Category Archives: Israel as a threat to peace and democracy

Chomsky’s assessment of the world right now

A few days ago, Noam Chomsky, longtime political activist and social critic, was interviewed on “Democracy Now,” and asked to sum up the first few months of the Trump regime. He said that “anything that can be of assistance to ordinary people” is being “decimated, while anything that adds to wealth and power or that increases the use of force is being carried forward.” Meanwhile, the two most important issues – climate change and the threat of nuclear war – on which our survival depend are being largely ignored. The media are largely taking the bait of daily Trumpist distractions, including the question of whether the Russians interfered in the 2016 US election. “Half the world is cracking up in laughter,” Chomsky said about this, since “the United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like.” Even in Russia, the US government got “their man Yeltsin in.” Chomsky understands that “Democratic Party managers want to try to find some blame for the way they utterly mishandled the election and blew a perfect opportunity to win. But that’s hardly a justification for allowing the Trump and right-wing Republican policies to slide by quietly, many of them not only harmful to the population, but extremely destructive, like the climate change policies.”

Chomsky finds the new hostility toward Russia disheartening, since lessening tensions with that country would be “a step forward. NATO maneuvers are taking place hundreds of yards from the Russian border, and Russian jet planes are buzzing American planes. This could get out of hand very easily. Both sides, meanwhile, are building up their military forces, and the US is establishing an anti-ballistic missile installation near the Russian border, allegedly to protect Europe from nonexistent Iranian missiles, a first strike threat. These are serious issues. People like William Perry, who has a distinguished career and is a nuclear strategist and is no alarmist, are saying that this is one of the worst moments of the Cold War. And we should bear in mind it’s the Russian border. It’s not the Mexican border. There are no Warsaw Pact maneuvers going on in Mexico.”

When asked about Trump’s policies with regard to North Korea, Chomsky noted, that North Korea didn’t seriously pursue a nuclear weapons program till after George W. Bush scuttled an agreement Clinton had negotiated according to which “North Korea would terminate its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and the U.S. would reduce hostile acts. I mean, you can say it’s the worst regime in history, but they’ve been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy. And why are they developing nuclear weapons? I mean, the economy is in bad shape. They could certainly use the resources. Everyone understands that it’s a deterrent.” North Korea is still offering to stop developing nuclear weapons if the US “stops carrying out threatening military maneuvers with South Korea on its border. Not an unreasonable proposal. And it’s worth bearing in mind that North Korea was practically destroyed during the Korean War by some of the most intensive bombing in history. When there were no targets left, the US bombed dams, a war crime that wiped out crops. The North Koreans lived through that, so having nuclear-capable B-52s flying on their border is no joke. Instead of concern about whether somebody talked to the Russians, this is the kind of thing that should be pursued. That’s what anyone hoping for some form of peace and justice should be working for.”

Relations with China are also “an extremely serious issue,” Chomsky said. “China isn’t going to back down on its fundamental demands, concerning Taiwan, for example. And Trump threatening force is extraordinarily dangerous. You can’t play that game in international affairs. We’re too close to destroying ourselves. You take a look at the record through the nuclear age, of near misses. It’s almost miraculous that we’ve survived. As soon as Trump came in, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock was moved to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, both because of the nuclear threat, recognized to be serious, and the threat of environmental catastrophe, which wasn’t considered in the earlier years, but now is. These are, overwhelmingly, the most crucial issues that face us. Everything else fades into insignificance in comparison. They’re literally questions of survival.

There are now three nuclear powers that have refused to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: China, the United States, and Israel. If tests begin again, it would be an extremely serious danger. It was when the first tests were carried out that the Doomsday Clock went to two minutes to midnight. There’s been an inadequate, but significant, reduction in nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, and the New START Treaty is supposed to carry that forward. Russia and the United States have the overwhelming mass of the nuclear weapons. And this would cut down the number, especially of the more threatening ones. Trump has said this a ‘bad deal’ for the United States, suggesting maybe we should pull out of it, which would be a disaster.

Sooner or later, people are going to see through Trump’s con game, and at that point something will have to be done to maintain control. The obvious technique is scapegoating – blame it on immigrants or Muslims. But that can only go so far. The next step would be an alleged terrorist attack, which would be easy to construct or stage. I don’t particularly anticipate it, but it’s a possibility. And this is a very frightened country. For years, this has been probably the most frightened country in the world. It’s also the safest country in the world. It’s easy to terrify people.”

On the question of Iran, Chomsky indicated that for years the US and Israel have insisted that it’s the greatest threat to world peace, even though the US comes first in international Gallup polls. “Nobody else even close, far ahead of any other threat. Pakistan, second, much lower. Iran, hardly mentioned. Why is Iran regarded here as the greatest threat to world peace? The intelligence community provides regular assessments to Congress on the global strategic situation. It’s said for years that Iran has very low military spending, even by the standards of the region, much lower than Saudi Arabia, Israel, others. Its strategy is defensive. So, if they’re developing nuclear weapons, it would be as a deterrent. Why are the United States and Israel so concerned about a deterrent? Because they want to be free to use force.”

When asked for his thoughts “on Syria, Russia, the United States,” Chomsky said, “Syria is a horrible catastrophe. The Assad regime is a moral disgrace. They’re carrying out horrendous acts, the Russians with them.”

“Why the Russians with them?”

“Syria is their one ally in the region. Their one Mediterranean base is in Syria. But it’s kind of like the North Korean case. There have been possible opportunities to terminate the horrors. In 2012, there was an initiative from the Russians, which wasn’t pursued, so we don’t know how serious it was, but it was a proposal for a negotiated settlement, in which Assad would be phased out. The West – France, England, the United States refused to consider it, believing at the time that they could overthrow Assad. Could it have worked? You never know. But it could have been pursued. Meanwhile, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting jihadi groups, which aren’t all that different from ISIS. So you have a horror story on all sides. The Syrian people are being decimated.”

On Israel-Palestine, Chomsky said, “There’s a systematic Israeli program that’s been going on since 1967 to try to take over every part of the West Bank that’s of any value, except for areas of Palestinian population concentration, which can rot on the vine. In 1980, the US joined the world not only in calling the settlements illegal, but in demanding that they be dismantled.”

Amy Goodman: “Now you have David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, who raised money for the settlements. And Jared Kushner in charge of the policy.”

“Yeah, it’s been step by step. Reagan and Clinton weakened it. Obama and Trump let it stand. Meanwhile, the Kushner Foundation and this new ambassador are strong supporters of the Israeli ultra-right, way to the right of Netanyahu. The Beit El, the community they’re pouring their money into, is run by an Orthodox rabbi whose position is that the army should follow the rabbi’s orders. General discussions about this are extremely misleading. What’s said on all sides is that there are two options: either a two-state settlement, in accord with the long-standing international consensus, or else one state, which would be an apartheid state, in which Palestinians wouldn’t have rights, and you could have an anti-apartheid struggle, and Israel would face what’s called the demographic problem – too many non-Jews in a Jewish state. But there’s a third option, the one that’s actually being implemented: construction of a Greater Israel, which won’t have a demographic problem, because they’re excluding the areas of dense Palestinian population and removing Palestinians from the areas they expect to take over. The United States is providing diplomatic, economic and military support for this project, which will leave the Palestinians with essentially nothing while Greater Israel won’t have to face the dread demographic problem.”

On Latin America, Chomsky agreed that after a 10-year period of enormous social progress via socially minded governments, there have been steps backward in the last few years. The popular governments, with the exception of Ecuador, have been thrown out of office, and there’s a deepening crisis in Venezuela. “The left governments failed to use the opportunity available to them to try to create sustainable, viable economies. Almost every one – Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and others – relied on the rise in commodity prices, which is a temporary phenomenon. Commodity prices rose, mainly because of the growth of China, so there was a rise in the price of oil, of soy, and so forth. But these countries didn’t try to develop a sustainable economy with manufacturing, agriculture and so on during this period. Venezuela, for example, is potentially a rich agricultural country, but they didn’t develop it – they simply relied on oil. On top of that, there was just enormous corruption. It’s painful to see the Workers’ Party in Brazil, which did carry out significant measures, but just couldn’t keep their hands out of the till. They joined the corrupt elite, which is robbing all the time, and discredited themselves. I don’t think the game is over by any means. There were real successes achieved, and I think a lot of those will be sustained. But there’s a regression. In Venezuela, the corruption, the robbery and so on, has been extreme, especially since Chávez’s death.”

On the question of whether fascism could come – or has come – to America, Chomsky said that we could be “in real danger, if a charismatic figure appears who can mobilize fears, anger, racism, a sense of loss of the future that belongs to us. We’re lucky that there never has been an honest, charismatic figure. McCarthy was too much of a thug, Nixon was too crooked, and Trump, I think, is too much of a clown. So, we’ve been lucky. But we may not be lucky forever.”

Noam Chomsky’s latest book, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, was just published.

No Hillary for me, thanks.

As readers of this blog know, I don’t put much faith in voting or elections, except perhaps on the local level. Worst of all is the dog-and-pony show we call a presidential election, this year being particularly weird. Looks like it’s gonna be Hillary and Trump, though I’m waiting till the fat lady sings before I give up on Bernie. I just voted for him in Oregon’s mail-in primary, and will be writing him in in November if he isn’t nominated.

I know a lot of people are fearful of doing things like this lest it lead to Trump becoming president, but Oregon’s a pretty blue state, and even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Hillary. I voted for Bill and Obama on their first go-rounds, but not on their seconds, and Hillary, we already know, combines the worst of both.

Here’s what the New Internationalist, a British world affairs magazine I trust, says about her:

“There are many good reasons to be suspicious of Clinton and the agenda she’d impose as president. The Clintons – who still operate as a team, with former president Bill a key campaign figure – remain deeply committed to maintaining the corporate status quo. Hillary has earned millions in speaker fees ($225,000 a crack in some cases) from Wall Street firms and trade associations, and in the early days of the 2007-08 financial meltdown opined that it wasn’t all the banks’ fault, ‘not by a long shot’, instead blaming homebuyers who ‘should have known they were getting in over their heads.’ These days, she talks a good game against bank malfeasance, but her voting record doesn’t back this up, a grateful financial sector continues to flood her campaigns with contributions, [and we all know how politicians change their tune once they get into office].

Those looking for the roots of today’s inequality in the US often trace it back to Bill Clinton’s administration (in which Hillary played an active part), particularly the 1999 repeal of the already enfeebled Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking. ‘Clintonomics’ also moved the Democrats away from their traditional populist commitments to fight poverty, cutting off public support for the poor after just two years.

So the ‘progressivism’ in which the Clintons try to clothe themselves has always been skin deep. As a New York senator, Hillary voted to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As Secretary of State under President Obama, even in a political culture wildly enthusiastic in its support for Israel, Clinton outdid herself by placing almost complete blame on Hamas for the butchery committed by the Israeli Defense Forces during the 2012 Gaza incursion. Two years earlier, she provided a total whitewash for Israel’s murderous assault on an unarmed Turkish peace flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade for humanitarian reasons. The fingerprints of Team Clinton were also all over the 2009 military coup in Honduras that toppled democratically elected but left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya.

Clinton poses as a liberal Democrat while proving her realpolitik credentials by courting the support of conservative imperialists such as war criminal Henry Kissinger and hardline former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. One of her main financial backers, Hiam Saban, is a pro-Israel zealot opposed to Obama’s peace deal with Iran – one of the Democrats’ few clear foreign policy successes.

She claims to have a sense of humor, but it’s an odd one: when asked to reveal the content of her well-paid speech to the high and the mighty at Goldman Sachs, she just laughs.”

No lesser of two evils for me. We’ve been forced to play that game too often under our undemocratic political system, and I’m done with it. It’s not our responsibility that we get no real choice (the reason, in my opinion, why most don’t vote at all — it isn’t “laziness”). Write in Bernie, the name of your real candidate of choice, or “none of the above.” Stick to your truth!

Our collective voice will only be heard when we organize to change the status quo. Even Bernie admits he can’t do it by himself. Good ideas: a proportional, multi-party system and preferential voting (Google them). If we don’t insist on change, it won’t happen.

 

More on the effects of religious fundamentalism (Jewish)

I just finished reading Covered by Leah Lax, a fascinating, courageously honest, and important account of the author’s experience of joining a Hasidic sect as a teenager, entering into an arranged marriage, having seven children, and finally emerging from that world as a lesbian writer in a committed relationship. What most impressed me about this unforgettable book is Lax’s devotion to the truth and the way love, even for those who have mistreated her, infuses it. Definitely recommended!

I’m also rereading Unorthodox and Exodus by Deborah Feldman, the continuing account of a young woman born into the Satmar Hasidic sect in New York. Feldman is also unflinchingly honest, a great writer, and committed to following the truth wherever it may lead. People with these kinds of inclinations find it hard to remain in fundamentalist religious communities and must struggle mightily to find lives in the greater world, but when they share their experiences, thoughts, and self-forged values, we’re all richer for it. The bottom line seems to be, as my experience has also taught me, that there’s no one truth or security to cling to. To be aligned with whatever greater reality is, we have to be open to it in each moment, fully engaging in experiences and relationships that amount to life as a work-in-progress. That takes honesty, courage, and passion, qualities Lax and Feldman possess in abundance.

A somewhat less expansive, but still fascinating male version of this coming-away-from-Hasidism story is All Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen.

On the general subject of Jewish fundamentalism (bearing in mind that all religions have fundamentalist groups), I would also recommend the latest edition of Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel by Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky (2004). As one of its back cover blurbs indicates, it’s a “must-read for anyone interested in exploring the dark corners of an ideology that has an impact on international events.”

Go back to my October 26th post “A novel about the sexual abuse of children in a religious community” for my reviews of Judy Brown’s books, “Hush” and “This Is Not A Love Story,” too, for two more honest and evocative windows into the world of Hasidism. Brown deals with the way sexual abuse of children is covered up in Hasidic communities, and Lax mentions a short story she wrote and published about the similar suppression of homosexuality. She was inspired to write it after hearing of the suicide of an ultra orthodox gay teenage boy in Israel.

Former Israeli soldier says occupation must end

Former Israeli soldier, now author, Assaf Gavron, has a great editorial in the Washington Post today. Below is a slightly edited version:

“I was an Israel Defense Forces soldier in Gaza 27 years ago, during the first intifada. We patrolled the city and the villages and the refugee camps and encountered angry teenagers throwing stones at us. We responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Now those seem like the good old days. Since then, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has seen stones replaced with guns and suicide bombs, then rockets and highly trained militias, and now, in the past month, kitchen knives, screwdrivers and other improvised weapons. Some of these low-tech efforts have been horrifically successful, with victims as young as 13. There’s plenty to discuss about the nature and timing of the recent wave of Palestinian attacks — a desperate and humiliated answer to the election of a hostile Israeli government that emboldens extremist settlers to attack Palestinians. But as an Israeli, I’m more concerned with the actions of my own society, which are getting scarier and uglier by the moment.

The internal discussion in Israel is more militant, threatening and intolerant than it has ever been. Talk has trended toward fundamentalism ever since the Israeli operation in Gaza in late 2008, but it’s recently gone from bad to worse. There seems to be only one acceptable voice, orchestrated by the government and its spokespeople, beamed to all corners of the country by a clan of loyal media outlets drowning out all the others. Those few dissenters who attempt to contradict it — to ask questions, to protest, to represent a different view from this artificial consensus — are ridiculed and patronized at best, threatened, vilified and physically attacked at worst.

Since the start of last year’s Gaza war, there have been several incidents of anti-leftist violence to go along with the attacks aimed at Palestinians: Left-wing protesters were assaulted at antiwar demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa last summer, during the war; left-wing journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz was accused of treason by a Knesset member, a crime that during wartime is punishable by death. He’s since hired bodyguards. This month, people in Afula attacked an Arab correspondent for an Israeli TV network and his Jewish crew while they reported on a stabbing attack. On Friday, a masked Jewish settler attacked the president of the leftist group Rabbis for Human Rights in a Palestinian olive grove in the West Bank.

Facebook pages calling for violence against left-wingers and Arabs appear frequently, and any sentiment not aligned with the supposed consensus is met with a barrage of racist vitriol. One Facebook group discussed how to disrupt a wedding between an Arab and a Jew, posting the groom’s phone number and urging people to call and harass him.

Israelis and Palestinians have been killed as violence spiked in recent weeks, turning the volume up still another notch. Led by politicians from the right (with the perplexing support of members of the supposed opposition), and circulated by the sensationalist mainstream media, there has been a unified demonization of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. This past week, the trend reached its absurd peak, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ridiculous claim that Hitler decided to annihilate the Jews only after being advised to do so by Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of Palestinian Arabs at the time.

There have been calls to kill attackers in every situation, in defiance of the law or any accepted rules of engagement for the military. Such sentiment has led to incidents like the death in East Jerusalem of Fadi Alloun, suspected of a knife attack but shot by police as they had him surrounded. Sometimes, it backfires: This month, a Jewish vigilante near Haifa stabbed a fellow Israeli Jew he thought was an Arab. Late Wednesday, soldiers killed an Israeli Jew whom they mistook for a Palestinian attacker.

The increasingly intolerant, boiling, racist tone of the Israeli conversation is a result of 48 years of occupying another people: of Israelis receiving a message (or at least understanding it as such) that we are superior to others, that we control the fate of those lesser others, that we are allowed to disregard laws and any basic notions of human morality with regard to Palestinians. The cumulative effect of this recent mindless violence is hugely disturbing. We seem to be in an alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society. There is only one way to respond: We must stop the occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle East — those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything. No, we must stop the occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes. So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human.

Whatever the consequences are, they can’t be worse than what we are now grappling with. No matter how many soldiers we put in the West Bank, or how many houses of terrorists we blow up, or how many stone-throwers we arrest, we don’t have security; meanwhile, we’ve become diplomatically isolated, perceived around the world (sometimes correctly) as executioners, liars, and racists. As long as the occupation lasts, we’re the more powerful side, we call the shots, and we can’t go on blaming others. For our own sake, for our sanity — we must stop now.

Just denouncing “terrorism” is simplistic

Denouncing terrorist acts like the recent attack on the office of a French satirical journal in Paris is easy. Understanding what motivates such actions, and thus beginning to find ways to make them fewer, is more complicated. Putting quotes around the word “terrorism” is a start, since one man (or woman’s) terrorist is another’s freedom fighter – though a strict definition of the word is terrorizing a population by whatever means in order to influence behavior. By this definition, American drone strikes against Muslim populations in places like northwest Pakistan and Israeli violence in Gaza and the West Bank are terrorist attacks. In fact, I would say the use of the US and Israeli “defense” forces are in general terroristic, though other motives are also involved.

Note that most of this overbearing and preponderant Western force is used to kill civilian Muslim populations. Some members of these populations may have committed crimes against, say, the US or Israel, but they haven’t been convicted of any crimes in a court of law, and there is always “collateral damage”: death and destruction of innocent civilians and their homes and livelihoods.

In fact, if not in theory, the predominantly Christian (and Jewish) “West” is committed to a war, a latter-day Crusade, against Muslims – or at least peoples who all happen to be Muslim…a “clash of civilizations,” as Samuel Huntingdon famously and erroneously described it.

What’s the struggle really about? Most of the targeted populations are simple tribal peoples only a few of whom have recently been recruited by jihadists. And what they mostly want is just to be left alone, free to determine their own destiny.

What motivates the jihadists? I wouldn’t begin to know, but I would guess a complicated mixture of thoughts and motives, despite the apparent simplicity of their message. The men who commandeered four US airliners on September 11, 2001, for example, were mostly Saudis with no connection to Afghanistan or Iraq (largely secular at the time), and many of them habitually violated tenets of Islam involving drinking alcohol and engaging in other secular, “Western” activities.

Could their motivation – and that of Osama bin Laden, the most famous Muslim executed without trial, along with members of his family, by American commandos – have been at least partly resentment of US superpower imperialism and domination of their home territory for oil?

Could it be that all people just want to be left alone, in peace, to determine their own destiny, including the disposition of their country’s resources? Is it possible that if we respect and stop “othering” each other, if we agree to share resources equitably, all this violence would stop? I believe it would.

If I’m right, cartoons like those in Charlie Hebdo mocking others’ religion in a consciously incendiary way would be curtailed voluntarily. We would all self-censor, respecting each other, and doing unto others as we would wish they would do unto us.

In favor of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, weren’t they really attacking other peoples’ religious beliefs because they thought those beliefs motivated mistreatment of others, including violating their freedom to act and believe according to their own consciences? Using humor for these reasons can motivate positive change, but it has to be constructed carefully in order not to constitute just more fuel for the judgmental and antagonistic fire. It’s possible to puncture someone’s bombastic self-importance in a way that makes the reality obvious to almost everyone, perhaps even the person him- or herself. Gentle shaming, in other words, in the overarching context of group – human – solidarity. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were just guilty of not thinking it through and knowing their deepest motivations. Freedom of speech is important to a degree, but it isn’t the highest value.

Do we need an attack from outer space to get it straight? No. We just need to stop falling for the propaganda of our respective power-mongers. In our case – in the West, it’s state governments and leaders, who only fulfill the needs of small elites. In their case – groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State, it’s individual leaders using legitimate needs and grievances, to advance jihadist Islamic fundamentalism. Or Zionism in the case of the increasingly unreasonable Israeli government (a “Jewish state” amid a multiethnic population can never be free and democratic). In both cases, it’s easy, simplistic mob-think, appealing to our worst tendencies.

Think for yourself. Recognize the legitimate rights of others. Beware states, borders, and patriarchal religious movements. No one belief or idea is right for everyone.