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The Power and the Ignominy

Blinded by Israel, Visionless in Gaza

by TARIQ ALI

The US Senate votes unanimously to defend Israel including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. I don’t think he did it for the money. He is a paid-up member of POEEI (‘Progressive on Everything Except Israel’ and pronounced pooee) the liberal segment of US society, which is not progressive on many things, including Israel.

Take, as one example, the case of  ‘Colonel’ Sanders. I thought my late friend Alexander Cockburn was sometimes too harsh on Sanders, but I was wrong. Sanders has been arselickin bad for a long time now as Thomas Naylor informed us while exploding the myths surrounding the Senator in a CounterPunch piece in September 2011:

“Although Sanders may have once been a socialist back in the 80s when he was Mayor of Burlington, today, a socialist he is not.  Rather he behaves more like a technofascist disguised as a liberal, who backs all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen..  Since he always “supports the troops,” Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill.  He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont.

Senator Sanders rarely misses a photo opportunity with Vermont National Guard troops when they are being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.  He’s always at the Burlington International Airport when they return.  If Sanders truly supported the Vermont troops, he would vote to end all of the wars posthaste.”

A unanimous Senate vote is rare, so what explains being more loyal to Israel than quite a few critical Jewish Israelis in that country itself? An important factor is undoubtedly money. In 2006 when the London Review of Books  published an article (commissioned and rejected by the Atlantic Monthly) by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer  on the Israel Lobby, there was the usual brouhaha from the usual suspects. Not the late Tony Judt, who publicly defended publication of the text and was himself subjected to violent threats and hate mail by we know who.

The New York Review of Books, perhaps shamed by its own gutlessness on this issue among others, commissioned a text by Michael Massing which pointed out some mistakes in the  Mearsheimer/Walt essay but went on to provide some interesting figures himself. His article deserves to be read on its own but the following extract helps to explain the unanimous votes for Israeli actions:

“AIPAC’s defenders like to argue that its success is explained by its ability to exploit the organizing opportunities available in democratic America. To some extent, this is true. AIPAC has a formidable network of supporters throughout the US. Its 100,000 members—up 60 percent from five years ago—are guided by AIPAC’s nine regional offices, its ten satellite offices, and its one-hundred-person-plus Washington staff, a highly professional group that includes lobbyists, researchers, analysts, organizers, and publicists, backed by an enormous $47 million annual budget…. Such an account, however, overlooks a key element in AIPAC’s success: money. AIPAC itself is not a political action committee. Rather, by assessing voting records and public statements, it provides information to such committees, which donate money to candidates; AIPAC helps them to decide who Israel’s friends are according to AIPAC’s criteria. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that analyzes political contributions, lists a total of thirty-six pro-Israel PACs, which together contributed $3.14 million to candidates in the 2004 election cycle. Pro-Israel donors give many millions more. Over the last five years, for instance, Robert Asher, together with his various relatives (a common device used to maximize contributions), has donated $148,000, mostly in sums of $1,000 or $2,000 to individual candidates.

A former AIPAC staff member described for me how the system works. A candidate will contact AIPAC and express strong sympathies with Israel. AIPAC will point out that it doesn’t endorse candidates but will offer to introduce him to people who do. Someone affiliated with AIPAC will be assigned to the candidate to act as a contact person. Checks for $500 or $1,000 from pro-Israel donors will be bundled together and provided to the candidate with a clear indication of the donors’ political views. (All of this is perfectly legal.) In addition, meetings to raise funds will be organized in various cities. Often, the candidates are from states with negligible Jewish populations.

One congressional staff member told me of the case of a Democratic candidate from a mountain state who, eager to tap into pro-Israel money, got in touch with AIPAC, which assigned him to a Manhattan software executive eager to move up in AIPAC’s organization. The executive held a fund-raising reception in his apartment on the Upper West Side, and the candidate left with $15,000. In his state’s small market for press and televised ads, that sum proved an important factor in a race he narrowly won. The congressman thus became one of hundreds of members who could be relied upon to vote AIPAC’s way. (The staffer told me the name of the congressman but asked that I withhold it in order to spare him embarrassment.)”

All this is made possible by official US policies since 1967. Were the US ever to shift on this issue unanimous votes would become impossible. But not even the United States has so far banned public demonstrations opposing Israeli brutality and its consistent deployment of state terror.

On a weekend (18-19 July 2014) where demonstrations took place in many different parts of the world, the French government banned a march in Paris organised by many groups including France’s non-Zionist Jewish organisations and individuals. The ban was defied. Several thousand people were drenched in tear gas by the hated CRS. The French Prime Minister Manual Valls, a desperate opportunist and neo-con, the scourge of the Roma in France, competing with Le Pen for the right wing vote and unsurprisingly an adornment of the French Socialist Party who models himself on a shameless war-criminal and shyster (Tony Blair) explained the ban in terms of  ‘not encouraging anti-semitism’, etc. The grip of the Israel Lobby in France is complete. It dominates French culture and the media and critical voices on Israel (Jewish and non-Jewish) are effectively banned.

The Israeli poet and critic, Yitzhak Laor (whose work depicting the colonial brutality of Israeli soldiers has sometimes been banned in his own country) describes the new rise of Euro-Zionism in sharp terms. The  ‘philosemitic offensive’ is ahistorical:

It would be facile to see this memorializing culture as a belated crisis of international conscience, or a sense of historical justice that took time to materialize . . . The majority of United Nations General Assembly members have emerged from a colonial past: they are the descendants of those who suffered genocides in Africa, Asia or Latin America. There should be no reason for the commemoration of the genocide of the Jews to block out the memory of these millions of Africans or Native Americans killed by the civilized Western invaders of their continents.

Laor’s explanation is that with the old Cold War friend-enemy dichotomy swept aside a new global enemy had to be cultivated in Europe:

In the new moral universe of the ‘end of history’, there was one abomination—the Jewish genocide—that all could unite to condemn; equally important, it was now firmly in the past. Its commemoration would serve both to sacralize the new Europe’s liberal-humanist tolerance of ‘the other (who is like us)’ and to redefine ‘the other (who is different from us)’ in terms of Muslim fundamentalism. 

Laor skillfully deconstructs the Glucksmanns, Henri-Levys and Finkelkrauts  who dominate the print media and the videosphere in France today. Having abandoned their youthful Marxist beliefs in the late Seventies, they made their peace with the system. The emergence of an ultra-Zionist current in France, however , predates the ‘New (sic) Philosophers’.  As Professor Gaby Piterburg, reviewing Laor’s essays in the New Left Review, explained:

As in the US, the 1967 war was a turning point in French Jewish consciousness. A young Communist, Pierre Goldman, described the ‘joyous fury’ of a pro-Israel demonstration on the boulevard Saint-Michel, where he encountered other comrades, ‘Marxist-Leninists and supposed anti-Zionists, rejoicing in the warrior skills of Dayan’s troops’. But the political reaction of the Elysée to the 1967 war was the opposite to that of the White House. Alarmed that Israel was upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East, de Gaulle condemned the aggression, describing the Jews as ‘an elite people, sure of itself and domineering’. French Jewish organizations that had taken a pro-Israel foreign policy for granted began to organize on a political basis for the first time, as Pompidou and Giscard continued de Gaulle’s arms embargo into the 70s. In 1976 the Jewish Action Committee (CJA) organized a ‘day for Israel’ which mobilized 100,000 people. In 1977 the formerly quietist CRIF, representative council of some sixty Jewish bodies, produced a new charter denouncing France’s ‘abandonment of Israel’, published by Le Monde as a document of record. In the 1981 presidential election the CJA founder, Henri Hajdenberg, led a high-profile campaign for a Jewish vote against Giscard; Mitterrand won by a margin of 3 per cent. The boycott was lifted, and Mitterrand became the first French president to visit Israel. Warm relations were sealed between the CRIF and the Socialist Party elite, and a tactful veil of silence drawn over Mitterrand’s war-time role as a Vichy official.

[A small footnote: Whenever Professor Piterburg (a former officer in the IDF) is attacked by Zionists at public lectures for being a ‘self-hating Jew’, he responds thus: “I don’t hate myself, but I hate you.” ]

So much for official France. The country itself is different. Opinion polls reveal that at least 60 percent of French people are opposed to what Israel is doing to Gaza. Are they all anti-semites? They couldn’t be influenced by the media, could they? Because it’s totally pro-Israel. Could it be the case that the French population is ignoring Hollande, Valls and the mercenary ideologues who support them?

What about Britain? Here the  Extreme Centre that rules the country as well as the  official ‘Opposition’ dutifully supported their masters in Washington. The coverage of the recent events in Gaza on state television (BBC) was so appallingly one-sided that there were demonstrations outside the BBC’s offices in London and Salford. My own tiny experience with the BBC reveals the fear and timidity at work inside. As I blogged on the London Review of Books, this is what happened:

On Wednesday 16 July I received four calls from the BBC’s Good Morning Wales.

First morning call: was I available to be interviewed about Gaza tomorrow morning? I said yes.

First afternoon call: could I tell them what I would say? I said (a) Israel was a rogue state, pampered and cosseted by the US and its vassals. (b) Targeting and killing Palestinian children (especially boys) and blaming the victims was an old Israeli custom. (c) The BBC coverage of Palestine was appalling and if they didn’t cut me off I would explain how and why.

Second afternoon call: was I prepared to debate a pro-Israeli? I said yes.

Afternoon message left on my phone: terribly sorry. There’s been a motorway crash in Wales, so we’ve decided to drop your item.

Few British citizens are aware of the role their own country played in creating this mess. It was a long time ago when Britain was an Empire and not a vassal, but the echoes of history never fade away. It was not by accident, but by design that the British decided to create a new state and it wasn’t Balfour alone. The Alternate Information Center in Beit Sahour, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization promoting justice, equality and peace  for Palestinians and Israelis recently put up a post. It was a quote  from The Bannerman Report written in 1907 by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and, as it was strategically important it was suppressed and was never released to the public until many years later:

“There are people (the Arabs, Editor’s Note) who control spacious territories  teeming with manifest and hidden resources. They dominate the intersections of  world routes. Their lands were the cradles of human civilizations and religions.  These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations.  No natural barriers can isolate these people from one another … if, per chance,  this nation were to be unified into one state, it would then take the fate of  the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world.  Taking these considerations seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that  it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.”

[Dan Bar-On & Sami Adwan, THE  PRIME SHARED HISTORY PROJECT, in Educating Toward a Culture of Peace, pages  309–323, Information Age Publishing, 2006]

Tariq Ali is the author of  The Obama Syndrome (Verso).