Tag Archives: iran

The arms sale that inspired Grass’s “What Must Be Said” (and a footnote on Deir Yassin)

The publication of German Nobel Prize Laureate Gunter Grass’s poem, “Was gesagt werden muss” (What Must Be Said), has triggered a predictable avalanche of outrage, from Benjamin Netanyahu’s vitriolic condemnation of the poem to accusations by the Israeli Embassy to Germany and former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg (the two are virtually indistinguishable these days) that Grass is guilty of a “blood libel.” Last weekend, the campaign against  Grass reached its crescendo when Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai designated him “persona non grata,” thus ranking the octogenarian scribe right behind Arab babies as one of the greatest existential threats to the Jewish state.

Grass’s service at age 17 in the Nazi regime’s Waffen SS has provided an easy line of attack for those seeking to dull the impact of his poem. New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner quoted Israeli columnist Anshel Pfeffer’s claim that Grass’s service in the Nazi regime’s Waffen SS “disqualified him from criticizing the descendants of those Jews for developing a weapon of last resort that is the insurance policy against someone finishing the job his organization began.” Pfeffer, by the way, is the same writer who boldly declared almost a year ago that “Israel must stop overplaying the Holocaust card.”

Like the rest of Grass’s assailants, Pfeffer omitted the fact that Grass was forcibly conscripted into the German military in 1944 (just as Pfeffer was drafted into the IDF, an occupying army to which Bronner’s son volunteered), serving as a Panzer tank gunner during the last stages of the war. Grass may be no more of a Nazi than Pope Benedict XVI, who was conscripted against his will into the Hitler Youth, but when have Zionists ever let historical nuance get in the way of a campaign to muzzle critics of Israeli policy?

Like Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu before him, Grass stands to suffer serious damage to his legacy for daring to say what must be said. But his poem will endure simply because he has opened up a debate of unprecedented scale on the perverse special relationship between Germany and Israel. Grass wrote:

my own country,

guilty of primal and unequalled crimes,

for which time and again it must be tasked –

once again in pure commerce,

though with quick lips we declare it

reparations, wants to send

Israel another submarine –

one whose specialty is to deliver

warheads capable of ending all life

where the existence of even one

nuclear weapon remains unproven…

Here Grass referred to Germany’s sale of a Dolphin class submarine to Israel at a deep discount subsidized by German taxpayers. As I wrote at Al Akhbar English, Israel requested that Germany widen the torpedo tubes of its submarines to accomodate the launching of tactical nuclear missiles at Iran’s nuclear facilities. So Grass was essentially correct: German citizens were corralled into providing Israel with a mobile delivery platform for its massive nuclear weapons arsenal, which it maintains without any international supervision. And they were compelled to do so out of Holocaust guilt — as Reuters’ Israel correspondent Dan Williams wrote, “as part of Berlin’s commitment to shoring up a Jewish state founded in the wake of the Holocaust.”

If Grass got anything wrong, it was the difference between tactical nuclear missiles, which are designed to deliver a massive blow to a concentrated area, and the kind of nuclear bombs that killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tactical nuclear weapons may not be “capable of ending all life,” as Grass wrote, but they would represent the first deployment of nuclear missiles since World War II. On the other hand, as the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted in a study on the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran, “Any strike on [Iran's] Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.”

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Today is the 64th anniversary of the massacre carried out in Deir Yassin by the Stern Gang/Irgun militias led by future Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Since a theme of this post is Zionist exploitation of the Jewish genocide in Europe, here is a little known fact: According to Shimon Tzabar, a journalist, artist, and leading figure in the anti-Zionist Israeli group Matzpen, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharanoth claimed Nazi troops were present in the Palestinian village at the time. “In Deir-Yassin there were soldiers of regular foreign armies, including Nazis with swastika emblems,” Yedioth Aharanoth reporter Eliahu Amikam wrote in August 1960. “Among the corpses there were Iraqis, Syrians and Yugoslavs lying in their military uniform. Swastika ribbons were torn off their sleeves.”

This was originally published at Al Akhbar English.

Israeli democracy, or the lack thereof: a conversation with Alternet’s Joshua Holland

I recently spoke to Alternet’s Joshua Holland about law and politics in Israel. Our conversation focused on the image of Israel as a Western style democracy coping with legitimate security concerns versus the reality of Israel as an ethnocratic state managing its demographic peril through authoritarian measures approved by the Jewish majority. The discussion can be heard here. Below is a transcript via Alternet:

Joshua Holland: Max, I don’t want to talk about Iran today. I don’t want to talk about the Israeli lobby in the United States, and I don’t want to talk about the Occupation. I want to talk about something I don’t think gets enough attention in this country, which is the sharp rightward turn of the Israeli government.

One of the great non-sequiturs of our political discourse is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And I say it’s a great non-sequitur because it’s usually used as a response to, for example, criticism of the Occupation. You say this Occupation is terrible, and people say it’s the only democracy in the Middle East.

Anyway, Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition Kadima Party, accused Benjamin Netanyahu recently of, “an attempt to transform Israel into a type of dictatorship.” Kadima lawmakers said that recent legislation passed by the Knesset represented, “the gravest challenge to democracy since the establishment of the state in 1948.” Tell me about the sharp rightward lurch. When did this happen, because I remember when I was a kid Israel was almost a socialist country.

Max Blumenthal: Well, by not wanting to talk about Iran you’re an anti-Semite and I condemn that.

JH: Max, I’m a self-loathing Jew — please get this straight.

MB: Part of Netanyahu’s goal in focusing on Iran is taking the Palestinian question off the table, and so it’s good that you’re talking about this. Israel has never been a democracy in the sense that we think about a democracy. It’s a settler, colonial state that privileges the Jewish majority, which it created through violent methods of demographic manipulation over the indigenous Palestinian outclass.

That’s true even inside Israel. So when you hear people like Tzipi Livni — who is for now the head of the Kadima Party but soon to be ousted, and actually came out of the Likud Party and was aide to Ariel Sharon – when you hear liberal Zionists, people on the Zionist left, warning that Israel is turning into a fascist state what they’re talking is the occupation laws creeping back over the green line, and that these right-wing elements are actually starting to crack down on the democratic rights that have been afforded to the Jewish majority inside Israel. So Jews who are left-wingers, who are dissidents and speak out against state policy are actually beginning to feel a slight scintilla of the kind of oppression that Palestinians have felt since the foundation of the state of Israel. That’s where this criticism is coming from.

I think we really need to get beyond the discourse of occupation and the discourse of fascism, and instead to talk about institutional discrimination and apartheid, which is what has been present since the foundation of the state of Israel.

JH: Now I want to talk about some of the specific measures that have been proposed, some of which have passed. There are some things that have been pulled back or tabled temporarily due to international pressure, and other have actually gotten through and become law. Tell be about the crackdown on NGOs.

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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.”

The Bibi Connection

“US President Barack Obama is ‘naïve’ and needs to face up to the threat presented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, Israel’s National Security Council concluded during a strategic discussion several days ago,” Israel Hayom reported.

The Israeli National Security Council consists of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s closest advisers. And Israel Hayom is not just another right-leaning Israeli tabloid. Referred to by Israelis as the “Bibiton,” or Bibi’s mouthpiece, the paper is an instrument that gives him extraordinary political leverage. The obviously planted article in Israel Hayom rang like a bell sounding the start of Netanyahu’s own campaign in helping the Republican Party oust Obama from the White House.

Israel Hayom’s genesis demonstrates the depth of Netanyahu’s connections in Republican circles. It was created by one of Netanyahu’s top financial supporters, a Las Vegas-based casino tycoon named Sheldon Adelson, who is also a major donor to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Adelson’s closest relationship is with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a longtime ally of Netanyahu who has been running a rancorous campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Netanyahu’s less than subtle intervention has become an open issue in Israeli politics. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party has criticized Netanyahu for damaging the US-Israeli relationship. “Netanyahu spoke about consensus,” Livni said in May, “and if there is a consensus in Israel, it’s that the relationship with the US is essential to Israel, and a prime minister that harms the relationship with the US over something unsubstantial is harming Israel’s security and deterrence.”

But Livni’s warning has been ignored. Rather than hesitating, the prime minister and his inner circle are moving full steam ahead in their political shadow campaign whose ultimate goal is to remove Obama. Bibi’s war against Obama is unprecedented. While Israeli prime ministers have tried to help incumbent presidents, none have ever waged a full-scale campaign to overthrow them.

Netanyahu has engaged enthusiastic allies in the Republican Congress, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and within the right-wing media. His neoconservative allies in Washington are launching a “Super PAC” to generate emotional attack ads against Obama and any candidate that might be an obstacle to his policies. And his campaign has even broadened into an attempt to discredit The New York Times, whose editorial page and foreign policy columnists, Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen, have been critical of him.

Netanyahu’s shadow campaign is intended to be a factor in defeating Obama and electing a Republican in his place. He opposed Obama’s early demand to freeze settlements on the West Bank as a precondition for reviving the peace process, a process since the Oslo Accord that Netanyahu has attempted to stall or sabotage, despite his signing of the Wye Agreement under pressure from President Clinton. Since his adamant stand against the settlement freeze, Netanyahu has undermined every effort to engage the peace process. He appears dead set on consolidating Greater Israel, or what many Israelis call “Judea and Samaria,” and has signaled a strong desire to attack Iran.

By all accounts, Netanyahu’s personal chemistry with Obama is toxic. Obama bristles at his belligerence. But Netanyahu’s hostility has reaped rewards from him, having stopped the peace process in its tracks. The latest effort by the Quartet seems doomed to failure. And Netanyahu’s rejectionism has put Obama on the defense. Most of the US Jewish establishment has remained a bulwark for Bibi’s policies. Obama, meanwhile, has been forced to declare America’s “unshakable bond” with Israel, even as Bibi thwarts Obama’s initiatives and attacks him in the Israeli press.

As political strategy, by tainting Obama as less than full-throated in support of Israel, Netanyahu bolsters the Republican themes that the president “apologizes” for US power, is weak on national security, and is an agent of “decline.” By depicting Obama as “weak” on Israel, Netanyahu’s campaign excites right-wing Jews and evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly accept the biblical claims of the Jewish state’s historical right to Greater Israel, Judea and Samaria. Bibi’s deepest attack line against Obama merges theology with ideology.
His campaign against Obama is a high-stakes gambit that will almost certainly color US-Israeli relations well past Election Day. Already, Netanyahu has succeeded in polarizing the political debate, as his agenda is singularly aligned with the Republican Party. Yet Bibi’s short-term objectives are rapidly turning the US-Israel relationship, at least under his aegis, into a partisan issue, another litmus test of conservative ideology rather than national interest.

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