Monday, August 25, 2014


As Israel’s atrocious war against Gaza and the Palestinians continues, the worldwide movement to condemn, oppose, and boycott Israel spreads. It’s not a movement that speaks with one voice, but what’s universal is outrage over the war, also the demand that the occupation be ended. Lifting the shameful blockade of Gaza has come into focus as critical to even a short-term peace agreement.

Inevitably debates are intense among people who are horrified by what is happening, but differ on why things have come to such a pass and what should be done. I’ve been entangled in one such debate with a friend and, unfortunately, we’ve hit a dead end.

He cites recent articles by former “liberal Jewish Zionists” who now write about “the end of liberal Zionism”. I agree with much of their analysis, but have resisted making hypothetical “one state” or “two state” formulas the focus of attention. What’s central is the need for a powerful, many-faceted struggle that makes ending the occupation so urgent that it can no longer be deflected or deferred.

I’m drawn to another recent article, a message from Desmond Tutu, published in the Israeli paper Haaretz, and initiated by the international organization Avaaz in support of the global boycott against the occupation. He addresses the people of Israel and Palestine, recognizing that they, in concert with the global movement, have the capacity to move beyond the “current status quo.”  He offers no political formulas, no absolute “solutions”, just vital principles and values, with confidence that struggle against injustice will produce the answers. I admire his wisdom and inclusiveness. (I suppose reservations may be noted: religious faith is not part of my outlook; also, Bishop Tutu doesn’t mention that armed resistance contributed to the essentially non-violent liberation of South Africa.)

Back to my unhappy debate with a friend:  he insists, to my frustration, on using the thoughtful articles by self-described former Zionists to label me a “liberal Jewish Zionist”. No denial or discussion works; I’m lumped with Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohn. It matters not that I am and have been for many years a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Middle East Children’s Alliance, that I support the boycott against the occupation, or that I have never been a Zionist. I have not identified with the liberal/Zionist organization, J Street, although I surely welcome its challenge to the far right Jewish establishment. It doesn’t matter that I support full equality for Palestine, including unification, self-determination, and the right to establish a sovereign and viable state. Nor does it matter that I believe no state should be based on religious or ethnic supremacy.

Near as I can figure out, the problem is that I recognize that Israel exists. Its existence is a significant factor in any process that can change the status quo and result, as Tutu puts it, in ‘liberation for both Palestinians and Israelis’. No one can determine just how things may evolve; no one should be in a hurry to close any doors to possible progress. 

The fact that one recognizes Israel doesn’t make one a Zionist, any more than recognizing the USA makes one an imperialist, or recognizing Saudi Arabia makes one a monarchist.

By the way, I don’t think that “liberal” and “Zionist” are ipso facto “dirty words”, nor should they substitute for discussion or debate. Personally, I bristle at being labeled a “liberal Jewish Zionist”. At least one can choose to identify or not as a “liberal” or a “Zionist”. As for being a Jew, I don’t have or want a choice. (For what it’s worth, my friend is neither Jewish nor Palestinian.)

Well, this outpouring of personal emotion is pretty self-serving. I’m letting go of some frustration, trivial alongside the reality of current happenings. Maybe, though, it’s my small plea that people with many common values leave some room for differing opinions.

Together:  End the occupation. End the blockade of Gaza. Stop the war now.  

Friday, August 15, 2014


Another life and death issue emerges from the shadows over the dead body of Michael Brown, one more unarmed black teenager shot down.

The federal government is turning local police forces into mechanized armies. High-tech weaponry is available at ultra-bargain rates. So “crowd control” in Ferguson, Missouri evokes images of Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

There once were significant movements for disarmament. Now there is the effort, futile so far, for “gun control”.  But the “gun” problem has a choke hold on our society. It’s not confined to the problem of random homicides, or hate killings by vigilantes or some deranged shooter. It dominates institutions: the powerful gun lobby and the way so many police forces exercise power in black and brown communities. And for too many of our politicians, the power of the gun is the cornerstone of foreign policy. Our USA is the world’s largest dealer and supplier of weapons of war. (Of course we have lots of company in that business.)

The shooting of Michael Brown sends ripples beyond outrage over the racism that wasted one more young life. Ferguson reveals a lot about a society of violence. It’s one more jolt to the conscience of the country.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


A couple of months ago, Robert Kagan wrote a manifesto that attacked Obama’s foreign policy as weak and cowardly. He hailed the triumphal return of neo-conservatism and interventionism, arguing that superior force must be central to US policy.

A follow-up interview with Kagan appeared in the New York Times:

“But Exhibit A for what Robert Kagan describes as his “mainstream” view of American force is his relationship with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who remains the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes. Mr. Kagan pointed out that he had recently attended a dinner of foreign-policy experts at which Mrs. Clinton was the guest of honor, and that he had served on her bipartisan group of foreign-policy heavy hitters at the State Department, where his wife worked as her spokeswoman.

 “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy,” Mr. Kagan said, adding that the next step after Mr. Obama’s more realist approach “could theoretically be whatever Hillary brings to the table” if elected president. “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue,” he added, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

Now, in an interview with the Atlantic, Hillary shows boldly that Kagan’s confidence in her is not misplaced. It is a full-throated call for reliance on US power to subdue or tame all adversaries, and her list includes not only the jihadists of ISIS, but Iran, Russia, and China. She joins the chorus blaming Obama for a too cautious approach to military intervention. On Israel, she gives not an inch to worldwide condemnation of the occupation and the massacre in Gaza: “Israel did what it had to do.” 

What’s most striking is the lack of vision beyond American superiority and the need to try to convince or compel the rest of the world to fall in line. Nowhere in the long interview does she mention climate change, poverty and inequality, or any of the existential problems that require international cooperation if there is to be any hope.

US foreign policy under Obama has been embedded in obligatory declarations of American exceptionalism and commitment to US supremacy. It has deployed special forces, unleashed drones indiscriminately, and expanded surveillance worldwide in violation of international law and the sovereignty of nations. But Obama has been reluctant to prolong the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to risk getting drawn into new ones.  

That doesn’t satisfy John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Robert Kagan and the neocons —  nor Hillary Clinton.
* * *
After I wrote the above, I saw today's Maureen Dowd column. It's worth a read, the last part about Hillary. Dowd is often unkind, but her barbs do sometimes hit the mark.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


This is not the most convenient time for reflection. It is a time for outrage, for doing whatever bit one can to demand a stop to the horror in Gaza. But if not now, when will it be too late to look where we’re going?

As things fall apart, US foreign policy is flailing and failing worldwide.

Is the United States bolstering prospects for a more peaceful world? Or is it mired in aims and commitments that make continuing wars and new ones more likely? A century after the outbreak of World War I, why are we beginning to be haunted by the possibility that this 21st century may yet see another global conflagration?

The week’s news puts US foreign policy into sharpest focus.

Increased sanctions on Putin are hailed as a victory even as prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine diminish and today's headline reads: "U.S.-Russia Nuclear Deal Stalls As Tensions Over Ukraine Rise" (NY Times, 8/3/14).  Congress votes 100 to zero to support Israel’s war in Gaza, while Amnesty International and representatives of the United Nations demand sanctions against escalating war crimes inflicted on a helpless population.

The eagerness for confronting Putin and reluctance to confront Netanyahu says a lot about the direction of US foreign policy. The point isn’t whether Netanyahu is better or worse than Putin. The bigger issue is one of direction, where we’re headed — what George H. W. Bush referred to uncomfortably as the “vision thing”.

If we’re ever able to see beyond today’s world in chaos, we’ll measure success by whether the “will of the people” worldwide can pressure most governments to oppose war and commit, despite deep-seated differences, to collective efforts on the most critical problems that endanger humanity. There is no other way in this fateful century to make headway on climate change, reverse the nuclear nightmare, reduce poverty and inequality, and cope with traditional ethnic and religious conflicts. It may sound like Gorbachev warmed over to talk of common ground between countries with different and competing political, economic and ideological histories. But please don’t turn off. If common ground is conceivable, it is rooted in the basic interests of all people, despite the incompetence and corruption of political rulers and the insatiable greed of controlling oligarchs.

So it’s more than alarming that our political establishment cheers any action that reignites cold war antagonisms and dutifully “justifies” Israel’s war on Palestine. In a Washington paralyzed by the GOP blockade against the Obama presidency and all social legislation, there is a formula for bipartisanship: get tough with Russia, China and governments in Latin America that challenge “our” dominance; give massive support to Israel no matter what (and by the way, don’t criticize Netanyahu in public!)

Think about that 100-0 vote in the Senate. Is it conceivable that the worldwide criticism of Israel’s mechanized massacre of so many civilians, so many children, is not shared by anyone in US high places? Is everyone satisfied to blame it all on Hamas and stay blind to the consequences of the occupation and de facto imprisonment of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza? That’s not credible. A more likely explanation is the fear that any dissent from the official narrative is politically dangerous, taboo.  So President Obama and Secretary Kerry show a little discomfort now and then, some unhappiness with Netanyahu, but quickly backtrack and apologize, repeating pledges of undying support while massive military and economic enablement of aggression actually increases.

The track we’re on isn’t promising if one dares envision a more peaceful and hopeful world.  But why do we stay on this track and where does it take the United States?

The short answer for some analysts, not only those with a defined Marxist point of view, would be ‘it’s the system’:  it’s in the nature of capitalism to generate inequality and subordinate the welfare of society to the interests of a super wealthy elite. But let’s just stay with the obvious: there is an enormous investment in US military and economic power worldwide, in continuing to reign as the sole global super power. That blinds much of our ruling establishment to the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq and the general chaos of today (and back at least as far as Vietnam). Otherwise, why can’t our politicians recognize the folly of conceiving of this as the “American Century”, with the rest of the world accepting US interests as their own?

There is a lot of uneasiness, even despair, about the state of foreign and domestic affairs. As a country, we are hurting — especially, but not only, the people who bear the heaviest burdens of our military involvements and political gridlock. The really worrisome difficulty is that a reactionary political trend, though repeatedly discredited, nevertheless exploits limitless wealth to block common sense adjustments to new realities and all measures in the public interest. They are dragging the country down.

What can break the cycle of blackmail, intimidation, and conformity that keeps “real change” from happening? John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson didn’t lead on civil rights; they responded to political courage that came from the movement. Barack Obama didn’t lead on Gay marriage; political courage came from the movement that started out as a vilified minority.

So, to come back to the news of the day:  there has to be the political and moral courage to condemn US support for the massacre in Gaza and to refuse to tolerate colonial occupation in the 21st Century. Maybe that can begin a turn toward sanity.