Category Archives: news

Misreading Tehran: What We Got Wrong – By Reza Aslan

Surprising candour from a Mid-East commentator on the popular media’s essential inability to properly understand the (in)significance of last year’s protests in Iran.

Misreading Tehran: What We Got Wrong – By Reza Aslan | Foreign Policy.

The spontaneous protest movement that erupted on the streets of Iran in June 2009 both amazed and baffled observers around the world. From the moment the first demonstrations broke out in Tehran after the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the media (and I include myself in that epithet) had a difficult time grasping the meaning of what came to be called the Green Movement. Indeed, our very use of the semantically empty term “Green Movement” became a tacit admission that we had no idea who these people really were and what they really wanted.

Over the course of the last year, that movement has defied every simple categorization, which partly explains why it has been so easy to foist upon it our own ideological leanings, our own desires for Iran, in the hope that it would ultimately become what we wanted it to be.

If you are a conservative commentator with a belief in Pax Americana, like my friend Reihan Salam, the popular protests in Iran were an indication of “the unraveling of one of the world’s most dangerous regimes … [and] the opportunity to build a real Islamic democracy,” as he wrote on Forbes.com a few days after the Iranian election. If you are one of the liberal interventionists at the Brookings Institution, “Iran suddenly seem[ed] ready to throw off the shackles of the repressive theocracy that has ruled it since the 1979 revolution,” as Daniel Byman wrote in Slate around the same time. If you are a Dick Cheney acolyte with neocon proclivities like John P. Hannah, writing in the Weekly Standard last September, the Green Movement was “the most viable option available for satisfactorily resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis short of war.”

And if you are an Iranian-American writer like me, who lived through the 1979 revolution, then the Green Movement looked promisingly like the massive riots that toppled the shah three decades ago, as I wrote last June in Time magazine.

For most of us, the Green Movement was an empty vessel to be filled with our dreams. Its goals became our goals, its agenda our agenda. And so when it failed to do what we wanted — when winter came and the demonstrations dissipated, the regime endured, and the opposition leadership seemed paralyzed — we were quick to declare the movement dead and buried, as Flynt Leverett of the New America Foundation and Hillary Mann Leverett did in a controversial New York Times op-ed in January. Flynt Leverett had always viewed the Green Movement as a distraction from his decade-long quest to convince the U.S. government to engage the Iranian government in dialogue instead of hastening its decline. Indeed, he seemed positively giddy about the movement’s apparent failure in a February interview with PBS’s NewsHour. “There is no revolution afoot in Iran,” he told host Margaret Warner.

Leverett was by no means alone in this assessment. By February, Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush who coined the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” renounced his own expectations for the Green Movement, calling its leaders “more accidental and reactive than heroic and visionary, more Boris Yeltsin than Lech Walesa” in a Washington Post column.

By spring, the media in general seemed to have forgotten the movement altogether. Given its early overreach, this may have been inevitable. Once it became clear that what we were watching was not the dramatic overthrow of a dreaded and dangerous regime, but rather evidence of the slow decline of that regime’s legitimacy, it became difficult to sustain attention. Without a steady stream of vivid images pouring out of Iran — young, green-clad protesters waving peace signs and being pummeled by Iran’s brutal security forces — news outlets moved on to more urgent matters: dead pop stars and boys trapped in balloons.

Well said, Reza.

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Pax Ottomanica? | TomDispatch

Tomgram: John Feffer, Pax Ottomanica? | TomDispatch


You know that something strange is happening when the usual crew of neocon critics takes out after Turkey — yes, Turkey! — a country that, as Inter Press Service’s Jim Lobe points out, they long cultivated and supported as a key ally and supposedly model democracy in the Islamic world.  Of course, that was then.  Now, Turkey’s involvement in a nuclear deal with Tehran and its prime minister’s outrage over the Israeli attack on a convoy bringing aid to Gaza that resulted in the deaths of nine Turks has soured them considerably on the country.  In fact, the strength of the Turkish reaction — essentially a breach with Israel, once a close ally — sent the Obama administration scrambling awkwardly for a way to mollify the Turks without condemning the Israeli attack.

And don’t think it’s just the usual suspects on the right blaming Turkey either.  The Washington Post editorial page denounced its government for “grotesque demagoguery toward Israel that ought to be unacceptable for a member of NATO,” while the Christian Science Monitor typically declared it “over the top,” raised the specter of “anti-Semitism,” and swore that its leaders now ran “the risk of further undermining Turkey’s credibility and goal of being a regional problem solver.”  In a news story, the New York Times offered a classic statement of the problem from Washington’s perspective: “Turkey is seen increasingly in Washington as ‘running around the region doing things that are at cross-purposes to what the big powers in the region want,’ said Steven A. Cook, a scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations. The question being asked, he said, is ‘How do we keep the Turks in their lane?’”

And which lane might that be, one wonders?  It looks ever more like the passing lane on the main highway through the Middle East.  Talk about a country whose importance has crept up on us.  It’s a country that, as John Feffer, co-director of the invaluable Foreign Policy in Focus website and TomDispatch regular, indicates, has been in that passing lane for some time now (whatever Washington may think), whether in its relations with Iran, Russia, or Iraq, among other countries.  And what surprising relations they turn out to be.  If one thing is clear, it’s that, as American power wanes, the global stage is indeed being cleared for new kinds of politics and new combinations of every sort.  The future holds surprises and, as Feffer makes clear, it will be surprising indeed if Turkey isn’t one of them.

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NY Times features Tony Judt op-ed on Gaza

Tony Judt writes:

THE Israeli raid on the Free Gaza flotilla has generated an outpouring of clichés from the usual suspects. It is almost impossible to discuss the Middle East without resorting to tired accusations and ritual defenses: perhaps a little house cleaning is in order.

No. 1: Israel is being/should be delegitimized

Israel is a state like any other, long-established and internationally recognized. The bad behavior of its governments does not “delegitimize” it, any more than the bad behavior of the rulers of North Korea, Sudan — or, indeed, the United States — “delegitimizes” them. When Israel breaks international law, it should be pressed to desist; but it is precisely because it is a state under international law that we have that leverage.

Some critics of Israel are motivated by a wish that it did not exist — that it would just somehow go away. But this is the politics of the ostrich: Flemish nationalists feel the same way about Belgium, Basque separatists about Spain. Israel is not going away, nor should it. As for the official Israeli public relations campaign to discredit any criticism as an exercise in “de-legitimization,” it is uniquely self-defeating. Every time Jerusalem responds this way, it highlights its own isolation.

No. 2: Israel is/is not a democracy

Perhaps the most common defense of Israel outside the country is that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is largely true: the country has an independent judiciary and free elections, though it also discriminates against non-Jews in ways that distinguish it from most other democracies today. The expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged.

But the point is irrelevant. “Democracy” is no guarantee of good behavior: most countries today are formally democratic — remember Eastern Europe’s “popular democracies.” Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that “democracies don’t make war.” It is a democracy dominated and often governed by former professional soldiers: this alone distinguishes it from other advanced countries. And we should not forget that Gaza is another “democracy” in the Middle East: it was precisely because Hamas won free elections there in 2005 that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel reacted with such vehemence.

No. 3: Israel is/is not to blame

Israel is not responsible for the fact that many of its near neighbors long denied its right to exist. The sense of siege should not be underestimated when we try to understand the delusional quality of many Israeli pronouncements.

Unsurprisingly, the state has acquired pathological habits. Of these, the most damaging is its habitual resort to force. Because this worked for so long — the easy victories of the country’s early years are ingrained in folk memory — Israel finds it difficult to conceive of other ways to respond. And the failure of the negotiations of 2000 at Camp David reinforced the belief that “there is no one to talk to.”

But there is. As American officials privately acknowledge, sooner or later Israel (or someone) will have to talk to Hamas. From French Algeria through South Africa to the Provisional I.R.A., the story repeats itself: the dominant power denies the legitimacy of the “terrorists,” thereby strengthening their hand; then it secretly negotiates with them; finally, it concedes power, independence or a place at the table. Israel will negotiate with Hamas: the only question is why not now.

No. 4: The Palestinians are/are not to blame

Abba Eban, the former Israeli foreign minister, claimed that Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He was not wholly wrong. The “negationist” stance of Palestinian resistance movements from 1948 through the early 1980s did them little good. And Hamas, firmly in that tradition though far more genuinely popular than its predecessors, will have to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

But since 1967 it has been Israel that has missed most opportunities: a 40-year occupation (against the advice of its own elder statesmen); three catastrophic invasions of Lebanon; an invasion and blockade of Gaza in the teeth of world opinion; and now a botched attack on civilians in international waters. Palestinians would be hard put to match such cumulative blunders.

Terrorism is the weapon of the weak — bombing civilian targets was not invented by Arabs (nor by the Jews who engaged in it before 1948). Morally indefensible, it has characterized resistance movements of all colors for at least a century. Israelis are right to insist that any talks or settlements will depend upon Hamas’s foreswearing it.

But Palestinians face the same conundrum as every other oppressed people: all they have with which to oppose an established state with a monopoly of power is rejection and protest. If they pre-concede every Israeli demand — abjurance of violence, acceptance of Israel, acknowledgment of all their losses — what do they bring to the negotiating table? Israel has the initiative: it should exercise it.

No. 5: The Israel lobby is/is not to blame

There is an Israel lobby in Washington and it does a very good job — that’s what lobbies are for. Those who claim that the Israel lobby is unfairly painted as “too influential” (with the subtext of excessive Jewish influence behind the scenes) have a point: the gun lobby, the oil lobby and the banking lobby have all done far more damage to the health of this country.

But the Israel lobby is disproportionately influential. Why else do an overwhelming majority of congressmen roll over for every pro-Israel motion? No more than a handful show consistent interest in the subject. It is one thing to denounce the excessive leverage of a lobby, quite another to accuse Jews of “running the country.” We must not censor ourselves lest people conflate the two. In Arthur Koestler’s words, “This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence.”

No. 6: Criticism of Israel is/is not linked to anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, and Israel is a Jewish state, so of course some criticism of it is malevolently motivated. There have been occasions in the recent past (notably in the Soviet Union and its satellites) when “anti-Zionism” was a convenient surrogate for official anti-Semitism. Understandably, many Jews and Israelis have not forgotten this.

But criticism of Israel, increasingly from non-Israeli Jews, is not predominantly motivated by anti-Semitism. The same is true of contemporary anti-Zionism: Zionism itself has moved a long way from the ideology of its “founding fathers” — today it presses territorial claims, religious exclusivity and political extremism. One can acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist (or “post-Zionist”). Indeed, given the emphasis in Zionism on the need for the Jews to establish a “normal state” for themselves, today’s insistence on Israel’s right to act in “abnormal” ways because it is a Jewish state suggests that Zionism has failed.

We should beware the excessive invocation of “anti-Semitism.” A younger generation in the United States, not to mention worldwide, is growing skeptical. “If criticism of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is potentially ‘anti-Semitic,’ why take seriously other instances of the prejudice?” they ask, and “What if the Holocaust has become just another excuse for Israeli bad behavior?” The risks that Jews run by encouraging this conflation should not be dismissed.

Along with the oil sheikdoms, Israel is now America’s greatest strategic liability in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thanks to Israel, we are in serious danger of “losing” Turkey: a Muslim democracy, offended at its treatment by the European Union, that is the pivotal actor in Near-Eastern and Central Asian affairs. Without Turkey, the United States will achieve few of its regional objectives — whether in Iran, Afghanistan or the Arab world. The time has come to cut through the clichés surrounding it, treat Israel like a “normal” state and sever the umbilical cord.

Tony Judt is the director of the Remarque Institute at New York University and the author, most recently, of “Ill Fares the Land.”

via Op-Ed Contributor – Talking About Israel, Without the Clichés – NYTimes.com.

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Dyer on breaking the Gaza blockade: try again

Syndicated Canadian columnist Gwynne Dyer writes:

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Britain, France, Germany and Russia have done the same. After Israeli commandos killed nine peace activists aboard a ship that was trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, even U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the blockade “unsustainable and unacceptable.” But how can it be ended?

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, predictably, is brazening it out. He blames the victims for their own deaths. They were “violent Turkish terror extremists” on a “ship of hate”: people so violent and Turkish and terroristic and extremist that the poor Israeli commandos had no choice but to fire 30 bullets into the nine who were killed, and wound 30-odd others for good measure.

Anybody with the slightest experience of the real world knows what must have happened on the deck of Mavi Marmara, the aid ship in question. A bunch of over-confident, under-trained Israeli commandos ran into unexpected resistance from activists, a few of whom had improvised but serious weapons like iron bars. Maybe one or two had knives. And one or two of the commandos panicked and opened fire.

Then the rest of the commandos joined in, presumably thinking that the shooters were responding to a real threat. They all blasted away for 20 or 30 seconds, and when their magazines were empty there were 40 bodies on the deck, some writhing in pain and others lying very still. After that, there was nothing the commandos could do but come up with a story that excused their actions.

This atrocious event has put the Israeli policy of blocking supplies to the Gaza Strip in the spotlight and raises two questions. Does it really give Israel added security at a reasonable cost to Palestinians? And if it is doesn’t, then how can it be ended?

The blockade of Gaza began in 2007, after Hamas, which does not recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state, won a brief civil war and took control of the densely populated territory. It launched thousands of crude, home-made rockets against towns in southern Israel, killing 10 Israelis, so in early 2009 Israel attacked the Gaza Strip.

At least 1,300 Palestinians died, and only 13 Israelis. Since then Hamas has observed a cease-fire. Other Palestinian militants still launch sporadic rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, but only one person in Israel has been killed in the past 18 months. Yet the blockade continues unabated.

Only one-quarter of the normal volume of supplies makes it through the sole Israeli checkpoint.

As a result, the 1.5 million people in the Strip have been reduced to abject poverty, and Israel seems determined to keep up the pressure until they reject Hamas (which they backed in free elections in 2007) and overthrow it. Just how they are to do that, however, is not clear.

Israel has the right to prevent weapons from entering the Gaza Strip, but it is hard to see how cement, macaroni, soccer balls, tomato paste and fruit juices (all banned) fit that description. In any case, the materials to make the rockets has always come in through tunnels under the frontier with Egypt, and is unaffected by Israel’s blockade.

The blockade is simply collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. It has not overthrown Hamas, but instead has strengthened its control over the population. It should be ended, but how?

The Israeli government is now on the defensive on this issue, and a cheap and effective tactic would be to send another aid ship or flotilla to run the blockade every week or so. The cargo should be inspected and certified as weapons-free by the port authorities in Greece, Italy, France or wherever they sail from.

The blockade-runners should not agree to go to an Israeli port, because then their cargo would fall victim to Israel’s blockade rules. (Almost all of Mavi Marmara’s 10,000 tons of cargo was construction materials, and would have been blocked by the Israelis.) The ships should not surrender at the first challenge, but sail on towards Gaza and compel the Israelis to conduct hostile boarding operations against them.

The crews should not physically resist the Israeli troops, but some of them would probably be hurt. Would some be killed? Possibly, though Israel will try to avoid another public relations disaster. Might they end up serving jail sentences in Israel? Maybe, if Netanyahu’s government is in a particularly self-destructive mood.

Volunteers can easily be found for these aid missions, and so can the money to pay for them. Carry out one operation a week for the next couple of months, and the blockade would almost certainly crumble. Netanyahu’s government would either change its policy or fall. Either outcome would be greeted with pleasure in almost every capital in the world, including Washington.

via Dyer: How to break the Gaza blockade? Try again – Salt Lake Tribune.

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Cole on Haiti, history and the media

Informed Comment: Milne: Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of ” . . . colonial exploitation.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Milne: Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of ” . . . colonial exploitation

Seumas Milne: “Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of a uniquely brutal ­relationship with the outside world — notably the US, France and Britain — stretching back centuries.” (h/t reddit.com).

One of the many ways in which Aljazeera is superior to American news programs is that it has a frequent 5-minute History spot, in which reporters review some key historical turning point. In all the wall-to-wall coverage of Haiti’s earthquake that I have seen on US news channels, I cannot remember Toussaint L’Ouverture being mentioned even once. I cannot remember any extended consideration of the decades when the US Marines ruled the country or why FDR stopped that. I can’t remember a report on recent US history with Aristide.

It is as though a top executive actively ordered the reporters to avoid any context, any background, any history. The so-called “History Channel” has nothing about Haiti. The shows are “Sniper,” “Extreme Marksmen,” “Seven Signs of the Apocalypse,” and the “Nostradamus Effect.”

There have been a couple of good essays at the History News Network, but they are more impassioned op-eds than explanations of the history (see “Too Hard for the White Folks? Americans and the Haitian Revolution,” and Haiti’s troubled history with the US and France.

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the History!”

Since MSNBC is positioning itself as a ‘progressive’ news network, couldn’t it do up some inexpensive short spots on historical background?

Milne continues:

“When the liberation theologist Aristide was elected on a platform of development and social justice, his challenge to Haiti’s oligarchy and its international sponsors led to two foreign-backed coups and US invasions, a suspension of aid and loans, and eventual exile in 2004. Since then, thousands of UN troops have provided security for a discredited political system, while ­global financial institutions have imposed a relentlessly neoliberal diet, pauperising Haitians still further.

Thirty years ago, for example, Haiti was self-sufficient in its staple of rice. In the mid-90s the IMF forced it to slash tariffs, the US dumped its subsidised surplus on the country, and Haiti now imports the bulk of its rice. Tens of thousands of rice farmers were forced to move to the jerry-built slums of Port-au-Prince. Many died as a result last week.”

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Hussein Ibish: one-state ‘outcome’ is not a one-state ‘solution’

Is Hussein Ibish a level-headed pragmatist key to Palestine’s future, or a Washington socialite unwittingly co-opted by an intellectually bankrupt mainstream? I don’t know…it’s a loaded question, but it got you reading. In any case, he does a impressive job of distinguishing bewteen a one-state ‘solution’ (potentially desirable) and one-state ‘outcome’ (unthinkably disastrous). From Jeffrey Golberg’s blog via Juan Cole:

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which is the leading American group advocating for an independent Palestine alongside Israel, has a new book out, “What’s Wrong With the One-State Agenda?” which does a comprehensive job of demolishing the arguments made by those who think that Israel should be eliminated and replaced by a single state of Jews and Palestinians. He has performed an important service with this book by noting one overwhelming truth about this debate: Virtually no one in Israel wants a single-state between the river and the sea. It’s useful to remember this salient fact when listening to the ostensibly reality-based arguments of the one-staters.

I spoke to Ibish about his arguments last week, shortly after he spoke at the J Street conference. Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Jeffrey Goldberg: What were your impressions of the conference?

Hussein Ibish: It was impressive as a first step. My impression is that there’s still quite a bit of message-cohesion and message-formulation to be done. It seemed to me to be an insufficiently coherent group of people. The range of people was so large.

JG: You mean on the Zionist spectrum?

HI: I mean people ranging from the sort of centrist-center left, all the way to post-Zionists, anti-Zionists, who were there, too. It’s not ultimately a group that’s going to form, I think, a functional coalition. Right now, they’re finding their feet. This is normal, it’s inevitable — but at a certain point, I think they have to clarify what they are, who their constituency is, what they stand for, who they are, who they’re not. They’ve been more successful in creating a space for themselves as a new voice that is compelling, but at other moments it’s looked like where they were simply positioning themselves as the alternative to AIPAC. And my sense of things is that, initially, that they would look too much to their rivals. But sooner rather than later, they’re going to have to just move on and start to define themselves in a much more coherent and pro-active way, not just in contrast to the traditional Jewish organizations but also to distinguish themselves from people in the Jewish community whose criticism of Israel makes them anathema to the mainstream of the community. They can’t go there and I think they’ve tried not to go there.

JG: You can’t be Zionist and non-Zionist at the same time, in other words.

HI: Exactly. I think it’s essential for them. For us, it’s not important.

JG: Well, isn’t it important to have a pro-Israel, pro-two-state organization in Washington that’s credibly Jewish?

HI: It is. But I believe that all of the mainstream organizations are moving in that direction. I think begrudgingly, without enthusiasm, I think they’re all getting there, because I think ultimately the only organization that I can think of that is absolutely opposed to a two-state agreement are on the far right, the Zionist Organization of America, which is in favor of the occupation without reservations and, on the left, Jewish Voices for Peace, which is a one-state group all the way and without reservation. It seems to me everybody else occupies some space in the middle without being one-staters and without being flag-waving pro-settlers.

Now, the question is, from our point of view, what’s really important is that the Jewish community have a range of dynamic organizations that are effective in advocating for peace based on two states, number one. And number two, that we can work with everybody who is in favor of a two-state solution without any other preconditions. I mean, we don’t want to get involved in intra-Jewish rivalries. We want to work with everyone who wants peace based on two states. It’s as simple as that. We don’t have a huge stake in where J Street ultimately positions itself, but I will say this: The more mainstream it can become, the more powerful and important it will be. I think they should be as mainstream as possible, they should avoid the impression they sometimes give that they’re perhaps not being sensitive to fears about Israel’s security. There’s a real appetite for a more robust, more aggressively pro-peace organization in the Jewish community. But from our perspective, the only people we don’t want to talk to are the one-staters and the pro-occupation groups.

JG: But the one-staters are a very marginal group. I think one of the interesting things you do in your book is show very coolly, calmly, the essential ridiculousness of one-state advocacy based on the simple fact that in order to have a successful one-state plan, you need Israeli Jews to want it, and today, not even one percent of Israeli Jews want it.

HI: You could put all of them in a small auditorium.

JG: I don’t think you need an auditorium. Talk about these guys, the Tony Judts —

HI: I don’t want to be too hard on Judt. Judt put out this argument and then he immediately admitted that it was utopian, that it wasn’t serious and he was just doing a thought experiment. And since then, he basically has more or less withdrawn from the conversation Judt has not been a person who suggests that this is a realistic plan and a serious proposal for the future.

There are two fundamental flaws with pro-Palestinian strategic thinking that focuses on the idea of abandoning two states and going for a single state. The first is the question of feasibility, and it’s hard to argue with that. Obviously anyone who is familiar with this sees the difficulty, and I would be the first to say that success is not assured by any means. Even a two-state agreement looks, at the moment, like something of a long shot. The difference between the two-state solution and everything else is that yes, it’s a long shot, but it would work. And if we could conceivably get it, if we did get it, it would solve the conflict.

The fundamental argument that the one-staters seem to be making, which is that we can’t possibly get Israel to end the occupation and relinquish their control of the 22 percent of Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza) but we will inevitably succeed in getting them to relinquish one hundred percent of the territory under their control. This is a problem of logic. The second thing is that once you’ve realized this, obviously what you’ve done is set yourself the task of convincing Jewish Israelis to voluntarily do this.  The idea of coercing the Israelis into this through military force is absurd, and it could only really be done through voluntary persuasion. What the one-staters argue, actually, is that they don’t have to do that. What they’re going to do, they say, is bring the Israelis to their knees.

JG: South Africa style?
HI: Well, South Africa style, except we don’t have a South Africa equation here.

JG: But they believe they do.

HI: They believe that through the application of what they call BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – globally that they can crush the will of the Israelis and break the Zionist movement. To me, even if you believe that boycotts were plausible, which I don’t, certainly I don’t think the American government and institutions and corporations would participate.

JG: You have to move from the American consensus that supports supplying Israel with the best weaponry to not just a military cutoff but a complete cutoff and boycott. It’s very hard to picture.

HI: Anyone who thinks that is plausible in the foreseeable future doesn’t understand the nature of the American relationship with Israel. The commitment of the U.S., not just the government but American society, is to the survival and security of the Israeli state. And then there’s another aspect, which is the extent to which Israeli institutions, organizations and corporations are interwoven at a very fundamental level with many of those in the U.S.

JG: Right, Intel and Google —

HI: I’m talking about corporate, governmental, intelligence, military, industrial, scientific ties. The point is that you can only take talk of boycott and sanctions seriously if you really don’t understand any of this. And if you don’t understand any of this, then you’re living in a fantasy world. So here’s the thing: Obviously the only real task for one-staters is to convince Jewish Israelis to agree to their solution. But instead of trying to do that, they engage in the most hyperbolic discourse about the badness of Zionism, the badness of Jewish Israelis, the rightness and primacy of not just a Palestinian narrative, but the most strident traditional Palestinian narrative, and the most tendentious Palestinian narrative, the one that places lame for the conflict entirely on the side of the Israelis, that casts Israel as the usurper and what they call in one-state circles now the “temporary racist usurping entity.”  These are the ones, by the way, who won’t talk about my book. There’s a refusal to acknowledge or read my book. I’ve nicknamed my book “the temporary racist usurping book.”  …

These people are trapped in the language of the Fifties and Sixties. You’re talking about a worldview is anachronistic in the most fundamental sense. It doesn’t recognize any of the changes that have taken place since then. For example, the strategic situation that’s emerged in the Middle East, where the Arab states and the Arabs generally have a lot of other things to worry about other than Israel. This is a world in which a lot of Gulf states are extremely concerned about Iraq, and where there are Arab states — Jordan and Egypt — that have treaties with Israel, where Syria has a motive to be civil with Israel that is unpleasant but completely stable, and where it’s a very different environment than simply the Arabs and Israelis are enemies. The other thing that they’ve missed completely, and this is sort of the amazing thing, is the total transformation in American official policy toward the Palestinians over the past 20 years. Twenty-one years ago, there was no contact ever between the U.S. and the PLO. No contact, zero, and no Palestinian statehood is the consensus American foreign policy and it is a national security priority under Obama. People in the House, key positions like the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, Gary Ackerman, Nita Lowey on Appropriations – all of them Jewish American members of Congress, stalwart supporters of Israel, and all of them committed to peace based on two states. And all of them, by the way, who were on the host committee of the American Task Force on Palestine gala last week.

JG: You’ve reached the Promised Land.

HI: Except that we haven’t achieved the results.

JG: Yes, there’s that. But you’re on the road.

HI: Exactly. The transformation in American attitudes is almost mind-boggling, an official American attitude on ending the occupation, which has been the traditional goal of the Palestinians. And at this very moment, a group of Palestinians turns around and says, ‘Sorry, not good enough, we want it all. Not only is a single Palestinian state not achievable, it’s not desirable, it’s not acceptable, it’s not enough, we want it all.’

JG: Who are the leaders of the movement?

HI: People like Ali Abunimah, Joseph Massad, Ghada Karmi, Omar Barghouti.

JG: And you think they’re succumbing to fantastic dreams. This is the traditional criticism of Palestinian politics over the past sixty years, that it’s very hard to separate out the dreams from–

HI:
It goes back further than sixty years. It’s an article of Palestinian nationalist faith that is almost one hundred years old, which is that demography is destiny, demography is power. This notion that if we just sit here, on the land, have children, are steadfast and don’t agree to anything, then political power ultimately will flow to us. In the twenties, they believed if we do that, then, just by virtue of our presence in the land, our numbers, our demography, Israel will never be established. After Israel was established, it was just, “Well if we’re steadfast and we don’t agree, then Israel will be reversed.” Then it was, “Well if we just do this, then independence will come in the occupied territories.” Now the latest version is if we’re just steadfast, we can create a South Africa-like model and we will reverse the war of 1948 at the ballot.

JG: But I have to tell you that for people like me, this is a real worry. This goes with the argument that the settlements are the vanguard of one-statism.

HI: Now there is some truth to this. I think it’s useful for people like (Ehud) Olmert or people like yourself to point out that with the occupation going the way it is, there won’t be a Palestinian state, and then Israel will be in a situation where it is neither meaningfully Jewish nor meaningfully democratic. I think you could claim that already, if you talk about the de facto Israeli state rather than Israel in its normally perceived borders, that is already the case and it will be increasingly so. Now here’s the thing: The alternative, though, is not going to be a single state in the foreseeable future. It’s possible we could get there, but it won’t be a solution, it will be an outcome. There’s a big difference. An outcome of a horrible, brutal, bloody civil conflict that drags on for generations, because even though this demographic issue and the legitimacy issues are crises for Israel, I don’t think they result in the dissolution of the Israeli state

JG: In other words, most Israeli Jews would rather have a Jewish state than a democratic state.

HI: Yes, it’s obvious. And I think that what you would get is a protracted civil war that is essentially an intensification of the civil war we’ve had. So I do say the single state is a potential eventuality, but it would be the outcome of a horrible scenario. Look, the idea that if the current round of talks breaks down and Obama gives up and the U.S. gives up and we all give up, then the alternative is a Gandhian non-violent struggle of sanctions and boycotts that will somehow bring Israel to its knees, that is not the way it’s going to go. We know the way it’s going to go.

JG: Each intifada is more violent than the last.

HI: And more religious. You’ll end up with two sets of bearded fanatics on both sides fighting over holy places and God. It will be a complete disaster. And I think the Israelis will end up ultimately dealing with forces not only beyond its borders, but beyond its comprehension in the long run. This has the possibility of turning into not an ethno-national war but a religious war between the Muslims and the Jews over the holy places with the whole concept of Palestine gone and the Jewish population of Israel in a very unenviable situation, protected in the end only by its nuclear weapons. It’s a nightmare.

JG: So you have three scenarios. One, the one-state solution: Somehow the Jews and the Arabs decide, even though their narratives completely contradict each other, that we’ll be like Belgium, where we don’t have to really like each other but we’ll be fine. The second alternative is the one you described of basically endless war. The third is the two-state solution. But, sorry to say it, we don’t seem that close right now. You have an Israeli government who seems extremely hesitant to pull down any settlements, you have a Hamas government in Gaza, just for starters.

HI: What you do with Hamas, in my view, is you make the situation such that Hamas has to choose, and you do this by creating progress and by creating momentum – and there are two ways of creating momentum. One is diplomatically, which right now, seems difficult. The other is through the Fayyad plan, which is state building in the occupied territories. That would have a very powerful effect. It is extremely important that we use that idea as a means of gaining momentum, that the Israelis do not block it, that the U.S. protect it politically, and that the Arabs, Europeans and the Israelis support it technically and financially. This is a way of really moving forward in a manner that is complimentary and not contradictory to the diplomatic process, and I think people who suggest that this is some kind of capitulation or some kind of collaboration are dead wrong. This is a very powerful way of effectively resisting the occupation without doing anything violent. Israelis may fool themselves into thinking that this is just economic peace, but it’s not; it’s Palestinians preparing for independence.

…read the full interview here.

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LA Times prints Neve Gordon: “Boycott Israel”

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawn from Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv, and Oxfam has severed ties with a celebrity spokesperson, a British actress who also endorses cosmetics produced in the occupied territories. Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world.

Not surprisingly, many Israelis — even peaceniks — aren’t signing on. A global boycott can’t help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one’s own nation.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

…the rest is here.

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