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In the Israeli cultural lexicon, there is no bigger insult than "freyer." Hebrew for "sucker," it describes anyone who pays too much for anything, stands quietly in line waiting his turn, or generally is too weak to get his own way, on his own terms. When I lived in Jerusalem, a recurring television commercial for […]

US "Suckered" Again in Israel

by Michelle Campos

In the Israeli cultural lexicon, there is no bigger insult than "freyer." Hebrew for "sucker," it describes anyone who pays too much for anything, stands quietly in line waiting his turn, or generally is too weak to get his own way, on his own terms. When I lived in Jerusalem, a recurring television commercial for baby diapers featured one dry baby triumphantly saying to a wet baby: "I’m no freyer!" Aggressive, blunt Israeli society eats freyers for lunch.

When President Bush declared yesterday that he "was satisfied" with Israel’s response in the aftermath of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s shuttle diplomacy, he proved himself to be…a big fat freyer. Our well-respected former general, Secretary Powell, is also a freyer. The US Congress is made up of a bunch of freyers.

They join the long list of US intermediaries dismissed in the Israeli political jungle as ineffective, irrelevant, and easily manipulated–in short, "freyers." President Clinton (though personally not considered a freyer), repeatedly sent freyers to the region on his Mideast peace team: Warren Christopher, Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller. Their visits were virtually ignored, because it was clear they did not have the authority or will to stand up to Israel, but rather meekly accepted the terms it offered for US involvement. As a result, they were not at all respected in neighboring Arab countries. Israel’s "sucker" is no one’s friend in the Middle East.

In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is certainly no freyer, as he conveyed most effectively in response to Bush’s demand that the Israeli invasion of Palestinian cities and towns end "now," "without delay." Flash back to 1982, when Sharon as Minister of Defense masterminded Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, surpassing the intentions of Prime Minister Begin and the Israeli Cabinet. Sharon did not listen to his own prime minister then and even after 18 years of disastrous policy in Lebanon that led to the deaths of hundreds of occupying Israeli soldiers (not to mention thousands of occupied Lebanese civilians and Palestinian refugees), Sharon was not prepared to accept that his policies had been politically short-sighted and even immoral.

Amazingly, President Bush and his foreign policy "advisors" thought Sharon would play along with the rhetorical reprimand of Israel’s military invasion, and pull out by the time Powell made it to the Middle East (after dawdling in multiple pit stops along the way). What should have been perfectly clear to anyone who knows anything about the Middle East and Israel is that Sharon had no intentions of doing anything Bush demanded–to do so would have been to show weakness, a lack of resolve or power, never mind the fact that it would have contradicted Sharon’s geo-political strategy of dismantling all vestiges of independent Palestinian state and society.

And now, in an effort to save face as well as to placate the right wing and pro-Israel lobby, Bush has declared he is "satisfied" with Sharon, "a man of peace." Is Bush "satisfied" with the hundreds of Palestinians–among them militants, yes, but mostly civilians and those just defending their homes and villages–killed in Sharon’s operations? Would a man of peace see military force as the only legitimate answer to crush a national resistance to occupation (for Sharon’s strategy goes far beyond the "terrorist infrastructure" he flaunts to the world)? Do the US foreign policy experts understand that yet again, Sharon’s policy as well as American acquiescence to it, are provocations and escalations whose ramifications will be felt in the coming weeks, months and years in the Middle East (and perhaps even at home)?

When will the American executive and foreign policy apparatus stop making concession after concession to whatever Israeli government is in power, whatever its policies? When will the US administration, Congress, and "free" press stop pandering to those interests who would have us believe that peace in the Middle East is a zero-sum game, that Israeli children have any more of a right to live free and safe than Palestinian children? When will the images of burned out Palestinian refugee camps horrify and mobilize as much as the images of bombed Israeli buses?

Mr. President, Secretary Powell: when will the US pursue a universal commitment to human rights, self-determination, and social justice? Our international credibility and national moral compass are at an all-time low regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–let’s not get suckered again.

Michelle Campos is a doctoral candidate in Middle Eastern history at Stanford University. She has lived in Israel for four years, most recently as a Fulbright Scholar. She can be reached at: mcampos@stanford.edu