A Shadow of Fear On Legitimate Debate

The new online publication, Souciant Magazine, has a fascinating article on the pros and cons of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). With all due respect to the authors of the recent, very good article on the topic in Dissent, this one is both smarter and more succinct.

[Full disclosure: Souciant presented this article courtesy of the upcoming online Middle East publication, Babylon Times. I am one of the co-founders of Babylon

"Free Palestine" graffiti in Venice

Times, and I hope my readers will keep their eye out for it and check us out and support us when Babylon Times does debut. We expect the premier to be in early June]

But what is of almost as much importance as the matter of the article itself is the name of the author. You will notice the article was published anonymously. We are seeing, in that anonymity, the effects of Israel’s relentless action against freedom and democracy.

The Knesset is trying to legislate against any form of BDS, including that which targets only the settlements. Perhaps by the time the bill becomes law (and it almost certainly will) it will be modified and watered down in some way. But that really isn’t the point.

As my readers know very well, I do not support the global BDS movement, but do support targeting the settlements and the occupation. But whether you agree with me, oppose all BDS or support all BDS, I think most of us can agree that an article like the one by Anonymous should not be cause for prosecution or fear of it.

Some may feel Anonymous is overreacting. Maybe, maybe not. But the advocates of illegalizing BDS support in Israel are hoping for just that kind of overreaction. That’s how assaults on democracy work, not only through repressive laws but by creating a repressive atmosphere.

Is that where any of really us wants Israel to go?

Obama’s Bypass of Congress: A Necessary Act and Indicator of a Political Crisis in USA

I wrote recently of my decision to support the intervention in Libya, and the difficulty of that decision. I have rarely seen a question that has so divided people, and it’s happened on both the left and the right. I struggled with the question because there are good arguments both for and against the now-NATO-led military action there.

There’s one argument, though, that does not have much merit, though. That’s the issue of Obama’s not seeking Congressional authorization for this action. And the fact that it doesn’t have merit raises a whole set of new questions that all Americans, as well as the masses around the world affected by American foreign policy, need to consider most seriously.

Obama pointing the way to bypass obstructionist Republicans

Let’s start with the legal issue. Some members of Congress seem to either ignore or be ignorant of the US Constitution.  Congress has the exclusive power to declare war, a provision meant to check the power of the President as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But there was no war declared here on Libya. In no way can this action be called unconstitutional.

Even Obama got this wrong when, in a 2007 interview while he was still a Senator running for the big job, he said: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Though he does go on to say, correctly, that, “History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.” The problem, as I’ll address below, is that this Congress has made that option considerably less than preferable.

But is Obama’s action legal? After successive presidents got the US caught up in Asian quagmires in Korea and, most especially Vietnam (including, of course, the fabrication deceiving Congress about US forces being attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, though the US had already been involved in Vietnam by that time for years), the Congress, in 1973, enacted the War Powers Resolution. The purpose of this law was to ensure that the president could no longer drag the US into a prolonged conflict without congressional permission. Continue reading

Israel and US Need to Support, Not Obstruct, Palestinian Unity

[This piece was originally published at the Meretz USA blog]

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear, as if it needed clarifying, that he is uninterested in finding peace with the Palestinians. He did this by issuing an ultimatum to Fatah and its leader, PA President Mahmoud Abbas: you can either reconcile with Hamas or make peace with Israel, not both.

More than once on my blog, I’ve been criticized by commenters for my view of Hamas. I see them as a reactionary religious-nationalist movement. They have no

Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' Khaled Meshal share an uncomfortable handshake

compunction about attacking civilians, are appropriately called terrorists, have a poor human rights record in Gaza (a score on which anyone who has read my work will know I have been at least as critical of the Israeli occupation record as well as the PA), and are legitimately mistrusted.

But Hamas is, like it or not, also a part of the Palestinian body politic. In the early 1980s, when Israel tacitly permitted the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood to organize in the hope that it would provide a religious, but much less threatening, counterweight to the PLO, they surely did not have any idea what they were doing. Hamas grew out of that, and it is a regrettable development, in my view for both sides.

And, again like it or not, they control the Gaza Strip. All efforts to shake their rule there have failed, and if elections were held today among all Palestinians, all polls indicate they would have significant, albeit clearly minority, support. Put simply, the option of being able to reach a deal with the Palestinians without Hamas just does not exist.

And we can thank ourselves for that. In 2006, the United States insisted on Palestinian elections, and Hamas, as the main party in the List of Change and Reform, won the most seats, 74 of 132. Before the newly elected PA could form any sort of policy on anything, Israel and the Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russian Federation) instituted a regime of economic sanctions on it. These actions reverberated around the Arab world, sending the message that America supports democracy as long as it produces outcomes we approve of. Continue reading

Hopping Off the Fence: Why I Support Foreign Intervention in Libya

Sometimes, even an indecisive stance can be wrong. When it comes to the international intervention in Libya, until recent days, I was indecisive, and I was wrong.

A couple of days ago, I got off that fence, and actually came down on the side I had been leaning away from (as evidenced by a short quip in this article I recently wrote). Before I could post anything on that subject, Juan Cole posted an outstanding argument supporting the current international intervention. You should read it.

As always, my own thoughts are a little different, but I find nothing in Cole’s piece to disagree with.

Libyans demonstrating against Qaddafi and for a no-fly zone

My initial ambivalence was based on a number of factors. It was certainly clear enough to me that Qaddafi was preparing to seriously escalate his assault on the rebellious citizens in Libya, and there was every reason to believe that the casualty rate would be high and would include a good many uninvolved bystanders as well as the rebels.

But when the no-fly zone was first announced, it looked an awful lot like another American intervention without a clear exit strategy. I was concerned that the US was once again heading into a Muslim country without thinking through long-term considerations. Moreover, I was not only mistrustful of any international effort led by the US, UK and France, but was especially worried because it meant a Western military presence right next door to Tunisia and Egypt, and a greater concentration of Western forces in general near the sites of other potential revolutions.

I still have those concerns, and I think they’re healthy. Given the history of the three countries leading this effort, we should remain ever vigilant.

But in the end, none of this stacks up against what it was apparent Qaddafi was about to do. And there are more considerations here. Continue reading

Smothering the “Dynamic Debate” in Israel

Dimi Reider, over at +972Mag, alerts us to some disturbing developments in Israel regarding freedom of the press.

In summary, this is a continuation of the Anat Kamm case. Kamm was convicted in February for passing classified documents on to Ha’aretz reporter, Uri Blau. As Reider explains, it seems that the target of the state’s efforts was not Kamm, primarily, but the reporter, Blau, she passed the material to, and Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper which, more than any other media source in Israel, is the reason Israel has a reputation for open media and a vibrant discussion of issues often considered difficult or even taboo in the United States.

Anat Kamm

I urge my readers to look not only at Reider’s excellent piece at 972, but also Richard Silverstein’s piece from last month regarding Kamm’s plea bargain as well as his original reporting on the Kamm affair. The work they’ve done is outstanding, and I’m not going to cover ground here that they’ve already done so well.

I’ll focus on two main points here. The first is the use to which the Kamm-Blau Affair is being put.

As Reider points out, virtually any reporter, Israeli or otherwise, has probably come into possession of classified documents at some point. We certainly know this to be the case in the United States, and the important uses this can be put to. We can also see not only what might have happened to Daniel Ellsberg and his exposing of the Pentagon Papers, but also the implications today for such groundbreaking incidents as Wikileaks and the Palestine Papers.

Israel is trying to cast a major chill on such investigative reporting.  They are trying to put Uri Blau in jail for years for doing his job. The implications for investigative journalism, as well as independent blogging are enormous. Moreover, while the state declined to file any charges against Ha’aretz, it’s very clear that the desire is to send the paper a message about exposing Israeli crimes. The loss to Israel and the world if Ha’aretz is intimidated would be incalculable. Continue reading

AIPAC Apologizes for Attempt to Cash In On Jerusalem Bombing

Well, AIPAC got the message. At around 7 PM tonight, I received another e-mail from them, following the sleazy attempt to rake in the bucks off of today’s bombing in Jerusalem. It reads, in full:

Dear Friends of Israel:

Today, you received an email from us about the dangers facing Israel right now and ways in which you can help ensure American support for Israel at a difficult and dangerous time.  We included information about the horrific bombing in Jerusalem. In hindsight, it was wrong of us to mention this terrible tragedy the same day it occurred in the context of this email.  We are deeply sorry.
We express our sympathies to all those impacted by today’s events and extend our heartfelt apologies to you.

I’d love to think they give a damn about what I say, but I’m sure this was so far beyond the line that many of their own supporters complained. Hence the apology, which doesn’t actually admit what they did, which was blatantly to use the bombing today as a fundraising tool. They say it was “information” they merely “included.”

Still, I suppose that this message at least shows there is some shred of decency, if not in AIPAC itself, at least among their supporters. No doubt such would not have been on display if the victims were not Jews, but one can hardly wish for the moon here.

AIPAC Cashes In On Jewish Blood

One woman was killed and at least 30 injured in a bomb blast today near the central bus station in Jerusalem. But by now all of you know that.

But while I was still gathering data and reports of the incident, I received an e-mail. This message must have been composed very fast, in a hurry one can only imagine was akin to the excitement of a hungry dog that catches a glimpse of some tasty food.

Israeli rescue workers and paramedics at work after explosion in Jerusalem

The e-mail came from the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and it was a fundraising appeal based on the Jerusalem bombing. It gives a stark impression of a possible conversation in AIPAC’s DC office:

“Hey, a bomb just went off in Jerusalem. A Jew was killed and other Jews were injured!”

“Wow, just what we need, we can really cash in on this now. How lucky we were already working on a fundraising appeal.”

“No problem, I can just stick murdered and injured Jews in.”

It’s a conversation one would think would befit a meeting of some Jew-hating white supremacist group. Instead, this rush to cash in on harm to Jews fits only too well in an organization that has mobilized huge amounts of money and people power over many years in their effort to support suicidal Israel policies which have brought nothing but harm not only to Israel but to the United States as well.

Over at Think Progress, Matt Duss showed himself to be equally speedy, but a lot more humane, in his response to the same AIPAC e-mail. His analysis is quite thorough, so I’ll hope you go ahead and read it.

I’ll just say this: AIPAC, more than any other single anti-Israel organization (and yes, anti-Israel is just what they are, though they are certainly more passionate about the harm they do to Palestinians), has created the atmosphere around this issue that so many identify as McCarthyist.

In light of that, there is only one way I can respond to their appalling behavior as Israelis lay dead and dying, in the wake of one of the most lethal weeks for Palestinians since Operation Cast Lead. It is to paraphrase the words of George Welch at Joe McCarthy’s hearings:

AIPAC, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?