Friday, November 29, 2013

A Poem for President Drone by Michael Robbins

Obama's drone program, journalism and ideology, and 'the role of the half-assed political poet.'
May 23rd, 2013 reset - +

I DIDN'T VOTE for Barack Obama, either time. It’s been a long time since I voted for anyone for anything, and I don’t expect to ever vote in a presidential election again. Almost everyone I know voted for Obama, both times. The first time around, I was like the cynical reporter in The Ides of March, telling Ryan Gosling that George Clooney was just another politician who would disappoint him eventually. In 2012, I was Rorschach at the end of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen, bitterly refusing to compromise, telling Dr. Manhattan, “Evil must be punished. People must be told.”

I know these figures are ridiculous. I know all the arguments. Mitt Romney is a snake and Paul Ryan is a used-car salesman. I know.

In Mythologies, Roland Barthes provides a wonderful image of dialectical thinking, in a description of the unity of what he calls the “meaning” and “form” of mythical speech:

There never is any contradiction, conflict, or split between the meaning and the form: they are never at the same place. In the same way, if I am in a car and I look at the scenery through the window, I can at will focus on the scenery or on the windowpane. At one moment I grasp the presence of the glass and the distance of the landscape; at another, on the contrary, the transparence of the glass and the depth of the landscape; but the result of this alternation is constant: the glass is at once present and empty to me, and the landscape unreal and full.

Barthes’s example of mythical signifier is a phrase in a Latin primer that means “my name is lion.” As meaning, it is full of history: “I am an animal, a lion, I live in a certain country, I have just been hunting.” As form, none of this matters: any sentence would do, as long as it illustrated the rule about the agreement of the predicate. What it says, as form, is “I am a grammatical example.” A grammar student alternates between the meaning and the form, thinking about lions but understanding that it is predicates that are really at issue. She can focus on one thing (the windowpane) or the other (the scenery). But the two elements form a unity. Their contradiction is what sustains them as a whole.

This is how I think of Obama. As form, Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster says, “Vote for this man, Barack Obama, with his particular policy proposals.” As meaning, it says, “See how far the United States has come? A black man can become president. Things really are getting better.” But the unity of these elements proclaims: “Capitalism is pleased to allow certain cosmetic changes so long as they don’t interfere with profit.” (Have you checked the Dow Jones industrial average lately?) This is why the liberal reading of right-wing opposition to Obama as simply racist is inadequate. The real problem is that, among certain sectors of the nation, the concrete situation of human subjects has degraded to the point where they are unable to read the myths correctly. We see the truth of this in Republican leaders’ growing fear of their own base.

Focusing on the windowpane, you would have to be soulless not to be cheered by what it says about this country that it elected a man whose father was born in East Africa to its highest office. Focusing on the scenery, you would have to be ignorant not to notice that his African ancestry is pretty much all that differentiates Obama from his predecessors. The man graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. On economic issues, he is, for the most part, to the right of Richard Nixon.

I watched him, our president, on television after the Newtown shooting. He shed a tear for the slaughtered children. For some reason this was newsworthy. Was there anyone who wouldn’t have been moved to tears, addressing the nation on such a matter at such a time? My editor reminds me that this essay will appear months after Newtown. This reminder depresses me. It says: we both know how it is. A man gunned down 20 children, but he did it a few news cycles ago, so, you know. Twenty children and six adults. I imagine that somewhere in Sandy Hook Elementary School there was one of those banners with the 26 letters of the alphabet marching above a blackboard. You could arrange each dead body into the shape of one letter. They could spell anything.

This is the grisly tableau that occurs to me as I watch Obama wipe away his tears on television. Because I’m already thinking of writing about this, I’m already thinking of selling out those dead children. I’m already pissed off at Obama’s gall. I’m already thinking about the drones.


Not one American newspaper, to my knowledge (aside from one letter to the editor published in the Baltimore Sun), pointed out the incongruity of Obama’s tears. It was left to the British press to state the obvious. In a Guardian article headlined “In the US, mass child killings are tragedies. In Pakistan, mere bug splats,” with the lede “Barack Obama’s tears for the children of Newtown are in stark contrast to his silence over the children murdered by his drones,” George Monbiot wrote:

If the victims of Mr Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as “bug splats”, “since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed”. Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back”.

Like George Bush’s government in Iraq, Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom at least 64 were children. These are figures extracted from credible reports: there may be more which have not been fully documented.

This, along with similar critiques by Glenn Greenwald and others, drew a predictable response, which basically boils down to: It’s not the same. A blogger for the Telegraph put it bluntly:

It is the height of infantile Leftish posturing to ask why people seem “disproportionately” shocked by the Sandy Hook attack. It’s because, quite rightly, those who live in generally non-violent, democratic communities expect adherence to a certain standard of moral behaviour, and when their expectations are brutally mown down, they reel back in horror. It isn’t that Americans don’t care about Pakistanis, but rather that they believe, quite legitimately, that war situations are morally different to non-war normality.

Because violent civilian deaths are all too common in Mideast war zones like Pakistan, and uncommon in suburban American communities like Newtown, Connecticut, it makes perfect sense that a person would get more exercised about the latter. This could well be true, but it misses the point. I, for one, am not bewildered by people being more upset about the Newtown victims than they are about the children their taxes help to murder in Pakistan and Yemen. I simply believe that they should be as upset about the latter. Or more so.

Leaving aside the absolutely relevant fact that the United States is not currently at war with Pakistan or Yemen, is there a “moral difference” between the cases at issue? Of course there is: you and I bear no responsibility for the Newtown shootings. (I suppose one could argue that we bear a slight responsibility, insofar as we have not been active enough in the fight for sane gun legislation, but let that go.) But we are indeed complicit in the deaths of those 64 Pakistani children. It is our government that is killing them, after all. The drones and their operators are bought and paid for with our money. And there is a remarkable venality in the suggestion that, because children live in a war zone, their deaths matter less. The more trenchant question is whether our attacks on Pakistani citizens are immoral. I believe they are. And I believe that our president is a war criminal with the blood of innocent children on his hands. No doubt that makes me an infantile leftist. There are worse fates.


“I’m a poet” is a sentence I try not to say too often, since it usually elicits either a smirk or a deadpan “Oh how nice” — or, much worse, a “Me too,” followed by an offer to send me an entire self-published oeuvre. But I am, for richer or poorer, a poet, and I strive to maintain a certain reasonable level of artistic dignity. So when Yahoo! News approached me in 2012 about writing an alternative inaugural poem, my first impulse was to delete the email. My second impulse was to read the part about the $300 fee again. Also, Paul Muldoon and James Franco had already signed on. Paul Muldoon is one of my favorite poets, and James Franco is James Franco, and I am a terribly vain person, so what the hell. I told the Yahoo! editor, with whom I yet enjoyed cordial relations, that if I were going to write a poem it would be a poetical critique of Obama’s drone program. He thought that was fine; nothing attracts page views like a mild tropical storm in a teapot, I guess.

This is the poem I wrote for Yahoo! News:

To the Drone Vaguely Realizing Eastward

This is a poem for President Drone.
It was written by a camel.
Can I borrow your phone?
This is for President Mark Hamill.

Newtown sounds a red alert.
Mark Hamill asks is Ernie burnt?
Every camel’s a first-person shooter.
The Prez’s fez is haute couture.

It seems strange that he should be offended.
The same orders are given by him.
Paging Pakistan and Yemen.
Calling all the drone-dead children.

The camel can’t come to the phone.
This is for the drone-in-chief.
Mumbai used to be Bombay.
The bomb bay opens with a queef.

At this point, it’s easiest just to reproduce my notes for this essay:

I have finished my drone poem. Its last word is “queef.” Yahoo! is informed, because I am nothing if not conscientious. I am assured “queef” is pretty cool for a drone poem.

Interlude: The OED. Entry for “queef” mildly hilarious.

Yahoo! emails back with bad Yahoo! news. “Queef” actually a pretty big problem for the “standards desk.” I withdraw poem in predictable huff, place it on my tumblr, telling all. Righteous indignation on my behalf resounds throughout the blogosphere (need better word for “blogosphere”).

Yahoo! is embarrassed. Will I accept a call from Virginia Heffernan [Yahoo!’s national correspondent] herself? I will. Virginia, too, is cool. “Queef,” such a silly thing to cause such an uproar. Alas, the Puritans. The prigs. The prudes. Request I replace it w/ “keef.” Pressed to explain, Virginia admits “keef” is not a word. I stand my ground. Alternative routes for publication are suggested. The drama of these negotiations.

Scene: Virginia Heffernan’s phone. I have decided my best course of action is to flirt aggressively w/ Virginia Heffernan.


Negotiations w/ Yahoo! break down. Relations between me & Yahoo! at an all-time low. Poem goes back up on my tumblr. I remember I am doing this for the murdered children. I remember to feel guilty that I am using murdered children as a pretext to stir up queef controversy. People like the poem. Other people do not like the poem.

How many civilians have been killed by drone strikes while I was embroiled in queef drama? The role of the political poet. The role of the half-assed political poet.

What an interesting country, where you’re free to call the president a criminal or walk down a crowded street with a loaded gun, but a word for vaginal farting is dangerous, like a tube of toothpaste of a certain size on an airplane.


According to Omar Shakir, of Stanford Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, co-author of the Stanford/NYU report “Living Under Drones” (you can read it at, “The US government has been using armed unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to carry out hundreds of covert missile strikes in northwest Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries since at least 2002.” To reiterate: for over 10 years, the United States has been regularly bombing countries with which it is not at war. As Shakir put it in an email to me:

While civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties. It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562–3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474–881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228–1,362 individuals.

President Obama has now ordered six times as many drone strikes as did his predecessor. The drone program has received more scrutiny of late, thanks to Obama’s nomination of John Brennan, his counterterrorism advisor, to head the CIA. But the narrative remains somewhat obtuse. Rand Paul’s anti-drone filibuster was based primarily on opposition to Obama’s targeting of U.S. citizens. This is a fine thing to oppose, of course. (Perhaps Obama’s supporters would like to take a moment to reflect that this president has, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, assassinated American citizens; that his Department of Justice has assured him that he has the right to assassinate American citizens; that he refuses to answer the question whether he has the authority to order hits on American citizens on American soil. As this article was going to press, the White House announced that it was restricting the scope of the drone program, even as it finally admitted that it had killed American citizens in drone strikes.) But ultimately such focus merely reinforces the assumption that American lives count more.

Indeed, reading the media coverage of the drone campaign is a lesson in ideology. Dexter Filkins, who can hardly be accused of cheerleading for America, begins his New Yorker blog entry on drone strikes by recounting a meeting he had in 2011 with Yemeni villagers. The United States had bombed their village, which apparently harbored an al-Qaeda training camp, killing 14 al-Qaeda fighters and 41 civilians, including 23 children. Filkins met a teenage girl who had suffered horrific burns in the attack, and another whose mother had been killed. This is some bad mojo, right? But Filkins — or his editor at The New Yorker — is very careful not to condemn anyone too harshly:

Later, when I spoke to American officials, they seemed genuinely perplexed. They didn’t deny that a large number of civilians had been killed. They felt bad about it. But the aerial surveillance, they said, had clearly showed that a training camp for militants was operating there. “It was a terrible outcome,” an American official told me. “Nobody wanted that.”

None of the above is intended as an attack on Brennan, who has spent the past four years as President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor. He has a hard job.

I am trying not to be shrill. I am trying not to write things like “Filkins’s evenhandedness here makes me want to fucking puke” or “Poor Brennan, whose job, especially the child-murdering part, is so goddamned hard.” I am a veritable monument to objectivity. Brennan felt bad about it. He has a hard job. None of the above is intended as an attack. And it’s true: the missile strike on the training camp was not intended as an attack on the 23 children whose deaths the officials felt bad about. Intentions matter, don’t they?

I don’t believe that Barack Obama is evil. I believe that he is probably a decent person. He certainly seems vastly more intelligent than any other American president in my lifetime, and I agree with a number of his positions. But so what? Does that mean that we have to pretend, as Filkins does, that there are, after all, two sides to every story, and that America’s secret wars, for instance, are very complex affairs that must be judged dispassionately, and with the tacit assumption that their aims are, while perhaps flawed in execution, noble in intent? Isn’t this exactly how ideology works? There are certain propositions that must not be formulated — or, more accurately, that literally cannot be formulated, that lie beyond the horizon of what it is possible to think.

For instance, almost any public discussion of these matters takes for granted that “terrorist” is a real category, and that the United States has the right to pursue and kill all those who belong to it. Filkins is direct: Brennan’s “hard job” is “to keep Americans safe, and he’s done that. Al Qaeda’s leadership, particularly in the tribal areas of Pakistan, has been decimated.” Note that the extrajudicial killing of “terrorists” is presumed to be a righteous goal, and that it is self-evident that such killing “keeps Americans safe.” To frame the drone strike program in any other way is taken as a sign of perversity or fanaticism. Recently, the Financial Times interviewed Noam Chomsky. Asked his opinion of Obama, Chomsky says, “He’s carrying out a global assassination campaign.” The reporter calls this “vintage Chomsky, a provocative idea in a matter-of-fact tone, daring the interlocutor to respond.” But isn’t it just the literal truth? I mean, in what sense is the Obama administration not carrying out a global assassination campaign?


I confess that I was surprised by one response that my drone poem elicited, from an astute fellow who informed me that Mumbai is not located in Pakistan. This objection roused my onomamania, for I had been thinking of the name change as a metonym for shifting political signifiers in general. Pakistan used to be India. It’s not a war, it’s a police action. Funding millionaires’ bonuses with public subsidies is socialism. What would we call those who decided they could bomb our country at will, targeting, say, Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney, but occasionally blowing up an elementary school as well? Would it help if they said they felt bad about it? A queef by any other name …

As I type this, a headline on the website of The New York Times reads “Afghan Children Reported Among Dead in Air Strike.” I click on it, hit refresh, then stop, until I get past the paywall. Ten children have been killed, apparently not by a drone this time. I am not a utilitarian. I do not believe, for instance, that we should kill one person so that five may live, even though that would maximize utility. I believe our common moral intuitions are often correct. But consequentialism, the idea that action should be judged by its outcome and not by its motives, is hard to refute when you’re looking at pictures of dead children (not that American media tend to run them). We do our best to avoid “civilian casualties” — but our noble motives are so much Monopoly money to 13-year-old Roya, discussed in Medea Benjamin’s recent Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, whose house on the outskirts of Kabul was destroyed by an American bomb that killed her mother and two brothers. Her father collected as many of his wife’s and sons’ body parts as he could find and buried them in accordance with Islamic rites. His house, it seems, had been too near a Taliban housing compound. Presumably the bombers felt bad about it.

Little noted by American journalists was a Reuters article published in November 2012 headlined “Obama victory infuriates Pakistani drone victims.” “The same person who attacked my home has gotten re-elected,” said 28-year-old Mohammad Rehman Khan, whose father, three brothers, and nephew were killed by an American drone strike a month after Obama took office. The article continues:

“Any American, whether Obama or Mitt Romney, is cruel,” Warshameen Jaan Haji, whose neighborhood was struck by a drone last week, told Reuters on the eve of the election. “I lost my wife in the drone attack and my children are injured. Whatever happens, it will be bad for Muslims.”

This is surely infantile leftism at its purest.

No one is responsible. Obama doesn’t have the blood of innocent children on his hands. Brennan has a hard job. “Like Fascism,” Adorno wrote of “Hitler’s robot-bombs,” “the robots career without a Subject.” The drone strikes are just a videogame played by CIA operatives thousands of miles from their targets. The postmodern critique of bourgeois subjectivity finds its apotheosis in Roya’s mother’s scattered limbs.

I don’t pretend my poem is of any consequence whatsoever. All I have is my No, and that’s not enough. I’m not brave enough to throw my body on the gears. I’m skinny and nearsighted anyway. So I go on saying No, no, no, and write my little poems, and wait for my kill fee from Yahoo! to arrive in the mail.


Michael Robbins is the author of Alien vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Harper's, Boston Review, and elsewhere.
Recommended Reads

Drone Warfare: Tiqqun, the Young-Girl and the Imperialism of the Trivial
Bot Like Me: Illah Reza Nourbakhsh’s “Robot Futures”
What Was Neoliberalism?
The Future Belongs to Crowds
The Constant Gardener: On Louise Gl├╝ck
Obama’s Foreign Policy Crossroads
War By Manhunt: Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Playing It Cool: An Interview with Poet Michael Robbins
Virtual Violence

Nima Shirazi on US-Iran nuclear deal: follow the link to hear him on Anti-war Radio

Thursday, November 21, 2013

There Obama goes again-- exporting democracy

James North on November 20, 2013 18

Did the U.S. undermine democracy in the Maldives because it wants to set up military bases there?

There was depressing news from the Maldives this week, after the Indian Ocean island nation voted in the second round of presidential elections on November 20. Mohamed Nasheed, the dynamic, young, pro-environmentalist Muslim leader who had led after the first round, lost by a couple of percentage points to the old regime’s candidate, Abdulla Yameen.

As I reported, the imressive Nasheed had been elected back in 2008, but then overthrown in a military/police coup on February 7, 2012. Since then, the old regime had tried to block Nasheed and his reformist, youthful Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) from making a comeback, including annulling and postponing the election three times, and regularly arresting and jailing his nonviolent supporters.

The rest of the world protested vigorously; the Canadian foreign minister even marched in a pro-democracy demonstration in New York. But the United States was conspicuously quiet. The Obama administration accepted the illegal coup in 2012, and issued only feeble admonitions at the more recent pre-electoral maneuvers.

Why the pathetic and embarrassing silence, given that Nasheed and his movement are exactly the kind of forward-looking, democratic Muslims the United States should be supporting every chance it gets?

One suggestion was that the U.S. ambassador (to Sri Lanka and the Maldives), Michele Sison, had too close a friendship with the Defense Minister, Mohamed Nazim, who the pro-democracy movement believes was one of the 2012 coup leaders. But that (possible) relationship did not seem to explain enough.

I had been following the crisis on Twitter (@jamesnorth7), in part because mainstream media coverage was misleading or non-existent. Many Maldivians are fluent in English, and #Maldives was vigorous with debate. So I put the question to them: what explains the disgraceful American policy?

I got immediate and valuable responses. Apparently, earlier this year the U.S. government was negotiating with the Maldives about a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which would have led to increased military cooperation between the two countries, possibly including U.S. bases there. Someone leaked a draft of the agreement to the Maldivian press, and the U.S. embassy was forced to concede that such talks were going on, although denying plans for a permanent American base.

This is an extraordinary revelation, completely unreported in the New York Times or elsewhere. The U.S. government was willing to set aside its stated principles and negotiate with a regime that came to power in a violent, illegal coup. An administration headed by Barack Obama was prepared to sell out the Maldivians who should be its natural allies, brave people who have risked their freedom and even their lives for democracy, just so it could set up yet another unnecessary U.S. military base at the other end of the world.

In the real tally of violence, Palestinians have it much worse

from Haaretz
There is no Palestinian without a personal and familial history of injustice that was caused by, and is still caused by Israel.
By Amira Hass | Nov. 21, 2013 | 3:08 AM | 3

Anyone who has worn a uniform past or in present, whether speaking on the record or off, immediately “knows” that the latest terror attack and what looks to soldiers as the latest attempted terror attack does not signify the beginning of a third Intifada. Or, they "know" it does signify such a beginning, and it's all because of the peace negotiations or because of Palestinian incitement, or both. Relying on the knowledgeable military brass is a fixed Israeli reflex; it is part of the balance of power and part of how the Israelis exert control over their subjects.

Whoever said 100,000 Palestinians have unfinished business with the Israel Defense Forces took it a step further creating the impression that he really knows and thinks, and does more than calculate tallies. But the starting point for calculation is somewhere else completely: There is no Palestinian whose score with the State of Israel is settled - whether he lives in forced exile or whether he lives within the borders of Israel, or in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. There is no Palestinian without a personal and familial history of injustice that was caused by, and is still caused by Israel. Just because the Israeli media does not report on all the injustices Israel causes day in and day out - even if only because they so numerous - does not mean they go away and neither does the anger they cause. Therefore, according to the correct calculation, the number of attacks by Palestinian individuals is relatively microscopic. This small number shows that for the vast majority of Palestinians - passing, murderous and hopeless revenge is not an option.

But nonetheless, the fatal attacks in recent months are worrying. They point at the political and social bankruptcy of the Palestinian leadership and organizations, who have stopped serving as the national rallying point, and are unable to hold back the waves of despair. The Palestinian feels isolated against his attackers. New initiatives and other forms of leadership are still in their diapers. And in the meantime, the Israel's methods of injustice are becoming more sophisticated. To speak about the anger without linking it to the occupation and systematic discrimination is like discussing environmental pollution without reference to the polluter.

Any Jew in the world who has never so much as set foot here, automatically enjoys the right to enter Israel, to find shelter here from economic distress (Argentina) or political distress (Russia), to tour the land, to settle down, to live and to work on both sides of the Green Line. These are rights that are partially or fully denied to Palestinians - whether they are citizens of the state or not, whether they live in Israel, whether their family comes from here and whether they lost land and property to the other.

What kind of feelings does the structural discrimination against Palestinians engender? It riles up and infuriates. The Israeli experts, those who keep stats on Palestinian violence, either ignore their own violence or else they are smart enough to cover it up. We must therefore cry out again and again: Every Palestinian, man or woman, poor and less poor, and also the very wealthy, refugees or not, and those who live in the Land of Israel (within the borders of the British Mandate) daily risk that the Israeli authorities and their representatives (soldiers, policemen, settlers, right-wingers) will harm them in some fashion. The situation jeopardizes their lives, livelihood, property, land, health, education, or the continuity of their family and social relations.

In every area, there are additional varieties of harm and harassment particular to it. For citizens of Israel, it is the creeping racist legislation. In East Jerusalem, it is the negation of residency status and expulsion from Israel. In the West Bank, it is the wholesale arrests, the settlements, the settlers, land expropriations under a pseudo-legal guise, and lack of running water in many communities during the summer. And in the Gaza Strip? Unseen jailers, whose identity is known. They sequester its residents in the world’s largest prison camp, and there is no one who will say as God said to Moses during the crossing of the Red Sea: Wake up, compose thyself, my beloved ones are drowning in the sewage and in the sea of oblivion.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How the Super-Rich Are Abandoning America

By Paul Buchheit
As they accumulate more and more wealth, the very rich have less need for society. At the same time, they've convinced themselves that they made it on their own, and that contributing to societal needs is unfair to them. There is ample evidence that this small group of takers is giving up on the country that made it possible for them
to build huge fortunes.

They've Taken $25 Trillion of New Wealth While Paying Less Taxes
The 2013 Global Wealth Databook shows that U.S. wealth has increased from $47 trillion in 2008 to $72 trillion in mid-2013. But according to U.S. Government Revenue figures, federal income taxes have gone DOWN from 2008 to 2012. Even worse, corporations cut their tax rate in half.
American society has gained nothing from its massive wealth expansion. There's no wealth tax, no financial transaction tax, no way to ensure that infrastructure and public education are supported.
Just how much have the super-rich taken over the past five years? Each of the elite 5% -- the richest 12 million Americans -- gained, on average, nearly a million dollars in financial wealth between 2008 and 2013.
2. For the First Time in History, They Believe They Don't Need the Rest of Us
The rich have always needed the middle class to work in their factories and buy their products. With globalization this is no longer true. Their factories can be in China, producing goods for people in India or Europe or anywhere else in the world.

They don't need our infrastructure for their yachts and helicopters and submarines. They pay for private schools for their kids, private security for their homes. They have private emergency rooms to avoid the health care hassle. All they need is an assortment of servants, who might be guest workers coming to America on H2B visas, willing to work for less than a middle-class American can afford.
The sentiment is spreading from the super-rich to the merely rich. In 2005 Sandy Springs, a wealthy suburb of Atlanta, stopped paying for most public services, deciding instead to avoid subsidizing poorer residents of Fulton County by hiring a "city outsourcer" called CH2M to manage everything except the police and fire departments. That includes paving the roads, running the courts, issuing tickets, handling waste, and various other public services. Several other towns followed suit.

Results have been mixed, with some of CH2M's clients backing out or renegotiating. But privatization keeps coming at us. Selective decisions about public services threaten to worsen already destitute conditions for many communities. Detroit, of course, is at the forefront. According to an Urban Land Institute report, "more municipalities may follow Detroit's example and abandon services in certain districts."

3. They Soaked the Middle Class, and Now Demand Cuts in the Middle-Class Retirement Fund
The richest Americans take the greatest share of over $2 trillion in Tax Expenditures, Tax Underpayments, Tax Haven holdings, and unpaid Corporate Taxes.
The Soial Security budget is less than half of that. Yet much of Congress and many other wealthy Americans think it should be cut. These are the same people who deprive the American public of $300 billion a year by not paying their full share of the payroll tax.

4. They Continue to Insist that They "Made It on Their Own"
They didn't. Their fortunes derived in varying degrees - usually big degrees - from public funding, which provided almost half of basic research funds into the 1980s, and even today supports about 60 percent of the research performed at universities.
Businesses rely on roads and seaports and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, communications towers and satellites to conduct online business, the Department of Commerce to promote and safeguard global markets, the U.S. Navy to monitor shipping lanes, and FEMA to clean up after them.
Apple, the tax haven specialist, still does most of its product and research development in the United States, with US-educated engineers and computer scientists. Google's business is based on the Internet, which started as ARPANET, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency computer network from the 1960s. The National Science Foundation funded the Digital Library Initiative research at Stanford University that was adopted as the Google model. Microsoft was started by our richest American, Bill Gates, whose success derived at least in part by taking the work of competitors and adapting it as his own. Same with Steve Jobs, who admitted: "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."

Companies like Pfizer and Merck have relied on basic research performed at the National Institute of Health. A Congressional Budget Office study reminds us that The primary rationale for the government to play a role in basic research is that private companies perform too little such research themselves (relative to what is best for society).

5. As a Final Insult, Many of Them Desert the Country that Made Them Rich
Many of the beneficiaries of American research and technology have abandoned their country because of taxes. Like multinational companies that rationalize the move by claiming to be citizens of the world, almost 2,000 Americans, and perhaps up to 8,000, have left their responsibilities behind for more favorable tax climates.
The most egregious example is Eduardo Saverin, who found safe refuge in the U.S. after his family was threatened in Brazil, landed Mark Zuckerberg as a roommate at Harvard, benefited from American technology to make billions from his 4% share in Facebook, and then skipped out on his tax bill.
An Apt Summary?

Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot and member of the Forbes 400, had this to say about any American who might object to all the greed: "Who gives a crap about some imbecile?"
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Reprinted from



Socialist Kshama Sawant Elected To Seattle City Council

Huffington Post
By MANUEL VALDES 11/15/13 11:23 PM ET EST

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle voters have elected a socialist to city council for the first time in modern history.
Kshama Sawant's lead continued to grow on Friday, prompting 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin to concede.
Even in this liberal city, Sawant's win has surprised many here. Conlin was backed by the city's political establishment. On election night, she trailed by four percentage points. She wasn't a veteran politician, having only run in one previous campaign.
But in the days following election night, Sawant's share of the votes outgrew Conlin's.
"I don't think socialism makes most people in Seattle afraid," Conlin said Friday.
While city council races are technically non-partisan, Sawant made sure people knew she was running as a socialist — a label that would be politically poisonous in many parts of the country.
Sawant, a 41-year-old college economics professor, first drew attention as part of local Occupy Wall Street protests that included taking over a downtown park and a junior college campus in late 2011. She then ran for legislative office in 2012, challenging the powerful speaker of the state House, a Democrat. She was easily defeated.
This year, though, she pushed a platform that resonated with the city. She backed efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15; called for rent control in the city where rental prices keep climbing; and supports a tax on millionaires to help fund a public transit system and other services.
"I will reach out to the people who supported Richard Conlin, working with everyone in Seattle to fight for a minimum wage of $15 (an) hour, affordable housing, and the needs of ordinary people," Sawant said in a statement.
During her campaign, she condemned economic inequality, contending that some people aren't benefiting from the city's declining jobless rate, ongoing recovery from the recession, and downtown building boom.
"She's passionate about her values," Conlin said.
Research showed no socialist candidate had won a citywide office in the past 100 years. The last socialist candidate to make it into the general election was in 1991 and was defeated, said Scott Cline, the city's archivist.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Obamacare Snafus?

Whatever glitches, planning errors, ineptness is behind the problems encountered with the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, one fatal fact remains: No plan based on for-profit medicine and insurance is going to provide decent health care for the majority of people (let alone all the people).

"good quality for-profit medical care for all" is an oxymoron. It will never work. The only way to have medical for all is socialized medicine (or "single-payer" if you choke saying "socialized").

One easy solution: extend Medicare to everyone.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Israel wanted Arafat dead

Why Israel wanted Arafat dead

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

They aren’t anti-Semites, just plain old bigots

Note: this article is good as far as it goes, but had left some thing unsaid. Fink tells his fellow Zionist Jews, don't overreact, everyone is not out to kill all the Jews. One of the reasons he gives is that throughout the world Jews are no longer segregated into geographic and social ghettos. In the modern world people meet Jews and not harbor any of the ancient fears. However, this cuts both ways. Israeli Jews are currently seized by a racist hysteria against "the Arabs" and now, black African migrants. Segregation and racist propaganda (better said, indoctrination, particularly of the young) are firmly entrenched and spreading in Israel. Maybe they ought to be cured of their bigotry too? A last point is that Fink should be ware of the Christian Zionists of the USA. They are all-around bigots who act as philo-semites. As cheerleaders for every Israeli crime against basic human rights, the Christian Zionists hope for the achievement of biblical prophecy where all the world's Jews gather in Israel, so that Jesus can make his final coming and all the non-Christians (this means you, Fink) are sent to hell.

from Haaretz

The ADL - and Jews in general - should be careful about what they call ‘anti-Semitism.’
By Rabbi Eliyahu Fink | Nov. 6, 2013 | 2:03 PM

The Anti-Defamation League released the results of a recent poll that indicates anti-Semitic attitudes have decreased by 3 percent since 2011. That’s the good news. The bad news is that according to the ADL, too many people continue to harbor anti-Semitic views. But I am not sure we can really call those who hold these views anti-Semites.
Anti-Semitism used to refer to irrational hatred of Jews and violence stemming from that hatred. For most of history, people lived in communities, towns, and cities with like-minded people of similar ethnicity. Over the last 2,000 years, the “other” in many communities was the Jew. The Jew lived among the nations of the world as a second-class citizen or worse. The classically anti-Semitic cities of Eastern Europe were made up of people who shared common ancestry and lived together for generations. The Jews were the usurpers, the invaders, the minority, the people to blame for their problems. Thus, anti-Semitism.
Other forms of bigotry are really no different. Larger groups have always used smaller groups as scapegoats and muses for their hatred. Historically, and to a lesser degree contemporarily, the Roma in Europe, Armenians in Turkey, black people in predominately white countries, Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese, Chechens in Russia, Albanians in Greece and Italy, Copts in Egypt, among many others, are minorities who are discriminated against and the subjects of hatred in their host countries.
One thing that made anti-Semitism unique was how it permeated so many different cultures and locales. This is because we were minorities in so many places throughout our long exile that more groups had an excuse or opportunity to hate us. Other groups were concentrated into smaller areas and so were their enemies.
Today we live in a diverse, multi-cultural world. Many people live in communities with all kinds of people from all ethnicities and cultures. Minorities are majorities in some places. This translates into a society where people are generally exposed to people with difference skin tones, values, religions, ideas, and preferences than themselves. By default, this makes it harder to dislike people who are different simply because almost everyone in one’s social circle is going to be somewhat different.
The United States is particularly diverse and Americans are particularly welcoming of different groups most of the time. But in places where there are insular communities, ghettos, and more uniform social circles, we are – in my opinion - likely to find higher levels of bigotry against a multitude of ethnicities – Jews and other minorities alike.
In its survey, the ADL asked questions that would elicit responses revealing whether a person was biased against Jewish people. These questions are designed to help the ADL determine how widespread Jewish stereotypes are held as truth. While the numbers are disheartening they only tell part of the story.
In order to determine whether the people who hold these beliefs are anti-Semites, one has to eliminate the other possibility that they might be bigots in general. If they hate Jews and they hate everyone else too it’s hardly anti-Semitism. Their bigotry is not unique toward Jewish people if they are just plain old bigots.
Jewish people need to be concerned about all forms of bigotry. But we have a vested interest in anti-Semitism. We need to ask if Jew hatred is a different kind of hatred than the hatred found across the gamut of society. Not every Jew hater is an anti-Semite. The true anti-Semite is the one who does not hate anyone but Jews. This is a very rare person indeed. And that is very good news.
As to solving the problem of bigotry in general, the solution is to create more opportunities for minorities and majorities to interact in positive ways. In some places in the world, this is still impossible. Luckily, in the United States Jewish people interact with non-Jews all the time. But we do need to make a concerted effort to put our best foot forward and show those who hate us that their bigotry is based on false assumptions and ignorance. We must make an even greater effort in places where Jewish people are more prominently anti-social like the uber-insular communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews and the places where Jewish people rarely appear. It is in those two categories of places that ignorance and stereotypes about Jews are most likely to be found. We hold the key to changing those opinions by acting in a congenial and respectful manner.
Hopefully through our efforts we can eliminate bigotry and even eradicate the exceedingly rare exclusive hater of Jews. Let’s also be careful about whom and what we call anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D., is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice, CA. Connect with Rabbi Fink through Facebook, Twitter or email. He blogs at

Monday, November 4, 2013

Imploding the Myth of Israel
Posted on Nov 4, 2013
By Chris Hedges
Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that rivals the brutality and racism of apartheid South Africa. Its democracy—which was always exclusively for Jews—has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country toward fascism. Many of Israel’s most enlightened and educated citizens—one million of them—have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, has become an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy.
And yet, the hard truths about Israel remain largely unspoken. Liberal supporters of Israel decry its excesses. They wring their hands over the tragic necessity of airstrikes on Gaza or Lebanon or the demolition of Palestinian homes. They assure us that they respect human rights and want peace. But they react in inchoate fury when the reality of Israel is held up before them. This reality implodes the myth of the Jewish state. It exposes the cynicism of a state whose real goal is, and always has been, the transfer, forced immigration or utter subjugation and impoverishment of Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories. Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bear the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane. Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.
There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality. This is what makesMax Blumenthal’s“Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse. 
I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, including months in Gaza and the West Bank. I lived for two years in Jerusalem. Many of the closest friends I made during my two decades overseas are Israeli. Most of them are among the Israeli outcasts that Blumenthal writes about, men and women whose innate decency and courage he honors throughout his book. They are those who, unlike the Israeli leadership and a population inculcated with racial hatred, sincerely want to end occupation, restore the rule of law and banish an ideology that creates moral hierarchies with Arabs hovering at the level of animal as Jews—especially Jews of European descent—are elevated to the status of demigods. It is a measure of Blumenthal’s astuteness as a reporter that he viewed Israel through the eyes of these outcasts, as well as the Palestinians, and stood with them as they were arrested, tear-gassed and fired upon by Israeli soldiers. There is no other honest way to tell the story about Israel. And this is a very honest book. 
“Goliath” is made up of numerous vignettes, some only a few pages long, that methodically build a picture of Israel, like pieces fit into a puzzle. It is in the details that Israel’s reality is exposed. The Israeli army, Blumenthal points out in his first chapter, “To the Slaughter,” employs a mathematical formula to limit outside food deliveries to Gaza to keep the caloric levels of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped inside its open air prison just above starvation; a government official later denied that he had joked in a meeting that the practice is “like an appointment with a dietician.” The saturation, 22-day bombing of Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, led by 60 F-16 fighter jets, instantly killed 240 Palestinians, including scores of children. Israel’s leading liberal intellectuals, including the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, blithely supported the wholesale murder of Palestinian civilians. And while Israelis blocked reporters from entering the coastal Gaza Strip—forcing them to watch distant explosions from Israel’s Parash Hill, which some reporters nicknamed “the Hill of Shame”—the army and air force carried out atrocity after atrocity, day after day, crimes that were uncovered only after the attack was over and the press blockade lifted. This massive aerial and ground assault against a defenseless civilian population that is surrounded by the Israeli army, a population without an organized military, air force, air defenses, navy, heavy artillery or mechanized units, caused barely a ripple of protest inside Israel from the left or the right. It was part of the ongoing business of slaughtering the other.
“Unarmed civilians were torn to pieces with flechette darts sprayed from tank shells,” Blumenthal writes. “Several other children covered in burns from white phosphorous chemical weapon rounds were taken to hospitals; a few were found dead with bizarre wounds after being hit with experimental Dense Inert Metal Explosive(DIME) bombs designed to dissolve into the body and rapidly erode internal soft tissue. A group of women were shot to death while waving a white flag; another family was destroyed by a missile while eating lunch; and Israeli soldiers killed Ibrahim Awajah, an eight-year-old child. His mother, Wafaa, told the documentary filmmaker Jen Marlowe that soldiers used his corpse for target practice. Numerous crimes like these were documented across the Gaza Strip.”
By the end of the assault, with 1,400 dead, nearly all civilians, Gaza lay in ruins. The Israeli air force purposely targeted Gaza’s infrastructure, including power plants, to reduce Gaza to a vast, overcrowded, dysfunctional slum. Israel, Blumenthal notes, destroyed “80 percent of all arable farmland in the coastal strip, bombing the strip’s largest flour mill, leveling seven concrete factories, shelling a major cheese factory, and shooting up a chicken farm, killing thirty-one thousand chickens.”
“Twelve [years old] and up, you are allowed to shoot. That’s what they tell us,” an Israeli sniper told Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass in 2004 at the height of the Second Intifada, Blumenthal writes. “This is according to what the IDF [Israel Defense Force] says to its soldiers. I do not know if this is what the IDF says to the media,” the sniper was quoted as saying.
The 2008 murderous rampage is not, as Blumenthal understands, an anomaly. It is the overt policy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates “a system of open apartheid.” Israel, as Blumenthal points out, has not lifted its state of emergency since its foundation. It has detained at least 750,000 Palestinians, including 10,000 women, in its prisons since 1967. It currently holds more than 4,500 political prisoners, including more than 200 children and 322 people jailed without charges, Blumenthal writes, including those it has labeled “administrative detainees.” Israel has a staggering 99.74 percent conviction rate for these so-called security prisoners, a figure that any totalitarian state would envy.
Blumenthal cites a survey of Jewish Israeli attitudes on the Gaza bombing, known as Operation Cast Lead. The survey, by Daniel Bar-Tal, a political psychologist from Tel Aviv University, concluded that the public’s “consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians, and insensitivity to their suffering.” Bar-Tal tells Blumenthal “these attitudes are the product of indoctrination.” And Blumenthal sets out to chronicle the poison of this indoctrination and what it has spawned in Israeli society.
The racist narrative, once the domain of the far right and now the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream, demonizes Palestinians and Arabs, as well as all non-Jews. Non-Jews, according to this propaganda, will forever seek the annihilation of the Jewish people. The Holocaust, in which Israeli victimhood is sanctified, is seamlessly conflated with Palestinian and Arab resistance to occupation. The state flies more than 25 percent of Israeli 11th-graders to Poland to tour Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps a year before they start army service. They are told that the goal of Arabs, along with the rest of the non-Jewish world, is another Auschwitz. And the only thing standing between Israelis and a death camp is the Israeli army. Israeli high schools show films such as “Sleeping With the Enemy” to warn students about dating non-Jews, especially Arabs. Racist books such as “Torat Ha’Melech,” or “The King’s Torah,” are given to soldiers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, the authors of the 230-page book, inform soldiers that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have to be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments [of Noah] ... there is nothing wrong with the murder,” Shapira and Elitzur write. The rabbis claim that under Jewish law “there is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
These narratives of hatred make any act of deadly force by the Israeli army permissible, from the shooting of Palestinian children to the 2010 killing by Israeli commandos of nine unarmed activists on the Turkish boat the Mavi Marmara. The activists were part of a flotilla of six boats bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The Israeli propaganda machine claimed that the small flotilla was a covert terror convoy. Never mind that the Mavi Marmara was in international waters when it was attacked. Never mind that no one on the boat, or any of the five other boats, was armed. Never mind that the boats were thoroughly searched before they left for Gaza. The Israeli lie was trumpeted while every camera, video and tape recorder, computer and cellphone of the activists on board was seized and destroyed—or in a few cases sold by Israeli soldiers when they got back to Israel—while those on the boats were towed to an Israeli port and detained in isolation. The ceaseless stoking of fear and racial hatred—given full vent by the Israeli government and media in the days after the Mavi Marmara incident—has served to empower racist political demagogues such as Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, a camp follower of Meir Kahane. It has also effectively snuffed out Israel’s old left-wing Zionist establishment.
“In Israel you have three systems of laws,” the Israeli Arab politician Ahmed Tibi observes in the Blumenthal book. “One is democracy for 80 percent of the population. It is democracy for Jews. I call it an ethnocracy or you could call it a Judocracy. The second is racial discrimination for 20 percent of the population, the Israeli Arabs. The third is apartheid for the population in the West Bank and Gaza. This includes two sets of governments, one for the Palestinians and one for the settlers. Inside Israel there is not yet apartheid but we are being pushed there with ... new laws.”
As Blumenthal documents, even Israeli Jews no longer live in a democracy. The mounting state repression against human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents has reached the proportions of U.S. Homeland Security. The overtly racist cant of the political elite and the masses—“Death to Arabs” is a popular chant at Israeli soccer matches—has emboldened mobs and vigilantes, including thugs from right-wing youth groups such as Im Tirtzu, to carry out indiscriminate acts of vandalism and violence against dissidents, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and the hapless African immigrants who live crammed into the slums of Tel Aviv. Israel has pushed through a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that eerily resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law, for example, permits “small, exclusively Jewish towns planted across Israel’s Galilee region to formally reject applicants for residency on the grounds of ‘suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.’ ” And all who denounce the steady march of Israel toward fascism—including Jewish academics—are attacked in organized campaigns as being insufficiently Zionist. They are branded as terrorists or collaborators with terrorists. As a headline in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz read: “The settlers are the real government of Israel.”
“Woody [a law school graduate from New York] became my initial liaison to Tel Aviv’s radical left, introducing me to a loose-knit band of a few hundred anarchists, disillusioned ex-soldiers, disaffected children of ultra-Zionists, queers, academics, and generally idealistic and disillusioned young people who came of age during the Second Intifada when the liberal Zionist ‘peace camp’ closed ranks with the militaristic right wing,” Blumenthal writes. “This tiny band of social deviants comprised the only grouping of people I met who sincerely embraced multiculturalism and who took concrete action against the discriminatory foundations of their country’s political apparatus. Right-wingers and many Jewish Israelis who considered themselves part of the social mainstream referred to members of the radical left as smolinim, which simply means ‘leftists,’ but the word carried a deeply insulting connotation of an unacceptable caste, an Other. As branded social outcasts, inflexible in their principles, disdainful of ordinary politics, and brazen in their racial liberalism they resembled nothing so much as the pre-Civil War abolitionists.”
The late Amnon Dankner, the former editor of Maariv, one of Israel’s major newspapers, Blumenthal notes, denounced “neo-Nazi expressions in the Knesset” and “entire parties whose tenor and tone arouse feelings of horror and terrifying memories.” David Landau, the former editor-in-chief of Haaretz, has called on Israelis to boycott the Knesset “to stand against the wave of fascism that has engulfed the Zionist project.” And Uri Avnery, a left-wing politician and journalist, says: “Israel’s very existence is threatened by fascism.”
The disillusionment among idealistic young immigrants to Israel dots the book. As one example, Canadian David Sheen is recorded as saying that everything he had known about Israel and Palestinians was, in Blumenthal’s words, “a fantasy cultivated through years of heavy indoctrination.” But perhaps what is saddest is that Israel has, and has always had, within its population intellectuals, including the great scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who sought to save Israel from itself.
Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlincalled “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult.
“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution.” He foresaw that “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” He warned that the rise of a virulent racism would consume Israeli society. He knew that prolonged occupation of the Palestinians would spawn “concentration camps” for the occupied and that, in his words, “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.”
But few, then or now, cared to listen. This is why Blumenthal’s new book is so important.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Peace is war: Israeli settler-colonialism and the Palestinians

By Joseph Massad | Aljazeera – 36 minutes ago

Peace is war: Israeli settler-colonialism and the Palestinians

On the eve of the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration , Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad explains how the reframing of the concepts of peace and war were at the core of the Zionist strategy in colonising Palestine.
Ever since its colonial project was set in motion, Zionism has insisted that it seeks to colonise Palestine "peacefully", indeed that its colonisation of the country will not only not harm the native population, but that it would be of benefit to them.
The movement's founder, Theodor Herzl himself, provided two visions of this future: A fictional, public vision, advertised in his futurist novel Altneuland, where Palestine would become a Jewish state allowing coexistence with the native Arabs who would be happy and grateful for being colonised and civilised by European Jews; and a secret, logistical and practical strategy to evict the Arab population out of the country, which he spelled out in his Diaries.
Herzl's dual approach of declaring peaceful intentions for public consumption behind which he sought to hide Zionism's violent strategy of conquering the land of the Palestinians would be adopted wholesale thenceforward and continues to be the cornerstone of Israeli policy to the present.
Waging war to achieve peace
Indeed, long before George Orwell popularised the expression "war is peace” in his 1949 novel, Zionism understood well that its colonial strategy depended on a deliberate and insistent confusion of the binary terms "war” and "peace”, so that each of them hides behind the other as one and the same strategy: "Peace” will always be the public name of a colonial war, and "war", once it became necessary and public in the form of invasions, would be articulated as the principal means to achieve the sought after "peace”.
Waging war as peace is so central to Zionist and Israeli propaganda that Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which killed 20,000 civilians, was termed "Operation Peace for Galilee”. War and peace, therefore, are the same means whose only and ultimate strategic goal is European Jewish colonisation of Palestine and the subjugation and expulsion of Palestine's native population.
To bring about the expulsion of the Palestinians and the establishment of the Jewish settler colony, Herzl sought the patronage of the powers that controlled the fate of Palestine. Whereas his assiduous efforts to court the Ottomans and persuade them to grant him a charter failed, the Zionist leadership after him adopted his strategy and successfully secured the patronage of Britain, which became the master of Palestine after WWI, as well as Britain's Hashemite clients, whom the British set up as rulers of Iraq and Transjordan.
The British, themselves, pledged in their infamous Balfour Declaration, that the European Jewish colonisation of Palestine would be conducted under their patronage peacefully, in such a manner "that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. After WWII, the Zionists successfully secured US support for their colonial project
US support
The Zionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, following Herzl's strategy of securing the patronage of major world powers articulated the Zionist position thus:
Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population - behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach. That is our Arab policy; not what it should be, but what it actually is, whether we admit it or not. What need we, otherwise, of the Balfour Declaration? Or of the Mandate? Their value to us is that outside Power has undertaken to create in the country such conditions of administration and security that if the native population should desire to hinder our work, they will find it impossible.
None of this, however, meant that the Zionists abandoned their public claims that their "peaceful” colonisation of the country would not be harmful to the Palestinians while employing, at the same time, the most violent means to evict the Palestinians off their land. It was, in fact, this public Zionist commitment to "peace” with the Palestinians, whose land they sought to conquer, that provoked the ire of Jabotinsky. The Zionist leaders' assumption that the Palestinians were bribable, that they could be bought, and that they would accept Jewish domination in exchange for nominal economic benefits was challenged by Jabotinsky on every count. He declared as early as 1923 that:
Our peace-mongers are trying to persuade us that the Arabs are either fools, whom we can deceive by masking our real aims, or that they are corrupt and can be bribed to abandon to us their claim to priority in Palestine, in return for cultural and economic advantages. I repudiate this conception of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are five hundred years behind us, they have neither our endurance nor our determination; but they are just as good psychologists as we are …. We may tell them whatever we like about the innocence of our aims, watering them down and sweetening them with honeyed words to make them palatable, but they know what we want, as well as we know what they do not want. They feel at least the same instinctive jealous love of Palestine, as the old Aztecs felt for ancient Mexico, and the Sioux for their rolling Prairies.
Pitfalls of blind racism
For Jabotinsky, the racism of the Zionist leaders was blinding them to the pitfalls of their strategy. Understanding that no amount of money, and no amount of honeyed words have ever convinced a people to hand over their country to foreign conquerors, he understood that the Palestinians must be defeated militarily as the precondition to their acquiescence in the Zionist project of stealing their country. In this regard, he added:
To imagine, as our Arabophiles do, that [the Palestinians] will voluntarily consent to the realisation of Zionism, in return for the moral and material conveniences which the Jewish colonist brings with him, is a childish notion, which has at [its] bottom a kind of contempt for the Arab people; it means that they despise the Arab race, which they regard as a corrupt mob that can be bought and sold, and are willing to give up their fatherland for a good railway system …. There is no justification for such a belief. It may be that some individual Arabs take bribes. But that does not mean that the Arab people of Palestine as a whole will sell that fervent patriotism that they guard so jealously, and which even the Papuans will never sell. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised.
Talk peace, walk war
Hence for Jabotinsky the proper and correct way to secure the Palestinians' acquiescence is to obliterate any possibility that they could ever stop the colonisation of their country or reverse it once it had been achieved. This will be carried out first by securing an imperial sponsor for the establishment of the Jewish settler colony and by creating, what he called, an "iron wall” defended by a Zionist army, which the Palestinians could not breach. Only then, he surmised, would the Palestinians be ready for a peaceful settlement with their colonial conquerors:
This does not mean that there cannot be any agreement with the Palestine Arabs. What is impossible is a voluntary agreement. As long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us, they will refuse to give up this hope in return for either kind words or for bread and butter, because they are not a rabble, but a living people. And when a living people yields in matters of such a vital character it is only when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of us, because they can make no breach in the iron wall. Not till then will they drop their extremist leaders, whose watchword is "Never!” And the leadership will pass to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concessions. Then we may expect them to discuss honestly practical questions, such as a guarantee against Arab displacement, or equal rights for Arab citizens, or Arab national integrity …. And when that happens, I am convinced that we Jews will be found ready to give them satisfactory guarantees, so that both peoples can live together in peace, like good neighbours.
Jabotinsky's views would guide all branches of the Zionist movement after him, not least the dominant Labour Zionism, led by David Ben-Gurion.
Like Herzl, Ben-Gurion would advocate peace with the Palestinians publicly, claiming that the interests of the colonists and the natives were not contradictory, while strategically planning war against the Palestinians in the meetings of the Zionist leadership. However, it would be the logic of Jabotinsky's arguments that would guide him.
In 1936, amid the Great Palestinian Revolt against Zionist colonisation and British occupation, Ben-Gurion declared: "It is not in order to establish peace in the country that we need an agreement. Peace is indeed a vital matter for us. It is impossible to build a country in a permanent state of war, but peace for us is a means. The end is the complete and full realisation of Zionism. Only for that do we need an agreement.”
Echoing Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion understood that a "comprehensive” peace agreement with the Palestinians was inconceivable in the 1930s, when the Jewish colonists remained an armed and bellicose minority in the land of the Palestinians. He concluded: "For only after total despair on the part of the Arabs, despair that will come not only from the failure of disturbances and the attempt at rebellion, but also as a consequence of our growth in the country, may the Arabs possibly acquiesce in a Jewish Eretz Israel.”
Capitulation, one state at a time
Elaborating on the idea that peace is war, Ben-Gurion explained clearly to his fellow Zionists that any peace agreement with an Arab party must be designed to formalise their capitulation to Zionist colonisation. This he declared as early as 1949, following the military triumph of the Zionists and their establishment of the settler-colony: "Egypt … is a big state. If we could arrive at the conclusion of peace with it - it would be a tremendous conquest for us.” Israeli scholar Avi Shlaim has documented much of this in his book The Iron Wall.
That "conquest” would have to wait thirty years, but when it was realised through the Camp David Accords with Anwar Sadat in 1978, it formalised Egypt's recognition of the legitimacy of the Jewish settler-colony, the denial of Palestinian sovereignty or rights, except in some deferred "autonomy” plan, and Egypt's acquiescence in never re-establishing its sovereignty over the Sinai peninsula, which Israel would return to Egyptian partial control without sovereignty.
The "conquest” of Egypt, of which Ben-Gurion spoke in 1949, was completed at Camp David. At the time, the Palestinians, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had not yet come around formally to accepting that the colonisation of their country was irreversible and continued to seek its liberation from European Jewish colonialism.
As the idea of peace as a means to establish more colonial conquests continued to be entrenched in Zionist considerations, it would be pursued alongside formal war even after Camp David, as evidenced by the multiple invasions of Lebanon in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and in the new century. These wars would be waged explicitly as part of Israel's pursuit of "peace” to achieve its colonial aims.
The US convening of the 1991 "peace conference” in Madrid, to which they invited Israel and all the Arab protagonists, excluding the PLO, would not inaugurate a new phase in Israeli strategy as much as formalise its new approach since 1977 - namely concluding "peace” deals with Arab and Palestinian leaders who, in the words of Jabotinsky, had "given up hope”, capitulated completely to Jewish colonialism, and promised not only not to resist Israel but to help it along, while continuing the war against those Arabs and Palestinians who continued to resist Zionism's colonial logic.
This is part one of a two-part series. Part two will be published on Saturday, November 2.
Joseph Massad teaches modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of 'The Persistence of the Palestinian Question'.