Browsing the archives for the Israel category.


Kerry’s Rebuke of Israel: Too Little, Too Late?

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Israel, Obama Administration

This happened:

In what may be the last important act of his public life, Kerry got up on Tuesday and tried to explain the current state of affairs in the Middle East—specifically, the relationships between Israel and the United States, between Israel and the occupied Palestinian population, and between Israel and the rest of the world. He telegraphed the speech, which gave the usual suspects a head start at taking bites out of it.

But Kerry never has been better than when he drops political calculation—at which he probably is the most obvious politician I’ve ever seen—and fastens his feet to the ground. Per the CSPAN transcript of his remarks:

This is an issue which I have worked on intensively during my time as Secretary of State for one simple reason—because the two state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure that Israel has a future, as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. The only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people and it is an important way of advancing United States’ interest in the region. I would like to explain why that future is now in jeopardy. And provide some context for why we could not in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.

So, no, there will be no apology to Benjamin Netanyahu, and his good friend, the President-elect of the United States. Kerry explained this to Netanyahu. He pretty much told Donald Trump to stay in the backseat where he belongs.

Friends need to tell each other hard truths. And friendships require mutual respect. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who does not support a two state solution, said after the vote last week, quote—”It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values we share and veto this resolution.” I am compelled to respond today that the United States did in fact vote in accordance with our values. Just as previous U.S. administrations have done at the security council before us…We cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes. That is the bottom line.

… I honestly don’t know what else Kerry could have said. Gaza remains an open wound. The settlements are a permanent roadblock at this point, and somebody had to promote the two-state solution at least for the record before El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago comes in and (perhaps) abandons it entirely. And Netanyahu—and the Fox News ambassador he sent over here—richly deserved the slap that came afterwards.

The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history,” are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.

If that’s the last big moment for John Kerry on a public stage, it at least was a principled one. Whoever comes next is really on his or her own.

Then came the usual side-taking and ducking for cover:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s rebuke of the Israeli government on Wednesday set off a wave of criticism from lawmakers in both parties. Republicans denounced what they said was the Obama administration’s harsh treatment of a steadfast ally and Democrats signaled that they were uneasy with Mr. Kerry’s pressure on Israel, even as they praised the effort to promote Middle East peace.

Democrats named as being critical of Kerry’s speech were New York’s Sen. Chuckie Schumer (but you knew that already, didn’t  you?), Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York. Republicans on the whole are more loyal to Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel than they are to the U.S., so we know how they reacted.

In Europe, however, Mr. Kerry’s speech was greeted warmly, with officials calling it a courageous and thoughtful effort to salvage the idea of a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians. Still, across the Arab world, his harsh words for Israel were met with a collective shrug, coming at the end of eight years of Obama administration policies that left many in the Middle East frustrated.  …

… In France, Britain and Germany, Mr. Kerry’s speech was greeted with more full-throated support. Senator Nathalie Goulet, vice president of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the French Senate, said Mr. Kerry “is right, he is absolutely right.”

“The more there are settlements,” she said, “the less it is likely there will be a two-state solution. But nobody ever dares condemn Israel. There is a double standard that nourishes the propaganda of the terrorists.”

In a statement, the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, praised Mr. Kerry’s speech as a “passionate and deeply convincing” defense of “the only credible way” to solve the issue: a two-state solution.

British officials said they regarded Mr. Kerry’s speech as a thoughtful summary of longstanding British and European concerns about the direction of Israeli politics. Britain and France, both members of the Security Council, voted for the resolution on settlements, and France has been extremely active in pressing for a kind of peace conference, to which the Israelis have objected.

In the Arab world, analysts said the Obama administration should have spoken out sooner.

“At the last five minutes of the hour, apparently Kerry and Obama are showing some courage to stand up to Israel, but it is coming too late in the game,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science in the United Arab Emirates. “It is after the fact. They should have shown this amount of political courage four years ago, if not eight years ago.”

I’m with Abdulkhaleq Abdulla on that one, although we know that Kerry’s predecessor in the State Department would never have given that speech. She made that clear last March. So it was up to Kerry to say what needed to be said. Fat lot of good it will do, though.

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Stirring Up the Pro-Israel Status Quo at the DNC Convention

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Democratic Party, Israel, Sanders and Clinton

Proof that perhaps the Sanders campaign has not been in vain, whatever the outcome:

A bitter divide over the Middle East could threaten Democratic Party unity as representatives of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.

Two of the senator’s appointees to the party’s platform drafting committee,Cornel West and James Zogby, on Wednesday denounced Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza and said they believed that rank-and-file Democrats no longer hewed to the party’s staunch support of the Israeli government. They said they would try to get their views incorporated into the platform, the party’s statement of core beliefs, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

According to a contributor to Juan Cole’s site, Sanders “will be allowed to name five members to the 15-member committee that writes the platform at the Democratic Party’s national convention in late July in Philadelphia even if he is not the nominee. Clinton will name six.” Debbie Wasserman Schultz will name the other four members, who no doubt will be Clinton sycophants. Although the DNC will deny that.

So the Sanders appointees will be outnumbered. But they aren’t going to be quiet. The New York Times continues,

The presence of Dr. Zogby and Dr. West on the 15-member panel, which also has six appointees of Hillary Clinton and four from the party chairwoman, does not guarantee their views will prevail. But it raises the prospect that one of the party’s most sensitive issues will be open to public debate while Mrs. Clinton is in a fight to unify her party and appeal to voters turned off by Donald J. Trump.

It also laid bare a steady shift in the Democratic Party, whose members have been less willing to back Israel’s government than in years past. According to a Pew Research Center survey in April, self-described liberal Democrats were twice as likely to sympathize with Palestinians over Israel than they were only two years ago. Forty percent of liberals sympathized more with Palestinians, the most since 2001, while 33 percent sympathized more with Israel.

Clinton surrogates, on the other hand, vow that the platform will reflect the Secretary’s views, which appear to be to allow Bibi Netayanhu to dictate our foreign policy.

Although Cornel West is a bit too much of a provocateur for my taste, I hope that at least some Dem insiders wake up to the fact that their slavish whatever-Likud-wants position is growing increasingly unpopular with Democratic voters. And if so, somebody should memo Chuck Schumer.

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Senator Schumer: Stop Being a Schmuck

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Democratic Party, Israel

Schumer is up for re-election in 2016, and he seriously needs to be primaried, although off the top of my head I don’t know who might do that. Any New Yorkers reading this ought to let Chuck know we’re watching him.

Here’s the issue:

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Capitol Hill’s most influential voices in the Iran nuclear debate, is strongly endorsing passage of a law opposed by President Barack Obama that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered framework unveiled last week.

Here’s  what I wrote Schumer:

“I am seriously disappointed that Sen. Schumer is siding with Republicans on the issue of the pending agreement with Iran. Many of us are getting very tired of our legislators putting the interests of right-wing hawks in Israel over those of the United States, and this is a good example. No end of Middle East experts are saying the agreed-upon framework poses an excellent chance of avoiding war and improving relations between Iran and the United States, and if Bibi Netanyahu doesn’t approve that is not our concern. I realize there are constitutional issues at stake here, but the President’s actions are not without precedent, and it is past time for Democrats to stand together against right-wing extremism and in favor of sanity and peace.”

While in principle I understand there is reason for concern over the reach of executive agreements, such agreements have been made many times by presidents of both parties over the past decades. To suddenly develop scruples now, while so much is at risk and while Congress has largely been taken over by drooling lunatics, shows a serious lapse in judgment, IMO.

I’m gettin’ really tired of this, Chuck.

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Bibi Netanyahu Is to Iran What George Laffer Is to Economics

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Congress, Israel, Obama Administration

That is to say, wrong.

In the address on Tuesday to the United States Congress by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, we witnessed a new peak in the long-running hype over Iran’s nuclear energy program. Yet all his predictions about how close Iran was to acquiring a nuclear bomb have proved baseless.

Despite that, alarmist rhetoric on the theme has been a staple of Mr. Netanyahu’s career. In an interview with the BBC in 1997, he accused Iran of secretly “building a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles,” predicting that eventually Manhattan would be within range. In 1996, he stood before Congress and urged other nations to join him to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability, stressing that “time is running out.” Earlier, as a member of Parliament, in 1992, he predicted that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within three to five years.

In front of world leaders at the United Nations in September 2012, Mr. Netanyahu escalated his warnings by declaring that Iran could acquire the bomb within a year. It is ironic that in doing so, he apparently disregarded the assessment of his own secret service: A recently revealed document showed that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, had advised that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The United States intelligence community had reached the same conclusion in its National Intelligence Estimate.

Despite extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, no evidence has ever been presented to contradict the clear commitment by Iran’s leaders that they would under no circumstances engage in manufacturing, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons. In 2013, for example, only Japan, which has many more nuclear facilities than Iran, was subject to greater agency scrutiny.

Someone else remembered that Bibi told Congress in 2002 that getting rid of Saddam Hussein would have “enormous, positive reverberations on the region.”

Seriously, even Tom Friedman was unconvinced by Bibi’s speech yesterday. There is broad consensus that Netanyahu failed to explain how trashing the White House negotiations would result in anything better. He reminds me of the progressives who were opposed to the Affordable Care Act because they fantasized that trashing it would magically give us single payer.

Jim Newell of Salon called the speech an insult, not just to the White House but to Americans generally.

Where to begin? How about the section in the beginning where Netanyahu, patronizingly, delivers a history of the Iranian regime and its sponsorship of terrorism and insurgency against Americans in the region. Excuse me, but we don’t need to be told, by a foreign leader, how Iran has treated the United States. And then this: “Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America.” Again, thanks, but we’ll figure out our foreign policy for ourselves.

So a foreign leader stood up in Congress, insulted not just the President but Americans in general, and the mostly Republican audience gave him 26 standing ovations. Why do Republicans hate America?

Fred Kaplan:

The Israeli prime minister pretended to criticize the specific deal that the United States and five other nations are currently negotiating with Iran, but it’s clear from his words that he opposes any deal that falls short of Iran’s total disarmament and regime change. He pretended merely to push for a “better deal,” but he actually was agitating for war.

Wingnuts think all peace agreements are “appeasement”; war is the only “serious” solution. Hence, 26 standing ovations.

It’s appalling that so many members of the U.S. Congress cheer Netanyahu’s every utterance as some holy oracle, seemingly unaware that many senior Israeli security officers dispute his assertions about the urgency of an Iranian nuclear threat—unaware even that he’s increasingly unpopular among his own citizens. It’s downright unseemly that these same members of Congress cheer his condemnation of the P5+1 deal as “a very bad deal”—they stand up, applaud madly, and howl toward the cameras and galleries—without giving their own president and his diplomats a chance to complete and defend the deal themselves.

Anything to give them an excuse to express their raging hatred of President Obama. That’s what’s really going on here. They’d invite the Devil himself to address Congress if he promised some anti-Obama red meat.

Unfortunately, a few Democrats went along with this circus. I want names, and I want them primaried. This crap has got to stop.

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How Evil Happens

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Israel

William Saletan at Slate (yeah, I know, it’s William Saletan, but it’s a good article) and Ben Hubbard/Jodi Rudoren at the New York Times write that Israel simply isn’t concerning itself with whether their shells are hitting UN schools where Palestinian civilians are taking refuge. Israel is saying it’s not targeting “safe zones,” and maybe it isn’t. But it appears Israel is taking no precaution to not bomb safe zones, either.

Saletan is accusing Israel of war crimes, saying that the Israelis have succumbed to a mentality that everything they do is justified because Hamas is ruthless. For example:

Israel’s prime minister and other officials have argued that Hamas’ use of human shields makes it completely responsible for any civilian casualties in Gaza.

This mentality makes it that much easier to pull the trigger. The Times says Israeli officials have offered no evidence that enemy fighters were near the Jabaliya school, and interviews with people on the neighboring streets found nobody who had seen fighters in the vicinity. Nor were there any bullet casings or holes. Does the enemy’s frequent use of human shields justify killing civilians in an instance where there’s no evidence of that behavior? Did this rationale play a role in the IDF’s decision to shoot?

This is a classic example of how good people get sucked into doing bad things, and I suspect Palestinian terrorists would offer us another example of the same thing. I wrote in Rethinking Religion,

If we were paying attention, history should have taught us that people who create evil hardly ever see themselves or their intentions as evil. Osama bin Laden and his 9/11 terrorists believed their attack was righteous and justified, as did Timothy McVeigh when he blew up the Oklahoma City federal building.

People are seduced into evil because they don’t recognize evil as evil. They mistake it for justice, or righteousness, or even God’s Will. And the seduction begins with the thought that “I’m a good person,” and “his hatred of me is evil, but my hatred of him is justified.” As soon as we identify ourselves as “good” and the Other, whoever they are, as “evil,” we’ve well on the way to giving ourselves a cosmic permission slip to do whatever we want to be rid of them.

I say this seductive impulse is at the root of most of the mass atrocities humankind has inflicted on itself through the ages. That’s why the ways we conceptualize good and evil have real-world consequences.

Please understand that I’m not saying people or nations shouldn’t defend themselves from those who intend to do them harm. What gets us into trouble is thinking that we’re entitled to Holy Retribution or that we are somehow qualified to pass judgments and inflict brutality on entire populations, because we’re the good guys.

Same old, same old.

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Enablers

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Israel

Roger Cohen thinks Europe is being too hard on Israel and the U.S. too forgiving, and wishes for a happy medium. I don’t have a feel for what’s going on in Europe now regarding violence in Gaza, but here’s the part I find interesting.

Views of the war in the United States can feel similarly skewed, resistant to the whole picture, slanted through cultural inclination and political diktat. It is still hard to say that the killing of hundreds of Palestinian children represents a Jewish failure, whatever else it may be. It is not easy to convey the point that the open-air prison of Gaza in which Hamas has thrived exists in part because Israel has shown a strong preference for the status quo, failing to reach out to Palestinian moderates and extending settlements in the West Bank, fatally tempted by the idea of keeping all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Oppressed people will respond. Millions of Palestinians are oppressed. They are routinely humiliated and live under Israeli dominion. When Jon Stewart is lionized (and slammed in some circles) for “revealing” Palestinian suffering to Americans, it suggests how hidden that suffering is. The way members of Congress have been falling over one another to demonstrate more vociferous support for Israel is a measure of a political climate not conducive to nuance. This hardly serves America’s interests, which lie in a now infinitely distant peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and will require balanced American mediation.

Something may be shifting. Powerful images of Palestinian suffering on Facebook and Twitter have hit younger Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans age 65 or older, 53 percent blame Hamas for the violence and 15 percent Israel. For those ages 18 to 29, Israel is blamed by 29 percent of those questioned, Hamas by just 21 percent. My son-in-law, a doctor in Atlanta, said that for his social group, mainly professionals in their 30s with young children, it was “impossible to see infants being killed by what sometimes seems like an extension of the U.S. Army without being affected.”

For a host of complex reasons, for many years the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been presented to Americans as a kind of morality play of good guys versus bad guys, and Israel’s many controversial actions and policies have been airbrushed out of public view. In conservative circles especially unwavering support for Israel has become part and parcel of what it means to be American, but I have to say a lot of Democrats aren’t much better.

I’ve thought for a long time that the U.S. – Israeli co-dependency has benefited Israel a lot more than it has benefited the U.S., but I’m thinking now maybe in the long run it has hurt Israel also. If Israel didn’t have the U.S. to lean on the status quo probably would have become untenable a long time ago, and Israel may have been forced into more moderate and conciliatory policies. And maybe Hamas would be just some fringe group of malcontents, and there’d be no bloodbath in Gaza now.

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