Monday, November 22, 2010

Israel - valuable ally or liability?

When the World Trade Center came down on 9/11, Americans started to hear about the U.S. facing the same terror as Israel and that henceforth the two countries would be partners in a "War on Terror" that President G.W. Bush announced. Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu and, before 9/11, Menachem Begin all spoke about this alliance, that we faced the same enemies and that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land had nothing to do with it. For a guy who leads a country that was founded with the help of terror, Netanyuhu had the chutzpah to say when addressing the Senate in 2002, ""no grievance, real or imagined, can justify terror". The U.S. has certainly employed terror when it felt it necessary to do so.

President Obama has wisely declared this strange war on a technique at an end, but the question needs to be asked: Is Israel a valuable partner to the U.S. or a liability?

The basis for terror attacks on the United States was said by President Bush to be that "they hate our freedoms", but what do those who have attacked us give as their motivation?

Is Israel/the Palestinian issue a significant source of Arab anger?

Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian whose writing inspires many Islamic fundamentalists, was angered by it.

Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first WTC attack (1996), wanted to stop the killing of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and believed attacking the U.S. would achieve this.

Osama bin Laden was deeply concerned about the issue since he was a young man, angry and frustrated with the U.S. for supporting Israel. His first public statement (1994) directly addressed the Palestinian issue. He condemned the U.S. for support of Israel and called for jihad against the U.S. several times before 9/11 including in his 1996 fatwa - "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places". Payback for injustice against the Palestinians is a recurrent theme in his speeches.

bin Laden tried to accelerate the 9/11 attack after Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in 2000. The 9/11 Commission confirmed his motivation was due to Palestinian injustice and US support for Israel. This commission also found Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (architect of 9/11) primarily motivated by the Palestinian issue.

In 2006, Sheik Naim Qassem (deputy leader of Hezbollah) told a Lebanese crowd, "There is no longer a political place for America in Lebanon. Do you not recall that the weapons fired on Lebanon were American weapons?"

Ussama Makdisi (professor of Middle East history at Rice University) says, "on no issue is Arab anger at the United States more widely and acutely felt that that of Palestine...For it is over Palestine that otherwise antithetical Arab secularist and Islamist interpretations of history converge in their common perception of an immense gulf separating official American avowals of support for freedom from actual American policies."

A Zogby poll of Arabs in six countries asked, "what is the first thing you think about when you think of America?". The most common answer: unfair foreign policy. Another question was,
"what could America do to change this?". The answer: change Middle East policy/stop supporting Israel.

In 2004 Hosni Mubarak said, "there exists a hatred of America never equaled in the region (in part because Arabs) see Sharon act as he wants, without the Americans saying anything"

In 2007 King Abdullah of Jordan said to a joint session of Congress: "The denial of justice and peace in the core issue."

Mearsheimer and Walt in The Israel Lobby write,

"... the U.S. pays a substantial price for supporting Israel so consistently. This posture fuels hostility toward the U.S. in the Middle East, motivates anti-American extremists and aids their recruiting, gives authoritarian governments in the region an all-too-convenient scapegoat for their own failings, and makes it harder for Washington to convince potential supporters to confront extremists in their own countries....backing Israel against the Palestinians makes winning the war on terror harder, not easier..."

I'm reminded of Pete Seeger's lyric from the Vietnam War era - "knee deep in the big muddy and the big fool says to push on". There couldn't be more powerful evidence showing the source of anger against the United States and we see the results. Yet, on we go regardless.


  1. The year 1777 was called by some of that day "the year of the hangman." That year, entering a town might well reveal a hanging body, justice of Patriots or Loyalists, depending on who, at that moment, socially dominated the town. The number "7" was noted to resemble a tree from which a man might be hanged. You can find the phrase "year of the hangman" in journals, including that of John Adams. Terror it was, the American War of Independence in slow motion over many (7 or so) years. So what is to be gained by saying, as you do,

    "For a guy who leads a country that was founded with the help of terror, Netanyuhu had the chutzpah to say when addressing the Senate in 2002, ""no grievance, real or imagined, can justify terror". The U.S. has certainly employed terror when it felt it necessary to do so."

    Condemnation of foundation we must abandon. What is here is here. I am somewhat aware of what motivates suicide bombing networks. You will get absolutely nowhere if you claim suicide bombing and the Israeli Independence War are identical. Nor has Obama repudiated the War on Terrorism; his Nobel Prize speech made that clear ("there is evil in the world"). Nor is it absurd to war against violence (the inconsistency is intentional). I return ever to Gandhi: one's first opponent consists of the people one is trying to help, for the tools presently employed will naught but make things worse.

    I know a left Israeli who once said to me "Now I am going to surprise you. The Palestinians were right to bomb (not focusing on suicide bombers). But they did it too much." There is a genesis to suicide bombing, and I believe Israeli policy over decades has helped induce it. But to portray suicide bombers as victims will not do. We must fight are own violent tendencies, as I have argued elsewhere; but not excuse those who violence against whatever us you choose. So I focus on the Israeli Declaration of Independence. In this conflict I will color no side's history as evil. Netanyahu does not interest me; nor does Defense Minister Barak, who I see as not so different from Netanyahu. Now retired President Barak of the Israeli Supreme Court does interest me. There begins, within the society, a battle. Yes, the United States should withhold aid rather than provide new, free jets. We must fight our own, and Israel is more of our own than you may like to admit. But that, as I have said, is where Gandhian resistance begins.

    If you equate Zionism with Racism in toto; if you equate the foundation of Israel with 9-11, you will lose much of the audience you seek. One can advocate the complete removal of American aid without these claims. I cannot see a resolution of this enduring conflict (and its socio-political economy) by becoming the mirror image of the right religious settler who knows exactly where right and wrong belong. People must shift towards your view without repudiating the myths which make them be.

  2. Greg, I didn't equate the founding of Zionism with 9/11, what I did was make a connection between 9/11 and U.S. support for Israel. The purpose of the post is to make that connection to show that the U.S. does not gain from, but suffers from its support of Israel - that America is shooting itself in the foot by that support.

    The reason for the comment about the Netanyahu quote is that those in power must never be let off the hook for what they say. His comment, and many comments by GW Bush and politicians everywhere would have the listener believe that the events described occur in a simple scenario presented by the speaker. Americans had an earful of this kind of thing with "American boys shouldn't have to do what Asian boys should be doing" regarding Vietnam. Self-righteous nationalism should be identified at every turn.