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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

News From The 51st State

Credit: Dish

"The Senator from Jerusalem" as some Israeli journalists have taken to calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hasn’t yet communicated his preference for Hagel's vacant post. But as the 2016 presidential campaign looms, backed by unprecedented pots of pro Israel money that would make even the most brazen Elders of Zion blush, it’s reasonable to suspect he’ll get his way. If not on this appointment with this particular president, then certainly on other cabinet positions in the future, when the 2016 winner takes the oath to protect the Constitution, which the last time I checked was still the US Constitution.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Loathsome Doves: Why The Israeli Left Is Losing

Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev today offers the top reasons "why the right beats the left in the battle for Israel,” explaining why the right wing has the upper hand on peace with Palestinians and sets the agenda on relations with the US.  The first reason Shalev lists is the whole thing in a nutshell, underscoring why the accusations of “incitement” leveled against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were so effective. Number 14 rings my bell too, a lack of empathy on the Israeli side of things growing more pronounced in the face of rising Palestinian violence---and the growing influence of right wing, fundamentalist Judaism that asserts the primacy of Jewish life over that of others. More on Israel's empathy issues, TK. 

20 top reasons why the right beats the left in the battle for Israel
By Chemi Shalev

1. Because the right has cornered the whole deal, cause and effect, chicken and egg, lock stock and barrel. First it laments that Israel has no partner, then it makes sure to undermine those that are; first it builds settlements and creates irreversible facts on the ground, then it proclaims the end of the two-state solution. It’s a perfect setup.

2. Because the right wing is a no-fault service provider while the left lives by the opposite motto: it’s not you, it’s us. The further right you go, the more anyone but you is responsible for the mess we’re in, but the further left you travel, the more you have only yourself to blame. Given a choice between those who point fingers from morning till night and those who tell them how virtuous and noble they are, most people understandably prefer the latter and opt for the flatter.

3. Because the right, no matter what it does, is always the wronged victim while the left feels guilty even when Israel is on its best behavior. Because the right has blinders on when it comes to Israel’s transgressions, while the left usually looks at them through a 500x zoom microscope.

4. Because right-wingers are on total-offence and in perpetual attack mode against their enemies, real and imagined, mainly on the left. Which leaves the left ducking the fire and scrambling for cover.

5. Because right-wingers never admit to a mistake, never apologize for anything, never concede even a point to the other side. Remember how many right wingers “proved” that the videos shot near Ramallah that showed the shooting of two Palestinian teens were a “Pallywood” fake? Have you been swamped with apologies and mea culpas ever since? Me neither.

6. Because the right has tunnel vision and is focused on one issue only, while the left seems to believe for some reason there are other worthwhile causes in the world besides the Jewish state and the procreation of its people.

7. Because, like maids and windows, right-wingers don’t do nuances. They have a one-stop, clear-cut, black-or-white, for-us-or-against-us mentality, while left-wingers live in a complex world of 50 shades of grey at least. The old hasbara joke about “Israel good, Arab bad” has become the right wing’s dogma while lefties are still figuring out what their position is in the first place.

8. Because right wing donors put their money where their mouth is, while left wingers either spread their wealth among myriad causes or prefer to stay out of the limelight altogether. Because even when you have someone like Hami Saban serve as a supposedly leftist counterweight to Sheldon Adelson, as he did at the recent Israeli American Council meeting in Washington, it turns out he doesn’t like Obama too much on the Palestinians and his policy on Iran is to “bomb the living daylights out of the sons of bitches”.

9. Because the right wing has ingeniously found a way to delegitimize measly contributions from “foreign governments” to left wing NGO’s while building separate fast tracks for untold millions of dollars to flow freely from end-of-days Evangelists, Third Temple enthusiasts and transfer- supporting trillionaires. The former, which won’t make of a difference anyway, is considered self-hating and treasonous, while the latter, which could detonate entire continents, is the epitome of Jewish patriotic pride.

10. Because when the right wing runs out of convincing arguments they can always go to their no-nonsense god and no-arguing Orthodoxy trump cards. The left, even when it gets some rabbis on its side as backup, they usually come from denominations in which everything is negotiable and up for debate.

11. Because the right wing rewrites history, plays up its role and trashes anything the left has ever done, and the left does exactly the same, but not vice versa.

12. Because no matter how far right you may go, from blowing up the temple to killing off a prime minister, you may be a “wild weed” but you’re still in the “national camp”. But if you’re on the left you have to tread carefully and watch out not to fall off the ledge, from liberal Zionism to non-Zionism to post Zionism to anti-Zionism to enemy of the state. And even if you keep completely still, the right will eventually move the goalposts so that you turn willy nilly into what you didn’t want to be.

13. Because the left is often much more preoccupied with its own internal divisions than with taking on the outside world (See “What ever happened to the Popular Front? He’s over there”)

14. Because hatred is so much more effective as a propellant and so much less tiring than making an effort to understand the other side, never mind empathizing with it.

15. Because the other side, lets face it, has its own right-wingers, or equivalents thereof, who will corroborate the right wing’s most dire predictions, and vice versa. It’s a type of symbiosis known as Synnecrosis, which, Wikipedia notes, is “detrimental to both organisms involved and eventually causes death”

16. Because the left is always attracted to living in other liberal democracies while the right wing feels that its back is to the wall with nowhere to go.

17. Because the right always forward and outward and never looks back while the left gazes at its navel, looks over its shoulder and agonizes over where it went wrong.

18. Because while the left is in meditation, yoga, gym, Pilates or Soulcycle, the right-wingers are out there, demonstrating, building or creating a ruckus, actually doing something tangible for their cause.

19. Because the right has only one source for its news and believes the worst of its enemies while the left usually suffers from sensory overdose and too much information. (See: Political Polarization & Media Habits)

20. Because, most right wingers, let’s face it, are flesh-eating carnivores, while leftists have become vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, macrobiotic, peanut-allergic feinschmeckers. So it’s usually just a matter of time before they get devoured.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

No Newspaper Here Would Ever Be This Candid About The Way 'Pro-Israel' Money Is Warping American Presidential Politics In 2016: 'Like A Scene From The Protocols,' Says Haaretz

In Haaretz, a candid, perhaps too-candid, observation of the role that Zionist billionaires Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson are playing in the 2016 American presidential process, focusing on their joint appearance at the Israeli American Council's first-ever conference held in Washington DC last weekend. Overcoming an American journalistic aversion to acknowledging potent but unpalatable truths if they even begin to approach what the pro-Israel thought police call "historical anti-Semitic tropes," Haaretz's Anshel Pfeffer highlights something that is practically taboo to discuss in the open in America. As Pfeffer sees it, with tongue-in-cheek and yet not really: 

It was like a scene out of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Two immensely wealthy Jews, key financiers of the main political parties of the world’s superpower, discussing how to wage war on the enemies of the Jews, and control the media and presidents. Only, instead of taking place at the dead of night in a Jewish cemetery in Prague, they were sitting on stage in a Washington, D.C. hotel conference room, in full view and making no attempt to hide their intentions.
If the Czarist secret police officers who published the original edition of “Protocols” at the start of the 20th century had been at the Hilton, or just reading the reported dialogue between Power Rangers impresario Haim Saban and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, they would have had little need for the embellishment, plagiarism and forgery they used to concoct their best seller.

If you haven’t yet read the musings of these two gentlemen on the best way to confront Iran (bombing “the daylight out of these sons of bitches” is an option), the shortcomings of Barack Obama’s presidency, the need (or lack of) for Israel to be a democracy, the best way to take over The New York Times, and how to ensure a sufficient supply of latkes at the White House Hanukkah party, then you really should. It would be no exaggeration to call it a historic event.
The joint appearance of the two billionaires at the Israeli American Council’s inaugural conference last weekend was the moment that Jewish benefactors, who have always preferred to use financial influence on behalf of their brethren as far behind-the-scenes as possible, chose to do so out in the open.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tell It To The Marines, Part 2: In Fact, David Brooks' Son Josh Enlisted In The Israeli Military Only After Trying To Become A Leatherneck

Potomac Almanac, June 2009

Last week I posted something about David Brooks’ son Josh enlisting in the IDF, which Brooks Sr. acknowledged in a cursory manner in an interview with Katie Couric at The Aspen Ideas Festival in July as well as in two Haaretz interviews, one of them in Hebrew, but has not acknowledged yet in his New York Times column. I argued there was something “off,” on several levels, pointing out that:

* Brooks had failed to recognize and address the issue of full journalistic disclosure, echoing Pubic Editor Sullivan and many Times readers Sullivan cited, that the son’s IDF service represented a emotional conflict of interest for the columnist or at least the appearance of one. In the interests of journalistic transparency, I argued, Brooks should address it to his Times readers directly in his NYT column itself.

* No one at Aspen, chock a block with members of the American chattering classes as well as members of America's policy elite, seemed to think it important enough/ noteworthy enough to write up or blog about, despite an audience response which seemed to indicate that those attending that particular panel  thought it significant.

* The way that the son’s decision and the father’s expressly political affirmation of that decision seemed to refute Brooks pere’s adulation of American military service, American patriotism and American national greatness and expcetionalism, which form a major core of his work as a columnist and as a commentator for NPR and for PBS.  I said it was not hypocrisy, per se, but that it edged pretty close.

Now something has come into view that makes that story as it’s been laid out so far even more “off”: News that Josh Brooks actually enlisted in the US Marines right after he graduated from high school in 2009 but was discharged after washing out of boot camp half way through it in the fall of that same year. 

Usually, I would not write about this kind of thing any further than I did in the original post. I’m uncomfortable writing about anyone’s child, the decisions that child might make, the parental support that kid gets or does not get for those decisions, and the political significance associated with all that, if there is any. It's just too easy to come off as mean. But this new information seems relevant, providing context for why Brooks might be reluctant to discuss the son's Israeli military enlistment and to make the necessary journalistic disclosure.  

The news about the aborted Marine enlistment came last weekend when an anonymous Coloring The News blog reader, through a mutual friend, sent me a June, 2009 piece from a Potomac MD community newspaper bearing the headline, “For Brooks, Joining the Marines.” According to the article, while most of the Washington area’s 18-year olds who graduated from local high schools that month were “signing up for dorm rooms and writing checks for college, Jewish Day School graduate Josh Brooks, however, enlisted in the Marines. While most seniors were at beach week, Brooks headed for basic training.”

The article continued:

"I don’t think there is really one reason why I joined the Marine Corps but it’s probably a mix — idealism, wanting to be a rebel and a desire to test myself" Brooks said.

Brooks is the only member of his family to ever join the Marines and he wants to make sure he did something that would make a mark in his family. Brooks’ father, David, is a New York Times columnist as well as a commentator on the PBS show "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer." 

Both of Brooks’ parents are supportive of Josh’s decision to join the Marine Corps instead of going to college.

Josh’s mother, Sarah, said that the decision was "extremely hard" and it was with "sort of our blessing."

Brooks explains that his father and his job as a nationally- syndicated columnist influenced his decision to fight for his country.

"I grew up very patriotic" Brooks said.

Since Brooks’ father happens to work with two Ex-Marines, he thinks that may have influenced his family to be supportive of his decision.

Brooks also says he found inspiration in the book One Bullet Away by Nate Fick. The book describes the background of the Marines and success and pride that comes with being a Marine.

Mentioning a key quote that he remembered from the book "to hold a sword not a pencil," Brooks said "I plan on staying in the Corps as long as I am doing a job that allows me to be active and to ‘hold the sword.’"

At some point "they put you behind a desk," he said.

Brooks makes it clear he intends to go on an adventure before hitting the books again. Brooks is looking to expand his horizons and meet people in the world who can teach him different lessons and values.

"Afterwards, I want to make sure I have gotten an education and then I either want to get involved in politics or own halfway houses that help people who are in trouble or going through a rough time," Brooks said.

Brooks admits that the Marine training and lifestyle "will be very tough. I hope I learn to deal with any situation and push my limits."

I had taken a pretty hard line on Brooks Jr. going to serve Israel instead of his own country and on the father’s personal and political approval of that. But if he’d enlisted in the IDF after doing a hitch in the US Marines, it was a bit of a different story. Israel is, after all, an American ally; dual American-Israeli citizens, which Josh Brooks technically became once he joined the IDF, are in fact legally allowed to serve in any foreign army not at war with the US. I did ask Brooks Sr. quite explicitly why a hitch in the US Marines wasn’t apparently in the son’s range of “service” options, which might have been an opportunity for him to nod to the son’s attempt to enlist in the American military before he joined Israel’s. But Brooks hadn’t deigned to answer that question, or any of my questions for that matter. Still, my first response to the article I was sent was to think about a correction or a clarification of some sort.    

The article I was sent, however, came with a cover note drawing attention to the fact that the son had graduated Indiana University in 2014, which highlighted some suspicious math. Unless Brooks Jr, was able to finish a typical four year college degree and complete a typical four year hitch in the Marines at the same time, there was something funky going on. There was also the mystery of why Brooks had not mentioned the son’s US military service in any of his Times’ columns, especially the ones he wrote after the son had enlisted. Not that he had to dwell on it, but in saluting the idea of national service in order to strengthen the fabric of our “tenuous common culture” as he did in this 2012 cheer for Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, a reference to his own son’s national service would have been quite appropriate.

According to the US Marine Corps public affairs unit however, Josh Brooks did indeed enlist in the Marine corps, did indeed take the typical oath to protect the US Constitution that all US servicemen and servicewomen take and did indeed show up for boot camp on September 8, 2009 at Parris Island, South Carolina. The “release-able information” that the Marine Corps’ public affairs unit was able to give me from Joshua Brooks “official military personnel file” however indicates that he finished exactly half of the 13 week course of basic training, being discharged on Oct 27.  The last “duty station” listed on the file for Brooks, who held the rank of private and had the “Military Occupational Specialty” of “Basic Marine,” was his first one:3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.”

[Here is the information in the form I got it in an email from a public affairs officer in the Marine Corps’ Department of Manpower and Reserve Affairs:

This information is from the official military personnel file for Joshua R. Brooks:

Rank: Private
Dates of Service:  8 Sept 2009 - 27 Oct 2009
Military Occupational Specialty: Basic Marine
Last Duty Assignment: 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.]

The PAO I spoke to about this information told me that the “releasable information” they were able to provide did not include the “character” of the discharge Brooks Jr. was given, meaning it’s hard to figure whether he left Basic on bad terms with a less than honorable discharge, or was injured sometime during the six and a half weeks he was at Parris Island and had to leave because of a medical issue or if he simply quit realizing that the life of a Marine just wasn't right for him. Information about discharge status is only available on the “certificate of release or discharge from active duty” which is the form that the military refers to as a DD 214. The PAO told me I could use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain that bit of paper, but that it often comes back with the discharge status redacted anyway. 

The “releasable information” I was given also did not include any indication that any higher-ups got involved in the discharge, which might suggest that Brooks had gotten special treatment because of his father or because of his father’s connections, including the two “ex Marines” Brooks Sr. worked with who were referenced in the Potomac article.  Nor did it include any reference to Brooks running into the anti-Semitism that many American Jews claim is common in the American military, which discourages them from enlisting and to some degree accounts for a striking level of ethnic underrepresentation in the American military as a whole, as this 2011 editorial in the Forward acknowledges. At this point then there’s no reason to think it’s anymore complicated than one young man failing to finish Basic, which happens to about 12% of Marine recruits on an annual basis.  

As noted, learning that Brooks son joined the IDF only after washing out of the US Marines and graduating from college, did seem to lessen the sense of putting Israel before the US, or of putting it on equal terms, reflecting a problematic “comingling” of political cultures common in many pro-Israel circles in the US where service to one nation is seen as service to the other. As Brooks himself said in the second Haaretz interview:

Every Israeli parent understands the circumstance (of having a child join in a military often at war), and that it is worrying,” he says, “but I do think children should take risks as they get out of college and university. They should expand their expectation of risk, and I do think they should do something hard – and military service is hard. And they should do something outside themselves. I think that service defines all those three things, and I can’t very well advise that to other people if I don’t think my own family should do it.

But in the US, if military service doesn’t work out, there are a lot of other opportunities for nonmilitary service, especially for young college graduates like Brooks: The Peace Corps, Teach For America, the CIA or even paramilitary service like the FBI, the ATF or the NYPD, if holding a “sword," figuratively speaking, is all that important. When assessed against these other options for American service, Brooks Jr’s Israeli military enlistment still seems as much about serving Israel ahead of the US as it did before the failed Marine enlistment came into view. But now it also seems to involve finding an outlet for an uncured case of youthful military adventurism---“to hold the sword,” no matter if the sword belongs to his own country or that of another.