The great divide between liberal Jewish Americans and the Israeli Right has lurked as an issue since the Likud Party first challenged Labor dominance in the late 1970s. It is now coming to a boiling point, even as Israel’s reputation in the world is sinking. As rightwing policies more visibly fail, the Likudniks are flailing around making fools of themselves by smearing critics of those policies as racists. (Anyone who knows how Likud supporters talk among themselves about Arabs and other outsiders can only be amused at their impudent hypocrisy in playing the race card.)
The mess that Mossad’s mercenaries (some of them possibly from the Fateh Palestinian faction also opposed to Hamas) made of a routine political assassination in Dubai of a Hamas agent funneling arms from Iran is a blow against Ithe image of daring, stone-cold competence cultivated by the Israeli security establishment. The killing went smoothly, but it transpires that the assassins had not only stolen the passport identities of British and Irish citizens, but those of several Israeli dual citizens originally from the UK, as well. Mossad thus made potential problems for those passport holders for the rest of their lives, since Interpol will be interested every time the numbers pop up at an airport check-in.
The incident has roiled diplomatic relations with Ireland and the UK. But it is also controversial in Israel (not the assassination but the bumbling clumsy identity theft against Israeli citizens). After all, branding an innocent Israeli an assassin is a sort of blood libel. Indeed, casual political assassination as a routine Israeli method of statecraft makes many Jews uncomfortable, as is visible in Steven Spielberg’s film, Munich.
But the harbingers of isolation are numerous. The Netanyahu government has largely defied President Obama’s requests for a halt to the colonization of the West Bank (a freeze on building new settlements in part of the West Bank, while existing settlements are expanded and Palestinians are thrown in the street in Jerusalem does not count).
The Israeli siege of the children of Gaza, some of whom are looking skinnier, is impossible to justify and provoked even a US congressman to urge a forceful breaking of the blockade. The Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes (and which also acknowledges Hamas war crimes) for the United Nations is likely to attain an official status of a sort denied to previous such clear-eyed examinations of Israeli military action. (Israel’s leadership suffered not the least from dropping nearly a million cluster bombs on the civilian farms of southern Lebanon in the last 3 days of the 2006 Lebanon War, though this targeting of civilians was illegal and the US Congress had stipulated that the weapons could not be used that way).
The reactionary parties of Likud, Shas, and Yisrael Beitenu have nothing in common with the vast majority of Jewish Americans, who voted for Barack Obama and are generally more progressive than non-Jewish Americans. The establishment of a liberal Jewish lobby, J Street, which supports a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine side by side), is a manifestation of the increasing unease of progessive Jewish Americans with the policies and aggressive wars of rightwing Israeli governments. Jewish Americans have been key to the securing of many of our civil liberties in this country and a major voice for peace and for culture and the arts, and a thug like Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister surely makes many of them uneasy. It is no accident that the Likud government has snubbed a delegation of US Congress members to Israel who support J Street. The Netanyahu government is all about colonizing more of the West Bank and preventing the rise of a Palestinian state.
Then you have Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein supporting the movement to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza civilians, including children.
The Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank provoked former president Jimmy Carter to warn of an Apartheid situation. Although he was viciously attacked by the likes of Alan Dershowitz and subjected to the typical dirty tricks deployed by fanatical nationalists of all stripes, he has been vindicated by remarks of Israeli politician Ehud Barak, who just said the same thing Carter had.
The occupation is also provoking an increasing move to boycott Israel, especially firms and concerns based in the West Bank settlements or connected to the Lebanon and Gaza Wars. The second largest union of Canadian federal employees has joined such a boycott. During the Gaza War, Scandinavian grocery chains cancelled their orders for Israeli fruit, and the South African longshoremen declined to unload Israeli ships.
It is anxiety over the prospect that the current far-right Netanyahu government is becoming increasingly isolated from the world community, including the Obama administration in the US, and from a new generation of progressive Jewish Americans that explains the rash of scurrilous charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ being thrown around by the ‘Israel-can-do-no-wrong’ crowd in recent days.
You had Leon Wieseltier’s unsubstantiated and shameful attack on Andrew Sullivan, which Sullivan effectively refuted — as did Glenn Greenwald, Matthew Ygglesias, and a number of others. As Greenwald points out, the use of the ‘anti-Semitism’ charge against ordinary every day non-bigotted people who just don’t agree with some policy of Israel or of the American Enterprise Institute risks making the term meaningless and cheapening it, which can hardly be good for the Jews.
Meanwhile, the main strategy of the Israeli and Jewish-American Right to preserve Israeli capacity to continue the colonization and to act belligerently in the region had been the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That strategem has failed, as I argued in Salon. The Shiite fundamentalists who have taken over Baghdad are pro-Hizbullah and pro-Palestinian. (Hizbullah was in part set up by the Islamic Mission Party, Da’wa, of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Da’wa supported Hamas in the recent Gaza War). Moreover, Baghdad has ceased helping contain Iran for the Sunni Arab world and the West, and is now a close ally of Tehran. The prospect of a well-armed, 250,000-man Iraqi army now being reconstituted, and riddled with agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, must be a matter of consternation for Israelis. Only Jordan separates them from Iraq, now an outpost of the Shiite religious parties allied with Khamenei. The Neoconservatives, such as Richard Perle, David Frum, Paul Wolfowitz, Irv Lewis Libby, Michael Rubin, Douglas Feith, John Bolton, Larry Franklin and others thus not only shot themselves in the foot, but they shot Israel in the chest.
This Iraq strategy, which intended to stop the Rabin peace process and prevent the return of Gaza and the West Bank to the Palestinians for their state, was laid out by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and other Neoconservatives in a white paper for Bibi Netanyahu in 1996. Many of the authors were subsequently put in high office by Bush-Cheney and pushed for an American war on Iraq with dirty tricks and false propaganda in 2002-2003. They included Canadian gadfly journalist David Frum, who authored Bush’s 2002 ‘Axis of Evil’ speech in consultation with Perle. The mostly Jewish Neoconservatives were only one faction in the Bush-Cheney coalition that wanted regime change in Baghdad, which included the Christian Right, Big Oil, and the military-industrial complex. However influential, they were not ‘in control’ and most Jewish Americans opposed their ideas and policies.
Frum, a Canadian who only became naturalized as a US citizen in 2007, was important in the early years of the Bush presidency and crafted many of the falsehoods and propaganda points that got up the Iraq War. He bears a heavy responsibility for the unnecessary deaths of over 4000 US military personnel, for the deaths of some 600,000 Iraqis, and for the displacement of nearly 4 million Iraqis. In a just world, David Frum would be on trial for his role in severe violations of international law, as would Bush, Cheney, Perle, and the rest of those bald-faced liars and warmongers.
To cover his prevarications and failed policies, Frum joined Wieseltier in playing the anti-Semitism card at CNN this week, piling on Sullivan but also smearing yours truly. His exhibit A was a passage in which I complained about supporters of the Israeli Likud party attempting to enlist the US military to fight wars on behalf of that party’s platform. The column was mainly about Larry Franklin, a Catholic, who went to jail on espionage charges for passing classified Pentagon documents to AIPAC and the Israeli embassy.
Since supporters of the Likud government, Christian and Jewish, are even now attempting to foment a US war on Iran on behalf of rightwing objectives in Israel (Iran is no more a threat to the United States than Iraq had been), I rather stand by my condemnation of them.
As someone who travels to Israel, collaborates on research with Israeli colleagues, supports Israelis’ right to live normal and fulfilling lives in security, and recently stayed in a kubbutz, I am puzzled by Frum’s innuendo. I am critical of Israeli policy in Gaza and the West Bank, but then so are former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak; I think I probably haven’t said anything on the issue that clear-eyed Israelis haven’t already said themselves.
But I will complain about David Frum’s dual loyalties. I am very suspicious of a rightwing Stephen Harper-style Canadian becoming so influential in the United States. I like my Canadians in their normal, sane estate. I fear he may be influencing my country in directions that benefit rightwing Canadian politicians and war industries in Ottawa. Although Canada has also leant us treasures like William Shatner, Dan Akroyd and Paul Schaeffer, for which I’m grateful, the latter never became ensconced in the halls of power or encouraged anyone to fire a shot in anger off the set.
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