Pax America? Which America ? Which Israel?
PRESIDENT Obama said yesterday that the killing of four Israeli settlers in a West Bank ambush would not be allowed to deflect the course of peace talks opening in Washington. Nor should it. The shooting, claimed by a military formation linked with Hamas, took place in an area west of Hebron, where the Palestinian Authority has no power, and the Israeli military who do are regularly assisting armed right-wing settlers to harass and terrorise the Palestinians.
Today both Israeli and Palestinian forces were reported rounding up the usual suspects for the attack."Dozens of Hamas members have been arrested, mainly in [the] Hebron area and across the West Bank," the Palestinian security source said. "We are investigating if they have any links to the shooting attack. There will be more arrests." Israeli security forces also arrested about 50 people, raiding houses in villages around the Hebron area after sealing off parts of the West Bank.
Whether or not the peace talks are deflected, it is doubtful whether they are going anywhere. Hamas was not invited, of course, despite having been fairly elected as a Palestinian government, for which the Israeli government have continued punishing the people of Gaza, by their siege, and the war which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, only about 200 of whom were combatants. President Mahmoud Abbas' mandate is doubtful. Several of the parties within the PLO - including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose leader is in an Israeli jail, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian People's Party - have dissociated themselves in advance from his Washington mission.
After the freedom promised at Oslo proved a mirage, with the Palestinians confined to shrinking enclaves while Israel continued expanding its annexation wall and settlements, people are skeptical of what Abbas will bring back apart from further instructions to repress his own people. Even supporters of the talks are not optimistic:
"Both sides prefer to continue the existing situation as long as they do not have to pay the costs that an agreement requires," argued Nahum Barnea, the Israeli commentator. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, was a tad more diplomatic. "We are hoping talks will succeed," he said, "but we are all very pessimistic about the viability of the peace process because of past experience."
Mahmoud Abbas' moderation is not enough for some Israelis. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Orthodox Shas party, preached a sermon on Saturday night wishing death on Mahmoud Abbas and his people, whom he called "evil enemies of Israel."
The Palestinian Authority has tried to play this down, saying nobody listens to Yosef. But Shas is not some insignificant sect. Like Hamas on the Palestinian street, it initially built support among its Misrahi (eastern) Jewish followers by combining attention to their spiritual and social welfare. It was even regarded as "dovish" compared to other religious parties. But it has recently begun siding with the right-wing settlers, possibly in return for the advantages Orthodox Jews are getting from 'ethnic cleansing' of Arabs in Jerusalem. Yosef's brother is a minister in the present government.
So Israel, an occupying power, a state with nuclear weapons, has a religious and political leader who openly calls for genocide. Now if that was someone in Gaza, or Teheran...
Such hope as people place on a US-sponsored "peace process" rests on the chances that President Obama may yet put real pressure on the Israeli government, ending decades of automatic US backing for whatever Israeli leaders decided. The irony has been remarked before that Israel was the one place in the world where peace campaigners and "the Left" (these terms are relative!) kept hoping for more, not less, US interference. But the signs are not encouraging. Obama, himself under attack from America's reactionary right ( many of whom persist in asserting that he is a Muslim!), has begun his peace initiative by the obligatory remarks about safeguarding "the security of the State of Israel". His Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is on record about being ready to destroy Iran.
In fact, whatever the President's policy, powerful American interests are waging a campaign of pressure, not against Israel's right-wing government, but against those Israelis who oppose its aggressive policies.
We have seen how evangelist Pastor Jack Hagee, who preached that Hitler was sent by God, has been welcomed by Netanyahu because he supports policies of occupation and war, and what's more, brings the funding to support those who practice what he preaches. A right-wing student group, Im Tirzu, most of whose members have come from military service, has been campaigning with Hagee's money to denounce peace and civil rights groups - for getting foreign funding! It has attacked the liberal New Israel Fund.
Im Tirzu also threatened to go after the funding of Ben Gurion University, in Be'ersheba, unless it acts immediately to remove “post-Zionist” faculty from its Political Science Department. Then it was reported that the president of Tel Aviv University was examining the syllabus of the Sociology department for signs of "left-wing bias", following clamour from the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), a right-wing organization established by settler leader Israel Harel. Ironically as it may seem considering the outside calls for boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the pressure is on for them to collaborate more fully with the occupation, and witch-hunt any staff or ideas that are not sufficiently Zionist.
Now Ha'aretz has revealed that Im Tirtzu chairman Ronen Shoval and the organization’s spokesperson, Erez Tadmor, took part in a Young Leadership program run by the Institute for Zionist Strategies several years ago, despite the two men’s assertion that they were not acting in concert with the institute in their public campaign against the “anti-Zionist bias” in Israeli universities.
The IZS report on sociology departments resembled Im Tirtzu’s report on political science departments, classifying lecturers as “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” and they reached similar conclusions. Until the final months of 2009, both Im Tirzu and the IZS were nearly unknown to the Israeli public, and their sources of funding more so. But it has now been revealed John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel (CUFI had channeled $120,000 to Im Tirzu through the Houston Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency.
What's more, the Hudson Institute, a major Washington-based neo-conservative think-tank, which played a big part in shaping the policies of the Bush administration, has been the largest financial backer of the IZS, providing at least half of its funding over the years.
Hudson’s returns to the Internal Revenue Service in the US state that the institute transferred $230,000 in the previous tax year to “support Israeli public policy research.” Form 990 for 2007 (last page) states that a further $256,185 were transferred in the previous tax year for “consulting/research.”
Max Singer, co-founder of the Hudson Institute, its former President and current Senior Fellow, is also the IZS’s Research Director. At least according to his bio on the Hudson website: The IZS site only identifies him as a member of the Advisory Committee. Back in the 1980s, Singer was involved with US intelligence and subversion activities against Nicaragua, which became linked to the Iran-Contra affair - ironically as it now seems, involving Israeli arms dealings with Iran!
Now he has moved to Jerusalem, but that need not mean giving up aims to influence US policies. On the contrary. A July 17 policy note published by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University says "To prevent Obama from bringing America behind his different view of the world, Israel needs to help Americans appreciate the way that Obama sees things differently than they do. The views of most Americans, and of most of the American political world, are much closer to Israel’s understanding of Middle Eastern realities than to Obama’s perceptions. Israeli actions can help Americans to recognize the conflicts between what they believe and the premises of Obama’s proposed policies. The critical element in Israel’s policy concerning the US is the degree to which Israel is able to recognize, stimulate, and get the benefit of the parts of the American policy-making system that do not share President Obama’s radically different ideas about the world. Israel does not have to act as if Obama’s views will necessarily determine the policy of the US, and it certainly does not have to assume that Obama’s current views will dominate US policy-making for many years. Israel has the power, if it has the fortitude, to influence the degree to which Obama is able to make the tectonic change in American policy that he would like to make."
Coteret says the Hudson Institute’s involvement in Israeli affairs is not limited to “democracy” issues but encompasses high-level geopolitics as well. Its form 990 for 2007 (last page) reports on the transfer of $600,000 to the “Atlantic Forum of Israel” in the previous tax year. This American Jewish Congress explains that it is “Israel’s official non-governmental representative” to NATO. An October 2009 article in Haaretz reports that Uzi Arad resigned as President of the Forum before assuming the position of Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser.
Meanwhile a fresh row broke out, concerning not the academic world but the theatres. Israel's leading theatres like the famous Habimah said they would play the new cultural centre at the West Bank settlement of Ariel. The suspicion was that this was the theatre managements' way of lining up for government subsidies.
Like many academics, the artistic world like to think they are more liberal and progressive than other parts of Israeli society and should not suffer any boycott. After the news of their compliance with settlement policies, veteran peace campaigner Uri Avnery remarked that they might have to give up Paris and London for the privilege of performing in Ariel. However, to their credit, a number of well-known Israeli actors, playwrights and writers have said they will not have anything to do with the settlement.
Whatever their precise views on peace or Zionism, those who take a stand against the pressure from the Right and government deserve support and encouragement. The sparks from such conflict could hopefully also strike a light for broader masses.
People often wonder what kind of leadership can achieve peace and justice for the Palestinians, and whether America or Israel can ever be trusted. But it also very much depends on which America, and what kind of Israel.