Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander ignited a controversy by stating her support for Palestinian rights. In her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander used the act of confronting her own silence on this issue to encourage others to break theirs. She made the case that “criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not, in itself, anti-Semitic,” while also affirming that
Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017, and many of us are still mourning what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history… We must be mindful in this climate that, while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.
That statement was not nearly enough for the “pro-Israel” community in the United States. The Israeli-American former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called Alexander’s column a “strategic threat.” The American Jewish Committee had the audacity to accuse Alexander—a prominent African-American civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—of “appropriating” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Numerous other voices, conservative and liberal, defended Israel from Alexander’s “attacks.”
Donald Trump has moved beyond the issue of North Korea and on to his next episode, dissing NATO allies and running to Vladimir Putin’s warm, autocratic embrace. But while Trump’s short attention span has shifted to the next episode of the reality show that he believes his presidency to be, the issue of North Korea is very much alive, and very much still a concern.
Trump said there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. But a few days ago, it was revealed that US intelligence has a very different assessment. They believe that North Korea is planning to significantly under-report their nuclear stockpile and their enrichment sites. Given the stock many, myself included, put into such assessments when it came to Iran, it would be foolhardy to ignore them in this case.
The concerns here are as obvious now as they were predictable on June 12. Trump, an incompetent leader whose ego leads him to believe those who flatter him, was played for a fool by Kim Jung-un. But there are other issues to contend with.
One of those is the fact that his top national security aides are not on the same page. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is cautiously talking about timelines for North Korean disarmament. National Security Adviser John Bolton is already saying this can be done in less than a year if North Korea complies. And Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis seems to be out of the loop entirely. That is a situation that should concern everyone, not only Americans.
But the issues go beyond Trump’s cabinet. There is a legitimate concern that a good deal could be missed because of the animus liberals, leftists and even many Republicans have toward Trump. That concern was reinforced by congressional Democrats who made declarations about the standards North Korea should be held to that sounded eerily similar to Republican saber-rattling in 2015 over Iran.
The cliché that “talking is better than not talking” Is correct most of the time. Where it fails, however, is in the face of gross incompetence. Continue reading →
You might have noticed that the name of my blog has changed. It’s a change that’s been a long time coming, as I’ve not been comfortable with the name, “The Third Way” for quite a while. But the change represents more than a mere marketing decision.
I began this blog when I was the co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace, nearly 15 years ago. At that time, I liked the name of the blog. I didn’t see it as reflecting a “middle path,” or a “compromise position” on the Israeli occupation. But I felt that it represented what I was trying to present: an analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict born out of an understanding of and a sympathy for both Palestinian dispossession and lack of rights and Jewish history and realpolitik.
When I left JVP, I took the blog with me. The name still seemed to suit me for a time, but my discomfort with it soon emerged. That was in part due to my work for B’Tselem, which required me to rein in a lot of my political writing, a result of the misguided notion they held at the time that human rights work was somehow separate from political activism.
In more recent years, I’ve been sure that the name was wrong. That’s not because my views have shifted that much. They have inevitably evolved over 15 years, of course, but I still approach the issue with empathy for the shared history I have with other Jews as I work to make Americans recognize that the occupation is a horrific, ongoing crime that would have ended long ago were it not for the policies of the United States.
The name no longer fit for several reasons. First, I was writing about a lot more than the Israel-Palestine conflict. Second, the politics of the conflict had changed with the long-term split in Palestinian politics, the utter dominance of the Israeli right over Israeli policy, and the twin effects on discourse in the United States: while both parties in Washington had been pulled much farther to the right, liberal disconnect, both Jewish and non-Jewish, from Israel had grown and with it, so had more open criticism of Israeli policies.
I finally settled on the name “Rethinking Foreign Policy.” The fact that the US is the key enabler of the occupation is not given nearly enough attention. The discourse in the US sort of recognizes the huge role we play, as well as the unique position this foreign policy item occupies in US domestic politics. But it’s still discussed as an “over there” issue. No, friends, it’s a here and now issue. If the dark days of the Trump administration prove nothing else about Palestine-Israel, they prove that.
The word “rethink” has become popular lately, especially in progressive circles. ReThink Media, a very important organization working on the same issues I write about is one example. There’s a number of other really great organizations rethinking education, how to raise boys to resist the indoctrination toward sexual violence, behavioral health care and other issues. I’m not much for following trends, but this one seems like a good one.
The way Americans discuss foreign policy is rotten at the core. Our racism, belief in American exceptionalism, and apathy regarding our history, legacy, and ongoing policies that impoverish and dispossess people all around the world, as well a s here at home, underpin a lot of foreign policy thinking, including quite a bit of mainstream progressive thought. Even when intentions can go beyond those limitations, the often stodgy thinking dominated, as this field is, by excessively privileged white men is very slow to change.
Perhaps I am overly and unjustifiably flattering myself, but I choose to believe that I offer an analysis that is relatively independent. Anyone who claims to be unbiased is either lying or simply has no knowledge of the subject under discussion, as that is the only way to escape bias. But, as many of you know, I have spent much of the past decade unemployed, so I have been able to develop my thinking, writing, and analysis without any organizational constraints. and I’d like to think that makes me a little less biased than many others.
So I am trying to inspire a basic “rethinking” of our foreign policy. That’s the approach I have pursued and will continue to do so.
I plan to do more short blog posts that will appear here in their entirety, so this site won’t just be a collection of links to my articles and appearances at LobeLog and elsewhere. While I will still write a great deal on Palestine and Israel, I will also continue to expand my writing to include other major US foreign policy issues, as I have been doing with Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Persian Gulf. I expect to also write more about China, Latin America, Trump’s slashing of our relationships with allies like Canada and the EU, and even some domestic issues.
That’s my plan, anyway, We’ll see if I can actually pull it off. Thanks for sticking with me through all of these years, and for continuing to follow my work.
“It didn’t have to be this way,” writes Jim Zogby in the new preface to the reissue of his 1981 book, Palestinians, The Invisible Victims: Political Zionism and the Roots of Palestinian Dispossession.
There were, a century ago, multiple threads to the Zionist movement. On the one side, for example, there was Martin Buber’s inclusive vision of spiritual Zionism, advocating the in-gathering of the Jewish people and cooperation between them and the indigenous Arab population in Palestine and the broader region. There was also a thread of what came to be called Political Zionism that proposed a more radical and exclusivist vision that sought to displace the Arabs of Palestine. Tragically, this was the thread that won out.
This is a crucial framing of Zogby’s book. Reissued after 37 years, the book often seems like it could be talking about contemporary events. Zogby’s basic thesis is summed up in his conclusion, where he states, “The violations of [Palestinians’] basic human rights are, quite simply, a function of the political ambitions of the Political Zionist movement and the state it created. Palestinian resistance to Zionism and its dream of an exclusive Jewish state, therefore, continues.”
Zogby’s 1981 book states the Palestinian case. It is a short book and makes no pretense to an exhaustive history or a complete review of then-contemporary conditions. It offers one idea, that the exclusivist vision of Political Zionism is incompatible with a lasting peace. Read more at LobeLog