Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Shimon Peres: Israeli war criminal whose victims the West ignored

September 28, 2016 at 3:40 am

Ben White @benabyad September 28, 2016 at 3:40 am

Shimon Peres, who passed away Wednesday aged 93 after suffering a stroke on 13 September, epitomised the disparity between Israel’s image in the West and the reality of its bloody, colonial policies in Palestine and the wider region.

Peres was born in modern day Belarus in 1923, and his family moved to Palestine in the 1930s. As a young man, Peres joined the Haganah, the militia primarily responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages in 1947-49, during the Nakba.

Shimon Peres (1923-2016)
Best known in the West for role in Oslo Accords
Family moved to Palestine in the 1930s
Fought with the Haganah during the Nakba
Described as the architect of Israel’s clandestine nuclear programme
Saw Palestinian citizens as a ‘demographic threat’
Played key role in early days of West Bank settlements
Responsible for Qana massacre in Lebanon in 1996
Defended Gaza blockade and recent Israeli offensives
Despite the violent displacement of the Palestinians being a matter of historical record, Peres has always insisted that Zionist forces “upheld the purity of arms” during the establishment of the State of Israel. Indeed, he even claimed that before Israel existed, “there was nothing here”.

Over seven decades, Peres served as prime minister (twice) and president, though he never actually won a national election outright. He was a member of 12 cabinets and had stints as defence, foreign and finance minister.

He is perhaps best known in the West for his role in the negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords which won him, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet for Palestinians and their neighbours in the Middle East, Peres’ track record is very different from his reputation in the West as a tireless “dove”. The following is by no means a comprehensive summary of Peres’ record in the service of colonialism and apartheid.

Nuclear weapons
Between 1953 and 1965, Peres served first as director general of Israel’s defence ministry and then as deputy defence minister. On account of his responsibilities at the time, Peres has been described as “an architect of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme” which, to this day, “remains outside the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

In 1975, as secret minutes have since revealed, Peres met with South African Defence Minister PW Botha and “offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime.” In 1986, Peres authorised the Mossad operation that saw nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu kidnapped in Rome.

Targeting Palestinian citizens
Peres had a key role in the military regime imposed on Palestinian citizens until 1966, under which authorities carried out mass land theft and displacement.

One such tool was Article 125 which allowed Palestinian land to be declared a closed military zone. Its owners denied access, the land would then be confiscated as “uncultivated”. Peres praised Article 125 as a means to “directly continue the struggle for Jewish settlement and Jewish immigration.”

Another one of Peres’ responsibilities in his capacity as director general of the defence ministry was to “Judaise” the Galilee; that is to say, to pursue policies aimed at reducing the region’s proportion of Palestinian citizens compared to Jewish ones.

In 2005, as Vice Premier in the cabinet of Ariel Sharon, Peres renewed his attack on Palestinian citizens with plans to encourage Jewish Israelis to move to the Galilee. His “development” plan covered 104 communities – 100 of them Jewish.

In secret conversations with US officials that same year, Peres claimed Israel had “lost one million dunams [1,000 square kilometres] of Negev land to the Bedouin”, adding that the “development” of the Negev and Galilee could “relieve what [he] termed a demographic threat.”

Supporting illegal settlements in the West Bank
While Israel’s settlement project in the West Bank has come to be associated primarily with Likud and other right-wing nationalist parties, it was in fact Labor which kick-started the colonisation of the newly-conquered Palestinian territory – and Peres was an enthusiastic participant.

During Peres’ tenure as defence minister, from 1974 to 1977, the Rabin government established a number of key West Bank settlements, including Ofra, large sections of which were built on confiscated privately-owned Palestinian land.

Having played a key role in the early days of the settlement enterprise, in more recent years, Peres has intervened to undermine any sort of measures, no matter how modest, at sanctioning the illegal colonies – always, of course, in the name of protecting “peace negotiations”.

The Qana massacre
As prime minister in 1996, Peres ordered and oversaw “Operation Grapes of Wrath” when Israeli armed forces killed some 154 civilians in Lebanon and injured another 351. The operation, widely believed to have been a pre-election show of strength, saw Lebanese civilians intentionally targeted.

According to the official Israeli Air Force website (in Hebrew, not English), the operation involved “massive bombing of the Shia villages in South Lebanon in order to cause a flow of civilians north, toward Beirut, thus applying pressure on Syria and Lebanon to restrain Hezbollah.”

The campaign’s most notorious incident was the Qana massacre, when Israel shelled a United Nations compound and killed 106 sheltering civilians. A UN report stated that, contrary to Israeli denials, it was “unlikely” that the shelling “was the result of technical and/or procedural errors.”

Later, Israeli gunners told Israeli television that they had no regrets over the massacre, as the dead were “just a bunch of Arabs”. As for Peres, his conscience was also clean: “Everything was done according to clear logic and in a responsible way,” he said. “I am at peace.”

Gaza – defending blockade and brutality
Peres came into his own as one of Israel’s most important global ambassadors in the last ten years, as the Gaza Strip was subjected to a devastating blockade and three major offensives. Despite global outrage at such policies, Peres has consistently backed collective punishment and military brutality.

In January 2009, for example, despite calls by “Israeli human rights organisations…for ‘Operation Cast Lead’ to be halted”, Peres described “national solidarity behind the military operation” as “Israel’s finest hour.” According to Peres, the aim of the assault “was to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so that they would lose their appetite for shooting at Israel.”

During “Operation Pillar of Defence” in November 2012, Peres “took on the job of helping the Israeli public relations effort, communicating the Israeli narrative to world leaders,” in the words of Ynetnews. On the eve of Israel’s offensive, “Peres warned Hamas that if it wants normal life for the people of Gaza, then it must stop firing rockets into Israel.”

In 2014, during an unprecedented bombardment of Gaza, Peres stepped up once again to whitewash war crimes. After Israeli forces killed four small children playing on a beach, Peres knew who to blame – the Palestinians: “It was an area that we warned would be bombed,” he said. “And unfortunately they didn’t take out the children.”

The choking blockade, condemned internationally as a form of prohibited collective punishment, has also been defended by Peres – precisely on the grounds that it is a form of collective punishment. As Peres put it in 2014: “If Gaza ceases fire, there will be no need for a blockade.”

Peres’ support for collective punishment also extended to Iran. Commenting in 2012 on reports that six million Iranians suffering from cancer were unable to get treatment due to sanctions, Peres said: “If they want to return to a normal life, let them become normal.”

Unapologetic to the end
Peres was always clear about the goal of a peace deal with the Palestinians. As he said in 2014: “The first priority is preserving Israel as a Jewish state. That is our central goal, that is what we are fighting for.” Last year he reiterated these sentiments in an interview with AP, saying: “Israel should implement the two-state solution for her own sake,” so as not to “lose our [Jewish] majority.”

This, recall, was what shaped Labor’s support for the Oslo Accords. Rabin, speaking to the Knesset not long before his assassination in 1995, was clear that what Israel sought from the Oslo Accords was a Palestinian “entity” that would be “less than a state”. Jerusalem would be Israel’s undivided capital, key settlements would be annexed and Israel would remain in the Jordan Valley.

A few years ago, Peres described the Palestinians as “self-victimising.” He went on: “They victimise themselves. They are a victim of their own mistakes unnecessarily.” Such cruel condescension was characteristic of a man for whom “peace” always meant colonial pacification.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Is Donald Trump an Aberration?

from Truthdig
Posted on Sep 15, 2016

By Aviva Chomsky / TomDispatch

jafaralshamma / (CC-BY-2.0)

Liberal Americans like to think of Donald Trump as an aberration and believe that his idea of building a great wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent immigrants from entering the country goes against American values. After all, as Hillary Clinton says, “We are a nation of immigrants.” In certain ways, in terms of the grim history of this country, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Donald Trump may differ from other contemporary politicians in so openly stating his antipathy to immigrants of a certain sort. (He’s actually urged the opening of the country to more European immigrants.) Democrats like Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton sound so much less hateful and so much more tolerant. But the policies Trump is advocating, including that well-publicized wall and mass deportations, are really nothing new. They are the very policies initiated by Bill Clinton in the 1990s and—from border militarization to mass deportations—enthusiastically promoted by Barack Obama. The president is, in fact, responsible for raising such deportations to levels previously unknown in American history.

And were you to take a long look back into that very history, you would find that Trump’s open appeal to white fears of a future non-white majority, and his support of immigration policies aimed at racial whitening, are really nothing new either. The policies he’s promoting are, in an eerie way, a logical continuation of centuries of policymaking that sought to create a country of white people.

The first step in that process was to deport the indigenous population starting in the 1600s. Later, deportation policies started to focus on Mexicans—seen by many whites as practically indistinguishable from Indians. Except, white settlers found, Mexicans were more willing to work as wage laborers. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Mexicans have been treated as disposable workers. As Europeans were invited to immigrate here permanently and become citizens, Mexican workers were invited into the country to work—but not to become citizens.

The particular legal rationales have changed over time, but the system has been surprisingly durable. Prior to the 1960s, deportation was based openly on discrimination against Mexicans on the basis of their supposed race or nationality. It was only with the civil rights advances of the 1960s that such discrimination became untenable—and new immigration restrictions created a fresh legal rationale for treating Mexican workers as deportable. Having redefined them as “illegal” or “undocumented,” nativists could now clamor for deportation without seeming openly racist.

Creating a Country for White People

A closer look at American history makes the notion that “we are a nation of immigrants” instantly darker than its proponents imagine. As a start, what could the very idea of a “nation of immigrants” mean in a land that was already home to a large native population when European immigrants started to colonize it? From its first moments, American history has, in fact, been a history of deportation. The initial deportees from the British colonies and the American nation were, of course, Native Americans, removed from their villages, farms, and hunting grounds through legalized and extra-legal force everywhere that white immigrants wanted to settle.

The deportations that began in the 1600s continued at least until the end of the nineteenth century. In other words, to celebrate the country’s “immigrant” origins also means celebrating the settler colonialism and native displacement that made the United States that nation of immigrants—and this has important implications for immigrants today, many of whom are indigenous people from Mexico and Central America.

Conflicts between immigrants and Natives were central to the colonial histories of both North and South America, and to the American Revolution. In the Proclamation of 1763, the British attempted to mitigate such conflicts by banning colonist (that is, immigrant) encroachment on native lands west of the Appalachian Divide. The British Crown even restricted immigration itself in another fruitless attempt to balance native and settler interests. These prohibitions were among the major grievances that led to the American Revolution.

Among the list of “injuries and usurpations” carried out by the King that were denounced in the Declaration of Independence, there was the fact that he had “endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” In addition, he had, it claimed, “excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Along with its commitment to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” that document couldn’t have been clearer that the new country would also be committed to a settler colonial project of populating the land with white immigrants and getting rid of the natives. Put another way, deportation was written into the American DNA from the get-go and, put in election 2016 terms, the new country was, from the beginning, designed as an explicitly racist project to populate the land with white people. Perhaps this is what Donald Trump means with his now iconic slogan “Make America Great Again!”

Legislating Citizenship

Nor did this commitment to white supremacy through immigration change during the initial century of U.S. history. The first Naturalization Act of 1790 encouraged white immigration by basing citizenship on race and offering it liberally to immigrants—defined as white Europeans—who were in this way made the privileged constituency of a new nation that had a slave system at its heart. (Although southern and eastern Europeans would face social prejudice in the United States, immigration and citizenship law always placed them in the “white” category.)(Page 2)

It was not until 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution created the right to citizenship by birth, making it possible for the first time for non-whites to become citizens. But when Congress passed that amendment, it had in mind only some non-whites: previously enslaved Africans and their descendants. Here’s the crucial line in which Congress made sure of that: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” Since Native Americans were not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, they were excluded from citizenship by birth.

The new racial boundaries of citizenship were further clarified in 1870 when Congress amended the Naturalization Act by officially allowing, for the first time, some non-citizens of color to obtain citizenship: it extended naturalization rights to “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” On paper, this looked like a move away from white supremacy. In the context of the United States at that moment, however, it was something else. It ensured that Native Americans, already excluded from citizenship by birth, would also be barred from obtaining citizenship through naturalization. As for those theoretical “aliens of African nativity” who might be entering the country and seeking citizenship through naturalization, there were virtually none. In the aftermath of hundreds of years of enslavement and forced transport, it would be many decades before any Africans could imagine the United States as a land of opportunity or a place to make a better life.

And the new Naturalization Act just as explicitly excluded lots of people who were in fact migrating to the United States in significant numbers in the 1870s. If you were European, you were, of course, still quite welcome to become a citizen. However, if you were, for example, Mexican or Chinese, while you were still welcome to come and work, you weren’t an “immigrant,” since you couldn’t become a citizen. Hence, the United States continued to be a “nation of immigrants”—but only of a specific sort.

Legislating Immigration

Citizenship by birth, however, opened a Pandora’s box. Anybody physically present in the country (except Native Americans) could obtain citizenship for his or her children by virtue of birth. Chinese adults might be prohibited from naturalizing, but their children would be both “racially ineligible to citizenship” and citizens by birth—a logical impossibility.

Once citizenship by birth had been established, Congress moved to preserve the white racial character of the country by restricting the entry of non-whites—first with the Page Act of 1875, prohibiting Chinese women from entering the country, then with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. That ban was, in turn, gradually expanded until, in 1917, the “Asiatic Barred Zone” was put in place. It would span significant parts of the globe, from Afghanistan to the islands of the Pacific, and encompass about half of the world’s population. Its purpose was to ensure that, all “Asians” being “aliens ineligible to citizenship,” none of them would enter the U.S., and so their racially ineligible children would never be born here and obtain citizenship by birth.

Students of immigration history generally learn about the 1921 and 1924 quotas that, for the first time, placed restrictions on European immigration. Indeed, for about four decades in the mid-twentieth century, the United States ranked Europeans by their “racial” desirability and offered differential quotas to reduce the numbers of those less desired (southern and eastern Europeans in particular) entering the country.

But while all these restrictions were being implemented, Congress did absolutely nothing to try to stop Mexican migration. Mexican labor was desperately needed for the railroads, mines, construction, and farming that followed in the wake of white settler colonialism and the displacement of Native Americans in the West. In fact, after Chinese immigration was banned, Mexican workers became even more necessary. And Mexicans had an advantage over the Chinese: they were easier to deport across the long southern border. Many, in fact, preferred to maintain their homes in Mexico and engage in short-term migration to seasonal, temporary jobs. So Mexicans were welcomed—just not as immigrants or potential citizens. Rather, they were seen as eminently deportable, temporary workers.

In this way, a revolving door of recruitment and deportation came to define Mexican migration to the United States. At some points this system was formalized into bracero or “guest-worker” programs, as happened between 1917 and 1922, and again from 1942 to 1964. And nativists could sometimes mobilize anti-Mexican sentiment of a Trumpian sort to justify mass deportations—like those in the 1930s and again in 1954—that would only reinforce the inherent and public tenuousness of the Mexican presence in the United States.

The “Nation of Immigrants” Today

The formal bracero program was phased out after 1964, but the pattern of recruitment and deportation of Mexican workers has continued to this day. The supposedly liberal, immigrant-friendly President Obama actually implemented quotas that have pushed the Department of Homeland Security to oversee hundreds of thousands of deportations yearly. Most of those deported are Mexican—not exactly surprisingly, since the legal apparatus was designed for just that purpose. The only thing that’s new is the stated rationale: now they have been assigned a status—“undocumented”—that justifies their deportation.

Events in the 1960s, including the ending of the bracero program and the Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965, made changes that began to treat all countries, including Mexico, the same way. Instead of large numbers of guest-worker visas, Mexico would receive a small number of immigrant visas. But Mexico’s migrant history and its reality were completely different from those of other countries. Given how dependent both countries had become on Mexicans migrating north to work, the stream of workers heading north continued despite changes in the law. The only difference: now this was “illegal.”

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act legalized millions of Mexicans already in the country without legal status and also began the trend towards the militarization and control of the border. Paradoxically enough, this only increased the undocumented population, because those who made it across that border were increasingly afraid to leave for fear they wouldn’t make it back the next year.

Meanwhile, civil wars in Central America in the 1980s and 1990s, and subsequent neoliberal reforms and violence, as well as the impact similar neoliberal reforms and the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, had on Mexico’s economy in those same decades led to significant increases in authorized and unauthorized immigration. As a result, there was a significant increase in the U.S. Latino population—as citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary legal residents, and unauthorized residents. But the longstanding national sentiment that Donald Trump is now mobilizing, the belief that somehow Mexicans are alien to the nature of the United States, continues, as does a sub rosa desire for a whiter America.

Something else of interest happened to Mexican and Central American migration during these years. As in the United States, indigenous people in these countries have tended to be the poorest, most marginalized, most exploited sectors of the population. As a result, the violence and the socio-economic changes of the 1980s and 1990s disproportionately afflicted them, which meant ever more indigenous people from those countries entering the migrant stream.

By 2010, 174,494 people chose “Mexican American Indian” as their tribal affiliation on the U.S. census, making them the fourth largest group of Native Americans, after the Navajo, the Cherokee, and the Choctaw. It’s not clear from the census data how many of these were recent immigrants rather than long-term residents, and how many were undocumented. But as the website ThinkMexican commented, “It directly challenges Manifest Destiny, the white supremacist narrative used to justify Western expansion, and the genocide of Native Peoples. The message is clear: This land is still Native.” And another message is clear too: the United States is still deporting native people.

Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a TomDispatch regular. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Aviva Chomsky

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Honduras and Israel: A New Special Relationship

Belén Fernández
August 25, 2016
TeleSUR TV English

Just as it serviced murderous regimes in Central America in the 1980s, Israel will now be exporting forms of repression to Honduras' abusive government.

The security agreement, announced on August 20, would add to an existing collection of pacts cemented during Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández’s visit to Israel last year., AFP,

In the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras, I had the opportunity to interview deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who, having been kindly escorted in his pajamas to Costa Rica by the Honduran military, had then resurfaced in Tegucigalpa and taken refuge in the embassy of Brazil. The interview took place via an intermediary inside the embassy, who conveyed my questions to Zelaya.

One topic we touched on was a comment the left-leaning Zelaya had made concerning “Israeli mercenaries” operating in Honduras. This had unleashed a predictable hullabaloo in international media, with commentators tripping over each other to portray the besieged leader as an anti-Semite extraordinaire on some sort of permanent acid trip.

In my write-up of the interview, which was published in an insignificant publication, I happened to point out that Israeli mercenaries weren’t exactly foreign to the Central American landscape. When the piece came out, the publisher of another insignificant publication—to which I had contributed some anti-coup articles—threw a fit. How dare I bring the Israelis into it; I would alienate all of Washington!

Now that the coup has restored Honduras to its rightful position as glorious hub of right-wing extremism, it’s even easier to bring the Israelis in. And current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández knows it.

He’s currently pushing the country’s Congress to approve a military cooperation agreement with Israel that he swears is “fundamental to the growth of the Honduran nation.”

The security agreement, announced on August 20, would add to an existing collection of pacts cemented during Hernández’s visit to Israel last year in the company of several ministers and the Honduran military chief. The Jerusalem Post noted that, in addition to development deals on agriculture and water management, Hernández and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin made an agreement that didn’t require “any documentation or signatures.” Both leaders pledged “to speak out on behalf of the other’s country in all international forums, and particularly when speaking to members of the U.S. Congress.”

The Post also drew attention to Hernández’s privileged status as an alumnus of a young leadership program in Israel run by Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. In the early 1990s, Hernández received a scholarship to said program—a twist of fate that, the Post observed unironically, “has obviously paid off.”

Who said anything about Israeli mercenaries?

According to the Honduran daily La Tribuna, Hernández claims that the new Honduran-Israeli security accord would enhance the state’s ability to fight organized crime, presumably via new-and-improved weaponry. “The strengthening of our armed forces,” the president is quoted as speculating, “probably would never have happened otherwise.”

There has been much handwringing over the dismal security situation in Honduras—which incidentally reached unprecedentedly appalling proportions after the coup, for anyone who would like to draw conclusions on that front. But when so much of the crime in the country is committed by Honduran security forces themselves, it’s difficult to see how giving them better weapons is going to fix matters.

Granted, one of Israel’s great talents is to engage in pervasively criminal behavior and then blame it on the victims. And while the Honduran authorities are already quite good at this, as well, there’s always room for improvement.

During his 2015 pilgrimage to Israel, Hernández made sure to present an easily digestible version of the violence in Honduras: it was the fault of the drug traffickers, period. As The Jerusalem Post reported, Israeli President Rivlin’s sympathetic “response was that terrorism is terrorism – whether it be the outcome of fundamentalism or drug trafficking.”

This was no doubt music to the ears of the Honduran government, which has long been itching to have its very own war on terror.

But state terrorism is state terrorism, too.

This has been especially clear since the early 1980s, when Israel helped Honduras circumnavigate some minor obstacles to arming itself to the teeth. The obstructions owed to perfunctory U.S. concerns over human rights abuses—abuses that were of course completely permissible as long as the U.S. was not too blatantly linked to them.

As Noam Chomsky details in his book Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, then-Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon visited Honduras in 1982 to implement a new military agreement that reportedly “involved sophisticated jet fighters, tanks, Galil assault rifles (standard issue for state terrorists in Central America), training for officers, troops and pilots, and perhaps missiles.”

Documenting Israel’s “considerable” services to various homicidal Central American outfits through 1983—when Fateful Triangle was first published—Chomsky notes that the particular significance of Israeli assistance to Honduras had to do with Ronald Reagan’s “increasingly visible efforts to foment disorder and strife by supporting the Somozist National Guard based in Honduras in their forays into Nicaragua, where they torture and destroy in the manner in which they were trained by the United States for many years.”

According to Chomsky, Argentine neo-Nazis had initially been considered for the role of U.S. proxy in Central America, but the Israelis apparently beat them to it.

Again, the word “mercenaries” comes to mind.

Now, decades later, Israel’s services are still in high demand. Why? Because Israel peddles forms of repression — marketed as “security” — that appeal to abusive regimes.

These strategies and methods have undergone ample testing in the field. As a report by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), titled “Israel’s Worldwide Role in Repression,” summarizes:

“Israel uses [billions upon billions of dollars in] U.S. aid to fund its ongoing occupation of Palestine and Syria and its military campaigns, which in turn serve as a laboratory to develop weapons, surveillance technology, and tactics of population control that are then marketed across the globe.”

Conveniently, profits are then used “to further repress and displace Palestinians, developing still more deadly weapons in the process.”

For an elite minority of Hondurans, there’s also plenty of profit to be made off of an ever-worsening security situation requiring ever more intense applications of “security.”

And while Hernández’s own special relationship will no doubt continue to pay off, there’s a special place in hell for people who prescribe military agreements with Israel as “fundamental to the growth” of a nation.

Belén Fernández is the author of “The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work,” published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

Friday, September 9, 2016

It’s war between Netanyahu and the generals (and the PM may just have lost the corporal)

from Mondoweiss
Israel/Palestine Yakov Hirsch on September 8, 2016

The trial in Israel of Sergeant Elor Azaria for the killing of a Palestinian lying incapacitated on the street in Hebron last March may not be news in the United States, but it is causing huge divisions inside Israel, with one former security official warning of an impending civil war in Israel between Jewish factions.

The August 30 warning by Tamir Pardo, former head of the Mossad, was first picked up by al-Monitor.

When asked if Israel faces an external existential threat, Pardo joined the ranks with other heads of Israeli security branches when he said, “Today, the internal threat must worry us more than the external threat.” He argued that the most palpable danger faced by the state today is an internal rupture that could lead to civil war.

The same article also quoted former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon privately questioning Benjamin Netanyahu’s sanity: “A political source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Ya’alon also talks privately about Netanyahu’s ‘dangerous state of mind.’”

“Civil War” was the headline of Uri Avnery’s latest column at the Gush Shalom site, a piece published by the London Review of Books. Avnery:

This statement means that the recent chief of the Mossad sees no military threat to Israel – neither from Iran nor Daesh nor anybody else. This is a direct challenge to the main plank of Netanyahu’s policy: that Israel is surrounded by dangerous enemies and deadly threats.

But Pardo sees a menace that is far more dangerous: the split inside Israel’s Jewish society. We don’t have a civil war – yet. But “we are rapidly approaching it”.

The split is being driven by the divisive manslaughter trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the army medic who killed an incapacitated Palestinian on the street in Hebron, captured on video on March 24. Avnery understands the drama:

The military trial of [Elor] Azariya continues to tear Israel apart, several months after it started and months before it will end in a verdict…
Day after day, this affair excites the country. The army command is menaced by what already comes close to a general mutiny. The new defense minister, the settler Avigdor Lieberman, quite openly supports the soldier against his Chief of Staff, while Binyamin Netanyahu, a political coward as usual, supports both sides.
This trial has long ago ceased to concern a moral or disciplinary issue, and has become a part of the deep fissure rending Israeli society. The picture of the childish-looking killer, with his mother sitting behind him in court and stroking his head, has become the symbol of the threatening civil war Pardo speaks about.

The idea that the army leadership is now the bulwark of liberalism in Israeli society, and that the brass made the decision to bring Azaria to trial in order to restore order to the country, is also a theme of this Kobi Niv article in Haaretz two days ago. It’s Benjamin Netanyahu and the right against the generals.

Avigdor Lieberman… was not brought to the Defense Ministry to eliminate Ismail Haniyeh or the Iranian threat. This was not on the agenda. What was on the agenda, and what brought about the replacement of Moshe Ya’alon with Lieberman, were Ya’alon’s support for deputy chief of staff Yair Golan’s remarks about signs of fascism, and the IDF’s decision to try for manslaughter the soldier who shot the subdued Palestinian assailant in Hebron.

What is going on here?

The trial is an attempt by the high command of the Israeli army to regain control of their army. By making the unpopular decision to prosecute Azaria, they were actually looking for the spectacle of this trial that everyone else wanted to avoid with a plea deal. They saw this trial as an opportunity to take a very public stand against the recent epidemic of Israeli Defense Forces killings of Palestinian attackers, that they feel were encouraged by politicians, rabbis, and advocates of the “Jewish people.”

Elor Azaria is going to prison if the IDF has the final say.

No matter the verdict this trial will soon become a rallying cry for Generals Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya’alon, Yair Golan, and others who see Israel under Netanyahu heading toward the abyss. You can’t claim to be part of the Western world and have an army that acts like a tribal militia. Recall how Golan ended his Holocaust speech that announced the crisis last May:

[We must] ….ask ourselves what is the purpose of our return to our land; What we should sanctify and what not; What is right to praise what is not; And most importantly – how we should fulfill our role as a light unto the nations and as a model-society. Only this kind of memory has the power to serve as a living, breathing monument for our people, a worthy monument, a monument of truth.

All these people who worry what Israel is “sanctifying,” identify Netanyahu as the culprit. In their own way they each have said Netanyahu is the greatest threat to the state of Israel. They are going to go public with an unprecedented call, for the sake of the country and a sane future, that Netanyahu must go.

The picture Ronen Bergman painted in his Times op-ed months ago, of a possible “coup” because former security officials “detest ” Netanyahu, and regard him as “belligerent” and dangerous, just keeps on getting reinforced. It gets reinforced because it’s true.

These men are sure to get more specific about how he sacrificed the interests of the country for his own electoral and political concerns. That he opposed his security experts at every turn on almost every issue. They will say his war with Obama had nothing to do with what was good for Israel. That it was a personal vendetta. They will try to make it as clear as possible that Netanyahu is a dangerous, cynical, psychopath, on top of his toxic Jewish narrative and Messiah complex.

More than the formidable forces arrayed against him, what should indicate to Netanyahu that he really might be in trouble is one sentence that Jeffrey Goldberg, surely the most influential Jewish journalist in America, slipped into his Atlantic article a couple of days ago. In suggesting that Bill Clinton would make a good envoy to Israel/Palestine should Hillary Clinton be elected president, he added something else in Bill Clinton’s favor:

“Benjamin Netanyahu’s manipulations won’t work as easily on him [Clinton] as they did on Obama.”

The gratuitous attack is bad news for Netanyahu. That Goldberg used the words “Netanyahu’s manipulations” is not an accident and shows Netanyahu is clearly vulnerable. As I pointed out earlier this summer, Goldberg has not written a word about the execution in Hebron and the social and political crisis it engendered. Until now. The situation was too uncertain and unpredictable for someone as calculating as Jeffrey Goldberg to do anything but stay mum. So if Goldberg, a former IDF corporal, is kicking Netanyahu now, it means he must be down. Goldberg has his finger in the air and Goldberg thinks Netanyahu’s future is behind him.

As for the American press, Americans and even American Jews are oblivious to the turmoil in Israel set off by Azaria with his killing of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21. And as for those who do know something is amiss in Israel, it is likely they have read and been deceived by the Likudnik hasbarats Bret Stephens, Eli Lake and Max Boot, who have all dismissed the implications of the murdering medic.

The New York Times has not been any better. Aside from the surprisingly forthcoming Bergman op-ed that used the word “coup,” they have totally ignored the Kulturkampf that this trial has ignited in Israel. Maybe the issue is too delicate for the Times to write about. Whatever the explanation is, the NY Times will not have the luxury of ignoring this story too much longer


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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Congressional Black Caucus: Deep in the Israel Lobby’s Pocket

from Counterpunch

“[Debbie] Wasser­man Schultz em­bod­ied the enor­mous in­flu­ence that Amer­i­can Jews have within the Demo­cratic Party. A Jew with deep com­mu­nal in­volve­ments who was a key pil­lar of sup­port for the main­stream pro-Is­rael lobby in Congress and within the party, Wasser­man was both chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and a mem­ber of Congress sit­ting on the pow­er­ful House Com­mit­tee on Ap­pro­pri­a­tions — a panel that votes on all ma­jor gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­tures.

“This put her at the nexus of U.S. pol­icy, pol­i­tics and po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing in a way that few oth­ers matched.”

— NATHAN GUTTMAN, Forward, August 5-12, 2016

This article is not about Debbie Wasserman Schultz but of the influence of who and what she represented as chair of the Democratic National Committee until taken down by Julian Assange, and still represents, in Congress, the interests of Israel, and the power of its domestic supporters over the Black American political establishment as represented by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

To be sure, the CBC’s subjugation by what is generally referred to as the pro-Israel Lobby is not unique. Thanks largely to American Jews having long been the Democratic Party’s major source of funds, estimated by reliable sources to be at least 60% in every election cycle, the Israel Lobby has been not only able to shape the party’s’ Middle East agenda but, of equal importance, determine who will be the chairs and the ranking members on the Congressional committees and subcommittees that have an impact on US-Israel relations. (The same thing can be said about the Republicans but there we see more variety among the donors.)

What makes the Congressional Black Caucus exceptional is that its very presence in Congress has been portrayed as symbolizing the success of the often bloody civil and voting rights struggles of a half century ago of which they are the beneficiaries. Some, like John Lewis, were even notable participants.

Consequently, something more might be expected of them. That the CBC, however, regardless of who comes and goes in their congressional districts, has consistently, as a bloc, voted to send billions of US taxpayers dollars to provide weapons for a foreign government that oppresses another people of color, the Palestinians, is, under the circumstances, nothing less than shameful.

To realize the extent of the problem requires some effort, mainly on-line searches of each CBC member’s name linked to Israel. The link won’t appear on their websites or, if there, is hard to find. (This is actually the case with most members of Congress, whatever the color of their skin). Outside of Jewish audiences who they view as potential donors and for whom, quite literally, they audition, they prefer that their constituents and the general public not know the degree to which they are willing to humiliate themselves for campaign contributions.

Their collective lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians, with but some scattered exceptions was all too predictable given that In the late 1980s, at the height of Israel’s arm sales to its sister apartheid state, South Africa, the Congressional Black Caucus was so cowed by AIPAC and the Jewish political establishment that it agreed to utter not a peep about it in public.

As chair of the DNC, Wasserman Schultz was in a position to make the critical appointments to the Democratic Party’s platform committee. From Congress, with Hillary Clinton’s pro-Israel position in mind, she selected two members of the CBC, Berkeley-Oakland’s Barbara Lee, a favorite of the liberal Left, and Baltimore’s Elijah Cummings, making the latter the committee’s chair. Their votes turned out to be instrumental in insuring there would be no criticism of Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine and its construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the party’s 2016 platform while maintaining Democratic Party support for Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital.

Cummings’ genuflection to Wasserman Schultz’s demands was expected since the 65 year old congressman is the very picture of the “faithful family retainer” from Old South novels and films when it comes to his relations to Israel and Baltimore’s Jewish community.

This past February, with Israeli Ambassador, US-born, Ron Dermer, Cummings co-hosted a celebration of Black History Month at the Israeli Embassy. It was Dermer, a former Republican functionary from Florida, who had collaborated with House Speaker John Boehner to have Netanyahu speak before a joint session of Congress in March, 2015 in a last ditch Israeli effort to sabotage Washington’s negotiations with Iran.

Most of the more senior members of the CBC, including Cummings, were obliged by their constituencies to view it as a slight against the first Black president—which it clearly was–but while joining some other Democrats in boycotting the Israel prime minister’s appearance, they made sure that their decision to do so was not viewed within the Jewish community as diminishing their support for Israel but as a criticism of Boehner.

Cummings was the perfect choice to be co-host. For each of the past 20 years, his Jewish-community funded Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel, “an elite two-year leadership fellowship,” according to its website, has sent a dozen Baltimore area African American high school students to Israel to be suitably indoctrinated into the special relationship between the two countries.

It dovetails neatly into the successful and aggressive outreach program focused on African-American college students conducted in recent years by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Barbara Lee is not in Cummings’ league when it comes to public bowing and scraping before Israel’s domestic supporters but, like her predecessor, Ron Dellums, for whom she served as an aide, Lee has shown herself willing to do just that when called upon by the likes of Wasserman Schultz. Dellums, a Teflon coated living legend among most Bay Area Left activists, managed to serve 13 terms in Congress without losing their support while maintaining the backing of AIPAC and the Jewish voters in his district.

Lee was the sole member of Congress to vote against giving President Bush the war authority after 9-11, for which she was justly praised. That act, apparently, took less courage than criticizing or withholding praise for an Israeli head of state as she had previously sent messages of congratulations to Ariel Sharon, the Butcher of Beirut, on his election and, later, re-election as Israel’s prime minister.

Sharon had been given that title in the wake of crimes committed by the Israeli forces under his command following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and his having given the green light to Lebanese Christian forces to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital in September of that year and, with Israeli soldiers backing them up, slaughter up to 2,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. This led to him being sacked as Israel’s defense minister. Why would a Black member of Congress congratulate him under any circumstances?

Like everyone else in Congress, Lee has consistently supported military aid to Israel. The closest she came to actually casting a vote critical of Israel was in 2006, following Israel’s most recent invasion of Lebanon when she voted “present” on a House bill strongly supporting Israel’s brutal actions.

In January, 2009, she had been one of five members of Congress, including one other CBC member, Keith Ellison, to send a letter to Hillary Clinton after her appointment as Secretary of State, calling for humanitarian aid for Gaza without saying a negative word about the country that was responsible for the need of such aid.

In August, 2014, in the midst of Israel’s last assault on Gaza, she was reproached by some of her pro-Palestinian constituents for approving an additional $626 million appropriation for Israel. In a written response to her critics she justified doing so as a life-saving measure:

Last week, I cast a vote in support of Iron Dome, which is a defensive anti-rocket missile system that saves civilian lives.

I would not have supported funding for offensive military weapons in the midst of this horrific crisis. I continue to mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in Gaza and Israel.

I have called and will continue to call for a sustained ceasefire to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis, end the blockade of Gaza and stop the loss of civilian lives.

Unless asked to do otherwise by Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

When I phoned Lee’s Oakland office to complain about her vote, I was told by a member of her staff that they had already received 150 similar calls. Lee, he said, was actually against Israel’s occupation and settlement building. Her reason for voting the way she did, he told me, was “complicated” and that Lee would put something up on her website explaining her decision. She never did and we can guess why.

She has no reason to fear being called out for it by supporters of justice for Palestine in her district any more than did Dellums who, while providing occasional lip service to Israel’s critics, his deference to the demands of AIPAC and his liberal Jewish supporters in Berkeley at critical moments is a matter of record.

While issuing a statement criticizing Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 as “a deadly overreaction… [which] cannot be rationalized or justified….only…deplored,” just two years later, Dellums refused to take a public stand on Measure E, a proposition on the Berkeley ballot that would have required the federal government to withhold from the annual aid package to Israel the amount of money it spent on building settlements in the West Bank that the US and the world considered to be illegal.

Early in April, 1984, Dellums received a letter from Lee Marsh, the president of the Berkeley/Richmond Jewish Community Center, demanding that he oppose the measure that concluded with a warning of “the political fact that the Jewish people will consider mere neutrality on this issue as insensitivity to our deep, near-unanimous feelings on a vitally important issue to us.”

In response, Dellums acknowledged that his “gut reaction is that the problems of the Middle East are so complex that it is of questionable value to approach solutions in such a piecemeal fashion; such efforts seem better calculated to cause anguish and divisiveness than to move us to a realistic position of solving these problems.”

“On a personal level,” he went on, “I resent being pushed into kneejerk reactions on ballot initiatives that are irrelevant to any political solution to the problem….a neutral position makes perfectly good sense.” (Emphasis added). And that’s what he took which, of course, played into the hands of Measure E’s opponents. In the end, Measure E lost by a 2-1 margin. Had Dellums stepped up and publicly endorsed the initiative there is no question that it would have influenced the vote and not only of the city’s Black residents.

At the time there were 42,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Today there are over a half million. Would Mr. Dellums still insist that Measure E was irrelevant?

In 1988, some residents of Berkeley, active in the Palestinian cause, placed a measure on the ballot that would have made the refugee camp of Jabalya in Gaza a sister city to join more than a dozen Berkeley sister cities across the globe including two American Indian tribes. Again, Dellums, not wanting to face down the liberal Jews who control Berkeley’s politics, remained neutral.

Dellums’ main contribution to Israel and its US supporters would come three years later when he was the point man in Congress opposing South African apartheid. Before introducing the 1987 Anti-Apartheid Act in the House, he withdrew a plank that would have penalized Israel for its arms sales to South Africa which, at the time, were estimated to be over $800 million.

The plank, added the previous year to the Senate version by retiring senator, Maryland Republican Charles Mathias, called for penalties against any recipient of US foreign aid that was found to be selling weapons to South Africa. While Israel was not mentioned by name it was the only country known to be doing so.

Had the Moony-owned Washington Times not reported on Dellums’ decision in its April 2, 1987 edition, it is likely the story would never have become public.

The change was made “to expand the scope of congressional support,” Dellums’ spokesperson, Max Miller told the paper, adding that Dellums’ bill had been modified to reflect a recent announcement by Israel that it would phase out its arms relationship with South Africa.

“He’s not so concerned about past violations as he is about future violations,” Miller said.

“But,” noted the Washington Times reporter, “the modified bill was introduced March 12, about a week before Israel announced its new policy towards South Africa.” (Emphasis added).

Dellums defended his action in a letter to a constituent on June 11, writing that:

[It] quickly became clear that the bill would rapidly lose significant support among a large number of the co-sponsors if that provision [penalizing Israel] remained in the bill. We faced the prospect of daily loss of support—a situation that would have sent a wrong signal to everybody about US resolve to confront apartheid.

Consulting with the anti-apartheid groups involved in pushing the bill, we decided it would be better to withdraw the section in order to achieve a broad base of support for the main goal of the bill [imposing US sanctions on South Africa.]

The wrong signal? What it would have revealed is that the majority of Democratic members of Congress, including the Black Caucus, gave a higher priority to protecting Israel’s image in the public’s eyes, as well as its funding, than putting an end to South African apartheid. In the Senate, it should be noted, that California’s Alan Cranston, one of the major recipients of pro-Israel funding, withdrew the Mathias plank without any announcement to the public.

In the following year, Dellums was the featured speaker at an anti-apartheid conference at UC Berkeley. During the question period I had an opportunity to ask him how he had been obligated and pressured by his fellow Democrats to pull the plank censuring Israel from the anti-apartheid legislation which, beyond the Washington Times article, had been publicized only by the Middle East Labor Bulletin which I edited and Jane Hunter’s excellent Israeli Foreign Affairs. It had been ignored, to their shame, even by the publications of the anti-apartheid movement for whom Dellums had become an untouchable icon.

Drawing himself up to his full height, Dellums expressed his objections to my use of the words, “obligated” and “pressured,” but then, slowly bending over and with his voice almost a whisper, he told the packed lecture hall how one Democrat after another had come to him and said, “Ron, if you don’t pull that plank you’ll have to take my name off the legislation.” At which point a Black San Francisco State professor sitting beside me gently poked me with her elbow, saying “it sure sounds like obligated and pressured to me.”

It was only later that I learned that a dozen Black South African exiles sitting in reserved seats in the front row appeared to be stunned by Dellums’ response..

About the time the Washington Times article appeared, the State Department issued a report that had been mandated by the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act to provide the House and Senate Intelligence Committees with a list of countries selling arms to South Africa. It included Israel.

“Nevertheless, at a press conference last week and elsewhere,” reported the No. California Jewish Bulletin (4/10/87), “black members of Congress bluntly rejected invitations to denounce Israel in particular, even as they issued a scathing broadside against all the countries cited in the State Department report.”

The NCJB article described a meeting between members of the CBC, including caucus chair, Mervyn Dymally, from Compton, California, Mickey Leland, from Texas, and New York’s Charles Rangel, and Jewish House members, Howard Berman and Mel Levine, from Los Angeles, and Howard Wolpe, from Michigan. Tony Coehlo, a Catholic from Merced and a strong supporter of Israel, sat in.

It was no coincidence that Berman, who formerly represented the San Fernando Valley and who is now a corporate Washington lobbyist, was also one of Wasserman Schultz’s appointees to the Democratic Platform Committee. A Democratic power broker in Southern California, he had once told a group of his Jewish constituents that he had run for Congress to help Israel.

Wolpe was the chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa which seemed strange except for the fact that Israel had strategic interests on the continent which, as the arms sales case indicated, needed to be protected. This obviously trumped the importance of having an African-American serve in that capacity.

That meeting came on top of another between a number of Black Caucus members and leaders from most of the major Jewish organizations led by AIPAC executive director, Tom Dine, all of whom were anxious to quash any rebellion from below.

A stated concern of the CBC members, according to the No. California Jewish Bulletin (4/10/87)—such meetings are ignored by the mainstream media–was attaining greater aid for the African continent which, despite the terrible famines it had experienced, had its appropriations cut by 37% while aid to Israel, Latin America, Asia and the Philippines had increased with Israel ending up with one third of the total foreign aid allocation.

The article noted that an amendment to the foreign aid bill proposed by Wolpe would increase aid to Africa by $115 million over last year but that, pointed out Dymally, was less than the Reagan administration had asked for which he called a “source of embarrassment” to the Democrats.

The meeting reportedly ended with the Jewish delegation agreeing to support greater aid to Africa in return for the CBC’s not making an issue of Israel’s arms sales to Pretoria.

It quickly became clear that the Israeli government had been apprised by its American agents of the CBC’s ignominious retreat since the day before the NCJB article appeared. Israel’s Ha’aretz reported that:

Senior [Israeli] government officials estimate that as a result of the relatively mild response in the US to the report on the issue of arms trade between Israel and So. Africa, at this time the government will refrain from any meaningful steps whatsoever against the apartheid regime and satisfy itself with decisions of a declarative meaning only. (4/9/87).

Four months later, on August 5, another Israeli paper, Davar, was even more straightforward in reporting that business between Israel and South Africa would be unchanged, regardless of its public statements to the world.

An official Israeli delegation headed by Efrayim Dovrat, the finance minister’s assistant director general, will shortly depart for South Africa to ratify the agreement on economic cooperation between the two countries.

This will be the first agreement the countries have signed since the cabinet decision not to strike and new agreements with South Africa.

The CBC’s decision to say nothing about Israel’s arms sales to South Africa, three years earlier, had greatly distressed Dymally.

“We’ve reached a compromise to which our constituents won’t be very receptive,” the NCJB quoted him as saying. He reportedly warned that unless Israel took further steps, that compromise will unravel and “we will want to see stronger language on Israel.” Israel must not only refrain from signing new contracts with South Africa, he said, but terminate the ongoing ones.

“In the pipeline already are enough arms to kill many innocent people,” said Dymally, but he was speaking only for himself. (He declined to be interviewed after he left Congress in 1992 and returned to the California State Assembly because, as I was told, he “didn’t want the hassle.”) Both Mickey Leland and Charles Rangel had by that time, become, like Elijah Cummings, “faithful family retainers” of the Jewish political establishment.

Leland, a civil rights activist in Houston in his youth, began serving in Congress in 1979 and died in a plane crash in Ethiopia a decade later. According to his Congressional obituary, “One of his first acts in Congress was to fund a six–week trip to Israel to allow underprivileged black teenagers from the Houston area to learn about Jewish culture and to create a cross–cultural dialogue between the youths in the two countries.”

He then prefigured Cummings by setting up the Mickey Leland Kibbutzim Internship Foundation in 1980. Financed and operated by Houston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, it sends 10 Black high school juniors annually to Israel for a six-week work and travel experience, as well as, we must assume, for political indoctrination.

Leland’s most obscene display of support for Israel followed its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 when he was chair of the CBC. He flew to Tel Aviv, then bicycled throughout the country and across the Lebanese border to express his “solidarity with the people of Israel.” Hard to top that in “faithful retainer” lore.

Rangel is retiring this year after serving 45 years representing Harlem. Back in 1973, his second year in office, he participated in a very special meeting.

At that time, as the newly elected chair of the CBC, he was invited to dinner with Arthur Hertzberg, president of the liberal American Jewish Congress and Sidney Yates, a Jewish member of Congress from Illinois.

Hertzberg’s intention was to find a way to counter the more militant Black organizations of the late 60s and 70s, most notably the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, led by Stokely Carmichael, later to become Kwame Ture that had declared their independence from white influence. Hertzberg described the meeting in his book, “A Jew in America.” (Harper, 2002):

In the course of our talks over the dinner table, we had little difficulty in understanding one another. We agreed that the continuing need for Blacks in national politics was and would remain the welfare state. Only through welfare programs for the poor could a large number of Blacks live in some minimum decency.

On the Jewish side there was one concern that united all the factions of the Jewish community: the defense of Israel. As a lamb among the wolves of the Middle East, Israel needed sufficient American support to defend itself. Therefore Jews needed friends and allies in American politics who would help make Israel more secure.

The three of us quickly saw the obvious conclusion: let an alliance be made between the Black congressmen and the Jewish congressmen so that each group would vote for the agendas of both sides. Jews would remain committed to the welfare state, even as it meant higher taxes for the middle class, and Blacks would support Israel.

The alliance that was defined that day has lasted many years. It represented a quiet consensus both among Jews and among Blacks. (p.361)

Hertzberg’s recounting of the meeting, what it says and what it implied about the Black-Jewish relationship in America demands our attention. Reeking with paternalism, it consigned the majority of African-Americans to an indefinite untermenschen status while depending on the good will and generosity of Jews for their survival. The Black Caucus would serve as the Jewish community’s intermediary.

And so it has come to pass, and despite the fact that the “welfare state,” as Hertzberg described it, disappeared almost a decade before his book was published, courtesy of Bill Clinton, the Congressional Black Caucus still does the Jewish establishment’s bidding and clearly has been rewarded for doing so. Whether the Black Americans have benefited is another matter.

That isn’t the entire story, of course. There have been periodic efforts by some CBC members to break free of the yoke that Rangel accepted that night. What happened to them is instructive.

In March, 1990, emboldened by Sen. Robert Dole’s surprise suggestion (that he was quickly forced to retract) that 5% of the aid going to the six largest recipients, of which Israel and Egypt ($3 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively) were by far the biggest, should be diverted to Eastern Europe, 10 members of the CBC sent a “dear colleague” letter to fellow House members, noting that “the current distribution [of aid] is unfair, inequitable and indefensible, and does not serve U.S. interests.”

They pointed out that in the proposed budget “every Israeli would receive $700 in US aid while every African would receive a little more than a $1. How can that be justified when Israeli per capita income is $4,990 and African per capita income is only $683?”

The letter was initiated by Rep. Charles Crockett (MI), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and its signers included Dymally, William Clay (MO), Augustus Hawkins (CA), Charles Hayes (IL) Donald Payne (NJ), Gus Savage (IL), Alan Wheat (MO), Walter Fauntroy (DC), and Dellums, then chair of the Black Caucus.

Blanked out by the national media, it was widely publicized in the Jewish community press, thus exposing the congressmen to attacks from sectors of the pro-Israel lobby in each of their constituencies. In Dellums’ district, the first shot was fired by Lucie Ramsey, executive director of the influential Jewish Community Relations Council, who, according to the NCBJ (2/16/90) was “shocked” that he signed the letter.

“I know how poor the African nations are, and perhaps in terms of equity they should be getting more than they do–but not at the cost of Israel losing out,” wrote Ramsey.

AIPAC’s Bay Area regional representative was more diplomatic, acknowledging Dellums as “a supporter, close to the [Jewish] community. We consider him a friend.”

In the end, the letter writers capitulated, not all willingly, to Dellums’ decision to walk back the call for more foreign aid budget fairness.

AIPAC’s Jonathan Kaufman, the lobby group’s chair in Dellums’ Eighth Congressional District, was a gracious winner, hailing his decision to recommend maintaining aid to Israel at its then $3 billion level

“Dellums told us he’s in favor of maintaining the amount of foreign aid to Israel,” said Kaufman, referring to a meeting that took place with Dellums and AIPAC members (NCJB, 3/30/90) “It was refreshing to hear him,” Kaufman said. “He’s all along been very much on our side. What he wants to do with the Black Caucus budget is to increase the pie so there’s more money for the third world.”

Dellums’ Oakland spokesperson, H. Lee Halterman, told the NCJB that “Dellums has been in regular contact with [congressional] members such as Howard Berman (D-Los Angeles), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and Howard Wolpe (Mi.) about the need to forge a coalition between Black members and Jewish members to press for an expanding foreign aid pie.” (NCJB, ibid.).

At the same time, Israel’s arms sales to South Africa were ongoing. Still it was not something that Dellums and his CBC colleagues were ready to raise, even though, at a meeting with Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arad in Washington, according to the Washington Jewish Week (3/15/90), “Israeli officials could offer [them] no timetable for ending Israel’s military contracts with South Africa”.

The WJW, citing “informed sources;” reported that “Israel’s failure to even offer a timetable disappointed the congressmen attending. Nevertheless, none of the congressmen even hinted at cutting aid to Israel at this time.”

“A cut in aid is not called for,” said Missouri’s Alan Wheat, “but this is not to suggest we’re pleased with the current state of affairs.”

Attending the meeting besides Wheat, were Dellums, Berman, Solarz and Wolpe. The Black congressmen were said to have repeated an extraordinary promise previously made to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir “that the [CBC] members were willing to initiate legislation to compensate Israel for any security losses it might incur from cutting its arms ties to South Africa.”

Within two years, the remaining vocal critics of Israel within the caucus: Geoge Crockett, a legendary civil liberties lawyer, who had organized the original letter, Charles Hayes, and Gus Savage, all from Illinois, and Dymally, would be gone from Congress, either through retirement in the case of Crockett and Dymally, or having been targeted by AIPAC and the Jewish political establishment as was the fate of Hayes and Savage.

Hayes, weakened by having had too many overdrafts on his congressional bank account, was successfully challenged in the 1992 Democratic primary by Bobby Bush, a former Black Panther turned Israeli bootlicker. In his position paper on Israel, one that AIPAC demands of each candidate for Congress from both of the major parties, Rush wrote, of his “strong commitment to the survival of the State of Israel [which] has long been the one strategic ally for the US in the Middle East.”

“It is also,” his statement said, “the one nation in the region to be founded upon and demonstrates the democratic values and concerns required in a country of such diverse cultures such as exists within the state of Israel.”

That same year, Savage became a victim of redistricting, a common tactic used by loyalists of both parties to keep key members in office while getting rid of those who make “trouble” and otherwise can’t be defeated at the polls. Savage was the latter.

Against Savage, AIPAC put up Mel Reynolds, who had endeared himself to prospective Jewish donors by having spent time on an Israeli kibbutz. In 1990, that wasn’t a particularly effective inducement for voters in his predominantly Black district and Savage retained his seat.

As a result of that year’s census, AIPAC was successful in having Savage’s district redrawn so that by 1992, it would contain a significant number of white voters and less Black voters and that was all that was needed to reverse the previous election result and put Reynolds in Congress.

What particularly angered AIPAC and Jewish supporters of Israel was that Savage had the audacity to read aloud at a rally the names of Jewish donors to his opponent from outside his district and the state and the amount of money each had contributed to Reynolds’ campaign.

For that he was condemned as being “anti-Semitic,” it being just fine, of course, for Jews who lived in Beverly Hills, Brooklyn, or Bel Air to determine who should represent a largely Black congressional district on Chicago’s South Side. He was also denounced in a headline in the Washington Jewish Week, as “Savage Savage,” a patently racist jibe that merited no attention at the time.

Reynolds managed only to serve two years, when he was convicted and sent to prison as a sex offender for having relations with a 16-year old campaign worker. After being released, he was later convicted and resentenced for an additional term for fraudulently obtaining bank loans and diverting campaign contributions to his personal account.

Following the defeat of Hayes and Savage and with Dymally’s retirement, the last vestiges of resistance to AIPAC’s domination were history and the Israel Lobby’s control of the CBC would never again be challenged. It was then what it remains today, another Israeli Occupied territory.

No Black member of Congress has more epitomized this capitulation than Atlanta’s John Lewis, the same John Lewis who had become a national icon when, as one of the heads of SNCC, he was so badly beaten by Alabama state police on the march to Selma in 1965 that he needed to have a metal plate inserted in his head.

Lewis kicked off the 1992 Congressional session by co-hosting with AIPAC a welcoming reception for new and old CBC members. As AIPAC’s Near East Report described it, Lewis “spoke eloquently of Israel and the common goals and principles that the Jewish and Black communities share.”

In that June, before the vote on aid, Lewis and five other CBC members toured Israel at AIPAC’s expense, afterwards telling the Near East Report that he “hopes visits such as ours will strengthen the bonds between African-Americans, American Jews and Israelis.”

In 1995, Lewis joined his Atlanta Republican colleague Newt Gingrich in signing a Congressional letter to President Clinton, reaffirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and insisting that it maintain total control over the city.

Seeking to protect it from any Palestinian claim, the letter cautioned against “Any policy that makes Jerusalem a center of activity with officials, rather than the self-rule areas of Gaza and Jericho where they have authority, [and] would legitimize Palestinian claims at the very time that the PLO is seeking to establish symbols of sovereignty over Jerusalem.”

As I wrote at the time, “send Lewis his 30 pieces of silver and wrap them in a handkerchief.”

In 2008, Lewis was a featured guest at a “unity” meeting in Brooklyn between Blacks and Jews organized by New York Democratic state assemblyman, Dov Hykind, formerly a lieutenant in racist Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League.

At the meeting, Lewis “emphasized the shared history and values of the black and Jewish communities,” according to the Jewish weekly Forward, which he “summed up at one point with the observation that blacks and Jews “came to this land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat,” a message that he would not dare say in the streets of Harlem, Chicago’s South Side, or his native Atlanta, but “was clearly embraced by the audience of roughly two dozen, which was divided between members of Norpac and members of the local African American community.”

Norpac is one of the wealthiest and most influential of several dozen Jewish political action committees spread across the country that exist solely to contribute money to candidates who push a hardline pro-Israel agenda. According to the Forward, Lewis was at that meeting to get some of the swag from “leaders from Norpac, who are raising money to help Lewis fend off his primary challenge.”

Norpac exemplifies why pro-Israel PACs have long been referred to as “stealth PACs.” Unlike almost every other political PAC, until the era of Citizens United, they deliberately hide their connections to Israel or American Jewry.

Lewis, since his heroic endeavors in the South a half a century ago working and marching at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr., has made part of his life’s work repeating King’s words of praise for Israel and accusations of anti-Semitism against its critics, made before his assassination in April, 1968.

On each of these occasions Lewis implies that King, had he lived, would not have been appalled by and would not have spoken out against Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian land, by its siege and wars on Gaza, by its use of cluster bombs in Lebanon, as he eventually did condemning America’s war on Vietnam and its role as the world’s “leading purveyor of violence.” Nothing, I would argue, is a greater insult to King’s memory.

Lewis likes to tell audiences and interviewers that “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to speak up, to speak out.”

That’s what he said earlier this year, when accepting the 2016 Elie Wiesel Award from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for “never [having] abandoned his commitment to promoting the human dignity of all people.” The award was entirely and ironically appropriate since Lewis, like Wiesel, excluded the Palestinians from the ranks of “all people” and like Wiesel, has never felt any moral obligation to speak up or speak out in their defense.

To set the record straight on King, he did have second thoughts about what Israel was up to almost a year before he died, thoughts he obviously felt he could not express publicly to Jewish audiences that were proving key funding for the civil rights movement.

In a recorded phone conversation with his advisers on June 24, 1967, two weeks after Israel’s quick victory over Egypt and its conquering of the West Bank and Gaza, King canceled a previously announced trip to Israel that Jewish leaders in the US and Israeli government officials had been planning for him, ostensibly to raise funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King’s organization. Said King, speaking presciently about Jerusalem:

I just think that if I go, the Arab world, and of course Africa and Asia for that matter, would interpret this as endorsing everything that Israel has done, and I do have questions of doubt… Most of it [the pilgrimage] would be Jerusalem and they [the Israelis] have annexed Jerusalem, and any way you say it they don’t plan to give it up… I frankly have to admit that my instincts – and when I follow my instincts so to speak I’m usually right – I just think that this would be a great mistake. I don’t think I could come out unscathed. (Jewish Virtual Library)

It is not only highly unlikely that John Lewis is unaware of that conversation, he well may have been a part of it.

It has been now a decade since we have seen any member of the Congressional Black Caucus, or, arguably of any color or gender for that matter in Congress, with the courage to stand up to AIPAC and the Jewish political establishment.

Cynthia McKinney, also from Atlanta, was the last one. In her six terms in office, she defined “fearless,” challenging US foreign policy, questioning the official narrative of 9-11, openly defending the Palestinians and criticizing Israel which resulted, as it had in Gus Savage’s case, in pro-Israel Jews from all over the United States sending money to her opponent in Atlanta to defeat her. It worked in 2002 when she lost in the primary to Denise Majette, also African-American, hand-picked by AIPAC, who was aided by cross over Republican votes.

Two years later, McKinney ran to regain her seat and succeeded, after Majette had angered her Jewish backers by electing to run for the Senate where she was defeated. One of those backers was so upset with Majette’s decision to give up her congressional seat that, in a letter to the editor of a local weekly, he demanded she return the money he had invested in her.

More recently, Rep. Donna Edwards, who hoped to become the first Black senator from Maryland failed to get the support of her CBC colleagues in what turned out to be a losing race with fellow Democrat Chris Van Hollen to succeed the very pro-Israel Barbara Mikulsi. It is likely that her votes on two bills heavily supported by AIPAC were the reason.

In 2009, she was one of 21 members to vote “present” on a resolution that recognized Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza. The bi-partisan resolution, co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, passed by a margin of 390-5.

In 2013, Edwards had been one of only 20 members of Congress to vote against the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, which contained measures to strengthen already existing sanctions on Tehran which has held the top spot on AIPAC’s enemies list since the US invasion of Iraq.

Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, the only Muslim in Congress, who was picked by Bernie Sanders to be on the Democratic platform committee, is the only member of the CBC who has not been afraid to show support for the Palestinians but that support only goes so far.

In a statement issued during the last Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, Ellison faulted Israel and Hamas while implying that the latter had initiated the violence and that Israelis and Gazans were being equally victimized:

The current escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians won’t get either side closer to security. It empowers bad actors and puts innocent people on both sides in harm’s way.

Therefore I call on Hamas to immediately stop launching rockets, and for Israel to cease air strikes and not send in ground troops.

I support strong diplomatic intervention by the United States and regional partners to help establish an immediate ceasefire agreement.

There was not a word in his statement about ending Israel’s siege of Gaza or noting that this was Israel’s third war on Gaza in six years.

The sorry state of CBC’s affairs was best expressed by Greg Meeks, its current chair, who represents New York’s 5th Congressional District.

On this past March 11, Meeks issued the following a statement from his office in honor of “Israel’s Independence Day.”

Having visited Israel many times and most recently just weeks ago, I have seen first-hand the importance of the partnership between our two nations.

The United States has an obligation to uphold Israel’s right to defend itself; it is our closest ally and the lone democracy in the Middle East.

Under constant threat, the Israeli people demonstrate tremendous strength and resilience.

Through dialogue, collaboration, and shared determination, our two nations remain committed to making the world safer and freer, and to ensuring our vital and durable bond continues for perpetuity.

Yes, reading that might be called a barf bag moment—and certainly not the only one in this article–but what is important to consider is that with only minor changes here and there, Meeks’ statement of affinity for a particularly oppressive foreign government is essentially no different from what most members of Congress, regardless of their color, gender, age, or political party have been making for decades.

If that is not a demonstration of Jewish political power, what then is it?


Now that power is facing a major test. On August 1st, the Movement for Black Lives, representing 50 Black organizations across the country, issued a lengthy, comprehensive platform, “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice,” detailing its views of the problems and challenges facing Black Americans and people of color, generally, and what needs to be done to meet and correct them.

The section of the platform that attracted the most attention was, predictably, one in which the movement expresses its solidarity with the Palestinians, describes the situation under which they live as apartheid and that the actions that Israel has taken against them over the decades as genocide, as defined by the United Nations and the International Court at the Hague.

That drew an angry and anguished, “How dare they!” response from the Jewish establishment whose spokespersons have long accorded themselves the right to determine the language with which Israel may be criticized in the African-American community and by whom. They were joined by Jews who saw themselves as part of the movement and who now claimed to be hurt and bewildered.

Linking of the protests against the epidemic of police killings in America to that experienced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation had already begun on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, following the murder of Michael Brown so the statement of solidarity and criticism of Israel contained in the platform should not have come as a surprise.

There doesn’t appear to have been, as yet, any statements on this issue from CBC members who were in their districts campaigning during the month of August. But at some point, unless the Movement for Black Lives leadership, bowing to threats, rolls over and pulls the offending plank, as Ron Dellums did with the anti-apartheid legislation in 1987, the CBC will be pressed to take sides. That is not likely to happen. A new movement has been born that is in no mood to be turned around.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Slavery and the National Anthem: The Surprising History Behind Colin Kaepernick's Protest

AJ Willingham
August 30, 2016

Jackie Robinson, writing in 1972: I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world. Jim Brown, the Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running backin 2016 said he stands '100 percent' behind Colin Kaepernick. Further, Kaepernick 'made all the sense in the world' in explaining his position. This is part of a long tradition of athletes, especially African American athletes combining sport and protest. (* ESPN)

Today, similar criticisms have been leveled against Kaepernick, as those against Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics, or those against Muhammad Ali., The Source,

"I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world."

That's not Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose refusal to stand during the national anthem has invited criticism from all corners of the sports world.

That's Jackie Robinson, beloved baseball pioneer and civil rights activist, writing in his 1972 autobiography, "I Never Had It Made."

After Kaepernick was spotted sitting during the anthem preceding last Friday's NFL preseason game, the struggling quarterback said he would not stand "to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

It's hard not to notice their words are almost perfectly aligned. But it shouldn't be a surprise when you consider some historical context, namely, that the anthem actually contains a reference to slavery and Kaepernick is far from the first athlete to question its scope.

The national anthem's forgotten lyrics

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 about the American victory at the Battle of Fort McHenry. We only sing the first verse, but Key penned three more. This is the third verse:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The mere mention of "slave" is not entirely remarkable; slavery was alive and well in the United States in 1814. Key himself owned slaves, was an anti-abolitionist and once called his African brethren "a distinct and inferior race of people."

Some interpretations of these lyrics contend Key was in fact taking pleasure in the deaths of freed black slaves who had decided to fight with the British against the United States.

In order to bolster their numbers, British forces offered slaves their freedom in British territories if they would join their cause during the war. These black recruits formed the Colonial Marines, and were looked down upon by people like Key who saw their actions as treasonous.

As an anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner" has never been a unanimous fit. Since it was officially designated as the national anthem in 1931, Americans have debated the suitability of its militaristic lyrics and difficult tune. (Some have offered up "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful" as alternatives.)

Athletes and the American ritual

The American ritual of the national anthem has always been a crucible for patriotism and protest. It presents a particularly fraught dynamic for sports stars, since sports events are often so closely tied with the rhetoric of American pride. When a highly visible opinion comes up against a highly visible symbol, the result is always incendiary.

Around the same time Jackie Robinson was using his achievements to advance civil rights causes, two American Olympic runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a black power salute during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City as the anthem was playing.

The result was iconic. The reaction was ugly. Racial slurs were hurled at the pair and an article in Time called it a "public display of petulance."

Today, similar criticisms have been leveled against Kaepernick, a biracial Super Bowl quarterback who was raised by white adoptive parents and made $13 million in 2014. He was called "spoiled." He was called far worse in his Twitter mentions.

It's a lot of ire for a gesture with a strong historical and rhetorical precedent.

One doesn't even need to dip into iconic moments in history to follow the trend.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers player Dion Waiters refused to be on the court for the anthem in 2014. And Denver Nuggets player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf courted criticism after he deliberately sat during the anthem in 1996.

In fact, Kaepernick didn't stand for the first two preseason games of this year prior to Friday's display. He wasn't in uniform, so no one noticed. Or if they did, they didn't care.

* Jim Brown on Colin Kaepernick: 'I am with him 100 percent' by Pat McManamon, ESPN Staff Writer, August 30, 2016