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The State That Tolerates No Criticism

How Israel Gives Jews a Bad Name

by SAUL LANDAU

Most Jews I know get little pleasure from the existence of Israel; just the opposite. They feel disgusted by the behavior of their tribal kin toward Palestinians. This antipathy doesn’t concern Israel’s right to exist, a phony argument still maintained by hard line Zionists. Israel exists, period. Most of the world recognizes that. Anyone wanting to eliminate it belongs in the loony bin or prison.

Israelis have just elected a right wing majority. The number three vote-getting party, Yisrael Beytenu led by Avigdor Lieberman, will occupy a strong place in the new government. Lieberman will become a Minister in the Netanyahu Cabinet. Last year, Lieberman rammed through Israel’s Central Election Committee a ban on Arab political parties. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled the ban unconstitutional before the recent election. Lieberman also demanded the Knesset expel Arab Members. He went further. If Arab citizens of Israel don’t sign oaths of loyalty to Israel, they should have their citizenship revoked. Disloyalty for Arabs included students wearing kefiyahs to school; Muslim Israelis collecting medicine and aid for Gaza relief also falls into the non-trustworthy category.

During the 2008-9 invasion of Gaza, Lieberman wanted the military operation to continue until Hamas “loses the will to fight.” In a speech at Bar-Ilan University, he said Israel’s government had “to come to a decision that we will break the will of Hamas to keep fighting.” Lieberman concluded in the January 13 Jerusalem Post: “We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II. Then, too, the occupation of the country was unnecessary.” In 1945, US Air Force planes dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Japan surrendered unconditionally.

Lieberman has acquired a powerful defender in the United States. Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, backed Lieberman’s plan to require Israeli Arab citizens to sign an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state.” (Feb 10, Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

Foxman ignored the ADL’s mission, opposing racial discrimination and the words of the ADL Charter. The Anti-Defamation League aims “to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” In Israel, it’s apparently OK with Foxman to strip an Arab wearing the wrong covering of citizenship. Without citizenship, Arabs can’t vote or participate in politics; very old Jews from some European countries may recall similar rules.

My grandfather taught me, growing up during the Holocaust, that Jewish tradition teaches each person to strive to become a pillar of ethics, learn the law and behave so as to answer to God for transgressions – not to rulers of a so-called Jewish state.

Ironically, in the name of all Jews, Foxman and colleagues in AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and other Israeli lobby groups along with right wing and centrist political parties in Israel invoke the Holocaust to justify the very behavior embodied by Holocaust initiators. Israel calls itself a Jewish state. Yet, one fifth of Israel’s population is non-Jewish. I don’t belong to that state and despise its policies of constant war and occupation.

Count Israel’s wars: 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, plus civil wars against two Intifadas in the 1980s and 2000, and finally the invasions of Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in late 2008, the latter leaving in its wake 1,300 plus dead Palestinians, most of them civilians and less than 20 Israelis, some from “friendly fire.”

Condemned by the Red Cross, Amnesty International and a host of organizations for violating human rights of Gaza’s people, Israel’s new government will almost certainly continue or even harden the policies. They don’t care what others say.

Dr. Erik Fosse, a Norwegian cardiologist, working in Gaza hospitals during the Israeli invasion described his patients’ wounds. “It was as if they had stepped on a mine,” he says of certain Palestinian. “But there was no shrapnel in the wound. Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they had been sliced off. I have been to war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before.”

The “focused lethality” weapon, to which Fosse referred does minimal damage to buildings, but catastrophic harm to humans. The United States supplied these to Israel.

Israeli Defense Forces have also used white phosphorus in Beirut in 1982 and again in Gaza. The intense heat of the metal inflicts appalling damage. The IDF knows international law prohibits its use near populated areas. Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International labeled as “a war crime” the use of phosphorous “in Gaza’s densely-populated residential neighborhoods.” (Guardian, January 21, 2009)

Israel initially denied using the chemical. On January 13, Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi solemnly declared: “The IDF acts only in accordance with what is permitted by international law and does not use white phosphorus.” Gazans and Israelis, however, saw the material and the victims of it. On January 20, the IDF admitted using phosphorus artillery and mortar shells on “Hamas fighters and rocket launching crews in northern Gaza.”

On January 15, three shells hit the UN Relief and Works Agency compound. The resulting fire destroyed tons of humanitarian supplies. A phosphorus shell also hit Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City. According to the Guardian, the Israelis claimed Hamas fighters had hidden near the two targets. Witnesses denied the charge. (January 21, 2009)

UN officials cited witnesses who claimed Israel killed 31 family members whom Israeli troops had led into a house in Zeitun. Twenty four hours after the IDF warned the Palestinians to remain, the IDF shelled the dwelling. Half of the dead were children. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called it “one of the gravest incidents since the beginning of operations” by Israeli forces in Gaza. (AFP, December 27, 2008).

Such facts caused distinguished people like Jimmy Carter and Bill Moyers to question Israeli behavior. Foxman quickly labeled Moyers as anti-Semitic. Those opposing Israel’s invasion of Gaza, or her occupying of Palestinian territory (for 40 plus years),  or her mistreatment of all Palestinians receive the anti-Semitic label. Any criticism of Israel begets that description.

In discussions with Jewish defenders of the recent invasion of Gaza, however, I found more defensiveness. During one argument an ardent pro Israeli changed the subject. “But Israel enjoys free speech and press!”

Yes, a small minority vigorously criticize Israeli government policy – there, not here in the United States where a Member of Congress characterized an attack by the Israeli lobby as the equivalent of a pit bull biting him in the leg. Israeli’s daily Ha’aretz provides an example of such criticism, including articles damning the latest invasion as both a failure and immoral (Gideon Levy, February 19, 2009). Similar criticism in a US newspaper would cause Foxman and company to call major press conferences to “expose anti-Semitism.” When Jimmy Carter published his 2006 book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, critical of Israeli policy, Foxman stopped just short of accusing the former President of anti-semitism. “You have been feeding into conspiracy theories about excessive Jewish power and control,” he wrote in a letter. “Considering the history of anti-Semitism, even in our great country, this is very dangerous stuff.” (Shmuel Rosner, Ha’artez Dec. 20, 2006)

When less powerful Jewish American scholars write books or give lectures attacking Israeli policy, they get fired or their tenure withheld. Norman Finkelstein (son of Holocaust survivors) was denied tenure in 2007 by the President of DePaul University, despite favorable recommendations by faculty and students. In 2000, he published The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. The President of Bard College recently dismissed Joel Kovel, another internationally applauded scholar. Kovel’s 2007 book, Overcoming Zionism, triggered the action.

In the Finkelstein case, an important Zionist activist, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, demanded the action. He had threatened Finkelstein with law suits after Finkelstein accused him of plagiarism and lying – charges documented in his 2005 book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. (University of California Press) Kovel attacked militant Israeli supporter Martin Peretz, longtime editor of The New Republic.

The ADL supported both dismissals. In past decades, ADL vibrated with anger over anti-Semitic signs spray painted on subway bathroom walls. Now, its leader endorses a McCarthyite platform in his beloved Israel. Anyone who does not conform to ADL’s fiercely pro Zionist agenda becomes vulnerable to accusations of anti-Semitism.

From 1998-2006, I occasionally invited speakers to campus who criticized Israeli policy. Inevitably, I would then receive letters, e-mails (copies to the University President), and phone calls accusing me of bias or being a “self-hating Jew.”

“How can you say that?” I asked one caller. “You don’t know me.”

“You’re all alike, you people who hate Israel,” the man responded.

“You’re the Jew-hating Jew,” I responded. “You hate me and don’t know me. I wish you could listen to your own voice.”

“I know anti-Semites when I talk to them,” he shouted into the phone and hung up.

“Long Live Israel,” scream the US fans. “Anyone who doesn’t like our team is an anti-Semite.” 

I want to shout: “Go Back to Israel where you didn’t come from.”

SAUL LANDAU is an IPS Fellow, author of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (Counterpunch) and director of forty films, available on dvd from roundworldproductions.com