President Obama’s decision to provide military aid to the Syrian opposition is incredible. The United States is barely out of Iraq. It’s still bogged down in Afghanistan. Obama insists on keeping the Iran war option “on the table.” Yet suddenly we are taking sides in a civil war in Syria. How many Middle Eastern wars can one superpower handle?
The most amazing thing is that the president has the audacity to even propose involvement in Syria to the American people. (Not that he is asking, just telling. If he asked, he’d know that 70% of American oppose aiding the rebels).
Since 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson came up with a phony pretext to gain passage of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the Vietnam war, it has been one presidentially-initiated intervention after another: Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq , Libya. (This list does not even include the delivery of arms to the mujahideenin Afghanistan which brought us the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, 9/11 and the endless War on Terrorism).
The month of March 2002 was a terrible time in both Israel and the West Bank. Some 100 Israelis were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched a military operation in the West Bank killing some 500 Palestinians. Children made up a significant number of the victims on both sides. The prospects for an end to violence, let alone peace, appeared lower than at any time previously.
It was against that background that Harvard professor, Samantha Power, now President Obama’s nominee to serve as U.N. ambassador, spoke of the need for U.S. intervention.
There is a silver lining in President Barack Obama’s refusal to do much of anything to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is this: if Obama had any intentions of either bombing Iran’s nuclear installations or allowing Israel to do it, he would be laying the groundwork by pressuring Israel hard to end the occupation.
I would not have expected to be so pleased by Professor Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott a major conference in Jerusalem in solidarity with the Palestinians. But I was.
I say that because I do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Or to be precise I do not support it as applied to Israel itself in contrast to the occupation. I have strongly backed the efforts (most notably by church groups and specifically by the Presbyterians) to divest from corporations that sell Israel the equipment needed to maintain the occupation. I also support the multidenominational effort to link U.S. aid to Israel to its ending the occupation.
But I personally have drawn the line on boycotting Israel itself. Since I support the existence and security of Israel within the 1967 lines, I am not comfortable with actions that punish the Israeli people at large. I don’t think Israel is South Africa. Like President Jimmy Carter, I limit my use of the label “apartheid” to the occupied areas. I do not view Israel as an “apartheid state.”
Sometimes it is instructive to listen to what Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz says because his way of seeing the Israel-Palestinian conflict is typical of the thinking of both the Netanyahu government and its lobby here. I say “sometimes” because most of Dershowitz’s opinions can be found in a dozen other places — from AIPAC, the “major Jewish organizations,“neocon websites like Commentary, and in statements and tweets from the Israeli government itself.
But sometimes Dershowitz inadvertently provides solid insight into the mentality that continues to enable a 45-year occupation that, even Dershowitz admits, has proven so destructive to Israel.
The war over war with Iran has many battlefronts. Inside Washington, the battle line is between a small coalition of peace and security, non-proliferation and religious groups opposing war and favoring a peaceful solution to the stand off with Iran, and a well-funded war machine comprising neoconservative organizations who believe war with Iran should have started years ago.
A central organization within the anti-war coalition is the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the largest Iranian-American grassroots organization. NIAC has been at the forefront of opposing war, favoring diplomacy and opposing broad sanctions that only hurt the Iranian people, while, at the same time, rebuking Tehran’s horrible human rights record.
There is one change that the United States could make in response to the terrorism threat that is never discussed. That is to consider the part U.S. policies have played in creating and sustaining it.
I understand that we are not supposed to say this, as if discussing why we are hated justifies the unjustifiable: the targeting of innocent Americans because of the perceived sins of their government.
But nothing justifies terrorism. Period. That does not mean that nothing causes it.
It is customary for Congress to pass resolutions commending Israel on the anniversary of its founding in 1948. Once these resolutions were innocuous with references to “making the desert bloom” and “ingathering” Jewish refugees. Standard “pro-Israel” boilerplate. No more.
In recent years Congress, with the Israel lobby’s eager assistance, has coupled salutations and congratulations with increasingly strident language about terrorism, Palestinians, and now, Iran. (For an excellent analysis on how the concept of being “pro-Israel” has degenerated in recent years, see this smart piece by Michael Koplow, program director of the Israel Institute at Georgetown University.)
In 1990, Secretary of State James Baker had basically had it up to here with the Israeli government. The (George H.W.) Bush administration had been trying to entice Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir into negotiations with the Palestinians but he kept adding new conditions to get the United States off his back.
To be acceptable to Shamir, any Palestinian interlocutors had to have no connections with the PLO, none with any associates of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and could not be from Jerusalem. Beyond that, the Israelis would decide which Palestinians were acceptable as negotiating partners based on their idea of merit (only pro-Israel Palestinians would do, apparently).
Baker was fuming but held his tongue until he went before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss Middle East prospects. But then something happened and, for perhaps the last time ever, a top U.S. government official told the Israelis what he really thought.
First Baker said that he had intended to say that he was ready for a new start with the just re-elected Shamir government but he changed his mind on the way to the hearing. “I have to tell you, that before I came to this hearing this morning, I was given a copy of some wire reports, one of which quotes one of the ministers in the newly formed government,” he said.
Maybe I’m old school. But I was brought up to be grateful to the United States for being the best and safest home Jews have ever had.
My grandparents were immigrants who knew how lucky they were that they escaped Europe back at the beginning of the 20th century especially after their siblings, and their siblings’ families who stayed behind, died in the Nazi death camps (one survived and made it to Israel after the war).
My parents were typical Americans of the World War II era. They loved this country, they loved Roosevelt and although Israel played a big part in their lives, this was their country just like English was their language and Judaism was their faith.