Archive for September, 2012
RED LINES AND PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS – AN ANALYSIS (25 SEPTEMBER 2012) BY LAWRENCE DAVIDSON
I. The Israel Lobby and How it Operates
Much is being made of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s involvement in the on-going American presidential campaign. His public stance has been characterized as an Israeli effort to “openly…topple [President] Obama.” The truth is that the only thing unusual about this meddling is its open and advertised nature. In a more discrete fashion, Zionist pressure bordering on blackmail and bribery goes on every day.
I have written elsewhere about this corrupting process that I call “lobbification.“ In brief, this is how it operates:
Step One: A lobbyist, in this case someone from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), approaches Congresspersons or Senators. At some point in time that means every single one of them has been approached: all 435 voting members of Congress and every one of the 100 voting members of the Senate. Party affiliation is not an issue here.
Step Two: The lobbyist offers to organize financial campaign assistance, positive media coverage, briefings on situations in the Middle East, trips to Israel, etc.
Step Three: All that is asked in return is that the recipient consistently vote in a pro-Israel way. In other words, AIPAC wants the politician to surrender a part of his or her mind to them — that part that might exercise critical and considered judgment on issues pertaining to Israel.
Step Four: There are several unspoken, but publicly acknowledged, consequences of turning down this offer, or alternatively, managing to get elected on your own and then voting the wrong way.
1. If you say no, the same offer will be made to your opponent both at the primary and general election levels.
2. If you are elected and vote against Israel, AIPAC will do all it can, sooner or later, to see you defeated. It has a good record of turning such people out of office.
Step Five: If you sign up for this Faustian bargain and are elected, the lobby becomes your permanent partner. It is a constant presence. Its agents are always hovering about, rating your performance, letting you know they are there. Prove yourself reliable and they will underwrite you for life.
II. The President and Red Lines
President Obama made this bargain as solidly as have most other politicians in Washington. You can witness him affirming and reaffirming this deal in front of AIPAC conventions, while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, on those rare occasions when he addresses the press, and whenever else he feels it is politically necessary. He was even willing to debase his own national party convention to make a point of his loyalty to the Israel lobby.
Yet all this has proven insufficient. The issue over which Obama has fallen short is Iran.
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu (the deus ex machina of the Israel lobby) insists that Iran is preparing to build nuclear weapons and, taking that assumption on faith, their nuclear energy program should be stopped or placed under international control. It should be noted that, back in 2002, Netanyahu incorrectly made the same charge against Iraq and that today, just as in 2002, there is no real evidencefor his assertion about Iran’s aims. All U.S. intelligence agencies agree that the Iranians are not presently developing nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, Netanyahu, who appears prone to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) when it comes to other people’s nuclear programs, demands that Washington set “red lines” for Tehran which, if crossed, would trigger U.S. military action. In other words, on the basis of unsupported Zionist fears, the Israeli government is trying to maneuver the United States into yet another Middle East war. To his credit, President Obama has refused to comply with the demand for “red lines.”
The standard retribution practiced by the Israel lobby against a recalcitrant American politician is to try to get him or her kicked out of office. Usually this is done in a low-key way and most Americans don’t even know it is happening. But this time the act of revenge, driven by an egocentric and bellicose Israeli Prime Minister, is being carried out in full public view. Here are some of the ways Netanyahu is doing this:
1. Netanyahu has joined Mitt Romney in accusing Barack Obama of being too easy on Iran and too unresponsive to an ally, Israel.
2. Netanyahu has acquiesced in the use of his image and words in a blatantly false and distorted media campaign that accuses Obama of being “cozy” with the Society of Muslim Brotherhood.
3. Netanyahu has asserted that Obama has “no moral right” to pressure Israel not to attack Iran. What the Prime Minister leaves out is that such an attack would constitute aggression under international law and violate treaties to which both the U.S. and Israel are signatories. Under these circumstances it would be immoral if President Obama did not pressure Israel to hold its fire.
4. When accused of interfering in the presidential elections, Netanyahu has replied, “This is not an electoral issue….I think there is a common interest of all Americans of all persuasions to stop Iran.” The bit about this not being “electoral” is clearly disingenuous. If Netanyahu wants to hold an opinion about alleged common interests that is fine. However, if as the head of a foreign government, he publicly and repeatedly asserts that opinion in ways that aid one candidate for president over another, he has certainly made both himself and his opinion, an “electoral issue.”
There is speculation that, if Mr. Obama is reelected, then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s indiscreet behavior might result in “a sea change in U.S.-Israeli relations.” Unfortunately this is highly unlikely. The system of “lobbification” is solidly in place at the national political level. When it comes to Israel, only two things are likely to change it:
1. Meaningful campaign finance reform that would free politicians from their present reliance on lobby affiliated contributions.
2. The Israel-American connection becomes a voting issue such that continued blind support for Israel hurts a politician’s chance of election.
Neither of these possibilities seem to be on the horizon:
It is the way the U.S. political system is run that makes politicians so vulnerable to lobby power. The fact that there are some lobbies out there that have decent and humane goals is not sufficient to justify a system that otherwise does so much damage. For instance, under the present circumstances it is impossible to define the national interest in an objective way. As it stands, the national interest is replaced by the parochial interests of lobbies that are successful at suborning Congress and the White House–Zionists pushing support for a racist and expansionist foreign power, Cuban-Americans carrying on a 53 year old vendetta against the government in Havana, the NRA striving to protect the right of every American to own a submachine gun, and the like.
In large part it comes down to money and how it is used manipulate leaders and parties. There is something age-old about this situation. It was the Roman Senator and master rhetorician Cicero (108 to 43 BCE) who said “Nihil tam munitum quod non expugnari pecunia possit.” Translated as: “No fortification is such that it cannot be subdued with money.” That is still the rule by which lobbyists live.
Free Speech or Inciting to Riot? An Analysis (17 September 2012) by Lawrence Davidson
When I finish one of my analyses I usually look forward to a week to ten day hiatus and sometimes even wonder if I will have to hunt around for the next topic. It rarely works out that way. Usually, within three of four days, something happens which strikes me as worthy of attention. Often other commentators have moved more quickly than I to report on the event. However, there are always more questions to be asked and different perspectives to be offered.
So it is with the death of four American diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Libya on Wednesday 12 September 2012. There are two mutually reinforcing parts to this tragedy: one takes place here in the USA, and the other in Libya, Egypt and several other places in the Middle East. Lets take them in sequence.
Part I The Stateside Story
In the summer of 2011 a convicted felon (bank fraud) by the name Nakoula Bassely Nakoula (aka Sam Bacile) decided to make a movie about the religion of Islam. Nakoula is an Islamophobe of Egyptian Coptic Christian background who lives in California. The movie was to be one of those propaganda pieces like the film Obsession back in 2005, but cruder and with more shock value. Nakoula went about contacting other Islamophobes to raise the money and otherwise promote the project. Among those he recruited were Morris Sadek, a fellow Copt, also resident in the U.S., whose long-term goal was to undermine the new Islamic government in Cairo, and a Christian fundamentalist extremist by the name of Steve Klein who also seems to have an obsessive hatred of Muslims. Hovering around the margins of the project was the extremist pastor Terry Jones from Gainesville, Florida. He is an expert at incitement to riot, having publicly burnt a Quran in 2011 sparking riots in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of 30 people.
Eventually Nakoula put together an all-volunteer cast and crew by setting up what can only be described as a confidence game. He told the actors and stage technecians that the movie was about a desert warrior living in the remote past: a benign biblical epic about past life in Middle East. The initial working title was Desert Warrior. Later the film was reedited and new dialogue dubbed over the original script thereby transforming it into an anti-Muslim diatribe with a new, supposedly ironic, title Innocence of Muslims. Among other things the film depicts Mohammad as a fraud and a lecher. Subsequently, CNN received a statement from those who worked on the project indicating that, the entire cast and crew are extremely upset we are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose.
Of particular import is the strong suspicion that the real purpose of the film was to incite a violent reaction in the Muslim world. According to Steve Klein, interviewed after the eruption of protests in the Muslim world, we went into this knowing this was probably going to happen. Klein told Nakoula, you are going to be the next Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film maker who was murdered in 2004 after making a film that defamed Islam. Subsequently, Nakoulas accomplice, Morris Sadek, would contact an Egyptian newspaper reporter, Gamel Girgis, and tell him he had an exclusive story about a American made anti-Muslim video. Sadeks obvious intention was to make the video known to the Egyptian public.
Part II The Story in the Middle East
In July 2012, soon after Desert Warrior was morphed into Innocence of Muslims, it was posted on YouTube. It is still there (except in Egypt) and to date has garnered hundreds of thousands of hits. Just this month (September 2012) a trailer of the film, this time dubbed in Arabic, was posted and that seems to be what led to the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and further anti-American disturbances in at least eight other Muslim countries.
Someone at the U.S. embassy in Cairo immediately sensed the danger the film created. In an effort to defuse some of the inevitable anger it would cause he or she posted a statement on the local Egyptian internet that said in part, The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslimsas we condemn the efforts to offend believers of all religions .We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others. This effort obviously did not work.
The reactions of Muslim governments to the outbreaks of public anger have been swift. The Libyan government, which is beholden to the U.S. for its support in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, issued an apology for the Benghazi attack and began an immediate investigation. This was easy enough to do since the militant group that stormed the consulate and killed Ambassador Stevens was readily identified and most of the violence was captured on film.
In Egypt, the newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi, himself a member of the Society of Muslim Brothers, was nuanced in his reaction. He noted that Egyptians had guaranteed rights to expressing opinion, freedom to protest and announcing positions but without assaulting private or public property, diplomatic missions or embassies. In a telephone conversation with President Obama, Morsi pledged to protect foreigners in Egypt. On the other hand, he told Obama that there was a need for deterrent legal measures against those who want to damage relations between peoples, and particularly between the people of Egypt and the people of America. It is a need that Americans should take seriously.
Part III Conclusion
This incident has exposed the deep vein of anger against the United States that runs through the Muslim world. This anger is nothing new and we continue to ignore it at our peril.
After 9/11 U.S. politicians refused to consider the context from which those attacks came. They asserted that violence against the United States was absolutely wrong and so there was no need to examine what had caused it. Well, that might be good politics stateside, but it guaranteed that the policies and behavior that led up to the 9/11 attacks, such as imposing sanctions that ruin the lives of countless innocents, the arming and supporting of dictators, and the carte blanche support of Israeli policies against the Palestinian people, would carry on into the future. In other words, between 9/11/01 and 9/11/12 nothing substantial about U.S. behavior has changed.
That means that the Muslim world continues to be a tinder box that someone resident in the West, someone like Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, can throw a match into and spark something akin to another 9/11.
At this point many will protest that Nakoulas perverse film is protected under the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the abridgment of speech and press. But this may not be the case. Free speech does not excuse purposeful efforts to incite to riot. An enterprising prosecutor would not have a difficult time proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the entire enterprise that created Innocence of Muslims was a premeditated effort to produce exactly the type of violence that we have seen. If this is the case, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, Steve Klein and Morris Sadek are potentially guilty of a range of crimes from promoting hate speech to accessory to murder.
The governments of the Muslim world, and indeed all governments, have the legal and moral obligation to protect foreign diplomats, embassies and consulates. And, the United States government has the responsibility to do all that is reasonable and practicable to protect its citizens. That includes the prevention of another 9/11 style attack or any variant on that theme. Moving to prosecute those here in the United States who would purposely incite such attacks seems an obvious stepand, in the long run, a step that is more useful than filling the skies with drones in search of alleged enemies.
Yet, as obvious and warranted as such a prosecution is, will it be pursued? Do not look to Mitt Romney for such preventative action. His sole concern is taking political advantage of the crisis by claiming that the State Department statement cited above proved that the Obama administration had more sympathy for the Muslims than for his own dead diplomats.
This is, of course, cynical nonsense. Yet, one cannot look to Barack Obama for much preventative action either. He is afraid of the political shadow to his right and will not move against even dangerous provocateurs, especially at election time. So the most likely scenario is that, just as in 2001, our leaders will do nothing to address our own behavioral and policy shortcomings. Thus, the dangerous likelihood of more provocations igniting the deep anti-American anger in the Muslim lands will go on and on.
Democracy Takes A Hit An Analysis (11 September 20120) by Lawrence Davidson
Israel Says: Rachel Made Me Do It An Analysis (4 September 2012) by Lawrence Davidson
Caterpillars D9R Armored Bulldozer Rachel Corrie
Part I The Death of Rachel Corrie
On 16 March 2003, the last day of her life, 23 year old Rachel Corrie was in the Gaza town of Rafah standing in front of the Palestinian family home (not just a house) of Dr. Samir Nasrallah. Dr. Nasrallah was a local pharmacist and Ms Corrie had been staying with his family while serving as part of an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) cadre seeking to disrupt the Israeli armys (IDF) on-going demolition of Palestinian homes. Between 2000 and 2004, the Israelis had destroyed enough homes in the Rafah area to leave some 1700 people homeless.
The Israeli army claimed they did this because these homes were used as terrorist hiding places. The result, they claimed, was frequent gunfire at Israeli settlements and soldiers. Yet for the time that Ms Corrie stayed with the Nasrallahs, everyone in the home had slept on the floor and away from the windows to avoid a constant barrage of gunfire from Israeli snipers.
On the day that Ms Corrie died, she had interposed herself between the Nasrallah home and a very large D9R armored Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier. This was one of those infamous, made-in-the-USA machines sold to Israel by the Caterpillar Inc. even though the CEO, Board of Directors and sales staff know that their product is used to destroy homes in ways that violate international law. At the time the bulldozer in question stood twenty to thirty meters from Corrie, who was wearing a high visibility fluorescent orange jacket and was speaking through a megaphone calling for the tractor driver to stop or turn away. The tractor moved toward her and the home slowly in an operation the IDF later described as the clearing of vegetation and rubble so as to remove explosive devices. As it approached, the driver lowered the tractor blade and began accumulating a mound of dirt and debris as the machine went along. When the bulldozer was close to the outer wall of the Nasrallah home, Corrie climbed on top of the accumulating debris. At that point she was so positioned that she could look directly into the tractor cab, and the driver could look directly out at her, from no more that three or four meters. The machine kept coming. In the next few seconds, she lost her balance, fell backwards, and was run over twice by the tractor blade. The bulldozer driver later testified that he never saw Corrie until he noticed people pulling the body out from under the earth.
There was, of course, an internal military investigation of the incident, an investigation that then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised then President George W. Bush would be thorough, credible and transparent. Senior U.S. officials, including the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, later observed that the military investigation was none of these things. The military exonerated both the driver of the tractor and his commander, saying that neither had seen Corrie and also they werent even trying to destroy the Nasrallah home that day.
The judgment followed a long-standing practice of the Israeli military, reconstructing scenarios after the fact in order to rationalize just about any action soldiers take against the Palestinians, no matter how criminal. In the Rafah area during the years that Corrie and other ISM volunteers worked there, the Israeli military was in the habit of targeting Palestinian children, killing some 400 of them, one-fourth of whom were under the age of 12. In almost all cases there was no penalty for committing these murders. The practice of granting immunity has also been followed by Israeli police and courts with reference to crimes committed by Israeli civilians, especially settlers, against Palestinians. To date, 91% of investigations of such criminal acts committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property are closed without indictments being served.
Part II The Corrie Family Civil Suit
In 2005, frustrated by the apparent whitewash of their daughters murder, Corries parents filed a civil suit in an Israeli court against the countrys Ministry of Defense. They hoped that the trial would provide the credible and transparent accounting that had so far been denied. Subsequently, fifteen court sessions were held in the city of Haifa and just 23 witnesses testified. Yet the whole thing dragged on for seven yearsuntil 28 August 2012 when the presiding judge, Oded Gershon, finally issued his ruling.
I reject the suit, Gershon stated in his 62 page decision, claiming that Corrie and the other ISM activists had purposely chosen to enter a daily combat region where they acted to protect terrorists. The judge accepted the armys claim that the bulldozer driver had not seen Corrie. In any case, according to the judge, she was acting irrationally. Corrie could have simply gotten out of the way of the bulldozer as any reasonable person would have done, but she did not, and so she was ultimately responsible for her own death. According to the Corrie family lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, Judge Gershons judgment was so close to the states attorneys version of events that it could have been written by him.
The Judges mind-set is perhaps the most telling part of the judgment. In Gershons world, the Israeli army was not seeking to engage in a siege that was turning Gaza into the worlds largest outdoor prison while illegal Israeli settlements expanded. And, because that was not what was going on, any response by the people of Gaza could not be seen as legitimate acts of resistance or self-defense. No, the people of Gaza were at best supporters of terrorists or at worst terrorists themselves. That was the paradigm into which both the judge and all the Israeli army witnesses were locked. These witnesses spoke from behind a curtain, using aliases. This was done for security reasons. And, they all said basically the same thing: we did not see Rachel Corrie and even if we had we would not have seen a civilian. Why? Because Israel is at war with the Palestinians and, as one testifying IDF officer (aka Yossi) put it, during a war there are no civilians. There are only terrorists and their allies (Corrie) and Israel does not prosecute its soldiers for waging war against them.
The resulting a priori immunity is not unique to Israel. Just days after the Corrie decision was announced, another decision, this time by the U.S. Justice Department, was made public. The Department ended its investigation into deaths occurring during CIA interrogations conducted using torture. No charges were brought against the torturers in these cases due to insufficient admissible evidence. That is, the evidence which the government itself would declassify so as to make it admissible was not sufficient to sustain a conviction. The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision nothing short of a scandal Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognized prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment. How Israeli of the American Justice Departmentor is the other way around?
Part III Conclusion
If you come across an individual who condemns an entire category of people and is also willing to violently act on the basis of that belief, you might call him or her a pathological racist, or a pathological xenophobe, or a pathological paranoid chauvinist. But what happens when those same sick sentiments get institutionalized in powerful bureaucracies? When, say, all Arabs (be they Muslim or Christian) are suspect and subject to government surveillance, segregation, collective punishment and worse. What then do you call this? National security? All too often that is exactly what we call it. The we here includes almost all politicians, media newscasters, security personnel, talking head experts, and the like. What it comes down to is that, in the name of national security, we can justify almost anything, including killing kids in Gaza and torturing people to death in some dungeon, the whereabout of which is classified, as well as running over a 23 year peace activist with a massive bulldozer.
That is certainly what the Corrie episode has shown to be the case in Israel. And it does not matter what is driving this obsessive stereotyping of the Palestinians as collective enemies by both individuals and entire government departments. The Israelis and their Zionist supporters can evoke the Holocaust (and, for that matter, the Americans can talk about 9/11) until the end of time. The actions stemming from such ultimately racist perspectives are still thoroughly dehumanizing and criminal. Such is war.