The headline over an article in Ha-aretz by Bradley Burston on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s poker game with President Obama was If Obama wins in November, is Netanyahu in trouble? That’s a question I’ve had in my own mind for quite some time and it begs another. What, really, worries Netanyahu most – the prospect (not real) of Iran posing an existential threat to Israel or the prospect (real) of a second-term Obama?
There is, Burston wrote, something new in the air, something Netanyahu does not like. What is it? “American conservatives have begun to think out loud that Barack Obama will win in November.”
In my opinion there’s a better than evens chance that in the course of a second Obama term, America would put its own best interests first, which would mean an end to unconditional American support for the Zionist state of Israel right or wrong. (As is often the case, the Gentile me and Gideon Levy are on the same page. The headline over one of his recent articles in Ha-aretz was It’s only a matter of time before U.S. tires of Israel).
There are three main reasons why I have that opinion.
The first is my belief that Obama hates being a prisoner of the Zionist lobby and its stooges in Congress. (I think that Max Hastings, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph and a well respected military historian, was spot on when he wrote the following in a recent article for the Daily Mail. “Privately, Obama yearns to come down hard on Netanyahu, whom he dislikes intensely. But the U.S. President does not dare to do this when his own re-election may hinge on the three per cent of American voters who are Jewish.”)
The second, and much more to the real point, is that behind closed doors there are now many in the top levels of America’s military, intelligence and foreign policy establishments who are aware that an Israel which has no interest in peace with the Palestinians, and is led by men who wants war with Iran, is an Israel that is much more of a liability than an asset for the U.S. There is also awareness in the top levels of America’s military, intelligence and foreign policy establishments that Netanyahu decided to play the Iran threat card in order to divert attention away from Israel’s on-going consolidation of its occupation of the West Bank and, in short, to have Palestine taken off the American foreign policy agenda.
The third is the insight given to me by former President Carter when my wife and I met with him and Rosalyn after they had said goodbye to the White House. “Any American president has only two windows of opportunity to break or try to break the Zionist lobby’s stranglehold on Congress on matters to do with Israel Palestine.”
The first window is during the first nine months of a president’s first term because after that the soliciting of funds for the mid-term elections begins. Presidents don’t have to worry on their own account about funds for mid-term elections, but with their approach no president can do or say anything that would offend the Zionist lobby and cost his party seats in Congress. The second window of opportunity is the last year of his second term if he has one. In that year, because he can’t run for a third term, no president has a personal need for election campaign funds or organised votes. (I imagine that incoming President Obama, briefed by Carter or not, was fully aware of these limited windows of opportunity and that was why he tried in his first nine months to get a freeze on Israel’s illegal settlement activity).
So my answer to Burston’s headline question is yes, Netanyahu could very well be in trouble if Obama wins a second term.
A good indication of Netanyahu’s fear of a second term Obama is, I think, the mountain of money his seriously wealthy supporters in America are investing in the effort to get a Republican into the White House who will allow Netanyahu and the Zionist lobby to pull his strings.
Question: Given that he does not want Obama to have a second term, what now are Netanyahu’s options?
I can see three possibles.
One is to watch and wait and hope that there will be a downturn in the American economy between now and November that will assist a Republican presidential candidate to defeat Obama.
Another is to launch a unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear sites (never mind that Iran’s leaders have not taken a decision to go nuclear for weapons and possibly never will unless Iran is attacked).
Question: How might initiating a war with Iran assist Netanyahu to put Obama in real trouble?
One short answer is that the probable regional and global fall-out of an Israeli attack on Iran, including soaring oil prices, could bring what is being presented as a slow but sure recovery of the American economy to a swift halt. And that, most likely, would be enough to guarantee Obama’s defeat in November. (In an analysis for The National Interest, an American bi-monthly foreign policy journal, Paul Pillar, a former, very senior CIA analyst and today a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies, noted that the welfare of American consumers and workers is “not high” on the list of decision-making criteria for Netanyahu and his government).
There is, however, one thing that could cause Netanyahu not to go with this option. Quite apart from the fact that Israel’s past and present intelligence and military chiefs are divided on the wisdom of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, the polls are showing that a majority of Israeli Jews are opposed to Israel going it alone with an attack on Iran. They’re in favour of Iran being attacked but only if America becomes engaged and takes the lead.
And that brings us to a possible third option for Netanyahu. It is to commission a Mossad false flag operation – an attack on a vital American interest or interests for which Iran could be and would be framed.
The Zionist lobby, Obama’s Republican rivals and much if not all of the American mainstream media would promote this falsehood as fact, and that could leave Obama with no choice but to commit American military power. If he did not, his Republican challenger or challengers, assisted by the Zionist lobby and most if not all of the American mainstream media would accuse him of failing to protect America’s security interests and betraying Israel. And that, given the ignorance of American public opinion, would almost certainly be enough to guarantee Obama’s defeat.
For his own part Obama absolutely does not want war another war. He’s frightened, as he should be, of the possible/probable consequences.
Quite apart from the possible/probable economic consequences (including soaring gasoline prices in America), Obama understands completely that U.S. engagement in a new and broader regional war will ignite more anti-Americanism and play into the hands of Arab and other Muslim radicals and extremists, perhaps to the point of assisting them to become the dominant political power in the region. And that, were it to happen, would be potentially catastrophic for America’s best interests in the Arab and wider Muslim world. (Netanyahu would, of course, be quietly pleased because his Israel needs enemies).
So far as I am aware there is no well informed commentator who is prepared to make an explicit prediction about what Netanyahu will do – whether he will or will not order a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran in the closing stages of the American election. If I had to bet my life on it, I’d say he won’t; but there’s a real danger that his anti-Iran rhetoric, described in a recent Ha’aretz editorial as “a combination of wretchedness and megalomania”, may create an unstoppable momentum for war.
As my readers know, I regard Ha’aretz as the most honest newspaper in the world on the subject of what is really happening in Israel. Its view of Netanyahu was on display in a recent editorial headlined Israel must not lend itself to Netanyahu’s vulgar rhetoric on Iran. I think the whole editorial ought to be required reading not only for those who want to replace Obama as president but for all American voters. Here is the text of it (with my emphasis added).
Anyone who cares about Israel’s future could not help but feel a chill upon hearing Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech at the AIPAC conference – if not because of the gravity of the existential threat it described, then because of its sheer vulgarity and bad taste. The prime minister, as if he were no more than a surfer leaving feedback on a website, did not hesitate to crassly compare Israel today to the situation of European Jewry during the Holocaust. And to spice up his speech with one of those visual gimmicks he so loves, he even pulled out a photostat of correspondence in order to imply a comparison between U.S. President Barack Obama’s cautious approach toward attacking Iran and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s refusal to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz.
Netanyahu sometimes seems like he is holding a debating competition with himself. Every speech is the “speech of his life” and must overshadow its predecessor, while afterward, as if they were rehashing a sporting event, he and his aides gleefully count the number of standing ovations, especially from his American listeners. And in order to wring an ovation from the end of every sentence, it seems as if all means are legitimate: kitsch (trash) and death, threats and vows, warnings and rebukes of the entire world.
This time, too, it’s not quite clear what he wanted to obtain via this inane rhetoric – a combination of wretchedness and megalomania – aside from applause. Did he want pity? To prick the conscience of the world? To terrify himself, or perhaps to inflame the Churchillian fantasy in which he lives? But one thing is clear: Aside from the fact that he deepened our feelings of victimhood, insulted the American president and narrowed the options for diplomacy, Netanyahu did not improve Israel’s situation one jot by this speech, just as he hasn’t by any of his others.
Netanyahu isn’t the first Israeli prime minister, especially from the right, to harp on the trauma of the Holocaust. But in contrast to Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, who at the moment of truth also displayed diplomatic and leadership abilities, Netanyahu was and remains essentially a PR man: someone for whom words and rhetoric replace reality. The spine-chilling fear is that one day, all of us – himself included, despite his caution and hesitation – will discover too late that we have become hostages to his Churchillian speech, but without a Churchillian victory.
I’ll conclude with my own favourite story about Netanyahu.
Way back in 1984 I had an appointment for lunch in New York with the Englishman I most admire, Brian (later knighted) Urquhart. He was an Undersecretary General of the UN with the responsibility for conflict management. He served four Secretary Generals and was, in fact, the world’s number one trouble-shooter. Because of his matchless grasp of international affairs and his integrity, he was respected by leaders on both sides of all the conflicts he managed. And he never pulled his punches in behind-closed doors exchanges with leaders. On one private occasion Prime Minister Begin said he should not talk with Arafat. Urquhart looked Begin in the eye and said: “Mr. Prime Minister, I am the servant of the international community, don’t you dare to tell me who I can and cannot talk to!”
When Brian arrived for lunch, he said as he was sitting down, “I’ve just met the most dangerous man in the world.”
I asked who it was.
Brian replied: “He’s just presented his credentials as Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Benjamin Netanyahu.”
For those who might want to lighten the gloom with a laugh, here’s a very funny joke I received by e-mail a few days ago.
A plane left Heathrow Airport under the control of a Jewish captain. His co-pilot was Chinese. It was the first time they had flown together and an awkward silence between the two seemed to indicate a mutual dislike.
Once they reached cruising altitude, the Jewish captain activated the auto-pilot, leant back in his seat, and muttered, “I don’t like Chinese.”
“No rike Chinese?” asked the co-pilot, “why not?”
“You people bombed Pearl Harbour, that’s why!”
“No, no”, the co-pilot protested, “Chinese not bomb Peahl Hahbah. That Japanese, not Chinese.”
“Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese…doesn’t matter, you’re all alike.”
There was a few minutes of silence….
“I no rike Jews,” the co-pilot suddenly announced.
“Oh yeah, why not?” the captain asked.
“Jews sink Titanic.” the co-pilot replied.
“What? That is insane! Jews didn’t sink the Titanic!” the captain exclaimed. “It was an iceberg.”
“Iceberg, Goldberg, Greenberg, Rosenberg, nomattah…all same.”
In-fighting is characteristic of progressive movements. On the right things are much easier. They want a “survival-of-the-fittest” society, small government, low taxes, no safety- net, no brown-skinned people crossing our borders, the right to unlimited profits un-hampered by any oversight or regulations, the right to claim foreign natural resources and to take advantage of cheap foreign labor, and when foreign leaders are not easily subjugated, the right to wage war in the name of “freedom” and “liberty” and “democracy” while waving the flag. The program is quite simple and so agreement is easily found.
Problems occur when someone like Sarah Palin is put in a position of high visibility, and has to be coached on information she should have learned in high school, or when they have to decide whether Mormon candidate Mitt Romney qualifies as Christian. But issues like these are relatively manageable, and all they need is a common adversary to embrace unity over their minute differences. For example it’s easy for them to agree that Obama is a Socialist, even though he more closely resembles a Reagan Republican, because he’s a member of the Democratic Party and they want to beat him.
On the left, however, where activists become active because they actually care about humanity and the planet; care about universal values of peace, justice, human rights, environmental sustainability, and the like, all hell breaks loose on a regular basis. This is because there are many varied perceptions as to what qualifies as fair, just, and balanced, and many varied opinions as to how to achieve these things. It often seems that shades of meaning have monumental ramifications, and degrees to the left, in increments, often translate to irreconcilable differences.
I played a concert with saxophonist/author Gilad Atzmon in Geneva, New York last night, a benefit for the Deir Yassin Remembered scholarship fund. (Put into perspective, two Jews playing a concert, unpaid, to raised money to send Palestinian kids to college.) This morning we happened to meet before breakfast in the hallway of our motel. He said, “I have to show you something. You won’t believe this.” We entered his room, he opened his lap-top, and set his browser on a link to a sort of a treatise, a declaration, prepared by Ali Abunimah and signed by various activists, entitled “Palestinian Writers, Activists, Disavow Racism and Anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon”. What has Gilad Atzmon done to inspire this very extreme action? He has examined, and written about, the issue of “Jewishness”, about HIS “Jewishness”, and about mine.
Why is this objectionable? Some explanation is required. Zionists have long sought to equate Zionism with Judaism. As usual, the right wing has a simplistic ideology: By equating these two “ism’s”, Zionists are able to justify the position that opposition to Zionism means “Anti-Semitism”. Supporters of the liberation of Palestine strenuously object to this, and rightly so. But it seems that many have adopted an equally simplistic view to combat it: Since Zionism and Judaism are NOT the same thing, and since Zionism is the direct cause of the problem, Judaism and Jewish culture are placed out of bounds, taboo, don’t touch them. We don’t want to be called “Anti-Semites”, and we need our Jewish allies in the movement.
The problem with this simplistic view is that it in this case simplicity is not elegant. The reality is that Judaism and Zionism are indeed two different things. But paradoxically, while Judaism specifically forbids Zionism (according to the interpretation I personally accept), Zionism is also clearly rooted in Judaism and in aspects of Jewish culture which are also clearly rooted in Judaism.
It is important to make the distinction between Judaism and Jewish culture because many Jews, and among them many Zionists, are secular and even anti-religious, and yet embrace their Jewish identity as central to who they are. It is also important to make the observation that Jewish religion informs secular Jewish culture, even if unconsciously so. Up until about 1780 there were no secular Jews. There was only Orthodox Judaism, and that influence remains, this even among the significant population who are atheists identifying as Jews and embracing Zionism. I am personally a product of that culture. As both Zionism and Jewish identity are embraced both by large numbers of religious Jews and large numbers of anti-religious Jews, we are left with the problem of what to call their Jewish commonality. Thus “Jewishness”.
On the religious end of the spectrum, we find Orthodox Jewish Zionist rabbis and Orthodox Jewish Anti-Zionist rabbis, both groups spending much of their lives in study of Jewish holy books, and both groups, when they are not studying, pointing their fingers at each other and shouting “Torah Ignoramus!” This is a debate that the uninitiated are not permitted to enter, and initiation consists of life-long dedication to study of Jewish holy texts. There is no choice but to allow them this ongoing fight.
On the secular end of the spectrum are less religious Jews, members of Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues who may or may not be atheists, members of atheist synagogues- yes you read that right- there are “Humanist” synagogues that hold “services” to serve their “Jewishness” rather than God, and finally many Jews who are not members of synagogues at all. Many secular Jews are strongly Zionist and place a very high value on their Jewish identity. So, there is a wide variety of religious belief and observance among Jews, and yet what they all have in common is the valuing of Jewish identity- of “Jewishness”. The difference between the religious and the secular is that the religious understand the origin of the components of cultural Jewishness, and the secular most often do not.
When I was seven years old a little girl in my 2nd grade class told me, “My daddy said you killed Jesus.” I told her I had never killed anyone. I was upset enough about this accusation that I told my parents about it, and they were duly horrified. For many years I attributed this to “classic Anti-Semitism”. I had experienced the misfortune, at a very tender age, of having been victimized with this horrible accusation, which has been leveled against Jews since the dawn of Christianity.
So imagine my astonishment when, many years later, in 2006, I read about Swedish peace-worker Tove Johansson’s experience. She was escorting Palestinian school-children past crowds of hostile Jewish settlers in Hebron, when the settlers began chanting “We killed Jesus, we’ll kill you, too.” They smashed a bottle over her face, causing severe injuries. There are also various other accounts of Jewish settlers proudly taking responsibility for the murder of Jesus, something that I had always assumed was a false accusation, leading me to investigate. I found in the writing of Jewish-Israeli scholar Israel Shahak that there is actually a Talmudic mandate for this claim. I also found that while it seems that relatively few Jews are aware of Shahak’s writing, many of those who are hate him passionately, although none have ever presented me with an actual argument confronting his claims.
I came to support the Palestinian cause after first having come to an awareness of some dramatic problems in the Jewish culture in which I was raised. I grew up in a Reform synagogue where many atheist Jews, and some who had religious beliefs, attended to affirm their Jewish identity, to raise their children with Jewish identity, and to support Israel. I was presented with the idea that it was a privilege to be a member of a universally despised people, who were hated for no reason at all, and who were more intelligent and moral than others. And I was told that Israel had never harmed anyone, that the Arabs just hated Jews for no reason, just like everyone hates Jews for no reason.
Having come to believe in God as a young adult, I had to go back to re-examine the Judaism, or more accurately, the “Jewishness” I was raised with, and clearly identified idolatry: the worship of the twin idols of Jewish identity and Israel. And I began to move away from what I identified as the Jewish identity cult. Even with that awareness, I was so completely indoctrinated in Zionist propaganda, that I did not question the things that I had been told. For example, I did not question the story of Jews who wanted to be friendly neighbors to the Arabs, and of Arab leaders who, in 1948, made radio broadcasts of orders for their people to get out temporarily, while they intended to drive the Jews into the sea. Why should we let them return when they wanted to annihilate us like Hitler?
I understand that Jewish activists for Palestine come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and that there are those who do not have the same needs as I do. I know there are those who would like to support Palestine while embracing their Jewish identity and some who additionally wish to embrace Jewish religion at various levels of observance. But that’s not me, and I will not allow Ali Abunimah and a list of bullies to tell me that I have no right to intellectual inquiry into my religion and culture. Of course, their objections are targeted at Gilad Atzmon, not me. But when they say it about him, they are, by extension, saying it about me, and those like me- those of us who have to struggle to come to terms with having been lied to all our lives.
When I finally came to understand the depth of the criminality of Zionism, and I came to that realization in my middle age, my response was not, “Oh my God, let’s fix this while we protect Judaism and Jewish identity from those who would like to make a connection.” Not at all. My response was a more natural and obvious one: “Oh my God! What kind of sickness do I come from?” I have the right to ask that question, and to search for answers. I have the right to talk to the seven year old victim of “Anti-Semitism” who still lives inside me, and help him to understand his experience.
Back in the 80’s in an interview on the American television show 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace confronted Meir Kahane, the infamous Brooklyn rabbi, now deceased, who became an Israeli Knesset member and an advocate for the expulsion of all Arabs from all of historic Palestine (both “Israeli Arabs” and Arabs living in the occupied territories), about a law he proposed.
Wallace: “You proposed a law for the Knesset to pass against Arabs that’s really astonishingly identical to the Nuremberg laws of the Nazis under Adolf Hitler.”
Kahane: “Mr. Wallace, one of the problems of Jews is that they wouldn’t know a Jewish concept if they tripped over one. I merely quoted from the Talmud. Most Jews think Judaism is Thomas Jefferson. It’s not.”
I was raised in a “Jewishness” which presumed to be something very different from what it was. And in that pretense it had me donating to plant trees in Israel, and receiving Israel bonds as bar mitzvah presents. It had me joining Zionist youth groups and becoming president of one, and it had me living and working in Israel during my 20’s, all while believing a system of lies. I have the right to examine the cult that lied to me, the cult that I have survived and left.
I think I speak for everyone who supports the Palestinian cause, including both Atzmon and his detractors alike, when I say that I believe that the first priority for all of us is to stop Zionists from killing the next Palestinian child. How to accomplish this? I think if any of us knew, we would lie, steal, cheat, do whatever it might take. But we don’t know. Does placing limits on parameters of acceptable ideology help to accomplish this goal? Does censorship, censure, expulsion, ex-communication? These are the things that this edict against Atzmon is attempting to accomplish. Does it actually accomplish anything or is it just divisive? Are the Zionists enjoying watching a split among the pro-Palestine camp?
Clearly requiring certain parameters is reasonable. For example, there are those who sympathize with both the cause of white supremacy and with the Palestinian cause. Those people would do the most good for Palestine by staying as far away from the cause as possible, and they should be shunned and avoided. But that’s not who Atzmon is, or who I am. There is no racism here. There is simply examination of the religion and culture that produced Zionism.
Abunimah puts words in Atzmon’s mouth:
“…one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist.”
I fail to see how this attitude can be attributed to Atzmon when he openly speaks of the Neturei Karta Orthodox Anti-Zionist Jews. But again, a simplistic interpretation would be lacking. The fact of the existence of Anti-Zionist Jews should not be taken as evidence that Zionism is not connected with Judaism, Jewish culture, or “Jewishness”. The Neturei Karta also believe in exile from this land and return to it, just not at the present time under present circumstances.
I understand that from the Palestinian point of view, many consider inquiry into “Jewishness” superfluous. They just want Zionism to end, and this is reasonable. But why won’t it end? The UN passed Resolution 194 64 years ago, and re-ratified it numerous times. Why have the refugees not been allowed back? There have been various “peace processes”. Why is there no peace? American administrations have been pressuring to end settlement expansion for decades. Why are settlements still expanding? What is behind the almost super-human capacity for Zionist belligerence? for Zionist disingenuousness? Why is it that the world governments look the other way and pretend it isn’t going on? And how is it possible that America is fighting wars for Israel? How is it possible that for all of my life I’ve been listening to my people whine over the holocaust while failing to admit that any crimes were committed in Palestine? How deep is a cult that was able to hide from me, one of its children, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine for most of my life?
For those who want to insist that Zionism is some bizarre aberration that grew out of an otherwise healthy Jewish culture and religion, that’s fine for them. Having been lied to all my life, I wanted to know what Kahane meant when he sneered at me and told me I wouldn’t know a Jewish idea if I tripped over it. And now I know. Certainly I have the right to free inquiry, and to the expression of ideas, and so does Gilad Atzmon.
If there are those who dislike Atzmon’s ideas, they are free to write their own and express disagreement. They are free to state that Atzmon does not represent them. But to organize a list of those who agree to disavow him is disgraceful, and in my opinion does not serve the cause. There should be a retraction and an apology.
But why then and why now?
First now, because his rather lacklustre Electronic Intifada, now well past its sell-by date is now being totally eclipsed by deLiberation.
And second, because above all else, Ali Abunimah needs to protect and enhance his western-based solidarity career. Ali Abunimah knows that as with pretty much everything in the west, if the Jews don’t want it, it’s not going to happen and compared to that, truth and courage mean precisely nothing.
God save us all from such people.