James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. He has made more than 20 trips to that region as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. He has interviewed, and written about, journalists, religious leaders, political leaders and private citizens in the region. Jim served for two years on active duty in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF (inactive) reserve. Jim launched his new personal blog Wallwritings, on April 24, 2008.

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Bibi Wins with Racism and Revoked Promise

God works in mysterious ways, and sometimes causes scales to fall and opens the eyes of those who do not yet see.

by James M. Wall

Reality crashed down on those who had hoped the March 17 Knesset elections might lead to a more moderate future Israeli leadership.

The election returns brought the news, Benjamin Netanyahu had won again.

He won in large part by revoking his earlier pledge to support a Palestinian state, and by using last-hour racist warnings to bring out hard right voters.

Because Netanyahu’s Likud party won the largest number of seats (30) in the new Israeli parliament (120 total), he will play the major role in organizing the next government.

Even liberal Zionist Thomas Friedman had to acknowledge that Netanyahu won with “dirty” politics and the use of “dog-whistle” language. Friedman wrote in his New York Times column that “You cannot win that dirty and just walk away like nothing has happened”.

“The biggest losers in all of this, besides all the Israelis who did not vote for Netanyahu, are American Jews and non-Jews who support Israel. What Bibi did to win this election was move the Likud Party from a center-right party to a far-right one. The additional votes he got were all grabbed from the other far-right parties — not from the center.

When the official government of Israel is a far-right party that rejects a two-state solution and employs anti-Arab dog whistles to get elected, it will split the basic unity of the American Jewish community on Israel.”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner showed little sympathy for American Jews like Friedman who lament the loss of what Friedman calls “the basic unity of the American Jewish community on Israel.”

John Boehner greets Benjamin Netanyahu

John Boehner greets Benjamin Netanyahu

As soon as Netanyahu’s victory was secured, Boehner announced his trip to Tel Aviv to embrace the foreign leader he had invited to deliver an historically unprecedented campaign address which attacked President Obama’s efforts to secure a nuclear agreement with Iran.

President Obama, who is known to congratulate the coach of a Super Bowl champion within minutes of the final whistle, waited two full days before calling Netanyahu to congratulate him and, on the same call, issued a stern reminder that Netanyahu’s campaign tactics damaged hopes for peace in the region.

Obama’s delayed call was a carefully calabrated slight, which Jon Stewart (see video below) mocked, as only he could get away with, employing his best faux Jewish mother voice to lament, “You didn’t call, you didn’t write”.

The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, which politicians continually say is built on “shared values”, has been exposed as nothing less than an arranged marriage forced on the American public by Zionist apologists, Zionist enforcers (AIPAC) military contractors, lobbyists, well-funded politicians, hard right fundamentalist Christians, and anti-BDS Christian church leaders.

That manufactured “shared values” relationship, where one partner has militarily and illegally occupied a neighboring population for almost 50 years, is coming unraveled.

Unraveled, that is, as long as Barack Obama is in the White House. The President, unfazed, and no doubt still seething over Netanyahu’s insulting speech to Congress, keeps John Kerry on duty, where the Secretary of State continues to work for a nuclear agreement with Iran and the 5+ negotiating nations.

Two years remain before a new president takes office, two years during which Obama has the opportunity to exert his executive power to follow his own higher moral level of international conduct.

When Obama leaves office after eight years as U.S. president, signs point to either an oligarch-approved Republican, or a cautious, hawkish Clinton, assuming office after promising to restore our military commitment to make the world safe for democracy.

These two years will be a time for Obama to act in his executive capacity. It will also be a time for the American public to reflect on the thinking of such Israeli Jewish scholars as David Shulman, the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In an essay on the website of the New York Review of Books , Schulman considered the campaign just waged by Netanyahu:

“Imagine a white American president calling on whites to vote because “blacks are voting in large numbers.” If there’s a choice to be made between democratic values and fierce Jewish tribalism, there’s no doubt what the present and future prime minister of Israel would choose.”

Schulman, who in addition to his academic post is an activist with the Ta’ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership, has a bleak view of the current Israeli mood. He writes:

“. . . the Israeli electorate is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases proto-fascist, figures. It is in no way inclined to make peace. It has given a clear mandate for policies that preclude any possibility of moving toward a settlement with the Palestinians and that will further deepen Israel’s colonial venture in the Palestinian territories, probably irreversibly.

Netanyahu’s shrill public statements during the last two or three days before the vote may account in part for Likud’s startling margin of victory. For the first time since his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, he explicitly renounced a two-state solution and swore that no Palestinian state would come into existence on his watch.

He promised vast new [Israeli] building projects in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. He made it clear that Israel would make no further territorial concessions, anywhere, since any land that would be relinquished would, in his view, immediately be taken over by Muslim terrorists.

And then there was his truly astonishing, by now notorious statement on election day itself, in which he urged Jewish voters to rush to the polls because ‘the Arabs are voting in droves.’” 

Thomas Friedman provides the necessary data to refute Netanyahu’s deceitful effort to say he did not really mean what he said about a future Palestinian state. Friedman writes:

“In the days before Israelis went to the polls, Netanyahu was asked by the Israeli news site, NRG, if it was true that a Palestinian state would never be formed on his watch as prime minister, Netanyahu replied, ‘Indeed,’ adding: ‘Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to the radical Islam against Israel’.”

Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian, (right) wrote a post-election guest column in the New York Times which must have startled a few Times readers with this headline: “Netanyahu’s Win is Good for Palestine”. His column begins:images

“As a Palestinian, I breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that [Netanyahu’s] Likud Party had won the largest number of seats in the Knesset.

This might seem counterintuitive, but the political dynamics in Israel and internationally mean that another term with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm could actually hasten the end of Israel’s apartheid policies. The biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel. It can’t and it won’t.

Israelis have grown very comfortable with the status quo. In a country that oversees a military occupation that affects millions of people, the biggest scandals aren’t about settlements, civilian deaths or hate crimes but rather mundane things like the price of cottage cheese and whether the prime minister’s wife embezzled bottle refunds.

For Israelis, there’s currently little cost to maintaining the occupation and re-electing leaders like Mr. Netanyahu. Raising the price of occupation is therefore the only hope of changing Israeli decision making. Economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s increased its international isolation and put pressure on the apartheid regime to negotiate.”

Munayyer, born in Lod, Israel, is a citizen of both the U.S. and Israel. He is a Palestinian American writer and political analyst who is the new Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, based in Washington, D.C. He was previously Executive Director of the The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development and its educational program, the Palestine Center.

Raising the “price of occupation”, as Munayyer counsels, will, indeed, hit Israelis where it hurts, their pride and their economic well-being, though, based on past decisions, not their consciences.

Looking ahead at the American political landscape, it appears that after President Obama leaves office, it will not be the politicians who pick up the assignment to make Israel pay a higher price for its occupation.

That task must fall on those activists and dedicated individuals outside government who will need to keep the pressure on our politicians, and perhaps more importantly, launch an intensive educational campaign to raise “the price of occupation”.

This must be done in all those institutions and with their constituents who have been duped by the Israel Lobby into sanctioning an occupation which will soon be half a century old, assuming it does not go out of business before that date.

In that task, it will be essential to make full use of the zeal and talent of American Jewish performers like Jon Stewart, who greeted Netanyahu’s campaign tactics with this cutting edge analysis:

We also have the Judeo-Christian scriptures, along with the Our’an, to wield as inspirational and educational documents.

This week, I was alerted to the power of metaphor by Tom Friedman’s use of metaphorical language. Friedman referred to Netanyahu’s use of “dog-whistle” to describe Netanyahu’s  use of racist language to alert his hard right and racist followers with a whistle ordinary humans could not hear.

The only problem with using “the Arabs are going to the polls in droves” as a metaphor is that it was a “dog whistle” heard not just by hard right voters in Israel, but also heard by ordinary humans around the world, further turning world opinion against Israel and Netanyahu.

In the Book of Acts, Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is described through a more honest and positive metaphor:

“And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized”. (Acts 9:18, English Standard Version.)

It was “something like scales”, not actual scales, which fell from Paul’s eyes and turned him from a dark destructive vision toward a positive vision of light.

“Something like scales” must be made to fall from the eyes of the American public which has been endorsing, funding and supporting a brutal military occupation for almost five decades.  How will that be accomplished?

God works in mysterious ways, and sometimes She causes scales to fall and opens the eyes of those who do not yet see.

James Wall blogs at Wall writings


CrossTalk: Bibi’s Back (ft. Norman Finkelstein)

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