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Netanyahu and Obama, Castor-Pollux of Modern War

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One need not go back to Greek mythology to see the obvious parallels. Both leaders share an identity as war criminals, Netanyahu, brazenly using the so-called War on Terrorism as pretext for extending Israeli power beyond the Middle East to international proportions, Obama, offering the same rationale as the means of stopping America’s decline whilst already at the pinnacle of global hegemony, complementary geopolitical paradigms of domination which are mutually reinforcing. Yet, step back, because I am not talking about two men, but two nations, themselves interlocked in ways which prescribe their mutual interests so as to draw them into a vortex of international politics placing each as obstructions to global democratic currents of, and aspirations for, change. America and Israel, here, collective twins, meeting at the interface of world counterrevolution in their headlong rush to uncontested, no-longer-challenged supremacy. Neither nation feels safe, otherwise, and, acting together, their respective nuclear arsenals discreetly showing, they believe—as their leaders make clear and have amply demonstrated through the commission of war crimes—war, intervention, torture, in execution of national policy, can be conducted with impunity.

Only, the world is changing, and license to commit atrocities is no longer freely extended, much to the dismay of both countries’ leadership. One reason we see the preponderance of deniability in Israel and the US as to the course of permanent warfare each has followed, is the relative lack of criticism, dissent, and opposition in both, populations habituated to the presumed thrills and romance of VIOLENCE as a way of life, that, and layer-upon-layer of guilt piled on the respective national consciences to the point that the human life of the Other, whomever the designated Enemy of the moment or period, is held to be of no account. Human life is cheap and cheapened provided one is not in the in-group, a hardening of sentiment whether in bombing Gazan school yards or targeting, from thousands of miles away, armed drones for purposes of assassination. War crimes have been regularly committed, no recriminations, no punishment, at best slap-on-the-wrist investigations if even that, a poisonous psychological atmosphere in both countries which contributes to the mix of deniability and hubristic impunity.

How, then, even attempt to reach Netanyahu and Obama, moral basket-cases whose quarrels, while not feigned, disguise from themselves and each other, how much they are brothers-in-arms, metaphorical twins whose common purpose, transcending differences (of which I am suspicious) over Iran and the building of settlements (more units announced today at this writing), is the militarization of whatever is at hand, Zionism for one, advanced capitalism for the other. Even there it may be unfair to saddle either Zionism or advanced capitalism with the transmogrification each is undergoing, at their hands though a significant head-start had been made earlier. That is the point: Netanyahu and Obama are not new, for both Israel and America have been misshapen by their predecessors, or more accurately, the germinal concept of Zionism and capitalism, both, might have taken more equitable and pacific form under social-democratic influences: the kibbutz via labor Zionism, workers’ democracy in America.

This, of course, did not happen, but neither did Netanyahu or Obama resist the tide moving toward the fascistization of society, in which militarism and capitalism become integral and indispensable. In each nation, the appellation “democracy” must be earned, and presently is nowhere near realization. Both leaders, notwithstanding cosmetic differences, have behind them a largely unified public determined to silence dissent, equally determined to close ranks around authoritarian principles of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, dichotomizing the world as either you’re with us or against us, and if the latter, subject to unremitting force, as befitting the psychopathology of fear of all that dares question official definitions of reality, for Israel, a divine right of occupation and rulership, for America, a divine right of, variously, privatization, market fundamentalism, unchecked commercial-financial penetration. Not coincidentally, both leaders, both nations, coalesce in working together to achieve their goals, custodians of a creed of exceptionalism which makes any self-defined goal permissible and morally-politically appropriate.

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In mythology, twins may have a wide variety of functions, take on different forms, even become altered to fit the interpretations and experiences of different political cultures and historical contexts. This is no time for Anthropology 101, but I’ve chosen Castor and Pollux briefly as stand-ins for our protagonists to suggest the brotherly attachment in barest form (their humane mission finds no counterpart in Obama and Netanyahu). Chiefly, because Pollux, son of Zeus, was immortal, and Castor, son of a human, was not—here it doesn’t matter which is which, as between Netanyahu and Obama, it is the resultant that counts—what we find is that they had to divide their time between two places. For when Castor dies, Pollux gives up one-half of his immortality so that they can remain together. The two places are Mount Olympus and Hades or the Underworld, Castor and Pollux spending half their time in each, which by my wild leap I shall define the former as WAR, the latter as CAPITALISM, themselves now historically joined together by, yes, Netanyahu and Obama, individuals, societies, militaristic ethos shaping political culture becoming indistinguishable.

Here is an account different from my own, Peter Baker and Jodi Rudoren’s New York Times article, “A Strained Alliance: Obama-Netanyahu Rift Grew Over the Years,” (Jan. 31), which on its face emphasizes personality conflict, rather than geopolitical and structural commonalities. Yet even these manage to peep through. During Obama’s presidency the relationship has been off again, on again (the writers fail to mention that personalities notwithstanding, Israel receives $3B in military aid annually from the US, the intelligence and military communities are thick as—well, friends, and the US has Israel’s back at the UN, all among much else, so that, therefore, any supposed split at the top hardly changes long-term mutual relations). The immediate sources of the rift are apparent: Obama’s pique at Netanyahu’s plan, at the Republicans’ invitation, to address both Houses of Congress in March without first informing him, and thought by the reporters more basic, “an American president eager for a historic rapprochement with Iran and an Israeli premier nursing an existential fear of a nuclear-armed enemy.” This is doubtful, neither Obama nor Congress eager for rapprochement with Iran except as total surrender (“eager” is hinted at in NYT coverage of the same with Cuba, presumably as part of Obama’s legacy, which is also nonsense, Cuba, like Iran, expected to make itself over as America specifies and would like).

Things are heating up. Obama is angered that Netanyahu supported Republicans in 2012, Netanyahu is angered that Obama “may be trying to influence the coming Israeli elections,” and has disapproved of the current Israeli ambassador to Washington. (In retaliation, the aforementioned new settlements were announced.) Tit-for-tat: Israel did not support the US opening, such as it was, to Cuba; the State Department (Jan. 30) stated of the new settlements that this would “inflame already heightened tensions with the Palestinians and further isolate Israel internationally.” Where commonalities come through can be seen in White House assurances such as that of Bernadette Meehan that relations between the two countries “was bigger than any single politician and diplomat.” Meehan states: “’It is an alliance that shouldn’t be turned into a relationship between two political parties. Our relationship is about the strong bonds between the United States and Israel and our people, and our commitment to common interests and values.’” What those interests and values are, neither government nor its people is prepared to discuss out loud.

My New York Times Comment on the Baker-Rudorin article, same date, follows:

At the risk of condemnation from all quarters I shall say, of the Obama-Netanyahu feud, a plague on both your houses. Both are wrong. Both are war-mongers. Both have pursued policies in violation of international law and, in a morally upright world, would be charged as WAR CRIMINALS. Netanyahu on Gaza and settlements (for starters), Obama on drone assassinations and confrontation with Russia and China (for starters), deserve contempt and scorn for betraying civilization’s ethics of humanity. And behind them, reflecting their policies, are two nations which by their respective hegemonic claims and aspirations, threaten world peace.

Deeply to be regretted, both nations are also nuclear powers and hardly to be trusted in not bullying their respective spheres of interest, for Israel, an increasingly large take on the Middle East, for the US, the world itself. Here Iran is code for much else; neither Netanyahu nor Obama has a constructive posture–both are gunning for war.

Netanyahu is short-sighted. In America the bipartisan consensus on global Reaction and counterrevolution is obvious, mirroring Israel’s own international policy. So, why fight? Kiss and make up, with AIPAC and Adelson, among others, bridesmaids at the new wedding. The rallying cry: Down with TERRORISM. Down with Muslims. Up with “democracy”–for both Israel and America boast of being the leading world democracies. Dissent is nonexistent in one, massive surveillance takes care of the other.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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