Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A tale of two flags: a metaphor for America's crybaby racism

Walking through Washington Square Park I usually don't notice the always present American flag. The last time I was there I did notice that it was at half-mast in honor of the two NYPD cops where were killed.

I snorted in contempt, thinking, "Would they ever do that for a victim of police murder? Unarmed black men are routinely shot down by racist cops, do they get any official respect?"

Obviously not.

Flying under the stars and stripes was the still ubiquitous black POWA/MIA banner. It struck me how they go together as a reminder of the deep hypocrisy of our USA.

The return of the US prisoners of war and accounting of US soldiers missing in action as an issue was created by then President Nixon in 1973 during the negotiations between the US and the North Vietnamese government and the National Liberation Front of the South Vietnamese fighters. What was being negotiated was the unconditional withdrawal of US military forces. Which meant in plain language: the US lost, the North Vietnamese and the "Viet Cong" won. End of story.

for a brief time Nixon balked and demanded that the other side return all the POWs and MIAs. Insinuating that these evil, low-down asiatic communists were holding on to some of our red-blooded American boys. What was the evidence and for what reasons? Nothing rational was ever advanced, except that this is the kind of dirty trick those commies would pull.

This incident was a blip in the negotiations, but had great cultural resonance among a large part of the US populace. It allowed them to vent rage and express bitter anger at those inferior, yellow skinned gooks (a very common expression in the US during the Vietnam war). For hard-core rightist, racists, flag waving patriots certain of America's divine right to rule the world, the US getting its sorry ass whipped by the Vietnamese was a very bitter pill to swallow.

The "stab in the back" theories abounded. We weren't allowed to win the war. Yes we had total control of the air and sea coasts and over 500,000 US troops and tens of thousands of allies (50,000 South Korean troops, thousands of Australians, among others) in place and managed to kill millions of people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia...but we didn't win..because we weren't allowed to...what? use nuclear weapons? send over 2 million troops? It was the peaceniks who tied our hands.

Hard line, America first racists couldn't fathom the idea that the great mass of the population was tired of endless war for no good reason and tired of seeing dozens of dead US soldiers shipped home every week (unwilling soldiers in a draftee army) and decisively turned against the war. The majority was fed up and wanted the war to end. the most bigoted, patriotic (and most likely religious) part of the population couldn't grasp that reality.

They were also immune to the idea that the Vietnamese didn't want a foreign country to control them and prop up a hated military government in South Vietnam.

No, they insisted, the USA is invading other countries to promote democracy and if they don't like it then let's kill them all. Sound familiar?

Their reality was that somehow the USA was an innocent victim of the satanic asian communists and traitors at home.
Thus was born the black MIA/POW flag. It became a cultural icon for super-patriot racists and gained a semi-official status as local governments had the flag flown all over the country.

A couple of generations have grown up in America with that dumb ass flag flying at fire stations, parks and courthouses, most likely not knowing why or what it was supposed to mean.

Well, the same bigotry, xenophobia, cult of American patriotism, and general willful ignorance of the world that fueled the 1970s POW/MIA movement has has quite a staying power that carries over to current times.

The USA is the victim of Islamic terrorists and weak kneed peacenicks. And our gallant (white) policemen are unfairly under siege from hordes of criminal black youth who need to be kept down. This crybaby racist mentality will bring the American Empire down.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Assata Shakur

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.

In 1978, my case was one of many cases bought before the United Nations Organization in a petition filed by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, exposing the existence of political prisoners in the United States, their political persecution, and the cruel and inhuman treatment they receive in US prisons. According to the report:

“The FBI and the New York Police Department in particular, charged and accused Assata Shakur of participating in attacks on law enforcement personnel and widely circulated such charges and accusations among police agencies and units. The FBI and the NYPD further charged her as being a leader of the Black Liberation Army which the government and its respective agencies described as an organization engaged in the shooting of police officers. This description of the Black Liberation Army and the accusation of Assata Shakur’s relationship to it was widely circulated by government agents among police agencies and units. As a result of these activities by the government, Ms. Shakur became a hunted person; posters in police precincts and banks described her as being involved in serious criminal activities; she was highlighted on the FBI’s most wanted list; and to police at all levels she became a ‘shoot-to-kill’ target.”

I was falsely accused in six different “criminal cases” and in all six of these cases I was eventually acquitted or the charges were dismissed. The fact that I was acquitted or that the charges were dismissed, did not mean that I received justice in the courts, that was certainly not the case. It only meant that the “evidence” presented against me was so flimsy and false that my innocence became evident. This political persecution was part and parcel of the government’s policy of eliminating political opponents by charging them with crimes and arresting them with no regard to the factual basis of such charges.

On May 2, 1973 I, along with Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike, supposedly for a “faulty tail light.” Sundiata Acoli got out of the car to determine why we were stopped. Zayd and I remained in the car. State trooper Harper then came to the car, opened the door and began to question us. Because we were black, and riding in a car with Vermont license plates, he claimed he became “suspicious.” He then drew his gun, pointed it at us, and told us to put our hands up in the air, in front of us, where he could see them. I complied and in a split second, there was a sound that came from outside the car, there was a sudden movement, and I was shot once with my arms held up in the air, and then once again from the back. Zayd Malik Shakur was later killed, trooper Werner Foerster was killed, and even though trooper Harper admitted that he shot and killed Zayd Malik Shakur, under the New Jersey felony murder law, I was charged with killing both Zayd Malik Shakur, who was my closest friend and comrade, and charged in the death of trooper Forester. Never in my life have I felt such grief. Zayd had vowed to protect me, and to help me to get to a safe place, and it was clear that he had lost his life, trying to protect both me and Sundiata. Although he was also unarmed, and the gun that killed trooper Foerster was found under Zayd’s leg, Sundiata Acoli, who was captured later, was also charged with both deaths. Neither Sundiata Acoli nor I ever received a fair trial We were both convicted in the news media way before our trials. No news media was ever permitted to interview us, although the New Jersey police and the FBI fed stories to the press on a daily basis. In 1977, I was convicted by an all- white jury and sentenced to life plus 33 years in prison. In 1979, fearing that I would be murdered in prison, and knowing that I would never receive any justice, I was liberated from prison, aided by committed comrades who understood the depths of the injustices in my case, and who were also extremely fearful for my life.

The U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Commission report on intelligence operations inside the USA, revealed that “The FBI has attempted covertly to influence the public’s perception of persons and organizations by disseminating derogatory information to the press, either anonymously or through “friendly” news contacts.” This same policy is evidently still very much in effect today.

On December 24, 1997, The New Jersey State called a press conference to announce that New Jersey State Police had written a letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to intervene on their behalf and to aid in having me extradited back to New Jersey prisons. The New Jersey State Police refused to make their letter public. Knowing that they had probably totally distort the facts, and attempted to get the Pope to do the devils work in the name of religion, I decided to write the Pope to inform him about the reality of’ “justice” for black people in the State of New Jersey and in the United States. (See attached Letter to the Pope).

In January of 1998, during the pope’s visit to Cuba, I agreed to do an interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza around my letter to the Pope, about my experiences in New Jersey court system, and about the changes I saw in the United States and it’s treatment of Black people in the last 25 years. I agreed to do this interview because I saw this secret letter to the Pope as a vicious, vulgar, publicity maneuver on the part of the New Jersey State Police, and as a cynical attempt to manipulate Pope John Paul II. I have lived in Cuba for many years, and was completely out of touch with the sensationalist, dishonest, nature of the establishment media today. It is worse today than it was 30 years ago. After years of being victimized by the “establishment” media it was naive of me to hope that I might finally get the opportunity to tell “my side of the story.” Instead of an interview with me, what took place was a “staged media event” in three parts, full of distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies. NBC purposely misrepresented the facts. Not only did NBC spend thousands of dollars promoting this “exclusive interview series” on NBC, they also spent a great deal of money advertising this “exclusive interview” on black radio stations and also placed notices in local newspapers.

Like most poor and oppressed people in the United States, I do not have a voice. Black people, poor people in the U.S. have no real freedom of speech, no real freedom of expression and very little freedom of the press. The black press and the progressive media has historically played an essential role in the struggle for social justice. We need to continue and to expand that tradition. We need to create media outlets that help to educate our people and our children, and not annihilate their minds. I am only one woman. I own no TV stations, or Radio Stations or Newspapers. But I feel that people need to be educated as to what is going on, and to understand the connection between the news media and the instruments of repression in Amerika. All I have is my voice, my spirit and the will to tell the truth. But I sincerely ask, those of you in the Black media, those of you in the progressive media, those of you who believe in truth freedom, To publish this statement and to let people know what is happening. We have no voice, so you must be the voice of the voiceless.

Free all Political Prisoners, I send you Love and Revolutionary Greetings From Cuba, One of the Largest, Most Resistant and Most Courageous Palenques (Maroon Camps) That has ever existed on the Face of this Planet.

Assata Shakur Havana, Cuba

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Babalú Ayé The US and Cuba: What Really Happened, What Will Change?

from Counterpunch


A few days after Thanksgiving I was at a social gathering and a member of the Cuban mission to the UN asked me why I hadn’t written anything about Cuba lately and if I thought there was any significant changes on the horizon. I told him exactly what I thought.

I was of the opinion that, if anything, the midterm elections had given Obama a “green light” to do everything he could regarding improving and, ultimately, normalizing relations with Cuba.

First, the exit polls in the Florida gubernatorial election showed the continuing trend of Cuban Americans voting for candidates who endorsed engagement with Cuba. Obama won Florida twice, in 2008 and 2012, without bending to the pro-embargo minority. The fact that Charlie Crist, although having lost the election, had won the Cuban-American vote in southern Florida with an emphatic campaign stance that the embargo needed to end. This is only part of the mounting evidence that Miami’s Cuban demographic has experienced a sea change in the past two decades. Obama didn’t have to worry about losing Florida “forever” for the Democrats with this move.

Second, Obama doesn’t owe anybody anything.

He could go and do what he wants as far as using executive authority on a number of issues that Congress has proven incapable of tackling. The man, despite his many faults, has had absolutely no cooperation from congressional Republicans and very little support and acknowledgement by members of his own party. Cuba would be an interesting opportunity for Obama to use his executive authority to show those who would mock him who really has the power to get things done.

Thirdly, because of the Republican overtake of the upper chamber Bob Menendez lost his seat as the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. This is a victory for proponents of engagement with Cuba because it stripped the recalcitrant Menendez of his power that he would always wield by tabling any overtures towards the island. Obama didn’t have to worry about any fallout from members of his own party, especially senior members like Menendez who have entirely too much say in issues regarding Cuba, because they had been effectively stripped of their power. Barring a complete meltdown by Republicans in the next two years it is unlikely that Menendez obtain that position again. Good riddance!

Finally, time was counting down to the 2015 Summit of the Americas and the US was facing a near unanimous consensus within Latin America countries of boycotting the event if Cuba and the United States wouldn’t be able to sit at the same table as part of the community of nations of the Western hemisphere. A breakdown in the Summit would have been a major setback for Obama and a blow to US foreign policy in a region where America’s influence has been waning for two decades.

I was just getting around to writing about this and other observations about US-Cuba relations when I was blindsided by the announcements of the monumental steps taken by Obama and Raul Castro and their respective governments.

For proponents of engagement between the United States and Cuba, December 17th, 2014 will be remembered as the single most historically significant date in the past sixty years, and maybe even longer. The veteran observer would have thought the prisoner exchanges and the measures outlined by Obama on this day would have transpired gradually. A rough timeline would have consisted of Alan Gross being let go one day, maybe one of the Cuban 5 a month later, a rumor that the president was asking the State Department to “reassess” Cuba’s spurious designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism before April’s summit, and so on. That’s what makes this day so memorable. Many bold steps were taken at once and this quantum leap signifies a point of no return.

It isn’t full normalization. It isn’t completely free travel to Cuba that is promised to all US citizens by our constitution. It isn’t the lifting of a policy of economic strangulation decried universally every year at the UN. It doesn’t allow unlimited investment in Cuba’s nascent private sector or completely remove limits on remittances sent to family and loved ones on the island. At least, not yet.

Nonetheless, it is the first necessary step of a long journey towards establishing and maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship based on respect and transparency.

So what actually happened and what will change?

The release of Alan Gross and another American spy in exchange for the remaining three Cuban members of the infamous Cuban 5 is instrumental in bringing about these historic changes. . As an active member of a community organization that meets with policy makers in the executive branch and with congressional offices in Washington DC the Alan Gross “saga” has always been the excuse to not talk seriously about US-Cuba issues. Now these people will actually have to do some homework and come up with an excuse for not engaging with the island. Regardless of what anybody thinks about the particularities of the different cases of; Alan Gross, the Cuban 5, the unknown yet supposedly tremendously important CIA asset and American spy, and the fifty-three political prisoners released in Cuba, the truth is that they are all pawns in a macabre scene between two former Cold War adversaries who have hard-headedly stuck to the script for over half a century. The resolution of this problem was imperative to any moves towards normalizing relations.

The reestablishing of diplomatic ties for the first time since 1959 is nothing short of a miracle. Meetings between high-level officials from both governments are going to be indispensable in order to forge a new chapter of cooperation. An American embassy in Havana will be a welcome fixture and meetings on many issues such as counterterrorism, maritime operations, immigration, narco-trafficking, and natural disaster relief will allow both nations to better understand each other.

The designation of Cuba on the list of State Sponsor of Terrorism is an insult to the international community’s collective intelligence. Originally placed on the list in 1982 as a “bone” for the Cuban American Republican political class for “helping out” with the Reagan’s administration’s dealings with those pesky Central Americans, Cuba has been compared to Syria, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea by this undeserved designation. As terrorism has become a very real threat to national security, Cuba’s placement on this list is evidence to some that the United States can’t be taken seriously when assessing threats. Obama has called for a review of such placement in “a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism.” Every year the State Department has had to come up with one lame accusation after the next in order to justify their continued designation. There is no evidence of Cuba supporting terrorism and the State Department knows as much. Many much needed medicines, medical supplies, and other technologies used for peaceful means have been denied to Cuba because of this. This has also been one of the main causes for the crisis that Cubans living in America have gone through for the past year because the Cuban Interests Section in Washington has not been able to process payments for passports and other necessary permits and visas. This all because no bank in the US wants to deal with all the regulations and stipulations and constant harassing by the Treasury Department that go with trying to have a State Sponsor of Terrorism as a client.

Also, many of the political class in Washington DC would also bring up that Cuba are “terrorists” when pressed as to why they weren’t willing to talk about engaging with Cuba. Hopefully, within six months they’ll have to find another excuse.

For those Americans thinking they are going to be able to hop on a direct flight to Havana tomorrow, the truth is that this is something they’ll still have to wait for. However, the numerous license categories for “purposeful” people-to-people travel to Cuba will be streamlined into one general license. This is not what a proponent of normalization wants. Such an advocate wants the liberty to travel anywhere in the world without restrictions, as delineated in the US constitution. Although this is the ultimate goal one shouldn’t “look a gift horse in the mouth”. More Americans going to Cuba is the best weapon for those who want to bring an end to the embargo. Hopefully, the general license will make the onerous process of dealing with OFAC less of a hassle and will encourage more non-Cuban US citizens to visit the island and learn about its people and culture. One would also hope that it would make the “Travel Service Providers” a little more honest and obligate them to lower their exorbitant fees for dealing with the “red tape” in securing licenses. This is still an issue that needs to be fixed but, for now, this small step will allow more Americans to visit the island.

For Cuban Americans and Cubans living in third countries there are also improvements. Since 2009, when Obama lifted travel restrictions for Cuban American households this community has enjoyed the liberty of traveling to Cuba to reunite with family and have provided most of the economic capital for a nascent private sector in Cuba through remittances and investments in family businesses and other entrepeneurs. Quarterly remittances have been raised from $500 to $2000. Remittances will also no longer require a license. “US-owned or US-controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries.” according to the White House’s official statement.

Also, US citizens, Cuban or not, can soon use credit and debit cards on the island without repercussions to them or their financial institution. Not only that! They can bring back up to $400 worth of Cuban goods, including $100 in tobacco or alcohol. If I had a nickel for every story I’ve heard of people getting taken off the line after arriving in Miami and being led into the detention room because of a bottle of Havana Club found in a suitcase or a couple of robustos smuggled in a pair of shoes I’d be a rich man!

Another huge advance will be the redefining of the term “cash in advance”. This practice has stymied the only trade permissible between Cuba and the United States. Agricultural exports have gone down since their introduction in 2000 because of this and many other obstacles. The official statement is that the “statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before the title”. This will allow for more efficient trading and will cut down on demurrage fees incurred by waiting for payments to go through. This is a small, unheralded part of the measures but it is a necessary part of breaking down the trade barriers and could become more important as the US searches for other commodities to sell to the island.

This is a summary of the measures announced by Obama. There are other details and several issues to work out but it is a monumental package of necessary changes that need to happen. Cancel Christmas and get it done!!!

This day, the 17th of December, is always significant in Cuba because it is a day that celebrates the dichotomy of the catholic myth of San Lazaro and the veneration for the Orisha Babalú Ayé and the healing power of both figures. This transculturation that has occurred on the island through centuries of African interpretations of European impositions is a unique part of Cuban culture. The healing that must now take place between the two countries appears to have begun and the role played by the Vatican in this endeavor is not insignificant. It is not a coincidence that this day was chosen for such announcements.

Whether or not catholic mythology or African traditions had anything to do with choosing this day to begin a new dawn the future is now as bright as it ever was for proponents of engagement. Emboldened, I would like to make a few suggestions as to what needs to happen next.

US State Department- If you do not have the report stating that Cuba does not have any dealings with terrorists or any machinations to aid and abet terrorism on the president’s desk within two weeks there ought to be an investigation. After all, you have been investigating this for years and every year your allegations are more suspect. This needs to happen immediately.

Now comes a battle in Congress to actually take steps to repeal the Helms-Burton Act. This needs to be the focus. Many congress members have been waiting on the sidelines waiting to see if Miami burns if such announcements were made. On the contrary, many in Miami welcome this change and the pathetic turnout in front of such places as Cafe Versailles in Little Havana demonstrate the complete lack of teeth in the pro-embargo movement. Cubans in Miami and abroad have long tired of the demonstrations in front of concerts, the same three seventy-year-old patriarchs in their two-toned shoes with their signs shouting absurdities. These people are not taken seriously anymore and the Cuban American congressional members who have been propped up by the “exilio historico” need to be challenged in their own districts and in their own congressional offices in Washington.

Many media outlets run with the same non-thinking philosophy that with a Republican Congress it will be a tough slog to repeal Helms-Burton. The truth is, most Republicans, and their constituents, would benefit from improved relations with Cuba -especially the constituents of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Marco Rubio.

Rubio look tired and meek in his press conference. He says he’s prepared to fight tooth and nail against any moves proposed my Obama. If Rubio fights and draws this out he’s just going to end up looking even more clueless than he already does. Rubio is a loser and today it’s official. Ted Cruz will no doubt also provide some laughs in the next few weeks with errant comments and senseless posts on his Twitter account. If Rubio has any sense he will let Cruz take the lead on this and give the junior Senator from Texas just enough rope to hang himself.

Jeb Bush, the newcomer, has also decided to challenge this. His time spent as governor of Florida has given him the misconception that people want things to stay the way they were when he was in charge of the Sunshine state. He’s in for a rude awakening if he tries to use Cuba as a campaign issue.

Not all Republicans are losers with these moves. Jeff Flake, (R-AZ) is the most vocal opponent in Congress and was a member of the delegation that flew to Havana to retrieve Alan Gross. His leadership, on this issue at least, has been strengthened and he will no doubt challenge the Cuban American cabal and other Senators in his party and on the other side of the aisle.

Another winner in this is Rand Paul. He seriously differs from Rubio on this and if either Rubio or Cruz want to make a “show” of this then Rand Paul will end up looking that much better as a viable candidate for the GOP in 2016.

Another big winner is Hillary Clinton. Now, she doesn’t have to deal with this issue as a decision that she would have to make and, if elected, can reap all the benefits from a more beneficial relationship with the island. She has come out and defended Obama and has given support to these historic changes. It will be interesting to see if Democrats rally around their president or abandon him like they did in the midterms. Obama just may have delivered Florida’s electoral votes to the Democrats for the foreseeable future. It is now up to the DNC to not fritter it away.

As for the rest of us, there is still much to do in order to bring about normalization of relations between the two estranged nations but all proponents of engagement must continue their work towards constructing a better future. Cuban Americans need to keep going to Cuba, keep sending remittances and finding new ways to help our families on the island. Keep vigilant of the members of the community who supposedly represent us and then do everything to thwart our desires and intentions. Americans of all stripes need to contact their representatives and tell them they agree with Obama’s moves and would like to see more done. For those who haven’t gone to Cuba the time is now!

Benjamin Willis is a musician in Queens. He is a founding member and active

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why I want Obama to veto Abbas’ UN resolution on Palestine

from The Electric Intifada
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:59

UN resolution backed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas would fatally undermine Palestinian rights (Thaer Ganaim / APA images)
The UN Security Council may vote as soon as today on a resolution setting a twelve-month deadline to achieve a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal and calling on Israel to withdraw from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip by the end of 2017.

The draft was formally put forward by Jordan at the behest of Mahmoud Abbas, the de facto leader of the Palestinian Authority bantustan.

The text of the resolution was published in the Israeli daily Haaretz and is reproduced in full below.

PA foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said, as Haaretz reports, that the resolution is a “French-sponsored version.”

Here’s why I hope that one of the permanent members – almost certainly it will be the Obama administration – vetoes this terrible resolution.

I evaluate any steps related to Palestine through a simple and consistent lens: does this measure take us closer to the fulfillment of Palestinian rights, all Palestinian rights?

These rights are set out most succinctly in the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS): an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land during and since 1967; an end to Israel’s institutionalized racism against Palestinians in present-day Israel (the areas on which Israel was established in 1948); and the return of Palestinian refugees to their land and homes.

I believe in a positive vision of a Palestine whole and free, where all people live in a decolonized and reunified territory without discrimination based on religion or ethnicity and without sectarian territorial partition.

This is why I have consistently opposed steps to “recognize” the so-called “State of Palestine.”

Those “recognition” initiatives are an effort to undo the death of the “two-state solution” and rescue Israel as a racist Jewish state, as Joseph Massad explained in an essential article for The Electronic Intifada this week.

This resolution tries to do exactly the same thing, except in a more legally binding and therefore dangerous manner. It makes the claim that “a just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved by peaceful means, based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and the two-state solution.”

It insists that the entire question of Palestine be reduced to the question of the 1967 occupation and that merely ending this occupation would effectively end all Palestinian claims.

The resolution uses vague, deceptive and in some places outright dishonest language that would enshrine in international law the “liberal” Zionist two-state solution and deal a devastating blow to Palestinian rights, particularly the right of return for refugees.

The places it speaks about “rights” relate to the Palestinian “right to self-determination” – a vague formula which has come to mean in effect a bantustan state and no more.

It also states the “right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders” – meaning in effect that it recognizes Israel’s “right” to be a racist state.

As of this writing, there were reports the draft could still be amended in order to try to avoid a US veto. But of course any further amendments would make it worse than it already is.

The resolution is long, so I will not go through every point but I will raise a few key issues.

The right of return

The resolution does not speak about the “rights” of Palestinian refugees. Instead it speaks about the “the imperative of resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees on the basis of international law and relevant resolutions, including resolution 194 (III), as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative.”

(UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 resolves that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date” and should receive compensation).

This draft speaks of a “just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Arab Peace Initiative [sic], international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolution 194.”

This convoluted language – which refers to the Arab League “peace initiative” of 2002 – is designed to reassure Israel that Palestinians would not insist on their right of return but would instead accept various relocation and resettlement plans designed to guarantee Israel its violently gerrymandered Jewish majority. (I explained how the Arab Peace Initiative undermines Palestinian rights, especially refugee rights, in a 2008 brief for the Palestine Center.)

Palestinian refugees are not the “problem.” Israel’s denial of their rights, solely on the racist basis that they are not Jewish, is the problem.

Endorsing settlements

The draft resolution declares among other things that “the negotiated solution will be based” on “borders based on 4 June 1967 borders with mutually agreed, limited, equivalent and swaps.”

The repeated insistence on the term “based on” here is very much like when we are told that an almost entirely fictional and fantastical Hollywood movie is “based on a true story.”

This is simply a formula to allow Israel to keep most, if not all, of the illegal colonies it has built in the occupied West Bank including Jerusalem – as the Abbas authority has previously proposed and endorsed.

In fact, under precisely the same formula, Abbas offered Israel that it could keep virtually all of the settlements, resulting in what PA negotiator Saeb Erekat called, using the Hebrew name for Jerusalem, “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history.”

It is especially notable that the draft resolution calls for a “phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces which will end the occupation that began in 1967” by the end of 2017.

But nowhere does it call for the dismantling of Israeli settlements or withdrawal of settlers. It only calls for the withdrawal of “security forces.” Instead it adopts a version of the US formula that settlements are merely an “obstacle” to “peace.”

True, the draft states that the “policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

But earlier resolutions, for example UN Security Council Resolution 465 of 1980, demand that Israel actually “dismantle the existing settlements and … cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning” of new ones. This draft mentions resolution 465 in passing in its preamble but does not repeat its explicit demand that settlements must be removed from occupied land.

This is because the resolution is, in effect, pro-settler and pro-settlement.

Replacing Israeli with American occupation?

Along the lines of previous failed “peace” initiatives, this draft resolution calls for Israeli occupation forces to be replaced by “a third-party presence.” In the past, Palestinian Authority figures have spoken of asking American or NATO armed forces to take the place of Israeli occupation forces to act as Israel’s proxy and protector.

In this way, Israel would be relieved of all the direct costs of occupation but would continue to enjoy its full benefits.


The draft resolution repeats the lie that over the last few years under the dictatorial leadership of Abbas there has been “important progress in Palestinian state-building efforts.” Many have debunked this lie, but I have done so in detail in my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

The only thing that Abbas has built is a terrifying “security” apparatus – a police (non)state that collaborates with the Israeli occupation to suppress Palestinians.

Such is the oppression and fear of this petty dictatorship that two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank are now afraid of criticizing Abbas lest they be harassed or worse by his Israeli-backed and American- and EU-financed militias and intelligence.

The vision this Abbas-backed resolution puts forward is the same old prison for Palestinians masquerading as “self-determination” and “statehood” that Palestinians have resisted and rejected for decades.

The fact that Israel opposes the resolution should not fool anyone. This is because, as Massad explained, the current Israeli government prefers forcible annexation of all the land to the step-by-step “liberal” Zionist approach that this resolution embodies.

But in the end the result is the same: Israel gets the settlements and the land and gets to remain a racist state while Palestinians surrender their rights.

We are now in the bizarre position where the most likely course to save Palestinians from this disaster is an American veto.

Full text: Draft UN Resolution

This is the draft of the UN resolution as published by Haaretz:

Draft Resolution (17 December 2014)

Reaffirming its previous resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967); 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), 1544 (2004), 1850 (2008), 1860 (2009) and the Madrid Principles,

Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,

Reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,

Recalling General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947,

Reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and recalling its resolutions 446 (1979), 452 (1979) and 465 (1980), determining, inter alia, that the policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,

Affirming the imperative of resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees on the basis of international law and relevant resolutions, including resolution 194 (III), as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative,

Underlining that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, and calling for a sustainable solution to the situation in the Gaza Strip, including the sustained and regular opening of its border crossings for normal flow of persons and goods, in accordance with international humanitarian law,

Welcoming the important progress in Palestinian state-building efforts recognised by the World Bank and the IMF in 2012 and reiterating its call to all States and international organizations to contribute to the Palestinian institution building programme in preparation for independence,

Reaffirming that a just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved by peaceful means, based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and the two-State solution, building on previous agreements and obligations and stressing that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement that ends the occupation that began in 1967, resolves all permanent status issues as previously defined by the parties, and fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties,

Condemning all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism, and reminding all States of their obligations under resolution 1373 (2001),

Recalling the obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and ensure their protection in situations of armed conflict,

Reaffirming the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders,

Noting with appreciation the efforts of the United States in 2013/14 to facilitate and advance negotiations between the parties aimed at achieving a final peace settlement,

Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a long-term solution to the conflict,

Affirms the urgent need to attain, no later than 12 months after the adoption of this resolution, a just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967 and fulfills the vision of two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognized borders;

Decides that the negotiated solution will be based on the following parameters:

borders based on 4 June 1967 lines with mutually agreed, limited, equivalent land swaps

security arrangements, including through a third-party presence, that guarantee and respect the sovereignty of a State of Palestine, including through a full and phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces which will end the occupation that began in 1967 over an agreed transition period in a reasonable timeframe, not to exceed the end of 2017, and that ensure the security of both Israel and Palestine through effective border security and by preventing the resurgence of terrorism and effectively addressing security threats, including emerging and vital threats in the region.

A just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Arab Peace Initiative, international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolution 194 (III);

Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship;

an agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, including water;

Recognizes that the final status agreement shall put an end to the occupation and an end to all claims and lead to immediate mutual recognition;

Affirms that the definition of a plan and schedule for implementing the security arrangements shall be placed at the center of the negotiations within the framework established by this resolution;

Looks forward to welcoming Palestine as a full Member State of the United Nations within the timeframe defined in the present resolution;

Urges both parties to engage seriously in the work of building trust and to act together in the pursuit of peace by negotiating in good faith and refraining from all acts of incitement and provocative acts or statements, and also calls upon all States and international organizations to support the parties in confidence-building measures and to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations;

Calls upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949;

Encourages concurrent efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region, which would unlock the full potential of neighborly relations in the Middle East and reaffirms in this regard the importance of the full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative;

Calls for a renewed negotiation framework that ensures the close involvement, alongside the parties, of major stakeholders to help the parties reach an agreement within the established timeframe and implement all aspects of the final status, including through the provision of political support as well as tangible support for post-conflict and peace-building arrangements, and welcomes the proposition to hold an international conference that would launch the negotiations;

Calls upon both parties to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, including settlement activities, that could undermine the viability of a two-State solution on the basis of the parameters defined in this resolution;

Calls for immediate efforts to redress the unsustainable situation in the Gaza Strip, including through the provision of expanded humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and other United Nations agencies and through serious efforts to address the underlying issues of the crisis, including consolidation of the ceasefire between the parties;

Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution every three months;

Decides to remain seized of the matter.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Miko Peled on two state campaign: is it real or fake self-determination?

Editor's note: The recognition of Palestine should not be a moral dilemma, but tragically, for Palestinians who have spent more than half a century struggling against the denial of their existence, it is. This is despite millions of them suffering a brutal occupation and apartheid in their own land and millions more languishing in refugee camps, the victims of ethnic cleansing begun in December 1947. On the one hand, they have an innate and inalienable right to a sovereign nation-state and should demand it, while on the other, any recognition is always subject to what Israel considers essential to its security requirements, which is nothing less than permanent Israeli military control. If the Palestinians settle for that, they will never be free, no matter the farcical trappings of illusory power of a few. As Miko Peled says so cogently, "speaking out against injustice is no longer enough. In fact it was never enough. As people of conscience we must act for the removal of the injustice and its replacement with a free, democratic system." And that he says, requires "a real struggle and not some intellectualised version of a struggle. . ." - SK

by Miko Peled

Information Clearing House
13 December 2014

As the recognition by European countries of a so called “State of Palestine” continues, it is becoming obvious that this is nothing but an old colonial trick dusted and reused. The fact that liberal Zionist hypocrites the likes of the Israeli writers Amoz Oz and David Grossman are all over it says it all. In the triangular relations between the Europeans, the colonial regime in Palestine – Israel, and the Palestinians, all remains the same.
As usual, the Europeans profit, Israel is permitted to continue its brutal colonial regime over Palestine, and the Palestinians remain alone. The recognition of the “State of Palestine” is nothing more than what Franz Fanon calls “the farce of national independence” (Franz Fanon, “The Wretched of the Earth”). It provides for a select group of Palestinians the illusion of power with titles like “President” “Minister” “Ambassador,” the all time favorite “Head of Security” and it absolves Europeans of their complicity with Israel.
There is now, according to some European countries, a Palestinian state. Look, there must be one for even Britain and Sweden and a few others have recognized it, and they even have a “President!” Never mind the fact that nothing has changed. Gaza is still under siege with no end in sight, Palestinian prisoners are wasting away in the colonizers jails, armed Israeli mobs and the terrorist organization known as the IDF are terrorizing Palestinians, in the Israeli Knesset racist laws are being passed and not one refugee is allowed to return. We would all be wise to remember that the recognition of a “State” that does not exist in order to numb the resistance to a racist, colonialist regime is not new, it has been used by Europeans in Africa and former colonies in other parts of the world and it is always welcomed by liberals among the colonialists.
Israelis who are free and enjoy the privileges of the racist regime in Palestine like to remember people like my father, the retired General Matti Peled, and others like him who while remaining Zionists called for the right of Palestinians to self determination, but only within a small area, defined by Israel of course, so that we can maintain our racist regime and still feel enlightened all at the same time.
It works well for those who do condemn Israel and its policies but still want to see the state of Israel as part of the solution. We hear that the “Two States” are the first step to a single, unified democracy, a statement that only demonstrates the ignorance of those who express it.
In Palestine, speaking out against injustice is no longer enough. In fact it was never enough. As people of conscience we must act for the removal of the injustice and its replacement with a free, democratic system. But many forget that in order to achieve this there must be a struggle. A real struggle, and not some intellectualized version of a struggle as is often suggested by some Israeli liberals, is the only way to defeat racist, colonialist regimes.
Liberal Zionists, and even some who are progressive seek to continue to talk and to debate, which is why they like organizations like the Palestinian Authority, and the various NGOs that have sprouted in Palestine. They reduce the struggle to a philosophical – political debate on the issues of human rights and self-determination. They allow people to live in the illusion that colonialism can be resolved around the negotiating table. They promote the deception that if only young Palestinian boys and girls could meet and play with young Israeli boys and girls at a summer camp, then one day all will be well. But the young Israelis return and serve in the brutal armed forces of the colonial regime and the young Palestinians return to the refugee camps, the various concentration camps and open air prisons that Israel has created for them, and to being unwanted residents in their own land.
But, as Franz Fanon writes in “The Wretched of the Earth,” “Colonialism is not a machine capable of thinking, a body endowed with reason. It is naked violence and only gives in when confronted by greater violence.” My father and the other liberal Zionists were wrong then and their successors are wrong now. For there is no way to stop the colonial machine once it has started. You cannot contain its insatiable hunger, its lust for power and its brutal force. That is why a “Zionist peace camp” is a sham, that is why there is no possibility of peace with the apartheid regime known as Israel.
European governments never liked people who were not white and Christian like them. They have a history of brutal colonialism, of theft of land and resources and one wonders if Africa and parts of the Middle East would not have been prospering democracies by now had it not been for the murderous, greedy policies of past colonizers. Those of us who care and indeed struggle for justice in Palestine would do well not to fall for the old colonial tricks. Rather we should demand recognition that Israel is occupied Palestine, that all Israeli towns and cities are illegal settlements, and that it is time to free Palestine and its people from the illegitimate colonialist regime known as Israel.
Miko Peled is a peace activist who dares to say in public what others still choose to deny. Miko was born in Jerusalem in 1961 into a well known Zionist family. His grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson was a Zionist leader and signer on the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His father, Matti Peled was a young officer in the war of 1948 and a general in the war of 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and the Sinai. http://mikopeled.com/

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Big Deal: Israel's Basic Law Proposal defining Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People

By Roland Nikles from his blog


“What will the nature of Israel be? A religious Jewish state? A state of all its citizens? A secular, democratic and Jewish state? It is a debate that will engage us for many, many years,” notes a recent article in the New York Times. Despite what many think, this question whether Israel is the nation state of the Jews—as opposed to the nation state of its citizens—remains an open question.

The issue was recently raised for discussion by the Israeli right when, on November 19, 2014, Netanyahu’s cabinet approved 14 principles for a new nation state bill that would enshrine the Jewish character of the state in the Basic Law. The question is also being raised by the Israeli left in the form of a proposed law that seeks to cement the status of Israel as a democratic and multi-cultural state. In light of the collapse of the governing coalition in Israel and the call for elections on March 17, 2015, it seems likely that further discussions of these bills will be deferred until after the election. However, if (as expected) Netanyahu emerges with a stronger governing coalition after the election, the effort to constitutionalize the Jewish character of the state will likely be taken up in the 20th Knesset. Anyone who cares about the character of the state that wields power in the name of Judaism should be paying attention.
Israel’s Basic Law: Founding to Bank Mizrahi Ruling

On May 14, 1948 David Ben Gurion declared Israel an independent Jewish state, although to this day Israel’s “Jewish” character has not been enshrined in a constitution or in Israel’s Basic Law.

Ben Gurion’s declaration promised that a constitution would be enacted by October 1, 1948. But this never happened. According to a biography of David Ben Gurion written by Shimon Perez and Shlomo Aronson, Ben Gurion strongly preferred to avoid the tricky issue of defining the ethnic nature of the state in black and white. In a protracted battle with Menachem Begin, who wanted to establish the Jewish nature of the state of Israel once and for all, Ben Gurion’s view of avoiding a constitution that would have defined Israel as a “Jewish State” prevailed at the time. The nation state bills currently before the Knesset, fueled in part by a loss of faith in a two-state solution for the West Bank and Gaza, are reviving this debate.

The first Knesset convened in January 1949 and commenced to legislate without a constitution. The basic functions of the state, such as the make-up of the Knesset, terms of office, the courts, elections, the office of the President, etc., were established through the normal legislative process. Some of these laws were designated "Basic Laws" with the idea that once they were all in place they would be gathered into a constitution.

In 1992 the Knesset adopted a Basic Law of human dignity and liberty. Significantly, the 1992 laws made reference to the aspirational statements in the declaration of independence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and said that the Basic Law should be interpreted in accordance with those principles. (See Amendment 1) The Israeli Supreme Court then, in what has been termed a constitutional revolution, declared the Basic Laws to be superior to all other laws: in the event of a conflict between a regular law and a Basic Law, the Basic Law would trump. As part of this “revolution,” the court also reserved for itself the prerogative to review all laws for consistency with the Basic Law. See the 1995 Bank Mizrahi ruling.

Through its Bank Mizrahi ruling, the Israeli Supreme Court imbued the Basic Law with the characteristics of a constitution, even though amendment of the Basic Law remains notoriously easy. It was substantial progress towards establishing Israel as a modern democratic state subject to the rule of law.
The Positive Influence of Aharon Barak

How should the courts reconcile the tension between “Jewish” and “democratic” in the Basic Law? Israel’s famous Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak, leaned firmly towards resolving any such conflict in favor of “democratic.” Jewish means democratic in Barak's view. “The state is Jewish not in a halachic-religious sense,” he said, “but in the sense that Jews have the right to immigrate to it, and their national experience is the experience of the state ([as] expressed, inter alia, in the language and the holidays).”
“The basic values of Judaism are the basic values of the state. I mean the values of love of man, the sanctity of life, social justice, doing what is good and just, protecting human dignity, the rule of law over the legislator and the like, values which Judaism bequeathed to the whole world. Reference to those values is on their universal level of abstraction, which suits Israel's democratic character, thus one should not identify the values of the state of Israel as a Jewish state with the traditional Jewish civil law. It should not be forgotten that in Israel there is a considerable non-Jewish minority. Indeed, the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish state are those universal values common to members of democratic society, which grew from Jewish tradition and history.”
Thus, in cases where democratic and Jewish truly conflict, said Barak, the judge must choose between them and he should do so “according to the views of the enlightened community in Israel.” Barak felt that the “enlightened views of the community” would provide a suitably objective test “which refers the judge to the full set of values which shape the character of the modern Israeli.” Barak: Basic Law, Freedom of Occupation, p. 208.

It’s important to recognize that this position outlined by Justice Barak is indeed a strongly liberal and activist view of the law. However, in the absence of a constitution that provides for judicial review of legislation or that guarantees the equal rights of citizens, and with only weak and vague Basic Laws, it is a type of judicial activism that is absolutely essential if Israel is to be a liberal democracy subject to the rule of law. It is essential just like Marbury v. Madison (which established judicial review in the U.S.) was essential.

Conservative forces in Israel are pushing back against this rule of law model championed by Justice Barak. For example, Hillel Neuer of the Shalem Center (which is partially funded by Sheldon Adelson) looks at the role of the court described by Justice Barak and he sees dangerous activism limiting the rights of the majority to pass laws as it sees fit, even if such laws may be profoundly undemocratic and discriminatory.

The stakes could not be higher.
State Preference of Jews over Non-Jews

Although the “Jewish” character of the state was not enshrined in a constitution, nor in its Basic Law, and although Israel has made progress towards a modern democratic state governed by the rule of law (but not in the occupied territories), the laws of the state have nevertheless evolved in a discriminatory manner that has privileged Jews over all other citizens. This has occurred despite reference in the Basic Law to the universal democratic values that are mentioned in the declaration of independence (Israel “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; … ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”).

In 1950, the Knesset enacted a Law of Return, granting Jews everywhere the right to immigrate to Israel. Although not a Basic Law, the law of return, of course, privileges Jews over non-Jewish citizens of the state. In all, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has compiled a list of more than 50 laws that expressly discriminate against the Palestinian minority in Israel. Such discrimination covers all areas of life, from rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, to criminal procedures. Systematic discrimination by the state against Palestinians received a head start under marshal law that was applied to Palestinian citizens of Israel during the first 18 years of the state’s existence. It is perpetuated by Israeli identity cards that describe “Jewish” as a nationality—leaving non-Jewish citizens out in the cold. It is exacerbated by the fact that the state opted to outsource the determination of who counts as a Jew to the "rabbis and politicians who adhere to a conservative, orthodox interpretation of Jewish tradition," says Yacov Yadgar in his recent article in the Journal of Religion and Society.
The Proposed Nation State Law

Here are the 14 principles for a new nation state bill that the Israeli cabinet approved on November 19.

1. Objective
Defining the identity of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and anchoring the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the principles contained in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.

2. Founding principles:
A. The land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and the birthplace of the State of Israel.
B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its right to self-determination according to its cultural and historic heritage.
C. The right to the fulfillment of national self-determination within the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
D. The State of Israel is a democratic state, established on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace in light of the vision of the prophets of Israel, and realizes the individual rights of all its citizens under law.

3. The symbols of the state:
A. The anthem of the State is “Hatikvah.”
B. The flag of the State is white, with two light-blue stripes near its edges and a light-blue Star of David in its center.
C. The symbol of the State is the seven-armed candelabra, with olive branches on both its sides and the word “Israel” beneath.

4. Return:
Every Jew has the right to immigrate to the land [Israel] and to receive the citizenship of the State of Israel under law.

5. Ingathering of the exiles and strengthening the ties to the Jewish people in the Diaspora:
The State shall act to gather in the exiles of Israel and to strengthen the affinity between Israel and the Jewish communities of the Diaspora.

6. Aid to the Jewish people in distress:
The State shall act to give aid to members of the Jewish people who are in distress and captivity because of their Jewishness.

7. Heritage:
A. The State shall act to preserve the cultural and historic heritage and tradition of the Jewish people, and to cultivate and foster them in Israel and the Diaspora.
B. In all educational institutions serving the Jewish public in Israel the annals of the Jewish people, its heritage and tradition, shall be studied.
C. The State shall act to enable all residents of Israel, without regard to religion, race or nationality, to act to preserve their culture, heritage, language and identity.

8. Official calendar:
The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the State.

9. Independence Day and memorial days:
A. Independence Day is the national holiday of the State.
B. Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars and Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day are the official memorial days of the State.

10. Days of rest:
The established days of rest in the State of Israel are the Sabbath and the holidays of Israel, in which no employee shall be employed except under conditions set in law. Members of recognized [religious] groups shall be allowed to rest on their rest days and holidays.

11. Hebrew law:
A. Jewish law shall serve as a source of inspiration for the Knesset.
B. If a court faces a legal question that must be decided, and cannot find an answer in legislation, precedent or clear deduction, it shall decide the matter in light of the principles of liberty, justice, integrity and peace in the heritage of Israel.

12. Protection of holy places:
The holy places shall be secure from desecration, from any other harm, and from anything that may hinder free access of the religious to the places holy to them, or offend their sentiments toward those places.

13. Denial of rights:
The rights in the Basic Law shall not be denied except in a law that accords with the values of the State of Israel, that is intended for a fitting purpose and to an extent no greater than necessary, or according to such a law under the explicit authority contained within it.

14. Rigidity
This Basic Law shall not be changed except by a Basic Law passed by a majority of members of Knesset.
A Profound Turn Away from Liberal and Democratic Values

Eugene Kontorovich over at Volokh Conspiracy claims these principles for a proposed nation state law are no big deal. “The nation state bills mostly constitutionalize the national anthem, symbols, holidays, and so forth. There is nothing racist, or even unusual, about having national or religious character reflected in constitutional commitments,” says Kontorovich. Horsefeathers! The 14 principles for a nation state law approved by the cabinet represent a profound turn away from liberal democratic values towards an ethnocracy based on 2,500 year old values. Abandoning Enlightenment values and a modern liberal democratic state in favor of a Talmudic ethnocracy is a big deal—especially in the Middle East, we might say, where modern liberal democratic states are hard to come by.

In the context of discrimination that occurs in Israel against Palestinian citizens, to “constitutionalize” the identity of the state as a Jewish state and the nation state of the Jewish people, where the Jewish people, and nobody else, may fulfill their right to self-determination, is a big deal. It very dramatically shifts the state away from the vision outlined by Justice Barak, it removes the ability of the Supreme Court to nudge the country towards a vision of equality for all citizens, and it lays the groundwork for fully implementing an ethnocracy that privileges Jews over all others in perpetuity.

To constitutionalize that the symbols of the state will be Jewish religious symbols may not be a big deal to Kontorovich, but it will be a big deal to non-Jewish citizens. To constitutionalize a right of return for “every Jew” while the state refuses to grant even so much as a visa to the West Bank spouses of Palestinian Israeli citizens will not be acceptable to Palestinian Israeli citizens.

A state that actively works to promote immigration of one ethnic group, while actively working to exclude immigration from minority ethnic groups will not be acceptable to the minority.

A constitutional mandate that the state “act to preserve” (read fund) Jewish cultural heritage and “act to enable” (read not fund) the heritage of other citizens will not sit well with the other citizens.

Constitutionally directing that courts must look to Israeli/Hebrew traditions to resolve open questions is to deprive Israeli courts of a tool they have used to interpret laws consistent with liberal democratic values. In light of Israeli court precedent, which often turn to the laws of other modern states for guidance, this is a profound change. It directs the court to look to 2,500 year old legal traditions and to ignore post Enlightenment traditions.

A change in language from the declaration of independence, which prominently called for the protection of all holy places for all religions, to protecting just the holy places of the Jewish state is ominous.

The proposed Basic Law to define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people is a big deal. It would mark a dramatic change in law from the status quo. Although it might not effect a large change in terms of how many conceive of the state now, or in terms of the ethnocratic facts on the ground, it would provide legal cover for a system that privileges Jews over all others in all aspects of life. It would severely hamper the Israeli Supreme Court to reverse this trend and nudge the country back towards a post-Enlightenment democratic state.

Failure to stop this law would have far reaching consequences.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The New Republic, good riddance!

The allegedly venerable "liberal" magazine, The New Republic, was recently bought by a young, super-rich internet mogul. After a couple of years he decided that it wasn't going anywhere: continuing to lose money, not reaching a newer, more digitally hip audience and fired the editor. Then in reaction to this most of the staff quit.

Establishment talking heads bemoaned this travesty. A serious, thoughtful magazine that published deep thinkers has been ruined! Now it will be a heavily commercialized e-zine that appeals to air-head video gamers and shallow people obsessed with fashion...or sport cars, or whatever.

To this I say "great!" The non-existence of TNR is a step forward for humanity. It was in fact, for decades, a rotten, racist, neo-con, neo-lib (yes, it can be both) warmongering, zionist rag.

The question one might ask is how could it have been deemed to be "liberal?"

The answer would be that is shows the deterioration of American liberalism. Liberalism used to mean support for social equality in terms of race and gender and in terms of elimination of economic barriers to education and employment. It used to mean support for free speech and opposition to militarism. Or, so I thought, when I was in high school in the 1950s Hoosier capital. At age 16 I was viewed as a Soviet agent for liking Hubert Humphrey and being against the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. As I grew up and the 1960s came along a rift opened up between those who wanted to pursue those supposedly liberal goals and those who backslid into "pragmatic" support for US cold war policies and "national security" priorities.

On the domestic scene, these cold war liberals, as we called them (and there was also the term "state department socialists" for those who styled themselves social-democrats from groups like the old Norman Thomas Socialist Party, the League for Industrial Democracy (the unwitting parent of Students for a Democratic Society, and some AFL-CIO leaders)quickly found objections to the battle for racial equality once it moved beyond demands for ending Jim Crow laws.

With the advent of the Clinton era establishment liberalism moved further to the right. Clinton and Gore helped establish The Democratic Leadership Conference which was a vehicle to de-Jesse Jackson the Democratic Party. They wanted to make the Democratic Party a safe place for an average white man.

This is the heritage of The New Republic, and it got progressively worse as time went by. At the time of its happy demise it had the added vile aspect of being a sounding board for mono-ethnic, racist, Jewish reactionaries who spread vitriol and slander against anyone who questioned the supreme virtue of Israel and whatever policies it pursued.

Hooray! The wicked witch is dead.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

New Atheism, Old Empire

from Jacobin
by Luke Savage

The “New Atheists” have gained traction because they give intellectual cover to Western imperialism.

In explaining his transition from radical polemicist to neoconservative hawk, Christopher Hitchens insisted that his politics had not changed. It was perfectly consistent, he opined, to have opposed the Vietnam War on anti-imperialist grounds and unapologetically supported the invasion of Iraq; perfectly consistent to have abandoned confraternity with the likes of Noam Chomsky and Edward Said and sipped champagne at the White House as a guest of Paul Wolfowitz.

Hitchens liked to claim that a single intellectual thread united his positions, namely opposition to “totalitarianism”: “The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy — the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes.”

But for all his pro-imperial bluster, it was Hitchens’ attacks on religion that finally garnered him international fame. These, too, he claimed, were fundamentally “anti-totalitarian,” analogous to resisting North Korea or Joseph Stalin. A leading light of the “New Atheist” movement, the former socialist spent his final decade at war with religion and at peace with imperialism.

As Richard Seymour observes in his book Unhitched, Hitchens’ transformation, though unorthodox, was not without precedent:

The function of [Hitchens’] antitheism was structurally analogous to what Irving Howe characterized as Stalinophobia…the Bogey-Scapegoat of Stalinism justified a new alliance with the right, obliviousness towards the permanent injustices of capitalist society, and a tolerance for repressive practices conducted in the name of the ‘Free World’. In roughly isomorphic fashion Hitchens’ preoccupation with religion…authorized not just a blind eye to the injustices of capitalism and empire but a vigorous advocacy of the same.

It is through polemics like Hitchens’ God Is Not Great that “New Atheism” has gained mass attention. Alongside Hitchens, the movement’s two other leading disciples, Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), have engaged in innumerable public debates with religious figures, making them doubly influential as Internet celebrities and popularizers of antitheism.

At face value, and by its own understanding, New Atheism is a reinvigorated incarnation of the Enlightenment scientism found in the work of thinkers like Bacon and Descartes: a critical discourse that subjects religious texts and traditions to rational scrutiny by way of empirical inquiry and defends universal reason against the forces of provincialism.

In practice, it is a crude, reductive, and highly selective critique that owes its popular and commercial success almost entirely to the “war on terror” and its utility as an intellectual instrument of imperialist geopolitics.

Whereas some earlier atheist traditions have rejected violence and championed the causes of the Left — Bertrand Russell, to take an obvious example, was both a socialist and a unilateralist — the current streak represented by Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris has variously embraced, advocated, or favorably contemplated: aggressive war, state violence, the curtailing of civil liberties, torture, and even, in the case of the latter, genocidal preemptive nuclear strikes against Arab nations.

Its leading exponents wear a variety of ideological garbs, but their espoused politics range from those of right-leaning liberals to proto-fascist demagogues of the European far-right.

Islamic Exceptionalism

The title of Hitchens’ bestselling book tells us something about the priorities and focus of the New Atheist movement (“God is Not Great” is clearly intended to be a facetious inversion of the common Arabic phrase Allahu Akbar, which translates as “God is Great,” something which he no doubt thought was both hilarious and iconoclastic). Without exception, an overwhelming preoccupation with Islam infuses the whole discourse, even as it posits itself as a disinterested scientific critique of religion as such.

Indeed, Sam Harris’s much-discussed October appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher — a crude spectacle in which he pigeonholed most Muslims as “jihadists,” “Islamists,” or “conservatives” — merely complements a lengthy record of Islamic demonology from him and other leading figures in the New Atheist movement.

In The End of Faith, for example, he argues: “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.” Elsewhere, he writes: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” And, while defending the Iraq War as a humane, civilizing mission: “We are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.”

While Harris’s views are undoubtedly the most strident, there is certainly overlap with Hitchens and Dawkins. In a 2007 interview, Hitchens argued: “If you ask what is wrong with Islam, it makes the same mistake as [other] religions, but it makes another mistake, which is that it’s unalterable. You notice how liberals keep saying, ‘If only Islam would have a Reformation’ – it can’t have one. It says it can’t. It’s extremely dangerous in that way.”

In addition to the blatant chauvinism of such a statement, it is not a remotely accurate historical claim and is arguably hypocritical, even on its own terms. Islamic fundamentalism — which no one, incidentally, believes to be a fiction — is insidious not because of its adherence to some ossified medieval tradition, but rather because of its eager and effective embrace of modernist dynamism.

Not to be outdone, Richard Dawkins has called Islam “the greatest force for evil today” (in the same breath, rather amusingly, as admitting he’s never bothered to read the Koran). At other times Dawkins has been even more vulgar, tweeting: “For me, the horror of Hitler is matched by bafflement at the ovine stupidity of his followers. Increasingly feel the same about Islamism” and inferring that then-New Statesman columnist Mehdi Hassan is unqualified to be a journalist because he is also a Muslim. Or, to take yet another example, “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

For the New Atheists, then, all religions are equally bad — but Islam is more equally bad.

Empire’s Handmaidens

It is simply impossible to imagine the commercial and intellectual success of the New Atheist project in a pre-9/11 world without both rising anti-Muslim sentiments across Western societies or neoconservative geopolitics. It is against the backdrop of the war on terror, with its violent and destructive adventurism, that the notion of a monolithic evil called “Islam” has found a sizable constituency in the circles of liberal respectability.

During the Real Time appearance, both Harris and Maher mounted the familiar argument that their position is a defense of “liberal principles” that others, out of fear, timidity, or perhaps relativism are applying selectively. Maher:

Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles … like freedom of speech, freedom to practice religion without fear of violence, equality for minorities including homosexuals … these are liberal values which liberals would applaud, but then when you say ‘in the Muslim world these qualities are lacking,’ then they get upset … [Islam is] the only religion that acts like the Mafia.

Harris affirmed this statement, and took it further:

Liberals have really failed on theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy, they’ll criticize Christians … they’ll still get agitated over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984 … We have been sold this meme of ‘Islamophobia’ in which every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people … we have to be able to criticize bad ideas… [and] Islam right now is the mother lode of bad ideas.

There is much to say about these statements, but let us first examine what this noble and courageous defense of “liberal principles” looks like in practice.

The politics of the leading New Atheist thinkers are not uniform. Dawkins opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while Hitchens was one of its leading apologists. Harris defends torture as an ethical necessity in the “war on terror” while Hitchens, who was voluntarily subjected to waterboarding, did not. Both Hitchens and Harris have been prone to bellicose outbursts of violent, almost bloodthirsty rhetoric, which cannot be said of Dawkins.

Nevertheless, all are united by several common intellectual threads. Each espouses a binary worldview that pits a civilized, cosmopolitan, and progressive West against a barbaric, monistic, and reactionary East. Though varied in their political positions, Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have all had very public dalliances with the Right, expressing either overt sympathy for, or enthusiastic endorsement of, some of its most vile and disreputable elements.

Each is outwardly a cultural liberal who primarily addresses liberal audiences — “respectable” to blue-state metropolitans and their equivalents elsewhere in ways Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh never could be — while embracing positions and causes that are manifestly illiberal in the commonly understood sense of the term.

Beneath its many layers of intellectual adornment — the typical New Atheist text is laden with maudlin references to Darwin, Newton, and Galileo — we find a worldview intimately familiar to anyone who has studied the language of empires past: culturally supremacist, essentializing and othering towards the foreign, equal parts patronizing and paternalistic, and legitimating of the violence committed for its own ends.

In The End of Faith Harris suggests that nuclear-first strikes may be necessary if the ostensible conflict between “Islam” and “civilization” escalates: “What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?…The only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.”

In an endorsement of one of the Iraq War’s key justifying logics, Harris described it as a noble and selfless crusade undertaken by the civilized West to defeat Islamic barbarism. In late 2004, he wrote in the Washington Post, “civilized human beings [Westerners] are now attempting, at considerable cost to themselves, to improve life for the Iraqi people.”

Elsewhere in the The End of Faith, he avers:

We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms. Theirs is a kill-the-children-first approach to war, and we ignore the fundamental difference between their violence and our own at our peril. Given the proliferation of weaponry in our world, we no longer have the option of waging this war with swords. It seems certain that collateral damage, of various sorts, will be a part of our future for many years to come.

The book goes out of its way to frame Arab nations as backward and Muslims within them as primitive and in need of paternalistic tutelage. “It is time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development,” he pronounces, in tones worthy of a nineteenth century ethnographer. “At this point in their history, give most Muslims the freedom to vote, and they will freely vote to tear out their political freedoms by the root.”

What is needed, in his view, is no less than the imposition of “benign” tyranny:

Some form of benign dictatorship will generally be necessary … But benignity is the key and if it cannot emerge from within a state, it must be imposed from without. The means of such imposition are necessarily crude: they amount to economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both.

In his voluntarily assumed role as a leading “war on terror” propagandist, Hitchens — who had previously eviscerated Henry Kissinger for his executive role in the 1969 bombing of Cambodia — embraced the rhetoric of violent militarism with an even more aggressive zeal.

Speaking about the 2004 assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which had been occupied by anti-American insurgents, Hitchens declared that the “death toll is not nearly high enough” on the grounds that “too many jihadists [had] escaped.” (The civilian death toll in the Battle of Fallujah is contested, but aid groups on the ground called it a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and residents today suffer extremely high rates of birth defects and cancer, apparently from the use of white phosphorous and other chemical weapons by American forces. The increase in cases of leukemia exceeds that which followed the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima.)

Hitchens also praised the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan as “pretty good, because those steel pellets will go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else. And if they’re bearing a Koran over their heart, it’ll go straight through that, too.”

On the subject of jihadists, he declared: “It’s a sort of pleasure as well as a duty to kill these people.” On another occasion, Hitchens stunned even sympathetic members of an audience in Madison, Wisconsin by saying of Iran, a nation of almost 80 million people: “As for that benighted country, I wouldn’t shed a tear if it was wiped off the face of this earth.”

The tendency to abhor the violence of its chosen enemies while relativizing and legitimating its own is an intrinsic part of any imperial or colonial ideology, and a consistent feature in the rhetoric of both Hitchens and Harris.

Islamophobia and Race

Another preoccupation of leading New Atheists mirrors several themes of Europe’s neo-fascist right.

In extremely sinister fashion, Harris has mused about the birthrates of European Muslims and the supposed peril of their prolific breeding. The notion of a demographic “threat” posed by Muslims in Europe is easy to debunk empirically.

Even if this weren’t the case, the sordid subtext of these remarks is confirmed by Harris’s favorable treatment of far-right figures, who speak openly of the demographic dangers posed by Muslims. In Letter to a Christian Nation, Harris makes his sympathies explicit, declaring: “With a few exceptions, the only public figures who have had the courage to speak honestly about the threat that Islam now poses to European societies seem to be fascists.”

Harris shares such terrain with neoconservatives like Mark Steyn, who writes: “Every Continental under the age of 40 — make that 60, if not 75 — is all but guaranteed to end his days living in an Islamified Europe.”

In a positive review of Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, Hitchens expressed disagreement with Harris’s pro-fascist sentiments — but didn’t take issue with the posited “demographic threat.” He also defended his close friend, novelist Martin Amis, who told the Times Magazine:

There’s a definite urge — don’t you have it? — to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation — further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. … Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children.

Harris’s treatment of Muslims as a unique demographic and security risk has caused him to advocate racial profiling and to side with the likes of Sarah Palin and Fox News on the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

Dawkins has enthusiastically supported far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has called for the banning of the Koran — a book he’s compared to Mein Kampf — alongside mosques and immigration from Muslim countries. In 2009 Wilders faced trial for hate speech, and his 2008 film Fitna is replete with racist images like Muhammad’s head attached to a ticking time bomb. Dawkins: “On the strength of ‘Fitna’ alone, I salute you [Wilders] as a man of courage who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy.”

Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have all rejected the notion that there is anything racist about statements of this kind or the prescriptions that so often follow from them: “Muslims aren’t a race,” being by now a particularly worn phrase in the New Atheist rhetorical repertoire. Harris and Hitchens have also dismissed the term “Islamophobia” as a tool for silencing their arguments. According to the latter: “A stupid term — Islamophobia — has been put into circulation to try and suggest that a foul prejudice lurks behind any misgivings about Islam’s infallible ‘message.’”

Given that “race” is an entirely social construct, with a history that involves the systemic racialization of various national, ethnic, and religious minorities, this defense is extremely flimsy. The excessive focus on Islam as something at once monolithic and exceptionally bad, whose backwards followers need to have their rights in democratic societies suppressed and their home countries subjected to a Western-led civilizing process, cannot be called anything other than racist.

Parochial Universalists

If its imperialism and racism aren’t enough, New Atheism’s intellectual foundations are also exceptionally weak. Whether directed at Catholicism, Paganism, or Islam, the methodology employed to expose the inherent “irrationality” of all religions betrays a fundamental misunderstanding (or perhaps misrepresentation) of the nature of religious discourses, beliefs, and practices.

The typical New Atheist text scrutinizes religious myths without attention to, or even awareness of, the multiplicity of social and theological debates they have provoked, the manifold ideological guises their interpreters have assumed, or the secular belief systems they have helped to influence.

Moreover, the core assertion that forms the discursive nucleus of books like The God Delusion, God is Not Great, and The End of Faith — namely, that religious texts can be read as literal documents containing static ideas, and that the ensuing practices are uniform — is born out by neither real, existing religion or by its historical reality as a socially and ideologically heterogeneous phenomenon. As Terry Eagleton puts it in a discussion of God is Not Great:

Hitchens argues earnestly that the Book of Genesis doesn’t mention marsupials; that the Old Testament Jews couldn’t have wandered for forty years in the desert; that the capture of the huge bedstead of the giant Og, King of Bashan, might never have happened at all, and so on. This is rather like someone vehemently trying to convince you, with fastidious attention to architectural and zoological detail, that King Kong could not possibly have scaled the Empire State Building because it would have collapsed under his weight.

Contrary to the crude epistemology of rational scientism, religions are not rigid “doctrines” that followers obey uniformly, regardless of their social or material contexts. As Seymour has written:

Religion is a labour of interpretation, of symbolic and ideological production from which agents derive meanings adequate to their life circumstances. Apart from anything else, the sheer indeterminacy of religious texts would make it impossible for there to be a literal, consistent meaning present in the texts: interpretation is indispensible.

This is particularly significant in relation to the New Atheists’ denunciations of what they call “the doctrine of Islam” because it renders bare their false ontology of religion — one which more or less assumes that fundamentalism is the product of bad ideas rather than particular social and material conditions.

Criticisms of the violence carried out by fundamentalists of any kind — honor killings, suicide bombings, systemic persecution of women or gay people, or otherwise — are neither coherent nor even likely to be effective when they falsely attribute such phenomena to some monolithic orthodoxy.

The ways in which the New Atheism serves imperialism are manifold. It bolsters the “clash of civilizations” narrative used to justify ventures like the invasion of Iraq and the need for repressive measures like state surveillance. Moreover, in presenting itself as a disinterested defense of reason, it lends such arguments a credibility they would lack in the hands of commentators from the political or cultural right. Finally, it shifts the focus from the social ills wrought by unjust economic arrangements to an external singularity called “religion.”

Beneath its superficial rationalism, then, the New Atheism amounts to little more than an intellectual defense of empire and a smokescreen for the injustices of global capitalism. It is a parochial universalism whose potency lies in its capacity to appear simultaneously iconoclastic, dissenting, and disinterested, while channeling vulgar prejudices, promoting imperial projects, and dressing up banal truisms as deep insights.

Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins may masquerade as intellectual insurgents, leading a crusade against the insipid tolerance of liberal politics. But ultimately they are apologists for some of its most destructive tendencies.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

War to the Horizon

Tomgram: Engelhardt, War to the Horizon
Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 7:50am, December 4, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

P.S. Today’s post is a companion piece to my previous essay, "Iraq 4.0?" Tom]

Party On!
The War Party Ascendant
By Tom Engelhardt

It was the end of the road for Chuck Hagel last week and the Washington press corps couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about writing his obituary. In terms of pure coverage, it may not have been Ferguson or the seven-foot deluge of snow that hit Buffalo, New York, but the avalanche of news reports was nothing to be sniffed at. There had been a changing of the guard in wartime Washington. Barack Obama’s third secretary of defense had gone down for the count. In the phrase of the moment, he had “resigned under pressure.” Sayonara, Chuck!

With a unanimity that crossed political lines, the accounts read as if written by a single reporter. The story went something like this: two years earlier, President Obama had brought in Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former Republican senator with a reputation for being leery about the overuse of American military power, to wind down the war in Afghanistan, rein in military critics, and put the Pentagon budget on something closer to a peacetime footing. After a bruising Senate confirmation hearing from which he never recovered, he proved poor at “messaging” the president’s policies, had a “crappy relationship” with National Security Adviser (and Obama buddy) Susan Rice, proved a weak manager at the Department of Defense as well as a “weak link” in the Obama national security team, and could never break into the president's tight-knit circle of insiders who -- everyone agreed -- had a nasty habit of “micromanaging” America’s wars (rather than, it seemed, letting the military do what needed to be done). In the end, the president “lost confidence” in him. It was a “mutual” firing or at least Hagel had advanced somewhat voluntarily toward the edge of the cliff before being pushed off.

A subcategory of Hagel reports also bloomed, again adding up to something like a single story. In them, various journalists and commentators offered instant speculation on whom the president would invite to fill Hagel’s post. Topping everyone’s “short list”: Senator and former Army Ranger Jack Reed of Rhode Island, war fightin’ liberal and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy (much beloved by neocons and Republicans), and hawkish former Pentagon “weapons buyer” Ashton Carter (the ultimate nominee). Unfortunately for the press, Reed and Flournoy promptly made mincemeat out of the collective wisdom of the moment, emphatically removing their names from consideration. Politico reported the Flournoy rejection this way: “Flournoy’s withdrawal comes amid speculation President Barack Obama is looking for a candidate who would be deferential to a White House that’s increasingly exerting control over Pentagon decisions.” Nothing, however, could stop the march of the news, whose focus simply switched to other potential job applicants. Striking was the eagerness of assorted journalists and pundits to act like employment agency headhunters vetting exactly the same list of candidates for the president.

Such journalism, of course, qualifies as the very definition of insiderdom and it led, implicitly or explicitly, to the crowning of Barack Obama as a “war president” for the final two years of his term. In the end, however, the media was less reporting on developments than reproducing them. The result: a record as collectively claustrophobic as post-9/11 Washington itself.

These days, it’s often pointed out by those who pass for Washington critics of the Obama administration that the crises are backing up like a Thanksgiving traffic jam across a remarkable swath of the planet -- and that the president’s national security team has proven “dysfunctional” when it comes to dealing with them. It's seldom acknowledged, however, that the most essential crisis isn’t in Ukraine or Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan or Iran, but in Washington. There, a bankrupt 13-year-old policy of war to the horizon remains, unbelievably enough, in the ascendancy and “war fever” seems to be breaking out yet again.

In this context, it's curious that four crucial aspects of war, American-style, were missing from the blitz of Hagel reportage. Here's a rundown.

1. The War Party Ascendant: It’s always best to start with the obvious, even if everyone prefers to ignore it. So let’s begin with the simple fact that the recent midterm elections swept the Republicans into the Senate in dominating numbers and strengthened their already dominating control of the House of Representatives. In war terms, this has only one meaning: a flock of new (and old) hawks heading into Washington. In truth, though, on such issues there is really only one party in the nation’s capital and that’s the War Party. In addition, if Washington commentary is to be believed, the next secretary of defense will be an unmitigated war-fighter. The math for dummies explanation on that: no other candidate nominated by a Democratic president would have a hope in hell of making it through a confirmation process overseen by the assumed new head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain. Add in an occupant of the Oval Office resigned to war presidency status and you can already see the big picture coming into focus.

Recent moves have only emphasized the latest war trajectory. Just post-election, the president doubled the number of advisers in Iraq (with hints of more “boots on the ground” to come and the possibility of actual combat troops lurking somewhere in the prospective future). Next came news that those advisers were being hustled into the country at a double-time pace. Soon after that came word that more air power -- A-10 Warthog jets and Reaper drones -- was being transferred to the Iraq/Syria theater.

Meanwhile, in a reversal of a long-stated position -- that the American combat role in Afghanistan was to end this year -- the president recently issued a secret directive green-lighting just such a role, both on the ground and in the air, for 2015. Soon after, the new Afghan president, clearly under American pressure, lifted a ban on controversial U.S.-supported “night raids” in his country, and reports began filtering out that the trajectory of withdrawal was about to end and extra U.S. troops would be added to the Afghan mix in 2015.

In other words, in the country’s two most active war zones, escalation and mission creep are already the order of the day. Meanwhile, the pressure of Congressional war hawks has only been increasing when it comes to the Obama administration’s single major, unwarlike diplomatic initiative that might stand some chance of success: the Iranian nuclear talks. At the same time, pressure to act more fiercely on Ukraine, including allowing the Pentagon to sell arms to its military, was on the rise.

Admittedly, the War Party has its factions and its disagreements. Its members are quite capable of savaging each other. (Just check out what Senator McCain did to Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearings for secretary of defense and then what he did to President Obama in defense of Hagel after his removal from office.) One thing is evident, though: in the twilight of the Obama era, the power of the War Party is on the rise, along with that of the national security state.

And so far we’re only talking about surface manifestations of bedrock reality in Washington. After all, ever since 9/11, that city’s political denizens have considered themselves in an eternal “wartime.” Of course, part of everyday life in that “war capital” involves Republicans and Democrats scrambling for political advantage by squabbling endlessly over who’s rash and who’s a wimp when it comes to war policy.

The Republicans brand the president incompetent or far worse, while the president (the man who shot Osama bin Laden) endlessly thanks the troops for their valor and service while donning military paraphernalia to emphasize his strength and resolve. But underneath all the maneuvering, the War Party thrives. You simply can’t operate in Washington without in some fashion declaring your fealty to wartime thinking and the sanctified post-9/11 dead air that goes with it. No alternative possibilities, no other options are on that “table” on which “all options” are always said to sit in the nation’s capital. Should you not toe the line, the national security equivalent of excommunication is in order. “Washington rules,” in Andrew Bacevich’s phrase, do rule the day, while new thinking is unwelcome.

Recent exhibit number one: as November wound down, Rand Paul, the son of the country’s leading libertarian non-interventionist and a man who clearly has his eye on the White House, felt obliged to more or less literally “declare war” on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in order to pledge his fealty to the War Party.

On this issue, as the Hagel coverage indicates, Washington is a suffocating place when it comes to any thought that hasn’t been thought before. (When, by the way, was the last time you heard someone in that town mention the word “peace”?) In the end, Hagel, who came to regret his reluctant vote to invade Iraq, evidently proved an uncomfortable fit.

2. Election 2016 as an Intra-War Party Affair: In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, Bush v. Kerry in 2004 was, of course, a war election; 2008, however, proved a curious rarity, an election about war in which Americans generally thought they had voted for an anti-war candidate (as, of course, did the Nobel Prize Committee, which -- to use an ill-chosen phrase -- jumped the gun in 2009 by awarding its peace prize to Barack Obama just as he was about to officially “surge” in Afghanistan). The 2012 election was a status quo one in which, thanks to the bin Laden raid, the president had inoculated himself from Republican charges of wimpism even as he had seemingly fulfilled his previous campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.

2016 is already shaping up as a War Party election all the way. It goes without saying that whichever Republican candidate emerges from the pack will be a war-firster, while the leading Democratic candidate of the moment, Hillary Clinton, is another war-fightin’ liberal of the first order. No wonder Flournoy, who refused to be considered for secretary of defense now, would reportedly like to work for Clinton’s future administration in the same capacity. Sign of the times: Clinton already seems to be gathering support from a crew of neocons who had their moment in the Bush years and evidently hope to have it again. Right now, no matter who wins in 2016, it’s shaping up to be war to the horizon in Washington.

3. The Military Rides Ever Higher: Among the strangest aspects of the Hagel coverage was the picture painted of the relationship between the military and the White House in this period. Despite a mind-boggling infusion of funds since 9/11 and the exponential growth of the national security state, reading the Hagel stories you might be forgiven for thinking that the military was an essentially powerless, oppressed, and frustrated crew under the thumb of hopeless goof-balls at the White House. (Nor was it ever suggested that, constitutionally speaking, this is exactly what the relationship should be, no matter who occupies the Oval Office as commander in chief.)

In fact, there are signs that the military, while indeed frustrated -- who wouldn’t be given the last 13 years of American war and the prospects for the latest conflict in the Middle East? -- is actually riding ever higher in the nation’s capital.

In this context, the person to keep an eye on is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. If Hagel lost the president’s confidence, according to numerous reports Dempsey is the one who gained it. If Hagel wasn’t much for messaging, the same can’t be said of Dempsey. He’s been testifying up a storm before Congress and commenting in significant ways on war policy in the Middle East. Though he’s only the head of the “staff,” he has increasingly sounded like a bona fide civilian secretary of defense, speaking out on foreign policy issues, including U.S. relations with Israel and the importance of making American troops available for actual combat duty in Iraq. (This is, of course, something the president had emphatically ruled out). He’s also spoken in ways that have not been common for military commanders in our civilian system of government. He has politely contradicted the president on a number of occasions. He is also credited with getting Obama to launch the first airstrikes of the new American war in the Middle East.

It seems clear that the military high command has struggled with this president over war policy since 2009, when a fierce set of arguments over how fully to “surge” in Afghanistan -- the conflict the president had called the “right war” in his election campaign -- burst into view. Generally, though, little has been seen of this struggle since then. Still, to believe that a military clearly frustrated by its wars and a high command that now fears another campaign on the road to nowhere in Iraq and Syria is under the thumb of the president and his insular national security team is to mistake a fantasy construct for reality.

4. A Failed Experiment in War: Above all, it’s a wonder that all those journalists and commentators writing about Hagel expressed neither amazement nor befuddlement when it came to accepted thinking in Washington about war, American-style. The nation's capital has been conducting an experiment in war-making for more than 13 years now: there have been full-scale invasions and occupations, counterinsurgency struggles that lasted years, special ops raids of every sort, the application of overwhelming air power in a variety of ways, including an air intervention in Libya, drone assassination campaigns across the backlands of the Greater Middle East, the loosing of cruise missiles, even the first cyberwar in history. Trillions of dollars have been spent; American troops have been deployed to war zones over and over again; almost 7,000 American lives have been lost (while thousands of active duty soldiers and reservists have, in the same period, committed suicide); tens of thousands of Americans have been wounded in action, hundreds of thousands of civilians and enemy fighters in those war zones have died, and millions of people have been uprooted and sent into internal exile or forced out of their countries. In the process, significant parts of the Greater Middle East and more recently Africa have been destabilized in devastating ways.

Think of it as a radical experiment involving what our latest two presidents have called "the greatest force for freedom in the history of the world" and "the finest fighting force that the world has ever known." Despite ongoing wars and operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, among other places, the results of that experiment are in. No single war, intervention, or minor conflict in which the U.S. military has taken part in these years has even come close to achieving the objectives set out by Washington and most have proven outright disasters. In just about every case, armed intervention, whatever form it took, demonstrably made matters worse, increased the destabilization of whatever country or region was involved, and led to the creation of more extremists and terrorists.

Imagine for a moment a lab that ran a series of experiments for 13 straight years in almost every imaginable combination through one disastrous failure after another and then promoted the experimenters and agreed to let them repeat the process all over again. This would defy logic or simply good sense anywhere but in Washington.

To summarize: 13 years later, the War Party is ascendant. It controls Congress. The president is visibly, if with his usual reluctance, placing his bets on war. The military is riding high. The end of all calls for serious Pentagon budget cuts is clearly in sight. And more of the same is undoubtedly in the works, no matter who wins the 2016 election.

That’s the “new” Washington. Peacetime? A fantasy creation of lefties, libertarians, and noodle heads. Peace? A dirty word that no self-respecting politician would be caught using.

Meanwhile, the war hawks are crying out for more. At the moment, all the pressure in Washington is focused on the ramping up of its various wars and crises. Iraq War 3.0 and Syria War 1.0 are to expand. Afghanistan seems again to be a war on the rise. The pressure is increasing to make Cold War 2.0 ever hotter and to ensure that negotiations with Iran over a nuclear deal will prove less than fruitful. Drone wars are ongoing. Special forces ops are raiding away. Thirteen years later, we are yet again floating on what seems to be a rising, not ebbing, tide of war and the one qualification for a new secretary of defense is that he or she be a hot, not a cold, warrior.

This is the working definition of a bankrupt policy and yet you could read about the latest changes in Washington’s war establishment until you were goggle-eyed and never quite know it.

Congratulations, then, are in order for the War Party. In the face of a seemingly obdurate reality, it has somehow perfected a system of war boosterism that operates like a dream (though some might call it a nightmare). When it comes to war, in other words, Washington is now effectively insulated from failure. There may be 17 major interlocked intelligence outfits in town, but rest assured, there’s no intelligence in sight. So party on!

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His new book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.