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Left roots need to make common cause with libertarian right on the issue

Posted: 24 Apr 2010 09:33 AM PDT

Republican Ron  Paul gave a great speech on the House floor about special interests pushing us to war in Iran. Last year at J Street, leftleaning Dem congressman Bob Filner said the same thing: “On the issue of Israel, people are taking positions that could lead to war on the basis of…’Am I going to get a campaign contribution?’…

The dangerous thing here is that people are making decisions– you could have nuclear war in this whole world, and they’re making it on narrow political, parochial grounds.” Ron Paul:

We hear war advocates today on the Floor scare-mongering about reports that in one year Iran will have missiles that can hit the United States. Where have we heard this bombast before? Anyone remember the claims that Iraqi drones were going to fly over the United States and attack us?

These “drones” ended up being pure propaganda – the UN chief weapons inspector concluded in 2004 that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had ever developed unpiloted drones for use on enemy targets. Of course by then the propagandists had gotten their war so the truth did not matter much.

We hear war advocates on the floor today arguing that we cannot afford to sit around and wait for Iran to detonate a nuclear weapon. Where have we heard this before? Anyone remember then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s oft-repeated quip about Iraq, that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to appear as a mushroom cloud?

We need to see all this for what it is: Propaganda to speed us to war against Iran for the benefit of special interests. 

Let us remember a few important things. Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has never been found in violation of that treaty. Iran is not capable of enriching uranium to the necessary level to manufacture nuclear weapons.

According to the entire US Intelligence Community, Iran is not currently working on a nuclear weapons program. These are facts, and to point them out does not make one a supporter or fan of the Iranian regime. Those pushing war on Iran will ignore or distort these facts to serve their agenda, though, so it is important and necessary to point them out.

Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time.

 Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” – to change the regime – war became the only remaining regime-change option. 

This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran.

2 visiting Israeli crusaders lay the problem at the feet of American Jews

Posted: 24 Apr 2010 07:17 AM PDT

I had an inspiring day in New York yesterday, I went to see two leaders of the left in Israel. The message was in the end the same: the oppression is over there, but the political problem is the Israel lobby, recalcitrant Jewish attitudes in the U.S., now what are you going to do about that?

The first speaker was Hagai El-Ad, the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. He was at the New Israel Fund on 7th Avenue. As El-Ad sat waiting for the small event to begin (internet journalists), he checked a text on what had taken place during the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration against Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem that day.

El-Ad had come to the U.S. to try to convey to Americans the civil crisis inside Israel, from ramped-up threats on Palestinian liberty to the crackdown on groups that advocate for them. ACRI is among the Israeli NGOs that have been implicitly threatened by the Netanyahu government for taking foreign funds as they allegedly seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. ACRI won’t stop its work. The booklet he passed out has many photographs of Palestinians in it, including amid the rubble of their homes.

You faced a crisis of civil rights in your country in the wake of the Iraq war but at least you had a constitution, El-Ad said, Israel doesn’t. “Playing this game of shaking the remaining democratic foundations is much much more dangerous” in Israel.

But he was most moving on the issue of Palestinian freedom. Recently he was arrested during the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration. A Palestinian friend made a “loving remark” to him. “’What you’re facing now in the intensified clapdown, that more and more Jews are facing is something that many Palestinian Israelis have faced for many years.’

It’s agonizing to agree with, but I think it’s very true. Even under thse circumstances, we don’t forget the privileges we have, that I have as a Jewish citizen of Israel. And to think very clearly about the responsility that puts on our shoulders.”

I was pleased to hear this statement in a room of privileged Jews in the U.S.

Our community is incredibly powerful, yet we cultivate a consciousness of isolation and persecution that rationalizes the white-knuckled guardian role of the Israel lobby. The U.S. Jewish community has enormous influence over Israel, El-Ad said, it can change the conversation there. But he has trouble breaking through here.

“Where do [Ameircan Jews] channel their support?” he said by way of challenge. “I myself and many others, it’s almost painful to be aware of often how difficult it is to have an open discussion about these issues in this country. These conversations can happen in an opener way in Israel than the United States and that is not just disappointing, it’s damaging.”

Further challenge: the Jewish community’s responsibility is “to get involved, to become more informed about what is happening, and to speak out.” It is urgent, he said, because Israel is headed in such a bad direction. “If you consider yourself friends then this is the time to speak out, time to get involved in a meaningful way.”

I pressed El-Ad to say who has disappointed him. He was a cool Israeli. Wouldn’t say.

Last night a more leftwing crowd gathered in the basement of the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, and Michael Ratner introduced the great Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. I’d never heard Halper speak before, never seen him; and all I can say is that I had missed one of the great moral performances of our time, and when I left the church I understood why this man has been nominated for the Nobel Prize.

A lifetime commitment in the face of opposition from his own society, to fight the occupation and build connections between Jews and Palestinians as a form of “political resistance,” toward the day that Jews and Palestinians must build a society together—Halper is the definition of prophetic inspiration.

To his points. The occupation is stronger than ever, and it is an occupation because Israel wants the land and feels that it can get away with taking more and more. Security has nothing to do with a wall that goes deep into Palestine, with settlement blocs that take up huge portions of the West Bank. I am supposed to know this stuff; but I was stunned to consider how enveloping are the easternmost Jewish colonies all through the Jordan Valley.

The Israelis have reduced the Palestinian population to four cantons, two in the northern West Bank, one in the southern West Bank and Jerusalem, and one in Gaza. As many as 30,000 houses have been demolished in the occupied territories, 7000 in Gaza last year. Halper’s group rebuilds houses; it has rebuilt 1600 over many years. And 2 million Palestinian fruit and olive trees have been destroyed inside the occupation.

The two most hideous political structures of the 1980s, the Berlin wall and South African apartheid, are today combined in Palestine; and the Israeli wall is longer and higher than Berlin’s.

And what do Israel’s leaders plan to do with the 5 million Palestinians? “The liberal model is apartheid.”

Israelis will go along with this because it has been inculcated in them that Palestinians are their permanent enemies and you can’t trust Arabs. And they want to know nothing about the occupation. The far right of course talks about expulsion, and as for Netanyahu, apartheid is too liberal for him too, he seems to envision a kind of reservation. “We can pacify the Palestinians … to a point where they can’t resist,” Halper mindreads the P.M. They’ve succeeded on the West Bank, now they will do so in Gaza.

Israeli expansion comes down to pigginess. It doesn’t matter that the Arab states and the Palestinians accepted the two state solution long ago, the Israelis thought they could get more, so they took more. The critical factor is the United States. I believe Obama gets it, Halper said. General Petraeus’s comments are indicative of that, so is Biden’s statement that the status quo is “unsustainable.” The special relationship is hurting the United States.

“But the buzz in Israel is that Obama will have more trouble with Nancy Pelosi than he will with Netanyahu” if he takes on Israel. Israelis are confident that they have the Congress and that is all they need. 337 signatures in the Hosue and 76 in the Senate, taking Netanyahu’s side against Obama. Halper has visited the Congress many times and congressmen tell them they have little choice.

“Barney Frank said it best. He said, ‘I’m with you 100 percent [presumably on settlements/occupation]. If you bring me the names of 5000 Jews in my district that support you, tomorrow morning I change my vote… If you can’t do that…. I’m not going to commit political suicide for the sake of the Palestinians… “ Because, Halper continued quoting Frank, people in his district don’t care enough about the issue for him to stick his neck out.

I just need to unpack that statement. Let’s be clear that no one in these districts really cares about Palestinian dispossession except Jews, and they are for it overwhelmingly. But Jews are small portions of most congressional districts, though yes they are a big factor in Frank’s district (and my birthplace), Brookline.

Why is it political suicide? Jews are simply too important on these issues–in financial contributions, in media/opinion, in activism, to go against them. This is very much like what Rep. Bob Filner said last year at J Street when he said that he voted against the lobby in his San Diego district once and lost $250,000 a cycle in his giving.

Most members wouldn’t want to sacrifice that; and most members don’t have anyone who really cares about the issue in their district–and meanwhile, the stakes, as Filner said, are even nuclear war.

Halper left us with hope. BDS (a verboten topic at the New Israel Fund, where Hagai El-Ad spoke) is making a difference, Jimmy Carter made a big difference by getting the word apartheid out there, Walt and Mearsheimer made a difference and so did Israel’s conduct in Lebanon and Gaza.

We are in a slow incline of growing awareness. Israel’s policies are becoming delegitimized in the international community and when it is finally isolated, it will stop its disgraceful behavior. Like other oppressors, it has “feet of clay.” It shouldn’t take another 40 years, he said, but he would not offer predictions. He’s 64 and looks the prophet, with his big beard and barrel chest. I hope he sees the day.

Goldstone will attend grandson’s bar mitzvah

Posted: 24 Apr 2010 06:27 AM PDT

Many of you have already heard this news out of South Africa. Presumably the international outrage over this disgrace had some effect. Would that it might lead people to read the Goldstone report:

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is pleased to announce that, following consultation between all the parties involved, an agreement has been reached confirming Judge Richard Goldstone attending his grandson’s forthcoming bar mitzvah ceremony.

It was agreed that a meeting hosted by the SA Zionist Federation would take place between Judge Goldstone and leadership of the SA Zionist Federation and other Jewish Communal representatives to discuss the Jewish community’s response to the report of the Commission chaired by Judge Goldstone last year and for Judge Goldstone to give his perspectives on the issue. 

It was further confirmed that Judge Goldstone would attend his grandson’s barmitzvah and that there would be no protests associated with the barmitzvah. 

The SAJBD respectfully requests, in light of the agreement reached, that all parties immediately desist all public activities on this matter so that the young man’s barmitzvah celebration can be returned to the privacy and dignity that it deserves. 

Judge Goldstone said that “I am delighted that I will attend the barmitzvah of my grandson.”

Brandeis students prepare to protest Michael Oren commencement speech

Posted: 23 Apr 2010 07:42 PM PDT

Recently, I was alerted by my Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, that Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren would be our keynote commencement speaker. Needless to say, I was disappointed, and not just because there were better choices even among the other honorary degree recipients (Paul Simon and Paul Farmer come to mind).

What this selection indicates is that Brandeis University, a institution which takes ‘social justice’ as one of its founding credos, is willing to send its new graduates into the world with the words of a rogue state apologist, a defender of (among other things) the war crimes and human rights abuses of the war on Gaza. Moreover, regardless of one’s political beliefs one can easily see that having such a polarizing speaker for commencement is divisive, exclusionary, and just plain stupid.

Brandeis University has a strange relationship with Israel. As a historically Jewish university with deep, abiding ties to the Jewish community, the campus is overwhelmingly of a Zionist bent. However, this tends to overshadow and exclude other positions on the issue. Problematically, it is assumed that all Jews support Israeli policy, all the time, and Brandeis’s actions over the past few years indicate that it is devoted to this idea of community homogenity:

  • In 2006, a Palestinian art exhibit was initially given approval, then suddenly taken down; President Reinharz’s response to criticism of this crackdown on speech was that the university needed “to move on.”
  • In 2007, former President Carter’s address to students was nearly canceled because of his calls for an end to apartheid in the occupied territories. While he was allowed to speak, President Reinharz refused to meet with him, and after the speech infamous hasbara-monger Alan Dershowitz came on stage to belittle and defame Carter.
  • In fall 2009, Justice Richard Goldstone chose Brandeis as the first place to present his views on the historic Goldstone Report. The University chose to repay him for this honor by forcing him to share the stage with bullying, porn-mustachioed Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador who spent his time proclaiming his ignorance of international law and making wild, derailing claims about Palestinians in order to justify the massacre of thousands of Gazan civilians.

I was involved in organizing around the last incident, and it taught me the total intransigence of our university administration on any topic surrounding Israel. Along with several students, I presented our grievances to the event’s sponsor, the Brandeis Ethics Center, pointing out that Gold’s presence belittled the seriousness of the report, and made the issue of war crimes a matter of armchair debate.

The format of the debate forced Goldstone into the role of the ‘anti-Israel’ position, when in fact he was a third party trying to determine the facts in the context of international law. We humbly requested that Gold not be invited, or that they also include a Palestinian speaker who could speak to her community’s concerns. This was summarily rejected.

At the event itself, several students (including myself) silently stood up during Gold’s speech, wearing sheets of paper with the names of Gazan and Israeli citizens killed in the conflict. The idea was to ask the forum participants to face the reality of what they were discussing, to point out that the outcome of this discussion would be measured in real lives, not political points.

Gold vociferously denounced us from the stage, whining that his freedom of speech (as the representative of a nuclear state) was threatened by a dozen silent teenagers. Although none of the protestors were arrested, several were physically assaulted by members of the crowd: they were kicked, had their hair pulled, and had chairs thrust into the backs of their knees.

Michael Oren’s selection as commencement speaker is clearly designed to send a message: at a unique turning point in U.S.-Israeli relations, and when strong feelings on this issue have already been voiced on campus, our university administration wants everyone to know that is has no qualms about marginalizing dissenting opinions by bringing a partisan, divisive speaker to commencement. My good friend Mariel Gruszko (a graduating senior) expresses this aptly:

“For some Jews, Oren is a model of statesmanship. For others, he represents a paranoid style in Israeli politics. For most outside the Jewish community, Oren is a figure of little note. For Palestinians, he is the apologist and gatekeeper for a government that has denied them basic rights and humanitarian assistance and made them vulnerable to deportation. Oren is a painful reminder of the divisions we face as a community.

“We deserve better than this. Commencement should be a time to celebrate as we move onto the next phase of our lives, not a time for recriminations and ostracizations. Commencement speakers traditionally give graduating students boring but sage advice on how to conduct oneself in the world. But many of us would rather not take advice from Oren. Many more of us are confused about how Oren fits into Brandeis’ commitment to social justice.”

Despite the heat we dissenters are already getting from those who would enforce the status quo, don’t imagine that Brandeis students will take this lying down. We are organizing to protest this decision. Details on how this campaign is going and how you can help will be forthcoming.

Jonathan Sussman is a junior at Brandeis majoring in English Literature and History of Ideas. He is active in Students for a Democratic Society, Students for Justice in Palestine, Brandeis Humanists and Feminist Majority Leadership

See: www.mondoweiss.net

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