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Archive for April, 2012

Iran, Israel and the Holocaust–An Analysis (8/8/2010) by Lawrence Davidson

On August 5, 2010 Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, citing a Fars (Iran) news service story, reported that a non-governmental organization in Iran had “launched a Website with cartoons on the Holocaust aimed at undermining the historic dimensions of the mass murder of Jews.” Israelis and Zionists reacted angrily to this announcement. Spokesmen at Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum stated that the website was “yet the latest salvo emanating from Iran that denies the facts of the Holocaust and attempts to influence those who are ignorant of history.” The Haaretz report also noted, somewhat resentfully, that “since the 1979 Islamic revolution , Iran has not acknowledged Israel as a sovereign state and even refrained from using the name Israel, instead referring to the Jewish state as the “’Zionist regime.’”

This is obviously a hot button issue and so I will begin my examination of this report by stating that the Holocaust is a proven factual event and the number of six million Jewish victims killed is roughly accurate. Histories based on detailed research on this subject include the early classic study by Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, first published in 1961 and followed later by his Sources of Holocaust Research (2001). Other recent works include David Engel’s The Holocaust: The Third Reich and the Jews (1999) and S. Hochstadt, Sources of the Holocaust– Documents in History (2004). There are many other works as well.

 

Iran’s academics are no fools. Many of them have been trained in Western universities, but even those who have been trained elsewhere or locally are well read, multilingual, and every bit as intelligent as scholars you will find in the West. Thus, my feeling is that most Iranian historians and others familiar with the research on the Holocaust know the truth of the matter. Indeed, when I was in Iran in 2005 I did not find any academics raising questions about the reality and extent of the Holocaust. However, five years later we are witness to regular attacks coming from Iran on the traditional interpretation of the Holocaust. So what is going on here? Is it just that the present Iranian leaders are a bunch of anti-Semites as the Zionists would have us believe? Or is there something else behind this questioning of a seminal tragedy?

Understanding the Holocaust As a Western Event

 

For the West, the most disastrous event of the last century was the Holocaust. Yet, as horrible as the Holocaust was, it also was mainly a Western affair. With some justification one might argue that the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust are universal, but that does not negate the fact that Westerners did this to themselves. Thus, there is no reason why the West’s tragedy has to be the tragedy of all other peoples. This is an important fact and it helps explain why, if one goes to the Arab world today and asks people what is the greatest disaster of the 20th century, you are not going to get the Holocaust as the most common answer. Rather, from a good number of Arabs the answer will be the Nakba– the massive dispossession of the Palestinian people by Zionist invaders. Unfortunately, since 1948 an added complication has crept into this equation. Because of the attitude taken by the leaders of Israel and their Zionist supporters, the two disasters, the Holocaust and the Nakba, have become inextricably intertwined.

Despite the fact that modern Zionism predates the Holocaust by half a century, that disaster has been consistently used by the Zionists to justify the need for the Israeli state. Therefore, the notion that Israel stands as a defense against a new Holocaust is present in much of the propaganda that makes the West’s Zionist lobbies so powerful. In this storyline, the Palestinians who resist Israeli aggression are simply reduced to latter day Nazis. This claim was most recently made explicit by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, in his September 25, 2009 speech before the United Nations General Assembly. In that speech Netanyahu compared Hamas to the Nazis and the firing of Qassam rockets with the London Blitz during World War II. As a corollary to this stance, any criticism of Israeli behavior is said to weaken the defenses against a new genocide of the Jews and is therefore, ipso facto, an expression of anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, even if you believe that Israel is a necessary retreat for threatened Jewry, the use of the Holocaust as a justification for Israel and its policies is a grave strategic mistake. For by underpinning its continued existence on preventing a second Holocaust, the defenders of Israel invite some of their adversaries to call into doubt the first Holocaust. As we have seen, these opponents, now led by Ahmadinejad of Iran, assert that the Zionists have, at best, exaggerated the victimhood of the Jews during World War II, or that they might be just making it all up to justify stealing Palestine. Thus, the website that has caused all the uproar is, according to Haaretz, “dedicated to those [Palestinians] who have been killed under the pretext of the Holocaust.” In short, if you can establish doubt about your enemy’s core argument you have struck that enemy a serious blow.

 

Who is the Target Audience?

 

In this effort it is unlikely that the Iranian president or those behind the recent website are simply poking their fingers into the proverbial Western eye. The populations to whom they are really talking do not live in the West. They live in the non-Western world and more specifically the Muslim lands. Most of this audience have no more knowledge of modern European history than their Western counterparts have of Arab or Muslim history. Except, of course, that educated non-Westerners can readily identify the West with the history of modern imperialism. For many of them that is local history–the kind that stays in the collective memory for generations. So while the average citizen of the Muslim lands probably knows little about the reality of the Holocaust, they are likely to know a lot about Israel as a surviving symbol of their immediate ancestors imperialist experience. Under the circumstances, convincing them that the Holocaust is a Western ploy to justify an imperialist crime is not such a difficult task. And, that is just what Iran’s anti-Holocaust rhetoric is all about.

An End Result

Before righteous indignation sets in over this deception, keep in mind that the Zionist movement has just as easily convinced most Israeli and Zionist Jews of the correctness of Nakba denial. That is, that the Nakba never really happened and that the history of the founding of Israel was nothing other than the heroic struggle of a people to survive.

 

The website in question seems to have been discontinued, perhaps because it was unauthorized by the government. But its brief existence should teach us a lesson. The West as well as the East is indeed full of “those who are ignorant of history.” This does not mean, however, that they have no sense of any history at all. Rather, it means that the history they believe in is often contrived and distorted. This points the way to the lesson to be learned– what motivates us, and this includes our leaders, is not what is true, but rather what we think is true. Sometimes the two might be close enough that when we act we do so in a relatively effective way. But more often than not the two exist at some distance from each other, and it is then that we often walk off a cliff.

 

I am not sure how one can correct this situation. But it is an enormous problem in a world were there are no longer any sanctuaries. Where, for us Americans, the oceans no longer protect us.

David Horowitz and the Art of Slander — An Analysis (29 April 2012)
 

Part I – Slander

On 24 April 2012 the New York Times (NYT) lent its editorial page to the propaganda of right- wing Zionist David Horowitz, thereby taking the “newspaper of record” down into the gutter for only the price of a quarter-page advertisement. The ad , which was placed “as a public service” by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, told the following libelous story:?

“The Holocaust began with boycotts of Jewish stores and ended with death camps. The calls for a new Holocaust can be heard throughout the Middle East and Europe as well. In the wake of the murders of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse, it is time for the supporters of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel movement (BDS) to ask themselves what they did to contribute to the atmosphere of hate that spawned these and other murders of Jews.”?

What is wrong with this story??

1. The analogy of BDS with “boycotts of Jewish stores” is (no doubt purposely) misleading. The Boycott movement is directed against Israel as a racist state and the economic and social agents (Jewish and non-Jewish) who support it. If you want a proper analogy to BDS, it is the effort by Jewish and other groups before and during World War II to organize boycotts of Nazi Germany. The notion that the BDS boycotts lead to death camps is fantasy. Whatever the crazy logic of the Nazis on the one hand and David Horowitz on the other, the BDS movement is an effort to prevent persecution and not to promote it.?

2. The notion that the BDS movement either “calls for a new Holocaust” or is associated with those supposedly doing so, is nonsense. In reality it is the right-wing Israeli fanatics who are not only calling for, but actually carrying out their own version of a holocaust against the Palestinians. In the place of concentration camps they have created ghettos and Bantustans. In place of gas chambers they have promoted homelessness, cultural genocide and periodic pogroms. Indeed, the same week Mr. Horowitz placed his ad, Israel launched 57 military raids into Palestinian territory resulting in multiple injuries and death, destroyed at least 13 Palestinian shelters while beginning construction on 20 illegal settler houses. Yet the perpetrators of these crimes persist in portraying themselves as victims because once, under completely different historical circumstances, their ancestors were victims. But that was in the past. In the present the Zionists are the culprits and BDS seeks to bring out this tragic and ironic fact.?

3. It is a gross misrepresentation to accuse those supporting BDS of contributing to “the atmosphere of hate that spawned…murder of Jews.” The BDS campaign has nothing to do with this atmosphere, but the actions of the Israeli leadership has everything to do with it. With the Zionist persecution of the Palestinians on-going one needs no boycott movement to explain the upswing of anger. Some may unfortunately fail to make the proper distinction between political Zionists and Jews in general, just like Horowitz and his ilk fail to make the distinction between terrorists and Palestinians in general. Yet, if the Israeli leaders and their supporters want to know where this anger is coming from, they need look no further than their own behavior.?

However, they refuse to look. Instead they attempt to confuse matters and shift the blame from fanatic Zionist settlers and racist Israeli politicians onto those who would publicly expose the viciousness of Israeli policies. That is the aim of the Horowitz ad in the New York Times and it pursues it in very specific ad hominem fashion. When in November 1938 the Nazis launched the pogroms which became known as Kristallnacht, they painted Jewish stars on the sites to be attacked. In a similar way Horowitz seeks to identify and label those he wishes to be “publically shamed and condemned.” What does that mean? Should they lose their jobs just like the Jews who were forced from their occupations by the Nazis? Should they be segregated out and impoverished like Palestinians? Perhaps Mr Horowitz would applaud physical attacks? Just how Nazi-like does he wish the situation to get??

Part II – The New York Times 

William Thomson of the University of Michigan, one of fourteen academics slandered by the Horowitz advertisement, notes that “groups and individuals will resort to unfounded character assassination and ad hominem attacks when reasoned discussion is beyond their abilities.” However, the country’s major national newspaper is not suppose to be an accomplice in such attacks. Yet, that is the case.?

Ali Abunimah has pointed out that the New York Times has “advertising acceptability guidelines” which require advertisements to “comply with its (the NYT’s) standards of decency and dignity” and not be “misleading, inaccurate or fraudulent.” Horowitz’s offering is blatantly all of this. Yet there it was, in the April 24th edition of the “paper of record.” Of course Horowitz’s propaganda was placed on the editorial page and not identified as an ad. What are we to make of this? It seems clear that the editors actually believe that the piece passes the their standards of acceptability. But is the NYT also telling us that this libel is an acceptable editorial? The entire affair calls into question (not for the first time) the judgment of the people who run this famous newspaper.?

Paper IV – Conclusion?

David Horowitz probably wrote this propaganda piece not only to shift blame, but also to scare people. To frighten those named and scare off others from getting involved in the BDS movement. Yet he may well have overstepped and made himself the subject of critical attention rather than those he rails against. That is what happens when your message reflects a viewpoint that is ideologically driven and fanatical. Cast this viewpoint in a more normal light and it looks weird and distorted.?

The 19th century English essayist William Hazlitt once remarked that “prejudice is never easy unless it can pass itself off for reason.” That is also what David Horowitz tries to do here. He displays the prejudice of a fanatic and tries to pass it off as reason. Hopefully, when it comes to Israel/Palestine, it is too late for that sort of gambit to work.

Criminalizing the Truth Tellers – An Analysis (5 March 2011) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I

There is no doubt that Julian Assange, the head of the Wikileaks organization, and Bradley Manning, the soldier who allegedly leaked U.S. classified documents, are being singled out and made examples of by the Obama administration. Their suffering constitutes a message which goes like this: if you inform the public of what the United States government is doing, no matter how illegal and disgusting it might be, our police and intelligence agencies will track you down and turn your life into hell. We will do that to you whether we can prove you committed a crime or not (as in the case of Assange) and we will do it to you even if it runs counter to our own legal codes (as in the case of Manning).

That is why Julian Assange is hold up in a British home under virtual house arrest devoting most of his energy to avoiding extradition to Sweden on what is almost certainly an exaggerated charge of sexual misconduct. The Swedes are cooperating with Washington and if Assange is extradited there he may well end up in the U.S. where, despite having not been charged with a crime, various politicians and talking heads have called for “punishment” of the most draconian sort. And it is not just Assange. Most of those involved with Wikileaks have been reduced to fear and trembling. As Glenn Greenwald puts it, “all of them, to a person, no matter what their nationality is, the thing they fear most is ending up in the hands of American authorities and in the American…justice system.” Greenwald notes the irony of it all. For the truth tellers, the land of the free has become a land of justice denied.

And, speaking of draconian punishment and justice denied, Bradley Manning who, for the past nine months, has been incarcerated in the brig at Marine base in Quantico Virginia, is subject to treatment that is certainly cruel and unusual and thus illegal. He is in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. In the 24th hour he is taken into another room where he can walk about shackled. This is for exercise. If he stops walking at any time during this hour he is immediately returned to his cell. Periodically he is put under constant surveillance because the military says he is potentially suicidal. How did he get that way? He was not suicidal upon his arrest. If in fact he is suicidal now it probably because the U.S. military has subjected him to conditions that drove him in that direction. The Commandant at Quantico has apparently seen fit to turn his brig into a stateside version of one of those infamous black hole detention facilities used by the CIA. The ones in which the Bush gang conducted “torture by proxy.” At Quantico we have decided to torture Bradley Manning ourselves.

Sadly, all of this is being done on Barack Obama’s watch. Yes, the President has defended Gay rights both in military and civilian society, and he has pushed for the employment of people with disabilities. However, when it comes to the federal government’s actions in violation of its own laws, he has refused to interfere or punish. This has produced the most startling juxtapositions. The U.S. government can lie to its people and start a war on that basis that kills millions of people (the ultimate crime according to the Nuremberg trials) and Obama will not investigate and will not prosecute. He will in fact do worse than nothing, as when he put pressure on Spain to cancel its own investigation of crimes against international law under the Bush administration. But, if someone like Bradley Manning defies the American code of secrecy and reveals the truth, President Obama will allow him to be driven half mad and charged with “aiding the enemy” which carries the death penalty. But wait a minute. If your war is based on lies and manipulation and a good deal of official stupidity, it logically follows that the “enemy” is a contrived one. Under those circumstances does the charge of aiding such an enemy make any sense? Well, it makes sense if government secrecy has kept everyone mostly ignorant of the lies and other machinations. All of this makes you wonder how the man in the Oval Office sleeps at night.

Part II

And what about the rest of us? President Obama is not doing these things alone. What is happening to Julian Assange and Bradley Manning requires the cooperation or acquiescence of at least two additional groups.

1) The first group is made up of those employed to carry out the draconian measures now being practiced. You do not have to be familiar with the sociologist Max Weber to figure out how such people can do what they do, largely with impunity. They are mostly bureaucrats and bureaucracies have evolved so as to hide responsibility. President Harry Truman once reacted to this fact by putting a sign in his office that said “the buck stops here.” In other words, buried in organizations with layers of authority, are anonymous millions who can always claim that they are “just following orders.” And, as a number of psychological studies have shown, most of us do in fact “just follow orders” especially if we are enmeshed in a peer group which is doing likewise. To this might be added the fact that there is always a sub-group of order takers who get their adrenalin highs from hurting others (every combat platoon has one or more of these). They are the ubiquitous torturers, abusive prison guards, and lower echelon thugs that find employment with all governments, including Washington. They were particularly active under the Bush regime. To be sure there are laws against acting in a criminal fashion, even as a member of a government department. However, if your illegal actions are officially sanctioned, you are almost certain to get away with it. One will recall that the Bush gang, from top to bottom, is protected from prosecution by President Obama. Problems only develop when someone “blows the whistle” in a very public way. It is interesting that in such cases, more often than not, it is the “whistle blower who gets punished, and not the criminals. Assange and Manning are good examples of this.

2) The second group is the citizenry at large. Particularly in a democracy like the United States, these grossly inhumane acts by government officials are harder to carry on if the public knows about them and strongly objects. So there are two qualifiers here: a) if the public knows and b) if the public objects.

a) Secrecy, along with a less than aggressive media, is the way the American government attempts to assure that its own citizens do not know of its illegal doings. Until the age of the Internet this was relatively easy to do. Most of the privately owned media outlets are either whole heartedly conservative in outlook, and thus share the government’s attitude toward secrecy, or they are scared of the legal complications and bad publicity the government can cause them. There have been times in recent history when some news companies have acted in aggressive ways to assert the public’s right to know (one thinks of the Washington Post at the time of the Watergate scandal) but the present day is not one of them. This is demonstrated by the fact that there has been no concerted effort on the part of the American media to defend Julian Assange, much less Bradley Manning. The combination of a government addicted to secrecy and news businesses that are essentially castrated means that what the public knows is what the government and its media allies tell it. So, unless someone breaches the walls of this system, either by doing something incredibly stupid, such as torturing prisoners at Abu Gharib while being photographed, or something incredibly brave, such as making public thousands of incriminating government documents, the citizenry will know little.

b) However, there is the second factor and that is objecting if you do happen to learn that something is amiss. One cannot assume that such objection comes automatically. Most people are so engrossed in their private lives that they do not pay attention to what the government is doing, particularly what it is doing abroad. They are more than willing to give Washington the benefit of the doubt unless the media aggressively asserts otherwise. So, when Obama says he will not allow for an official investigation of the Bush gang is there a public outcry? No. For that matter, if Washington quietly dropped all the charges against Bradford Manning and Fox News failed to go ballistic over the issue, would their be a public outcry? No. In the absence of an aggressive media to stir the pot and keep the citizenry focused, the default position of the majority is always a local one. In other words, if it does not impact my life, I am not going to pay attention unless you make me do so.

Part III

It may well be that the U.S. government has already achieved its goal when it comes to Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. It has created an atmosphere of fear and trembling so as to reduce the probability that anyone else will soon come along and replicate their behavior. In this effort law and due process mean nothing to either the President, the men and women who carry out his orders, or the citizens who go about their daily affairs with only minimal awareness that these two individuals are being harassed and tortured in their country’s name. It is a sad, but hardly unique, situation. It makes one nostalgic for those days in the 1960s when there was a another war based on lies, but also an aggressively skeptical media and a military draft that impacted lots of citizens’ lives. It is no mistake that this combination, one that indeed got the American masses into the streets, is missing today.

 

 

 
Liberals and Their Situational Ethics – An Analysis (22 April 2012) by Lawrence Davidson
 

Part I – Liberal Games

On 10 April 2012 the journalist Charles Davis did a guest posting on Glenn Greenwald’s website, Salon. The title of the piece is “The Liberal Betrayal of Bradley Manning.” Davis’s argument is that President Obama acts much like George Bush Jr. when it comes to “security” issues. He has, for instance, “institutionalized the practice of indefinite imprisonment” and in several other ways undermined the nation’s civil liberties. The difference is that, unlike Bush, Obama has not experienced vocal opposition from most liberals to this process of despoilment. Chase Madar, a New York civil rights attorney puts it this way, “Obama and the Democrats being in power in Washington defangs a lot of liberal criticism.”

Davis’s case in point is that of Bradley Manning, the Iraq war veteran accused of leaking a large number of Pentagon and State Department files to Wikileaks. Some of these leaked files clearly document actions that can be deemed war crimes. Manning made the mistake of confiding in a stateside blogger. He asked this person: “If you…saw incredible things, awful things…things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC…what would you do?” Manning’s answer was to make those facts public which, in my opinion, was the action of a hero. His erstwhile confidant’s answer was to turn the hero in to authorities.

Manning is now in a military prison awaiting a trial that, almost certainly, will keep him “in a dark room” for the rest of his life. Our “liberal” President seems to find this prospect fitting for someone “who broke the law” (a public judgment that Obama made before Manning was given over for trial). Most of the liberal establishment has joined in by demeaning Manning as a “troubled young man” who, as the New York Times put it, had both a “desperate need for acceptance” and “delusions of grandeur.” Alyssa Rosenberg, who represents the Center for American Progress, has declared that Manning “has pretty serious emotional problems” and the “Democratic [Party] pundit Joy Reid claimed that Manning is “a gay guy seeking anarchy as a salve for his own personal psychological torment.” That he exposed blatant murder, among other dubious behaviors, seems not to resonate at all with these liberals.

Both Davis and Chase Madar conclude that liberals really do not oppose the violation of civil or human rights, be they those of Americans, Iraqis or anybody else. What they do consider unacceptable are violations carried out in an “uncouth” and “vulgar” manner that, they believe, characterizes conservative practice. Liberals are, allegedly, more sophisticated in their practice of double standards and that is why they can and do support Barack Obama when he does, in a more “professional” way, the same things that George Bush Jr. did. Manning’s exposure of the crimes of the U.S. military is, of course, anathema to both liberals and conservatives. In this regard both groups are equally unethical. They just express their lack of ethics differently.

Part II – Situational Ethics

Davis and Madar might be on to something here, but it needs to be understood against a broader background and its real implications brought out. Here are some thoughts that might help us move in that direction:

1. For the vast majority of people ethics are not “universal,” but rather are situational. In theory the majority might profess to follow a definitive code of behavior. In practice, however, they will adjust those convictions to the demands of their community. In other words, people normally act as their neighbors act, as the local law tells them to act and in ways that are approved by their group leaders. The number of people who consistently practice an ethical code even when it goes against the point of view of their local community are very few. Maybe Bradley Manning is one of this rare breed.

2. Ethical behavior is also relative to institutional affiliation. The military (and not just the U.S. version) has values and principles all its own and they often not only condone, but also encourage, extreme violence. If you don’t believe me just ask your typical Drill Sargent. As far as I know almost all of the 1,430,895 people in the U.S. military have conformed to the parochial behavioral codes of their institution. Almost, but not quite all. Bradley Manning did not conform.

3. Given that there are a small number of people whose ethical behavior defies local and institutional demands, the claim that Bradley Manning acted as he did because of “emotional problems” can be seen as a gambit to deflect attention away from the real criminals. If, like Manning, you discovered definitive evidence of the outright murder of a dozen unarmed people in an American neighborhood and then ran off to the authorities to report the incident, no one would say you did so because you were mentally unstable. However, move the incident to Baghdad and put on a uniform, and things change. Now you know that, given “military ethics,” those in charge are likely to just suppress any evidence. Also, as far as your affiliated institution is concerned, it is going public with your evidence that “breaks the law.” What does one do when you can’t shake your more principled ethical view and adapt to the corrupt situational one of your group? In Manning’s case, you muster the courage to do what you think is right. As a consequence both liberals and conservatives now say you are not only a criminal, you’re also crazy. But Bradley Manning is not crazy. He is sane. However, he is a sane man in a crazy community.

Part III – Conclusion

It seems clear that liberals have no more sense of “universal” ethics than do conservatives. All they have is their self-serving situational values and an allegedly slick way of expressing them. And, in the long run, it seems to make little difference to the public at large if human rights are compromised by “vulgar” conservative opportunists or “sophisticated” liberal ones. Maybe this indifference has something to do with the fact that almost everyone else on the planet also lives by ethical standards that are situational. That is why the struggle to make the world a better place in terms of “universal” ethics never seems to be quite realized.

Regardless, we can take heart from those few truly principled people, like Bradley Manning, whose actions teach us that hypocrisy, even if commonplace, is not inevitable. Such people seem never to give up and their struggle to make things better is, in fact, a tiny peek at what a better world might look like. In each society there are a relatively small number of such people and they keep hope alive. They are the real heroes.

ESSAY ONE:
 
Intolerance in The Sunshine State – An Analysis (16 April 2012)
 

Part I – Wealth and Ideology

In the early 1500s the Spanish Conquistadors came to the shores of what is now known as Florida (Flowery Land in Spanish). At that time the area was populated by groups of Paleo-Indians whose lives were about to change drastically for the worse. The Conquistadores were out for gold and other riches to which purpose the natives were often enslaved. Along with them came Spanish priests whose goal was strictly ideological: the conversion of the natives to Catholicism. About this the natives would also have no choice. From that time onward the sunny and flowery land of Florida proved a place both of wealth and ideological intolerance.

Even when the Spanish lost control of the territory, first to the British and then to the United States, this duality persisted. In the 19th century, for instance, what stood in the way of Florida’s ideological purity was the perseverance of those pesky Indians. Andrew Jackson, a rigid minded fellow if there ever was one, thought he had the answer to this problem when he waged war against the Seminole Indians who had the audacity to both resist white settlement and harbor runaway black slaves. Eventually he was proved correct. Well-armed racism won the day and from the1830s into the 1850s the process of forced eviction cum slaughter of the natives proceeded. By 1845, when Florida became the 27th state of the Union, things were relatively in hand and most of the remaining Seminoles pushed back into the Everglades.

Over the years the gold that the conquistadors sought transformed itself into citrus fruit and tourism. Today the tourist business brings in over 77 million people a year to Florida and is worth over $57 billion annually to the state’s economy. Three quarters of U.S. oranges are from Florida, as is 40% of the world’s orange juice. Yet, overlaying all this wealth, just like an unhealthy tan, is the persistence of Florida’s ideological obsessions. In contemporary terms, there are two that stand out and we will begin by looking at the one most recently in the news.

Part II – Obsessions

1. Cuba – Florida has a very high percentage of Cuban Americans. One third of the population of Miami has Cuban roots and in at least 18 other cities and large towns in the state the percentage approaches half. A high number of these people are staunchly anti-Castro. Among the older generation this attitude borders on fanaticism. One can see this reflected in the behavior of the state’s political representatives in Congress who fight tooth and nail against any moderation of U.S. sanctions against the Cuban nation–despite the fact that those sanctions help impoverish the country’s people, a state of being Cuban Americans then blame on the Castro government.

For this point of view to be maintained right-wing Cuban Americans have had to approach history in a highly selective way. When Castro took over in Cuba in 1959 the country was an economic and social wreck. It was ruled by the dictator Fulgenacio Batista who had established ties with U.S. mafia families. Gambling and prostitution were major growth industries under this regime. Poverty deepened, illiteracy was widespread, crime was rampant but nonetheless Batista was seen as an ally of Washington. That is because he ran an anti-communist secret police, trained and armed by the U.S., which acted as the regime’s Gestapo and SS combined.

When Castro took over in 1959 these conditions changed. But to do this he had to nationalize resources and this step was opposed by a small upper class and a portion of the middle class. It was this group who initially fled to the U.S. Subsequently, they have chosen to forget most of Cuban history prior to Castro’s victorious revolution. They also have a deadly resentment of those who take a different attitude and regularly attempt to ruin anyone who has the audacity to publically disagree with them. That is how fanatics behave.

Take the recent case of Ozzie Guillen, the outspoken manager of the Miami Marlins baseball team. Guillen made the mistake of saying that he respected Fidel Castro in a recent interview with Time magazine. The result was a “political firestorm” in Miami. Within hours the politicos of south Florida (sounding like the priests of the conquistadors) were calling for his head. The team suspended him for five games and Guillen himself publically apologized for “betraying the Latin community” and begged forgiveness in a most groveling way. Nonetheless, elements of the area’s Cuban-American community entered into an orgy of hate and threatened to “boicot” (and therefore economically destroy) Miami’s baseball team unless Guillen was fired.

2. Israel – Florida, and particularly the southern part of the state, has the second highest Jewish population in the U.S. (the first is in New York). Notably, most of them are elderly retirees of passionate Zionist persuasion. One of Miami’s main streets is Yitzhak Rabin Boulevard. Next to the issue of pensions, Israel is what commands their interest. That is why all the Republican primary candidates (except Ron Paul) who visited the state fell over backwards in their support for Israel.

No prominent Florida Jewish resident has yet been silly enough, or brave enough, to go public with anti-Zionist declarations, or statements of admiration for Yasir Arafat. And after an example has been made of Ozzie Guillen, the probability of anyone doing so has to have diminished. This is because the right-wing elements of these two communities are allied and feed off of each other.

Back in the 1980s, when the Cuban American community leaders decided to set up their lobby, originally known as the Cuban American National Foundation, they went to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, otherwise know as AIPAC, for advice and guidance. That relationship has continued ever since. For more information on this please see my book Foreign Policy Inc (Kentucky U. Press 2009). A living representation of this on-going alliance is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative for Florida’s 18th Congressional District and currently the longest serving woman in Congress. That status has also made her chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Ros-Lehtinen describes herself as a “strong supporter of Israel” including its illegal settlements, and has worked hard to cut funds for any United Nations agency that recognizes Palestinian statehood. Of course, she also hates Fidel Castro.

Part III – Conclusion

Over-exposure to the “sunshine state” can obviously get you a bad burn, particularly if you are of an open mind and value the principle of free speech. But that is the way it goes when communities form around repugnant ideological cores that then come to characterize their very identity. For many of the Cuban Americans in Florida, to have something good to say about the Castro regime, even if it can be historically substantiated, is the same as betraying their community. For many Jewish Americans in the same state, having something critical to say about Israel and Zionism, even if it is fact based, is the same as declaring yourself an anti-Semite or perhaps a “self-hating Jew.”

What is particularly scary about all of this is that the entire prejudicial mind-set is carried forth unquestionably and in lock step by millions of people. Americans often would point fingers at the Soviet Union, the Chinese communists, and now the “Muslim world” for this sort of totalitarian thinking. And all the while, it was right here in our own sunny backyard.

Delusional Milestone – An Analysis (8 April 2012) by Lawrence Davidson
 
 
                           John Hagee
 
Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel (CUFI) announced the “registration of their millionth member” on 18 March 2012. This organization, founded in 2006, with the goal of “realizing the political potential of tens of millions of evangelical Americans who support Israel” can also be said to have the goal of destroying, in the name of God no less, the legitimate political aspiration of Palestinian statehood. And, the CUFI now has as much influence with our Republican Congress as does the Jewish Zionist lobby, AIPAC.

Why should the devout Mr. Hagee and his one million followers be so enamored of Israel? Actually, they have no rational reasons to offer. However, they do have a number of non-rational ones. For example, “We support Israel because all other nations were created by an act of man, but Israel was created by an act of God.”

Hagee and his followers do not know that this is so. They just ardently believe it is so. Yet there is a difference between demonstrable fact and belief. As to subject, ardent belief, or what might be called faith, is widely variable and changes over time. Thus, for a considerably longer period of time than the life of Hagee’s particular brand of Christianity (in fact for thousands of years) vast numbers of people ardently believed in the reality of the Olympian Gods. For almost 1200 years, countless individuals, every bit as assured of their faith as Pastor Hagee, came to the shrine at Delphi to prey to Apollo and, through his oracle, the Sibyl, petition for the God’s advice and favor.

There is no more hard evidence for Hagee’s faith than that of the Sibyl. Think of the lottery. Despite people’s belief in their “lucky number,” every number has an equal probability of turning up. In the same way, when John Hagee dies he has an equal chance of finding himself on the shore of the River Styx as he does at the gates of heaven or hell. Of course, this comparison is not completely accurate. Here there is also the equal chance that no number turns up at all, and Mr Hagee simply dissolves into worm food.

Just so there is no hard evidence for the claim that Israel was created “by an act of God.” (As to modern Israel there is no historical doubt that the deed was done by a combination of Zionist militias, the British Empire, and the General Assembly of the United Nations.) The Bible stories are just that, stories, and quoting them as if they constituted evidence beyond the realm of faith just won’t do.

No one credits the stories told in Hesiod’s Theogony (the story of the origin of the Olympian Gods) as proof positive of the existence of Zeus and Apollo. Pastor Hagee would counter that the Theogony was “created by an act of man”while the Bible is, allegedly, the divinely inspired words of God. And, indeed, it appears that up to one-third of the adults in the United States agree with him.  Unfortunately, it is quite possible that as many people now believe in the literal, divine truth of the Bible (and therefore the divine origin of Israel) as once believed in the reality of Zeus and his Olympian clan.

However, it is worth repeating that belief no matter how ardently held, does not make something true. And, it does not matter if it is the belief of one person or a million. The situation is the same. Faith is not the same as fact.

Unfortunately, this does not put an end to our subject. Faith may not move mountains but it can move the masses. It can move Hagee’s million and many others as well to actions that are very real indeed. It can move people to empty their wallets in an effort to financially support their alleged certainties. Worse yet, it can move them to take up arms and slaughter their neighbors–or at least cheer on others who do so.

I have a strong suspicion that if the Israelis some day evict every last Palestinian from Pastor Hagee’s “Holy Land,” killing thousands in the process, the pastor will shout Hallelujah and salivate in anticipation of the second coming of Christ. It is just a personal opinion, mind you, but if you believe so strongly that you are willing to underwrite murder and mayhem you constitute a real danger to world peace. As such you should be preaching your defense before the International Criminal Court rather than preaching to the multitude.