I’ve read numerous articles and blog posts about Barack Obama’s “Jewish problem.” But, comparatively scant attention has been paid to Obama’s declining popularity among the “Zionism-is-Racism” crowd due to his statements on Israel. As I’ve previously noted, since 2006, self-declared “progressives” have been accusing Obama of selling out to the all-powerful “Israel Lobby” because he has embraced such controversial positions as denouncing terrorism and urging Arab countries to implement democratic reforms instead of blaming all their problems on Israel.
The latest chapter in this saga concerns Obama’s recent speech on racism, delivered in the wake of the controversy surrounding his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Reflecting on Wright’s fiery rhetoric, Obama declared:
“The remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”
That didn’t go down so well with Counterpunch writer John V. Walsh, who not only denounced Obama’s “bigotry,” but decided to make his point with the help of a Merchant of Venice-inspired “blood libel” metaphor:
Clearly one of the aims of Obama was to show the Israel Lobby–once more–that he is on its side. There has been concern in certain corners of the Lobby about Obama although in others he is welcomed with open arms. Here Obama shows he can denounce the “perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam” with the best of them. So how did it work? Not too well, it seems. A week later, Bill Kristol, a reliable voice for the Neocon men and the Lobby, was having none of it….So Obama has rendered up his first ounces of flesh to the Lobby, but he has farther, much farther, to go before it will be enough. From his performance so far, it is quite clear that the ambitious Obama will get there eventually–no matter how much blood will have to flow, albeit from others, as the full pound is extracted.
Nice. Meanwhile, over at the far-left rag, Dissident Voice, we have this commentary by Steven Salaita, assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech:
Far from being a marginal item in the life of the United States, American support for Israeli colonization has serious moral and geopolitical consequences. It, more than any other action, generates justifiable anger toward the United States in much of Europe and almost uniformly throughout the Southern Hemisphere. It extends the bloody tradition of settler colonization in the American polity and in its imagination, a state of mind that helps facilitate so many of today’s imperialist adventures.
I won’t vote for Barack Obama. His liberal supporters claim that as a complete package Obama is superior to any other candidate, despite whatever flaws may exist in his platform (if flaws are even acknowledged). To me, though, his revivalist Zionism is a flaw that I cannot overlook and that liberal pragmatists should not ignore. Obama made a choice to court the AIPAC bloc, and we fail in our duty as citizens of a democracy if we do not hold him accountable for his immorality.
Well, Ralph Nader can count on at least one vote…
Ever since John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, got creamed by reviewers in the U.S. press, the dynamic duo has frequently claimed that their book got a much more fair treatment abroad (where, presumably, the tendrils of “The Lobby” cannot reach…)
Recently, I came across a lengthy critique [pdf] of their book by Gert Krell, a professor of international relations at the Goethe-University in Frankfurt. He specializes in peace and conflict research, U.S. foreign policy, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Krell was himself embroiled in a brief controversy back in 2006, when he was one of 25 influential German academics to co-author and sign a public petition that called upon the German government to stop giving “special treatment” to Israel following the Holocaust and warned that this sympathetic attitude could lead to unrest amidst the German people.
Given this background, I consider Krell something of a bellwether in terms of gauging the mood of the German academic chattering class on the “Israel Lobby” question. While his critique of Walt and Mearsheimer was far more sympathetic than other reviewers, he nonetheless found himself in strong disagreement with many of their conclusions.
On Walt-Mearsheimer’s depiction of Israel as a nation whose behavior is little better than its Arab rivals, Krell notes:
I think you could come up with a similar list of sins or deficiencies about almost any country, certainly many of America’s allies, including other democracies, and about the United States itself. If I were a Jewish Israeli, even a leftist Israeli, I would feel singled out.
And while Israel does discriminate against its Arab minority (I am talking about Israel proper here, the situation in the West Bank is different and worse), structurally and individually, treatment of indigenous peoples in the United States, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand with their violent assimilation policies has probably been much worse at least into the 1970s. I feel this comparative perspective is important, because there has been a tendency particularly among developing and Arab countries to equate Zionism with racism. There is so much cynicism and hypocrisy in this debate that one should stay away from it as far as possible. Let me only remind you that the person who introduced the infamous UN resolution in the General Assembly was Idi Amin, one of the world’s worst dictators and butchers.
On Walt-Mearsheimer’s claim that the “Lobby” pushed America into war with Iraq to protect Israeli interests:
The Bush administration would have gone to war against Saddam Hussein even if the neoconservatives had not been around. To be sure, the additional framework of legitimation which they provided was important, but it was more like a highly welcome lubricant for a decision which those in the center of power made for their own reasons.
Mearsheimer and Walt are not consistent in their own weighing of the determining factors….they say Israel plus pro-Israeli groups, particularly the neocons, played “a major role” in the decision; or pro-Israeli hardliners were “the driving force”—without them the United States would “presumably” not have gone to war. Towards the end of the book the authors only claim the Lobby had “contributed” to leading the United States into a catastrophic war in Iraq. And in a footnote they quote Thomas Friedman in the affirmative, who wrote it was not only the neocons who brought the United States into Baghdad but a very American combination of fear and arrogance.
Many people around the world not related to the neocons and thus the Israel Lobby were in favor of military intervention against Saddam Hussein….not least, at the beginning, the majority of the Iraqis themselves.
One last point: Kudos to Krell for speaking out about the rather questionable choice of cover designs for the German and Italian editions of the book (which is more than can be said of either Walt or Mearsheimer):
It has a small American flag with Stars of David instead of the usual American stars….The German cover comes close to a classical anti-Semitic stereotype, and I regard this as all the more unfortunate as there is a precedent on a book from the Nazi era, published in 1941/1942. The author of Kräfte hinter Roosevelt (Forces behind Roosevelt) was Johann von Leers, an ardent Nazi and a vehement anti-Semite all his life. His book has a similar kind of flag on its cover, i.e. Stars of David instead of the usual stars.
From Paul Berman, in today’s New York Times:
Five years ago, anyone who took an interest in Middle Eastern affairs would easily have recalled that, over the course of a century, the intellectuals of the region have gone through any number of phases — liberal, Marxist, secularist, pious, traditionalist, nationalist, anti-imperialist and so forth, just like intellectuals everywhere else in the world.
Western intellectuals without any sort of Middle Eastern background would naturally have manifested an ardent solidarity with their Middle Eastern and Muslim counterparts who stand in the liberal vein — the Muslim free spirits of our own time, who argue in favor of human rights, rational thought (as opposed to dogma), tolerance and an open society.
But that was then. In today’s Middle East, the various radical Islamists, basking in their success, paint their liberal rivals and opponents as traitors to Muslim civilization, stooges of crusader or Zionist aggression. And, weirdly enough, all too many intellectuals in the Western countries have lately assented to those preposterous accusations, in a sanitized version suitable for Western consumption.
Even in the Western countries, quite a few Muslim liberals, the outspoken ones, live today under a threat of assassination, not to mention a reality of character assassination. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch legislator and writer, is merely an exceptionally valiant example. But instead of enjoying the unstinting support of their non-Muslim colleagues, the Muslim liberals find themselves routinely berated in the highbrow magazines and the universities as deracinated nonentities, alienated from the Muslim world. Or they find themselves pilloried as stooges of the neoconservative conspiracy — quite as if any writer from a Muslim background who fails to adhere to at least a few anti-imperialist or anti-Zionist tenets of the Islamist doctrine must be incapable of thinking his or her own thoughts.
A dismaying development. One more sign of the power of the extremist ideologies — one more surprising turn of events, on top of all the other dreadful and gut-wrenching surprises.
By now you’ve probably heard about the ruckus concerning the film, Fitna–a so-called documentary attacking the Qur’an, produced by creepy right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Dutch television won’t broadcast the film, but Wilders plans to release it soon on the Internet.
Dutch TV producer Harry de Winter–a founding member of the left-leaning organization Stichting de Initiatieven en Een Ander Joods Geluidhas (Another Jewish Voice)–decided that he’d had enough with Wilders’ anti-Muslim rhetoric, and created a media sensation when he published a full page advertisement on the front page of the newspaper Volkskrant: “If Wilders had said about Jews (and the Old Testament) what he is now saying about Muslims (and the Qur’an), he would have been charged and convicted of anti-Semitism long ago,” the advertisement reads. In an interview with the paper, De Winter says that Wilders’ approach to Islam is akin to the open anti-Jewish sentiment prevalent in Germany before World War II.
However, Ron Naftaniel of the Dutch Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel, offers a dissenting view, and offers his reasons for opposing Dutch laws that ban blasphemy:
“It is a free choice to be religious. And criticizing someone’s choice is a fundamental right in our democracy. You must be able to say that Judaism is a backward faith and that the Qur’an is a Fascist book. People who are insulted in their deepest convictions do not need to be protected for something in which they believe. You can ridicule that, otherwise you kill free debate.
The position of the Jews [in the 1930s] is not the same as that of the Muslims now. We now have to cope with a world in which extremist Muslim groups are operating that want to destroy our legal order. You must oppose this, but without tarring all Muslims with the same brush.”
It’s become a familiar story on college campuses: The “peace studies” program at the University of Missouri-Columbia invited Hezbollah cheerleader and Holocaust humorist Norman Finkelstein as a guest speaker. This, in turn, prompted a protest from the Jewish community, which in turn prompted the inevitable counter-protest that Jewish students and faculty are unwilling to listen to “alternative viewpoints.”
As the campus newspaper reports:
John Galliher, director of peace studies at MU…said he believes that most people find Finkelstein to be controversial because, for the most part, the press and politicians do not deal fairly with his perspective on the Palestinian people.
“We need to be fair-minded,” he said. ”Sometimes Israel makes mistakes; sometimes the United States makes mistakes.”
Galliher recommends that those troubled by Finkelstein’s visit listen to his lecture and suggest future speakers.
“If you listen to someone, you’ll be more likely to see them as a mere human being, not a villain,” Galliher said.
These kumbaya comments set off the bullshit detector of Rabbi Yossi Feintuch, who lectures on religious studies at the university. A letter he sent to the newspaper reads:
It is disingenuous for Dr. Galliher to say that all that “troubled” citizens who disagree with his choice to sponsor Finkelstein have to do is to suggest alternative speakers. After all, the Peace Studies Program has been actively bringing anti-Israel speakers to campus on a regular basis. For example, from the fall of 2005 to the present, Peace Studies was involved in co-sponsoring several anti-Israel speakers (Ellen O’Grady, Simone Bitton, Joe Carr, Alison Weir, Noam Chomsky and Anna Balzer) without offering any alternative speakers that would present a balanced, rather than a clearly biased, approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
Unfortunately, it is against this background that one could safely infer that the Peace Studies program has not acted in the spirit of peace-promoting as one should or would expect. Certainly Dr. Galliher needs no outside assistance in coming up with names of respected scholars — unlike the scholarly-discredited Norman Finkelstein — who would present a different interpretation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Rather, what is needed is a change in Dr. Galliher’s attitude on how to better use university (i.e. public) money in promoting the cause of peace and academic integrity.
It is quite disconcerting that when it comes to Israel bashing, the peace program director does not need outside advice as to his choice of speakers, yet he requires it when it comes to more scholarly balanced speakers. We would be more than willing to assist him in this cause.
So, you’ve just attended a “teach-in” on the Middle East at your local community center or college campus–and you’ve decided it’s time to take action against the Zionist-imperialist-military-complex.
Welcome to the Revolution! Problem is, when you take to the streets, what do you wear? It’s hard to keep up with the ever-changing styles of revolutionary accouterments. What’s hot and what’s not? (For instance, Cesar Chavez is out, but Hugo Chavez is totally in.)
Here at Judeosphere, we’ve viewed literally dozens of photos and videos of anti-Zionist protests. As a public service, we’re offering this handy checklist [Click to enlarge]:
Tony Greenstein is a Jewish anti-Zionist activist who believes that Zionism is like Nazism, that Zionists helped the Nazis carry out the Holocaust, and that Israel is an apartheid state.
And…he has just announced that he is suing Gilad Atzmon, a Jewish, rabidly anti-semitic jazz musician and anti-Zionist activist.
If you haven’t followed this story–which is perfectly acceptable, since it involves a battle of wills between two idiots–here is the background: Lately, these “activists” have been involved in a public feud, with Greenstein lashing out against Atzmon’s anti-semitism and Atzmon declaring that Greenstein is a closet Zionist and racial supremacist, yadda, yadda.
Greenstein is so mad that he’s decided to seek assistance from (gasp!) the “bourgeois” court system:
“Atzmon’s response to political criticism is not to respond politically but by making vicious personal allegations against his detractors….His behaviour is designed to ridicule, intimidate and isolate his critics and in particular Jewish anti-Zionists or what he terms ‘crypto Zionists and 3rd Category Jews’. Most of his allegations originate on far-right Kahanist sites and he actually thanks one of these Zionists publicly.
Some of Atzmon’s allegations could endanger the physical security of those whom he is making the allegations about. In particular is allegations that anti-Zionist Jews are in essence nothing but Zionist agents within the Palestine solidarity movement. But above all it is designed to demonise individuals and legitimise racism in the solidarity movement.
I have therefore come to the conclusion, as the primary recipient of his abuse, that there is little alternative but to use the bourgeois courts to seek redress.
I have therefore issued proceedings in respect of:
False allegations of serious criminal conduct and fraud. concerning alleged offences over 20 years ago, contrary to s.8 of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
False allegations of violent crimes, in particular against Jewish people
False allegations of race hate crimes against Jewish people
False allegations of vandalising church property”
Makes me wish that we could once again legalize dueling.
Time to revisit the ongoing soap opera that is Arun Gandhi. When last we left the grandson of the Mahatma, he had told a local newspaper that Jews are indifferent to modern-day genocides. (See my commentary here, categorized under “schmuck”).
In more recent news, Arun decided to take his case to the streets of India. Apparently, he’s been upset that the Indian government has not spoken out against his “forced” resignation from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester. In late February, some fifty people joined him in an attempted protest at the statue of his grandfather near the State Secretariat. He and 20 others were arrested for violating prohibitory orders, and later released on bond.
According to a report from United News of India:
Expressing his indignation, Arun Gandhi told UNI, ”The idea was to assemble and protest against the silence of the Indian government and the media on a very important matter. This shows how powerful the Zionist lobby is.” Expressing his disappointment in the government and the media, Mr Arun said he was surprised and saddened at their inaction and ignorance of the US-Israel nexus.
Meanwhile, the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) is pretty pissed off that the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) denounced Gandhi’s anti-Jewish remarks as “simplistic” and “dangerously misguided.” (My God….the Lobby got to them as well!) So, SAJA is praising activists who have endorsed and signed this statement drafted by Sunaina Maira of the University of California-Davis. (Professor Maira is a vocal advocate of closer cooperation between Arab-American and South Asian communities against their common threats of “Zionism” and “imperialsm.”)
Some excerpts from Prof. Maira’s statement:
Gandhi’s resignation makes it clear that he was the latest casualty of the powerful and highly organized pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. that immediately deems any and all criticism of Israel’s policies as anti-Semitic….One only needs to look at the hundreds of responses to Gandhi’s posting on the blog to realize that there were, in fact, countless letters supporting Gandhi and decrying the bullying tactics and censorship of the Israel lobby. Stephen Walt (Harvard) and John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago), authors of the much-publicized book, The Israel Lobby, know a thing or two about this repression.
It is shameful that groups such as the Hindu American Foundation who claim to promote “tolerance and understanding” would support such blatant censorship of Gandhi’s grandson….The HAF has chosen instead to ally itself with groups such as the ADL and to participate in the dishonest and cowardly silencing of any one who dares to criticize the racism and violence directed against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims…..Like his grandfather, Arun Gandhi has paid a price for the larger principle of speaking out in support of justice and freedom.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of “Arun vs. The Lobby”….
Some people enjoy American Gladiators (Show no mercy, Tor!), but for my money there is nothing more fun than a battle royale among pundits.
The subject of the fight is Samantha Power, the Barack Obama foreign policy adviser who was compelled to resign from the campaign after fallaciously calling Hilary Clinton “a monster.” (I say “fallaciously,” because this term is archaic and simplified. Clearly, Hilary Clinton is a cyborg sent back from the future to destroy the Democratic Party.)
Anyway, Eric Alterman, writing in the Nation, denounces the campaign by Commentary’s Noah Pollak to smear Samantha Power as an anti-semite.
Has Alterman read a single word I’ve written? I suspect not. Do the editors of The Nation fact-check their articles? Same answer.
One might be able to take these accusations seriously if the people advancing them fulfilled basic journalistic requirements.
And so I offer the same challenge to Alterman that I did to the fabulist originators of the Pollak-says-Power-is-a-Jew-hater myth: Quote me.
No response yet from Alterman, although Ramesh Ponnuru has this to say over at the National Review:
I don’t see any evidence that Power is anti-Semitic or that Pollak has so described her. You often hear people say that false accusations of anti-Semitism are used to suppress foreign-policy debate. So, it seems, are false accusations of accusations of anti-Semitism.
The Iranian government entertains us with its very own version of Red Scare public service announcements. This time around, it is broadcasting a computer-animated cartoon warning against foreign conspiracies and advertising 113, the Intelligence Ministry’s anti-spy hotline.
The “stars” of the film include Senator John McCain (“a senior White House official, who orchestrates numerous conspiracies against the Islamic Republic of Iran”) and George Soros (“a Jewish tycoon and the mastermind of ultra-modern colonialism. He uses his wealth and slogans like liberty, democracy, and human rights to bring the supporters of America to power”). Like a bad knock-off of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the cartoon recreates a secret meeting. The narrator declares: “Today, global arrogance [the U.S.] and international Zionism, with the help of their spy and satellite networks, are planning regime changes. In order to achieve this filthy goal, they will not shy away from any conspiracy. Each and every member of the brave and honorable Iranian nation must remain vigilant, and report any suspicious activity to the 113 hotline of the Intelligence Ministry, throughout the country.”
Meanwhile, a brief, but interesting news item reported in the Earth Times:
Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami on Saturday warned of the “return of despotism via populism,” ISNA news agency reported. “One of the greatest dangers in Iran is the return of despotism via populism,” ISNA quoted Khatami as saying in a campaign speech in Tehran ahead of Friday’s parliamentary elections.
The reformist cleric was referring to his successor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has frequently been blamed by his opponents due to his populist rhetoric for realizing political and economic promises which he has however failed to fulfil so far.
“The art (of diplomacy) is removing threats and not preparing the ground for them and even welcoming them,” Khatami said, referring to the three United Nations Security Council resolutions against Iran over the nuclear dispute, international uproar over Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic remarks and even the probability of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.
Populism as the new despotism. Fans of Hugo Chavez, take note.