Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"We were riveted": the founding myths of Israel and America

That was Henry Kroll’s remark - he is the minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Boulder - about my talk, right after I returned from Palestine, about Founding Myths in Israel and America, perhaps because I was riveted by the experience itself. Listen to the talk here (it begins in part 2, after the introductions).


In America, the Myth looks to the “founding fathers” – mostly slave-owners – as exponents of "freedom" of a peculiar kind as Vincent Harding sometimes sardonically puts it. It applies to blacks and most sharply, to native americans whom I will discuss in a later post (in addition, it applies to indentured servants, women and the poor but free...). For an account of such myths and the view from below, see here.

The Bill of Rights thus specifies equal freedom only for some. But even the militias of Amendment 2 were focused, as my friend Carl Bogus writes, on repressing slave escape or rebellion in the South – see here.

My essay on Paul Finkelman’s New York Times op-ed, “the people and 'the Monster of Monticello' captures this issue here.


But as Black Patriots and Loyalists; Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence shows – see here - there was a huge movement from below of the American side, led by sailors and other artisans, farmers and Christians who were abolitionists. They propelled large-scale recruitment of blacks sometimes in exchange for freedom to match the recruitment and emancipation of blacks which was a major aspect of the Royal war effort.

This Patriot movement resulted in the greatest acts for freedom in the American Revolution: gradual emancipation in the North starting in Pennsylvania in 1780, Massachusetts in 1782, Rhode Island and Connecticut in 1784 and New York in 1799 and New Jersey in 1804.


The myth of Israel was a "people without land for a land without people.” There were some 800,000 who were driven out in the initial ethnic cleansing. I saw the ruins of Lifta in a national park with trees planted in Jerusalem, near Deir Yassin.

In the latter there was a massacre; in the former, many fled.


Some of my correspondents, who are overly tolerant of Israel's brutality, like to point to Assad's massacres today in Syria. This is an important concern - one that gets, as the regime in Egypt does, at the sharp limitations of Arab spring, given both international militarism and internal tyranny.

The Syrian regime does larger scale murder than Israel recently in Gaza.


But this general line of extenuation - Hitler is worse, Assad is worse; really Israel doesn't slaughter so many - is not, morally, persuasive. That one is a murderer but not yet a world record setter does not excuse the crimes.


Worse yet, if one takes the original killings and exodus of Palestinians in the foundation of Israel as well as the Occupation itself and the brutality in the Territories since 1967, it is not clear, sadly, that the regime is not up there with Assad.


And since Jews since Moses, have opposed slavery and other oppressions, it seems odd, particularly on behalf of a Jewish state, to invoke such "arguments."


One of the questions at the end of the talk suggested that Zionists did not imagine that the people living in Palestine were an ethnic people, that is, had ordinary human claims to dignity and rights. They were somehow "just individuals." But this, as is often said, is a distinction without a difference.

I responded that these Jews were, in this respect, stupid and racist, and asked the questioner if he, taking in their actions as well as words, could think about this in another way.


But it has been hard for me to take in the Europeanness of the leadership of Israel and many of its American supporters. This includes the would-be pith helmets of neocons. Charles Krauthammer leads in this rhetoric but it was the clichĂ© of choice – the vision of the white man astride the Middle East – of neocons during the Iraq war, including Straussians like William Kristol.


This week, I went to a telent show at my son’s school and was talking with Scott Bain, the principal. Scott was, some ten years ago, a fine student of mine who wrote a paper on history and the possibilities of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland. He asked me about my trip and we talked briefly.


The Jews, he said, brought the awfulness of their treatment in Europe to the Middle East. Mirroring how they had been oppressed, they now assumed the European role toward semites…

The Open School is a longstanding experimental school in which students have advisors who mentor them in finding their own course in life. It provides student-oriented or student-directed learning.

It is also marked by unusual civility and kindness compared to other public schools. It works with some kids, whose parents have to apply, who have had problems in other schools.

Scott talks with them when they get in trouble for bullying.


He described a conversation a few days before. Scott asked a young man about his experience in another school. He responded: “I was bullied.”

“What do you like about the Open School?” Scott asked.

“People are kind,” he said.

“Then why do you bring the very thing you hated from the public school here to the Open School?...”


Scott told me that such conversations often enable the student to change, since he had felt what had been done to him, and knew, viscerally, what it was like. He had but to feel the hurt of the person under his fists…


The creation of Israel was opposed by the Arab states and Israel has had a long fight for legitimacy. The image of a threatened and tiny Israel in the sea of “frightening” Arabs - Orientalism - was and is the motivation for fighting for Israel, and also, for the military and political atrocities that the state often asks its soldiers to commit.


That was true in the original creation of Israel – extenuated by what had happened to Jews in Europe, but still an ethnic cleansing against a people that had not done harm to Jews – and is now continued in the Occupation since 1967, particularly the relentless and calculated attempt illegally to settle Israelis in the Territories and drive out the people there.


The Palestinians, are, I often say, the Jews of the Occupied Territories. That is the way the state of Israel oppresses them, as I describe in this talk and here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here,

It is hard for a Jew (there were 7 of us in the delegation but it was just as hard for others in the civil rights movement, allied with Jews against segregation in America) to take in.


Lsst week, Palestine was recognized as an observer state by the UN. This was a great victory, one that may yield renewed efforts toward peace - a decent two state settlement with international support.* - and brings authority to press charges against Israel for war crimes. For instance, settling 500,000 people in the Occupied Territories is a major and widely recognized crime.


I saw the unbearable red roofed houses in neat rows with their play spaces for children - some children deserve play spaces in the new Israel - everywhere in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They contrast, with their new sidewalks, with the broken stones or the villages littered with tear gas canisters and the hard shells of rubber bullets, with their black water tanks to collect rain water (Israel limits water to Palestinians to a few hours a day and steals the water in the Occupied areas - also a war crime).


Palestinians were understandably overjoyed with the UN decision as is everyone opposed to oppression worldwide. Glenn Greenwald has a pointed commentary on the rogue states, Israel and America (and Canada and the Marianas Islands) here.


In a double-down response, Netanyahu’s cabinet mandated the building of 3,000 new settlement homes in the E1 area between the settlement at Maale Adumim and East Jerusalem. A despicable "Jews-only" Veolia train - Veolia, a French company, is the subject of an international boycott - already connects the settlement with Jerusalem. The new construction severs connection between two parts of the West Bank, hence the widespread idea, short of destroying the settlements or, more creatively, allowing Palestinians to reside in them, too) that it rings down the curtain on any serious two state negotiation for a democratic and rights-preserving solution.


England and France have threatened to call their ambassadors home and look to resist, in a new way, these policies.

They are particularly aggrieved that they supported Israel’s new atrocities in Gaza – the Occupation, an aggression, removes any reasonable claim of self-defense from the Israeli "election" attack and thus, the Obama administration and England and France's rationalizations.

But then, after they have defended Israel's aggression, Netanyahu turns around and attacks a two state settlement by a vast and targeted expansion of the settlements in E1...


The emperor's clothes - that the leadership of Israel is both endlessly belligerent and, in fact, undermining, again and again, any effort at a two state settlement, is visible to all the world but Israel and the US political elite…


Peace with human rights for each person is a hope generated by the large international movement against the shocking treatment of the Palestinians. That movement is inspired by the same things that inspired many to heroic efforts against the genocide against Jews in Europe.

We need a political solution which upholds the dignity of each person.

Many Gazans now name what they need – to be treated with dignity – against their inhuman subjection by Israel in this way.


The state of Israel has set itself against decency, even for Israeli jews. It seeks an expansion to greater Israel even at the price of Israel. As a matter of policy and in the sentiments of a substantial number of Israelis, their state is - and should be - an apartheid state.

But the state of Israel or, more likely, protestors within Israel still have the possibility of fighting for a two state solution, which as Norman Finkelstein has suggested and last week's UN vote shows, has widespread international support.


Personally, I would prefer ideally a one state democratic and rights based solution. I think theocracies are dangerous, even though Israel has in its declaration of independence tolerant and democratic aspirations, something it could renew...

But the evolution of Israel, with regard to human rights as well as internal inequality and socialism, has not been promising.

As I also said in this talk, however, I have a friend whose parents were Communists in the underground during Hitler, hunted as radicals and as Jews, ferociously. She lives some of the time in Israel and wants a place where Jews can be safe.


Hilary Putnam sent me a post from Julie Chaitin, an Israeli human rights activist on the fear that she and her son experienced with Palestinian rockets (below). It is a real and deep fear. She recognizes that what the Palestinians suffer, occupied and under a militarist and brutal regime, is far worse.

"I had an insight - for the first time in my life, I began to understand, just a tiny, tiny bit what the Gazans must feel during this war. What they must feel most days of their lives. They are trapped and can't get out. They are bombed, and have no safe rooms. They are cornered and cannot make a clear decision about what to do."

She sees that they experience every moment what she gets peripherally (in Jerusalem) under Palestinian attack.


We need a solution that will uphold the human rights and basic physical security of each person.


The Obama administration's policy, registered in Susan Rice's comments at the UN and Hillary Clinton's remarks below are, so far, destructive and self-destructive.


A decent solution, in the near run, is possible. But only a vigorous, international, nonviolent, anti-apartheid movement from below will achieve it.


From Judy Chaitin's blog:

"My mind has turned to mush

Since the war began, my mind has turned to jelly. I seem to have a very difficult time deciding which bus to take to Jerusalem, and what time or how to go back home. I can't decide whether or not to stay outside and clean up the leaves that have overtaken the garden, or if I should keep the doors and windows open or shut in the house.

The reason for this severe difficulty is not dementia or a blod clot in my brain. At least not as far as I know.

The reason is the war.

The constant sirens announcing the onslaught of the constant rockets and the constant booms, one right after another, so close and so loud have turned my mind into mush. I begin one thing only to find myself starting another. I start a sentence, lose my train of thought, and then begin another, completely different, conversation. I feel myself holding back tears many times during the day, but am no longer sure who or what I am upset about. I try writing this blog, which usually seems to almost write itself, and find that I don't know what I want to say, or how I want to say it.

Yesterday, when my oldest son and I tried to go from Beer Sheva to Jerusalem by bus, I came very, very close to freaking out. On the way from the kibbutz to Beer Sheva, I was pressed against the door, ready to roll out of the car and take cover if a siren went off. When we got to Beer Sheva, we saw the bus that had been hit by the rocket just a few minutes before we got there. At the bus station, the 9:10 bus to Jerusalem never showed up, and we had two sirens. The bus station, which has now turned into a huge construction site, does not have available safe rooms, unless you are standing right next to one. We - a hundred of us or so - ran into one of the new rooms that they are building. It had a roof, but plaster walls. There is no floor, and there are construction materials all around. Nothing safe about this safe room. When we went to inquire about the bus that was take us away from this nightmare, that never appeared, the answer we got from the Egged administration was: "We don't know. Sorry. Yes, we agree that its chutzpa that no bus came and that we're not sending another one."

Yes, yesterday morning did a lot to bolster my sense of security.

A bus came that stops at every bus stop from Beer Sheva to Jerusalem, but I refused to get on. This ride would have taken an hour more than the express bus AND it would have had the extra advantage of driving through many of the places that are being constantly hit by rockets these days. No way was I going to get on a bus that was sure to put me in danger for 2.5 hours.

I felt trapped: I so desparately wanted to get away from this life-threatening madness, but couldn't get out! Since my mind had turned to jelly, I couldn't decide what to do: Should we look for a taxi-sherut that is going to Jerusalem, but is also, very likely to stop at different stations along the way dropping people off and picking up others? Should we get on a bus and go to Tel Aviv and from there get a bus to Jerusalem - making the whole ordeal twice as long? Should we give up and go back to the kibbutz that is under rocket attacks, and where we have no safe rooms?

I had an insight - for the first time in my life, I began to understand, just a tiny, tiny bit what the Gazans must feel during this war. What they must feel most days of their lives. They are trapped and can't get out. They are bombed, and have no safe rooms. They are cornered and cannot make a clear decision about what to do.

Yesterday, I truly understood the meaning of helplessness and fear, or what it means to be trapped.

My son and I eventually got on an express bus to Jerusalem and arrived safely after an hour and twenty minutes. When we were having lunch with my sister and niece at a cafe in Jerusalem, there was a siren when a rocket was fired toward Jerusalem.

Yesterday, while my mind was a jelly mold, I felt deep pain for myself, for other Israelis and for Gazans.

Let's see what today will bring."


Andrew Sullivan has the following apt comments:

"Bibi Is Bluffing?

Michael Koplow doubts the new Israeli settlement expansion will ever materialize:

'[W]hy even make the announcement about planning and zoning if the building phase is never going to arrive? Following the embarrassingly lopsided U.N. vote and the criticism from his right that he did not go far enough during Operation Pillar of Cloud, Netanyahu needed to make a big gesture before the January 22 election to demonstrate that he is committed to settlements and that he will not take the PA’s new statehood status in stride. E1 is an enormous deal to the settler wing of Likud, and declaring a new planning and zoning stage is red meat to Israeli right-wing partisans in a variety of camps, whether they be pro-settlements or have a religious or nationalist attachment to an eternal undivided Jerusalem.'

I'm sorry but saying this is due to pre-election politics is not an excuse. In fact, it's precisely because Netanyahu needs these religious fanatics to win elections (and in my view pretty clearly believes in Greater Israel for ever) that the settlements continue to proliferate and grow. The only thing that can sustain an Israeli government is the very thing likely to isolate Israel even further from its European allies: more aggressive settlements. Ibish:

"Britain, France and Sweden are reportedly considering withdrawing their ambassadors from Tel Aviv if building goes ahead. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the plan a potentially "fatal blow" to a two-state solution, because Palestinians will not sign to a peace agreement that does not allow East Jerusalem to serve as their capital.The New York Times reported that the announcement came as a "rude shock" to the Obama administration, particularly since they had specifically warned Israel in advance against precisely this form of 'retaliation.'"

But we know how Bibi Netanyahu views the US: as an "ally" that can be pushed around and treated with consistent contempt. If this latest outrage doesn't prove that definitively, what would?

(Photo: A Bedouin camp is seen in the E1 area, between Jerusalem and the Israeli West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, on December 3, 2012. Paris and London called in Israel's envoys for consultations as the Jewish state faced mounting diplomatic pressure over plans to build 3,000 settler homes in E1 and east Jerusalem and the West Bank. By Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)


Hillary Clinton's recent comments, plainly representative of US policy, are disturbing, as Phillip Weiss posts. Hillary used to think Palestinians were human just as she once was against the war in Vietnam at Wellesley or sympathized with the Panthers as a law student in New Haven. But she wants to be President. Her remarks underline the continued pushing around of the American administration by Netanyahu in a peculiarly base way:

"'America and Israel are in it together,’ Clinton declares– and nary a word about settlements
by Philip Weiss on December 3, 2012

See here for a video of Clinton's remarks.

At a time when Britain and France are considering withdrawing ambassadors from Israel over its latest settlement plans, Hillary Clinton addressed the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution Friday night and, declaring "America and Israel are in it together," said nothing about settlements or occupation except when she three times praised Benjamin Netanyahu for a "settlement freeze."

[the program would not reproduce the photograph]
Clinton at Saban Center, with Tamara Coffman Wittes

And in one pointed reference to a settlement, Gilo, Clinton bragged about visiting the colony.

Seated at dinner next to Haim Saban, an ardent supporter of Israel and the Democratic Party, Clinton seemed to be relaunching her political career.

Haim Saban with Hillary Clinton.
(Photo by Natasha Mozgovaya of Haaretz).

She called Saban "a friend, a colleague, a mentor, an inspiration to so many of us here tonight" and from start to finish Clinton took Israel's side in the conflict. She accused Iran of fostering global terrorism "insinuating" itself into countries around the world, chastised Palestinians for not accepting Partition in 1947, and suggested that Palestinians should be content with a mini-state in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and not Gaza.

Clinton gave shoutouts to John Kerry and Eric Schmidt of Google, and praised Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel promoter David Makovsky, and took questions from (according to the transcript) an unbalanced roster, Makovsky, Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan and settler activist Dani Dayan.

Here are some excerpts from her one-sided remarks:

"America and Israel are in it together. This is a friendship that comes naturally to us. Americans honor Israel as a homeland dreamed of for generations and finally achieved by pioneering men and women in my lifetime. We share bedrock beliefs in freedom, equality, democracy, and the right to live without fear. What threatens Israel threatens America, and what strengthens Israel strengthens us...

Our shared obsession with innovation is also bringing us closer together. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently called Israel 'the most important high tech center in the world, after the United States.' So it is no surprise that our diplomatic challenge is not only about a dialogue of strategic and political interests, including not just our soldiers and our politicians, but increasingly including our techies and our venture capitalists and our entrepreneurs."

She faults the Arab spring and praises rightwing Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman:

"And one of our problems is that when you think about who the leaders are [in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt], there aren’t political parties that create a Tzipi Livni or an Ehud Olmert or Avigdor Lieberman."

She blames the Iranians for a skein of terror and "hegemonic" ambitions:

"we know very well the Iranian regime already exports terrorism, not only to Israel’s doorstep, but across the world. If we had a map I could put up there, I could show you what we track and plot on that map – the evidence of terrorism – mostly, thankfully, plots foiled or unsuccessful. Unfortunately, as in Bulgaria, some that succeeded. But those plots, those activities of Iran directly and through their agents, stretches from Mexico to Thailand. We see Iran bringing repression to Syria. We see Iran brutalizing their own people. So a nuclear Iran is not simply a threat to Israel. It is a threat to all nations and risks opening the floodgates on nuclear proliferation around the world...

their concerted efforts to undermine governments, to create havoc from Bahrain to Yemen and beyond, is equally troubling and dangerous. And so, we are constantly working with friends and allies to try to prevent that. And we see how Iran tries to insinuate itself into many societies with all kinds of promises, many of which are never fulfilled. I cannot tell you how many promises of infrastructure investment in Venezuela have been made without building an outhouse. It’s just a ridiculous record of promise with no follow-up. But they keep doing it. They are relentless in their desire to exercise influence and to build a very intimidating, even hegemonic, presence in the Gulf."

She blames Palestinians for the Gaza conflict:

"Now, we have no illusions about those who launched the rockets. They had every intention of hiding behind civilians in Gaza and killing civilians in Israel. And they would have killed more of each if they could have."

Here are her only references to settlements, all praising Netanyahu and damning the Palestinians:

"But there were moments of opportunity. And I will also say this. When Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze I flew to Jerusalem. ...And when Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze, it wasn’t perfect. It didn’t cover East Jerusalem, but it covered much of the contested area in the West Bank... And I stood on a stage with him at 11 o’clock – Israelis always meet late at night, I don’t understand it – (laughter) – but 11 o’clock at night, midnight, and I said it was unprecedented for any Israeli prime minister to have done that. I got so criticized. I got criticized from the right, the left, the center, Israeli, Jewish, Arab, Christian, you name it. Everybody criticized me. But the fact was it was a 10-month settlement freeze. And he was good to his word. And we couldn’t get the Palestinians into the conversation until the tenth month."

The usual demographic chatter, supporting Israeli discrimination against Palestinians:
And without peace, the inexorable math of demographics will, one day, force Israelis to choose between preserving their democracy and remaining a Jewish homeland.

Not once but twice:

"if you look at demography, you see the population shifts and the problems that that will cause for Israel."

She implies that the Palestinian state will be in the West Bank, not Gaza:

"there is still an opportunity with the West Bank Palestinians to have a different status quo that is very much in Israel’s interest."

The relentlessly chipper backing of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank,

"the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank still offers the most compelling alternative to rockets and permanent resistance. At a time when religious extremists claim to offer rewards in the hereafter, Israel needs to help those committed to peace deliver for their people in the here and now. The leaders of the West Bank – President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad – deserve credit for their real achievements on the ground."

She lectures Egypt about its constitution but says nothing about Palestinian human rights in Israel or nonviolent protest in the West Bank:

"Egypt will need a constitution that protects the rights of all, creates strong institutions, and reflects an inclusive process. Egypt will be strongest – and so will our partnership – if Egypt is democratic and united behind a common understanding of what democracy means. Democracy is not one election one time. Democracy is respecting minority rights."

She speaks about Israeli settlements as if they are part of Israel:

"[I] walked along the fence near Gilo."

She never uses the words occupy or occupation except in a favorable context:

"It gives Israel a moral high ground that I want Israel to occupy. That’s what I want Israel to occupy, the moral high ground."

Here are her patronizing references to the great deals the Paletinians have been offered:

"But after Yasser Arafat said no at Camp David – and I don’t care how many people try to revise that history, the fact is he said no at Camp David – some months later he calls my husband, when Bill is no longer President, and says, “You know that deal that you offered? I’ll take it now.”... The Palestinians could have had a state as old as I am if they had made the right decision in 1947. They could have had a state if they had worked with my husband and then-Prime Minister Barak at Camp David. They could have had a state if they’d worked with Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni."

Update: David Remnick agrees that Clinton is running for president. I wish I'd written this!

"Hillary Clinton is running for President. And the Israeli political class is a full-blown train wreck. These are two conclusions, for whatever they are worth, based on a three-day conference I attended this weekend at the annual Saban Forum, in Washington, D.C."

And Scott McConnell points out that Clinton made a veiled reference to settlements in this comment:

"So particularly in light of today’s announcement, let me reiterate that this Administration – like previous administrations – has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace."


*Susan Rice, the American ambassador, also distinguished herself in nastiness toward the Palestinians, especially since besides Israel, Canada and the Mariana Islands, she was pretty well alone...

It is unfortunate as well as stupid that she is being attacked fiercely from the Right, given that she herself is often a rather thoughtless reactionary...

Rice has also invested in Transcanada, one of the owners of the XL pipeline, which Rice would, as Secretary of State, "oversee"...The completion of the tar sands pipeline represents the final straw, according to James Hansen, the former government climate expert, in global warming, and this also a large consideration in assessing her. See the protests led by AIM in Denver and Canada here and here.

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