What We Stand For

The Communist Party of Indiana CPUSA struggles for socialism: to better the lives of Indiana's working families, to protect and extend labor's ability to organize, for the needs of women, children, immigrants (documented and undocumented), the disabled, LGBT, and all people who strive for affordable quality health care, housing, and education. We stand against racism in all its forms. We stand for jobs for all. We stand for peace. We support all who struggle world wide for the dignity and self-determination of the majority of their nation's people and against imperialism, occupation, and exploitation for private profit.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Obama and Israel

The discussion about what role the United States may have in helping to implement a just peace in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is heating up due to the Israeli aggression against Gaza and the expectation by many that the Barack Obama administration may chart a new course in relating to Israel.

As Ian Williams reported on January 9, 2009 in Foreign Policy in Focus,

On January 5 John Bolton, the former unconfirmed U.S. envoy to the United Nations, advocated in The Washington Post a "three-state solution" to the Palestinian problem. This "solution" involved returning Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan because the Palestinian state has manifestly failed.
While Bolton's solution is not a good one, it reflects the sense that many have both in the Palestinian and Israeli communities and here in the United States that prior peace initiatives have not yielded much fruit. While standing completely against the Bolton proposal, it is good to see attempts at bold solutions and new paradigms being considered.

Williams's article continues
A perennial cutter of Gordian knots, Bolton usually misses the complexity of the turns — and the identity of the knot-tiers. In this case, he missed the rather obvious point that the Palestinian Authority's ailments are connected to the Israeli refusal to allow a viable and contiguous state to exist and its constant undermining of whatever party the Palestinian people elect, first Fatah and now Hamas. In fact, Bolton doesn't go far enough. Following his line of "reasoning," Israel should be returned to Britain as a mandate and then quickly turned over to the United States.

The Obama administration isn't likely to pick up Bolton's advice to dissolve the Palestinian state. In the current policy vacuum, however, Obama should be ready for a serious rethink of U.S. policy. And that rethink should begin with Israel.

Israel and the United States

Israel is far from being simply a U.S. satellite and base. In many ways, the United States orbits Israel. For domestic political reasons, the U.S. government in effect uncritically guarantees almost any act of any Israeli government. There are, of course, some limits, though not many. For example, it's clear that Israel either couldn't or wouldn't mount an attack on Iran without U.S. approval, which was likely withheld more because of its potential effect on U.S. forces in the region than any principled objection to the idea.

This U.S.-Israeli relationship gives President-elect Obama, despite his distressing silence on the Gaza conflict, a unique window of opportunity. Domestically, he garnered the votes of almost 80% of American Jews, despite a furious campaign from Republican and Likudnik die-hard organizations questioning his attachment to the Zionist project and Israel's defense.

Even after his kowtowing to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) during the primaries, Obama won even more support from American Muslims than he did from Jews.

Obama shouldn't listen to conservative Jewish organizations, who outshout the silent majority of American Jews who abide by their traditional liberal and humanitarian instincts. The overwhelming majority of American Jews voted for Obama, and the emergence of voices like J Street offers an opportunity for a new president who owes the "Israel Lobby" nothing.

Obama and Israel

If Obama wants to be a real friend to Israel, he has to let the Israeli government know its actions are not consequence-free. There is both a principled and a pragmatic constituency that he can address in Israel itself. Until now, the Israeli electorate has worked on the principle that whatever happens, the United States will provide support. If the government needs replacements for expended cluster bombs, the United States will airlift them in. If the UN, the EU, and other international actors criticize Israel's military actions, Washington will send the aid check as always. This uncritical support of Israel must change.

Obama shouldn't let the immediate crisis in Gaza deflect from the root problem. Israeli leaders have a profound ambivalence toward the peace process, to which they officially subscribe even as they continue building settlements in the West Bank. The United States must push Israel toward greater engagement with a peace settlement. Nor can the United States or the EU continue to ostracize any Palestinian (or for that matter the Lebanese) leadership demonized by Israel as terrorists.

On the carrot side, Obama should promise full security guarantees to Israel within the internationally accepted borders, based on the June 1967 lines.

Since he is being bipartisan, the new president should take up where George Bush Sr. and James Baker left off almost two decades ago. Any Israeli spending on settlement building should be condemned in the UN, and matched by equivalent reductions in U.S. aid. He should also implement actual U.S. policy by reminding Israelis that American weaponry is intended for defensive purposes and that any used in attacks beyond the borders won't be replaced.

Finally, the president-elect should speak out now about the desirability of Israel abiding by UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Israeli troop withdrawal, and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance. A word from Obama would give Israel the excuse it desperately needs to extricate itself from the hole it dug in Gaza, while redounding to the president-elect's credit globally.

Given the cast of mind of many leading Democrats, such a rethink of U.S.-Israel relations is sure to be controversial. But early and speedy action before Obama starts campaigning for reelection should produce results. And backing a durable peace would be the best way of supporting Israel in the end.

Any move to redefine the relationship between the United States and Israel toward a more balanced foundation that acknowledges the needs of the Palestinian people and the justice of their struggle is to be celebrated. The options that Ian Williams presents above are one set of possible issues that need to be considered. The focus on governmental action could be broadened to include mass action on behalf of a just peace in the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

The Guardian of Saturday, January 10 2009, published a report by Naomi Klein entitled Enough. It's time for a boycott taking a different approach. Naomi Klein wrote:
It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa. In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do just that. They called on "people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era". The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions was born.

Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause - even among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors in Israel. It calls for "the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions" and draws a clear parallel with the anti-apartheid struggle. "The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves ... This international backing must stop."

Yet even in the face of these clear calls, many of us still can't go there. The reasons are complex, emotional and understandable. But they simply aren't good enough. Economic sanctions are the most effective tool in the non-violent arsenal: surrendering them verges on active complicity. Here are the top four objections to the BDS strategy, followed by counter-arguments.

Punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade Israelis.

The world has tried what used to be called "constructive engagement". It has failed utterly. Since 2006 Israel has been steadily escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an outrageous war against Lebanon, and imposing collective punishment on Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has not faced punitive measures - quite the opposite. The weapons and $3bn in annual aid the US sends Israel are only the beginning. Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other allies. For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first country outside Latin America to sign a free-trade deal with the Mercosur bloc. In the first nine months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45%. A new deal with the EU is set to double Israel's exports of processed food. And in December European ministers "upgraded" the EU-Israel association agreement, a reward long sought by Jerusalem.

It is in this context that Israeli leaders started their latest war: confident they would face no meaningful costs. It is remarkable that over seven days of wartime trading, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's flagship index actually went up 10.7%. When carrots don't work, sticks are needed.

Israel is not South Africa.

Of course it isn't. The relevance of the South African model is that it proves BDS tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions, backroom lobbying) fail. And there are deeply distressing echoes of apartheid in the occupied territories: the colour-coded IDs and travel permits, the bulldozed homes and forced displacement, the settler-only roads. Ronnie Kasrils, a prominent South African politician, said the architecture of segregation he saw in the West Bank and Gaza was "infinitely worse than apartheid". That was in 2007, before Israel began its full-scale war against the open-air prison that is Gaza.

Why single out Israel when the US, Britain and other western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the strategy should be tried is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.

Boycotts sever communication; we need more dialogue, not less.

This one I'll answer with a personal story. For eight years, my books have been published in Israel by a commercial house called Babel. But when I published The Shock Doctrine, I wanted to respect the boycott. On the advice of BDS activists, including the wonderful writer John Berger, I contacted a small publisher called Andalus. Andalus is an activist press, deeply involved in the anti-occupation movement and the only Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into Hebrew. We drafted a contract that guarantees that all proceeds go to Andalus's work, and none to me. I am boycotting the Israeli economy but not Israelis.

Our modest publishing plan required dozens of phone calls, emails and instant messages, stretching between Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Paris, Toronto and Gaza City. My point is this: as soon as you start a boycott strategy, dialogue grows dramatically. The argument that boycotts will cut us off from one another is particularly specious given the array of cheap information technologies at our fingertips. We are drowning in ways to rant at each other across national boundaries. No boycott can stop us.

Just about now, many a proud Zionist is gearing up for major point-scoring: don't I know that many of these very hi-tech toys come from Israeli research parks, world leaders in infotech? True enough, but not all of them. Several days into Israel's Gaza assault, Richard Ramsey, managing director of a British telecom specialising in voice-over-internet services, sent an email to the Israeli tech firm MobileMax: "As a result of the Israeli government action in the last few days we will no longer be in a position to consider doing business with yourself or any other Israeli company."

Ramsey says his decision wasn't political; he just didn't want to lose customers. "We can't afford to lose any of our clients," he explains, "so it was purely commercially defensive."

It was this kind of cold business calculation that led many companies to pull out of South Africa two decades ago. And it's precisely the kind of calculation that is our most realistic hope of bringing justice, so long denied, to Palestine.

The proposals being advanced by Ian Williams and by Naomi Klein have some contradictions but are not fundamentally at odds with each other; they can be made to be mutually supportive. Both are worth consideration and action by people's movements and by the Obama administration as we as a nation move forward to reevaluate our relationship with Israel and with the Palestinians. The most important aspect of this reevaluation is to move away from the dehumanization of Palestinians that is inherent in the uncritical support that prior administrations have given to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and a renewed recognition of the justice of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and statehood.

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