Tag Archives: palestine

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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1 State conference critic Foxman once suggested “fully integrating the Palestinian Arabs into the Israeli body politic”

This weekend’s One State Conference at Harvard University has prompted predictable cries of outrage and calls for cancellation from the Israel lobby and its allies in Congress. Senator Scott Brown, a Republican from Massachusetts, is the latest Friend of Israel to join the chorus of condemnation, calling for Harvard to ban the conference altogether. The campaign of intimidation and smears highlights America’s pro-Israel community as the political element most devoted to suppressing free speech and academic inquiry on campuses across the United States.

Abraham Foxman, the national director for the Anti-Defamation League, is at the helm of the campaign to censor the discussion at Harvard of equal rights in Israel-Palestine. In an op-ed for the Boston Globe, Foxman wrote, “Let’s be frank. The term ‘one-state solution’’ is a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel.” He attacked the conference participants for their ” alleged concerns about Israel’s ‘occupation’’ and treatment of the Palestinians,” claiming that their true goal was to “make anti-Semitism more acceptable and more likely.”

In light of Foxman’s assaults on the academic discussion of equal rights for all living under Israel’s control, it is worth recalling an angry letter he sent to the editors of the New York Times on June 20, 1984. In the letter, Foxman took issue with an editorial the Times published calling for a two state solution that would have required Israel to give up control of the West Bank. Foxman criticized the authors for casting Israel’s undemocratic control of the West Bank in a negative light, insisting that Israeli control of the Palestinians was not “deleterious to [Israel's] well being.” And in the end, he suggested that Israel should consider”fully integrating the Palestinian Arabs into the Israeli body politics.” This is the very concept that will be discussed and promoted at the One State Conference this weekend at Harvard.

Below the fold is the full text of Foxman’s letter, which I retrieved from Lexis-Nexis:

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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.

Romney’s Man on Iran

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.

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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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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.

Top media ethics expert: Times’ Ethan Bronner is in “very dicey ethical territory”

Yesterday I reported for the Columbia Journalism Review that New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner is on the speaker’s bureau of Lone Star Communications, an Israeli public relations firm that pitches him stories. Bronner has provided extensive coverage to several of the firm’s clients, including those involved in major political controversies. What’s more, the firm’s CEO and founder, Charley Levine, is a settler, media advisor to several right-wing government ministers, and a Captain in the Israeli army Spokesman’s Unit. Today, Ali Abunimah reported on Levine’s casually racist attitude towards Arabs. So Levine and his firm — which yesterday removed all mentions of their connection to Bronner — have a clear ideological slant. I have trouble understanding how this relationship does not violate Times ethics guidelines.

The Times has been warned before about Bronner. When the Electronic Intifada reported that Bronner’s son had joined the Israeli army, then-Public Editor Clark Hoyt recommended that Bronner be reassigned. As with his son’s army service, Bronner did not appear to have disclosed to the Times his relationship with Lone Star Communications. When I asked the Times’ Standards Editor Phil Corbett if Bronner’s involvement with the PR firm violated Times ethics policy, he did not request further details or allow me to submit specific questions. Instead, I was informed through an intermediary, Times’ VP for Corporate Communications Eileen Murphy, that the Times viewed Bronner’s emailed response to me as sufficient, and had no doubts about his integrity. It seems fairly clear at this point, after two major conflicts of interest have been exposed, that the Times has afforded Bronner a level of impunity that no reporter should enjoy.

While reporting my story, I spoke to one of the country’s leading experts on journalism ethics, Robert Steele, who directs De Pauw University’s Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics. I described Bronner’s relationship with Lone Star in detail to Steele. His comments did not make into my report for CJR, so I have reproduced them below. In short, Steele concluded “with confidence” that Bronner has waded into “very dicey ethical territory.”

Read Steele’s remarks on Bronner here.