Category Archives: Israel as a threat to peace and democracy

Understanding what’s happening in the Middle East

Are you having trouble understanding what’s happening in Syria and the Middle East? You’re not alone – it’s complicated. I found a good analysis in an interview Ashley Smith of the Internationalist Socialist Review, did with Gilbert Achcar, a professor at the University of London (published in the Review’s Winter 2016-17 issue). Achcar is the author of numerous books including The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder (2006); The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (2013); and, most recently, Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (2016). Smith asked him about the left’s understanding of, and approach to, Islamic fundamentalism.

Smith: One of the key developments in the Middle East over the last three decades has been the rise of what commentators variously call political Islam, Islamism, and Islamic fundamentalism. Why do you argue that this political current is better called Islamic fundamentalism?

Achcar: The term one uses is related, of course, to assessment and political judgment, each term having different implications. People use the term “Islamism” to refer to political movements that regard Islam as their fundamental ideology and program. But the term has also been used in the past to refer to Islam itself, so it gets mixed up with Islam as a religion in the minds of most people who hear it. And because “Islamism” has become almost synonymous with terrorism, it leads people to confuse terrorism and Islam per se, feeding already widespread Islamophobic bigotry.

The term “Islamic fundamentalism,” has two advantages. The most important is that there is fundamentalism in all religions. The second is that the notion of fundamentalism helps in fine-tuning the distinction between different currents and groups that give Islam a central place in their ideological identity. While the goal of an “Islamic state” based on sharia is, to various degrees, common to all the groups in the category of Islamic fundamentalism, these groups pursue different strategies and tactics. Thus, there are moderate fundamentalists who have a gradualist strategy of achieving their program within society first, and in the state thereafter, while others, like ISIS, resort to terrorism or state implementation by force. They’re all dogmatic and reactionary.

S: What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East? How and why did it arise as a political force?

A: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, born in the 1920s, was the first modern political organization based on an Islamic fundamentalist agenda. That was also the time when the theorization of the Islamic state, the core Islamic fundamentalist doctrine, took its modern shape, also in Egypt. There were, of course, earlier brands of fundamentalism and various sorts of puritan sects in the history of Islam like in other monotheistic religions, but the Brotherhood pioneered a brand of Islamic fundamentalism that was adapted to contemporary society in the form of a political movement.

The Brotherhood emerged at the conjunction of a number of events. The first was the proclamation of a secular Turkish republic and the abolition of the caliphate after the end of World War I. This came as a shock for those who rejected the separation of Islam and government. It was also contemporaneous with the foundation of the Saudi kingdom in the Arabian Peninsula, a state based on an Islamic fundamentalist premise, albeit one of an archaic tribal character.

Egypt at that time was ripe for revolution with an accumulation of social problems, terrible poverty in the countryside, a rotten monarchy, leaders despised or hated by the people, and British domination. The Egyptian left was weak, and the workers’ movement had come under repression in the 1920s. So you had a conjunction of factors, which enabled the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism as a political movement capitalizing on popular discontent.

From a historical materialist perspective, Islamic fundamentalism is a striking illustration of what Marx and Engels identified in their Communist Manifesto as one of the ideological orientations among the traditional middle classes. A fraction of the traditional petty bourgeoisie, the craftsmen, and the small and middle peasantry suffer from the crushing effects of capitalism, which develops at their expense turning a big section of them into proletariat, compelling them to shift from a status of small producers or merchants into one of wage earners obliged to sell their labor power in order to make their living. A fraction of these petty propertied classes oppose capitalist development by wanting to “turn back the wheel of history.” Modern Islamic fundamentalism stems from a revolt against the consequences of capitalist development fostered by foreign domination, wanting to go back to a mythical Islamic golden age.

S: What’s the relationship of Islamic fundamentalism to imperialism? Is it in opposition to it or in collusion with it?

A: Both, I would say. The troops of Islamic fundamentalism are people reacting in a reactionary manner to the consequences of capitalism as well as to imperialist domination and imperialist wars. Faced with capitalism and imperialism, they could opt for a progressive struggle, aiming at replacing unregulated capitalism with a socially just egalitarian society. [That’s considered Western, however, and many, at least in Egypt and Syria, think it was tried – and failed – with the Middle Eastern “socialism” of Nasser and Baathism. Both of those efforts centered around dictatorships, however.]

Since it is a reactionary response, Islamic fundamentalism ended up being used by all sorts of reactionary forces, including imperialism itself. From the time it was founded, the Muslim Brotherhood built a close connection with what was and still is the most reactionary, antidemocratic and anti-women state on earth, the Saudi kingdom. They established this link because of the affinity between their own perspective and what’s usually called Wahhabism, the ideology of the tribal force that founded the Saudi kingdom.

The Muslim Brotherhood worked in close alliance with the Saudi kingdom from its foundation until 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait leading to the first US war on Iraq. Till then, the Brotherhood was a major ally of the Saudi kingdom and of the United States, the kingdom’s overlord. Both used them in the fight against left-wing nationalism, particularly against Nasser in Egypt (1952–70), but also against the Communist movement and the Soviet Union’s influence in Muslim-majority countries. This unholy alliance of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Islamic fundamentalist movements was reactionary through and through.

The Saudis broke with the Muslim Brotherhood because the latter didn’t follow the kingdom in supporting the 1991 US onslaught on Iraq. That was because they found it difficult ideologically to condone a Western intervention against a Muslim country from the territory where Islam’s holy places are located. They also had to take into consideration the fact that their constituencies were very much opposed to that aggression, as was the overwhelming majority of public opinion in Arab countries. So, most regional branches of the Muslim Brotherhood condemned the US onslaught, leading the Saudi kingdom to break with them. They therefore sought out and found another sponsor: the emirate of Qatar, which has been their chief supporter ever since. Qatar, of course, is another close ally of the United States in the region, hosting the forward headquarters of the US military Central Command (CENTCOM), the most important platform for US air wars from Syria to Afghanistan.

When the Muslim Brotherhood held power in Egypt during the presidency of their member Mohamed Morsi, they earned the praise of Washington. Other more “radical” brands of Islamic fundamentalism have also collaborated in the past with the United States. Al-Qaeda, for example, originated in joining the US-Saudi-Pakistani-backed guerillas against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan before turning into violent foes of the United States and the Saudi royal family after 1990, for a reason similar to that which led to the Brotherhood’s break with the kingdom.

S: Has the class character of Islamic fundamentalism changed with the development of these state sponsors? Is it still the case that it’s an expression of the petty bourgeoisie or has it become “bourgeoisified?”

A: First of all, Islamic fundamentalism is not restricted to one movement. It’s a broad spectrum of forces and groups, as I emphasized, from the Muslim Brotherhood to jihadists to totalitarian fanatics like ISIS. Even the Muslim Brotherhood is a regional and global organization whose strategies and tactics vary from place to place. If we focus solely on Egypt, however, there has indeed been “bourgeoisification.” After Nasser repressed them, many of their members and leaders ended up in exile in the Saudi kingdom. Several of them became businessmen there and profited from the oil boom of the 1970s. The connection with the Saudi state and Gulf capital played an important role in developing a layer of “devout bourgeoisie” in Egypt – a section playing an increasingly important role inside the Brotherhood.

While this capitalist fraction grew considerably in importance within the Brotherhood, the bulk of its rank and file, its troops, remain among the petty bourgeoisie and poorer layers of society. The Brotherhood was never anti-capitalist anyway, beyond the general calling for social equity that you hear from even the most conservative parties. The Brotherhood talks about caring for the poor, in order to say that Islam provides the solution and that Islamic charity will alleviate poverty. All of this fits neatly with a neoliberal perspective that supports privatization of social care and its delegation to private charities. Unsurprisingly, when the Brotherhood came to power recently in Tunisia and Egypt, they continued the economic policies of the previous regimes. They adhered to IMF stipulations and did everything they could to please the capitalist class, including the old regime’s crony capitalists in both countries.

S: Why did Islamic fundamentalism become such a strong political trend in the Middle East? This is surprising given the rich history of secular nationalism and Communist organization in the region.

A: This is a very important issue. An impressionistic view prevails today, as a result of the media’s continuous reports on various strains of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, that religion, in general, and Islamic fundamentalism, in particular, has always dominated politics in the region. But that isn’t true. Except for Egypt, left-leaning secular nationalists and Communists were prevalent in the Middle East during the 1940s, and things began to change in Egypt with the Nasser’s 1952 coup. His regime passed land reform, nationalized foreign properties, including the Suez Canal in 1956, and Egyptian private assets. The leftwing radicalization of these nationalists – with the towering figure of Nasser central to the process – made them tremendously popular, not only in Egypt but in the whole region and in all the Third World. That was because of their social reforms and their opposition to imperialism and Zionism, which echoed the aspirations of the masses. Early on, after a brief period of cooperation, they clashed with the Muslim Brotherhood and repressed them. From then on, the Brothers became the bitterest enemies of the nationalists, and the Saudis and Washington used them as a weapon against Nasser. They’d lost their appeal, however, having no solutions to offer to the real social problems of the masses, whereas the nationalists addressed these issues in part.

The turnaround came with Israel’s 1967 victory over Nasserist Egypt and Baathist Syria. Like Egypt, Syria had undergone a leftwing nationalist radicalization led by a group that Hafez al-Assad, president of Syria from 1970 to 2000, would topple soon after. With the 1967 defeat, followed in 1970 by the crushing of the Palestinian guerillas in Jordan, Nasser’s death, and the overthrow of the leftwing faction of the Baath, radical Arab nationalism suffered a massive setback, which opened a space for the Muslim Brotherhood’s comeback.

Nasser’s successor, Sadat, reversed all the progressive policies of the Nasser era – agrarian, industrial, anti-imperialist, and anti-Zionist. He released the Muslim Brotherhood from jail and opened the door for its members in exile to return, needing them as allies in his reactionary enterprise. They happily played that role, becoming the shock troops of an anti-left backlash. Sadat allowed them to rebuild their organization into a mass movement, provided they didn’t challenge his rule, and they maintained this relationship with his successor, Mubarak. In the context of a weak organized left, whose most visible section was involved in a similarly ambiguous relation with the regime, the Brotherhood filled a vacuum, attracting disgruntled sections of the population. With funds brought by the new capitalists in their ranks and provided by their Saudi sponsor, the Brotherhood managed grew spectacularly. With their newfound power came ambitions of playing more of a political role than the regime would allow, leading at times to periods of temporary repression.

History shows that when there is a progressive current with some credibility, it can counter fundamentalism. In the Middle East, the left faces Islamic fundamentalism as one of two main poles of reactionary politics, the regimes constituting the other. The progressive forces expressing the aspirations of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising soon tumbled against the regimes, on the one hand, and the Islamic fundamentalist oppositions to the regimes on the other hand, both equally opposed to the aspirations of the revolutionary wave and, in some countries of the region, directly collaborating in thwarting its radicalization.

S: How should the left position itself in relation to Islamic fundamentalist forces fighting imperialism or Zionism? For example, how should the left approach Hamas and Hezbollah?

A: The left has developed a rich tradition that we should draw on in approaching this question. This consists in supporting just struggles against colonialism and imperialism, regardless of who is waging them, without turning this into uncritical support of those waging the struggles. For instance, when fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, it made complete sense for any anti-imperialist to oppose the invasion, even though Ethiopia was ruled by the extremely reactionary regime of Haile Selassie, who wasn’t supported uncritically. The same approach should be followed today. Hamas and Hezbollah have been engaged in struggles against Israeli occupation and aggression, and we support them in this. But Hamas isn’t the only group fighting Israel; there are other groups on the Palestinian scene, and we need to determine within that range of anti-Zionist groups which are closer to our political perspective. The same goes for Lebanon.

Hamas grew at the expense of the Palestinian left. At the time of the first Palestinian intifada in 1988, the left was the leading force in the 1967-occupied territories. But its groups ended up directly or indirectly condoning Yasser Arafat’s capitulation to the US and Israel, opening the door to Hamas. Hamas was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Palestine, which until then had been actually favored by the Israeli occupation as an antidote to the PLO.

Hezbollah emerged after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, but it was the Communist Party and leftwing nationalist forces that initiated the resistance to the invasion, drawing on a tradition of struggle against repeated Israeli invasions. Hezbollah built itself at the expense of these forces, especially the Communist Party. The latter had a strong influence in Shia-majority regions in Lebanon and was therefore seen as a major competitor by Hezbollah, which went so far as to assassinate prominent Shia figures in the Party. Although it became the dominant force in a just fight – the struggle against the Israeli occupation – it isn’t progressive force. It achieved its status while repressing and squeezing out progressive forces waging that same struggle. It’s dependent on Iran, and has gone along with the neoliberal reconstruction of Lebanon.

Similarly, if the US or Israel launched an attack on Iran, we wouldn’t hesitate in supporting that country, even though its ruling regime is reactionary, repressive, and capitalist – an enemy of the social cause for which we fight. This is important to grasp because, in recent years, Iran and Hezbollah have come to the rescue of the counterrevolutionary regime in Syria, supplying it with key shock troops that have joined its onslaught on the popular democratic movement.

In the Middle East in general, tragically, we’ve seen progressive forces align themselves with Islamic fundamentalists against the regimes – as happened in the first stages of the uprising in many countries, and is still happening in the Syria – while other sections of the left lined up with the regimes against the Islamic fundamentalists. It’s crucial for progressives to assert a third revolutionary pole, equally opposed to both counterrevolutionary poles now dominating the scene, if they are, at some point, to embody again the aspirations that inspired the Arab Spring in 2011. Short of that, we’ll see more of the ongoing disaster with the region overwhelmed by the clash between the two counterrevolutionary poles. The best scenario in the short term is a coalition between the two reactionary poles, as happened in Tunisia where the local equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood entered into a governmental coalition with the old regime forces, or in Morocco where the king coopted the local equivalent into government. Washington and its European allies are very much pushing for this scenario almost everywhere in the region. Such reconciliation would be beneficial from a progressive perspective, because it would compel progressive forces to oppose both counterrevolutionary poles and facilitate their emergence as the alternative to both of them. The future of the left in the Middle East hangs on getting this orientation right.

 

 

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.