To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Daily War Crime: Drone Footage From Gaza Reveals Appalling Destruction---And A Pattern Of Indiscriminate, Disproportionate Shelling Of Civilian Areas


Trigger warning: This drone camera footage from the destroyed Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya is Very Disturbing, especially if you followed the military action as it unfolded. Mark Perry, who often writes for Foreign Policy, has a great piece at  Al Jazeera on the indiscriminate IDF shelling that obliterated Shejaiya on July 20, as observed by US military officers in the Pentagon who closely monitored the fighting in twice-daily classified reports. Perry reports that the Israeli artillery barrage left American military monitors “stunned” at its ferocity. The YouTube footage, which was featured on the BBC this morning, is what really brings it home---pounds it home is more like it. Think Berlin, 1945. Some of it actually looks like Dresden, or a videogame depiction of Planet Null.

The IDF is putting a lot of effort into addressing Palestinian war crimes charges with its internal legal advisors going into overdrive; Israeli political leaders and diplomats have been working tirelessly on other fronts, including the US Congress,  trying to block a formal UN inquiry and Palestinian efforts to present their case to the International Criminal Court.  This footage shows why Palestinians in Gaza have a lot to work with, and why Israel might be in for a unprecedentedly rough legal ride, especially with Palestinian human rights workers improving the reliability of their forensic evidence compared to prior Israeli operations in Gaza in 2009 and 2012. And from what Perry reports, Israel better hope that human rights investigators don’t get their hands on the Pentagon reports or any similar “logs” kept by the IDF.  

According to Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem who spoke at a New America event last week, answers to war crimes questions from Gaza “aren’t necessarily found in Gaza.” When I asked him if they were exploring the possibilities that there might be a Bradley Manning/ Edward Snowden scenario on the horizon wherein someone from inside the IDF might leak incriminating information, or, in the case of Pentagon, to allow a “sanctioned leak” of the information the US military has, El-Ad was coy, only saying “We’re exploring all options and scenarios.” I doubt the White House would order a “sanctioned leak” but you never know. There’s no real love lost between the CIA, the NSA or the DIA and Israel over Israel’s lack of reciprocity with those agencies and its continued spying on US targets, including Secretary of State John Kerry while on the ground in Israel during failed peace negotiations this spring.

I don’t like the idea of these kind of leaks, at least the Manning and Snowden actions where a single individual takes it on himself to make the decision to divulge state secrets. (I’ve since come around to a reluctant acceptance of Snowden’s actions, especially because he revealed that the Obama administration authorized a sharing agreement between the NSA and the Israelis in which metadata of US citizens and politicians would be given to Israel, with very little enforceable legal protection against violations of privacy and free speech.) Still, when you look at the utter destruction of a place like Shejaiya , you could see why someone in a position to bring those responsible for it to justice might be tempted to release information capable of doing that.

Watch the footage---and watch this space. A Manning /Snowden scenario, or an Israeli version of it, is fanciful at this point, but still...  

Monday, September 15, 2014

ISIS’s Decapitations Shouldn’t Make Us Lose Our Own Heads About Going To War Again In The Middle East

Times editors were too classy to work a decapitation reference into the headline it gave Tom Friedman’s column on Sunday, but that’s what anyone concerned about war fever raging in Washington right now could have used.  “Don’t just do something, sit there!” is one of those insipid 12 steps “slogans;" in the case of US military action v ISIS it’s wise counsel. 

Noting that Obama was "drummed into" pledging military action "by the sudden shift in public opinion after ISIS ghastly videotaped beheadings of two American journalists," Friedman says that whatever course of action Obama pursues, that plan can only end well “if we are extremely disciplined and tough-minded about how, when and for whom we use our power.” The ISIS challenge makes Iraq---the gnarly reality we met in that country only after we got there, not the neocon delusion that took us so naively into it--- look simple, with every variable in the equation raised to an exponential level of complexity.

Our staying power is ambiguous, our enemy is barbarous, our regional allies are duplicitous, our European allies are feckless and the Iraqis and Syrians we’re trying to help are fractious. There is not a straight shooter in the bunch.

Prudence and caution are certainly much merited. “Before we step up the bombing campaign on ISIS, it needs to be absolutely clear on whose behalf we are fighting,” Friedman advises, explaining that

ISIS did not emerge by accident and from nowhere. It is the hate-child of two civil wars in which the Sunni Muslims have been crushed. One is the vicious civil war in Syria in which the Iranian-backed Alawite-Shiite regime has killed roughly 200,000 people, many of them Sunni Muslims, with chemical weapons and barrel bombs. And the other is the Iraqi civil war in which the Iranian-backed Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki systematically stripped the Sunnis of Iraq of their power and resources.

Never forget, this is a two-front war: ISIS is the external enemy, and sectarianism and corruption in Iraq and Syria are the internal enemies. We can and should help degrade the first, but only if Iraqis and Syrians, Sunnis and Shiites, truly curtail the second. If our stepped-up bombing, in Iraq and Syria, gets ahead of their reconciliation, we will become the story and the target. And that is exactly what ISIS is waiting for.
This seems like sound analysis, informed by an understanding of ethnic and sectarian dynamics and by America’s sorry historical experience in making them part of our calculus.  But as much as the diagnosis seems strong, the prescription is a bit too soft focus, too “cultural,” a bit too enamoured of social media in the way that someone of a certain age trying to be “cutting edge” can often sound.
ISIS loses if our moderate Arab-Muslim partners can unite and make this a civil war within Islam — a civil war in which America is the air force for the Sunnis and Shiites of decency versus those of barbarism. ISIS wins if it can make this America’s war with Sunni Islam — a war where America is the Shiite/Alawite air force against Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. ISIS will use every bit of its Twitter/Facebook network to try to depict it as the latter, and draw more recruits.
We keep making this story about us, about Obama, about what we do. But it is not about us. It is about them and who they want to be. It’s about a pluralistic region that lacks pluralism and needs to learn how to coexist. It’s the 21st century. It’s about time.

However accurate and incisive we are in assessing what we’re getting into at the front end, the ISIS situation is the living definition of a “hot mess.” It’s protean, molten, shape-shifting, whatever word you want to use. And the conditions it is exploiting---failed states, sectarian rivalries, demographic crises --- represent a perfect storm. As this intervention progresses, the trick will be to constantly reexamine where we are and where the situation is at any given moment, and to avoid false narratives and analytic equations that fail to capture the complexity and power of a phenomenon that seems less a function of earthly politics and culture than something supernatural. 

It's hard not to hear echoes of Yeats’ Second Coming: The vast and troubling “image out of Spiritus Mundi” emerging from “a waste of desert sand... A shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun"… a “rough beast, its hour come round at last,” 
slouching “towards Bethlehem to be born”

And Baghdad. And Aleppo. And Damascus. And Beirut. And Jerusalem. To say nothing about New York and Washington.

ISIS surely epitomizes the worst “filled with a passionate intensity.” It makes Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, even the murderous 1979 "Guillotine Edition" of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, look mild. And even if the best do find the conviction needed to take the movement on, addressing every rip, snarl and surge of ISIS's “blood dimmed tide” will require an analytic clarity that has eluded us so far. Moving fast on our end could, as some argue, nip ISIS in the bud, whatever that bud might be given its fluid nature. But a fast strike, absent focused and targeted follow up, could also spin ISIS in a direction that might make it even more difficult to destroy downstream, if in fact that is even possible. The smart people on this, like Michael Tomasky, are advising us to be grown ups, accept a harsh truth, and settle for containment. 

Better to sit on our hands for a little while longer then before thrusting them into the “widening gyre.” No matter how furious and inflamed ISIS's beheadings may have made the American electorate, going in without a precise and coodinated plan A, and the flexibility that can help us shift to Plan B, Plan C and even Plan D if we need to, is the wrong way to start this next round. In the case of ISIS, timing isn't everything. The crucial factor here is sequencing---choreographing coordinated and complicated moves on multiple fronts. And getting that right will take considerable time to plan.


At Yesterday's Anti Semitism Rally In Berlin, Israeli Flags Might Have Sent A Message At Odds With The Rally’s Intent

Berliners At The Brandenburg Gate Wave Israeli Flags

I love a parade, especially one denouncing intolerance, thuggery and racial hate, but the visuals at Berlin's rally against anti Semitism in Berlin have me a bit confused. German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech in which JFK's infamous line Ich Bin Ein Berliner could have been repurposed into Ich Bin Ein Juden as a statement of solidarity with European Jews who've become targets of rising anti Semitism across the continent triggered by Israeli actions in Gaza this summer. Indeed, one of the reasons for the rally was to draw the vital distinction between "European Jews" and "the Jewish State" as a way of standing against Jewish scapegoating. The sea of Israeli flags at the rally, however, seemed to have sent a message at odds with that aim, conflating Jewish Europeans with the State of Israel and in the process sending a signal of support for that state: Ich Bin Ein Israelisch.

One of the reasons for the dysfunction in the American and European discourse on Israel is the tendency to equate criticism of Israel, no matter how legitimate, with anti Semitism, which is basically a way of saying that "Jews = Israel." In fact this is not the case, as many diaspora Jews, and certainly many anti Zionist Jews, will insist.  Maybe someone needs to design a flag specifically to represent Jews as "a people," as opposed to having the Star of David flag of the Jewish State do double duty? Or a flag that simply, and specifically, stands for opposition to anti Semitism around the world? To hard-core anti Semites, this might be a matter of a "distinction without a difference." But it's a distinction that might actually make a difference in terms of the nuances that need to be established.   

Design proposals for new flags should be sent to:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Oy! Gwyneth Converts!

Gwyneth Paltrow is converting to Judaism, Page Six reports. From the url I get the sense that the original headline was “Gwyneth Paltrow Is Becoming An Actual Jewish Princess” and that it got changed after a complaint from someone without a sense of newsroom humor. I’m wondering though whether ‘Jews Are The New WASPS,’ or ‘Shiksas Are The New Jews’ would be more fitting.

To anyone with a sense of sociology or history, the former is hardly news, even though current politically correct strictures (Yes, Jewish pc!) make this ascension to WASPdom difficult for anyone to write about in any depth.  Just remember the blowback Phil Weiss endured for his landmark 1996 New York magazine piece in which he said Jews had become the new American social and economic elite but that ethnic victimology discouraged an acknowledgement of this. Someone really should run with the Paltrow conversion news though and mine it for deeper meaning. Time was when American Jews aspiring to enhanced social status would convert to haute Protestantism, or marry into it. Now the trend is running in the opposite direction, with Paltrow only being the latest, and the prettiest, face of that new trend. Where is Nick Lemann, or a successor to the late Digby Baltzell, or any of the other chroniclers of the great American "Episcopacy" when you need them?

In the meantime however,  just a couple of on-the-fly observations:

*It’s reported, not by the Post but by the Times of Israel, that Paltrow’s conversion follows her “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who is a Christian. Could the conversion be yet another example of Jewish-gentile goyimhass or just all-too-typical former spousal spite?

*It’s reported that Paltrow, whose acting career is in a bit of a slump, is now 42 years old. This is a very good age for her to try to grab some free publicity--- and to boost the hopes of any number of aging Hollywood executives who might be thinking of her as a “hot property” in their movie projects as much as in the second marriage market. In other words, it's a good career move.

*It’s also reported that Paltrow has long been interested in kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism and spiritual learning associated with celebrities like Madonna, along with certain high profile Jewish feminists. But kabbalah is as much about Madonna as it is Meir Kahane. In Israel, especially among Jewish fundamentalists in the settler movement, kabbalistic rabbis advance a highly tribalized reading of ancient scripture in which gentiles, especially Arabs, are seen in a second class, even dehumanized light as Amalek, the avatar of pure evil. 

At any rate, Paltrow’s past boasting that she comes from a long line of Eastern European rabbis is yet another sign of what I think could be called the "cult of being Jewish." Said cult has always been, I would argue, a big part of Jewish American identity, but is hitting a high water mark right now in the arts, film, publishing and media. The introduction that novelist Jonathan Safran Foer got in March at the 92nd Street Y before his live interview with historian Simon Schama was what originally got me thinking about the recent surge in this collective self regard. Foer, the Y introducer proclaimed to the audience, "had transformed our collective understanding of the modern American novel through the exploration of his Jewish identity."

Like any other form of ethnocentrism and cultural chauvinism, I find this cult both irritating and boorish, bristling with off-putting double standards and a lack of ethnic reciprocity. Given the incredible rise from the ashes that is a big part of the post-WW II Jewish communal story, however, I can understand the reasons behind the celebration. It is without doubt an astonishing comeback. But the collective self-congratualtion is verging on self-parody. I mean, there's a limit. The world in which a good, though still quite young, writer like Jonathan Safran Foer can be exalted like he was that night at the 92nd St Y is a narrow  one---and a narcissistic one too.  

The real problem is that this “cult of being Jewish” has become intertwined with what might be very accurately called "the cult of Israel.” It’s the latter which plays such a large role in the dysfunction in the US-Israel “special relationship”---and in the Zionist denial of basic historical fairness for Palestinians. As Hollywood ramps up to defend Israel from Gaza war crimes tribunals and from BDS, it would not surprise me if Paltrow follows ScarJo's defiant lead in standing up for the Jewish state. Could a remake of Masada be in the works, but with a different, maybe even a happy, ending?    

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The 'New Yorker' On Netanyahu's Duplicity, AIPAC's 'Dual Loyalty' And The Israel Lobby's Dangerous Hold On The US Congress

Connie Bruck’s reporting on the backlash against Israel and its primary American enabler, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a powerful indictment against the very “lobby” that New Yorker editor David Remnick himself scoffed at back in 2007 when Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer were launching the book version of their now-infamous treatise.  At the time, Remnick said that The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy was “a phenomenon of its moment,” implying that it was an act of scapegoating for “the duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush Administration” as well as “the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran.” All of which had left Americans “ furious and demanding explanations,” Remnick argued. He noted that Walt and Mearsheimer had been accused of anti Semitism, but did not make that direct accusation himself, though the suggestion was there. The timing of his disparagement was noteworthy. Coming just before the book's publication later that week it seemed kind of catty. Remnick obviously had an advance copy of the book.  Why didn't he just review the book itself, instead of writing a jaundiced, PW-style pre-publication notice, especially for a landmark effort that broke a long conspiracy of silence on Israel's corrupting influence in Washington and would go on to became a robust national bestseller?

Bruck’s piece does have a bit of the annoying ethnic insularity that marks the wider journalistic debate about the US-Israel "special relationship;” the subtitle of the digital version is “Are American Jews Turning Against AIPAC?” as if non-Jewish Americans are irrelevant. But the article does not shy from material that raises the issue of “dual loyalty” on the part of AIPAC operatives and their wealthy right-wing Jewish donors, which the accompanying artwork seems to echo.

John Yarmuth, a Jewish congressman from Louisville, Kentucky, told Bruck that “I think there is a growing sense among members that things are done just to placate AIPAC, and that AIPAC is not really working to advance what is in the interest of the United States. We all took an oath of office. And AIPAC, in many instances, is asking us to ignore it.” Another congressman, Brian Baird, ousted in 2011 after getting on AIPAC’s bad side, observed that “When key votes are cast, the question on the House floor, troublingly, is often not ‘What is the right thing to do for the United States of America?’ but ‘How is AIPAC going to score this?’ ” 

Fascinatingly---and irritatingly--- when Baird pressed AIPAC officials on this, he often sensed  a kind of subtle contempt for America itself, a variant of a larger syndrome that might be called goyimhass. “There is a disdain for the U.S., and a dismissal of any legitimacy of our right to question (Israel)—because who are we to talk about moral values? Whether it’s that we didn’t help early enough in the Holocaust, or look at what we did to our African-Americans, or our Native Americans—whatever! And they see us, members of Congress, as basically for sale. So they want us to shut up and play the game.” A former AIPAC official told Bruck that, historically speaking, the lobbying group had a rather grandiose vision that deluded them to think that  “if AIPAC had existed prior to the Second World War, America would have stopped Hitler.”

At the time the Israel Lobby came out, New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who reviewed the book for the New Republic, took authors Walt and Mearsheimer to task for an overreliance on secondary sources.  The two scholars were “dilettantes ” who wrote “about the lobbying activities of AIPAC and other Jewish lobbying and advocacy groups as if they had never set foot in the capital.” Goldberg was particularly disdainful that Walt and Mearsheimer admitted they did no independent reporting, in effect, not interviewing “a single member of Congress for their book about Congress.” In fact, if the book did have a weakness, this was it, although for Goldberg it was a more of a fig leaf for what were at bottom his own ideological objections and ethnic discomfort. Still, by relying on well-placed first hand sources, most speaking to her on the record, Bruck has immunized herself against this kind of criticism.  The result was the kind of “long, dispassionate, names-and-dates-and-quotes” story that the Atlantic’s Jim Fallows, who is no one’s idea of a Washington “tourist,” said marked “a positive step toward realistic discourse.”

It’s said, perhaps too simplistically, that America “lost” Vietnam when Walter Cronkite returned from there in February, 1968 and expressed doubts about the war on the air. The fact that Remnick gave a green light to this piece may not represent the same kind of watershed but it is significant--- a very clear sign that the dam of denial and avoidance on the American "Israel Question" is crumbling. I don't want to push it too far because the US-Israel "special relationship" certainly needs a lot more rebalancing than this kind of magazine article, but there actually seems to be something patriotic going on here. It's an American "win." 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jewish Survivors Use Holocaust Card vs. Elie Wiesel For Supporting Israeli Gaza ‘Massacre.’ Condemn US For Financial & Diplomatic Backing And Call For ‘Full’ Boycott Of Israel

From today’s Haaretz:
Hundreds of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors have signed a letter, published as an advertisement in Saturday's New York Times, condemning "the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza" and calling for a complete boycott of Israel.
According to the letter, the condemnation was prompted by an advertisement written by Elie Wiesel and published in major news outlets worldwide, accusing Hamas of "child sacrifice" and comparing the group to the Nazis.
The letter, signed by 327 Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors and sponsored by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, accuses Wiesel of "abuse of history" in order to justify Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip…
The letter also blames the United States of aiding Israel in its Gaza operation, and the West in general of protecting Israel from condemnation.
"Genocide begins with the silence of the world," the letter reads.
The letter ends with a call to bring the blockade of Gaza to an immediate end, and for a full boycott of Israel. "Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!," the letter concludes.
Full Text Of Letter:
"Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of Nazi genocide unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza
"As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.
"We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.
"Furthermore, we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.
"We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. “Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!


It’ll be interesting to see if pro Israel spinners can find a way to blame this on the deep and ineradicable anti Semitism that they contend is hiding behind much of the world’s humanitarian concerns for Gazan civilians as well as demands that Israel be investigated for war crimes. I think they just got hoisted by the own fraying petard.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dark Shadows Over 'The Light Onto Nations:' Israel's Fascist Turn


Images of belching, snorting tanks in Gaza, as well as the triumphalist rhetoric of Israeli politicians perched figuratively on top of them, are not new things. In fact, you could say they’re wired into Israel’s DNA. The Zionist militant Vladimir Jabotinsky, wrote in 1923 that Zionists needed to erect a great “iron wall” of military supremacy to nurture the nascent Jewish state against the uncompromising opposition of the native Arabs. Spurning those with a softer vision of Jewish national redemption, while also dissing Christianity, Jabotinky declared that

The messiah will not come in the figure of a poor man riding on a donkey. The messiah will come, like all messiahs riding on a tank delivering his orations to the people.

According to John Judis’s Genesis, Jabotinsky did not consider himself a fascist, though he did praise Mussolini and saw democracy as a means to achieving a Jewish state, but not as an end in itself.  Judis explains that some of Jabotinsky’s followers however were “less reticent about fascist ides and methods.” Judis relates how Abba Ahimer, who replaced Jabotinsky as the leader of the Revisionsit Zionist faction, referred to him as  “Duce” and wrote a series of newspaper articles called “From the Dairy of a Fascist.” Ahimer extolled the 20th century as “the century of dictatorship, enthusiasm and the cult of the fist that was formed amid the fumes of tanks.”

Jabotinsky the Zionist Revisionist has himself become the object of revisionism. Hillel Halkin’s recent biography of Jabotinsky, which the Wall Street Journal assigned to Douglas Feith for review in a striking example of the pro Israel insularity now plaguing the paper’s editorial page, explains that Jabotinsky’s martial side is exaggerated, and that David Ben Gurion slandered him by calling him “Vladimir Hitler.” Jabotoinksy was essentially a literary figure, committed to a revival of the Hebrew language and culture, Feith contends, preferring “Jabotinsky's multifaceted nature as a littérateur and polemicist.” The book was also noted in Tablet, along similar ideological lines.

But Jabotinsky’s authoritarian legacy endures in the fury with which the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu let loose the Israel Defense Forces on Gaza, which looks likely to result in serious war crimes being leveled against the Jewish state. Perhaps even more noteworthy are a number of anti democratic tendencies building within an increasingly right-leaning and religiously conservative Israel. The “cult of the fist” lives on.

With a PhD in modern European history, the American Conservative’s founding editor Scott McConnell takes pains to differentiate exactly what form of authoritarianism is emerging in what its more ardent supporters call “the Middle East’s only democracy.”  In an essay posted last week called “What Gaza Revealed” McConnell says that there’s a need “to avoid crude polemical comparisons to Nazi Germany, particularly Nazism during the Holocaust era.” Such comparisons “are often meant to be gratuitously offensive. Israel is not Nazi Germany.” Nevertheless, McConnell writes

With its most recent Gaza war the country has turned a page, exposing Americans and the world to a new and far more fascist Israel than was evident in past decade.

The Israeli peace camp that energized mass demonstrations against Israel’s military misadventurism in Lebanon in the 1980s has “has nearly disappeared” McConnnell writes, adding “it is no longer safe in Israel to oppose government policy by peaceful demonstration.” In fact, the country as a whole is having trouble passing what former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who went on to become a man of the Israeli right, calls “the town square test,” which says the distinction between a “fear society” and a “free society” depends on whether someone can “walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm.”  Referencing incidents that have not gotten the attention in the American press that they deserve, McConnell says:

To protest Israeli bombardment of Gaza now is to risk attack by right-wing thugs, while the police look on [1] or sometimes help the pro-government attackers [2]. Meanwhile, Israeli pro-government politicians look for new ways [3] to punish dissenters, either by rendering human right organizations unable to function or by pressuring employers to fire dissenters from their jobs—tactics now described as “white fascism”. Israel hasn’t traversed the entire route of becoming a Sharansky “fear society,” but it is on that trajectory.

(I might add several things to this list, subsequent to McConnell's post. This includes the Israeli government's refusal this week to let Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International into Gaza in order to obstruct war crimes investigations. Also, the protest that Jewish extremists mounted at the Tel Aviv wedding of a Jewish woman to an Arab man holding signs that said "Death to Arabs," as their leader, a former Knesset member, declared that the interfaith nuptial was "worse than what Hitler did.") 

McConnell adds to his brief with a note on the ugly, racist and incendiary rhetoric of Israel’s right wing politicians, some of whom, I would add, are well received by the American pro Israel community, including prominent figures in the Republican party.

There is Ayelet Shaked,  [4]whose open call for genocide against Palestinians provoked one British-Israeli citizen to contemplate burning her Israeli passport. Shaked was giving political voice to the Israeli mobs that run around Jerusalem shouting “Death to the Arabs” and looking for Palestinians to beat up, though she is after all only one member of Israel’s Parliament. But what is one to make of Moshe Feiglin, not a marginal Israeli figure but deputy speaker of the Knesset, a top player in Israel’s ruling Likud Party? He recently called [5] for Gazans to resettled in concentration camps, and all of Hamas and its supporters to be “annihilated.” All societies have their hate groups and extremists, but nowhere in the democratic world are they nearer to the center of power than Israel. In the 1980s Meir Kahane had a small following in Israel, but his pro-ethnic cleansing party was made illegal. Now Kahanists are in the center of the country’s ruling ideology.

This now is Israel, a country whose military relishes unfair fights against poorly armed militias, where imposing collective punishment of innocents is the main point, whose elected politicians pine openly for concentration camps and genocide.

McConnell makes the point that the Israeli “turn to fascism” was explored in Max Blumenthal’s book, Goliath, which was loathed and dismissed by “the lobby” without ever being answered effectively. But “Gaza has brought Blumenthal’s ideas to a point, releasing the pent-up animus and anti-democratic hatred for all the world to see.”

McConnell explores the issue of psychological resistance---how difficult it often is for people to really see and recognize these kinds of political transformations in real time, as they live them. Historically in Europe, he explains, there was “a time lag” between the reality of Germany “becoming a murderous dictatorship, and the perception of that reality,” which cost many people their lives by not reading the writing on the wall and getting out in time.

Because Israel (like the Germany of early last century) is a country of advanced science and medicine, a country containing hundreds of thousands of individuals who would be perceived as exemplary anywhere in the world, there is a kind of cognitive dissonance: we draw back from recognizing the polity before our eyes because it doesn’t match  the image of Israel we grew up with (however idealized and unrealistic that may have been). But yes, Feiglin and Shaked represent the real Israel of today.

He senses that American opinion on Israel is starting to shift.

Perception of the new reality lags is beginning, ever so slowly, to catch up. Even in conversations with well-heeled members of the business establishment, one also can sense a sea change—one hears murmurs of disapproval, even outrage, expressed in places (an upscale golf club) where one would never before have heard it. Politicians are the last to reflect this: the Senate passed a unanimous vote of approval for Israel early in the conflict, and the House adjourned leaving all manner of pressing business undone, but making sure, by a 395 to 8 vote, that Israel received more funding for its Iron Dome.  … The American polity will change, probably bit by bit for a while and then in a big rush—as a result of political leadership. The evolution of public opinion towards gay marriage seems a plausible template.

I’m actually dubious that American opinion on Israel will undergo a shift any time soon like the one on a domestic issue like gay marriage, particularly as the pro Israel community here and hawkish politicians in Israel invoke the specter of ISIS and its jihadist fervor as an pretext to void the question of Palestinian statehood. And as politicians like Hillary Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and US congressman Steve Israel, to name but a few, either run to Israel or give supportive interviews to pander to pro Israel money and pro Israel votes, I’m not exactly seeing the “leadership” that McConnel says will move public opinion.   

Whether opinion shifts and whether that shifted opinion has any material impact on the nature of the “special relationship,” McConnell is right though when he says that America is facing “the terribly difficult problem” of

how to treat Israel, hyper-nationalistic, loaded with nuclear weapons, deeply racist, persuaded that any opposition to it is derived from anti-Semitism, feeling that the Holocaust gives it license to do whatever it wants and that the normal rules of international conduct will never apply to it. It won’t be an easy matter to solve.  

As Thomas Friedman wrote this spring, “We’re not dealing anymore with your grandfather’s Israel.” Written just after as the violence in Gaza had crested, McConnell’s grim picture of contemporary Israel may be a bit overwrought. But right now Israel is throwing off the kind of dark shadows that make “The Light Onto Nations” look more like a fading star.

Jabotinsky composite