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Congress promises Iranian people strangulation and catastrophe

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.”

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.”

46% of Jewish Israelis support settler “price tag” terror, Congress blames Palestinians for incitement

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.

At The Party, And The Morning After

I’ve been experiencing some problems with my blog but I think my tech guru, Shama Davis, has worked them out. So now I can belatedly post some video I shot from Michigan Ave after the big Grant Park rally. This is the sight and sound of the Republican death shroud lifting:

An hour after the announcement of Obama’s victory, I received a flood of texts and phone calls from friends across the country — from DC to New York to Anchorage, Alaska — telling me people had filled the streets of their cities to celebrate. It was a dreamlike moment for me. After covering the campaign since early 2007, and the right since the middle of Bush’s first term, I could not have imagined witnessing such a cathartic national celebration of the death of Republicanism. 

The passage of Prop 8 dampened my sense of elation. It is clear that the Christian right is not going away any time soon, and that the movement has staked out the battle over gay rights as the final phase of the culture war. Considering that black Democrats were arguably the swing vote in Prop 8′s passage, Barack Obama must do more to cultivate his most loyal base of support against insidious Christian right ploys. 

Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff did not surprise me. For all his post-partisan posturing, Obama is at his core a political animal who knows he won’t survive his first two years without playing hardball. The congressional Republicans are more extreme than ever, and consequently more marginalized. By using social issues and tax policy to hammer Obama, and by ginning up pseudo-scandals as they did under Clinton, the congressional GOP hopes to peel off a dozen or more seats in 2010. As a veteran of Clinton’s battles with Gingrich, Rahm understands this is no time for bipartisanship. I have my issues with him on policy — his support for the Shuler anti-immigrant bill, ramming NAFTA through Congress, his extreme Likudnik tendencies (see these shocking comments by his father, a former Irgun member) — but his political instincts seem good. On the other hand, he could alienate everybody and foster a dysfunctional environment in the White House. Time will tell.

Obama’s likely Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, is another issue. Read what I think about him below the fold.

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