Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Ahmadinejad and Progressive Myopia

Whenever Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes a public appearance, the airwaves, papers, and Internet become flooded with outraged and self-righteous opinion pieces. He is called everything from “evil,” “racist,” a “blowhard” and a “hatemonger” to “ridiculous,” “ignorant,” “silly,” and a “clown.” His speeches are described as “diatribes,” “rants,” “screeds,” and “tirades.” Whereas this reaction is obvious and expected from those both in the mainstream media and on the Freedom Fries end of the political spectrum, these same epithets and denouncements are often found coming from a most surprising and disappointing source: so-called “liberals” who proudly identify themselves as anti-imperialist progressives.

Many recent critiques of Ahmadinejad’s speech at the Durban II conference in Geneva last week, written by peace activists and left-leaning analysts, have concluded that, even though the president may have uttered some painful and important truths, his understanding of Middle East history was reductionist, his speech poorly timed, and his words were, if twisted the wrong way by faulty analysis, an offensive, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying incitement to genocide.

This reaction is not new. The character of President Ahmadinejad himself has been consistently caricatured as some sort of Persian court jester by Western progressives: one who may speak truth to power, but who does so crudely and without requisite tact. These same progressives label him as the domineering leader of an oppressive regime and he is therefore deemed unsuited to voice the opinions of the Western anti-imperialist cause. Something about glass houses and stone-throwing follows, perhaps.

While these forward-thinking, long-time Cheney-haters have never been fooled by the bogus search for WMD or the torturific term “enhanced interrogation,” they seem to have a hard time believing that the country of Iran isn’t some Israel-threatening hotbed of hostile anti-American activity, lorded over by apocalypse-happy clerics, eagerly spinning centrifuges with the intent to destroy the Western world. This image of both the country of Iran and its current President is frustrating, and never more so when it comes from those who should be better informed and leading the fight against these very misconceptions and mischaracterizations. If the progressives among us don’t tell the truth, then who else will?

Yes, Ahmadinejad condemns Zionism. What is not explained in right-wing harangues or progressive criticism is that he views Zionism as a political ideology separate from Judaism, a distinction all informed people should make as well. He has consistently called for a free and fair referendum to determine the representative political structure of the whole population - a vote by all inhabitants of the land of historical Palestine. There is no call for the return of Palestinian land at the expense of Jews - only that justice be served and self-determination by the residents of the region be respected. He has never threatened Israel with military force or aggression (and isn’t even in a position to make such threats, considering he’s not Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian military). In fact, he attempted to quash constant accusations of the Iranian leadership’s anti-Semitism by telling Larry King last fall, “we don't have a problem with the Jewish people.” Ahmadinejad further clarified his government’s political position towards Israel during a press conference in September 2008: “We are opposed to the idea that the people who live there should be thrown into the sea or be burnt...We believe that all the people who live there, the Jews, Muslims and Christians, should take part in a free referendum and choose their government.”

It should also be made perfectly clear that Ahmadinejad does not condemn Israel for claiming to be a “Jewish” state. He believes that the decision to pick a political system should be left to the people who have to live under that system. He has stated that Iran will recognize and accept any resulting governmental system once it has been voted on openly.

The progressive left, when discussing Ahmadinejad’s position on these matters, often resorts to accusations of pot-calling-the-kettle-black-isms. It is dismissive to claim that no Iranian politician should have a problem with the ethnic or religious nature of the Israeli governmental system when Iran itself is an Islamic Republic. This can only be seen as hypocrisy by the uninformed. The Iranian Constitution, which came into force less than a year after the collapse of the Shah’s dictatorship by popular revolution, was adopted by national referendum. It established (in Chapter I, Article 1) the government of Iran as an Islamic Republic, a political system combining and integrating elements of both religious doctrine and representational democracy. The Constitution was approved by an estimated 98.2% of the Iranian voting population (and yes, that included women).

By contrast, Israel has never written or adopted a formal Constitution of any form. Israel’s own unilateral declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 stated that a constitution would be formulated and ratified by the state no later than October 1, 1948. The adoption of a democratic constitution was also a requirement of the General Assembly Resolution 181, which even supported the establishment of a “Jewish” state. Nevertheless, no constitution was ever drawn up, voted on, or adopted. Instead, Israeli constitutional law has been established piecemeal over time by Knesset-approved legislation that gained legal ascendancy by a Supreme Court ruling in 1998. These “Basic Laws,” which establish the roles of various governmental institutions and offices and affirm certain human rights to its citizenry (including the ironically named, “Freedom of Occupation”), have never been subject to popular vote or referendum by the Israeli people, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. And this is what people call the great democracy in the Middle East?

The Iranian Constitution, on the other hand, established a governmental system that was approved by the overwhelming majority of the population of that country. Iranians were not colonized or made to accept a system with which they disagreed or that would endanger their lives. Did Native Americans or African slaves get a vote regarding the US Constitution, which holds non-whites to be valued as less than a whole person and affirms the continuation of slavery, or Manifest Destiny that saw the genocide of tens of millions of people? I don't believe that Black South Africans voted for Apartheid. As such, progressives should all agree that many laws set up by colonial governments, such as Israel’s “Law of Return,” are, at the core, racist and unrepresentative.

Is Iran a perfect bastion of freedom of expression and human rights? No, certainly not. But to claim that criticism of another country must be in direct proportion to the troubles or issues facing your own country is an absurd concept. Were that the case, Barack Obama, the current embodiment of the US government, shouldn't ever open his mouth regarding anything having to do with a just foreign policy, the rule of international law, or anything else, ever. It is the US that is currently occupying two foreign countries and that has over 700 military bases overseas. It is bankrolling and supporting Israeli aggression, occupation, and continued colonialism and expansionism. Black kettles, anyone?

There is also umbrage taken at Ahmadinejad’s condemnation of the Zionist movement in Palestine - a movement that preceded World War II and the Holocaust by decades. In his Durban speech, critics argue, Ahmadinejad condenses history so as to ignore the anti-imperial elements of the pre-state Zionist militias and assigns blame to the fledgling United Nations for validating Jewish nationalism only after World War II. Personally, I do not believe that President Ahmadinejad arrived in Switzerland with the intent of giving a lengthy history lesson. Nor do I believe that his historical analysis is simplistic or reductionist. Speaking at the UN conference, Ahmadinejad discussed the UN’s role in displacing over 750,000 indigenous people from their land and the immorality and injustice of using the horrors of the Holocaust to justify such deliberate ethnic cleansing. The bombing of the King David Hotel by Irgun occurred after the Holocaust. The 1947 Partition Plan came after the Holocaust. The Deir Yassin massacre came after the Holocaust. The Nakba came after the Holocaust; this is what Ahmadinejad refers to in his speech. Since the Western powers did not support the Zionist cause before World War II, it is clear that pre-State Zionism is irrelevant to Ahmadinejad’s point.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his critique of Ahmadinejad’s speech, ascribes reductionism and error to the Iranian President’s truncated description of history. He claims that the Arab aversion to the implementation of Zionism in Palestine was a “misunderstanding,” explaining that “Palestinians saw the Jews as an invading force that would uproot their own Arab society. Yet most Jews coming to Palestine were fleeing oppression, and simply could not understand how Palestinians would view them as agents of a Christian West.” This viewpoint as presented by Lerner clouds the truth, intentionally or not, about Zionist thought from the very beginning.

As far back as 1898, Theodor Herzl recognized that, in order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, the Arabs who were living there would have to be removed. He proposed the following solution for such an inconvenient indigenous population:

“We shall try to spirit the penniless population (i.e. Arab) across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country.”
Israel Zangwill, the sloganeer behind “The land without a people for a people without a land,” also knew full well that Palestine was already inhabited. “There is, however, a difficulty from which the Zionist dare not avert his eyes, though he rarely likes to face it. Palestine proper has already its inhabitants,” he wrote in the Voice of Jerusalem in 1904. “The Pashalik of Jerusalem is already twice as thickly populated as the United States, having fifty-two souls to every square mile, and not 25 percent of them Jews; so we must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did, or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population, mostly Mohammedan [i.e. Muslim].”

Vladmir Jabotinsky, in his 1923 Zionist manifesto, The Iron Wall, spoke directly to Lerner’s erroneous claims when he wrote,
“…there has never been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has ever accepted the settlement of others in his country…And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs…We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.”
Jabotinsky continues,
“Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized…Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population…As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left.”
To claim that peaceful coexistence was the goal of Jewish nationalism is to rewrite history in order to assuage the consciences of those who regret the consequences of colonialism but insist on justifying it anyway.

Furthermore, in his article regarding the Durban II speech, Steve Weissman writes, “If we follow Ahmadinejad’s logic, as many in Hamas now do, we must fight to undo over 60 years of history, and that will be a fight to the death. The call to eliminate the State of Israel, while not explicitly a call to kill Israelis or other Jews, will sound to them as an incitement to genocide, and they will fight it without mercy.”

Sound to “them”? It appears that Mr. Weissman may hold more contempt for the Palestinian and Arab intellect than Jabotinsky. First of all, Ahmadinejad is not the leader of Palestinian resistance. Hamas certainly does not take its cues from his speeches. But it is also important to realize that Ahmadinejad’s words do not inflame the Muslim people of the Middle East, they enrage the white people of the West, those who boycott or leave international conferences without even a hint of embarrassment. In fact, the prior agreement by European delegates to walk out at the first mention of “Israel” proves that these undignified dignitaries would have missed anything he wound up saying anyway and wouldn’t have taken a lengthier, more nuanced discussion any more to heart. It is not that the historical and current reality isn’t known well enough; it’s that the imperial powers in support of the ongoing Israeli Occupation and aggression simply don’t care.

Some critics, such as Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, have accused Ahmadinejad of bad timing, delivering this particular speech at a time when American and Iranian relations may finally be rekindled. These analyses tend to focus more on the eagerness of Israeli leaders to attack Iran, using as an excuse Iran’s wholly legal nuclear energy program and the repetition of the mistranslation of Ahmadinejad’s supposed threat to “destroy Israel,” than on Ahmadinejad’s speech itself. These critics appear to blame Ahmadinejad for not kowtowing to US and Israeli rhetoric and capitulating to its demands in the face of grave and imminent danger posed by two nuclear-armed states. How is this Ahmadinejad’s problem? Is truth supposed to tremble in the face of adversity? This argument infers that the illegal threat of attack or annihilation should silence all debate, thereby entirely subverting even the most basic of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist ideologies.

Additionally, it is clear that Israeli leaders are not interested in establishing peaceful relations with their immediate Arab neighbors, let alone with Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity afforded to him by misrepresenting Ahmadinejad’s speech to state that any renewed peace talks with Palestinian leaders was contingent on the removal of the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Meanwhile, Iranian leaders speak only of the need for “mutual respect and justice” and the upholding of international law in order to resume diplomacy. And yet, which nation does the United States call upon to unclench its fist?

The Iranian Constitution is quite clear with regards to international relations, explicitly stating that “the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based upon the rejection of all forms of domination, both the exertion of it and submission to it, the preservation of the independence of the country in all respects and its territorial integrity….” The document forbids any agreement that may result in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, military, or culture of Iran and affirms Iran’s commitment of “non-alignment with respect to the hegemonic superpowers and the maintenance of mutually peaceful relations with all non-belligerent States.”

Furthermore, the Constitution declares that, “The Islamic Republic of Iran has as its ideal human felicity throughout human society, and considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world. Accordingly, while scrupulously refraining from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the oppressed against the oppressors in every corner of the globe.”

Thus, to allow the threat of Israeli aggression or potential of renewed American diplomacy to muzzle him, President Ahmadinejad would have done a great disservice to himself, his government, the Iranian people, their Revolution and their Constitution.

The tone of much progressive criticism of Ahmadinejad’s speech seems to say, "He should've been more tactful… It's unhelpful to say things so bluntly… He should be more understanding, more wishy-washy, less specific, more diplomatic." Pardon me, but when did outrage over injustice have to be nicely stated? Ahmadinejad should be "nicer" when speaking out about the murderous policies of the US and Israel while Iran hasn't threatened or attacked any other country in centuries? Why is it Ahmadinejad’s responsibility gently walk on eggshells when addressing a room full of historic and current colonialists, occupiers, militarists, and imperialists, who consistently attempt to degrade him by namecalling? This smacks more of Western Caucasian apologia than progressive tenderness and tact. If you're not furious about what Israel is doing on a daily basis, then you're not paying attention. Well, Ahmadinejad is paying attention and he doesn't feel compelled to coddle the European (and American) imperialists who brought the world to this point, the same people who supported the repressive tyranny of the Shah's dictatorship in Iran.

Are these critics truly suggesting that the Iranian guy in the room should practice deferential diplomacy with Western powers? Is he their butler? The elected president of a country whose democratic government was aggressively overthrown by a CIA coup at the bidding of Britain, an historically imperial and colonial country, should be sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of the Western governments that have demonized and ostracized that country for thirty years? Why should imperialists be handled with kid gloves? So that their delegates won't storm out in a pre-planned huff like so many frustrated toddlers?

At the end of his critique, Weissman writes, “One final question: Should we join Ahmadinejad in calling the Israelis ‘racist perpetrators of genocide?’ I would not. The long-standing Israeli policy of seeking ‘more land and fewer Arabs’ is horrendous. But it is not genocide, at least not until Avigdor Lieberman has his way. And it is not essentially racial, but increasingly religious, denying people first-class citizenship because they do not share the dominant faith or identity. To me, that is every bit as pernicious as racism, whether in Israel or any number of Islamic countries.”

In 1948, the United Nations defined genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Is this really such an outlandish description of what Palestinians have been subjected to for the past hundred years and what continues to befall them on a daily basis? Thoughts of cancer patients denied travel permits and mothers forced to go into labor at West Bank checkpoints, as well as the hundreds upon hundreds of slaughtered innocents in Gaza just four months ago, prove the point quite easily.

Also, is the “Islamic racism,” mentioned by Weissman, intended to implicate Iran? If so, he should elaborate. Even Ayatollah Khomeini, whom progressives still love to demonize as an extremist and a zealot, always made a strong distinction between Judaism and Zionism. When Khomeini returned from exile in 1979, he met with representatives of Jewish communities and issued a religious decree, ensuring the safety and protection of Jews in Iran during and after the coming Revolution.

President Ahmadinejad’s speech at Durban II doesn’t really need my defending. His words speak for themselves. However, when progressive commentators treat Ahmadinejad as a pariah, they wind up speaking for the very imperialists they’re supposed to be opposing.

There’s already plenty of propaganda out there. I think it’s time for a little truth.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Durban II: Alethophobic Boogaloo

"There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyze the causes of happenings."
- Dorothy Thompson

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's opening speech at the 2009 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, dubbed Durban II, addressed numerous inconvenient and uncomfortable truths regarding both the UN Security Council and the history of the State of Israel. Predictably, in response to the public airing of such truths, Ahmadinejad was immediately met with sharp and revealing opposition and self-righteous indignation by the representatives of many European countries - echoed, if not led, by the US and Israeli governments - and has been lambasted and demonized in the Western media.

Such a response is unsurprising. Ahmadinejad is no stranger to manufactured controversy. And, as usual, a simple look at his actual words reveals statements of fact that cannot be refuted. Ahmadinejad's statements prompted an instantaneous and virulent reaction and criticism from the world's most imperial and hegemonic powers. He was immediately presented as a hatemonger and racist for speaking truth to such powers. The speed and ferocity of those with the power to divert attention away from the meaning of Ahmadinejad's actual speech in favor of personal attacks on the Iranian president himself betray the true motives behind such scapegoating.

Speaking at United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Monday morning, Ahmadinejad accused Western powers in the 1930's and 40's of fomenting warfare and implementing economic and military policies that have proven destructive to much of the rest of the world ever since. "Those in authority at the time set off two world wars," he said, "killing hundreds of millions of people and causing mass destruction" in Africa and Asia, in addition to Europe. "Those who won [World War Two], considered that the world was with them," he continued, and "set up laws that were oppressive and trampling."

Is this controversial or offensive? Perhaps, if one knows nothing of modern history, Western imperialism, aggressive globalization or neo-liberal economic policy. Anyone familiar with American foreign policy over the past sixty years, especially in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Latin and South America would not be surprised by such banal statements.

Ahmadinejad then turned his attention to the unjust and inequitable hierarchy of nation states that formed the basis of the United Nations itself. "The Security Council set up after World War II, let's analyze it. The veto vote - is that equality? Is that justice? Is that equality amongst human beings?" he asked, "Or rather is it arrogance and humiliation? The Security Council must be the most important body for decision-making in order to promote peace. If a law is based on force, how can we secure peace and justice? The seeking of power and arrogance means racism, injustice and occupation."

Who would disagree with these remarks, other than those who seek to maintain their control over issues of global security and justice, diverting attention from the war crimes committed by allied states and condemning resistance to colonialism and military occupation in the same breath? The UN Security Council, established as the most powerful element of the United Nations - wielding far more influence and authority than the General Assembly - has long been the best friend to imperialism, during and after The Cold War. The United States has used its Security Council veto to bully other members into submission and acquiescence, allowing for the illegal invasions and ongoing occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Most recently, the Security Council adopted resolutions enabling Israel to bomb blockaded ghettos and impoverished refugee camps with impunity, as well as protecting Israeli war criminals, who have the blood of 1,400 Palestinians freshly on their hands, from any condemnation or responsibility.

Later in his speech, Ahmadinejad addressed the creation of the State of Israel by the United Nations in 1948, after the post-WWI British Mandate. "As was the case after World War II, armies occupied other territories and people were transferred from territories," he said. "In reality, under the pretext of compensating for the evil done in the name of xenophobia, they in fact set up the most violent xenophobes, in Palestine."

"The Security Council made it possible for that illegitimate government to be set up. For 60 years, this government was supported by the world. Many Western countries say they are fighting racism; but in fact support it with occupation, bombings and crimes such as those committed in Gaza. These countries support the criminals," Ahmadinejad continued.

Any informed reader of these statements would find little with which to quibble or disagree. The well-known studies of Israeli historians such as Benny Morris, Tom Segev, Ilan Pappé, and Avi Shlaim attest to the injustice sanctioned by the British and American governments, affirmed by the United Nations, and carried out by Zionist terrorist militias such as Irgun, Haganah, Palmah and Lehi. The waves of illegal Jewish immigration from Europe and Russia to Palestine are well documented and not a debatable issue.

Ahmadinejad stated the obvious by telling the gathering of UN delegates, "Following World War Two they resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering...and they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the Occupied Palestine. And in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine."

The age-old axiom of Palestine being a "land without a people for a people without a land" has been discredited so many times that even mentioning it here seems redundant and obvious. It is no myth that over 750,000 Palestinians, the indigenous people of the region whose ancestors had lived and worked on the land for centuries, were driven from their homes through violence and fear following the implementation of Plan Dalet and the horror of Deir Yassin. It is not a matter of opinion that the State of Israel was originally created on 56% of Palestine, despite Jewish residents representing only 32% of the population and owning only 7% of the land at the time. It is historical fact. By July 1949, after a year of aggressive expansionism, the borders of Israel encompassed 78% of Palestine. Eighteen years later, Israel seized control of the remaining 22%, which it has brutally occupied ever since. The dispossessed, disenfranchised, and dehumanized Palestinians penned up in the Occupied Territories suffer from apartheid in the West Bank, and starvation, accented with psychopathic massacres, in Gaza.

Ahmadinejad knows all of this. He also knows that the Zionist enterprise to establish an ethnocentric state in Palestine had little to no support in Europe, the United States, or even in the world's Jewish community prior to the Holocaust. The fact that Israel is the product of post-WWII guilt by Western world powers and that the atrocities committed against the European Jews during the war are constantly used to justify the creation of the state of Israel are not controversial statements. Why, then, did 23 European delegates to the Durban II conference stage a walk-out during Ahmadinejad's speech as soon as he mentioned the use of the Holocaust as a pretext for the creation of Israel? The French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei revealed the delegates' refusal to even listen to criticism regarding Zionism and the Jewish state, as if any dissent is off-limits, when he told the Associated Press, "As soon as he started to address the question of the Jewish people and Israel, we had no reason to stay in the room."

Why is Ahmadinejad condemned as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier when it is perfectly clear that he condemns the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews as "evil done in the name of xenophobia" and "the dire consequences of racism in Europe"?

Is Ahmadinejad wrong to question the establishment of an exclusively Jewish state on Palestinian land in response to the genocidal acts of Hitler's Germany? Should it not be pointed out that a "Jewish" state, by definition, is racist and exclusionist, lest the nobility of Zionism be in doubt? Why would addressing the creation and ongoing support of an ethnocentric government that engages in selective democracy, institutionalized militarism, immoral occupation, illegal colonization, and systematic ethnic cleansing be deemed counter-productive at a conference devoted to opposing racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance?

"The word Zionism personifies racism that falsely resorts to religion and abuses religious sentiments to hide their hatred and ugly faces," Ahmadinejad said, clearly demarcating the distinction between the 19th century colonial ideology of Jewish nationalism and the Jewish religion. Nevertheless, British ambassador Peter Gooderham called these remarks "anti-Semitic."

Because Ahmadinejad called for an "end to Zionism," countless news agencies erroneously report that he seeks the "destruction of Israel." His speech was called "offensive, inflammatory, utterly unacceptable" and "reprehensible" by dedicated Zionist and British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called it "an intolerable call to racist hate," while the US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff described the speech as "vile and hateful." The Vatican called it "extremist and unacceptable" and the President of the European Jewish Congress, Dr. Moshe Kanto, condemned it as "revisionist history and lies."

Perhaps Ahmadinejad's speech let too many cats out of what many hope are hermetically sealed bags. The cowardice displayed by the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Poland by boycotting the conference from the outset, as well as the embarrassing walk-out by 23 attending delegations, proves that the Western world would rather demonize a fearless truth-teller who refuses to be muzzled, than recognize the racism and injustice enabled by its own support and silence. There was no annihilationist or violent rhetoric in Ahmadinejad's speech, despite what one might read in the mainstream press. Opposing Zionism is not a threat of military action, but rather a call for political reform.

Dorothy Thompson, the German-American journalist and anti-Nazi activist, once wrote, "Fear grows in darkness; if you think there's a bogeyman around, turn on the light." In his bold and uncompromising Durban II address, President Ahmadinejad, long cast by the West as the Iranian bogeyman, has done his part to illuminate the truths about Zionism and the hypocrisy of its supporters.

The boycotts, protests, "spontaneous" walk-outs, and other forms of pro-imperial theatre that are already defining the Durban II conference prove one thing: alethophobia, the fear of the truth, is alive and well in the West.


UPDATE: See my response to a fellow blogger regarding this speech, in the comments section below.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Rotten Orchard

On March 19th, two months after the 22-day devastation of Gaza and the slaughtering of over 1,400 Palestinians, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz published harrowing testimonies by numerous Israeli soldiers who had participated in "Operation Cast Lead." The soldiers, all recent graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory program, were speaking at an open academic forum about their recent military experiences and, as Sarah Anne Minkin of Jewish Peace News reports, "confessed that they'd knowingly shot civilians to death in Gaza, that they'd intentionally vandalized Palestinian homes, and that the rules of engagement in the war - rules handed down from above - were exceptionally permissive."

In response to these testimonies, the Israeli military denied the claims made by their own personnel, stating that even if some of the allegations and anecdotes were true (since the troops had "no reason to lie"), they were isolated incidents and did not represent the IDF as a whole. Nonetheless, the IDF promised to conduct "intensive and comprehensive inquiries" and an investigation was launched.

Eleven days later, on March 30th - half the time it took the Israeli air force, navy, and army to murder 313 children, 116 women, 497 civilian men, and 255 non-combatant police officers, wound over 6,000 more, and leave tens of thousands homeless - the Israeli military concluded that the soldiers' stories of gross misconduct and war crimes were baseless, that they were "based in hearsay" and "rumors," and declared an end to the probe. Even though the pre-military program's own founder and leader, Danny Zamir, who is himself a deputy battalion commander in the IDF, described the soldiers' testimonies as "dismaying and depressing" and concluded that the stories reveal the truth about "an army with very low norms of value," the IDF investigators disagreed. Luckily for the IDF, the "investigation" by the IDF found that the IDF was still, in fact, according to the IDF, "the most moral army in the world." What a relief that must have been.

Apparently, the claims of intentionally targeting Palestinian civilians, of shooting women and children, of the wanton destruction of civilian infrastructure and personal property, even if they are true, are only, we are told, the misguided actions of a few bad apples.

In fact, we are told that, in Israel, any evidence of military or political misconduct, human rights or international law violations, or racism and oppression are mere aberrations from normality, simple - however troubling - deviations from the peace-loving, ethnically tolerant, democratically representative mainstream. We are told not to judge an entire society by the misdeeds of some bad apples. These bad apples don't represent the whole Israeli orchard, which, we are told, thrives on justice and equality. (The fact that the Israeli orchard was planted atop a bulldozed Palestinian orchard is, we are told, irrelevant. Even broaching such a topic is anti-Semitic...we are told.)

We are told that the Jewish Rabbinate distributed books and pamphlets, indoctrinating Israeli troops headed for Gaza with claims that they are holy warriors fighting to expel the Palestinians (collectively called "murderers") who are "interfering with our conquest of this holy land." The rabbis preach that there is a "a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter" of Israel to non-Jews and the literature they hand out states that "when you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral." We are told that these rabid rabbis are just a handful of overzealous, extremist apples.

Even though in the first nine hours of the recent Gaza assault the Israeli Air Force dropped over 100 tons of bombs on one of the most densely populated areas on Earth - an area blockaded to ensure that no one penned up inside could escape Israeli missiles, shells, and bullets, we are told that the atrocities that occurred in Gaza must have been perpetrated by a few bad apples.

In three weeks of devastating bombings and ground assaults, the Israeli military destroyed over 4,100 homes, 25 schools and hospitals, two bridges, 1500 factories and shops, and numerous government offices and buildings in Gaza. Ten water and sewage arteries, ten electricity-generating stations, and 80% of all agricultural properties, including all farms and crops, were also destroyed. Damages to Palestinian infrastructure exceed $2 billion. Who is being held responsible for this destruction? Is it the Israeli government that authorized the operation, the military brass that planned and ordered the attacks, or the pilots, sailors, and soldiers that carried them out? We are told that the bad apples of Hamas is to blame.

We are told that "for the most part, someone who belongs to Hamas' civilian welfare organizations is treated the same way as a member of its military wing" and is a legitimate target as dictated by Shin Bet, Israel's internal security force. We are told that many of the Israeli attacks on Gaza were carried out via remote control. An Israeli reservist is quoted as saying, "It feels like hunting season has begun...Sometimes it reminds me of a Play Station game. You hear cheers in the war room after you see on the screens that the missile hit a target, as if it were a soccer game." Have we lost count of bad apples yet?

We are told that Parash Hill, near Sderot, with views across lush green fields to Gaza City with the Mediterranean Sea beyond, was full of Israeli sightseers during the Gaza assault. They came with their families, binoculars, cameras with zoom lenses, and picnic baskets to watch Israeli F-16s, Apache helicopters, and unmanned drones fire missiles into residential neighborhoods, destroying buildings and slaughtering their terrified inhabitants. They gather on this "Hill of Shame" to view the carnage in the distance, celebrating the death and destruction, justifying the killing of children by saying, "When they grow up they'll also probably be terrorists." These Israelis, for whom watching genocidal air raids is a spectator sport, must be bad apples.

The Israeli military used banned and experimental weaponry such as white phosphorous and Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME) in heavily-populated civilian neighborhoods of Gaza. These weapons cause severe burns, dismemberment and mutilation to their victims. Numerous other atrocities have been well documented by Israeli and international organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the National Lawyers Guild, and B'Tselem. We are told that the perpetrators of such blatant war crimes must surely be bad apples, but for some reason the International Criminal Court has yet to charge anyone for misconduct.

The Israeli army used flechettes, which are "anti-personnel weapons designed to penetrate dense vegetation...4cm long metal darts that are sharply pointed at the front, with four fins at the rear. Between 5,000 and 8,000 are packed into 120mm shells which are generally fired from tanks.” Wafa' Nabil Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old pregnant mother of two, was killed by flechettes in Gaza. Who would fire such heavy weaponry at a civilian? Probably just another bad apple.

Testimonies from Israeli soldiers reveal that it was common practice to storm an apartment building in Gaza and open fire upon anything that moved. Women and children waving white flags were gunned down. Soldiers "break down doors of houses for no reason other than it's cool," take over homes, write "Death to Arabs" on the walls, spit on family pictures, urinate on piles of the residents' clothing, smear shit on the walls, and receive orders to "clean out the whole house. We threw everything, everything, out of the windows to make room. The entire contents of the house went flying out the windows." Palestinians who try to run away must be terrorists, just as those who stay where they are must be terrorists. The pilot who makes a minor mistake like bombing a school and killing 40 Palestinian children is forgiven while the Israeli squad commander who says, "That's what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn't have to be with a weapon, you don't have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him. With us it was an old woman, on whom I didn't see any weapon. The order was to take the person out, that woman, the moment you see her...I simply felt it was murder in cold blood" is yet another bad apple.

The sharpshooter who shot and killed a mother and her two children because they misunderstood orders (to turn right instead of left), given to them by Israeli soldiers who had invaded and occupied their home for days, holding them captive in one room before releasing them, was just a bad apple who made a mistake. According to the sniper's squad leader:

"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it...The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way."
Maybe he wasn't such a bad apple, actually. After all, he was just following orders.

The non-commissioned officer who revealed that when the Israeli army "entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up storey by storey...I call that murder. Each storey, if we identify a person, we shoot them," must just be talking about orders given by a bad apple or two and carried out by some more bad apples.

We are told that the Israeli soldiers who have custom t-shirts designed and printed for their units at end of training or field duty that bear such images as dead Palestinian babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques are just bad apples.

The snipers who wear shirts depicting a dead Palestinian baby with a teddy bear and his weeping mother beside him, accompanied by the inscription "Better use Durex," the soldiers wearing shirts with a drawing of a Palestinian boy and the words, "Don't bother running because you'll die tired," those who wear shirts depicting an Israeli soldier raping a Palestinian girl and the inscription "No virgins, no terror attacks," the sharpshooters from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion who wear T-shirts showing a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, and the slogan, "1 shot, 2 kills," these, we are told again and again, are just some more bad apples.

We are told that troops in Gaza engaged in a military practice called the "Neighborhood Procedure," wherein Palestinian civilians are forced, often at gunpoint, to enter homes and ask the inhabitants to come out. This practice has been rejected by Israel's own Supreme Court due to the ruling that using civilians in military operations violates not only IDF protocol but also international law, such as the Geneva Conventions that guarantee immunity to all civilians. So what is happening to the bad apples in the IDF who are using Palestinian civilians as human shields?

We are told that the IDF commanders who ordered their troops to shoot at Palestinian and Red Cross paramedics, rescuers, and ambulances in Gaza, preventing evacuation and treatment of the wounded, resulting in the deaths of an unknown number of Palestinians, in another unequivocal breach of international law, are most likely just some bad apples.

The rules of engagement in Gaza, as defined by the Israeli military, state that a Palestinian need only be in a "problematic" location for him to be "incriminated" and thereby automatically be "sentenced to death. Often, there is no need for him to be identified as carrying a weapon. Three people in the home of a known Hamas operative, someone out on a roof at 2 A.M. about a kilometer away from an Israeli post, a person walking down the wrong street before dawn - all are legitimate targets for attack." According to the IDF, the bad apples here are the "suspicious" Palestinians, stupidly living their lives without seeking permission from Israel, and not the soldiers shooting unarmed civilians.

In Gaza, Israeli soldiers entered the home of a woman and her ten children and told her she had to choose five of her children to "give as a gift to Israel." After ignoring the screams and pleas for mercy and repeating their demands, the soldiers said they would choose for her and murdered five of the children before her eyes. These soldiers are apparently bad apples.

A senior Israeli reserve officer, after hearing about some of the barbarity of the Israeli troops in Gaza, said it was important to "bear in mind what sort of values inductees have when they come to us these days. Every year, the education system produces a significant number of little racists." That sounds like a significant number of bad little apples.

Israel's new Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is one such bad apple. Lieberman, leader of the openly fascist Israel Beteynu party, ran for Prime Minister in Israel's recent elections under the banner of "No loyalty, no citizenship" with the hopes of implementing oaths of allegiance to a Jewish state in order for Arab citizens of Israel and Jewish critics of Israeli policies toward Palestinians to maintain their citizenship. Lieberman even led a call to ban two Arab parties from Knesset elections - a move that was approved by the Central Elections Committee but subsequentally overturned by the Supreme Court. Undeterred, Lieberman said, "We will not give up. In the next Knesset we will pass the Citizenship Law, which will put a border on the disloyalty of some of the Israeli Arabs." He is also a confessed and convicted child abuser, is under investigation for money-laundering and fraud, was a proud member of Meir Kahane's Kach political party, which was outlawed due to its overt racism, and lives in an illegal Israeli settlement in the Palestinian West Bank.

As Minister of Transport in 2003, Lieberman, in response to the news that 350 Palestinian prisoners were to be given amnesty by Israel, declared that he would be happy to provide buses to take the prisoners to the Dead Sea and drown them there.

Of the thirty-three parties running for the Knesset in the recent elections, Israel Beteynu came in third. In mock elections held in 10 high schools prior to the official vote, the party came in first, followed by the hard-right Likud. The left-wing Meretz party came in dead last. Lieberman's rabid teenage supporters wave Israeli flags and shout "Death to the Arabs" outside Israel Beteynu conferences, openly call for a fascist dictatorship in Israel, and explain their support for such beliefs by drawing connections to their mandatory military service this way:
"It gives us motivation against the Arabs. You want to enlist in the army so you can stick it to them. The preparation gives you the motivation to stick it to the Arabs and we want to elect someone who'll do that. I like Lieberman's thinking about the Arabs. Bibi doesn't want to go as far."
So, how many bad apples does it take for Israel Beteynu to finish third in parliamentary elections?

Lieberman's predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is seen as being more of a centrist in Israeli politics. As leader of the Kadima party, founded in 2005 by war criminal Ariel Sharon, Livni supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in order to transfer Arab citizens out of Israel. Speaking at a Tel Aviv high school a week before the Gaza attacks, she said, "My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic State of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines...And among other things, I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, 'your national solution lies elsewhere.'" Is someone who limits national identity and the full spectrum of rights to only Jewish citizens of Israel, thereby excluding nearly one fifth of the population, a good apple or a bad apple?

Benyamin Netanyahu is Israel's new Prime Minister and head of the Likud party. The 1999 party platform, more than a decade newer than the constantly-pointed-to Hamas Charter, confirms Likud's unabashed support for illegal Jewish settlements in Palestine:
"The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting."
The document also states that "Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem" and wholly rejects any semblance of a sovereign Palestinian state:
"The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs."
If we are told that Hamas leaders Khalid Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh are bad apples for consistently offering 30-year-long truces and accepting (and recognizing) Israel as a legitimate political entity within its 1967 borders, then what exactly are Netanyahu and his Likudniks?

We are told that the Israeli government has banned Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem. At one recent event, celebrating the Arab League's designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture for 2009, Israeli authorities broke up a children's march at an East Jerusalem Catholic school and when the teenage girls present at the gathering "released a few dozen balloons in the red, white, green and black colors of the Palestinian flag over the walled Old City...Israeli military police and soldiers quickly moved into the schoolyard and popped the remaining balloons." Obviously, these balloon-poppers and party-poopers are just some local bad apples enforcing the law.

A recent poll by Israel's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies shows that 46% of Israel's Jewish citizens favor the "transfer" of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza, 31% favor the "transfer" of Israeli-Arabs out of the country altogether. Moreover, 55% say that the state should encourage Arab emigration, only 49% support the establishment of a Palestinian state, 61% believe Israeli-Arabs pose a threat to Israel's security, and around 80% are opposed to Israeli-Arabs being involved in important decisions, such as delineating the country's borders. Another poll, conducted by the Israeli Association for Civil Rights, found that 78% of Jewish Israelis are opposed to Arab parties being part of a coalition government, 56% believe that “Arabs cannot attain the Jewish level of cultural development,” 75% agree that Arabs are inclined to be violent (54% of Arab Israelis feel the same way about Jews), and 75% of Israeli Jews say they would not live in the same building as Arabs.

By contrast, the United Nations Development Program reports that nearly 70% of Palestinian young adults over the age of 17 oppose the use of violence to resolve the conflict with Israel and only 8% believe that violence is an important tool. The study also found that 42% were depressed by their current conditions and 39% were "extremely" depressed (55% in Gaza).

We are told that the barbaric destruction of Gaza had the support of 90% (if not 94%) of Israelis. Assuming this percentage excludes all Palestinian citizens of Israel, we're only talking about 5 million or so bad apples.

When the seeds of a society are cultivated on a steady diet of historical falsehoods, bogus founding mythologies, unabated colonization and rampant militarism, some bad apples, infested with hatred, racism, and convictions of divine right, ethnic supremacy, and perpetual victimization, will surely grow.

But with so many bad apples, it is clear: the entire orchard is rotten.