Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 25 November 2007

Ding dong

Eleven long, dark years of Liberal (read Thatcherite) rule have come to an end. Today we can look forward to a bright new dawn of Australian Labor Party (read Thatcherite) government. Triumphant ALP leader, Kevin Rudd, has, after all, proclaimed himself an ‘economic conservative’. In his victory speech, Rudd asserted ‘I will be a prime minister for all Australians’. And there’s no mystery about what he means by that – his government will work for the ‘national interest’ - profitabilty of Australian business – ‘it’s the economy, stupid’, a rising tide lifts all boats, prosperity trickles down…

[AFP photo]

For the past six weeks, the Liberal Party has bombarded us with adverts proclaiming that 70% of the Rudd front bench will comprise ‘anti business’ former union officials. You’d expect the Labor Party to have countered by pointing out that 100% of the Liberal front bench comprises people not with historical links to the labour movement, but with current, active, real, material vested interests in businesses. I surmise the reason this never happened was that those union thugs themselves have business interests of their own.

When Bob Hawke led the ALP to victory in 1983, the received wisdom was that because of the links between the ALP and the union movement, organised labour would tolerate attacks by an ALP government that we would never have tolerated from the Liberals. That turned out to be correct. It was the ALP that over the following 13 years proceeded to tame the union movement through its Prices and Incomes Accord, offering the union officials the seat at the bargaining table they’d always coveted. Rank and file union activity came to a virtual standstill, while the government smashed the militant Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, privatised Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank, and many other publicly owned services. It was the Hawke and Keating Labor governments that introduced ‘enterprise bargaining’, which precluded workers organising on an industry wide basis and forced us to reach agreements from a position of weakness on a workplace by workplace basis. This smashed down the door and strew rose petals in the path of Howard’s ‘Workplace Relations’ agenda that eviscerated minimum award pay and conditions, marginalised unions, and forced many to work under inferior non union ‘certified agreements’ and individual contracts.

Almost everybody associates the atrocity of detaining refugees in remote concentration camps with the Howard government. In reality, it was ALP left winger, Gerry Hand, who as Minister of Immigration in the Keating government introduced mandatory detention in 1992.

The union officials have been running a campaign under the slogan, ‘Your rights at work – worth fighting and voting for!’ It goes without saying that the bit about fighting is just empty rhetoric. All industrial issues have been unceremoniously relegated to the back burner while they devoted their efforts to the electoral campaign. Now that the election is over, there is little cause for optimism either that a Rudd government will implement radical changes to industrial relations or that the unions will mount the kind of fight that can win such changes. With union membership at an all time low of about 20% and Australian working class militancy a dim memory, it’s still going to be up to us to act in our own interests and win back our rights at work.

But all is not gloom and doom. The silver lining is that the incumbent PM, the execrable John Howard, W’s ‘deputy sherriff’ in the Pacific, appears to have made history as the first sittiing Prime Minister to lose his own seat since Stanley Bruce in the 1929 Federal election. The latest results, with one booth left to count, show former ABC journalist Maxine McKew, held a lead of 51.84% on a two party preferred basis. The Liberal pundits on tv last night warned against writing Howard off too soon, projecting that uncounted postal votes could deliver an extra percentage point to Howard, but McKew’s lead is big enough to accommodate that, even if it eventuates.

May he enjoy a very uncomfortable retirement.,

Saturday 24 November 2007


A few days ago, my son sent me a link to this remarkable video on Youtube. I was so impressed that I wanted to share it. I found it gripping and suspenseful and it also illustrates some important political points. Kudos to Jason Schlosberg and David Budzinski, who had the presence of mind to capture it on video and make it available to everyone. As it's copyright, I hope you can find eight minutes to click on the link and watch it.

Monday 19 November 2007

Hippocrates wept

In the last few weeks, a spate of reports has emerged about Shin Bet’s refusal to admit Palestinian patients from Gaza to enter Israel for treatment of their life threatening conditions. Dr. Danny Filk, chairman of Physicians for Human Rights, wrote on Ynet last week,

The 47-year-old Palestinian known as H. apparently suffers from a liver tumor and urgently needs to undergo a biopsy that would enable treatment. Meanwhile, C. is a Palestinian who requires urgent surgery, A. is a 20-year-old Palestinian woman who suffers from cancer and needs to urgently visit a hospital, 16-year-old girl T. suffers from a heart defect and urgently requires catheterization or surgery, 20-year-old L. has cancer and needs radiation and chemotherapy, and 27-year-old A. has a brain tumor and requires urgent treatment.

All these cases were examined by senior Israeli oncologists and cardiologists who ruled that treatment is urgently needed and postponing it endangers the lives of the patients. The State of Israel rejected the requests, arguing that the six are prevented from entering Israel for security reasons. However, after repeated inquires by the Physicians for Human Rights organization, the interference of Knesset members, and petitions by human right groups abroad, the six patients were granted a permit to leave the Strip.

You never know what desperate acts a dying person may carry out, so you can’t be too careful. That’s why a permit to leave the strip isn’t good enough. As Amira Hass writes, for example,

Mahmoud Abu Taha was diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine in August 2007. Treatment in Gaza was unsuccessful, and he lost a third of his body weight.

The Shin Bet is refusing to allow a 21-year-old Rafiah man who is sick with cancer and in need of immediate medical care to come to Israel, even though he obtained permission from the Israeli Defense Forces' Coordination and Liaison Administration.

The Shin Bet also arrested the patient's father, who accompanied him to the hospital.

Not content to deprive Gazans of treatment in Israel, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports, the occupation authorities are now detaining doctors, as well.

…on Tuesday, 6 November 2007, IOF detained Dr. Nabih Abu Sha’ban (52), a neurosurgeon from Gaza City, at Erez checkpoint. Abu Sha’ban was accompanying his son, suffering from kidney problems, to Jordan for medical treatment. Abu Sha’ban was detained despite having permission from IOF to pass through. Medical reports indicate that Dr. Abu Sha’ban is suffering from several illnesses. He previously underwent heart surgery. In addition, he suffers from diabetes and high-blood pressure that require medication on a regular basis.

The Center’s lawyer visited Dr. Abu Sha’ban in El-Majdal prison on Monday, 12 November 2007. He informed the lawyer that he is being questioned about patients he treated in Gaza!

While Israel’s High Court of Justice waits for prosecutors ‘to look into the matter further’, writes Yuval Azoulay in today’s Ha’aretz,

Nail al-Kurdi, a 20-year-old Gaza resident, died over the weekend from cancer while awaiting approval to enter Israel for medical treatment.

Despite numerous requests by Physicians for Human Rights, the Shin Bet security service denied his entrance due to security reasons.

The rights group said Sunday that they have been submitting requests to allow his entrance into Israel since July, but each appeal was rejected. In light of the state's refusal, the group petitioned the High Court of Justice for the right to bring al-Kurdi in for treatment.

"The court decided to give the state time to examine its policy on the matter, despite the numerous medical opinions presented to them which warned that if al-Kurdi would not receive medical treatment immediately, he would die," a statement by the organization said.

But what of those fortunate enough not only to secure a permit, but actually to enter the Jewish state for treatment? Esti Aharonovitz, writing in Friday’s Ha’aretz, reports,

This week, [the deputy head of the orthopedic oncology department at Ichilov Hospital, Dr. Yehuda] Kollender recalled: "A little girl came to me with an advanced and neglected tumor, and when her father told me that the girl was getting radiation at Assuta, my hair stood on end. Every expert in oncology, actually every specialist in oncology or orthopedics, knows that the standard treatment all over the world for such a case is chemotherapy, followed by limb-preserving surgery, and then another round of chemotherapy…”

In January 2005, Farah [Harma], then 10 years old, was diagnosed with bone cancer. The tumor was discovered in her right knee after a biopsy at Rafidiya Hospital in Nablus. From there she was referred to Al-Watani Hospital in Nablus, and from there to Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv for radiation treatment.

Prof. Natalio Walach, an oncologist who heads the chemotherapy unit at Assaf Harofeh Hospital and also served as director of radiotherapy at Assuta, sent Farah for radiation treatment without examining any medical information and without conducting any further examination to determine the exact type of the girl's cancer…during the brief meeting with the doctor, Farah and her escort were not asked a single question and did not receive any explanation about the method of treatment. There was no physical examination. This week, Walach said: "I don't remember the case that well."

[Michael] Sfard, the attorney for Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights, says…"… It seems that at Assuta there's a separate medical channel for Palestinians, and they are given inferior care. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Someone's making money from this. And we're talking about cancer-stricken children here."

"As far as is known," says Sfard, "the standard method of radiation treatment is with a linear accelerator. As a matter of fact, Assuta Hospital is the only medical institution that still administers radiation with a Cobalt 60, and it does not do so to Israelis. The only use made of this machine at Assuta is for the treatments the hospital gives Palestinians as part of the agreement with the PA."

…Assuta's medical director, Dr. Orna Ophir…admitted that the Cobalt 60 machine did not meet the accepted standard in Israel and that the use made of it at Assuta was solely to meet the needs of the Palestinian Authority.

Ophir further confirmed that ‘Assuta had found a way to make money from a service it couldn't sell to Israelis’, concluding, "Farah's parents had given up on her before they came to us. They have fourth-rate doctors, and they want me to give them first-rate treatment."

Azam Abu-Qabatya, from Yata near Hebron, also lost his daughter to Prof Walach’s special treatment.

…even though the referral from Al-Husseini Hospital proposed three further tests to diagnose the exact form of cancer, Walach did not perform any further examinations…As in the case of Farah Harma, he looked at her leg and drew with a marker to designate the area meant to receive radiation.

…Further examination found that the cancer had spread into the girl's abdominal cavity and lungs...Hayah Abu-Qabatya died at home in the village of Yata, on Thursday, October 13, 2005. She was just 12 years old.

[Hat tip to Mark Marshall and Dorothy Naor.]

Thursday 15 November 2007

Choose better relatives

Dr Mohammed Haneef was arrested on bogus terrorism charges in July. When the government couldn’t prove its case, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews withdrew his visa. He was released into immigration detention and later returned to India. Now,

Lawyers for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews are appealing against Justice Jeffery Spender's decision to quash the cancellation of Dr Haneef's visa.

Justice Spender ruled Mr Andrews was wrong to use Dr Haneef's association with his second cousins and UK terrorism suspects Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed.

The court heard the easiest way to view the changes was whether the Minister believed a person was mates with people who are not of good character.

You just can’t be too careful who your relatives are.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Fairytales crush folklore

Two years down the track, San Francisco State University has finally permitted the unveiling of a mural on the Cesar Chavez Student Center in honour of Edward Said. But not before consulting with the sensitive San Francisco Jewish community, who insisted that the depiction of Handala, the caricature of a refugee child, holding a key, was erased. And even that was not enough for David Horowitz’s Campus Watch bigots, who believe that the mural evidences a cult of Edward Said.

Zionists and Zionist organisations have enjoyed remarkable success in suppressing any form of expression that even hints that Israel has ever committed any injustice. At their behest, Brandeis University retracted its invitation to Jimmy Carter, whose explicitly proZionist book’s title included the word apartheid. The New York Theatre Workshop’s scheduled performance of My name is Rachel Corrie had to be cancelled lest it serve as a reminder that purity of arms did not preclude bulldozing an unarmed protester into the ground.

And now, they have prevented a performance by Al-Ghad Folklore Dancing Troupe of Beit Sahour at schools in the Old Saybrook, Connecticut district because it ‘was offensive to Jews and Israel’.

…the Rev. David W. Good, senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, where the troupe performed this past weekend…said many of the dances performed were simply traditional, but he acknowledged one was particularly upsetting to a male student in the audience. That more modern dance "certainly expressed the frustration of detention by Israeli soldiers" and dealt with curfews, checkpoints and the realities of detention, Good said.

The reason we know the student was upset was that he stalked and harassed the performers. But he wasn’t the only one who was upset. Retired Old Saybrook teacher,

Ginger Horton said she felt compelled to complain to school officials after her two grandchildren told her they were offended by the troupe's performance at the high school Monday.

"[My] grandchildren came home very frightened," Horton said Thursday…her grandson, 15, and granddaughter, 14, told her the high school performance depicted Israeli soldiers beating and torturing Palestinians.

Horton said it was inappropriate for the public school system to host what she called a hateful, politically charged event.

"My concern was that it would be stopped, and we stopped it," said Horton.

While the actual treatment of Palestinians offends nobody, depicting such a thing is so provocative that Americans must sacrifice their cherished freedom of expression lest it incite them to…who knows what?

Jewish Voice for Peace’s Mitchell Plitnick underscores the hypocrisy.

One must also wonder, if the roles had been reversed and a Palestinian was upset by the portrayal of her people as suicide bombers, would the same sensitivity have been shown?

The point of course is that while everybody fears accusations of anti-Semitism, anti Arab attitudes are downright respectable.

The story actually raises some interesting issues. Ordinarily, when people dislike a performance, the reaction is to walk out, or publish a scathing review. On this occasion, however, when one disturbed adolescent displays sociopathic behaviour, it’s enough to motivate cancellation. It’s not actually clear from the article in the Courant whether it was that incident or Ginger Horton’s complaint that instigated scrapping the performance in Old Saybrook schools. Or whether School Superintendent Joseph Onofrio, who hadn’t seen it, stopped the shows on the grounds that he had learned that ‘several parents questioned whether the performance was appropriate for their children’. Presumably, the parents hadn’t previewed the dance, either. Ominously, though, Horton

…also contacted the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut.

Bob Fishman, executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, said Old Saybrook public schools should not host groups with a perceived political agenda. He lauded upset local students and family members who "stepped up."

"It was a very disturbing report [Horton] got from her grandchildren," Fishman said. "I advised her that it's not appropriate for a sponsor to say it's cultural when it's primarily political."

Fishman said his organization plans to discuss the performances with state legislators and top state education officials.

So it’s just possible that explicit pressure from the ‘leaders of the Jewish community’ may have played a role.

The Zionists have been so effective that people who otherwise in all probability have no time for political correctness are prepared to go to great lengths to dissociate themselves even from describing what Israel does. Indeed, they are prepared to lay themselves wide open to accusations of hypocrisy to avoid the wrath of the fearsome Israel lobby.

But perhaps there’s a silver lining. When it gets to the point that even acknowledging that Palestinians experience some suffering, as enacted in a dance, or to trying to stop Desmond Tutu from speaking, it seems to evidence a level of defensiveness that borders on the hysterical. Perhaps the Hasbarists fear their fairytales are wearing thin. It certainly looks like they’re worried.

Monday 12 November 2007

Promises, promises

Reporting from Iowa City, Paul Street writes,

“Listen,” Hillary Clinton told a stunned collection of reporters yesterday in Des Moines, Iowa. “…We’re Marxist-Lenninists, and we always have been. Deal with it.”

Eschewing the “limited goal” of “socialism in one country,” Obama proclaimed his determination to link the “new American revolution” with “revolutionary proletarian forces and cadres around the planet” to “overthrow the world capitalist system within the next 20 years.”

“I’m a realist,” Obama said. “Let’s get real about solving poverty, inequality, and environmental collapse and putting meaning back into democracy at home and abroad. Let’s admit a basic truth: none of these problems are going to be fixed – none of these things are going to happen under capitalism.”

Edwards quoted Marx and Engels with approval: “You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already abolished for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.”

“And that’s exactly what we see in the United States today. Enough is enough,” Edwards said. America needs a president who will tell the truth and show a little backbone. It’s time to expropriate the expropriators!”

Those guys will say just about anything for a few votes.

Sunday 11 November 2007

Hostile territory

This week’s Forward editorializes,

At press time, Turkey was perilously close to responding with an invasion of Iraq’s Kurdish region. The invasion, if it comes, could prove devastating to America’s hopes for pacifying Iraq and to Israel’s hopes for successful negotiations with its Arab neighbors.

They don’t mention what kind of success Israel might hope for in these ‘negotiations with its Arab neighbors’ – that would be that irksome neighbour, the mighty nation of Palestine, among others. But I’ll stick my neck way out and intimate my suspicion that successful negotiations would comprise, among other things, Israeli control over the borders, airspace, and sea access of the Palestinian state located on the political horizon, somewhere over the rainbow – what is it about the Peace Process that always brings The Wizard of Oz to mind? – that the wall will demarcate the principal outlines of Palestine, that Israel retain sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, that no, or very few, refugees will enjoy the right of return. If there is any compensation for the other refugees, Israel will expect The International Community to come to the party. If Palestine should get any territory in ‘Israel proper’ in exchange for the land annexed for the settlements, it will be barren, or come complete with a concentration of erstwhile Israeli Arabs, or both…

That’s why,

The implications for Israel are sobering. Jerusalem has long known that sooner or later it would have to begin a painful, dangerous negotiating process with the Palestinians and the Arab League. It assumed it could count on the support of its friends in the West and the Muslim world.


If Turkey’s relations with the West enter a crisis period just as those Israeli-Arab negotiations begin, Israel will enter the talks more vulnerable and alone than it anticipated, thanks to the work of its good friends in the White House.

Israel is so friendless. The International Community said such cruel things about their bombing of Lebanon last year and made them stop after killing only 1100 or 1200 Lebanese. And now, if Turkey is estranged because of an adventure in Iraq, there will be nobody to support the modest demands they will bring to the negotiating table. And if the conference in Annapolis ever actually takes place, it will be on such hostile territory.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Dog wags tail

Not a terribly exciting headline. And yet, for all the credence offered to Profs Mearsheimer and Walt's dog wagging hypothesis these days, you'd think it really was news.
Writing on Counterpunch last week about the role of the Israel lobby in propelling the US towards war with Iran, Ray McGovern quotes US Vice President Dick Cheney.
"Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."
Does this not sound like the so-called "Cheney plan" being widely discussed in the media today? An Israeli attack; Iranian retaliation; the United States springing to the defense of its "ally" Israel?
What the Cheney Plan appears to evidence more than anything else is that the US foreign policy elite regard Israel as a proxy force to be deployed at their pleasure, in this case, effectively as bait – hardly the kind of attitude you’d expect when all American politicians are in thrall to the Israel Lobby.
Last year’s vicious attack on Lebanon provided some commentators with conclusive proof that the US did the Israel lobby’s bidding and others with proof that Israel was a tool of US foreign policy. I thought it was ambiguous who was wagging what, as it seemed to me that both Israel and the US believed they had a common interest in eliminating what they perceived as a potential threat from Hizb’allah, which they identify as an instrument of Iranian foreign policy, in the event of an attack on Iran.
This is not to say that there is no Israel lobby, or that its influence is trivial. Among them, the organisations that comprise the lobby appear to be able to exert quite a strong influence on flows of campaign funds to, and away from, candidates. And this has been very effective in muzzling any politician inclined to voice criticism of Israel. But, as Mearsheimer and Walt acknowledge, the lobby does not always get its own way. For example, the lobby had been articulating the urgent need for regime change in Iraq at least since 1992 when then Defense Department Deputy Undersecretary for Policy Planning in the first Bush regime, Zalmay Khalilzad, drafted the Defense Planning Guidance, which leaked to the NY Times. If the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was at the Lobby’s behest, as Walt and Mearsheimer imply, the dog seems reluctant to respond to instructions from the tail.
It is of course a testament to the lobby’s power that it has been so effective in stifling rational discussion of Israel and Zionism. But at the same time, the stridency with which critics are attacked and the carelessness of the argumentation their spokespersons bring to their rhetoric betoken desperation. I would like to think that this evidences a decline, or at least a well founded fear of decline, in the lobby’s influence. But for the time being, I think I’ll err on the side of caution and assume the worst.
When I first read Mearsheimer and Walt’s article in the London review of books last year, I just couldn't help noticing that they had gobbled up the myth of 'national interest' hook, line, and sinker. I don't think this is so unusual for international relations academics, some of whom also share their penchant for anthropomorphising nation states. But by the same token, it doesn't manifest the kind of rigorous and dispassionate observation and analysis typically expected of, or at least attributed to, academic enquiry.
On the strength of their article, I never had any intention of squandering more of my life reading their book, now released to great acclaim - it currently ranks #256 on Amazon and 75% of reviews there give it four or five stars. But I did come across an excerpt on Alternet.
They begin with the curious assertion that in the US presidential campaign, 'The candidates will inevitably differ on various domestic issues – health care, abortion, gay marriage, taxes, education, immigration – and spirited debates are certain to erupt on a host of foreign policy questions as well'.
What course of action should the United States pursue in Iraq? What is the best response to the crisis in Darfur, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Russia's hostility to NATO, and China's rising power? How should the United States address global warming, combat terrorism, and reverse the erosion of its international image? On these and many other issues, we can confidently expect lively disagreements among the various candidates.
Doubtless there will be lively disagreements, but they will confine themselves to comparatively trivial matters. None of the candidates actually considered in the running disagrees that ‘we’ must win in Iraq, whatever that may mean, that even if the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a ‘mistake’, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is justified, that ‘all options are on the table’ regarding Iran’s ‘nuclear ambitions’, that the US is entitled to exercise military force wherever it likes in pursuit of the perceived ‘national interest’, that health care remain a private profit making industry, and many other basic issues, not to mention the more fundamental assumptions they share about the essential beneficence and inevitability of production of goods and services for private profit.
Where they differ is on tactical matters – what level of troops ‘we’ should maintain in Iraq, which militias to support, perhaps on the colour of the carpets in their spectacular Emerald City embassy… A quick perusal of the ‘Issues’ pages on the Clinton, Obama, and Giuliani websites shows that Israel is not a high priority for them, as it doesn’t seem to rate a mention. None of the sites has a search facility. Their positions on ‘the conflict in the Middle East’ may be in there somewhere, but clearly do not merit emphasis. I’m prepared to speculate, however, that they agree on the fundamentals – that Israel has a ‘right to exist’ as a Jewish state, that there should be a viable Palestinian state, as if that were ever a realistic possibility, that Hamas must be ostracized, that quisling PA president Abu Mazen, not the elected PA legislature, represents the Palestinians, including the refugees, that the refugees’ right to return ‘to their homes’ in ‘Israel proper’ is not feasible, etc. There are probably differences over where the border should be drawn, the level of control Israel ought to be permitted over border crossing, airspace, etc., whether Abu Mazen is an effective quisling, whether to support Dahlan, treatment of ‘illegal outposts’, the number of checkpoints... Walt and Mearsheimer are certainly right to think the candidates are unanimous in their unwavering support for Israel, but disagreement over the details is probably as lively within this broad consensus as it is over the other areas of agreement.
So Mearsheimer and Walt exaggerate the level of concord among candidates on Israel and the level of disagreement over other foreign and domestic policy issues. But there is something to explain: the US government’s munificent, no strings material and moral support for Israel and the reluctance of US politicians to criticise Israel. These two matters are clearly related, but are not the same thing. Walt and Mearsheimer seem to me to conflate them.
What explains this behavior? Why is there so little disagreement among these presidential hopefuls regarding Israel, when there are profound disagreements among them on almost every other important issue facing the United States and when it is apparent that America's Middle East policy has gone badly awry? Why does Israel get a free pass from presidential candidates, when its own citizens are often deeply critical of its present policies and when these same presidential candidates are all too willing to criticize many of the things that other countries do? Why does Israel, and no other country in the world, receive such consistent deference from America's leading politicians?
Leaving aside the hyperbole about ‘profound disagreements’, it may not be apparent to all Washington decisionmakers that their policy has gone badly awry. They may believe, for example, that the occupation of Iraq may be messy and costly, but the prize is worth it. Israel’s struggle for her very survival against Palestinian terrorism places her in the front line of the war on terror – our staunchest ally.
There are indeed things that other countries do that politicians feel free to criticise. Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, for example, or Venezuela’s refusal to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas TV. But Israel is not the only country to get a free pass. I haven’t heard any of the candidates condemning the slaughter of unionists in Colombia, for example, or Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua.
Mearsheimer and Walt are cavalier in dismissing the two explanations they consider.
Some might say that it is because Israel is a vital strategic asset for the United States. Indeed, it is said to be an indispensable partner in the "war on terror." Others will answer that there is a powerful moral case for providing Israel with unqualified support, because it is the only country in the region that "shares our values." But neither of these arguments stands up to fair-minded scrutiny. Washington's close relationship with Jerusalem makes it harder, not easier, to defeat the terrorists who are now targeting the United States, and it simultaneously undermines America's standing with important allies around the world. Now that the Cold War is over, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. Yet no aspiring politician is going to say so in public, or even raise the possibility.
There is also no compelling moral rationale for America's uncritical and uncompromising relationship with Israel. There is a strong moral case for Israel's existence and there are good reasons for the United States to be committed to helping Israel if its survival is in jeopardy. But given Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, moral considerations might suggest that the United States pursue a more evenhanded policy toward the two sides, and maybe even lean toward the Palestinians. Yet we are unlikely to hear that sentiment expressed by anyone who wants to be president, or anyone who would like to occupy a position in Congress.
They don’t set out what informs the moral judgements so prominent in these two paragraphs, but I will not belabour the point. They probably do so in later chapters or a footnote omitted from the excerpt.
The more serious question is whether the arguments withstand fair minded scrutiny. In my view an assessment of these propositions presupposes an analysis of the function of the state, presumably explicit elsewhere in the book. My own analysis is that the principal function of the state is to defend and advance the interests of the ruling class. In capitalist states, therefore, the state acts on behalf of capital. To this end, it regulates currency levels, interest rates, some relations among businesses; it offers subsidies and bailouts to businesses; it provides communication, transportation, and other important infrastructure; it educates each cohort of workers in the skill sets thought to suit business requirements; it may provide a level of health care to keep employees in working order or even a level of subsistence to ensure the survival of the reserve army of labour. Perhaps above all, it guarantees the availability of a workforce prepared to place a significant proportion of their lives at the disposal of an employer. But what’s important in this connection is that the state secures foreign markets and sources of raw materials. If you have not considered an analysis like this before, I think you will find it has a great deal of explanatory power. The alternative analysis, which assumes that the state mediates between the interests of the classes, or what amounts to the same thing, that it rules on behalf of all its citizens, is so transparently useless that it often leaves its adherents bewildered at how it can act so consistently contrary to its ascribed role. For example, from this perspective, it would be difficult to explain the vast influence corporations, which don’t even wield the power of the ballot, can exercise over government policies. Unfortunately, Walt and Mearsheimer’s first chapter evidences their embrace of just such an analysis.
In my analysis, candidates say what they do to demonstrate their commitment to advancing the interests of capital. Those seen to deviate from the straight and narrow can be dispensed with, by hook (e.g. Gough Whitlam) or by crook (e.g. Salvador Allende). So it’s important to understand that the positions they adopt need to reflect what the ruling class sees as in its interests, whether or not it is actually in their interests. Where differences exist among the ruling class, candidates may appeal to one or another faction. But on many issues nowadays, the US ruling class appears to have reached consensus.
Their attempted refutation of the strategic asset argument relies in part on the presuppositions that terrorists are now targeting the United States and that the most appropriate response is to defeat them. (Everybody knows what they mean by terrorism, of course, even though none of the usual definitions succeeds in capturing that meaning – basically, the use or threat of violence in pursuit of political objectives by a ‘non state actor’ we don’t like.) If that were the case, then it still remains debatable whether ‘Washington's close relationship with Jerusalem [sic!]’ hinders or promotes the defeat of the terrorists. It is certainly arguable that the US gets good value from Israel even if only by sharing in Israel’s decades of experience in fighting terrorists. As I wrote recently, those who can afford the best prefer Israeli antiterrorism experts for their own security. It is also worth pointing out that terrorism is not really a strategic threat either to the US or to Israel. Terrorist incidents kill about as many people as bee stings or lightning strikes. Furthermore, in the absence of a communist threat, a terrorist threat has great appeal to the US and Israeli governments, as it does to the Indonesian, Russian, Turkish…governments, for its utility in keeping citizens frightened and compliant. So it doesn’t go without saying that the US wants to defeat the terrorists. If it were really the case that US support for Israel makes it harder, perhaps that’s deliberate. If so, it would certainly not make Israel a strategic liability.
I think they are right that US support for Israel ‘undermines America's standing with important allies around the world’, but this is a small part of a much bigger picture. The US has quite explicitly articulated its aim to achieve ‘full spectrum dominance’, which probably doesn’t endear it either to its allies or its enemies. The transparent object of the occupation of Iraq – to control the flow of energy to its economic rivals, Europe, Japan, and China – probably is not such a good look. Clearly, the US government is not out to win any popularity contests. So I am inclined to doubt that this is widely regarded as a strategic liability among those who matter, either.
One thing that the close relation does do is provide an additional pretext for violence against US targets. Curiously, Walt and Mearsheimer only mention this in passing.
Yet despite the lobby's efforts, a considerable number of Americans -- almost 40 percent -- recognize that U.S. support for Israel is one of the main causes of anti-Americanism around the world. Among elites, the number is substantially higher…In a 2006 survey of international relations scholars in the United States, 66 percent of the respondents said that they agreed with the statement "the Israel lobby has too much influence over U.S. foreign policy." While the American people are generally sympathetic to Israel, many of them are critical of particular Israeli policies and would be willing to withhold American aid if Israel's actions are seen to be contrary to U.S. interests.
Doubtless these surveys are footnoted, and the assertion that ‘many’ Americans would withhold aid quantified, in the book. Assuming that the surveys are credible, all it shows is that the lobby’s efforts are not as effective as they might hope. Nor is it clear that the views of the American public are evidence of the factuality of what they believe. After all, in a Harris Poll conducted in mid July last year, 50% thought Iraq had possessed WMD at the time of the invasion in 2003 and 64% thought Saddam had ties to al Qa’ida. It’s worth pointing out that the authors assert that Americans ‘recognise’ support for Israel as a cause of anti Americanism. Recognise is what is known as a ‘factive verb’ – it presupposes the truth of whatever is in the following that clause. They are using a rhetorical trick to elicit confidence in their assertions. In any event, while these numbers are impressive, they still only represent a minority position. Little could be more obvious than that US foreign policy is not sensitive to public opinion as expressed in opinion polls.
As for the international relations scholars, if they reason as rigorously as Walt and Mearsheimer, their views are hardly relevant. In any case, the wording of the question, where too much demands a value judgement on the respondent’s part, is not the kind of question a scholar can answer in that capacity. The question as worded can only elicit their personal opinion, not their scholarly assessment.
The ‘moral’ case also has much more to recommend it than Mearsheimer and Walt credit it with. Certainly many hold moral principles that would be scandalised by ‘Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories’, not to mention those with Israeli citizenship and in the diaspora. But that is not the position they said they were arguing against. The assertion is that the ‘powerful moral case for providing Israel with unqualified support’ is ‘because it is the only country in the region that "shares our values."’ Israel’s actions in the occupied territories may not meet the professors’ high moral standards, but they demonstrably evidence shared values. Like Israel, the US is not above acquiring territory by force of arms. The US has occupied and annexed its colonies in Puerto Rico, Guam, and Samoa for over a century, and there are others, like Hawai’i, whose status some may deem more ambiguous. The US and Israel are cast in the same mold when it comes to justifying torture – but only for ‘ticking bombs’, of course, besieging populous cities like Falluja, use of airpower and ‘intelligent’ weapons to target individuals in populated areas, collective punishment… Birds of a feather, if you asked me.
It’s hard to take authors seriously when they fail to engage the argument they state, instead setting up a straw man to knock over. But some of Mearsheimer and Walt’s explicit assumptions also suggest that they haven’t really though things through with much care. For example,
We are not challenging Israel's right to exist or questioning the legitimacy of the Jewish state. There are those who maintain that Israel should never have been created, or who want to see Israel transformed from a Jewish state into a bi-national democracy. We do not. On the contrary, we believe the history of the Jewish people and the norm of national self-determination provide ample justification for a Jewish state.
No doubt in later chapters they elucidate the grounds on which they base this curious belief that millennia of oppression in Europe and the right to self determination somehow justify the permanent dispossession of millions of Palestinians, denial of their right to self determination, and the establishment of an exclusivist, militarised ethnocracy. It’s interesting that they don’t challenge ‘Israel’s right to exist’. As international relations professors, they would be aware that Israel is the only state to claim this right. Certainly, states like Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and finally Serbia and Montenegro, didn’t enjoy such a right, nor did the USSR, South Vietnam, and others. But what’s significant here is that they are admitting that their argument proceeds from a particular, tendentious position on ‘the legitimacy of the Jewish state’ that itself rests on contentious assumptions about rights, history, etc.
To underscore their commitment to the welfare of the Jewish state, they continue,
We think the United States should stand willing to come to Israel's assistance if its survival were in jeopardy. And though our primary focus is on the Israel lobby's negative impact on U.S. foreign policy, we are also convinced that its influence has become harmful to Israel as well. In our view, both effects are regrettable.
If anyone believed that the Israel lobby was as influential as Walt and Mearsheimer assert, they might think their protestation of concern for Israel’s interests, and their failure to challenge its right to exist or question its legitimacy, were evidence of the Lobby’s ubiquitous pressure!
US foreign policy has displayed remarkable consistency over the past century and a half or so, going back to at least the Mexican War, which ended with the annexation of about half of Mexico’s territory, although you could with justice trace a consistently proprietary attitude to any area where the US asserted ‘vital national interests’ back to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. The Middle East is certainly no exception. Those who determine US foreign policy decided it was advantageous to their control over the region’s energy supplies for a heavily armed and belligerent client state to perch on its western edge. It’s not as if there was a great deal of choice after the fall of their favourite shah in 1979. Zionism’s founding father, Theodore Herzl, envisaged just such a role – ‘a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism’. Israel had groomed itself for it from its inception and had proven itself capable of defeating uppity Arabs.
For all the opprobrium Mearsheimer and Walt have copped for raising the lobby as a topic for discussion, they are not very critical in the excerpted chapter.
…The Israel lobby is not a cabal or conspiracy or anything of the sort. It is engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie. Pro-Israel groups in the United States are engaged in the same enterprise as other interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the AARP, or professional associations like the American Petroleum Institute, all of which also work hard to influence congressional legislation and presidential priorities, and which, for the most part, operate in the open.
With a few exceptions, to be discussed in subsequent chapters, the lobby's actions are thoroughly American and legitimate.
We do not believe the lobby is all-powerful, or that it controls important institutions in the United States.
So the fearsome Lobby is firmly in the tradition of good old American (US slang for ‘good’) interest group politics. They operate in the open and both their existence and their actions are as legitimate as the pensioners’ lobby (American Association of Retired People – AARP). Under the circumstances, it seems that what irks them is that they don’t agree with certain aspects of US foreign policy and they prefer to blame the lobby rather than the government.
Considering what we know about the US’s history of military adventures in pursuit of the economic and strategic interests of US capital, how different would US foreign policy be if the Israel lobby absolutely determined it? Some say, the US would have invaded Iran before Iraq. US taxpayers would spend even more supporting the Israeli military. The pace of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians might accelerate. On the other hand, what if the lobby had no influence at all? At best, Israel might receive less aid. The gradual transfer of Palestinians might proceed with a little less overt brutality. But I don’t think it is in doubt that US bombs and troops would still be deployed to ensure US control of crucial energy supplies. It is inconceivable that a Palestinian state in all or any part of the West Bank and Gaza could ever have been economically and politically viable anyway. Or that the US would countenance anything threatening Israel’s ‘Jewish character’.
What is in no doubt whatsoever is that the elites who make and influence US foreign policy act on behalf of the ruling class. The ordinary people who make everything and do everything are hardly likely to benefit whether it is US capital or Israeli capital, which are closely integrated anyway, that calls the shots. We only factor into their machinations insofar as our labour is the source of their profits and we need to be kept docile. And in this respect, the myth of a band of plucky Jews, surrounded by hordes of implacable Islamofascists brandishing scimitars, and braving a harsh environment to make the desert bloom, is very serviceable to both. This myth is central to the narrative about terrorists, motivated by an irrational hatred of everything Western and everything good rather than by what US foreign policy has done to them, besieging ‘us’ on all sides. Now that they can’t frighten us with the Communists anymore, the terrorists will have to do. And they have proven an excellent substitute, allowing the US government (not to mention the British and Australian governments) to carry out attacks on its own workers that might provoke resistance if it were not all done to protect them. The hysterical rantings about anti-Semitism have so far succeeded in marginalising the kind of serious scrutiny of Israel that could lead people to question the whole terrorism discourse that serves as such an effective instrument of social control.
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy probably does a competent job of exposing the links among the various organisations comprising the lobby and their modus operandi. But all in all, the kind of reasoning displayed in the excerpts offers little incentive to rush out and read the rest of the book. The real question that arises is whether a snarling Doberman straining at the leash still meets the needs of US capital, or ever did. What Walt and Mearsheimer seem to show above all is that a rift is opening between factions of the warring brothers over this question.

Four stars for philanthropy

Last week, the American Jewish Committee’s Weekly update #279 (not posted on the website yet, but probably will be here soon) boasted,

AJC has moved up significantly on the Chronicle of Philanthropy annual ranking of the top 400 non-profit organizations in the U.S. (out of a total of over 900,000 registered groups). On the just-released 2007 list AJC is 313, up from 355, with a 35.7 percent increase in revenue over the previous year. This achievement, in addition to earning Charity Navigator's highest 4-star rating, continues to underscore AJC's strength and fiscal responsibility.

Well might you wonder how an organisation that devotes its resources to publishing drivel like Israel’s quest for peace (see my critique) can qualify as a charity at all, much less a highly rated one. Among their other recent philanthropic efforts was Alvin H Rosenfeld’s immortal pamphlet, ‘"Progressive" Jewish thought and the new anti-Semitism’ (see this), demanding sanctions against Iran (see here) while excoriating the campaign for a boycott of Israel (‘The Ideological Foundations of the Boycott Campaign Against Israel’, see here), and publishing mendacious full page newspaper advertisements. What better use could any well meaning donor hope to see their money put to than honouring Colombian President Alvaro Uribe with its Light unto the Nations Award?

At least they’ve been extremely generous in providing me with a constant stream of material.

Monday 5 November 2007

No successor of Rabin

Yesterday, I received Adam Keller’s translation of an op ed piece in last Thursday’s Israel HaYomIsrael today’. Moriah Shlomot, former Secretary General of Peace Now, writes,

Year after year, I return to the Rabin Square with devotion and determination. On years of near-despair as on better years, I feel obliged to share in the collective memory. This is the annual moment when the Peace Camp stands up to be counted, and in my view those who dig into details miss the main point.

That would doubtless be the peace camp as manifest in Peace Now, the organisation that spawned Amir Peretz, who served as Defense Minister during last year’s merciless bombing of Lebanon. The very Peace Now whose incumbent Secretary General, Yariv Oppenheimer, was recently observed harassing Palestinians at a Jordan Valley checkpoint and explained that among his three reasons for participating in the very occupation he purports to oppose,

The second reason derives from the will to maintain the democratic character of this country. As a citizen, it is my right to protest and act against decisions made on political and military levels. As a soldier, I must fulfill my duty and cannot pick and choose operations I wish to undertake. (Except for obviously illegal acts, for example the killing of innocents, undue violent behavior, humiliation, torture).

Not to mention ‘obviously illegal acts’ like occupying territory acquired by force of arms and restricting the movement of the occupied population.

This year, Shlomot hesitates, because

…Defence Minister Ehud Barak is due to speak at this year’s Rabin Memorial Rally. This is good enough a reason to doubt and hesitate, to think twice about attending. Barak is the worst of the leaders staffing the government ministries and taking charge of the people’s hopes.

Barak is no successor of Rabin - because Oslo, with all its faults and deficiencies, was based on mutual confidence. Barak has severely damaged the confidence between us and the Palestinians, as well as between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.

The beatification of Rabin as some kind of peacemaker is naïve in the extreme. Oslo had nothing to do with confidence. It was always a transparent stratagem to enlist a Palestinian elite in sharing the responsibility for social control and other administrative tasks in the occupied territories. I appreciate that honeyed phraseology confected with ‘peace’, ‘negotiations’, and ‘diplomacy’ can win the heart of any liberal, even while the confectioner’s boot is planted squarely on the neck of some untermensch.

The confidence she writes of exists only in the imagination of people who believe that dividing a Palestinian state, comprising 22% of historical Palestine in two separate enclaves, from a Jewish state in the other 78%, is the best approach to reconciling the two peoples. The principal difference between Rabin’s approach and Barak’s is the proportion of land they wanted to keep for themselves and the number of enclaves to divide the Palestinian state into.

What interested me about this paragraph was Shlomot’s apparent wish to distinguish ‘the Palestinians’ and ‘Arabs inside Israel’. As Jonathan Cook has pointed out, there is a long tradition of dividing people who identify as Palestinians into three groups: the refugees, ‘the Israeli Arabs’, and ‘the Palestinians’, that is, the subjects of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied territories. The division is real. Under the Oslo regime, only ‘the Palestinians’, as defined, are to be represented in any interaction with the Israeli state. With the dissolution of the PLO into the PA, the refugees lost any semblance of representation. And the Israeli Arabs are of course amply represented by their state – the Jewish state. They are no less occupied than their relatives in the territories, but it usually impacts less dramatically on their quotidian existence. So the only Palestinians Israel would have to negotiate with were the ones they could reduce to desperation by checkpoints, house demolitions, extrajudicial executions, etc.

At the same time, the distinction aims to deprive Palestinians of ‘peoplehood’ or ‘nationhood’. One of the populations achieved some recognition as a separate people precisely when Oslo saddled them with the PA. As Golda Meir famously quipped,

There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.

Sunday Times, 1969-06-15; The Washington Post, 1969-06-16

Presumably, had there been no ‘Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people’, it would be ok to take their land. It’s another one of those bizarre arguments that the Hasbara establishment has cultivated for decades and has gained the status of common sense. Like the argument that the refugees have no right to return because they are alleged to have left of their own accord. As if that deprived them of their right. What gives the refugees the right to return to their homes in ‘Israel proper’ is not that they were forced and stampeded out at gunpoint, although they were, it’s that they come from there. The reason I oppose the appropriation of any part of Palestine is not that the Palestinians did or did not conceive of themselves as a national group or a people at some point in time. Nor is it that their ancestors have been living in Palestine for hundreds, if not thousands of years, although they have. It’s that they were living there when the Zionist movement decided that it wanted their land to colonise with European Jews. The displacement of people from their homes is a very severe attack. All the more so when it is permanent, and especially when the motivation is the convenience of a settler population intent on ethnic cleansing.

It’s not for nothing that ‘The International Community’ has belatedly recognised ethnic cleansing as a crime against humanity. Ilan Pappe has demonstrated conclusively that the Jewish majority in part of Palestine that made the formation of the state of Israel a possibility was achieved through a quite deliberate and orchestrated campaign of precisely what is today known as ethnic cleansing.

Neither Israel, constituted as an ethnocracy, nor The International Community, with its well earned Holocaust guilt, is ever likely to take on the ramifications of the historic crime that gave rise to Israel. But I harbour some hope that at least the peace camp can someday jettison these downright puerile arguments that the Palestinians somehow deserved their dispossession.

[Hat tip to Sol Salbe.]