watch, 10 May 2010).
Now that some Jewish Israelis are “going wild” against Palestinians inside Israel, and demonstrating “real hooliganism” in racial attacks, does the opposition leader think she has the moral authority to condemn them? If the hooliganism starts in Gaza, where will it end?
Last summer, while living off of Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, we regularly taped interviews with locals. After the murder of Rwidy, we decided to compile some of those clips into a short video so viewers could get a sense of the atmosphere we lived in. Now everyone can meet a few of our neighbors, like the Birthright Israel alum who believes that if Palestinian resistance becomes too acute, “you gotta just annihilate them.” Or the Canadian lone soldier who joined the Israeli Army’s Kfir Brigade, a notoriously abusive unit that serves exclusively in the Occupied Territories, who believes he’s defending the Jews “from terror, and such,” and that there is no such thing as the occupation (“Kfir brigade leads in W. Bank violations,” Haaretz, 11 May 2008).
Living among droves of heavily indoctrinated extremists on Ben Yehuda Street was not always a pleasant experience. But then again, had either of us been a Palestinian, it might have been impossible. Though many might want to ignore this fact, after Rwidy’s murder, it is increasingly hard to dismiss.
The Israeli Knesset is debating a bill proposed by David Rotem of the extreme right Yisrael Beiteinu party that would require all Israeli citizens to swear loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” This bill is targeted at increasing pressure on the twenty percent of Israelis who are Palestinian citizens while forcing the ultra Orthodox Jewish minority who reject the legitimacy of any state not based on Jewish biblical law to accept Zionism. If passed in its proposed form, citizens unwilling to take the loyalty oath would be at risk of losing citizenship.
Israeli leaders committed to a classic secular political Zionist platform have always fought at all costs to guard Israel’s “Jewish character,” even while they reveal their inability to properly define exactly what it is. The loyalty oath and push for a two-state solution are the most profound examples of the insecurity that has roiled beneath the surface in Jewish Israeli society since the state’s inception. Without a Jewish majority exhibiting clear legal and political dominance over the non-Jewish or non-Zionist minority, the Zionist movement becomes meaningless. So as the Palestinian-Israeli minority actively resists its dispossession and the ultra-Orthodox stubbornly reject the concept of a Jewish state, the Israeli establishment feels increasingly compelled to seek draconian measures to salvage its vision of Zionism.
The loyalty oath was one of the main platform issues for Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far right Yisrael Beitenu party when it campaigned in 2009. “No citizenship without loyalty,” was among Lieberman’s most effective campaign slogans (his other slogan: “Only Lieberman speaks Arabic”), helping guide his party to an astonishing third place, with 15 of the 120 seats in Israeli Parliament. The draft bill currently debated in the Parliament would allow the Interior Ministry to strip even native Israelis of their nationality if they refused to swear allegiance to the Jewish state and “its symbols and values,” and failed to profess their willingness to perform military service. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has expressed support for Yisrael Beiteinu’s loyalty crusade.
After the proposed law failed its first reading in the Knesset due to opposition from a handful of liberal members of the ruling Likud party, Yisrael Beiteinu released the following statement: “Yisrael Beitenu will continue to act for Israel’s basis as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and will fight against disloyalty and the negative exploitation of Israeli democracy.” In July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet has approved a similar bill requiring all new citizens to take an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state. The measure would make attaining citizenship nearly impossible for Palestinians residing inside Israel.
Conservative columnist George Will was recently in Israel. His trip resulted in a series of laughably error-laden columns revealing not only a crude view of the Israel-Palestine conflict and obsequious admiration for Bibi Netanyahu, but a lack of knowledge about major historical events in his own country.
In his third column, Will begins his mutilation of history in a passage about the Peel Commission. He wrote:
In 1936, when the British administered Palestine, the Peel Commission concluded that there was “an irrepressible conflict” — a phrase coined by an American historian to describe the U.S. Civil War — “between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country.” And: “Neither of the two national ideals permits” a combination “in the service of a single state.” The commission recommended “a surgical operation” — partition. What followed was the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939.
Asad Abukhalil has already nailed Will for getting the date of the Peel Commission report wrong. It was 1937, not 1936. And the Arab Revolt broke out in Palestine before the Peel Commission introduced its findings. I would also add that David Ben Gurion privately accepted the Peel Commission’s recommendations because he saw them as the basis for a later partition that would gift the Zionist settler minority with major port cities like Jaffa and Haifa and throw the Palestinian Arabs back to the hinterlands. Moshe Sharett, a future prime minister of Israel, remarked about the Peel Commission, “the [Palestinian] Arab reaction would be negative because they would lose everything and gain almost nothing ….”
George Will had a horrible run in Israel. Luckily for him, the Washington Post does not correct errors if they advance Israeli hasbara
But leaving his distortions about the Arab Revolt aside, Will made a major error and has not been compelled to correct it. This proves the point Abukhalil makes again and again: “in the US, you can say anything about the Middle East provided it is done from a pro-Israeli perspective.”
In the same passage, the Princeton PhD made another huge error, attributing the phrase “irrepressible conflict” to an unnamed “American historian.” I don’t know where Will got his citation from (some Wikipedia entry?) but it did not reflect well on his claim to expertise on American politics. Even amateur scholars of the Civil War know that the phrase was coined by then-Senator William Seward in his famous speech in 1858.
Will’s tendency to err and distort was also on bold display in his first column from Israel, a boot-licking ode to the leadership qualities of Netanyahu. In the column, Will repeated a widely discredited tale that Netanyahu first told at AIPAC:
Nevertheless, a display case in Netanyahu’s office could teach the Obama administration something about this leader. It contains a small signet stone that was part of a ring found near the Western Wall. It is about 2,800 years old — 200 years younger than Jerusalem’s role as the Jewish people’s capital. The ring was the seal of a Jewish official, whose name is inscribed on it: Netanyahu.
What is Bibi Netanyahu’s connection to the ring, and by extension, to the ancient land of Israel? There is none. His father, Benzion, changed his name from Milikovsky to Netanyahu after he emigrated from Lithuania to Palestine. Thus Bibi has a much closer relation to Sarah Palin, whose Lithuanian maternal grandfather was rumored to be a Jew, than to any late Bronze Age “Jewish official” from the Middle East.
To understand the sheer insanity of Netanyahu’s magical ring story, consider how I would be received if my grandfather, Hymie Blumenthal, changed his name to Hymie Quetzalcoatl, then I asserted a historical mandate to rule over Mexico because Quetzalcoatl was a diety of the inhabitants of the ancient Toltec city of Teotihuacan. I would have a hard time being taken as seriously as David Koresh or the Unabomber.
Was Bibi’s magical ring tale inspired by Wagner?
Perhaps Bibi’s tall tale was inspired Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen, an opera about a magic ring fashioned by a dwarf that grants its bearer the power to rule the world. In the opera, Bibi is Siegfried, the megalomaniacal son of Wotan who wages in a destructive conflict for the right to wear the ring. And Will is the opera critic who writes a review of the fictional performance as though it were a real life historical event.
JERUSALEM — This Friday’s protest at Sheikh Jarrah was met with the most violent repression since the weekly demonstrations began. The Jerusalem police and Israeli Border Guard officers brutalized the three hundred non-violent demonstrators and arrested at least eight in response to the demonstrators’ attempt to protest in front of homes illegally seized from Palestinian families by radical right-wing Jewish settlers.
Though Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators have been arrested en masse in the past, the protest is often a mellow affair characterized by chanting, singing, and kibitzing among a few hundred Jewish Israeli leftists. However, this week the demonstrators demanded to enter the Simeon the Just compound that the police normally cordon off to everyone except settlers. Their intention was to highlight the unfairness of not only the right of settlers to throw Palestinian families out of homes they had lived in for 60 years, but to expose the police’s discriminatory practice of blocking the neighborhood off to supposedly protect the settlers. The police practice is eerily reminiscent of the Israeli Army’s apartheid policies in the West Bank city of Hebron, where access to Shuhada Street is forbidden to everyone except the radical settlers who have occupied the surrounding areas — even the Palestinians who live near the street must avoid it under threat of settler violence or arrest.
At first, a small group of demonstrators climbed a stone wall and sneaked through a backyard until they reached the neighborhood. They were followed by another group, and then another, until the street was filled with protesters. The police responded with massive force, attempting to push the demonstrators up a hill and back behind the cordon. The violence resulted in a spate of arrests which seemed to be carried out randomly; the police simply grabbed anyone they could get their hands on. For over an hour, Jerusalem cops shoved everyone in sight, including old people and a woman holding a small child (see the first video I posted). And yet, the police brutality could have been more extreme. If the demonstration had been supplemented by a significant contingent of Palestinian Israelis, there is little doubt that the violence deployed against it would have been exponentially greater.
While inside the cordoned-off neighborhood, I spoke with a young Palestinian woman who lives next door to a house seized by the settlers. She feared disclosing her identity, insisting to me that more publicity would put her family in danger. The woman told me that she was recently attacked by a group of teenage settlers while she returned late at night from university classes. The attack began when the boys shouted curses at her, prompting her to shout back. Then they surrounded her, punching and kicking her until she fell to the ground. After she screamed for help, some neighbors rushed from their homes and chased her assailants away. “Every day the settlers curse at us and make rude gestures,” the woman told me. “The reason they do it is obvious: they are trying to scare us so that we leave.”
A Jewish settler in Sheikh Jarrah watches the demonstration
The door of the woman’s house was covered with Stars of David painted by the settlers. As in Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank, Jewish settlers spray paint Stars of David on Palestinian homes and businesses which they seek to occupy or which have emptied of their original residents. (This practice caused writer Judy Mandelbaum to wonder if the Star of David is becoming the “new swastika.”) “The police don’t do anything about this,” the woman remarked to me. “They have seen the attacks, they know they take place. But even if I did call them they would not arrest the Israelis. They only arrest us.”
Indeed, none of the settlers’ religio-fascist machinations could have been fulfilled without the full support of secular figures in the government, from the technocratic Barkat to the atheist Prime Minister Netanyahu to Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who just ordered his occupation army to seal off the windows of Palestinian homes located along the route to Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs. The violence directed against the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators on Friday was just another snapshot of a settler-colonial state slamming its last remaining vestiges of opposition against the wall.