TRUMP AND ISRAEL’S APARTHEID:
DOES HISTORY BELONG TO THE VICTOR?
“There has never been a document of culture (or civilization), which is not simultaneously one of barbarism.”
— Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”
OUR OWN HISTORY OF APARTHEID
Paul Simon, in the immortal words of “Kodachrome”, wrote about all the stuff and nonsense he learned in high school. In my schooling decades ago in Eugene, there was such a skewed slant regarding the interaction of Oregon settlers and the Native Americans. The same bias was echoed on television and in movies, with the Indians savage, the pioneers noble, and the Cavalry coming to the rescue. For example, if there was anything positive that we heard about the Nez Perce of the Wallowa region, their leader Chief Joseph, and their conflict with the “white man”, it was that Joseph surrendered.
Yet now more time has passed since the Indian Wars. What happened to the Nez Perce, expelled from their ancestral lands in Oregon and sent to live elsewhere, is shown as tragic now by the city of Joseph in northeastern Oregon. Forty-five years after Chief Joseph’s death, construction began on Portland’s Chief Joseph grade school, and less than a decade ago, a poignant mural of this chieftain (with his words about equality) was painted at this North Portland school site.
HISTORY AND THE VICTOR
Nonetheless, there are many current world developments where we are more influenced by the victor’s side of the story, especially if the victor is associated with a significant element of U.S. citizenry or power elites. Yet, there is a need to back off from what we think we know about the past and the current “now”, as Walter Benjamin (again) states:
“It is a procedure of empathy. Its origin is the heaviness at heart, the acedia [listless apathy], which despairs of mastering the genuine historical picture, which so fleetingly flashes by.”
For instance, it is taken as given, for the most part, that the U.S. is and should be allied with Israel, as has been the case since the ‘40’s. Now as then, too few Americans know much about the Palestinian side of the issue or even know well any Arab-Americans. So, it is not surprising that the take of the mainstream media typically represents “conventional wisdom” on Israel-Palestine (or Palestine-Israel), and that such reporting typically goes unchallenged over issues of bias or balance.
TRUMP’S “PEACE PLAN” AS ISRAELI LAND GRAB
Without irony, the AP story (carried by the Oregonian on January 29) labels the Trump-Netanyahu deal as a “peace plan”. But, in fact, it is yet one more story of the intensifying Israeli form of apartheid and the related neo-colonial project, with the Palestinians of the West Bank being forced into smaller and smaller reservation-like areas.
I grew up in a pro-Israel milieu, and for a short period believed in the Christian Zionist theory (i.e., the re-establishment of the state of Israel functioning as a pre-condition for the imminent Second Coming). In the 80s or 90s, (when Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle had come out) an activist friend introduced me to Noam Chomsky’s alternate view on recent Israel history, and we later attended a lecture by Rabbi Joey Wolf (retired from Havurah Shalom) and Palestinian Mubarak Awad. (Rabbi Wolf got an earful for his remarks after that lecture, for his less-than-total support of Israel.) At that time, it felt like speaking out on this issue was close to a lost cause and that few in Portland were so doing.
FUNDAMENTALIST RELIGIOUS SUB-CONTEXT
Of course, 9/11 changed a lot of things in America. It has motivated many progressives to endeavor to understand the Middle East better, as well as to think about ethno-religious tolerance and to what degree we are a secular society. As a result of my own process in this regard, I have great difficulty tolerating the particular religious interpretation (and counter-historical viewpoint) justifying this “peace plan”. At the White House press conference on January 28th, Netanyahu, in referring to the West Bank, talked about the plan supporting Israel’s sovereignty over areas of “Judea and Samaria” (biblical geographic terms). He recited a number of Old Testament episodes and figures to support Israel’s expansion — biblical history from over two millennia ago. Yet, this increasing annexation and control of Palestinian territory, as well as overt White House approval of the settlement phenomena occurring in the West Bank, is contrary to the secular framework of international law and UN findings.
HYPOCRISY IN THE PROMISE OF AID TO THE PALESTINIANS
And do we believe that the Trump Administration will aid the Palestinians? This cold-blooded political machine, which believes in cutting food stamps, adding work requirements to “expanded Medicaid”, leaving green card applicants out of luck if they receive health benefits or financial aid, and in cutting aid to Central America — how can it be that this Administration will really do something good for a change? This is the Administration that in 2018 cut the UN refugee funding for Palestinians (through UNRWA) by more than what they now promise in “investment”. The UNRWA money cut by Trump was indeed allocated by Congress. Senators Feinstein, Merkley, Sanders, Warren, and others signed onto a letter in August 2018 unsuccessfully urging the Administration to release UNRWA funding. There was even a fund-raiser that same year, sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and others, to help privately support UNRWA.
About 5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank or Gaza. Juan Cole, history professor at the University of Michigan, interprets the “peace plan” for them this way:
Although the Trump Plan uses the diction of allowing a Palestinian “state,” the entity proposed does not have control over its borders or airspace or coastal waters and cannot make treaties with other states or go to the United Nations over continued Israeli violations of international law. In other words, it is not a state at all. It is a Bantustan of the sort the Apartheid South African government created as a way of unloading its African population so that they could be stripped of South African citizenship….
Since …apartheid is a War Crime in the Rome Statute that underpins the International Criminal Court, the whole plan is a series of War Crimes…
The national co-executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Rabbi Alissa Wise, called this plan a distraction ploy by two warmongers and went on to say:
“International law, global consensus and decades of U.S. policy concur that Palestinian land isn’t for Trump to give away nor for Netanyahu to steal. The only way forward towards lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians is through justice, freedom and equality for everyone.”
CANDIDATES AND CONGRESS WEIGH IN
Though Bernie Sanders has long been somewhat hesitant to criticize Israel, he has nonetheless been the most forthright of the candidates about the issue, and indeed was critical of the President’s plan. Warren and Buttigieg have criticized the annexation described by the plan. In contrast, former Mayor Bloomberg was the candidate coming closest to putting a positive spin on the President’s plan. A super-PAC opposing Bernie, the Democratic Majority for Israel, “caused a stir the end of January by airing the first set of $700 thousand worth of television ads in Iowa, attacking the Jewish senator from Vermont by name” (Haaretz, Jan. 30, 2020). Roll Call had these comments from the leader of a Palestinian rights’ advocacy group:
“The ice that they are standing on, particularly the pro-Israel Democrats, has grown thinner and thinner over the years,” said Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian-American and executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “For Democrats who claim to aspire to these liberal principles and values like equality, like freedom, like justice, like civil rights, it becomes harder by the day to be supportive of an Israeli government that is opposed to all of those things in practice. . . . I think the pro-Israel Democrat is an endangered species.”
At one time, any criticism of Israel on the part of a Congressional politician was considered fatal to re-election. The defeat of Illinois Rep. Paul Findley in the early ‘80’s is considered a key example of this. However, Mr. Munayyer is right, the times are changing: the cracks are beginning to show in the formerly rock-solid Congressional support of Israel, and this change is definitely happening at the grassroots level of the Democratic Party.
In Congress, the Progressive Caucus came out against the “peace plan”, with a statement reading:
“Any proposal that refuses to include Palestinian voices is not a plan at all. Rather, it’s a further entrenchment of the disastrous status quo that violates international law and denies basic human rights to millions of people.”
In the last few years, there has been a Congressional focus on legislation seeking to weaken the BDS movement. (“BDS” refers to the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions related to companies producing goods in the settlements or producing the surveillance/weaponry used in the Israeli military control of Palestinians.) The Senate version of the latest bill criticizing BDS (S. Res. 120), introduced last spring, has never come to the floor, though 69 senators are co-sponsors (including Wyden and Klobuchar). Sanders, Warren, and Merkley are not endorsers (per Congress.gov). In the House, the similar resolution (H. Res. 46) passed, with Earl Blumenauer being one of 16 votes against and the only Oregonian so voting. Albert Lee, Blumenauer’s Dem opponent in the upcoming primary, has also shown an interest in justice in the region and joined a downtown “Rally for Gaza” protest last November.
It has long been a goal of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main pro-Israel lobby group) to promote hostility towards Iran, as reflected in presentations at its national and local events, or on-line. Nonetheless, it is becoming more common for progressive politicians to distance themselves from the organization. Trump’s anti-Iran bellicosity and the Soleimani assassination have resulted in an even stronger push-back within Congress to the Administration’s actions.
MULTNOMAH COUNTY DEMOCRATS TAKE A STAND
At a grassroots’ level, the Multnomah Democrats Central Committee passed a resolution in 2017 rejecting the anti-BDS legislation being discussed in Congress that year, legislation that did not pass. A resolution passed in June 2018 by the Clackamas County Dems demanded an investigation of the killing of unarmed Gazan protesters by the Israeli military. The Dem parties of our neighboring states, Washington and California, as well as Oregon’s Washington County, have platform planks discussing the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a just way and through negotiation with both parties. Party resolutions have passed at both state and our county level denouncing possible war with Iran.
INSIST ON THE IMPOSSIBLE
Many a song, even after the 60-70s heyday of political music, speak to the sentiment of opposing the American empire and its foreign policy: certainly Green Day’s American Idiot, “Channel Z” by the B52’s (“good old boys telling lies”), etc. Frank Turner’s “Love, Ire, and Song” chronicles how his youthful political idealism led to disgust and disillusionment. All the same, as the song’s protagonist, he rises once more from his inertia. Turner chose this song as apropos to close out a Portland Trump-era concert. For those who have labored so many years for a more just American foreign policy, I end with Frank’s words:
So, come on! Let’s be young, let’s be crass enough to care
Let’s refuse to live and learn, let’s make all our mistakes again, yes
And then darling, just for one day, we can fight and we can win
And if only for a little while, we could insist on the impossible…
UNRWA funding: In the Independent, Sept. 1, 2018, “Trump administration cuts aid funding for Palestinian refugees: Nearly $300m of planned support has been stopped as US demands reforms in way United Nations relief agency is run”
Sen. Feinstein letter on restoring UNRWA funding: www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/8/feinstein-senators-to-trump-administration-restore-aid-to-palestinians-in-gaza
Juan Cole in Common Dreams, Jan. 29, 2020, “Top 5 Ways Trump Plan for Palestinians Is a Crime Against Humanity”,(www.commondreams.org/views/2020/01/29/top-5-ways-trump-plan-palestinians-crime-against-humanity).
Jewish Voice for Peace on “peace plan”: //jewishvoiceforpeace.org/doa-peace-plan/
U.S. political leaders’ response to “peace plan”: Haaretz, Jan. 30, 2020, “Democratic Candidates Slam Trump’s Plan, as pro-Israel Democrats Slam Sanders: What might have been a moment of unity regarding U.S. policy towards Israel came precisely as the first major shot was fired by the Democratic Majority for Israel at Bernie Sanders”. (Also covered in NY Times, Jan. 29, 2020, “Fresh Attacks on Sanders as Moderates Grow Worried”)
Roll Call, Jan. 29, 2020, “Trump’s Mideast peace plan puts pro-Israel Democrats in a bind: Possible lasting break between the Israeli government and Democratic lawmakers”.
Local AIPAC banquets: Street Roots, May 28, 2013, “Commentary: Pro-Israel event draws politicians and protest”; Portland Alliance, 2008, “The true costs of supporting AIPAC”.
Congressional Progressive Caucus on “peace plan”: Jan. 29, 2020, “Congressional Progressive Caucus Denounces Hollow Trump Administration Plan That Further Harms Palestinian-Israeli Relations”.
For other background: Our American Israel, by Amy Kaplan, 2018; Arab Voices, James Zogby, 2010; “What I saw in Gaza Changed Me forever”, by Ned Rosch (local activist), Yes magazine, May 6, 2019.
Streaming videos featuring Noam Chomsky and others (at Mult. Co. library): · The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States; Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.