Friday, December 30, 2005
Santiago Alba Rico - Immigration and the Iron Curtain of Melilla
INVITATION TO THE BOMB : The Iron Curtain of the Melilla Border
By Santiago Alba Rico
We Spaniards should have reserved a bit of naiveté for this occasion. During the last years we have been exposed to such a digest of horrors that our conscience got jammed. Spain trembled with the destruction of the Twin Towers and its 3,000 dead; it trembled with the bombing of the Atocha Station and its 200 victims torn to pieces; it also trembled with the missiles over Baghdad and with Abu-Ghraib’s tortures and trembled again with the scenes of a New Orleans turned upside down by the water and abandoned by its government. Nevertheless, much more impressive than all that –both as a question and as an image– is the zoological treatment accorded by the Spanish State to the African nationals at the iron curtain of the Melilla border with Morocco.
The gunfire, deportation and caging of thousands of persons who were asking for help–that strategy they call “migratory policy,” just as Hitler used to call “demographic policy” the transfer to Auschwitz of the European Jews–de facto challenges before the eyes of the world the legitimacy, viability and justice of the political and economic order in place.
At the same time, the reaction of our politicians, our mass media and our public opinion challenges our right to the wealth, to democratic institutions and, especially, our present and future right to feel we are good. After all, the pain caused by both the 11-S and 11-M can be attributed to “wicked terrorists” just the same that the pain of Baghdad’s children can be attributed to “wicked imperialists.” But in Melilla there is no doubt: we have photographed the system, we have fixed forever the image of an order that has to shoot the people who ask for help, that cannot stop treating as animals the people who are hungry, which cannot even allow hospitality.
The very fact that the African nationals are asking for help from the same people who rob them demonstrates their desperation; the very fact that those who rob them answer with bullets and clubs their demand for help demonstrates the irrevocable ignominy of capitalism. We can fight distant wars, impose programs of structural adjustment, sign in an office a commercial agreement and destroy ten countries without violating in appearance any commandment. But if a few men and women who are hungry and thirsty knock to our door then we have no option but to breach their heads, shoot them and abandon them in the desert. Whether one believes or not in God, this is a sin, a shameful, dirty, abject, despicable sin, and it is not strange that we make so big an effort to conceal it, to forget it or to justify it.
Prime Minister Zapatero gave orders to the Spanish army to murder a beggar who was extending his hand, just like neonazi gangs used to do to the beggars who slept in cardboards, and Spain either applauded or kept silent. Even the COPE Catholic Church-run radio station celebrated with a joke when comparing the struggle of these desperados to an “Olympic pole vaulting to Spain.” An extreme right wing Spanish website criticized the rogue delirium of an “invasion which is not pushed back by the government with enough severity”; suffice it to read the news and commentaries of the Spanish mainstream media to see how they have changed this unconcealable shame into euphemisms, periphrasis and hyperbatons as complicated and fragile as a light glass: “Melilla is closely living the drama of immigration,” as if the Melillans were the victims and as if it the solution should be to live the drama from afar; “Double perimeter of frontier waterproofing” is an evil sanitary euphemism which conceals under an aseptic technicality a bristly wire fence which dehumanized the people who tried to jump. “Some of them have died in the attempt and others have in their body the sequels of this desperate action,” as if they had hurt themselves alone in a mountain-climbing competition; “Their situation puts into question the morality of the kingdom of Morocco,” because the kingdom of Spain would prefer, indeed, that they were killed on their way here–leaving for the Muslims a dirty work that the Christians cannot do without hurting their sense of morality and without dirtying the words democracy and human rights we Westerners eternally mouth.
These are contradictions that only can be justified by filling them with emptiness, that is to say, with more and more armed nihilism. If a soldier who practices torture with prisoners goes back home in the evenings and wants to be an example for his children, these prisoners have to be nothing at all. A society like ours, which chooses nonstop poverty in Africa, uses force against African nationals when they threaten our guilty well-being while at the same time wants to preserve its values and its moral superiority, has to become convinced that these Africans deserve their destiny as we deserve our supermarkets and cellular phones. Thus, Melilla’s fence is a concept as natural as the Mediterranean Sea and as just as the light of the day.
But this fence, which slashes the world in two without threshold or transition, is also a screen in which are reflected two unconcealable contradictions which are easier to ignore elsewhere. The first one has to deal with the direction and the very possibility of displacements by individuals in an unequal economic space in which the formally homogeneous nation-states unequally impose their sovereignty.
International conventions and local constitutions, in accordance with the UN principles, recognizes and demands respect for the individual right of citizens to go out of their countries. But the same conventions and constitutions, in accordance with the UN principles leave the right of entry in the hands of the states. Going out is an individual right; entering is a state right. In an economically unequal space in which the sovereignty is also unequally distributed, if the Spaniards seem to have the individual right to enter Morocco or Indonesia it is only because the Spanish State has enough force to debilitate or overcome the Moroccan or Indonesian sovereignties; if conversely the Senegalese, the Nigerians or the Moroccans do not seem to have the right to go out of Africa it is only because the Spanish sovereignty is sovereign enough to prevent them from entering Spain. In fact, the Spaniards can enter Morocco or Indonesia because they are not individuals but impersonal manifestations of a sovereign state; by the same token, the Senegalese cannot go out of Africa because they are only defenseless individuals detached from non sovereign states. Paradoxically and against all appearances, the freedom of movement is only prohibited to individuals.
This contradiction, in any case, allows Western states–as long as they are not forced to shoot against the fences–to be morally scandalized by the restrictions that both the Soviet Union and the RDA used to impose on whoever wanted to go out, and at the same time allows the same Western states to de facto suspend such a right, without violating any commandment nor shaking their values when they prevent the entry by all means –either legal or violent– of nationals who go individually out of their controlled and ragged nations (turned into real “containers” by means of bilateral agreements with governments more than doubtfully democratic). But this contradiction also determines and is the sine qua non of a double spatial displacement, in opposite directions, ascending and descending, which is coincident with these actively political figures we call tourist and immigrant.
As abstract depositories of a top power, millions of Western tourists freely enter every year Egypt, Bali, Morocco or Tunis, while millions of Latin-American and African immigrants are pushed back, as pure helpless individuals, at the borders of the USA and Europe. In fact, and in structural terms, these immigrants are now and always immigrants from birth in their own country, even if they do not go out of their borders, as it is demonstrated by the fact that tourists, from their part, travel abroad provided with their Melillan fences and impose them wherever they go: hotels armored with strong security measures, private beaches, closed circuits protected from the natives, who can only penetrate them clandestinely and are always considered to be inopportune, troublesome or suspicious.
And so, in the context accepted by all of an inequality of sovereignties which vetoes displacements by individuals –and only by them– and which brings face to face tourists and immigrants independently of where they are, the bombs of Bali, Egypt or Kenya were only equivalent, but at a less harmful scale, to the “migratory” Western policies that in the Strait of Gibraltar and the US-Mexican border alone have killed 35,000 persons in the last ten years. The logic behind either the Spanish politicians or mainstream media forces us to consider that terrorist attacks on Western tourists are legitimate mechanisms of restrictive sovereignty, at the same level of the iron curtains, the bullets and the deportations we impose on the sub-Saharan individuals in Melilla. As such, Melilla’s fence is an open invitation to the bomb and a legitimization of its effects.
The second contradiction of the fence is in fact a prolongation of the first one and has to deal with the well known paradox of human rights. Against the universal principles of the French Revolution, the reactionary Joseph de Maistre stated that in the world that there was no one whom we could call men except for Spaniards, Frenchmen, Englishmen and even Persian (if Montesquieu’s testimony was to be accepted, as he had written about them). A Century and a half later, this accurate joke undresses the absurd and tragic consequences of trying to defend human rights in an economically unequal space formally governed by the nation-state.
Hannah Arendt called attention to the fact that once devoid of motherland, family, money, and reduced to their pure human condition, the stateless and refugees of the Second World War were at the margins of any right. As pure individuals, the men who jump Melilla’s fence and destroy their passport in order not to be deported back to their infrasovereign nations are therefore deprived of any guardianship, lack resources and nationality and become men, only men with just their naked human condition to resist. And precisely from this moment –and because of it– they stop being subjects of right and their destiny is the desert. The reactionary Joseph de Maistre was right and it is precisely capitalist neo-liberalism which gives him reason while at the same time continues proclaiming the sacred and universal character of human rights. As only men, men do not have any right here and now. Whoever is not more than a man, more than an individual –be it Spaniard, millionaire or racketeer or any combination of the three– can only aspire to be imprisoned or killed. The Spaniards who proudly stroll at Marrakesh’s square are nothing by themselves. Their disregard of others and their assumed invulnerability is not the result of anything they have done or deserved but exclusively of the possession of a passport whose fortuitous value can suddenly disappear.
The beatings and insults to the sub-Saharan nationals in Melilla are something slightly more radical and fearsome than racism; they are the manifestation of a belligerent and potentially homicidal anti-humanism. The worst thing one can possibly say of a man is that he is only a man; the worst thing one can possibly do with a man is to treat him as if he was a man. There is nothing more dangerous in this world that to be simply a man. Although perhaps it is even worse to be a Senegalese man.
I propose that the right wing Spanish media propose to the organizers of the Paris-Dakar rally that they offer a bonus of several seconds to the pilots who in their dizzy race through the desert knock down an African child, because this way he will not be able to travel to Spain. And I propose Al Zawahiri to propose to Al Qaida it offers a few additional seconds of paradise to the natives who break the leg of a tourist in a Bali or Cairo souvenir shop so that he/she cannot return to these vacation countries. The difference between these two proposals is an integral part of the sinister logic of things, even if the victims are also unequally innocent, well to the contrary of what we use to think. The only difference between Western and Islamic fundamentalism stands is that the former is already in power and it is followed, voted for and applauded by the majority of a population who travels all over the world without anybody to prevent them, and do it happily in shorts.
Translated from Spanish into English by Manuel Talens and revised by Nancy Almendras, both members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity (email@example.com). This translation is on Copyleft.
This article appeared originally at Rebelión (http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=21134)
The Spanish philosopher Santiago Alba Rico has written numerous essays and books on Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics. He has been living in the Arab world for the last seventeen years and has translated into Spanish the Egyptian poet Naguib Surur and the Iraqi writer Mohamed Judayr.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
James Petras - The Politics of Language, Escalation or "Retaliation"
December 26, 2005
It is commonplace to read each day in the most prestigious newspapers (Financial Times, New York Times, London Times, Washington Post) of Israeli “retaliation”/ The reportage frequently mentions a Palestinian attack on an Israeli colonial settlement in the West Bank or urban population center in Israel. The action and reaction always is located in a limited time frame. Palestinian action is always the initial moment and the Israeli military attack is always described as a response or “retaliatory” and therefore, presumably a form of defensive action, “justifiable”.
Thus what appears as objective reportage on two sets of military actions, is in fact an arbitrary selection of time frames which lays the basis for a highly biased interpretive framework. The pro-Israeli tilt, evident in the chosen time sequence, and the framework, are derived from the general ideological argument which portrays Israel as a democracy, defending itself from Arab-Muslim terrorists and not an expansionist colonial power engaged in violent ethnic cleansing and large-scale long-term forced population expulsion.
What is absent from the reportage of the prestigious “news” accounts is the sequence of events preceding the Palestinian attacks. Here we are likely to find a series of Israeli military incursions, bombings and killing of non-combatants, summary executions of political prisoners, as well as arbitrary arrests, home demolitions and illegal (even by colonial standards) land seizures.
An examination of readily available, well-documented weekly reports by Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), throws a wholly different light on the context and framework for understanding the sequence of events and, equally important, the nature and goals of the Israeli state.
For the week of December 8-14, 2005, the PCHR recorded:
- 10 Palestinians killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) of which 7 of victims were extra-judicially executed by the IOF in the Gaza Strip.
- 34 Palestinian civilians, including 17 children were wounded by the IOF.
- IOF attacked civilian targets in the Gaza Strip
- IOF conducted 40 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank
- Houses were raided and 91 Palestinian civilians; including, university professors, parliamentary candidates and 4 children were arrested.
- The closure of the Moslem Youth Association in Hebron for 2 years
- A Palestinian house was seized, its occupants evicted and it was transformed into an IOF military site.
- IOF continued a total siege on the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and imposed severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.
- IOF arrested 12 Palestinian civilians, including 6 children, at various checkpoints in the West Bank.
- IOF used rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse peaceful demonstrations protesting the Annexation Wall wounding a child and 6 demonstrators.
- Israeli settlers continued to attack Palestinian civilians and property in the OPT, while the IOF confiscated land from several Palestinian villages, near Bethlehem, Hebron and Jerusalem evicting 30 Palestinian families.
In this context Palestinian military actions are clearly defensive of community, family and livelihood.
A survey of previous reports covering 2005, indicates that the data for the week of December 8-14, 2005 was fairly representative of Israeli activity. If we were to multiply the weekly findings by years: 52 X 5 X military assaults???? We would capture the magnitude of Israeli offensive military action. The overwhelming evidence, both in terms of scale, scope and time frame of Israeli military attacks clearly points to persistent Israeli offensive activities linked to territorial expansion, colonial oppression and ethnic cleansing.
The indiscriminant attacks on civilians and children, the systematic destruction and blockage of essential transportation and travel routes, and the vigorous application of policies of collective guilt (arresting family members of suspected guerrillas, the blowing up of family homes of suspects) have everything to do with destroying the basis of economic activity, the social fabric of civil society and family networks.
The empirical evidence provides the basis for concluding that Israeli military attacks on Palestinians, by their systematic and continuous nature, are not retaliatory; they are clearly detonators of Palestinian military responses. Israelis are not victims rather victimizers, as it evident from a multiplicity of actions: seizing homes, land, prisoners, transport routes etc. The initiative and design of the Israeli actions are directed at intimidating and impoverishing Palestinians and ultimately forcing them to abandon their country to achieve the goal of a “pure Jewish state” based on rabbinically approved “blood ties” not dissimilar from previous racialist clerical regimes.
The respectable media’s constant reiteration of the colonialist “retaliatory” rhetoric can be seen as a propaganda weapon designed to obfuscate Israeli ethnic cleansing and its military expansion, and the underlying racialist-clerical underpinnings of its strategic goal of a pure Jewish state. The media’s choice of works – adjectives and verbs – is part of a cultural war, which is embedded in the structural hegemony of pro-Israeli followers and supporters.
(Mille Grazie al grande Jeff Blankfort for sending me this article! -MR)
Monday, December 26, 2005
James Petras - Israel's War with Iran - the unabridged version
Israel’s War with Iran: The Coming Mid East Conflagration
Israel Bombs Iran: The US Suffers the Consequences
Israel’s political and military leadership have repeatedly and openly declared their preparation to militarily attack Iran in the immediate future. Their influential supporters in the US have made Israel’s war policy the number one priority in their efforts to secure Presidential and Congressional backing. The arguments put forth by the Israeli government and echoed by their followers in the US regarding Iran’s nuclear threat are without substance or fact and have aroused opposition and misgivings throughout the world, among European governments, international agencies, among most US military leaders and the public, the world oil industry and even among sectors of the Bush Administration.
An Israeli air and commando attack on Iran will have catastrophic military consequences for US forces and severe loss of human life in Iraq, most likely ignite political and military violence against pro-US Arab-Muslim regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, perhaps leading to their overthrow.
Without a doubt Israeli war preparations are the greatest immediate threat to world peace and political stability.
Israel’s War Preparations
Never has an imminent war been so loudly and publicly advertised as Israel’s forthcoming military attack against Iran. When the Israeli Military Chief of Staff, Daniel Halutz, was asked how far Israel was ready to go to stop Iran’s nuclear energy program, he said “Two thousand kilometers” – the distance of an air assault (Financial Times (FT) Dec 12, 2005). More specifically Israeli military sources reveal that Israel’s current and probably next Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Israel’s armed forces to prepare for air strikes on uranium enrichment sites in Iran (Times (London), Dec 11, 2005). According to the London Times the order to prepare for attack went through the Israeli defense ministry to the Chief of Staff. During the first week in December, “…sources inside the special forces command confirmed that ‘G’ readiness – the highest state – for an operation was announced” (Times, Dec. 11, 2005).
On December 9, Israeli Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz, affirmed that in view of Teheran’s nuclear plans, Tel Aviv should “not count on diplomatic negotiations but prepare other solutions.” (La Jornada, Dec. 10, 2005) In early December, Ahron Zoevi Farkash, the Israeli military intelligence chief told the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that “if by the end of March, the international community is unable to refer the Iranian issue to the United Nations Security Council, then we can say that the international effort has run its course” (Times, Dec. 11, 2005).
In plain Hebrew, if international diplomatic negotiations fail to comply with Israel’s timetable, Israel will unilaterally, militarily attack Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party and candidate for Prime Minister stated that if Sharon did not act against Iran, “then when I form the new Israeli government (after the March 2006 elections) we’ll do what we did in the past against Saddam’s reactor.” (Times Dec 11, 2005). In June 1981 Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Even the pro-Labor newspaper, Haaretz, while disagreeing with the time and place of Netanyahu’s pronouncements, agreed with its substance. Haaretz criticized “(those who) publicly recommend an Israeli military option…” because it “presents Israel as pushing (via powerful pro-Israel organizations in the US) the United States into a major war.” However, Haaretz adds… “Israel must go about making its preparations quietly and securely – not at election rallies.” (Haaretz, Dec 6, 2005) Haaretz’s position, like that of the Labor Party, is that Israel not advocate war against Iran before multi-lateral negotiations are over and the International Atomic Energy Agency makes a decision.
In other words, the Israeli “debate” among the elite is not over whether to go to war but over the place to discuss war plans and the timing to launch war. Implicitly Haaretz recognizes the role played by pro-Israeli organizations in “pushing the US into the Iraq war”, perhaps a word of caution, resulting from increased US opposition to the activities of the Israel First campaigners in Congress (see below).
Israeli public opinion apparently does not share the political elite’s plans for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. A survey in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, reported by Reuters (Dec. 16, 2005) shows that 58% of the Israelis polled believed the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program should be handled diplomatically while only 36% said its reactors should be destroyed in a military strike.
Israel’s War Deadline
All top Israeli officials have pronounced the end of March as the deadline for launching a military assault on Iran. The thinking behind this date is to heighten the pressure on the US to force the sanctions issue in the Security Council. The tactic is to blackmail Washington with the “war or else” threat, into pressuring Europe (namely Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia) into approving sanctions. Israel knows that its acts of war will endanger thousands of American soldiers in Iraq, and it knows that Washington (and Europe) cannot afford a third war at this time. The end of March date also coincides with the IAEA report to the UN on Iran’s nuclear energy program. Israeli policymakers believe that their threats may influence the report, or at least force the kind of ambiguities, which can be exploited by its overseas supporters to promote Security Council sanctions or justify Israeli military action. Fixing a March date also intensifies the political activities of the pro-Israel organizations in the United States. The major pro-Israel lobbies have lined up a majority in the US Congress and Senate to push for the UN Security Council to implement economic sanctions against Iran or, failing that, endorse Israeli “defensive” action. Thousands of pro-Israel national, local and community groups and individuals have been mobilized to promote the Israeli agenda via the mass media and visits to US Congressional representatives. The war agenda also plays on exploiting the tactical disputes among the civilian militarists within the White House, between Cheney, Bolton and Abrams on one side and Rice and Rumsfeld on the other. The Cheney line has always supported an Israeli military attack, while Rice promotes the tactic of “forced failure” of the European diplomatic route before taking decisive action. Rumsfeld, under tremendous pressure from practically all of the top professional military officials, fears that an Israeli war will further accelerate US military losses. The pro-Israel lobby would like to replace the ultra-militarist Rumsfeld with the ultra-militarist Senator Joseph Lieberman, an unconditional Israel First Zealot.
US-Israeli Disagreements on an Iran War
As Israel marches inexorably toward war with Iran, disputes with Washington have surfaced. The conflicts and mutual attacks extend throughout the state institutions, and into the public discourse. Supporters and opponents of Israel’s war policy represent powerful segments of state institutions and civil society. On the side of the Israeli war policy are practically all the major and most influential Jewish organizations, the pro-Israeli lobbies, their political action committees, a sector of the White House, a majority of subsidized Congressional representatives and state, local and party leaders. On the other side are sectors of the Pentagon, State Department, a minority of Congressional members, a majority of public opinion, a minority of American Jews (Union of Reform Judaism) and the majority of active and retired military commanders who have served or are serving in Iraq.
Most of the discussion and debate in the US on Israel’s war agenda has been dominated by the pro-Israeli organizations that transmit the Israeli state positions. The Jewish weekly newspaper, Forward , has reported a number of Israeli attacks on the Bush Administration for not acting more aggressively on behalf of Israel’s policy. According to the Forward , “Jerusalem is increasingly concerned that the Bush Administration is not doing enough to block Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons…” (Dec. 9, 2005). Further stark differences occurred during the semi-annual strategic dialog between Israeli and US security officials, in which the Israelis opposed a US push for regime change in Syria, fearing a possible, more radical Islamic regime. The Israeli officials also criticized the US for forcing Israel to agree to open the Rafah border crossing and upsetting their stranglehold on the economy in Gaza.
Predictably the biggest Jewish organization in the US, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO) immediately echoed the Israeli state line as it has since its founding. Malcolm Hoenlan, President of the CPMAJO lambasted Washington for a “failure of leadership on Iran” and “contracting the issue to Europe” (Forward, Dec. 9, 2005). He went on to attack the Bush Administration for not following Israel’s demands by delaying referring Iran to the UN Security Council for sanction. The leader of the CPMAJO then turned on French, German and British negotiators accusing them of “appeasement and weakness”, and of not having a “game plan for decisive action” – presumably for not following Israel’s ‘sanction or bomb them’ game plan.
The role of AIPAC, the CPMAJO and other pro-Israeli organizations as transmission belts for Israel’s bellicose war plans was evident in their November 28, 2005 condemnation of the Bush Administration agreement to give Russia a chance to negotiate a plan under which Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium under international supervision to ensure that its enriched uranium would not be used for military purposes. AIPAC’s rejection of negotiations and demands for an immediate confrontation were based on the specious argument that it would “facilitate Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons” – an argument which flies in the face of all known intelligence data (including Israel’s) which says Iran is at least 3 to 10 years away from even approaching nuclear weaponry. AIPAC’s unconditional and uncritical transmission of Israeli demands and criticism is usually clothed in the rhetoric of US interests or security in order to manipulate US policy. AIPAC chastised the Bush regime for endangering US security. By relying on negotiations, AIPAC accused the Bush Administration of “giving Iran yet another chance to manipulate (sic) the international community” and “pose a severe danger to the United States” (Forward, Dec. 9, 2005).
Leading US spokesmen for Israel opposed President Bush’s instructing his Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khaklilzad, to open a dialog with Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq. In addition, Israel’s official ‘restrained’ reaction to Russia’s sale to Teheran of more than a billion dollars worth of defensive anti-aircraft missiles, which might protect Iran from an Israeli air strike, was predictably echoed by the major Jewish organizations in the US. No doubt an important reason for Israel’s setting an early deadline for its military assault on Iran is to act before Iran establishes a new satellite surveillance system and installs its new missile defense system.
Pushing the US into a confrontation with Iran, via economic sanctions and military attack has been a top priority for Israel and its supporters in the US for more than a decade (Jewish Times/ Jewish Telegraph Agency, Dec. 6, 2005). The AIPAC believes the Islamic Republic poses a grave threat to Israel’s supremacy in the Middle East. In line with its policy of forcing a US confrontation with Iran, AIPAC, the Israeli PACs (political action committees) and the CPMAJO have successfully lined up a majority of Congress people to challenge what they describe as the “appeasement” of Iran. According to the Jewish Times (12/6/05), “If it comes down to a political battle, signs are that AIPAC could muster strong support in Congress to press the White House to demand sanctions on Iran.” Representative Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), who has the dubious distinction of being a collaborator with Cuban exile terrorist groups and unconditional backer of Israel’s war policy, is chairwoman of the highly influential US House of Representative Middle East subcommittee. From that platform she has echoed the CPMAJO line about “European appeasement and arming the terrorist regime in Teheran” (Jewish Times 12/6/05). The Cuban-American Zionist boasted that her Iran sanctions bill has the support of 75% of the members of Congress and that she is lining up additional so-sponsors.
The pro-Israel lobby’s power, which includes AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents, the PACs and hundreds of local formal and informal organizations, is magnified by their influence and hegemony over Congress, the mass media, financial institutions, pension funds and fundamentalist Christian organizations. Within the executive branch their influence in these institutions amplifies their power far beyond their number and direct control and representation in strategic public and private institutions (which itself is formidable). AIPAC’s “Progress and Policy Report for 2005” – published on its website – lists, among its accomplishments, getting Congress to approve 100 pro-Israel legislative initiatives, $3 billion in direct aid and more than $10 billion in guaranteed loans, transfer of the most advanced military technology to Israel’s multi-billion dollar arms export corporations, and the lining up by a 410 to 1 vote in the House of Representative committing the US to Israel’s security – as it is defined by Israel.
The conflict between the Israeli elite and the Bush Administration has to be located in a broader context. Despite pro-Israeli attacks on US policy for its ‘weakness’ on Iran, Washington has moved as aggressively as circumstances permit. Facing European opposition to an immediate confrontation (as AIPAC and Israeli politicians demand) Washington supports European negotiations but imposes extremely limiting conditions, namely a rejection of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. The European “compromise” of forcing Iran to turn over the enrichment process to a foreign country (Russia), is not only a violation of its sovereignty, but is a policy that no other country using nuclear energy practices. Given this transparently unacceptable “mandate”, it is clear that Washington’s ‘support for negotiations’ is a propaganda devise to provoke an Iranian rejection, and a means of securing Europe’s support for a Security Council referral for international sanctions. Washington has absolutely no precedent to object to Russia’s sale of defensive ground to air missiles to Iran, since it is standard in the arms export business. As for as the Ambassadorial meetings in Iraq, the US has had great success in securing Iranian co-operation on stabilizing its Iraqi Shiite client regime. Iran has recognized the regime, has signed trade agreements, supported the dubious elections and provided the US with intelligence against the Sunni resistance. Given their common interests in the region, it was logical for Washington to seek to bend Iran into further co-operation via diplomatic discussions. In other words, as the US seeks to withdraw its troops from a losing war in Iraq (largely supported by AIPAC and its organizational partners), pro-Israel organizations are pushing hard to put the US into a new war with Iran. It is no surprise that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) invited the most bellicose of US Middle East warmongers, UN Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, to be its keynote speaker at its annual awards dinner (ZOA Press Release, Dec. 11, 2005). The ZOA has loyally followed all the zigzags of Israeli policy since the foundation of the State.
Despite the near unanimous support and widespread influence of the major Jewish organizations, 20% of American Jews do not support Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Even more significantly, 61% of Jews almost never talk about Israel or defend Israel in conversation with Goyim (non-Jews) (Jerusalem Post, Dec 1, 2005). Only 29% of Jews are active promoters of Israel. In other words, it is important to note that the Israel First crowd represents less than a third of the Jewish community and hence their claim to speak for ‘all’ US Jews is false and a misrepresentation. In fact, there is more opposition to Israel among Jews than there is in the US Congress. Having said that, however, most Jewish critics of Israel are not influential in the big Jewish organizations and the Israel lobby, excluded from the mass media and mostly intimidated from speaking out, especially on Israel’s war preparations against Iran. The minority Jewish critics cannot match the five to eight million dollars spent in buying Congressional votes each year by the pro-Israel lobbies.
The Myth of the Iranian Nuclear Threat
The Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Daniel Halutz, has categorically denied that Iran represents an immediate nuclear threat to Israel, let along the United States. According to Haaretz (12/14/05), Halutz stated that it would take Iran time to be able to produce a nuclear bomb – which he estimated might happen between 2008 and 2015.
Israel’s Labor Party officials do not believe that Iran represents an immediate nuclear threat and that the Sharon government and the Likud war propaganda is an electoral ploy. According to Haaretz, “Labor Party officials…accused Preme Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and other defense officials of using the Iran issue in their election campaigns in an effort to divert public debate from social issues” (Dec. 14, 2005). In a message directed at the Israeli Right but equally applicable to AIPAC and the ‘Presidents of the Major Jewish Organizations in the US, Labor member of the Knesset, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer rejected electoral warmongering: “I hope the upcoming elections won’t motivate the prime minister and defense minister to stray from government policy and place Israel on the frontlines of confrontation with Iran. The nuclear issue is an international issue and there is no reason for Israel to play a major role in it” (Haaretz, Dec. 14, 2005). Unfortunately the Israel lobby is making it a US issue and putting Washington on the frontlines…
Iran’s Nuclear Threat Fabrication
Israeli intelligence has determined that Iran has neither the enriched uranium nor the capability to produce an atomic weapon now or in the immediate future, in contrast to the hysterical claims publicized by the US pro-Israel lobbies. Mohammed El Baradei, head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has inspected Iran for several years, has pointed out that the IAEA has found no proof that Iran is trying to construct nuclear weapons. He criticized Israeli and US war plans indirectly by warning that a “military solution would be completely un-productive” (Financial Times, Dec. 10/11, 2005).
More recently, Iran, in a clear move to clarify the issue of the future use of enriched uranium, “opened the door for US help in building a nuclear power plant” (USA Today, Dec. 11, 2005). Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, speaking at a press conference, stated “America can take part in the international bidding for the construction of Iran’s nuclear power plant if they observe the basic standards and quality” (USA Today, Dec. 11, 2005). Iran also plans to build several other nuclear power plants with foreign help. The Iranian call for foreign assistance is hardly the strategy of a country trying to conduct a covert atomic bomb program, especially one directed at involving one of its principal accusers.
The Iranians are at an elementary stage in the processing of uranium, not even reaching the point of uranium enrichment, which in turn will take still a number of years, and overcoming many complex technical problems before it can build a bomb. There is no factual basis for arguing that Iran represents a nuclear threat to Israel or to the US forces in the Middle East.
Israel’s war preparations and AIPAC’s efforts to push the US in the same direction based on falsified data is reminiscent of the fabricated evidence which was channeled to the White House through the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans led by Abram Shumsky and directed by Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, both long-time supporters of the Likud Party. Israel’s war preparations are not over any present or future Iranian nuclear threat. The issue is over future enrichment of uranium, which is legal under the Non-Proliferation Treaty as is its use in producing electrical power. Iran currently is only in a uranium conversion phase, which is prior to enrichment. Scores of countries with nuclear reactors by necessity use enriched uranium. The Iranian decision to advance to processing enriched uranium is its sovereign right as it is for all countries, which possess nuclear reactors in Europe, Asia and North America.
Israel and AIPAC’s resort to the vague formulation of Iran’s potential nuclear capacity is so open-ended that it could apply to scores of countries with a minimum scientific infrastructure.
The European Quartet has raised a bogus issue by evading the issue of whether or not Iran has atomic weapons or is manufacturing them and focused on attacking Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear energy – namely the production of enriched uranium. The Quartet has conflated enriched uranium with a nuclear threat and nuclear potential with the danger of an imminent nuclear attack on Western countries, troops and Israel. The Europeans, especially Great Britain, have two options in mind: To impose an Iranian acceptance of limits on its sovereignty, more specifically on its energy policy and capacity to control the deadly air pollution of its major cities with cleaner sources of energy; or to force Iran to reject the arbitrary addendum to the Non-Proliferation Agreement and then to propagandize the rejection as an indication of Iran’s evil intention to create atomic bombs and target pro-Western countries. The Western media would echo the US and European governments position that Iran was responsible for the breakdown of negotiations. The Europeans would then convince their public that since “reason” failed, the only recourse it to follow the US to take the issue to the Security Council and approve international sanctions against Iran.
The US then would attempt to pressure Russia and China to vote in favor of sanctions or to abstain. There is reason to doubt that either or both countries would agree giving the importance of the multi-billion dollar oil, arms, nuclear and trade deals between Iran and these two countries. Having tried and failed in the Security Council, the US and Israel are likely to move toward a military attack. An air attack on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities will entail the bombing of heavily populated as well as remote regions leading to large-scale loss of life.
The principal result will be a massive escalation of war throughout the Middle East. Iran, a country of 70 million, with several times the military forces that Iraq possessed and with highly motivated and committed military and paramilitary forces can be expected to cross into Iraq. Iraqi Shiites sympathetic to or allied with Iran would most likely break their ties with Washington and go into combat. US military bases, troops and clients would be under tremendous attack. US military casualties would multiply. All troop withdrawal plans would be disrupted. The ‘Iraqization’ strategy would disintegrate, as the US ‘loyal’ Shia armed forces would turn against their American officers. Beyond Iraq, there would likely be major military-civilian uprisings in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Pakistan. The conflagration would spread beyond the Middle East, as the Israel-US attack on an Islamic country would ignite mass protests throughout Asia. Most likely new terrorist incidents would occur in Western Europe, North America, and Australia and against US multinationals. A bitter prolonged war would ensue; pitting 70 million unified Iranian nationals, millions of Muslims in Asia and Africa against an isolated US accompanied by its European allies facing mass popular protests at home.
Sanctions on Iran will not work, because oil is a scarce and essential commodity. China, India and other fast-growing Asian countries will balk at a boycott. Turkey and other Muslim countries will not cooperate. Numerous Western oil companies will work through intermediaries. The sanction policy is predestined to failure; its only result will be to raise the price of oil even higher. An Israeli or US military attack will cause severe political instability and increase the risk to oil producers, shippers and buyers, raising the price of oil to astronomical heights, likely over $100 a barrel, destabilizing the world economy and provoking a major world recession or worse.
The only possible beneficiary of a US or Israeli military attack on Iran or economic sanctions will be Israel: it will seem to eliminate a military adversary in the Middle East, and consolidate its military supremacy in the Middle East. Even this outcome is problematic because it fails to take account of the fact that Iran’s challenge to Israel is political, not its non-existent nuclear potential. The first target of the millions of Muslims protesting Israeli aggression will be the Arab regimes closest to Israel. An Israeli attack would be a pyrrhic victory, if a predictable political conflagration unseats the rulers of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The consequences would be even worse if the US attacks: major oil wells burning, US troops in Iraq surrounded, long-term relations with Arab regimes undermined, increased oil prices and troop casualties inflaming domestic public opinion. An attack on Iran will not be a cleanly executed ‘surgical’ strike – it will be a deep jagged wound leading to gangrene.
No doubt AIPAC will celebrate “another success” for Israel in their yearly self-congratulatory report of missions accomplished. The Presidents of the Major Jewish Organizations in America will thank their obedient and loyal congressional followers for approving the destruction of an ‘anti-Semitic and anti-American nuclear threat to all of humanity’ or some similar rubbish.
The big losers of a US-Israeli military attack are the US soldiers in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries who will be killed and maimed, the US public which will pay in blood and bloated deficits, the oil companies which will see their oil supplies disrupted, their new multi-billion dollar joint oil exploitation contracts undermined, the Palestinians who will suffer the consequences of greater repression and massive displacement, the Lebanese people who will be forcible entangled in a new border war, and the Europeans who will face terrorist retaliations.
Except for the Israeli lobby in the US and its grass root Jewish American supporters and allies among the Presidents of the Major Jewish organizations there are no other organized lobbies pressuring for or against this war. The ritualistic denunciations of “Big Oil” whenever there is a Middle East conflict involving the US is in this instance a totally bogus issue, lacking any substance. All the evidence is to the contrary – big oil is opposed to any conflicts, which will upset their first major entry into Middle Eastern oil fields since they were nationalized in the 1970’s.
The only identifiable organized political force, which has successfully made deep inroads in the US Congress and in sectors of the Executive Branch, are the pro-Israel lobbies and PAC’s. The major proponents of a confrontationist policy in the Executive Branch are led by pro-Israel neo-conservative National Security Council member (and Presidentially pardoned felon) Elliott Abrams, in charge of Middle East policy, and Vice President Cheney. The principle opposition is found in the major military services, among commanders, who clearly see the disastrous strategic consequences for the US military forces and sectors of the State Department and CIA, who are certainly aware of the disastrous consequences for the US of supporting Israel’s quest for uncontested regional supremacy.
The problem is there is no political leadership to oppose the pro-Israel war lobby within congress or even in civil society. There are few if any influential organized lobbies challenging the pro-war Israel lobby either from the perspective of working for coexistence in the Middle East or even in defending US national interests when they diverge from Israel. Although numerous former diplomats, generals, intelligence officials, Reformed Jews, retired National Security advisers and State Department professionals have publicly denounced the Iran war agenda and even criticized the Israel First lobbies, their newspaper ads and media interviews have not been backed by any national political organization that can compete for influence in the White House and Congress. As we draw closer to a major confrontation with Iran and Israeli officials set short term deadlines for igniting a Middle East conflagration, it seems that we are doomed to learn from future catastrophic losses that Americans must organize to defeat political lobbies based on overseas allegiances.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Italian judges will charge with voluntary and attempted homicide in Calipari killing
ROME — Alleged offence: voluntary homicide and attempted homicide.
Defendant’s name: Mario Luis Lozano, 34 year old, married, two daughters, dwelling in Queens, NY, and belonging to NY Army National Guard.
The evening of past 4 March along the Irish route he was, as investigators’ last report asserts, “entrusted with granting the security of BP 541 checkpoint by shooting with his equipment machine-gun against approaching vehicles perceived as threats”.
It was he, at about 8.50 p.m , Baghdad time, to shoot against the Toyota Corolla that was taking to safely the major Andrea Carpani, of the Sismi (Italian military secret service) officer Nicola Calipari and the journalist Giuliana Sgrena to Baghdad airport for return to Italy.
Fifty-eight shots, eleven of which hit the car. Only one was fatal: it would have struck the journalist hadn’t Calipari thrown himself on the woman to shelter her from the volley. After about ten months of inquiry, the anti-terrorism pool from Rome Public Prosecutor, made up by the Assistants Erminio Amelio and Pietro Saviotti, co-ordinated by Franco Ionta, has made the most difficult and not obvious at all choice of giving a name and of supposing a guilt against the man that shot towards the car, killing Calipari.
It’s a twist and, Prosecutor’s office underlines, a “proof of autonomy” that might have aftermath in diplomatic relationships between Rome and Washington that yesterday had immediately labelled as “not justified” a new inquiry upon Calipari’s death.
A twist coming after military inquiries, both American and Italian ones, with diverging conclusions, after expert’s reports and by searching for judiciary and investigative proceedings so far new in Italy. As the case is absolutely new: an Italian citizen killed by friendly fire of the American ally in a foreign country, Iraq, and in war.
The choice has been long, difficult, painful and even courageous because after all, Public Prosecutor might have stopped before the wall of silence of the Americans or notified a minor offence such as manslaughter or culpable excess of self-defence.
Two the fundamental points.
The five experts that worked from May to September regarding the Toyota Corolla trying to reconstruct, missing some elements never put at disposal by US authority, the scene of the shooting, have come to the conclusion the past 25 October that “exploding many machine gun shots towards the inside of a car from a distance comprised between 130 and 45 metres, it’s to be considered unquestionably as a conduct fit and directed to provoke the passengers’ death”.
An opposite conclusion to that by the General Vangjel’s inquiry Commission that instead ascribed to the car speed the causes of the “tragic accident”, acquitting all twelve members of the check-point. The Italian experts have agreed with Washington only for the part in which it’s said that “it hah been only one weapon to shoot”, even if in past July some scientific checks, later no longer confirmed, referred to two arms.
The second decisive point, in view of an inclusion in the defendants’ register, dates back to three weeks ago when ROS Carabinieri (the public security forces depend upon Interior Ministry; the Carabinieri, on Defence Ministry; ROS= Special departments) have “identified” the soldier Lozano (the acquisition via Internet of US report from which the omissis had accidentally vanished wasn’t sufficient).
Only that identification happened “by inductive way but on the basis of military reports” has allowed to put the name in the list. Washington, in fact, during these months, has never cooperated with the Italian investigators.
Satisfaction amongst the lawyers.
Franco Coppi, counsel of Rosa Calipari (the widow), had hoped the past days in the notification of the voluntary homicide since “he who shot was aware about his will of killing”.
Alessandro Gamberini, lawyer of Giuliana Sgrena, goes further by saying that “there are still in progress checks to fix the definite number of arms that have shot”.
Counsel’s thesis is that it isn’t only Lozano the responsible. In the uncertainty, the Carabinieri have identified another nine soldiers by name, surname, rank and role at the checkpoint. If enquiry, among the scepticism of many people, comes within a short time to the committal for trial of the soldier, part of the merit will be due to the never shouted but much resolute stubbornness of Rosa Calipari. “I want justice, not vengeance,” the widow has repeated during these months who has always had Quirinale’s backing (Quirinale= President of the Republic’s residence) “The inquiry will have to say in the end why the US ally has shot us”. She has made of it a matter of “legality and defence of the country”. Because “rules must be always observed”. And because “there can’t be high and low category countries”.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
How the Next Generation Views Israel
By Henry Norr
(many thanks to Jeff Blankfort for the forward)
I recently spotted an ad, I think on the Ha'aretz web site, inviting me to request a free copy of a study called "America 2020: How the Next Generation Views Israel," written by Frank Luntz and published by something called The Israel Project.
Luntz, as you may know, is a key pollster, focus groupie, strategist, and tactician for the Republicans - he's most famous for coming up with language that will attract support for policies people would otherwise oppose. (For example, he's supposedly behind the idea of labeling the estate tax the "death tax" and giving Bush's pollution plans labels like "Healthy Forests" and "Clear Skies.") In addition, he has a slew of corporate clients, including (according to his web site, www.luntz.com ) Merrill Lynch, American Express, Federal Express, Disney, AT&T, Pfizer, Kroger supermarkets, McDonalds, eBay, MP3.com, 1-800-Flowers.com, and the soft drink and motion picture industries, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable. He's also Jewish, at least according to numerous online biographies.
As for The Israel Project, which I hadn't heard of before, it's evidently a Zionist propaganda initiative. They describe themselves as follows: "The Israel Project (TIP) is an international non-profit organization devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel while promoting security, freedom and peace. The Israel Project provides journalists, leaders and opinion-makers accurate information about Israel."
Anyway, my free copy of the report - a glossy, 57-page booklet, with a blonde, blue-eyed, conventionally gorgeous and not at all Jewish-looking "co-ed" (or, more likely, a model) on the cover, and a slew of similar pictures scattered throughout - arrived yesterday, and I promptly plowed through it. It's a remarkable document - by turns encouraging, illuminating, infuriating, and in some places flat-out funny. You can request your own free copy at their web site, www.theisraelproject.org, but I thought others might appreciate a summary.
It's based on "face-to-face group interviews with almost 150 randomly selected students under age thirty attending the top graduate schools in America - including the top business school, the top law school, the top school of government and the top school of journalism - … in five mind-shaping centers in America: Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles." Specifically, the students came from Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Georgetown, George Washington, Johns Hopkins (I guess they consider Baltimore to be part of D.C.), the University of Chicago, Northwestern, and UCLA. (Note the absence of Stanford and UC Berkeley, among other elite schools.)
Oddly, the report gives no other information about the sample - nothing about religious or ethnic background (something you'd think might be particularly relevant to the issue at hand), nothing about class (in the socio-economic sense), and nothing about specific fields of study. And there's not a shred of quantitative data backing up its assertions.
What the report says
The main conclusion, repeated dozens of times over, is that "Students at the finest graduate schools in America are turning against Israel in alarming numbers. …Never in the modern history of Jewish State has there been more outspoken public opposition on ELITE college campuses to the basic principles and tenets of Israel. To be brutally frank, if current attitudes are not reversed, America's core commitment to - and alliance with - Israel may not survive." (p. 2)
Some choice quotes follow, with page reference in parentheses. Emphasis (bold and all-caps type) is from the original. Aside from a few bracketed exclamations, I've restrained myself from commenting on Luntz's assertions:
• "Conducting the extensive research for this report was a nightmare for me … their lack of identification with the Jewish State is really not a surprise, It is the intensity of their hostility that I find so alarming. …the momentum away from Israel is even greater than we once feared." (3)
• "In their own words:
* To be pro-Israel is to close their eyes to reality and cling to obsolete loyalties. It is also a very unpopular and socially unacceptable position to take on campus.
* To support the Palestinians is a mature moral judgment based on the facts of today and will be embraced by fellow students and faculty alike." (8)
• "While it may be hard for people reading this report to imagine, the students … believe press reports from the region, especially the print sources where they get the majority of their news, are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Israeli point of view." (9)
• "… many of the young elite in America are openly hostile toward the perceived power of Jews in America." (12)
• "… they view any U.S. support of Israel as generated by wealthy Jewish special interests rather than as a reflection of the national interest." (13)
• "In plain English, for many non-Jewish elites on campus the only Jews that are credible to non-Jews are those who speak about Israel's mistakes and misdeed and are critical of the current government. …the fact that too many Jewish students refuse to make the case for Israel convinces non-Jews that a case cannot be made." (15)
• "Virtually every student we interviewed said he or she had drifted away from Israel and toward the Palestinian point of view over the past few years. Most said that 'learning more about the situation' (often through the media) had sent them into the Palestinian camp. And talking to a Palestinian face-to-face in a university setting is enough to seal the deal - regardless of how many Jews they encounter." (16)
• "Many believe that Israel is NOT a democracy. When they listen to speeches or several pro-Israel ads, they react negatively toward Israel's democratic ideals because they don't consider them true." (18)
• "Support for Israel is intellectual, while support for the Palestinians is emotional. [This seems to contradict the point that the students have move toward the Palestinian perspective as they learn more, but whatever….] … Any lingering support for Israel is a largely rational, cerebral matter and is not especially passionate or vocal. … The Palestinians are the 'underdogs.' Sympathy for the Palestinians is expressed in emotional terms. …In the end, the Palestinians are winning hearts and minds because they have humanized the conflict." (19-20)
• "There is growing support among elite graduate students for a 'one-state solution' … Even when told that such an outcome would potentially destroy the Jewish nature of Israel, opinions did not change." (19)
• "They consistently refer to Israel's security fence as a 'wall,' and so what is entirely a defensive measure is now seen as offensive and aggressive. …They actually believe that Israel's security measures create more problems than solutions - and that the fence is a particularly ugly symbol of 'division,' 'oppression' and 'occupation.'" (24)
• "Bush voters are almost all supporters of Israel, while Kerry voters almost unanimously back the Palestinians." (24)
• "The real problem is how quickly attitudes and perceptions about Israel are deteriorating among elite graduate students. …based on what we heard at all eight sessions in all five cities, hostility toward Israel is likely to increase before attitudes can be turned." (25)
• "Support exists and is growing for a NON-JEWISH one-state solution. Of all the findings, this one is perhaps the most dangerous. To up-and-coming elites, the notion of a "Jewish State" rings of an ethnic nationalism that has been widely rejecte. It sounds religious, extremist and even racist. … For an audience desperate for any solution at all, a secular bi-national state seems a rational option at least worth exploring." (26)
• The New York Times and BBC - especially the online versions of those outlets - and CNN are the top sources of news for these students, but they spend only 10-15 minutes a day consuming news. (31-32)
Tough nuts to crack
Luntz repeatedly waxes eloquent on the supposedly unique challenge of communicating the pro-Israel message to these students. For example:
• "Reaching America's future decision-makers requires special sensitivities with regard to both substance and style. Speaking to these individuals is very different from speaking to any other audience you may encounter. This is an exceptionally skeptical if not hostile group of people. They are already predisposed against any kind of marketing, public relations or lobbying. They consume national and international sources of news so it is hard to communicate with them on a one-to-one basis. [Huh?] (33)
• "America's future leaders [shorthand in this study for the young people interviewed] will assume you're biased or lying until you tell them something they know to be true - which isn't much - or something that sheds a negative light on Israel - which isn't helpful. And they will reject anything that to them appears to be one-sided - which is almost everything." (33)
• "The future leaders are acutely sensitive to 'rhetoric.' This will be tough because this group is extremely sensitive to 'spin' and extremely hostile when they feel they are being spun. More troublesome are their negative reactions to any Israeli spokesperson they deem insensitive and uncaring. The problem … [ellipsis in original] they see most pro-Israel spokespeople as insensitive and uncaring." (40)
• "We tested roughly 20 television spots and 40 print executions to what, if anything, would have a measurable and positive impact on the way these future leaders think and feel about the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. The bad news is that more than 80% of what they saw either had absolutely no impact or actually generated a negative response."
Luntz to the rescue
Not to fear, though - Luntz will solve the problem. Several final sections of the report are explicitly devoted to "solutions," and there are tips and advice for Zionist propagandists scattered throughout. Just so we'll all know what to watch for, here are some of his suggestions:
• Spokespersons for Israel should always emphasize that they're for peace. "The only way for Israel to evoke sympathy is to be the side working hardest for peace. The best case for Israel is to demonstrate that she is willing to go twice as far as her neighbors to establish peace." (16-17)
• "One solution is for Israeli politicians to sound less political and more human when they communicate on American television." (20)
• Since the students "have doubts about the Palestinian leadership," and their positive feelings about Palestine don't extend to other Arab states like Syria and Saudi Arabia, "there is a genuine opportunity to help shift blame" - by focusing on the personal fortune Arafat allegedly accumulated (and other evidence of PA corruption) and by blaming the Saudis, etc., for rewarding the families of suicide bombers." (20-21, 35)
• "Diffusing the one-state solution is achievable if you play on the emotions of Palestinian sympathizers by emphasizing that the Palestinians themselves oppose this solution." (27)
• "It is critically important that the reporters in Israel have the facts and visuals they need to get the Israel story right [sic] before they go to press." Pay special attention to the NY Times, BBC, and CNN. Since the young people often just glance at the stories, pay particular attention to headlines, visuals, and the first few paragraphs of any story. "Unless our spokespeople are quoted near the top of an article, their message won't get through." (31)
• "The British press matters. The BBC matters a lot … The Internet allows easy access to the European press and reinforces the urgent necessity of correcting the extraordinary biases that exist in the British media. Unfortunately, thus far, efforts to discredit the BBC have not succeeded." (32)
• "Express your genuine and sincere recognition that the average Palestinian has suffered. This will undoubtedly be rejected by some readers, but it is equally important to admit that Israel has sometimes [!!] contributed to that suffering. … the goal here is to strike a note of magnanimity. … Acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of most Palestinians. … There are few things more encouraging to this elite campus audience than pro-Israel leaders speaking convincingly about their hopes for a bright Palestinian future. … Always start and end with an optimistic, hopeful message. The first and last statement should be about achieving peace." (33-35)
• "It's not just a conflict, it's culture." Blame alleged defects in Palestinian culture, such as anti-Israel incitement in the media and schools, a culture of martyrdom, etc. "But be careful - do not directly accuse the Palestinians of depravity. Simply show it, and let the images and words speak for themselves. … Let the Palestinians speak for themselves. Show them Palestinian TV, unedited, without voiceover." (35-36)
• Emphasize Palestinian rejection of Barak's supposedly generous offer at Camp David in 2000. "There is no more powerful tool in driving home Israel's commitment to a peaceful solution [!!] than the Camp David offer." (37)
• Emphasize the locations of suicide bombings, especially "places that graduate students can imagine themselves congregating [at] - Sbarro pizza restaurant, Dolphinarium disco, Hebrew University cafeteria." (37)
• Blame the Wall and the perpetuation of the conflict in general on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. "America's future leaders hate Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If there is such a thing as a magic bullet, this is it." (37)
• "START EARLY. The earlier in life future leaders hear about Israel in a positive vein, the less likely they are to support the Palestinian position as they grow older. … those kids who first heard of Israel through Biblical references when they were five, six, or seven grew up to appreciate the spiritual importance of the Jewish State [!!]. Every Rabbi, Jewish community leader, and knowledgeable pro-Israel activist in America should commit to visiting parochial schools and Sunday schools to talk about Israel to as many children as possible. … Israel has developed a powerful alliance with many Christian organizations, and these alliances need to be utilized to provide teaching opportunities within the church itself." (38)
• "Identify non-Jewish, pro-Israel professors and broadly respected student leaders at the elite college campuses and ask them to help spread the word outside of class." (39)
• "They're disputed territories, not occupied territories." (40)
• "They're Arabs, not Palestinians. The term 'Palestinians' evokes images of refugee camps, victims and oppression. 'Arab' says wealth, oil and Islam." (40)
While the recommendations above deal with the content, more or less, of pro-Israel propaganda, Luntz also has lots of recommendations about form
• "The best way to cut through the clutter of competitive message and their own established biases is, in a word, surprise. … Jewish organizations and those who seek to influence the public debate in favor of Israel must accept the fact that outside-the-box, unconventional advertising is imperative for reaching the future elite." (44)
• Pictures and headlines matter more than body copy in ads. "A large, single striking photo or graphic is more important than all the words on the page." (44-45)
• "Get real. The young elites detest the appearance of anything staged. The only way to grab their hearts and diffuse their skepticism is to provide a does of reality. Everything has to look real, sound real and feel real.
One of the most important reasons why the ad campaigns of so many Jewish organizations have failed to move these people is because of the unreal nature of the executions - words and visuals that were so clearly written by ad executives rather than by real people." (45) [He's right on that score!]
• "The face says everything. In their own words, "all the photos in almost all of these ads are hokey and fake looking, and all the crappy smiles." (45) [Either the designer of the report missed that passage, or, more likely, the report is designed not for these skeptical students but for their more gullible elders.]
• TV advertising isn't a cost-effective way to reach such a narrow stratum, but online advertising could have an impact. (45-46)
• In any such ads, "adhere to the rule of no voiceover. Narrators evoke a harshly negative reaction because they are removed from the crisis at hand and are therefore nothing more than pitchmen. If you want to personalize and humanize your story, rely on the voices of those immersed in this crisis - particularly younger women." (46)
• "The messenger is as important as the message. … Stylistically, it is always better to be soft-spoken and mild-mannered:
*Aggressive, loud men are a turn-off.
*Broken English or a heavy accent is a turn-off. A British accent is the most appealing. [!!]
*Attractive women are always a plus."
• Mothers, especially mothers of terror victims, are especially effective. (39)
• "Take politicians out of the equation. Whenever a U.S. public official appeared in a television or print ad, the young elites lost interest and even grew angry. The presence of political figures - even from Israel [sic] - only fuels the young elites' hostility toward Israel."
• "Selling democracy will succeed. Selling Israel as a model of democracy will fail. … The better approach is to call for true democracy for the Palestinians." (46)
The last pages of the report feature eight sample poster-style ads - five presented as "Ads That Work," three as "Ads That Fail" - with detailed notes about their merits and deficiencies. I won't be surprised to see some derivatives in the BART and MUNI before too long.
Not having much contact with elite campuses, I'm not in much of a position to assess the accuracy of Luntz's findings about the mood of grad students there. But from my casual observations in Berkeley, my home town, and from my general sense of the zeitgeist, I'm quite prepared to believe there's a lot to it. Clearly there's far more sympathy for Palestine, and skepticism about Israel, than there was five or ten years ago. Luntz's report documents one aspect of this trend, and in that sense it's great news.
On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that the report tells the whole story, and the conspicuous absence of quantitative data backing its assertions reinforces my suspicions. Given the firm grip that Zionism still holds is virtually every other milieu in America, the apparent strength of Zionist activism among undergraduates at elite as well as non-elite schools, the enormous representation of Jews on the faculties of most universities (perhaps most of all at the elite schools in his sample), the clear pro-Israel bias of the American media (including the sources Luntz says his students rely on most), and a host of other factors, it's simply not credible that Zionism has ceased to exist or nearly so, among elite graduate students.
One clue is Luntz's observation that "Bush voters are almost all supporters of Israel." Yet the report says virtually nothing about the views of such students. It's not hard to believe that a majority of students in Luntz's sample were anti-Bush, but it's hard to believe that there were so few Bush supporters as to deserve no discussion. Given that Kerry positioned himself as an even more ardent supporter of Zionism than Bush, Luntz's assertion that "Kerry voters almost unanimously back the Palestinians" also strains credulity.
So what else is going on here that might have caused Luntz to exaggerate his findings?
One factor, I suspect, is that Luntz is reflecting and playing to a central theme in the culture of both Israeli and American (and probably European) Jews: "we're fated to be victims until eternity - even though we may seem to be on top of the world at the moment, any day now it could all come crashing down, and our only hope is to wage unremitting struggle to crush our (potential) enemies before they can get to us." Among many Jews, in my experience, this is a sincere conviction; many others seem to find it a useful stance toward the world, an operating assumption, even if they don't really believe the analysis it's based on. (In Beyond Chutzpah, Norman Finkelstein talks about the same phenomenon, in a somewhat different form, in his discussion of Jewish-American leaders so often "crying wolf" about new waves of anti-Semitism.)
A second factor I suspect underlies Luntz's analysis: because that sense of victimhood is so prevalent among Jewish-Americans, tapping it is a great way to raise money - in this case, for The Israel Project and, no doubt, directly or indirectly, for Luntz himself. After all, if the situation is as dire as they describe - from a Zionist perspective - your average rich American Jew will feel duty-bound to chip in to fight back. In this context, it's easier to understand the report's narrow focus on elite universities: the many Jewish alumni of these institutions are, on average, especially wealthy.
Indeed, the report comes with a fund-raising pitch and return envelope, and even before I'd received my copy, I received an e-mail message from Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of the The Israel Project, inviting me to participate in an "exclusive VIP briefing" (a conference call) with Luntz, Ms. Mizrahi herself, and the executive vice-president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. All this "at no charge" - even the long-distance call is free - on just one condition: "make a contribution to TIP by noon, December 13th."
Bottom line: Luntz and TIP are very likely on to some real and positive trends among the students they surveyed, but they've latched on to these phenomena so they can exploit them for their own political and financial ends. Let's celebrate the good news underlying their report, but not delude ourselves into thinking it accurately reflects reality, even in the small world it focuses on.
A final thought: Ms. Mizrahi's fundraising pitch notes that "the considerable cost The Israel Project incurred to reprint the book came at the expense of your [sic] other programs." One more reason to put in your request for a free copy…
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
EU Report on East Jerusalem
Many organisations will publish the Report on their websites. The complete report is on peacepalestine documents
The day after the report was shelved by EU foreign ministers at their GAERC meeting in Brussels on December 12th - for fear of alienating Israel and reducing the EU's influence - Israel announced, in violation of its Road Map obligations, the building of 300 new homes in the Maale Adumim settlement, the largest in the occupied territories.
Pierre Galand, Senator in the Belgian Parliament and Chairman of the European Co-ordinating Committee of NGOs on the question of Palestine (ECCP) said: “European diplomats in East Jerusalem and Ramallah had the courage to stress the alarming situation in East Jerusalem. Their report corroborates the ICJ advisory opinion ruling on the Wall and the illegal settlements, which led the ECCP to initiate the “European Campaign for Sanctions against the Israeli Occupation”. In order to force the EU member states to respect their own commitment to International Law and Human Rights, we will publish the report on East Jerusalem on our websites, despite the EU refusal to do so.”
Dan Judelson, Secretary of European Jews for a Just Peace said "The EU are burying their heads in the sand and are thus co-responsible while East Jerusalem residents face repeated violations of international law and of simple standards of humanity, all at the hands of the Israeli state. This is not a time for thumb twiddling or inaction; if the EU sits on this report, we see it as our duty to make it as widely available as we can."
Betty Hunter, General Secretary of the UK Palestinian Solidarity Campaign said: "It is 17 months since the International Court of Justice declared the apartheid Wall to be an illegal act by an occupying force and that settlement building should end. While Israel defies this decision, Palestinians are losing their homes, land and livelihood in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. If European countries continue to collude with this, they are also guilty of oppressing the Palestinian people."
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Three cheers for Imad!
Good morning Imad,
I was looking at your resume and I have a Job that I think you might be interested in. I'm looking for translator for the Arabic language, the job is in Iraq you will be translating for the US army. We are offering a great salary ($ 150,000.00 - $ 158,000.00 subject to change) plus benefits. If you are interested in this position please let me know. Also Please feel free to forward my information to any friends or family that may be interested in this position. Thank you.
Job Description ARABIC LINGUIST WITH SECRET CLEARANCE FOR IRAQ
Provide operational Arabic language support to U.S. Army linguist operations in IRAQ. Provide general linguistic support for military operations. Interpret and translate written and spoken communications. Transcribe and analyze verbal communications. Perform document exploitation. Scan, research, and analyze foreign language documents for key information. Translate and gist foreign language documents. Identify and extract information components meeting military information requirement list criteria. Provide input to reports. Linguist may be required to travel worldwide as ad hoc missions dictate.
An excellent command of Modern Arabic or Arabic-Egyptian as well as strong verbal and written American English skills (grammar, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and spelling); linguist work products are prepared in English. A 4/4 Arabic in listening/reading comprehension rating, according to the ILR scale and as measured by the DLPT or comparable language test vehicle, is required.
Must hold a current U.S. passport. Or a U.S. Green Card (subject to different terms).
Must possess a SECRET security clearance or be clearable to SECRET.
Must be willing to travel/deploy/work in various locations worldwide.
Familiarity with and ability to conduct oneself in accordance with the local culture and customs. Willingness to work shifts and extended hours in support of 24 x 7 Operations. 4/4 Arabic DLPT rating.
Skilled in one or more Arabic dialect Additionally a pre-existing SECRET security clearance.
A thorough knowledge of cultural, economic, geopolitical, and military issues of the area and surrounding region.
Previous operational experience as linguist in support of government operations.
An ability to operate standard and specialized office automation equipment to process foreign language material.
Experience in US military is helpful. To get started in processing either contact me, or provide me with the following Information.
Full Name: Home Address : SSN: Place Of Birth: Date Of Birth: Contact #(s):
Dear Mr. Irfan:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Arabic Linguist With Secret Clearance For Iraq job. Your offer of $ 150,000.00 - $ 158,000.00 is obviously tempting, but unfortunately I must decline. For one thing, I do not enjoy participating in the torture of other human beings. I also believe that the Army was established to defend the US, not to attack other countries. We are supposed to have a Defense Department, not an Offense Department. So taking part in wars of aggression that are not declared by the Congress of the United States is worse than illegal: it is wrong.
Judging from the kind of salary you are offering, I must conclude that it is desperation time now for the war mongers at the Pentagon. Did the Pentagon suddenly realize that it needs some basic mode of communication with the Iraqis other than the bullets and the bombs? For most tax payers in the US, taxes are not meant to be squandered on useless wars.
I would like to offer you now a job that is enormously rewarding on the personal level, but does not pay any money. The title is "Peace Advocate." If you are interested in this position, please let me know. Also, please feel free to forward my information to any friends and colleagues at Calnet Inc. Here are the job requirements:
Provide operational peace advocacy for the global peace movement. Work to bring the US into the world court in order to make it more difficult for our leaders to commit war crimes.
1. Must have the ability to speak truth to power.
2. Must keep an open mind and an open heart.
3. Must have the strength not to resort to violence.
4. Must have the ability to question his/her superiors.
5. Must not have security clearance.
6. IQ must be substantially higher than Iraq war recruits.
How about joining the peace movement and those of us who seek law, order and sanity?
I am eager for your reply.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Arab Israelis Demand Right of Return
Arab Israelis, including an MK and Moslem fundamentalists, demanded Saturday that
Israel recognize the "right of return" for Galilee Arabs who fled during the 1948 War of Independence.
Reflecting a growing and more open policy among many Arab citizens of Israel, they called for an alignment of Arab organizations in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The gathering in Nazereth Saturday morning was under the banner "responsibility for the historical Nakba," referring to the "tragedy" of the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It featured displays of household items and names of Arab villages. Among the participants were the head of the northern chapter of the Islamic Movement and at least one Knesset member.
MK Azmi Bishara, who was born and lives in Nazereth, encouraged the crowd to keep "burning the coals of the struggle against Zionists." He spoke one day after returning from Lebanon, in violation of government orders against visiting an enemy country.
Bashara and other Arab MKs also have called for the partitioning of Jerusalem, and they boycotted this year's Knesset panel marking Jerusalem Day. The status of the city took over the Israeli election campaign this past week following a Newsweek magazine report quoting an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he is prepared to give away part of the capital.
The Prime Minister, who has formed the new Kadima party, has vehemently denied the report. Shimon Peres, who left the Labor party to support the Prime Minister, said on Saturday that Jerusalem will remain unified, but Sharon's ally Minister Tzipi Livni refused to directly support a unified capital.
Israel is the 20th century's greatest robbery, carried out in broad daylight, Arab Knesset member Azmi Bishara (National Democratic Assembly) told a Lebanese audience last week during a speech at an Arab book fair in Beirut. "I will never recognize Zionism even if all Arabs do," he said. "I will never concede Palestine. The battle is still long."
Bishara, who recently launched his campaign for an additional term in the Knesset, left for Lebanon five days ago without consent from the Interior Ministry, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday. His harsh anti-Israel message at the fair was quoted by Lebanese newspaper As -Safir.
"The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not a demographic dispute, but a national one," he said. "It's not the problem of 1.2 million Palestinians living in Israel. They are like all Arabs, only with Israeli citizenship forced upon them."
"We are the original residents of Palestine, not those who came from Poland and Russia," the MK added. Directing his speech at Israelis, Bishara said, "Return Palestine to us and take your democracy with you. We Arabs are not interested in it."
The audience received the Knesset member with great applause. Bishara also used the opportunity to criticize Arab leaders who have ties with Israel."Why does one of the Arab countries provide a home for (Foreign Minister) Silvan Shalom, while the army destroys homes in Palestine on a daily basis?" he said, referring to the foreign minister's recent visit to his birth county of Tunisia.
"If you want to surrender, do it, but don't force us to give in." Bishara has meanwhile returned to Israel and told Yedioth Ahronoth Saturday night that his speech was "about Zionism and citizenship." "I didn’t say anything new that I hadn't said in other places. I've spoken like this in the Knesset," he said.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Umkahlil challenges the Hasbara!
I urge everyone to check out (if you aren't already a mainstay, which you should be) the best Palestine blog out there. Umkahlil deconstructs the Hasbara like no one else. Great writing and analysis.... Don't miss it.
And remember to check this very blog for the announced Atzmon interview...
Gilad Atzmon interviewed by Manuel Talens
Three in one: jazzman, writer and activist (a conversation with Gilad Atzmon)
The northbound Spanish highway A7 is usually fluid and easy to drive, but last August 27th it tried my patience, because I was rushing to reach an appointment I scheduled with Gilad Atzmon in the French Pyrenees. The avalanche of cars of returning European vacationers increased the traffic many fold, so instead of arriving at 2:00 pm I shook hands with him only when the sun was already gone. Fortunately, he waited for me.
Born in Israel, Gilad Atzmon was raised as a secular Jew. He served his compulsory military service at the time of the Lebanon war (1982), an event that made him very sceptical about Zionism and Israeli politics. Ten years later he fled his native country with a no-return ticket. In the UK he studied Philosophy but after graduation chose a musical rather than an academic career. He lives in London and considers himself an exile.
Up to the day of our encounter we knew each other just by occasional emails, ever since I started translating into Spanish a bunch of the articles he incessantly produces in his website (www.gilad.co.uk) against the Institutional Apparatuses of the State of Israel. He has always impressed me by the intellectually structured way he criticises what he considers the racist policies of the Zionists and has put his art to the service of a cause: the liberation of the Palestinian people. If I have just mentioned art is because Atzmon, before every other thing in life, is an artist who uses his many instruments (saxophone, clarinet, flute… and laptop) to play music and write books and activist papers. His previous album, EXILE, received the BBC “Best Jazz Album of the Year” Award in 2003 and he has just released a new one, musiK. Both of these have been recorded with his own group, a multiethnic band called The Orient House Ensemble. He has also published two novels, translated into 17 languages all together (A Guide to the Perplexed and My One and Only Love). What follows is part of the long exchange we had until we parted at dawn, when he took the road to Rome and I returned southbound. Sign of the times, our conversation continued later through the chat.
Manuel Talens: Who are you, Mr. Atzmon?
Gilad Atzmon: Good question! I am probably the last to know for sure. I assume that I am a jazz musician which means that I am committed to re-inventing myself. In order to re-invent myself I am primarily engaged with questions concerning myself. A good question to start with is who I might be. A lot of my writings and my criticism of Zionism and global economy is fuelled by my tendency to reflect upon who I am and to revise myself.
MT: Let’s play the analyst and the analysed: I deduce that if you need to re-invent yourself it is because you are not happy with what you are. Tell me please if you have any problem with being a Jew.
GA: I always mention that giving interviews saves me from spending money on shrinks. I think that the need to re-invent oneself is not necessarily an escape. It is rather a search for the real essence. In fact, the process of re-invention draws its power from a clear assault on the ego. You start to play when you stop thinking. Using Lacanian terminology you may say: “You are where you do not think”. It may sound funny, but I do realise now that it is my love for jazz that made me more and more critical of Jewish identity and Zionism. At the age of eighteen, when I was supposed to become a supremacist Judeo-soldier, I fell in love with Coltrane and Bird. It was then when I realised that the culture that inspires me (Afro-American) had nothing to do with the culture I was supposed to be fighting for.
MT: But this does not answer my question, at least not for the purpose I have in mind. Let me remind you that this conversation will initially be aimed at a Gentile Spanish-speaking readership not necessarily informed about the idiosyncrasies of the Jewish people. I need to know if you feel fine under your skin as a Jew - considering the fact that nobody chooses his or her origins -, and I do so because some of my next questions will deal with the touchy issues of anti-Semitism and so-called Jewish self-hatred. I repeat: Have you any problem with being a Jew?
GA: Not at all because I do not consider myself a Jew. That said, I am sympathetic towards religious Jews as much as I am sympathetic towards religious groups or religious belief in general, and yet, I am far less sympathetic towards the secular Jewish identity. I argue that once you strip Jewishness of its spiritual content you are left with mere racism. You see, I am neither a religious Jew nor a secular one. Thus, I cannot regard myself as a Jew.
MT: Well, that was a pretty direct statement I did not anticipate. To tell you the truth, if we accept the semiotic concept which states that language is the inner world we live in, a world which is never neutral and shapes our way of thinking, after seeing and hearing you speak Hebrew with your wife and children I expected you to feel comfortable - although critical, of course - within the linguistic field you grew up with. It should be remembered that Hebrew is not a more or less de-nationalized lingua franca as is English or Spanish, but the resuscitated language of Israeli Jews. So if you were raised as a secular Jew but do not accept being one anymore, what are you now, an acculturated man?
GA: In fact I regard myself as a Hebrew speaking Palestinian. I do speak Hebrew and my homeland is Palestine. Unlike Israel, a racist and nationalist political apparatus, Palestine is a piece of geography. Palestine is authentic and genuine; Israel is artificial and imposed. You see, when I feel homesick, I go to a Lebanese restaurant rather than an Israeli falafel house. And yet, I wouldn’t dare argue that I have managed to assimilate into any national or social group and let me tell you, I am not too concerned about it. My English is broken and my accent reveals my origin within seconds. I have learned to live with it. I was born and raised in a certain place and there is nothing I can do about it. And yet, I do believe that compassion and empathy are universal humanist qualities. For me, to detach oneself from Jewishness is to become a being who feels empathy. This is where I aim and I enjoy the journey.
MT: Now tell me why you argue that secular Jewishness is a mere form of racism. There are so many millions of honest people of Jewish extraction who are not religious at all and nevertheless feel and consider themselves Jews that such an assertion surprises me. Could you explain it? And by the same token do not forget to put in plain words what Zionism is: keep in mind that you are dialoguing with Western Gentiles, whose cultural genes - the so-called memes - are Christian and who quite often feel baffled when confronted with notions such as Zionism, Semitism or their antonyms anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
GA: OK, a clarification is needed here. It is not the Jewish origin that makes one into a racist but rather the endorsement of a Jewish secular identity that “may” do so. As I mentioned before, once you remove the religious content from Jewishness you are left with the concept of Jewish blood. Zionism is in fact a nationalist perception that connotes Jewishness to race rather than to a religious belief. As such, Zionism is the belief that Zion (Palestine) is the national homeland of the Jewish people. This strange belief is basically grounded on a Biblical promise. In other words, the Zionists transform the spiritual text (the Bible) into a mere land registry. But then one may ask, who are the Jewish people? From a Zionist perspective, Jews are those who happen to be racially Jewish. In fact, Zionism predates Nazism. Early Zionists spoke about Jewish blood and racial eugenics when Hitler was still in nappies. The problem is that while Zionism started as a marginal esoteric political movement and was highly criticised by most Jewish ideological and religious schools of thought, it is now touted as the official voice of the Jewish people. I tend to argue that many Jews, and this would include even the so called “Jewish anti-Zionists”, are in fact nothing but crypto-Zionists.
In one of my latest papers (www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/3rd.html) I contend that those who call themselves Jews could be divided into three main categories: 1. Those who follow Judaism; 2. Those who regard themselves as human beings that happen to be of Jewish origin; and 3. Those who put their Jewishness over and above all of their other traits. Obviously, I have no problems with the two first categories, but the 3rd one is rather problematic. The 3rd category Jew is for instance: a Jew who lives in America (rather than an American who happens to be of Jewish descent), a Jew who plays the saxophone (rather than a saxophonist who happens to be Jewish), a Jewish anti-Zionist (rather than an anti-Zionist who happens to be Jewish). For the 3rd category Jew, the racial belonging is a primary quality and this is, in fact, the very essence of Zionism. Thus, to be born a Jew is innocent indeed, but to be a Jew isn’t necessarily innocent. It all depends on the category one happens to endorse. Unless one falls into the first 2 categories, one isn’t necessarily innocent.
MT: Excuse my doggedness, but I want you to be extremely precise. To me this “one isn’t necessarily innocent” you have just mentioned suggests that it is still possible to belong to the 3rd category without being a racist. Is that what you mean?
GA: This is just because I am really trying to be polite.
MT: I insist: Are you ready to accept that these Jewish anti-Zionists who according to you are nothing but crypto-Zionists could still be wonderful human beings, not racists after all?
GA: You see, we are all “racially aware” but then being a “racist” is a different condition altogether. I will be very clear about the subject. To be a secular Jew and yet to make your Jewishness into a primary quality is a clear manifestation of a racist tendency. Many amongst the anti-Zionist Jews are simply unaware of the problems entangled with their racial approach. This is the reason why I have attempted to dialogue with them and try to push them towards a further realisation of their mistaken racial agenda. I call them to leave behind their racially exclusive anti-Zionist approach and to join a universal call instead. Needless to say, many Jews realise it by themselves. I argue that if Zionism is categorically wrong, then to those fighting it, one’s racial or ethnic belonging is irrelevant.
MT: So if I understand it correctly, the targets of your rhetorical bullets are just some Jewish individuals (more specifically some Jewish individuals belonging to the 3rd category), not the Jewish people as a group.
GA: The answer is yes. I do not present an inclusive group critique because Jews are neither a group nor a “people”. And still, it is very important to mention that the 3rd category isn’t just a bunch of sporadic individuals. Practically speaking, the 3rd category forms a very solid identity with a clear global agenda. I argue as well that within the 3rd category you will find political polarity and even metaphysical opposition. You will find there hardcore Zionist settlers from Brooklyn as well as a revolutionary Jewish Marxist from London. We cannot criticise Jews as a group because Jews do not form a folk, a racial continuity or even an ethnic or cultural entity. The cultural differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews are evidential but it goes further. Anthropologists will tell us that Jews are not a race: in fact, genetic studies have shown recently that while Sephardic Jews and Palestinians share a common Canaanite origin, Ashkenazis, or at least the vast majority of them, have nothing to do with Canaan…
MT: Excuse me, but some readers could get lost if you do not go back to basics and explain the difference between Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi Jews.
GA: Traditionally speaking, Sephardic Jews (Sephardi means Spain in Hebrew) are associated with what is labelled as oriental origin (Middle East, Mediterranean, Balkan, Arabia, etc.). The term Ashkenazi refers largely to Jews of European descent. But it is slightly more complicated again, as many of us know, the Ashkenazi Jews are in fact Khazarians. Their ancestors converted to Judaism around the 9th century. That fact is pretty embarrassing for the Zionists because if this is the case, then for most Ashkenazi Jews “home” means the land of the old Khazar kingdom (somewhere between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea). Their geographical origins have nothing to do with Palestine whatsoever. This is by the way a very interesting question in itself. I tend to believe that all Ashkenazis are Khazarians. A while agoMarcel Charbonnier sent me a piece he himself translated about the origin of Yiddish. According to this very detailed academic piece Yiddish is actually grammatically structured as Khazarian. But we really don't want to go there and I am far from being an expert.
MT: Just out of curiosity, are you of Ashkenazi extraction?
GA: My father is no doubt an Ashkenazi Jew. So I am probably of Khazarian extraction.
MT: Alright, please continue.
GA: And yet, although Jews do not form a race, the 3rd category Jews are racially motivated. It is the racial motivation which I stand against. As you know, being so familiar with my writings, I am the last one to judge people because of their racial belonging, in fact I am totally against such an approach. There is not even a single racial reference in any of my critical writings. In practice my criticism of Jews and Jewishness is focussed on the 3rd category “identity”. As you may realise, the majority of Jewish people are flirting with the 3rd category philosophy. Zionists are obviously found to be in the very core of the supremacist perception and the “Jewish anti-Zionists” are somehow just a bit further down the road.
MT: I am glad you clarified that notion, because from my puzzled Gentile perspective it is highly intriguing to watch that you, Gilad Atzmon - a human being who happens to be of Jewish extraction according to your own words, who confesses his sympathy towards religious Jews, and who abhors racism - are bitterly accused by Zionists and some out-and-out defenders of Israel of being a racist, an anti-Semite, and a self-hating Jew. Does it make any sense? Aren’t we just facing a propaganda war which uses the word “racist” deliberately deprived of its original semantic meaning?
GA: For sure, it is deliberate and very cleverly done. Contemporary Jewish identity consists of three main elements: religious, nationalist and racist. Zionists are interested in keeping those 3 elements as blurred as possible, something that is in fact an intellectual fraud. Once you attack their nationalist politics they would accuse you of being a racist, once you attack their racist tendencies they would claim that it is all the outcome of their innocent religion. My 3rd category model is there to suggest a platform of attacking Zionism as well as Jewishness for being a clannish, exclusive and supremacist world view.
MT: Now two quiz questions to settle this issue and definitely position yourself. Please answer just yes or no. Are you an anti-Semite?
GA: No, for sure not. I argue that once Israel established itself explicitly as the state of the Jewish people, and did so at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians, any act of war against Jews can be comprehended in terms of “political struggle”. This is not to say that such an act is legitimate.
MT: Are you an anti-Zionist?
GA: Yes, absolutely. But then I tend to extend the definition of Zionism. For me, every 3rd category Jew is either a Zionist or a crypto-Zionist, no matter what his claims to the contrary may be. Clearly my stand is a serious challenge of the Jewish identity. I have seen many things written about me and yet I have never come across a sufficient counter argument. I start to wonder whether there is any argument as such. If there isn’t, it is more than likely that I won’t have much more to say about the subject anymore. I may start to write about flowers and birds.
MT: While doing research about you for this interview I came across an incredible Zionist website which shows what they call a shit list (Self-Hating and/or Israel-Threatening List (http://masada2000.org/list-A.html), in fact a public blacklist of “enemies”. Of course you are included on it with a long tirade. Many of the opinions expressed there are quite offensive and probably subject to legal action, but putting aside the moral implications carried by these malicious inventories or the physical danger they impose on the lives of so many people, what I want to stress now is that you are in the company of several persons we Gentiles highly respect: Woody Allen, Noam Chomsky, Nadine Gordimer, Naomi Klein or even the extraordinary poet and humanist Natan Zach. Do you have any comments about it?
GA: I am very happy and honoured to be listed in such company. Furthermore I think that the shit list is a wonderful showcase of the tactics used by the contemporary 3rd category identity. But then the absurdity is that some of the Jewish leftist activists who happen to be listed on it are themselves fully engaged in producing similar lists of their adversaries. My advice to them is to leave behind the Kosher philosophy and to join the local and global Palestinian solidarity movement.
MT: I permit myself to explain for the readers the Hebrew word kosher. In fact, kosher refers to Jewish dietary laws, it determines what is right and what is wrong, what is in and what is out. It originally means genuine, connotes everything that refers to the requirements of the Jewish law for the preparation of food, but also it is used as synonymous of Jewishness. Let’s continue:
Louis Althusser coined the concept of “Institutional Apparatuses of the State”, meaning that any state, as opposed to the people at large, always imposes and perpetuates particular class interests through repressive instruments specifically created to that effect, i.e. the police, the laws, the right to resort to violence or even to kill, and so on. Tell me first if you agree with this Marxist notion and, if you do, apply it to the State of Israel and elaborate about where you think the centre of Zionist politics is located.
GA: Again, things are slightly more complicated when it comes to Israel and Jewishness. Clearly, I do agree with Althusser. In practice, Israel is a political tool that is there to serve and support the hegemony of the Ashkenazi elite. This may change in the near future. Once Sephardic Jews realise that their historic bonds with their Arab neighbours were shattered by the Ashkenazi expansionist philosophy, Israel may turn into one Palestine.
Now to the other part of your question, I do not know where the centre of Zionist politics is. Is it in Sharon’s cabinet? Is it in Wall Street? Is the whole neocon business just another Zionist pragmatic global practice? But I do not think that it is that important. I prefer to look at Zionism in terms of a “network operation” in which each operating member is fully aware of his role, and his alone. If this is the case, then Israel and Zionism should be seen as a particular colonialist apparatus within a far greater global movement.
MT: Now that you have mentioned globalisation tell me your opinion of the close, almost marital ties of the State of Israel with the US imperial agenda and do not forget to analyse from your own perspective the role played in those ties by the institutional left of Israel.
GA: Originally, Israel was there to serve Anglo-American globalised interests. Obviously, this isn’t the case anymore. America is now fighting (very unsuccessfully) the last pockets of Arab resistance (to Zionist colonialism). Regarding the Israeli left’s role within this global murderous affair I suggest that we should be rather careful. Traditionally, the Israeli left was associated with the American Democratic Party. In the 1980s the Likud founded a very strong bond with the radical right Republicans. This partnership is so strong now that America is willing to send its soldiers to die for Israeli strategic interests (i.e., Iraq invasion). If you insist upon talking about the Israeli institutional left, I will have to assure you that in fact the Israeli left is merely a verbal entity. There is nothing behind it. The reason is very simple. If Israel is the state of the Jewish people then any leftist thinking within such a political nationalist environment must be realised in terms of “Jewish National Socialism” (I am sure that it rings a bell). Saying that, there are some very few leftists in Palestine who happen to be Jewish by origin. As we know, they would never define themselves as Israelis or left Zionists but rather as “Hebrew speaking Palestinians”, “Palestinian Jews” or something of that sort.
MT: You have been accused of many things on the net, but perhaps the two more serious charges are Holocaust denial and incitement to synagogue burning, both things punishable by law. What do you say about it?
GA: I think that you said it yourself. Although those accusations are punishable by law, I have never been asked to visit a police station... Obviously, those are empty accusations that are there to serve a specific political cause mainly within the 3rd category community. In case you are interested, there is a partial list of lies concerning me, followed by my replies to them: (www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/1001lies.html).
But then you may expect me to be more specific. While the accusation about incitement to synagogue burning is an outrageous lie, my take on the Holocaust is rather complicated. I do not deny the Holocaust or the Nazi Judeocide. But I just insist that both the Holocaust and World War II should be treated as an historical event rather than as a religious myth. The story of World War II and the Holocaust is full of discrepancies and contradictions. Major questions are left unanswered. Why did the Americans not bomb Auschwitz? Why did they wait until June 1944 before raiding the beaches of Normandy? Wasn’t it just because Stalin was advancing into central Europe? Why did the Allies bomb German cities rather than logistic facilities and key military targets? Wasn’t it just because they didn’t want to distract Hitler’s army from fighting Stalin? Why did the Americans nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Wasn’t it because the Reds just declared war against Japan and could interfere with them in the Pacific? Clearly, an historical scrutiny of World War II would reveal the fact that from an Anglo-American perspective, Stalin was the real enemy rather than Hitler. The Holocaust narrative is there to hide this rather convincing yet alarming interpretation.
The most crucial question here is why we are not allowed to treat that very historical chapter applying academic methods. The answer is very simple. The Holocaust is now regarded by most Jews and Anglo-Americans as the new Western religion.
MT: You mean a dogma, a principle considered indisputable?
GA: Yes, but the Holocaust is more than just mere religious dogma. What makes religion into a unique set of beliefs is the acceptance of a non-realistic tale. The belief is the outcome of a blind acceptance of the supernatural narrative. The strength of the Holocaust religion is due to the non-realistic character of its tale. The Holocaust narrative is structured as a horrifying dream: It is a metamorphic story of man who is transformed into an industrial killing machine. But then, even if we accept the Holocaust as the new Anglo-American Liberal Democratic religion we must allow people to be atheists. Somehow we are far less sympathetic to those who fail to believe in the Holocaust religion. In some countries it has even entered the Criminal Code, a fact that reinforces the strong political intention of this dogma artificially sacred from above: not believing in the Holocaust is today a criminal offence.
MT: You know, I am familiar with criminalisation of disbelief. The Catholic Church is full of curious dogma, i.e., the Holy Trinity or Mary’s virginity in spite of maternity, and a few centuries ago you could be burned in the stake if you did not believe them.
GA: Yeah. The more fantastic the narrative is, the stronger your belief is proved to be. The truth value of the event is irrelevant as much as nobody really cares about verifying whether or not Mary was a virgin or if the Biblical event of Moses and the burning bush constitutes a real historical fact. To believe is to blindly accept. And yet, religion has always a purpose: the Holocaust religion is there to stand at the very core of the liberal democratic discourse. It is there to maintain the bond between Zionist colonialism and Western expansionism. In other words, the validity of the Holocaust as an historical event loses its relevance. This is exactly where I interfere. I am not an historian and I am not going to engage myself with the historical question of whether there were 6 million or 2.5 million Jewish victims. I argue that this arithmetical question is irrelevant, not to say stupid, because murder is always murder whether you kill one or many. I would maintain instead that even if they were “just” a few thousand Jews or Gypsies who were murdered because of their ethnic origin or impure blood this is tragic enough to establish a major traumatic historical chapter. And yet the question remains, what transforms an historical narrative into a religion?
I will try to suggest an answer: the Palestinians, for instance, are the last victims of Hitler. The fact that they have been living in refugee camps for almost 6 decades is the direct outcome of the Nazi Judeocide, because Zionism established the State of Israel in their land as a consequence of the Holocaust. Thus, I would argue that the history of World War II belongs to the Palestinians as much as it belongs to the Jews or to anyone else. But this is exactly where the problem starts. Once the Holocaust becomes a religion it ceases to be an historical chapter. The Jews are supposed to be the ultimate victims and the Palestinians are just second rate victims, namely the “victims of the victims”. Once the Holocaust becomes a religion, no one else is allowed in. I do tend to believe that the official Holocaust narrative was actually created by the victorious Anglo-Americans. And it is there to serve their very purpose. I agree with many historians in that the Jewish industrial victim ritual started after 1967 and that the masters decided that the Holocaust should be there to serve Western expansionism.
MT: And what about Hitler?
GA: By no means this is to say that Hitler was innocent. Hitler was beyond doubt a merciless murderer but he wasn’t alone. I do tend to pool a major blame on the Anglo-Americans. Seemingly, the very people who flattened Dresden and Hamburg happened to liquidate the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not surprisingly, the very same people who left 2 million dead in Vietnam are those who have been devastating Latin America for the last 6 decades. Surprisingly enough, the very same people who helped the Israelis to lock 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza are those who now destroy Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit. And if this is not enough, they are the same people who did not rush to help the poor blacks of New Orleans just 2 weeks ago. America is no doubt bad news. But to be honest, it isn’t even news anymore. Shortly speaking, if we aim for a better world we rather must rewrite the story of the 20th century. We rather should point out that this slaughter in the name of “freedom” and “democracy” must be stopped. It is our duty to look into our own history and to be active in revising it. It is our duty to make sure that historical rethinking (revisionism) finds its way into the centre of our Left discourse. I argue that the official story of World War II is there to hide some major crimes of an astonishing scale. Hitler was defeated 60 years ago. America won that bloody war but it has never stopped throwing bombs on innocent civilians since then. In order to liberate ourselves we must rearrange the 20th century and the sooner the better. And if the Holocaust is now officially an ex-historical event, if it is a mere religion, I then insist to be allowed to treat it theologically. By the way, this is exactly what I am doing.
MT: What is your ideal agenda for a just settlement of the apparently never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
GA: Only one answer is possible, namely the One State Solution. As you may know, I do not believe in a peaceful solution, i.e., peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Such a solution would fail to address the Palestinian cause, namely ‘the right of return”. But in fact, it is far deeper. The notion of peace is totally foreign to the Hebraic psyche. Sharon said recently that Israel wants peace (shalom) but it insists upon “determining its terms and conditions”. Clearly, for Sharon peace is a pragmatic decision, it is the product of burgeoning rather than an endorsement of the concept of compassion and reconciliation. Sharon’s statement reveals a major Judeo/Christian cultural clash. Basically, the difference between Jews and Christians could be summarized into one sentence: Christians are Jews who love their neighbours. Whether this is the case or not is a big question. And yet, one thing is clear, Western thinking values compassion and love of the Other, this is the reason that Jews could never merge en mass into the Western cultural environment. Jewishness is a celebration of negation. Jews (especially Ashkenazi ones) always locked themselves behind ghetto walls. Not surprisingly, they apply now the very same wall tactics in Israel. This kind of an isolationist identity can never endorse real peace.
Even within working class political circles Jews adopted some separatist cells (such as the Bund within the Soviet and other Jewish leftist exclusive organisations). Thus, a peaceful solution is inconceivable. Therefore, in order to achieve any form of reconciliation between the two peoples, first the Hebrew identity must be defeated and it will be defeated mainly by itself. We have to help the Israelis to de-Zionise themselves. Eventually when that happens we must make sure not to forget to de-Zionise ourselves... I am referring here mainly to Blair’s Britain and America. I would say that the de-Zionising of Palestine is a key element in the process of our global liberation.
MT: The isolationist identity you just described reminded me of the wall they have built in Israel, but the official excuse for it is to defend themselves from terrorism.
GA: To call terrorism an act of “freedom fighting” is in itself symptomatic to the new Zio-led Western discourse. This applies obviously to Israel but as well to Americans and British. Clearly Iraqis are entitled to fight the foreign invasion forces as much as Palestinians are morally entitled to fight to free their land.
MT: Now that you have mentioned the struggle for liberation, what is your opinion about the ethical aspects of the creation of Israel in 1948 by the UN on a piece of land which was already dwelled by Palestinians? And about the further expulsion of some 750,000 of these?
GA: The creation of Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians from their land raises a further question. How come the Jews managed to commit such an atrocity on such a scale just three years after the end of World War II? This is a very important question and I am afraid that no one has managed to come with a clear answer yet. I can think of two possible suggestions: 1) The Hebraic men and women are far from being empathising human beings. For them the pain of others is meaningless. This could be the outcome of the Judaic supremacist code. It may also explain the fact that after 60 years of Israeli oppression, not even one single Zionist call is voiced there to express any form of regret for that original sin mentioned above. 2) The Hebraic men and women of 1948 were far from being traumatised Jews. In other words, for them the Holocaust wasn’t yet a major event. As we learn these days from Segev and Finkelstein, it took many years for Jews to internalise and to shape the collective Holocaust narrative, not to say the trauma. Seemingly, the 1948 Sabra (the native Israeli) was full of contempt towards the Diaspora Jew. The Palestinians helped the Sabra redeem himself from the humiliation imposed by the weak and hopeless image of the defenceless Diaspora Jew. This psychological pattern is fundamental for the understanding of Israeli politics. Killing Arabs always unites the Israelis behind their leaders.
MT: During the last few years the Spanish mainstream media have highly publicised the Barenboim-Said experience of creating what they call a musical instrument of peace, The West Eastern Divan Orchestra, integrated by young Israeli and Palestinian musicians and based in Seville. Although I am not at all against anything that could bring social harmony to any place, it strikes me that while Barenboim conducts his pupils in European auditoriums before amazed audiences, in Gaza or Tel Aviv bombs continue to explode. Somehow it reminds me of the old Catholic Church’s insistence upon sending missionaries to do charity work (and that is fine, because nowadays they do a great job which otherwise nobody would do) yet not confronting the real heart of the problem: the world’s political and economic injustice, and even less the people responsible of such injustice. Don’t you think that these attitudes naively divert attention to the anecdotic and do nothing more than maintain the status quo? What is your opinion of Barenboim’s work as a “missionary” of peace from within Zionism?
GA: I agree with you to a certain extent, and if this is not enough, more than often I criticise Barenboim for being a Zionist and for spreading the Zionist message. And yet, I think that Barenboim is doing a great job. First, he crosses the divide. Second, he gives young musicians in the region an opportunity to work with the ultimate musical genius (Barenboim himself). But most importantly, Barenboim manages to annoy Israelis and to expose their reactionary attitude. Just think about Barenboim becoming a persona non grata simply for performing Wagner in Jerusalem, isn’t it wonderful? I do think that Barenboim manages to throw light on the most pathetic corners of the Jewish psyche. Thus, I would have to maintain that taking all those different aspects of Barenboim’s activity into account, the man is more than a positive contribution to the Palestinian solidarity movement.
Trying to address your point, clearly Barenboim cannot stop the Israelis from dropping bombs. To be Israeli is to engage in murderous negation. For Israelis and to a certain extent, for the post-Talmudic Jew, to Be is to Hate. Once the Israelis stop dropping bombs and hating the world around them, they won’t be Israelis anymore, they would become “Hebrew speaking Palestinians”. Let me assure you, this is something that will happen by itself, it is an inevitable demographic shift. We, the supporters of Palestine, have only one duty. To help the Palestinians survive the next 20 years. We must stop the ethnic cleansing that is already largely in progress. We must bring hope to the Palestinian street. Our duty is to expose the Israelis and their Zionist agenda. We can put pressure on their society and politicians as well. This is what Barenboim is doing. The man delivers hope through beauty just because beauty is his weapon and I think that he uses it rather effectively.
It isn’t that easy to be a Jew and to help the Palestinians, once you do that you fall instantly into the Zionist trap, you become a righteous Jew. Being a Jew you are always in a unique double bind, you can only win. You see, being a Jew is a major complexity: if you are in favour of Palestinian rights you actually prove that Jews are “great humanists”. If you are against the Palestinians, it isn’t really because you are evil but rather because you are a “hopeless victim of two millennia of endless persecution and you just want to live in “(fucking) peace in your (fucking) historic homeland". As you can see, once you agree to act under a Jewish banner, you let Zionism win. Whatever you decide to do approves the Zionist call, you are either a victim or an angel. As you know, I do suffer a lot of flak just for exposing this very complexity. This is the reason that I myself escaped the totality of the Jewish identity. I am an ex-Jew. My actual kindness or evilness has nothing to do with any form of grouping but with myself (me, myself and I). And yet, I am not in a position to call anyone to join this category. I can just suggest to Barenboim and others that this may be a very interesting route to consider.
MT: Before moving to the topic of Gilad Atzmon as a musician and a writer let me remind you that Noam Chomsky, a man whom I suppose you respect, has said that debating about the One State Solution is something “completely abstract, and has no relation to anything even imaginable today” (www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=5240). Is it worthwhile to persist in such a way?
GA: This is exactly the reason why I am very suspicious of late Chomsky. As we all know he defines himself as a Zionist. Though I admire him for his past activity, I would argue that Chomsky’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lost its relevance ages ago.
Now to the point: Not only the One State Solution is not abstract at all, Sharon in his recent left Zionist turn has been clever enough to realise the concrete upcoming demographic disaster due to the fact that Jews are no longer the majority in the Israeli-controlled areas. This is the philosophy behind the recent Gaza pullout. The Israelis know that the days of the “Jewish State” are numbered. The fact that Chomsky fails to see that is rather concerning. You see, it is very interesting: while right wing Zionists lean towards a One State Solution, the so-called left wing Zionists endorse a radical nationalistic concept of two states.
MT: I did not know Ariel Sharon was a leftie. Please explain your last sentence.
GA: To start with, Sharon was raised at the heart of agricultural Labour Zionism but we may leave personal history aside for a moment. There are two major ideological political streams within the Zionist movement: The doves (leftists) and the hawks (right wingers). The doves believe that the Jews are entitled to a national homeland at the expense of the Palestinians. Historically speaking it was the doves who ethnically cleaned 85% of the Palestinian people in 1948. Once the doves managed to create a reasonable Lebensraum for the Jewish people they were happy to “compromise” with the Palestinians. Oslo is the materialisation of the Zionist dove philosophy. Peres and Rabin came to the Palestinians and “generously” offered them these humiliating terms and conditions: “We (the Israelis) will live on the lands and in the houses you left behind in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem, etc. And you (the Palestinians) will stay in your refugee camps in the desert or even in the Diaspora”. As we can see, the doves always search for a means of compromise. The concept of a two state solution is a classic dove tactic. It completely dismisses the Palestinian cause (i.e., the right of return). Clearly, the doves do not want to live amongst Arabs, they prefer to erect a European style Jewish ghetto in Palestine. For those who do not remember, the idea of an apartheid wall was originally initiated by Haim Ramon, another famous Labour dove.
The hawks’ philosophy is slightly different. For a hawk it is the land itself that is important. It is the holy “Eretz Yisrael” - the Land of Israel according to the Bible - that he or she would fight for. The hawk insists upon redeeming every piece of land of “greater Israel”. The hawk is not ready to compromise. The hawk would insist that the right for Zion is Biblically grounded. For the hawk there is no real difference between Tel Aviv, Gaza or the West Bank. This is the very reason why the hawk Zionist paradigm later matured into what is now known as “messianic Zionism” (the settler movement). Seemingly, the contemporary hawk would obey a Rabbi rather than a secular politician. The hawk’s logic is simple and coherent: If Eretz Yisrael is indeed a divine concept, let it be handled by a religious messianic man rather than by an atheist Jew.
Throughout his entire political and military career Sharon, a brutal war criminal, was flirting with the hawk philosophy. For years he was acting as the political messenger of the settler movement. But then, things changed recently. Seemingly, Sharon changed his spots. The Gaza pullout is in fact a political U-turn for Sharon. He is now back with his real peers, the Labour doves. Sharon realised lately that running a Jewish state with a vast majority of Palestinians is doomed to failure. This is the logic behind the Gaza pullout. He simply found a way to get rid of 1.3 million Palestinians and to gain another 5-7 years in the colossal demographic pipeline. Why did he change his mind? Because for Sharon Eretz Yisrael is not as holy as he made us believe. Sharon, the ultimate Zionist hawk became a dove. Not only is he a dove, his entire political career is now saved by the official dove Shimon Peres, always enthusiastic about joining Sharon’s cabinet.
The moral of this political saga is rather clear; leaving the settler movement aside, in Israel political ideology means very little. Left has nothing to do with left and right is right as long as it is practical.
MT: Excuse my next question, but I find it rather strange that you do not attribute any positive quality to Israeli society.
GA: Why do you say so? I think that more than anything else, Israel is there to present the world with the ultimate embodiment of non-ethical thinking and inhuman behaviour.
MT: I could agree with you in that a democracy which just serves the Jews but not the rest of the population living within its boundaries is a somehow crippled democracy...
GA: It is far worse. It is a democracy that is there to serve world Jewry, not only its Jewish inhabitants but rather Jews all over the world. Azmi Bishara, a brave and adorable Palestinian academic as well as a Member of the Israeli Knesset, has launched a campaign, namely “a state of its citizens”, which opposes such a logic. According to Bishara, Israel must become a democracy of its citizens rather than a mere colony of world Jewry. In the Jewish state, an American Jew from Brooklyn has more rights than a Palestinian born in East Jerusalem. There you go, this is the reality of “Jewish Democracy”.
MT: The usual tale is that Jews enjoy all the advantages usually allowed by Western societies, i.e., freedom of speech and dissent...
GA: The freedom of speech is there to portray an image of pluralism. And besides, this fake pluralism applies solely to Jews. Somehow, it never applies to Palestinian academics, artists or politicians.
MT: Never? But you just mentioned the dissenting stand of Palestinian Israeli Azmi Bishara…
GA: Azmi Bishara is now stripped of his parliamentary immunity just for being who he is (an Arab) and saying what he is saying. I really think that that says it all.
MT: But from the outside we Gentiles see that verbal opposition is tolerated and the so-called “traitors” can live and work within Israel without being jailed...
GA: My friend, do you know how many Palestinians are jailed at this very moment in Israel’s various concentration camps and ordinary jails? OK, let me say it, Zionists are far from being stupid. Did you know that the Israeli government runs an institute that is taking care of translating the so called “left” Hebrew literature into foreign languages? In fact it is Amos Oz and Edgar Keret that they spread around. This must sound bizarre to you: an Israeli right wing government is engaged in translating and promoting “leftist” writers. You see, they do it in order to establish a fake image of a “peace seeking Jewish state”. Not that Oz and Keret have anything to do with ideological left thinking. They are just typical Zionist doves. But somehow they are promoted by the right wing Israeli establishment. Apparently, Jewish hawks do realise that the Zionist endeavour benefits from the image of the righteous Jew. As I said before, Zionists are far from being stupid, they even benefit from my call for their disintegration. 3rd category right wing Jews are always very quick in offering the list of the dozen “good Jews”. When you attack Jewish power they will always remind you of the humanist Jews, you will then hear about Chomsky, Finkelstein, Leibovitch. I assume that my name might appear somewhere down the line. You see, Zionism benefits from its Jewish opponents. It is a major challenge to tackle and this is another reason for me never to act as an ex-Israeli or even as an ex-Jew.
MT: Let’s talk about terrorism on both sides. Try to forget your opinion about Israel and think only as a human being.
GA: This might be too much of a challenge [He smiles].
MT: How would you feel if you were an Arab and Israeli soldiers with orders from their superiors to shoot to kill slaughtered your son during a raid? How would you feel if your daughter was blown up in a bus by a Palestinian suicide bomber?
GA: With all due respect, I don’t want to get into “victim politics”. It is rather clear how horrible circumstances as such must be and yet, I think that we must learn to differentiate between personal grief and rational criticism. I have been living in the UK for over 10 years. I do raise my two kids here in bombarded London. And in spite of all that, I am fully aware that it is Mr. Blair who consciously turns my kids, myself and the entire British society into hostages of his poor, not to say criminal, decision making. I must tell you that the majority of British people and that includes the PM’s wife, realised immediately after the July 7th bombing that it was Blair’s doomed policies that brought those bloody bombs upon us. What I am trying to say is that people are capable of differentiating between the personal pain and the reason which led to them being attacked.
It isn’t coincidence that Zionists try to blur the distinction between the personal grief and the rational discourse. In order to maintain Jewish trauma the pain must suppress any possible reason. Reason is there to produce an explanatory argument. You see, once the Zionist realises the reasoning behind Jewish suffering, Jews would stop being victims and they would then become ordinary empathising and responsible human beings. As long as pain stands in the core of the Jewish discourse, the Holocaust is a never ending story with interchangeable protagonists: Once it was Hitler, then it became Stalin, Nasser, Arafat, Saddam and so on. As soon as you draw a demarcation line between pain and reasoning you then start to search for the causality. You look at your grief in terms of cause and effect. You then may ask whether it is a coincidence that all those major disasters happen to Jews. Is it a coincidence that so many young Palestinians give up on the hope for a better life? If you ask me, these are the elementary questions Israelis must ask themselves following a suicide attack. Somehow, they fail to do so. Once they start engaging themselves with those questions they won’t be Israelis anymore. To de-Zionise the Israeli is to introduce reason into the trauma.
MT: Would you return to live in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv if they were part of a new state constitutionally stripped of any ethnic references?
GA: I don’t know about living there but I may consider a visit or even to play a concert.
MT: Permit me to summarize what I deduce from your previous statements: you are just a human being who happened to be born to Jewish parents but consider that Jewishness is just an irrelevant aspect of your persona, not the principal notion that drives your life.
GA: You see, this is slightly more than I said. I assume that it isn’t a coincidence that I am concerned with Jewishness. I am not acting as a Jew or under any Jewish banner. Anyhow, please continue.
MT: You are sympathetic to religious persons, Jews among them. You are not an anti-Semite but rather an anti-Zionist (not to confound both concepts). You combat Zionism as a racially-based ideology which isolates its members and controls a state based upon racial premises. You defend the liberation of the Palestinian people, the right of return of the Palestinians who were expelled from their land after the foundation of the State of Israel and endorse the creation of a new state, Palestine, where both peoples would live without any reference to their ethnic origin. You are convinced that Zionism is an integral part of Western colonialism and imperialism. Am I right?
MT: At the same time you are an artist who has to earn his bread and butter everyday, and we all know that in the world we live “art” is controlled by capital (i.e., record companies, editors, gallery owners, and so on), which means that any artist who fights the very foundation of Western capitalism and who is always swimming against the tide of the dominant political agenda becomes instantly a pariah. Do you have any professional problems due to the fact that your art is an aesthetic weapon of mass destruction aimed at the “unique thinking” of the current neoliberal democracies?
GA: For sure, I could be far more successful once I choose to be silent. But then, let me assure you no one chooses to become a jazz performer because of the money. We do it because of the love of music and its spiritual content. I love jazz and my music benefits from my social commitment, at least that’s what I think at the moment.
MT: I only know your last two records, EXILE and musiK. From the first cut of EXILE I was impressed by both the sensuality of your sound and the occasional violent squalls, either playing the clarinet or the saxophone. You mentioned above that Coltrane and Bird (Charlie Parker) changed your life and in fact your phrasing shows the influence of both. What is jazz for you?
GA: Jazz is freedom in its making. It is both a call for liberation as well as a challenge of one’s personal boundaries. Playing jazz is the aim to free oneself while knowing that this will never happen.
MT: Your answer has rung a bell in my memory. Have you read the short story “The Pursuer”?
MT: Never heard about it?
MT: It is about Charlie Parker, although its fictional character is called Johnny, an artist in pursuit of art. I highly recommend it to you, I am sure you will love it. “The Pursuer” is the English translation from “El perseguidor”, and its author, the Argentinian Julio Cortázar, was one of the best short story writers of all time. But let’s continue with your poetics of music. A few years ago I translated a brilliant paper you wrote about jazz as a revolutionary activity. Could you repeat here some of the ideas you developed on it?
GA: I argued there that jazz, at its very best, is in fact an anti-American revolutionary art form. Evidently, jazz artists - and I refer mainly to the bop and post bop performers - were highly involved in the black civil rights struggle from the late 1940s until the late 1960s. Jazz was then a call for freedom and was in itself an exercise in freedom. It was then when jazz was emotive, meaningful music.
While In Europe jazz became extremely popular after the war, in America jazz giants were still banned from entering some clubs and concert halls via the front doors. Being the only original art form to come out of the US, jazz became a symbol of American racism and oppression.
In the late 1960s, the American elite realised that jazz may be useful as a propaganda vehicle. It was then when it became the official “voice of America”. It was also that moment when jazz stopped being a revolutionary art form. It was then when black Americans were shipped en masse to die for American global interests in Vietnam.
The story of jazz is the story of American abuse of its black population. Bush’s astonishing negligence in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina just emphasizes this very argument. New Orleans, a major jazz capital, was left there to be drowned together with its poor black inhabitants. Seemingly, America didn’t learn a thing. A nation that is engaged in the daily killing of other nations will eventually turn its sword against its own people.
MT: I will give you four names, two jazzmen and two rockers: Bird, Chet Baker, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Do they inspire you?
GA: For sure. Bird was the man who made me into a jazz lover, Chet taught me what love is all about, Hendrix is existential, and Morrison… I should probably give him more time.
MT: I will summarize in a few words what I remember of your previous album, EXILE. It starts quite impressively with “Dal’Ouna On The Return”, a dialogue between your clarinet and the voice of Palestinian singer Reem Kelani over an lengthy bass sostenuto background. Pure beauty. According to the notes included in the album, the second song, “Al-Quds”, is an Israeli tune very popular among Jews during the Six Day War, although there is a trick on it: its Hebrew lyrics have been changed to an Arabic poem which expresses the Palestinian longing for their lost homeland. The political intention cannot be more explicit: all deprived peoples harbour equal sentiments and during the last 60 years Palestinians are living exactly the same torment that Jews suffered along two millennia.
“Ouz” tells the story of insensitive Zionist settlers who gladly colonise Palestinian land previously confiscated. But the cut I most vividly recall is “Exile”, a traditional Ladino instrumental, and so not because of my love for Ladinos (Jews of Spanish descent who have obstinately maintained Spanish as a language during the four Centuries since the genocidal Catholic Kings deported them), but due to the rhythm applied to the melody by your drummer Asaf Sirkis, which is exactly the same rhythm of the religious processions which take place during the Easter Holy Week in my native Andalusia. Somehow “Exile” took me to my infancy. Every time I listened to it I thought how right had been the historian Américo Castro when he wrote that we Spaniards are a mixture of Christians, Moorish and Jews! Any comments to add?
GA: Just to say that your poetic outlook over my work really touched my heart and I really mean it. Clearly I am far more fascinated with Ladino culture than with Klezmer, an Ashkenazi cultural robbery of some east European and Gypsy music. Although I mastered Klezmer, I would never record it. Unlike the gentle and soulful Ladino music, Klezmer is always too loud, clumsily played and lacks any aesthetic finesse. Saying all that, there is one astonishing musician who manages to transform Klezmer into an art form, I am obviously referring here to the Argentinian born clarinet maestro Giora Feidman. Musically speaking, Klezmer is basically Gypsy music played horribly bad. It is so bad that it made it into a style. Ladino, on the other hand, is a poetic and authentic expression. If you really want to treat yourself with the beauty of Jewish culture, do yourself a favour, just pass near to a Sephardic synagogue on Atonement Day and listen to the old Andalusian music. It is nothing but sheer beauty.
MT: Are you familiar with flamenco?
GA: For sure.
MT: Does it inspire you?
GA: It doesn’t stand in the core of my inspiration but let me tell you that for me music isn’t divided into boxes anymore. Music is just music. Those boxes: Flamenco, Jazz, Pop, Tango, Drum ‘n’ Bass, World, Latin, Rock and so on are there to serve the music industry. It is there to provide an image of manifold.
MT: musiK, your last album, includes a slow tango (“Joven, hermosa y triste”, obviously sung in Spanish by the Argentinian Guillermo Rozenthuler, I guess another human being who happened to have Jewish parents)…
GA: For sure, all the Jews I successfully communicate with and happen to love are falling into the 1st and 2nd categories.
MT: …then a curious medley (“Re-arranging the 20th Century”, with a tribute to Charlie Parker, featuring Robert Wyatt) and an impressive instrumental piece, “Liberating the American People”). Its conception is more universal than the previous album and to me it confirms that your political and artistic evolution is leading you to a more global understanding of the local problems. If on top of that, we consider the sleeve notes you write about the connotation of the word musiK (with uppercase K instead of a c) as music devoid of its market value, the leftie political intention of the final artefact is quite evident, but I have some doubts when I face another cut, the jazz version of the German song “Lili Marleen”, which was quite popular during World War II among both Nazi and Allied soldiers. Could you elaborate both on the meaning of MusiK and the insertion on it of “Lili Marleen”?
GA: musiK, contrary to musiC, is the search for beauty. While musiK refers to continental aesthetics, musiC refers to the Anglo-American commoditisation of beauty and the reduction of aesthetics into mere fashion. “K” stands for beauty and “C” stands for capitalistic greed. This distinction is sharply manifested in the difference between Kultur and Culture. If you don’t mind me being rude I would suggest that whereas “K” stands for Kant (Emmanuel), “C” stands for the “c**t” Milton Friedman.
You ask about “Lili Marleen”, and I will tell you the truth. It isn’t a great song and yet it made people stop shooting. I have tried it for 3 years. I am far from being successful but I keep trying.
MT: Have you ever played in Latin America?
GA: Yes, in Argentina and Uruguay. Love it. I would easily move. As you may know, tango is my biggest love.
MT: I have mentioned Latin America because as the backyard of the empire its people have suffered Washington’s policies for more than a century and maybe that’s the reason why the majority of Latin Americans “understand” the torment of Palestinians and are in favour of their cause against Israel. There is a parallel as well between the contrasting positions of Latin-American governments and their citizens with regard to Palestinians and Cubans, because governments have a tendency to be politically correct and show a lot of restraint whereas it is hard to find poor Latin Americans at the street level - the vast majority of the Southern Cone population - who do not admire the courage of these two peoples, so distant in terms of culture and history and so close in terms of resistance. Would you like to play your musiK in Cuba?
GA: Yes, of course.
MT: For sure you would also fall in love with Caribbean salsa.
GA: True, before the Orient House Ensemble became a success story I made my living playing salsa and touring with different Cuban bands.
MT: Let’s talk a bit about your books. How did you decide to become a novelist?
GA: I have never decided to become a novelist. As it happened, I was writing my first book for friends and close relatives. I wrote the first two or three chapters and I sent it to Yaron Stavi, my bass player for the last 14 years. He loved it; in fact it was his approval that kept me writing for a while. Then I had an accident: at the time my manuscript was more or less finished my desk computer’s hard disk died on me. My book’s file was irrecoverable. I thought that it might have been be a “sign”. Consequently, I gave up on the idea of becoming a writer. It all happened in 1994, when I was attending PhD studies in the UK.
In 2000 I was asked by a Lebanese academic to present a paper about my views of Israel and Jewishness. I went back to my very old laptop and was shocked to find an almost finished file of the book. I started to read it and found it compelling. I then sent it to a publisher in Israel and offered to cover the costs of printing. After less than a day, the publisher called me and told me that I could save my money, because they loved the manuscript and were willing to publish it. As you can see, I became a writer though I have never decided to become one.
I do not see myself as a writer and I don’t even understand what I write about. I usually understand my books 2-3 years after publication. Only recently I managed to understand my latest published book (My One and Only Love). I now realise that this book is a deconstruction of the notion of Jewish trauma or even trauma in general. I do understand now that my book is all about the clear fact that the trauma predates the traumatic event. The Holocaust trauma predates the Holocaust as much as the rape trauma predates the actual rape. In short, the “post traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) predates the traumatic event. As bizarre as it may sound, I do realise it now but I didn’t realise it while writing a book just about that. Seemingly, books are a free play lead by the author’s unconsciousness.
MT: Well, let me tell you that Gabriel García Márquez said once that true novelists only write one book even if they publish many, meaning that the different plots chosen are variations of a “unique plot” deeply rooted in the unconscious which haunts them, and that in fact they do not have even the chance to choose but are chosen instead by this unique plot. I am happy you agree with this psychoanalytic approach which helps us to differentiate a novelist who writes what he cannot avoid from a best-sellerist who writes anything that fills his pocket.
GA: Yeah. In a way I feel as if my books do write themselves. I feel the same about my music. I am kind of a catalyst, a physical extension of a person who I fail to know. The less I consciously interfere in my literature or my music, the better it is. I do believe that musiK and literature produces itself when the ego dies. Obviously it isn’t that easy to suppress one’s ego. Moreover, Pop Art is all about ego and egotism. This is the reason that literature, poetry and musiK are defeated within the liberal democratic cultural arena.
MT: Why did you use for your first novel the same title as the capital work of Maimonides, A Guide to Perplexed?
GA: To me Maimonides stands in the very core of Jewish supremacist ideology and hatred towards the Other. If to quote the great Israel Shahak: “Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah [is] replete not only with the most offensive precepts against all Gentiles but also with explicit attacks on Christianity and on Jesus”.
Moses Maimonides is considered the greatest codifier and philosopher in Jewish history. Let us read what the great rabbi has to say about Gentiles, Christians and dissident Jews.
In Mishneh Torah Maimonides teaches us that “if we see an idolater (Gentile) being swept away or drowning in the river, we should not help him. If we see that his life is in danger, we should not save him." (Moznaim Publishing Corporation, Brooklyn, New York, 1990, Chapter 10, English Translation, p. 184). But it isn’t only the Gentile who must be punished: "It is a mitzvah [religious duty]”, says Maimonides, “to eradicate Jewish traitors, minnim, and apikorsim, and to cause them to descend to the pit of destruction, since they cause difficulty to the Jews and sway the people away from God, as did Jesus of Nazareth and his students, and Tzadok, Baithos, and their students. May the name of the wicked rot.”
Maimonides is a pure message of hate, and yet, this message is securely settled in the very core of Jewish philosophy. Ten years ago when I wrote my book I aimed to criticise Maimonides. Originally I planned to name my novel Guide to the Perplexed, a Revised Version. But then, upon second thought, I realised that the only way for Jews to move forwards towards a notion of universal humanism is to delete Maimonides and to eradicate his outrageous preaching. I was sure that within days after publication of my Guide, Maimonides’ books would disappear. I was convinced as well that my novel would make it into the Bible. Apparently, I was wrong, it took less than two weeks before my book was actually banned in Israel. By the way, this is when I realised that I should no longer waste my energy on Hebraic Israelis. Rather than talking to Israelis, I talk to the world about Israelis. As you may know, it is now impossible to find my Guide to the Perplexed in Hebrew but you can find it in many other languages. I am very happy about that.
MT: When I started reading what I knew it was your first novel I was instantly surprised by your sense of humour and extraordinary wit. In fact, and only taking the comparison so far, it reminded me of another equally brilliant first novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, written by another shit list’s lucky inhabitant, Mordecai Richer. Do you agree in that humour is just a façade which hides sadness and that the people who have suffered are the most humourous?
GA: I don’t know. Again I refuse to see myself as a sufferer. And yet, counting on my experience I would say that the most entertaining people around me are manic-depressive. Anyhow, I am not. Fighting evil turns me on and laughter is one of my weapons.
MT: Where do you think it leads a left wing political commitment taken to the ultimate consequences when any concession to the right is ruled out?
GA: My dear friend, I am very sorry to tell you that the right will not be defeated, cannot be defeated. But then the left cannot be defeated either.
My philosophical view on the subject is pretty simple: While right ideological thinking is concerned with the question of “what man is?” left critical scholarship is set to answer the question “what man ought to be”. In other words, “right” is existential and “left” is normative. The human tragedy is due to the restricting human condition, neither the existential nor the normative can be fully comprehended. The existential is too close to be fully realised and the normative is phantasmatic: it is an ideology structured in the shape of a dream. The tragedy of the human condition is that it is locked in between the existential and the normative.
You see, the normative (left) and the existential (right) aren’t opposing factors but rather complementary human qualities. But it goes even deeper. Humanism and compassion can be realised both in existential terms as well as in normative ones. Goodness, thus, does not belong to the left nor to the right. Goodness belongs to mankind and yet mankind is lost in a search for a unifying bond.
As you may know, I am not a politician and I do not have any intentions to become one. I am an artist and my only duty is to surf above the discourse and try to integrate these two elementary human faculties. I struggle to merge the “being” with the “fantasy”. My duty is merely to make sure that musiK wins and Kultur prevails. I am here to fight Zionism and America and beauty is my weapon. It may sound silly, but this is my war, it is a war I love to fight and, let me tell you, I win every night.
MT: My pleasure, Mr. Atzmon.
GA: [He smiles].
* Manuel Talens is a Spanish novelist, translator and columnist (www.manueltalens.com).
The first installment of this two-part interview appeared originally under the title “La belleza como arma política” in the current issue (No. 202, December 2005) of the Mexican monthly magazine Memoria (http://www.memoria.com.mx/).
Translated into English by the author and revised by Mary Rizzo (http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com).
This interview also appears in Spanish on Rebelión (http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=24333)
French translation by Marcel Charbonnier (http://www.quibla.net/alire/gilad3.htm)
Italian translation by Miguel Martínez (http://www.kelebekler.com/occ/talens.htm)
All translations on Copyleft by Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For another interview see: It ain't necessarily so: an interview of Gilad Atzmon by Mary Rizzo