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Archive for February, 2014

Planning for the Future of the BDS Movement – An Analysis (24 February 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Norman Finkelstein 

 

Part I – Norman Finkelstein’s Predictions

 

Much has been made of the rising influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Indeed, there is a growing sense that the boycott power of civil society, particularly as it is manifesting itself in Europe, is on track to repeat history—to do to Israel what it once did to South Africa. Simultaneously, there is the persisting assumption that the latest effort at negotiating a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now being managed by Secretary of State Kerry, will go down the same ignoble path as all its predecessors.  

 

However, not everyone agrees with this. In an interview given to the New Left Project, posted on-line on 11 January 2014, Norman Finkelstein (a well published critic of Israel) presents a different scenario. Finkelstein firmly believes that Kerry’s efforts will bear fruit and thus, before the end of President Obama’s term in office, Israel and the frankly unrepresentative Palestine Authority (PA) will come to terms. 

 

Finkelstein explains that the classic debate over Israel’s illegal settlement blocs is over and, on this issue, Israel has won. It will be allowed to absorb the major settlements and thus render any Palestinian entity geographically dubious. The right of return so dear to Palestinian refugees will also be abandoned by the PA.

 

As a consequence, what is now being “negotiated” are the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and the final status of the Jordan Valley. Finkelstein predicts that the first issue will be solved by describing Israel as “the state of the Jewish people and its citizens,” thus affording alleged legal protection to Arab-Israelis, and correspondingly, Palestine will become “the state of Palestinians and its citizens.” As to the Jordan Valley, Israel will slowly withdraw from the area. Finkelstein’s comment on this is that “Israel is adept at ‘conceding’ things to which it has no title in the first place.” 

 

Finkelstein describes the “Palestinian leadership” as “irredeemably corrupt, incompetent and stupid.” He is only slightly kinder in his description of “Palestinian supporters abroad,” who, he says, are “not acting smartly.” He discounts boycott achievements in the U.S. and believes that those in Europe should be thought of as pressure tactics in support of Kerry’s efforts. Palestinian solidarity groups “carry on as if the Kerry process is a meaningless sideshow, something that can safely be ignored.” He thinks that this is a big mistake and that the possibility of real Palestinian self-determination will be gone before these supporters know what has hit them. 

 

Part II – What If He Is Right?

 

Whatever one might think of Norman Finkelstein and his prognostications, it would be wise for those supporting BDS and Palestinian rights to  consider how they might react if, against all odds, Secretary of State Kerry succeeds. So let’s think about this.

 

Such a settlement (at least as described by Finkelstein) would transform a good part of the West Bank’s occupied territory into “sovereign” Israeli land and set up a truncated Palestinian entity to which Palestinian refugees could “return.” Some might question whether there would remain a rationale for continuing to boycott Israel. The BDS movement could lose steam, at least temporarily. However, would it and its goals dissipate all together?  

 

Probably not. What would ultimately save the BDS movement is Israel’s leadership itself, driven as they are by the inherently racist nature of the Zionist ideology. In other words, Israel’s policy makers can be safely relied upon to be true to character. Take the “politically moderate” finance minister Ya’ir Lapid ,who recently told an Israeli audience, “the issue [is] we need to get rid of the Palestinians. It threatens us, it chokes us.” As a result of this commonly shared attitude, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (and other non-Jews such as asylum seekers from East Africa) within Israel’s territory will continue apace. To put it another way, the 67-year-old effort to harass most non-Jewish citizens and residents out of the country will greatly intensify. The BDS campaign conducted against South Africa was a reaction against that society’s racist culture and policies. There is no reason why a powerful BDS movement cannot be sustained against Israel on the same basis.

 

Part III – What If He Is Wrong?

 

However, Norman Finkelstein may be wrong. It might be that the well-informed journalist Jonathan Cook is correct when that “despite outward signs … [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu [is] far from ready to compromise.” Cook claims that Netanyahu has “the bulk of the Israeli public behind him. … But most importantly he has a large chunk of the Israel’s security and economic establishment on his side too.” As a result, “These negotiations may not lead to an agreement, but they will mark a historic turning-point nonetheless. The delegitimization of Israel is truly under way, and the party doing most of the damage is the Israeli leadership itself.”

 

Part IV – The Fate of the Movement

 

I think that the BDS movement, and more generally the movement for Palestinian rights, should be able to survive either way. If Cook is right, not only survival but rapid growth of the movement can be expected. If Finkelstein is correct, the situation will prove more complicated. Cook is certainly right about one thing: we are at a crossroads.  Where exactly the situation might lead us is not as clear as either he or Finkelstein make it out. This means that those who support the Palestinians no matter in what format should think about these possibilities. There is as yet lead time to formulate suitable contingencies. Let’s make the most of it.

Stereotyping In Congress, Then and Now (14 February 2014) – An Analysis by Lawrence Davidson

 

Representative Duncan D. Hunter

 

Part I –  Stereotyping in Congress 1922

 

In the year 1922 the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on a joint resolution in support of the Balfour Declaration. The committee chairman, the pro-Zionist representative from New York, Hamilton Fish, called an array of witnesses, including a few who did not favor a “Jewish home” in Palestine. This did not mean that the committee’s support for the Balfour Declaration was ever really in doubt, but rather their apparent openness resulted from the political influence of certain academics, as well as American Christian missionary societies, who were sympathetic to Arab nationalist aspirations.

 

Among those who testified against the resolution was Fuad Shatara, a Palestinian-born American citizen and successful physician who led an organization called the Palestine National League. Among the points he made to the committee was that a good number of Palestine’s Zionist community were devoted socialists. This information, given to congressmen who feared leftist “red scares” in the U.S., was dynamite. If accepted, it could have scared the committee members enough to derail the resolution.  

 

But Shatara’s quite accurate assertion was not accepted by Fish and his committee. It was not even investigated, because it appeared utterly counterintuitive. Why so? We learn the answer from committee member Representative Henry Allen Cooper of Wisconsin, a successful lawyer with a college education, and also an imperialist who had supported the retention of the Philippines as an American colony following the Spanish-American War. According to Cooper, the assertion that socialists were active among the Zionists in Palestine could not be true, because all the world knew that the Jew is “proverbially a believer in private property.” In other words, at least some members of the U.S. Congress had bought into the stereotype that a capitalist orientation is a congenital part of Jewish culture. 

 

There was, of course, a racist undertone to this stereotype, and in Europe such a belief, conjuring up the figure of Shylock, had contributed to widespread anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, there it was coming out of the mouth of a U.S. politician with a seat on the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs. 

 

Part II – Stereotyping in Congress 2013

 

We now fast-forward 91 years. Representative Duncan D. Hunter of California, a college graduate holding the rank of major in the Marine reserves, is a member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities. He appeared on 4 December 2013 on C-Span, a cable network that largely concentrates on government affairs. The program concerned the negotiations of the P5 + 1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) with Iran seeking a limitation on that country’s nuclear energy program in exchange for a lessening of international sanctions.  

 

Representative Hunter, a “tea party” Republican, is suspicious of these negotiations because he feels that even if there is a positive outcome, Iran cannot be trusted. Why so? Iran is part of the Middle East and, according to Representative Hunter, “In the Middle Eastern culture it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible, no matter what it takes, and that includes lying.” In other words, at least some of members of the U.S. Congress have bought into the stereotype that lying is a congenital part of the Middle Eastern personality. 

 

Once more we can readily identify the racist undertone of this stereotype. It presently feeds into an islamophobia that has led to hysteria and violence among some elements of the American population. And now we see it coming from the mouth of a U.S. politician with a seat on the Congressional Subcommittee for (of all things) Intelligence.

 

Part III – Consequences

 

These beliefs reflect ignorance bordering on stupidity and, despite their wide spacing in time, they both feed into behaviors with large destructive potential. In1922 Henry Allen Cooper probably gave little or no thought to the fact that his endorsement of the Balfour Declaration would contribute to the displacement of millions, the destruction of an entire culture, and all the death and misery that goes along with such a process. If he thought about this at all he would probably have agreed with his fellow committee member Representative W. Bourke Cockran of New York, who saw Jewish immigration into Palestine as akin to the white man’s arrival in the New World.

 

Representative Hunter, on the other hand, is much more a conscious militarist. His vision of the Middle East is not overlaid with misplaced idealism. The Iranians are liars and if their their duplicity results in a  face-off on the battlefield, the United States should use “tactical nuclear devices” so as to “set them back a decade or two or three. …That is the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.” Hunter has done several combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knows what dead and maimed Middle Easterners look like and it apparently does not bother him. Indeed, with his glib reference to the use of tactical nuclear weapons laid alongside his stereotype of all the region’s people as congenital liars, who knows what horror the baby-faced Representative from California is capable of.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

The Greek poet Homer, who lived around the 8th century BCE, once bemoaned, “Would that strife might perish from among gods and men.” I don’t know about the gods, but today among men there seems little hope of Homer getting his wish.  

 

The ignorant, the ideologues, and the stereotypers call out to each other decade after decade, and Henry Allen Cooper and Duncan D. Hunter thus belong to the same dangerous fellowship. As they echo their menacing ideas, the rest of us, mostly ignorant of all that is not local, bend our ears and listen intently. Indeed, presently it may only be the weariness of 70 years of off-and-on war that has led us to a momentary reluctance to buy into Representative Duncan’s warmongering nonsense. 

 

Momentary reluctance or not, I’ll take it. Unmasking the disastrous consequences of the Balfour Declaration on the one hand and on the other, achieving that elusive comprehensive settlement with Iran, can’t help but be good for the planet. Even if the next slippery slope to conflict is around a near corner, these are rational, sensible, sane goals for the present.

Is Iran the Real Problem? – An Analysis (4 February 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

 

Part I – Setting Up Iran

 

The investigative reporter and author Gareth Porter has recently published a book entitled A Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. An impressively written and researched work, it is also frightening in its implications. For if Porter’s allegations are accurate, it is not Iran that the American people should fear – it is their own politicians, bureaucrats and an “ally” named Israel.

 

According to Porter, there has never been a serious nuclear weapons program undertaken by Iran. By the way, this is a conclusion that is supported by the heads of all American intelligence agencies reporting annually to Congress. Unfortunately, this repeated determination has been scorned by the politicians and poorly reported by the media. As a result the American people lack the knowledge to independently judge Iranian actions as regards nuclear research, and so can be led to erroneous conclusions by those pursuing their own political or ideological ends or, as in the present case, the intrigues of a foreign government. 

 

Part II – Needing an Enemy

 

Following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. foreign relations, military and “defense” bureaucracies quickly focused on the issue of terrorism. And well they might, for their own policies of backing all manner of right-wing dictatorships had identified the U.S. as an enemy of almost every resistance movement on the planet. These wrongheaded policies provoked violent responses, including the attacks of September 11, 2001. From that point on, the threat of terrorist attacks, particularly involving “weapons of mass destruction,” or WMDs, became the main selling point of every bureaucrat, politician and soldier looking for a bigger “defense” budget. President George W. Bush was the main promoter of this line of thinking and the invasion of Iraq the major corresponding catastrophe. Memories of that disaster, so expensive in lives and treasure, along with the lingering war in Afghanistan, have caused a war-weariness among the American people that may be their ultimate saving grace. 

 

Part III – Enter the Zionists

 

With Iraq in shambles and no longer a “threat,” the attention of American policy makers turned to Iran. Forgetting all about the horrible blunder our neoconservative President Bush and his advisors had made over Iraqi WMDs, an even larger coalition of political forces started a slow buildup of popular anxiety over Iranian nuclear research. But where was the evidence? For this, one can always rely on the Israelis.

 

Porter describes how successive Israeli governments exaggerated the threat of Iran in order to, among other things, rationalize their own expansionist ambitions and bind the United States government ever closer to Israeli interests. In 2004 a laptop, allegedly taken from an Iranian scientist, was given by the Israelis to U.S. intelligence agents. Since 2008 much of the so-called evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons program has come from material on this computer. Porter makes a convincing argument that these data, as well as additional material, are Israeli forgeries. 

 

Despite the fact that Iran has satisfied both the American intelligence services and the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons development, U.S. politicians and media refuse to let the matter go. Hence the recent spectacle of the U.S. Senate presenting an almost veto-proof bill demanding yet more sanctions on Iran, despite the likelihood that such an act would ruin diplomatic negotiations and make hostilities all the more likely. One has to ask in whose interest is such an obsessive anti-Iranian stance? Not the interest of the United States. Indeed, the Senate gambit started to unravel when President Obama implied that the demand for more sanctions on Iran threatened U.S. national interests.

 

Part IV – On the Ground in Iran

 

I recently spent eleven days in Iran as part of group of Academics for Peace (a subdivision of Conscience International), returning to the U.S. on January 29. On the ground in that country is a mix of optimism and anxiety. Some Iranians feel persecuted by the U.S. government. They can’t understand why sanctions have been imposed upon them.They like American people and look forward to a return of the tourist trade, but the behavior of the U.S. government is often a mystery to them. 

 

As is so often the case, U.S.-sponsored sanctions have hurt ordinary people with no influence on policy. The sanctions have resulted in inflation, higher rates of pollution, less-safe civilian aircraft, shortages of some medical supplies, the isolation of Iranian banks, and the reduction of exports.  A Gallop poll taken in Iran in late in 2013 showed that 85% of respondents felt that sanctions had hurt their standard of living. On the other hand, other countries, such as China, have taken advantage of the Western refusal to deal with Iran. Presently the country is full of Chinese businessmen and their inexpensive imports. 

 

The Obama administration’s willingness to finally take up Iran’s offer to negotiate differences (one should remember President Khatami’s spurned offer made in 2003) has raised great hopes. Many Iranians are simply holding their breath hoping for that elusive final comprehensive agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

 

One should also note that there are a minority of Iranians, mostly technicians, scientists and some businessmen, who are of a mixed mind when it comes to sanctions. On the one hand, banking and export limitations are a real economic hindrance. And, for all of those in the West concerned with the free flow of information, there seems to be an ongoing ban against Iranian scholars by American scholarly journals. On the other hand, there are Iranians who find at least some of the sanctions genuinely beneficial. The fact is that Iran has become a lot more self-sufficient under the sanctions and these people don’t want to see the country lose that edge. The government is developing industrial and research parks to keep its R&D pace going. But what will happen when and if the sanctions go away? Will the Iran’s economy get sucked into the neoliberal vortex of the Western marketplace?  

 

While there are sanction-related problems, the Iranian economy has not been stilled. In the capital of Tehran, along with the traffic congestion and air pollution, there are a myriad  building projects. These are not signs of a society shriveling on the vine. To go beyond the present level of sanctions and impose the ever more draconian measures proposed by the U.S. Senate comes close to an act of war.   

 

Iran is not like the United States. The women cover their hair in public and men do not wear ties. Most of the time men do not shake hands with women, nor is affection shown between sexes in public.The government is different too. While there is an elected president and parliament, there is also a Supreme Leader who has the last say on most matters. However, unlike those leaders in the U.S., Iran’s leadership has not yet misled their people into foreign wars. 

 

Part V – Conclusion

 

The “Iranian problem” is really a U.S. problem. It points up very deep flaws in the U.S. political system, where money is legally considered “free speech” and policy formation often follows the wishes of the highest bidder. We have too many built-in incentives for war in this country: a military-industrial complex that employs millions, both Democratic and Republican politicians who find political success in supporting “defense” contractors, neoconservative ideologues who want the U.S. to militarily dominate the globe, self-interested bureaucrats whose budgets depend on an endless array of alleged threats, and special interest lobbies tied to foreign powers seeking to turn American aggressiveness toward targets of their own choosing. The outcome is often policies that kill and maim millions. It is only the present war-weariness of the American people that, for now, holds all of this destructive influence at bay. 

 

The only reasonable conclusion is that Gareth Porter’s portrayal of the conflict with Iran stands true. And, as a consequence, the American people have far less to worry about with Iran than they do with the machinations of many of their own leaders.

 

Is Iran the Real Problem? – An Analysis (4 February 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

 

Part I – Setting Up Iran

 

The investigative reporter and author Gareth Porter has recently published a book entitled A Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. An impressively written and researched work, it is also frightening in its implications. For if Porter’s allegations are accurate, it is not Iran that the American people should fear – it is their own politicians, bureaucrats and an “ally” named Israel.

 

According to Porter, there has never been a serious nuclear weapons program undertaken by Iran. By the way, this is a conclusion that is supported by the heads of all American intelligence agencies reporting annually to Congress. Unfortunately, this repeated determination has been scorned by the politicians and poorly reported by the media. As a result the American people lack the knowledge to independently judge Iranian actions as regards nuclear research, and so can be led to erroneous conclusions by those pursuing their own political or ideological ends or, as in the present case, the intrigues of a foreign government. 

 

Part II – Needing an Enemy

 

Following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. foreign relations, military and “defense” bureaucracies quickly focused on the issue of terrorism. And well they might, for their own policies of backing all manner of right-wing dictatorships had identified the U.S. as an enemy of almost every resistance movement on the planet. These wrongheaded policies provoked violent responses, including the attacks of September 11, 2001. From that point on, the threat of terrorist attacks, particularly involving “weapons of mass destruction,” or WMDs, became the main selling point of every bureaucrat, politician and soldier looking for a bigger “defense” budget. President George W. Bush was the main promoter of this line of thinking and the invasion of Iraq the major corresponding catastrophe. Memories of that disaster, so expensive in lives and treasure, along with the lingering war in Afghanistan, have caused a war-weariness among the American people that may be their ultimate saving grace. 

 

Part III – Enter the Zionists

 

With Iraq in shambles and no longer a “threat,” the attention of American policy makers turned to Iran. Forgetting all about the horrible blunder our neoconservative President Bush and his advisors had made over Iraqi WMDs, an even larger coalition of political forces started a slow buildup of popular anxiety over Iranian nuclear research. But where was the evidence? For this, one can always rely on the Israelis.

 

Porter describes how successive Israeli governments exaggerated the threat of Iran in order to, among other things, rationalize their own expansionist ambitions and bind the United States government ever closer to Israeli interests. In 2004 a laptop, allegedly taken from an Iranian scientist, was given by the Israelis to U.S. intelligence agents. Since 2008 much of the so-called evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons program has come from material on this computer. Porter makes a convincing argument that these data, as well as additional material, are Israeli forgeries. 

 

Despite the fact that Iran has satisfied both the American intelligence services and the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons development, U.S. politicians and media refuse to let the matter go. Hence the recent spectacle of the U.S. Senate presenting an almost veto-proof bill demanding yet more sanctions on Iran, despite the likelihood that such an act would ruin diplomatic negotiations and make hostilities all the more likely. One has to ask in whose interest is such an obsessive anti-Iranian stance? Not the interest of the United States. Indeed, the Senate gambit started to unravel when President Obama implied that the demand for more sanctions on Iran threatened U.S. national interests.

 

Part IV – On the Ground in Iran

 

I recently spent eleven days in Iran as part of group of Academics for Peace (a subdivision of Conscience International), returning to the U.S. on January 29. On the ground in that country is a mix of optimism and anxiety. Some Iranians feel persecuted by the U.S. government. They can’t understand why sanctions have been imposed upon them.They like American people and look forward to a return of the tourist trade, but the behavior of the U.S. government is often a mystery to them. 

 

As is so often the case, U.S.-sponsored sanctions have hurt ordinary people with no influence on policy. The sanctions have resulted in inflation, higher rates of pollution, less-safe civilian aircraft, shortages of some medical supplies, the isolation of Iranian banks, and the reduction of exports.  A Gallop poll taken in Iran in late in 2013 showed that 85% of respondents felt that sanctions had hurt their standard of living. On the other hand, other countries, such as China, have taken advantage of the Western refusal to deal with Iran. Presently the country is full of Chinese businessmen and their inexpensive imports. 

 

The Obama administration’s willingness to finally take up Iran’s offer to negotiate differences (one should remember President Khatami’s spurned offer made in 2003) has raised great hopes. Many Iranians are simply holding their breath hoping for that elusive final comprehensive agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

 

One should also note that there are a minority of Iranians, mostly technicians, scientists and some businessmen, who are of a mixed mind when it comes to sanctions. On the one hand, banking and export limitations are a real economic hindrance. And, for all of those in the West concerned with the free flow of information, there seems to be an ongoing ban against Iranian scholars by American scholarly journals. On the other hand, there are Iranians who find at least some of the sanctions genuinely beneficial. The fact is that Iran has become a lot more self-sufficient under the sanctions and these people don’t want to see the country lose that edge. The government is developing industrial and research parks to keep its R&D pace going. But what will happen when and if the sanctions go away? Will the Iran’s economy get sucked into the neoliberal vortex of the Western marketplace?  

 

While there are sanction-related problems, the Iranian economy has not been stilled. In the capital of Tehran, along with the traffic congestion and air pollution, there are a myriad  building projects. These are not signs of a society shriveling on the vine. To go beyond the present level of sanctions and impose the ever more draconian measures proposed by the U.S. Senate comes close to an act of war.   

 

Iran is not like the United States. The women cover their hair in public and men do not wear ties. Most of the time men do not shake hands with women, nor is affection shown between sexes in public.The government is different too. While there is an elected president and parliament, there is also a Supreme Leader who has the last say on most matters. However, unlike those leaders in the U.S., Iran’s leadership has not yet misled their people into foreign wars. 

 

Part V – Conclusion

 

The “Iranian problem” is really a U.S. problem. It points up very deep flaws in the U.S. political system, where money is legally considered “free speech” and policy formation often follows the wishes of the highest bidder. We have too many built-in incentives for war in this country: a military-industrial complex that employs millions, both Democratic and Republican politicians who find political success in supporting “defense” contractors, neoconservative ideologues who want the U.S. to militarily dominate the globe, self-interested bureaucrats whose budgets depend on an endless array of alleged threats, and special interest lobbies tied to foreign powers seeking to turn American aggressiveness toward targets of their own choosing. The outcome is often policies that kill and maim millions. It is only the present war-weariness of the American people that, for now, holds all of this destructive influence at bay. 

 

The only reasonable conclusion is that Gareth Porter’s portrayal of the conflict with Iran stands true. And, as a consequence, the American people have far less to worry about with Iran than they do with the machinations of many of their own leaders.