secularavatar: March 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
  Omerta Violated by the Realists
Divestment fear and loathing at both ends of Mass Ave

The recent publication of the "expose" of AIPAC and the Israeli lobby by two so-called realists -- John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt -- under the aegis of the Kennedy School of Government appears to be occasioning a burgeoning fit of vapors. CounterPunch accorded the document “website of the weekend” billing on 3/18 and since then commentary and excoriation has begun to flow in both virtual and print venues. Whether the information contained in the piece will propagate to a wider audience is yet to be seen.

The first and most glaring effect of the piece is that the American left has been embarrassingly rumbled. For years Jeff Blankfort has been valiantly documenting the activities and reach of the Israeli lobby industriously calling out the legion of "gatekeepers" within the American left who have maintained resistance to broaching the subject. Down at the other end of Massachusetts Avenue Noam Chomsky complacently perched atop his progressive throne has been leading the effort to fend off Blankfort’s sallies. Chomsky worshippers who are legion within the American left have modeled his behavior unquestioningly unable to violate the dread omerta veiling the subject in these United States.

The nub of Chomky’s argument is that Israel is but an automaton acting entirely at the behest of American foreign policy directives; a favorite image is that of Israelis piloting American aircraft following operational plans drawn up in Washington. Presumably this representation insures Israeli innocence conjuring up as it does the old refrain "I was only following orders". Well-known progressive scholars -- Phyllis Bennis, Joel Beinin and Stephen Zunes – likewise toe the line regarding the Israel lobby. Bennis once sniffily responded to a public effort by Blankfort to raise the subject, "The issue is dead and has been dead" which rejoinder’s curious combination of tenses suggests a double and therefore final death with no hope of resuscitation. Within the rank-and-file of leftist organizations this widespread attitude has resulted in a long and damaging marginalization of the entire issue of Palestine. Suddenly a couple of liberal establishment elites broke the ice.

The question remains: Why is this "expose" being trundled out now? The revelations contained therein are -- quite frankly -- a big yawn. The information upon which the authors base their premise has long been available for those with the eyes to see it. The only real novelty is that elites are writing about the subject and under the august Kennedy School logo to boot. A KSG grad informs us that Walt coyly hinted several years ago that he was working on a paper about "the Lobby" that would cause an uproar when published. If this is the bombshell alluded to why did it take so long? Certainly the research portion could not have been that time-consuming. Our interlocutor suggests that perhaps now that anti-Semitism vigilante Larry Summers has tendered his resignation the authors felt sufficiently free to air the subject. But the underlying reason as to why Walt and Mearscheimer felt compelled to go public at all with America’s dirty little public policy secret is contained in a single sentence in the penultimate summary paragraph:

This course [of AIPAC behavior] raises the awful specter of Israel one day occupying the pariah status once reserved for apartheid states like South Africa. [emphasis added]

Ah, so now it is revealed why a couple of liberal elites have dared to so expose themselves. Throughout their paper the pair assert "Israel’s right to exist" and call for American "even-handedness" thereby frantically signaling to Zionist snipers in the underbrush, "See guys, we’re really, really on your side". That single sentence reveals the authors’ true concern that AIPAC activities will ultimately damage Israel and its right to exist as a Jewish state: Like the specter that once haunted Europe, the awfulness of equating Israel and apartheid South Africa is a nightmare which has begun to keep liberal elites up at night (although apparently it has kept some progressives tossing and turning for years). The divestment and boycott movement has begun to register gains and the result of its final success will be inevitable: As in the case of South Africa, the end of the Israeli brand of apartheid – for apartheid it is – will mean an end to the underlying racist nature of the Israeli state which, alas, is regarded as sacrosanct by multitudes of Bible-besotted westerners, progressives and liberal elites included.

Even without sleep the authors are sufficiently nimble to engage in a bit of mitigation, their propensity for spin nigh instinctive. Lo, with a single 'S' the authors magically increase the number of states qualifying for apartheid status to an unknown plurality! Israel will not be the sole nation equivalent to apartheid South Africa but will join a contrived group of apartheid entities in which the Zionist state will be one of the crowd. Still, strong measures are in order to avert this awful outcome and thus AIPAC shenanigans have become fair game. The authors' desperation to rescue Israel as a Jewish state, to save Israel from itself drives them to hurl themselves on the altar of anti-Semitic smear-mongering.

The divestment/boycott movement – urgently requested of the world last summer by Palestinian civil society -- presents a considerable threat to Israel's continued existence as a racist apartheid state and thus all hands are on deck to thwart its success from the halls of academe to FrontPage ravers and burrowing moles in the Green Party. Oh-so-tentative church-based divestment resolutions have faced incoming flack and pressure. British architects have been threatened with projects withdrawn and fees snatched unless they recant and beg forgiveness. An AUT boycott in Britain was instituted last year but collapsed in one month under Zionist pressure. The Somerville (MA) Divestment Project has launched repeated efforts to pass a town divestment resolution only to meet a well-oiled aggressive opposition which included the spectacle of an Israeli consul general – obligingly furnished with a town police escort -- testifying at a public hearing on the subject of the disposition of US taxpayer dollars. The ACLU recently took up the case of SDP’s exclusion from a town-sponsored arts festival last summer because of unspecified "complaints" while other political action groups were free to flog their issues at the same event.

November last the Green Party of the United States endorsed Proposition 190 which called "for a comprehensive strategy of boycott and divestment that would pressure the government of Israel to guarantee human rights for Palestinians". Although the GPUS had previously adopted a platform plank supporting Palestinian right of return suggesting that a single democratic state might be the optimal green solution, Prop 190 has occasioned a more virulent response. Oregon businessman Gary Acheatel was so exercised by such impertinence he joined the party for the express purpose of defeating the divestment proposition and established a blue-and-white themed website devoted to the campaign. Phyllis Chesler, shill for the "new Anti-Semitism", was pleased to declare that the party had been hijacked by a team of Islamists and Marxists. And Lorna Salzman, a former GPUS presidential candidate who has made no secret of her racist view of Arabs, chimed in declaring that the "US Green Party has given aid and comfort to both anti-Semites and terrorist organizations". The divestment movement is regarded as such a danger that even a statement by a very minor political party is a menace to be stamped out with full force.

As my dear old granddad the unrepentant Hungarian socialist used to say, "If they’re screaming, you’re getting near the truth". The Israeli divestment and boycott movement has touched a raw nerve among rightwingers, progressives and liberals alike. The forbidden, nay awful, equation of apartheid South Africa and Israel looms as a nightmare for all of those with a political/religious stake in maintaining the exclusivist nature of the Israeli state. However, with this official outing of "the Lobby" we may hope that more progressives will regain their bottle and -- thus emboldened –- properly put their shoulders to the wheel of Israeli divestment and boycott and heave to.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
  The levees come down and the Apartheid wall goes up:
Katrina, Mardi Gras and Palestine

"Every savage can dance"
During the 1994 World Cup an enterprising reporter in search of local color ventured into a nearby Brazilian immigrant community where the punters were celebrating Brazil’s shootout victory. How, inquired the wondering reporter of one of the celebrants, does such an exuberant and boozing crowd manage to celebrate so long and hard without resorting to fisticuffs? That, replied the Brazilian cheerfully, is because we Brazilians have a drink, dance for an hour, have another drink and dance for another hour and so on. You Anglos just knock back one drink after another until you’re blind drunk and then start fighting.

The cultural and class delineation of dancing and celebration provided by our unnamed Brazilian succinctly encompasses the indigenous Mardi Gras paradigm. The insufferable Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice sums up the view from the other side of the class divide. Upon being pressed by Sir William to join in dancing a jig (with its suspect Irish connotations) Darcy declines, brutally abrupt: "Every savage can dance".

The New Orleans version of Mardi Gras kicks off the Lenten period yet has wonderful, subversive origins in fabled Congo Square, the New Orleans landmark where African-American slaves and Gulf Shore Native Americans hooked up to share drumming, dancing and singing. The value of the cultural cross-fertilization that went down in the Square is incalculable: The roots of blues, jazz, funk and zydeco (said to be a corruption of the Atakapa words for youth dance) all sprang from the fertile soil of Congo Square to our eternal gratitude. Picture, if you will, an America informed solely by pinched and gloomy Calvinists. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

One year before Katrina, Louisiana State University sponsored a what-if scenario called "Hurricane Pam" that eerily portended what was to come: 120 mph winds, a majority of buildings damaged by a massive storm surge and refugees awaiting rescue on rooftops. Ivor Van Heerden, the LSU researcher who ran the exercise, reported that attending FEMA officials were unresponsive and the Army Corps of Engineers "giggled" in the back of the room at the suggestion that tent cities be planned near New Orleans to house the anticipated homeless. The disdainful rejoinder was that "Americans don’t live in tents" exhibiting not only blatant disregard for lives of the poor but also an empathetic inability to imagine oneself obliged to live in a tent. The Corps, authors of more than one engineering blunder, along with their incompetent FEMA colleagues were not only short on empathy; they may also have instinctively understood that massing large numbers of largely poor black refugees in nearby locations would be a recipe for ease of return and possible social ferment. Confusion and dispersal allows greater scope for control.

The aftermath of Katrina brought us nothing less than an ethnic cleansing in plain sight yet it passed with scarcely a murmur in the wider American landscape. A few mainstream journalists became momentarily exercised but quickly subsided to routine lapdoggery. Yet the sorrowful image of mainly poor African-American refugees trudging along the highways of New Orleans has not dissipated and the majority of them are still scattered far and wide while our rulers plot to remake New Orleans in a blanched and Disneyfied version of the real, the soulful, the so very necessary thing. Glen Ford of gets it exactly right:

Displacement based on race is a form of genocide, as recognized under the Geneva Conventions. Destruction of a people’s culture, by official action or depraved inaction, is an offense against humanity, under international law. New Orleans – the whole city, and its people – is an indispensable component of African American culture and history. It is clear that the displaced people of New Orleans are being outsourced – to everywhere, and nowhere. They are not nowhere people. They are citizens of the United States, which is obligated to right the wrongs of the Bush regime, and its unnatural disaster. Charity is fine. Rights are better. The people of New Orleans have the Right to Return – on Uncle Sam’s tab.

The Right to Return
In December last, hundreds of Katrina survivors demonstrated in New Orleans with jazz music and offerings to – significantly enough - the gods. Hoisting signs reading "We have the right to return" and chanting "We’re Back!' the protesters voiced a growing fear that New Orleans mostly black poor would remain permanently displaced by design. They marched to City Hall from Congo Square accompanied by drumming and a brass band to demand their rights with a Mardi Gras-esque esprit. "Right of return', so evocative of the Palestinian struggle for justice, is now the shared demand and right of both the Palestian and Katrina diasporas.

The right of refugees to return to their homes and lands is enshrined in international law and in the case of the Palestinians supported by UN resolutions. Katrina refugees may wish to consider the UN as a venue to achieve their own human right to return to their homes. Meanwhile wealthy white residents of New Orleans are returning to their villas and businesses (many never left), some reportedly under the paid protection of Israeli and Iraq-honed American security firms no doubt selected because of their especial expertise in thuggery against people of color as alluded to by the shamelessly violent name of one of the Israeli companies: Instinctive Shooting International (ISI).

The Katrina-Palestine linkage continues when we learn that in order to avoid a PR scandal Israel deferred its July 2005 request for a special $2.2 billion aid package (over and above its usual dole) out of deference to unexpected expenses from Katrina reconstruction. This generous baksheesh in return for the so-called Gaza disengagement was to be earmarked for “development“ in the Negev and Galilee which terminology is barely concealed code for the Judaization of those two critical areas of pre-1967 lands still containing large Arab populations. In a word, completing with US taxpayer assistance any ethnic cleansing left unfinished in 1948.

Shortly after the new year however the Israelis felt sufficiently confident to shed their uncharacteristic reticence and renew their application for the funds. The now-comatose Sharon had set the direction: The main effort post-Gaza disengagement should be to insure Jewish dominance "in Galilee and the Negev, Greater Jerusalem, the settlement blocs and the security zones". Like their white coconspirators in the United States who consider a black New Orleans as a danger to crackerism rampant, the Israelis have long regarded the large concentration of Arabs in both the Galilee and Negev as dangerous to a parallel Jewish crackerism necessary to maintain the genetic requirements of a Jewish state. Blut und boden sleight of hand: Underwritten by lavishing your tax dollars in the first instance and withholding them in the second.

The levees come down and the Apartheid wall goes up
In terms of barrier characteristics and costs, the despicable Apartheid wall when complete will be 225 miles long, 25 feet high and will cost an estimated $1 billion. The levee system is a longer barrier at 350 miles but of varying heights and construction and in some places mere earthen dams. Rebuilding the levees to pre-Katrina strength alone is estimated at $1.6 billion much less than the special package for which Israel has resumed touting. Let us therefore compare structural outcomes: The levees keep out water and protect the lives and properties of all residents whereas the Apartheid wall imprisons residents with undesirable DNA and transfers lands thus confiscated into the hands of those with desirable DNA.

Aside from the aforementioned special package, US annual aid to Israel siphons off enormous sums that could be used for the US public weal. In light of the American Society of Civil Engineers 2005 report that US infrastructure is rapidly crumbling to third world levels (which Katrina promptly demonstrated) US aid to Israel is a drain that sucks away money at rates all the more astounding given that Israel’s ranking by nominal GDP is comparable to Spain, Cyprus, Greece and New Zealand. With a miniscule .001% of the world’s population Israel nevertheless has become accustomed to an annual entitlement comprising a hefty one third of the entire US foreign aid budget or around $3-4 billion. And that’s just what is auditable.

Still more US funding to Israel is buried in budgets for the Pentagon and other federal agencies, to say nothing of the private remittances by Jewish and Christian groups. Furthermore because Israel has been granted a unique status by Congress it receives its yearly largesse in a lump sum the first month of each fiscal year rather than under the quarterly installment plan other recipients are obliged to follow. Richard Curtiss explains the ramifications of this singular sweetheart deal: "That means that the U.S., which has to borrow the money it gives to Israel, pays interest on the money it has granted to Israel in advance, while at the same time Israel is collecting interest on the money". To further personalize this massive outflow; between the years of 1949-1996 the US matched every $1 of aid spent per capita in Africa with $251 spent per capita in Israel.

While Israel was basking in this yearly deluge of dollars it industriously established an intimate collaboration with Apartheid South Africa. Balthazar Vorster, South Africa's Prime Minister during the height of Apartheid, minced no words in describing their shared racial values: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples". The profitable armament development and security connections established under this repellant mutual admiration society led to tools and techniques both countries used internally for control as well as for export to other countries where dark-skinned people were in need of salutary violence and surveillance that they might learn the error of their ways.

And in a particularly evocative parallel Israel is planning a new cost-effective pattern of settlement in the Negev whereby single settler families or small groups rather than populous settlement blocs will control large swaths of land in a manner redolent of the model of sturdy white American pioneers scattered on individual homesteads throughout Native American territory. It is not for nothing that US soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and other outposts of Empire refer to the countries they are molesting as "Injun country".

The monotheists weigh in
Katrina provided an ideal theme for the deranged monotheists currently so influential both here and abroad. Hostility to any targeted Other comes quite easily to monotheists drugged with Jealous God-ordained exclusivity. The US variety saw fetuses swirling in satellite maps of the approaching hurricane and gleefully proclaimed that "Providence punishes national sins by national calamities". Others declared it divine punishment for countenancing the Gaza settlement pullout: "…the implementation of His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel." A Kuwaiti official who pontificated about the "terrorist Katrina" as a soldier of Allah was bookended neatly by convicted felon Chuck Colson speculating that Yahweh had sent Katrina to remind Americans of the importance of winning the war on terror. And the Chief Gnome of the 700 Club cited Leviticus as proof that Katrina was divine retribution for legalizing abortion.

Not to be outdone, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was more explicit in laying the blame for Katrina directly on African-American shoulders. Not only was Katrina punishment for supporting the Gaza pullout but also because black residents of New Orleans neglected to study the Torah and therefore "they have no God". Yosef continued instructing his congregants: "It was God's retribution. God does not short-change anyone,…There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn't enough Torah study.... Black people reside there. Blacks will study the Torah? (God said:) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them…." Israeli officials discounted the raving Rabbi but the late Israel Shahak knew better when he rumbled the Talmudic racism permeating the Israeli legal, military and educational systems.

"I’m mighty proud he don’t bow down"
The Mardi Gras Indians whose Congo Square origins are so joyously celebrated in the Wild Magnolias’ Brother John is Gone - possibly the greatest funeral song ever - emerged in the late 19th century with beaded, feathered costumes that, like their driving percussion drumming and call-and-response songs, are a glorious fusion of Native American and African cultures. We fervently trust that the Tribes have gathered in force for Mardi Gras this year, in spite of the loss of many of their painstakingly sewn costumes to Katrina’s fury and FEMA mismanagement. Affirming the presence of the true inhabitants of New Orleans with their music and drumming the Tribes will perchance help to dispel the clouds of coffin flies plaguing New Orleans, not only the ones that live off decomposing human remains but also the vicious human variety circling the desolate Ninth Ward plotting ways to keep the refugees from returning. Drumming has ever been regarded with alarm by imperial British sahibs, southern plantation owners and the DC Park Service alike.

As Mardi Gras commences this year and the Tribes gather to drum, dance and sing, let us paraphrase the Magnolias and say to Cynthia McKinney, Malik Rahim, Khalid Mash’al, Ward Churchill, Hugo Chavez, Gilad Atzmon and the countless brothers and sisters around the globe who labor mightily each day with their deeds, their words and their art to defy Empire from both within and without, "I’m mighty proud you don’t bow down. You don’t bow down and you don’t know how".

Sharon's Speech
UK Guardian One
UK Guardian Two
Washington Post
Media Matters
Israel's 2.2 billion dollar baksheesh
The willful failure of western progressives to understand Israel's role as a colonial, theocratic and apartheid entity contributes in large part to progressive inability to successfully oppose both the war in Iraq and America's push for total global domination.
Palestine Blogs - The Gazette


The secularavatar is a progressive activist grandmother from the Middle West who spent many years studying and travelling in the Middle East.

May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / November 2006 / January 2007 / July 2007 / October 2007 / January 2008 / May 2009 /


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