Zionism is the problem

It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1944, six years after Kristallnacht, Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, felt comfortable equating the Zionist ideal of Jewish statehood with “the concept of a racial state — the Hitlerian concept.” For most of the last century, a principled opposition to Zionism was a mainstream stance within American Judaism.

Even after the foundation of Israel, anti-Zionism was not a particularly heretical position. Assimilated Reform Jews like Rosenwald believed that Judaism should remain a matter of religious rather than political allegiance; the ultra-Orthodox saw Jewish statehood as an impious attempt to “push the hand of God”; and Marxist Jews — my grandparents among them — tended to see Zionism, and all nationalisms, as a distraction from the more essential struggle between classes.

To be Jewish, I was raised to believe, meant understanding oneself as a member of a tribe that over and over had been cast out, mistreated, slaughtered. Millenniums of oppression that preceded it did not entitle us to a homeland or a right to self-defense that superseded anyone else’s. If they offered us anything exceptional, it was a perspective on oppression and an obligation born of the prophetic tradition: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to cry out at the oppressor.

For the last several decades, though, it has been all but impossible to cry out against the Israeli state without being smeared as an anti-Semite, or worse. To question not just Israel’s actions, but the Zionist tenets on which the state is founded, has for too long been regarded an almost unspeakable blasphemy. [continued…]

By all means, let us have the dual loyalty debate

Charles Lane in the Washington Post and David Rothkopf on Foreign Policy make the same angry point: the Freeman affair has devolved into a regrettable argument about whether Israel’s supporters have dual loyalties. Lane wants Obama to repudiate the charge for the health of our “political culture.”

    Even if Freeman had a perfectly legitimate grievance, even if he had been maligned, he wouldn’t be entitled to respond in kind — much less to brand large numbers of his fellow citizens as fifth columnists.

These two writers are hardly the first to be up in arms about dual loyalty. Gabriel Schoenfeld and Alan Dershowitz both responded to Walt and Mearsheimer 2 and 3 years back by saying that the scholars were implicitly accusing Israel supporters of suffering from dual loyalty conflicts.

The answer to all these men is, Of course American supporters of Israel are vulnerable to a dual loyalty problem. Many supporters of the Iraq war have exhibited the dual-loyalty problem. [continued…]

Interview with Charles Freeman

Chas Freeman: The issue was, in the end, that while in my own mind I thought I could make rather significant improvements in the integrity of the analytical process, I couldn’t enhance its credibility, because anything that it produced that was politically controversial would immediately be attributed to me as some sort of political deviant, and be discredited. These guys would pile on with their usual lies, and half-truths, and distortions, and everything else.

Basically what Denny Blair wanted was a broadly experienced iconoclast, which some people says fits me as a description. And somebody who wasn’t afraid to tell it like he saw it, or to ask people writing things for him why he’s so sure about X, Y, or Z. Do they know that because everybody knows it, or do they have some evidence? And one could argue that is fairly critical in a number of contexts.

The only thing I regret is that in my statement I embraced the term ‘Israel lobby.’ This isn’t really a lobby by, for or about Israel. It’s really, well, I’ve decided I’m going to call it from now on the [Avigdor] Lieberman lobby. It’s the very right-wing Likud in Israel and its fanatic supporters here. And Avigdor Lieberman is really the guy that they really agree with. And I think they’re doing Israel in. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — While Freeman has legitimate reasons for being uncomfortable with the expression “Israel lobby,” I don’t think that his or anyone else’s efforts to modify the term will have any effect or be useful. The one good thing that comes out of the Freeman fight — and it’s highly significant — is that now that the Israel lobby has blown its cover and paraded it methods in such a visible way, we’ve crossed a boundary: instead of arguing about whether the lobby exists, we can now engage in a much broader discussion about how it operates and what its effect is on US domestic and international politics. Moreover, that conversation is now percolating through into the mainstream media.

A lobby whose principal purpose is to stifle debate on US-Israeli relations and Zionism cannot survive in the open.

Mideast press questions Obama

The Middle East press has questioned President Obama’s authority over Arab-Israeli issues since Charles W. Freeman Jr.’s withdrawal from his appointment to a senior intelligence position.

A commentary in Abu Dhabi’s the National, a newspaper owned by an investment fund controlled by the government, said Freeman’s decision Tuesday to withdraw as chairman of the National Intelligence Council “threw the Obama administration into the heart of a long-running controversy over the alleged supremacy of pro-Israel hawks in determining U.S. foreign policy after having taken a cautious approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so far consistent with previous administrations.”

The Daily Star in Beirut went further, saying Freeman’s action “is likely to be viewed as a significant victory for hardliners within the so-called ‘Israeli lobby,’ who led the movement to scuttle his appointment, and a blow to hopes for a new approach to Israel-Palestine issues under the Obama administration.”

An analyst in the National pointed out that the Israel lobby may have had a Pyrrhic victory. Noting that vocal Freeman opponent Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had publicly said, “I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing,” the analyst wrote, “A lobby that has thrived through its covert operations can claim another victory in reversing Freeman’s appointment, but this time its workings may have been too transparent for its own good.” [continued…]

Chaos in Pakistan; Sharif defies arrest, heads for Capital

The situation is Pakistan was explosive on Sunday with lawyers and political leaders across the country all set to march to Islamabad for a sit-in outside the national assembly on Monday.

Officials in New Delhi seemed concerned about what impact it would have on the stability of Pakistan, as also on the ongoing investigations into Mumbai attacks, but added that India still looked upon the developing situation purely as an internal matter.

Sharif reportedly defied his house arrest in Lahore as one of Pakistan’s biggest civil disobedience movement unfolded with hundreds of stone-throwing anti-government protesters fighting pitched battles with police in the capital of Punjab province. The Punjab Deputy Attorney General was also reported to have resigned.

As Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met army chief General Kayani to discuss the escalating situation, the protests by lawyers and PML-N supporters threatened to spiral out of control. [continued…]

America angered by Britian’s ‘secret’ talks with Hezbollah

Britain’s decision to engage directly with elements of Hezbollah is causing unease in the Obama Administration, which continues to regard the Lebanese-based militant group as a terrorist organisation.

A public row erupted between London and Washington after a media briefing this week with Jeffrey Feltman, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Mr Feltman, a Bush appointee who has stayed on temporarily as America’s top diplomat for the region, is a former ambassador to Lebanon known for his strong anti-Hezbollah views.

After the briefing, a senior State Department official was quoted as saying the US wanted Britain to explain “the difference between the political, military and social wings of Hezbollah because we don’t see a difference between the integrated leadership that they see”. [continued…]

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