Walter L. Hixson – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 17 Jun 2021 05:10:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.18 Some in Congress want Oversight of US funds used by Israel for War Crimes, but AIPAC says ‘No’ https://www.juancole.com/2021/04/congress-oversight-crimes.html Tue, 27 Apr 2021 04:04:32 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=197462 Akron, Oh. (Special to Informed Comment) – In mid-April, Rep. Betty McCollum (D.-MN) introduced a bill requiring oversight of how Israel uses U.S. aid and forbidding its use to detain Palestinian children. Although Congressional limitations on the billions of dollars it sends Israel every year were the norm only a few decades ago, it is seldom any longer that the legislature of the world’s only superpower dares criticize Israeli actions, however egregiously they violate international and US law.

The chances for passage of McCollum’s brave bill, however, are low. The most powerful lobby representing a foreign country in American history, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC: an umbrella lobbying organization comprising thousands of often fanatically pro-Israel groups) recently boasted that 331 members of Congress have signed an AIPAC-generated letter pledging that aid to Israel will not be made conditional on Israeli actions. In other words, a clear majority of Congress supports the continuing massive annual allocations to Israel no matter what actions it takes on the ground in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

Today only a handful of progressive Democrats in the House and Senate opposes the unfettered aid to an Israeli government that is now, finally, being accurately called to account as an apartheid regime. Earlier this year B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organization, took the initiative by officially labeling Israel an apartheid state. This week the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch will issue a report affirming the apartheid designation. In addition, the International Criminal Court is considering sanctioning Israel for its race-based repression. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has called for a new human rights-based approach to U.S. support for Israel. Of course, Palestinians and their supporters in the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have made this case for nearly two decades.

While international pressure is thus is on the rise against Israel’s outlaw behavior and ruthless repression of Palestinians, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee exercises an extraordinary sway over the congressional purse strings, resulting in a de facto U.S. policy of bolstering apartheid. Advocates of justice in Palestine have little reason to expect any help from the Biden administration, whose foreign policy is directed by the staunchly pro-Israel Secretary of State Antony Blinken, nor from the House and Senate leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, both longtime AIPAC loyalists.

While an array of forces mobilizes against the unfettered U.S. support for Israeli repression in Palestine, the Israel lobby goes about the routine daily business of using substantial campaign contributions and the threat of being smeared as a bigot to influence the largely spineless U.S. Congress.

Want to carry out ethnic cleansing operations in occupied East Jerusalem replete with shouts of “Death to Arabs”? No problem, enjoy yourselves, the Israel lobby and the U.S. Congress have your back!

A majority of Congress caves into the powerful pro-Israel lobby despite extensive polling showing that most of their constituents favor conditioning aid on Israeli actions, including illegal settlements and driving people from their homes, as is occurring daily amid the cleansing operations in East Jerusalem. Instead of respecting the wishes of a majority of Americans, the 331 members of Congress signed on to the AIPAC letter condemning any conditioning of U.S. aid. “Full funding of American security assistance to Israel is a vital investment in our national security interests,” the letter declares.

Israel currently enjoys the fruits of a 10-year, $38 billion U.S. assistance program. Most of the money goes into the Israeli military, which the United States has guaranteed will remain the dominant force in the Middle East. Israel receives the U.S. assistance through an “early disbursal” arrangement that no other country in the world receives. Since 1948 Israel, a small country of some nine million people, has received far more American financial assistance than any other country in the world.

In addition to its brutal repression and illegal settlements now totaling more than 700,000 Jewish settlers, Israel represses Palestinians who comprise about 20 percent of the population within its officially sanctioned borders. In 2018 Israel proclaimed itself a Jewish state with Hebrew as the official language, thus further marginalizing the Palestinians and making a mockery of the longtime Israel and AIPAC propaganda claim that Israel was the “sole democracy” of the Middle East. The Palestinians inside Israel have long been marginalized and subjected to racist disdain, but the nation state law formally ensconced ethnic and religious discrimination within the Israel constitution.

Israel, as the human rights groups are acknowledging, is thus unambiguously an apartheid state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The question is how much time will pass before a majority of Congress has the courage to stand up to AIPAC to acknowledge and to act on this reality.

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The Left is Back! https://www.juancole.com/2020/02/the-left-is-back.html Tue, 25 Feb 2020 05:03:17 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189311 Akron, OH (Special to Informed Comment) – It’s official: the American left is back! Whether Bernie Sanders goes on to win the Democratic nomination, which appears increasingly likely, the left has risen and it is not likely to recede anytime soon.

Virtually destroyed by World War II and the Cold War, the left attempted a revival in the 1960s, but the new left was too narrowly focused, too divided, and too immature to have staying power. The Reagan Cold War revival, Clinton centrism, the global war on terror, and right-wing populist demagoguery have all worked to keep the left on the sidelines.

It is now back, albeit as a politics pumping precariously through the veins and cardiac stents of a steady Vermont warhorse who has had the temerity to call himself a democratic socialist.

The demonization of that term and of Sanders himself of course will continue. The Cold War cast a long shadow over American culture and politics and it has not yet fully receded. President Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg and many others have already invoked the proverbial specter of communism in relation to Sanders.

One lesson Trump should have taught us by now, however, is that many Americans do not like labels, being told how to think, and that certain candidates are too far out of the mainstream to be elected president. At this point both political parties are so discredited—and rightfully so—that alternatives on the far right are being challenged by the revivified left.

Centrists like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden whine that Sanders is too far to the left, but none of them has excited a base. Clinton centrism is dead and they are its residue. Democrats may have no choice but to move to the left, to get on the Bernie bandwagon, if they are serious not only about defeating Trump but about having a political future of their own.

In 2016 an electoral college-driven outcome produced a white nationalist demagogue obsessed with the outgoing black president and nurtured by daily doses of Fox News. Americans may now get a second chance and a more genuine alternative to Trump than the uninspiring Hillary Clinton, who secured the nomination through a corrupted Democratic Party machine.

If Democrats move to the left, if they shed the discredited Clinton centrism, they can win the 2020 election. If Trump tries to dodge presidential debates, he will pay a price politically. If he accedes to them, Sanders will destroy him. One man is tempestuous, imperious, and bound to a record of climate denial, impeachment, ripping immigrant children from their parents’ arms, tax cuts for the rich, and efforts to undermine Medicaid and Social Security.

Sanders, by contrast, champions taxation of the super-rich, a green revolution, corporate regulation, universal health care, free education, and higher wages for working people.

If it pits Trump against Sanders the 2020 election will offer meaningful alternatives for minority groups. The results in Nevada, the excitement in Texas, suggest that Hispanics will continue rally in high numbers around Sanders. African-Americans, feminists, LGBTQ—hard to believe they won’t join in large numbers the millennials already on the Bernie bandwagon. That leaves the mainstream white folks, male and female–both of which turned out majority votes for Trump over Clinton in 2016–but many of them may by now have now seen enough.

Finally, American Jews, a small minority but known for their high turnout, can help elect the son of a Polish Jewish immigrant whose family was victimized by the Holocaust. That heritage underscores something very important about Bernie Sanders: his honesty, integrity, and issue-orientated approach to policymaking. Because alone among the candidates Sanders has had the political courage to condemn Israeli racism and repression of Palestinians, he will confront AIPAC and the right-wing Zionist lobby with a choice of supporting vicious authoritarians, Trump and Netanyahu, or backing a progressive more aligned with traditional American Jewish liberal values.

Nine months is an eternity in politics and many things can and will happen. But whatever happens, the American left is back in mainstream politics–and perhaps for good, in more ways than one.

Featured photo: Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. 8 November 2019, 18:54. Credit: Matt A.J.. H/t Wikimedia Commons

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Yes, Ilhan, there is an Israel Lobby – Despite the Phony Controversy https://www.juancole.com/2019/02/israel-despite-controversy.html Mon, 18 Feb 2019 05:17:35 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=182318 In a country that has elected a born-rich, incompetent, petulant child as its president nothing should really surprise us any longer, but the absurdities of contemporary American political life just keep on coming.

Consider the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) flippant tweet, “It’s all about the Benjamins” alluding to the financial role of pro-Israel groups on unstinting US support for Israel. Widely condemned for invoking an anti-Semitic trope pertaining to Jewish money, Ilhan apologized for the remark but not for the essence of her larger point, which is unquestionably true, namely that money in politics plays a role in the lopsided pro-Israeli policy that the United States has pursued for decades. The absurdity is that everyone in Congress already knows this.

While reams of type and hype have spilled forth concerning the intrusions by the big, bad Russian bear (yes, he’s back after a post-Cold War hibernation) on American politics, we hear very little about Israel’s influence, which has profoundly shaped United States Middle East diplomacy since World War II. As I document in a forthcoming book, the Israel lobby goes much deeper historically than most people realize and has long exercised an outsized influence on Congress and presidential elections.

On February 15 the British Guardian did something American newspapers, magazines—and historians–rarely do: it published an analysis of pro-Israeli financing in American politics. “The data examined by the Guardian suggests that the pro-Israel lobby is highly active and spends heavily to influence US policy.” (“Pro-Israel Donors spent over $22 million in lobbying and contributions in 2018,” The Guardian online, US edition, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/15/pro-israel-donors-spent-over-22m-on-lobbying-and-contributions-in-2018) There’s more to the story than the Guardian grasps, namely individual campaign contributions that are made with the explicit or implicit understanding of unquestioned political support for Israel.

Fear of baseless charges of anti-Semitism must not prevent us from making relevant and scarcely disputable arguments about money and political influence. Let’s examine some basic facts: Israel, a tiny country of 8.5 million people, is the largest recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II (more than $100 billion), according to the Congressional Research Service. In 2016 President Barack Obama–despite being treated contemptuously by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu–signed a 10-year, $38 billion military assistance pact with Israel.

Well, you might say, Israel needs the money to defend itself from the hostile forces that surround and threaten to destroy it. This cliché misrepresents realities that have prevailed in the Middle East since the creation of Israel, namely that Israel more often than not has been the aggressor in the region, has won every war, and is more than capable of defending itself without receiving another dollar in US military assistance. Since 1967 the country has illegally occupied Palestinian territory and illegally sponsored settlements, which have been funded in part with American money, and has repeatedly engaged in indiscriminate warfare notably in Lebanon and the Gaza strip. Beyond dispute Israel has suffered from terror attacks but it is far from innocent and has killed many times more people than it has lost in the conflict. And now it is illegally absorbing, with Trump’s blessing, a historic holy city that under international law was meant to be shared by people of all faiths.

Even more absurd than over-hyping Russian influence on US elections while ignoring those of Israel, is the widespread condemnation of Iran for supposedly pursuing a nuclear weapon, while ignoring the history of Israel’s utter contempt for nuclear non-proliferation in defiance of the United States dating back to the Eisenhower administration. Israel has the bomb, scores of them, acquired secretly and mendaciously–that is, it was developed even as the American special ally was told Israel would not introduce such weapons to the Middle East. Turns out what Israel meant is that it would not hold a press conference and say, “Hey, we’ve got the bomb!” Meanwhile Netanyahu and the Israel lobby spare no effort to condemn Iran, which unlike Israel proved willing to negotiate a non-proliferation agreement, which it entered into with Obama in 2015. Netanyahu–joined by Trump, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and other assorted fanatics of the far right who are now in power—are lusting for an excuse to go to war with Iran.

In sum, beyond doubt Israel and its American supporters have assembled the most powerful lobby pursuing the interests of a foreign country in all American history. Certainly, there are cultural and historical affinities on the part of American Christians (think Mike Pence) as well as Jews that help explain broad-based and historical US support for Israel. But only a fool—or an apologist—would argue that pro-Israeli money and influence do not play a significant role in American politics.

I hope this gets into print while it is still legal to criticize a foreign country (other than Russia, China, Venezuela–and France and Canada when they don’t do what we tell them). In an effort to head off a growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, Israel and the lobby now have set their sights on curbing freedom of speech and expression in this country. The matter is before Congress.

The time is past due to speak truth to power about Israeli policies and the American Israel lobby.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now!: “Glenn Greenwald Defends Rep. Ilhan Omar: Criticizing Israeli Lobby & AIPAC Is Not Anti-Semitic”

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