Monday, March 25, 2013

Obama vs. Obama in Jerusalem

My last blog was written before Obama’s speech to students in Jerusalem. The two aspects of Obama, often so frustrating on our political home turf, were on full display.

Obama did everything he could to indicate that he and Netanyahu were in lock-step on Iran, including the option of military action; he went even further than previous administrations in increasing the enormous US investment in Israel’s military superiority in the region; he reaffirmed the blockade against Gaza and opposition to UN recognition of Palestine; he backed off from demanding that the aggressive settlement push be stopped. In sum, Obama renewed the blessings of the United States on the occupation that most of the world condemns.

On the other hand, he chose to give his main speech to the youth, not to the Knesset. He asked them to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinian youth, who deserve to be free in a state of their own, not living under an occupying army. As students interviewed by the NY Times remarked, he spoke of justice, settler violence, and occupation, words “that Netanyahu doesn’t want to hear.” He urged them to devote themselves to peace, to make their leaders change direction, to insist on renewed efforts toward “two states”. It was Obama inspiration at its best, and the students responded with enthusiasm.

Actually, the students the Times interviewed recognized both sides of Obama in Jerusalem.  Among the eight interviewed, two were Palestinian. I wish I could reproduce their comments here, because, while differing one from the other, they were generally insightful and refreshing. But I can’t give you a link to the Times article because of frustrating restrictions that limit access to subscribers — another small reminder of the “haves and have-nots” of the digital age. Nor will it help to give you the date of the article, because it appeared in an Internet version, not in any print edition as far as I can tell. The only way I can get this to you is to have the Times email the link; so, if you want it, click on comments (below this post) and include your email address.

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A couple of thoughts more before I leave “Israel and Palestine”, for a while at least — 

1) As discouraging as “two state” prospects may now seem, it's worth asking what is meant by a “one state solution.” That idea comes from very different sources with very divergent motivations and goals. Some mean one integrated state with guarantees for full equality and human rights for all. Some mean state power in the hands of one ethnic or fundamentalist religious group, whether it be a majority or, in the case of the settlers, a minority “chosen” to rule over “biblical lands.” In any case, can anyone conceive of a “one state solution” at this stage of history coming about other than by war and conquest?

2) Netanyahu and his think-alike advocates in the United States say that Israel’s security takes precedence over every other concern, including the risks of war against Iran and the consequences of the expanding occupation. But history shows that there never can be an occupation that doesn’t evoke resistance; there never has been a movement of resistance to occupation that didn’t lead some to acts of violence against the occupiers.

What we come back to again is the central imperative, mounting pressure worldwide to end the occupation and to prevent a new war.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Israel and Palestine

“The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice”   MLK

The long arc of history may bend toward justice, but that’s hardly self-evident in the conflict over Israel and Palestine. As time goes on, more and more “facts on the ground” are thrown in the way of hopes for a just resolution.

The “settlers” push on. On the eve of Obama’s visit, there is news: “New Apartments Will Complicate Jerusalem Issue — Israeli residences are being sandwiched into the fabric of Arab East Jerusalem…” (NY Times, March 16, 2013) By now, most Palestinians and Israelis have lost whatever faith they had in the so-called “peace process” and “two state solution.” Palestinian leadership, despite tentative unity gestures between Hamas and Fatah, remains divided on how to resist the occupation and on ultimate goals. Despite Israel’s military strength — as well as its favored status and vast support from the US government and private interests — its expanding occupation and repeated resort to massive force have isolated Israel among nations and aroused widespread condemnation.

Perhaps the recent Israeli elections signify that things are not entirely bleak. The ultra-right and religious fundamentalists were weakened. Although domestic issues were dominant, it appears that the Israeli public and most of its military and civilian leaders don’t share Netanyahu’s gung-ho attitude toward war with Iran.

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The questions are too many and too complicated to try to consider in one Op-Ed piece. I encounter differing attitudes among my friends and in the current events discussion groups that I attend. In some aspects, my thinking is far from fixed or confident.  Here I do want to express some things I find troubling about a debate that would focus now on whether the ultimate “solution” resides in a one state vs. a two state formula. This is relevant to the way some issues of conscience are presented by philosopher Joseph Levine in a challenging article, On Questioning the Jewish State (NY Times, March 9, 2013):

"Defenders of Israeli policies routinely accuse Israel’s critics of denying her right to exist, while the critics (outside of a small group on the left, where I now find myself) bend over backward to insist that, despite their criticisms, of course they affirm it. The general mainstream consensus seems to be that to deny Israel’s right to exist is a clear indication of anti-Semitism (a charge Jews like myself are not immune to), and therefore not an option for people of conscience."

The essential target of Levine’s challenge “is found in the crucial four words that are often tacked on to the phrase ‘Israel’s right to exist’ — namely, ‘… as a Jewish state’.”

I agree fully that no state should define itself by institutionalizing favored status for a particular ethnic or religious populace. Nevertheless, many states fit that description to one degree or another, and where they do, discrimination against the “other”, inequality and oppression are always present. Israel is no exception. As an occupying power ruling by force over Arab populations, it has earned comparison to former colonial and apartheid regimes. 

There surely are issues of conscience here, but to conflate them with the question of whether Israel should exist can only divide people of conscience. It deflects from urgent problems where conscience should weigh in now.

The way in which states may evolve, and new ones may arise, will be determined not by formulas, but by people, their struggles and some unforeseeable events. Whatever one conceives of as the eventual solution, conscience should drive people to fight for change in Israel, Palestine, and, probably above all, in the USA. Both for people unwilling to give up on the possibility of two viable states and, I’m sure, for people who think as Professor Levine does, the givens are: an unrelenting fight to end the occupation and reverse the settler grabs; support for a unified state of Palestine; the fight within each and every country for full equal rights and the separation of church and state.

Perhaps the most vital matter of conscience and humanity, especially in the United States and Israel, is absolute resistance to war against Iran or anywhere else. Today, the first day of Obama’s trip, puts in focus the biggest obstacle to progress: the unprecedented scale of US military investment in a regime that is committed to expanding occupation and acts of war.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Of drones and war

The weird, treacherous world of drones….. 

The first genuine old-fashioned filibuster in a very long time …. Rand Paul, supported by a few GOP colleagues, bravely resisted the pressure of his bladder for 13 hours!

The object of the heroic protest was restricted: the Administration’s ominous refusal to promise that drones would never be used to assassinate Americans on American soil. That’s no small matter in these bizarre times when the incredible often becomes commonplace. Yet, as Bishop Tutu has angrily called to attention, that’s hardly the voice of conscience; rather it can be taken as another unashamed avowal of “American exceptionalism”.  Drones can take “other” lives on “other” soils on demand from Washington — overriding sovereignty, legality, due process and concerns about the “unintended” elimination of all who happen to come within target range.

Now that land wars have proved unwinnable (from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan), the attempted alternative is assassination (without borders) by drones and Special Forces under command of an unprecedentedly military CIA. But it may turn out that drone and CIA warfare will prove as counterproductive and unsustainable in present times as traditional war. For one thing, drone attacks are only practical when the target is in countries too weak or underdeveloped to retaliate. So as Africa and parts of Asia become expanding targets, blowback also expands against superpower arrogance and perceived contempt for the lives of people of color. The Gallop poll finds that 92% of Pakistanis, whose country suffers the highest concentration of drone strikes, now condemn the United States. 

Of course, the new weapons featured in this latest theory and practice of war can’t be contained “for US use only”. Here and abroad, military, police and control freaks all want drones. And they are accessible in all conceivable varieties. As with computer hacking, another potential instrument of intervention and modern warfare, the necessary imagination and skills are not exclusively American.

If the CIA can conduct global war operations without legal or moral restriction, may not others act or retaliate in kind? Just the other day, the US military disclaimed authorship for two drone attacks that occurred in Pakistan; it must have been the Pakistan military…. or somebody else!

This is a tough world and answers often seem out of reach. What we know is that in our times the mindset of war as a solution— whether by armies, drones or doomsday weapons — makes things terribly worse. Problems and enemies proliferate; friends are lost.

Whatever forms of narrowly focused force may sometimes be necessary and legally justifiable, any promise for a better future demands breaking with war and all its reinventions. Only rabid hawks are never ready to give up on war.  The hard part is to overcome the entrenched global policies of military and economic interventionism that, decade after decade, drag us down the path to war.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Sometimes headlines tell a whole story. 

These are clipped from the front page of the New York Times on two successive days, Monday and Tuesday of this week. (Click to enlarge.) And the headline to come on Wednesday? Here's the preview via digital news:         
Record High Close for Dow 

Who can take a look at what's happening and still be in denial? Nothing hurts the 1% — recession, sequester or "recovery"; the billions keep coming, no limit. No limit either to the burdens put on the rest of society, especially those who struggle the most. They take hit after hit from the skewed priorities and values of the obscenely unfair system that calls itself "free enterprise."

The problem is much deeper than can be understood as a political contest between the GOP and the Democratic Party. Major constituencies that favor the Democratic Party certainly want to change the miserable state of affairs. They are trying to move the country in a more progressive and humane direction, although the record and role of dominant Democratic leadership is often part of the problem, It is itself too cozy with and complicit in the enormous power that big money holds over Washington and all of the country's politics. Still, if we are to move forward, it's necessary to face up to the absolute need to break the GOP's stranglehold on Congress, its dog-in-the-manger blockade of government.  That's very hard to accomplish even though the GOP seems to be in desperate straits. Whatever progress can be achieved right now if public anger is brought to bear on Congress, it's not too early to look to next year's mid-term elections. Conventional wisdom says low voter turnout is inevitable in an off-year election, and shameless gerrymandering has the game fixed in advance.

Can the pundits be proved wrong (once again)? Given what the economic royalists have done to the country, is there enough public anger (and the will to organize) to beat the odds? 

What do you think?