Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Human Smoke

August 24, 2014

poster_victory-through-air-power

Lately I have been reading Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker’s pacifist history of the beginning of World War II. Although I don’t find Baker’s main argument – that Britain might have provoked Germany into war – convincing, I find the book interesting nonetheless. Among other things it’s always good to be reminded that Roosevelt and Churchill were not the saints that are often portrayed in popular culture.

One thing that Baker makes clear is that going back to the First World War, and possibly even earlier, military planners regarded the aerial bombardment of civilian populations to be a legitimate tool of warfare. Indeed, some of them seemed to eagerly look forward to this prospect. (Churchill once expressed disappointment that World War I ended before Britain could try out its new bombers.) The idea was that bombings will break a people’s will to fight. Yet if there is one thing that we should have learned from the twentieth century, it is that bombings do not break a people’s will to fight. Britain’s bombing of Germany did not break the Germans’ will to fight, nor did Germany’s bombing of Britain break the will of the British to fight. The US’s bombing of Japan did not break the will of the Japanese to fight. The US’s bombing of North Vietnam did not break the will of the Vietnamese to fight.

And so Israel’s bombing of Gaza has not broken the will of the Gazans to fight. We seem to learn nothing from history.

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The Slaughter in Gaza

July 25, 2014

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I know a woman who used to live in Gaza. Today, she told me that three children she knew when she was living there have been killed by Israeli bombs. As the slaughter in Gaza continues, it’s effects are beginning to be felt even here in the US.

Barack Obama has displayed his usual moral cowardice, giving pious speeches about Israel’s “right to defend itself”, as if the people of Gaza have no right to defend themselves. Obama talked about this at an Iftar dinner attended Muslim Americans. Obama deliberately insulted these people by inviting the Israeli ambassador to the US to this dinner.

There is growing opposition to Israel’s attack on the people of Gaza throughout the world including within Israel itself.

We must stand with the people of Gaza.

Gilad Atzmon Knocks Down Straw Men, CounterPunch is Impressed

March 12, 2013

gilad-atzmon

It had been a while since I’d seen anything by Gilad Atzmon in CounterPunch, so I thought maybe they had lost interest in him. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that. On March 8, they posted an article by him entitled Is Palestinian Solidarity an Occupied Zone? It begins:

    Once involved with Palestinian Solidarity you have to accept that Jews are special and so is their suffering; Jews are like no other people, their Holocaust is like no other genocide and anti Semitism, is the most vile form of racism the world has ever known and so on and so forth.

Atzmon doesn’t name anyone who says this. I don’t know of anyone in the Palestinian solidarity movement who says such things. Atzmon continues:

    But when it comes to the Palestinians, the exact opposite is the case. For some reason we are expected to believe that the Palestinians are not special at all – they are just like everyone else. Palestinians have not been subject to a unique, racist, nationalist and expansionist Jewish nationalist movement, instead, we must all agree that, just like the Indians and the Africans, the Palestinian ordeal results from run-of-the-mill 19th century colonialism – just more of the same old boring Apartheid.

Again, Atzmon doesn’t identify who is saying these things. No doubt, this is because he can’t. I think I should point out that here in the U.S., simply using the word “apartheid” in connection with Israel can get one in a lot of hot water. Doing such a thing requires a certain amount of courage.

From this, Atzmon segues into an aesthetic criticism of the Palestinian Solidarity movement:

    Can you think of any other liberation or solidarity movement that prides itself in being boring, ordinary and dull?

I have met a number of people in the Palestinian solidarity movement, and they are among the least boring people I have ever met. One must admit here that Atzmon is not boring himself. Unfortunately, that is the only thing one can say for him.

    Palestinian Solidarity is an occupied zone and, like all such occupied zones must dedicate itself to the fight against ‘anti Semitism’.

Ah, now we see what’s really bugging Atzmon. It seems that his tender feelings have been hurt by all those people who have called him an anti-Semite. Of course, that does tend to happen when you say things that are anti-Semitic. Life can be funny sometimes.

Atzmon then delivers his knock-out punch:

    Dutifully united against racism, fully engaged with LGBT issues in Palestine and in the movement itself, but for one reason or another, the movement is almost indifferent towards the fate of millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps and their Right of Return to their homeland.

That’s right! All those people who have dedicated their lives to the Palestinian struggle – sometimes at great personal cost – have done so because they basically don’t give a shit about the Palestinians!

What a brilliant insight!

Why the hell do the editors of CounterPunch insult the intelligence of their readers by posting such gobbledegook? I am at a a complete loss to try to explain this.

As for Atzmon, I can’t see why he’s being so petulant. Things are actually looking up for him. At a special conference held by the Socialist Workers Party of Britain this past weekend, the leadership defeated motions put forward by the opposition, causing many of the latter to resign. This means that Atzmon’s good buddy, Martin Smith will soon be back on the SWP’s Central Committee, and they will soon be again sponsoring concerts featuring Atzmon playing the saxophone in front of empty seats. Good times!

The War in Gaza

November 17, 2012
      I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was.
      – Moshe Dayan

Those who support Barack Obama should ask themselves what he has done about the current war in Gaza that Romney would not have done. The Obama Administration has endorsed this act of sheer insanity by the Israeli government. According to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, the Hamas Leader, Jabari, had been working on a ceasefire with Israel when he was asassinated. Clearly, the Israeli government does not want peace. And since Obama has endorsed this, he clearly does not want peace either. We are in the age of endless war. We have drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The Obama Administration is angling to find some way to keep at least some troops in Afghanistan after 2014. It gives the government officials an excuse to give money to their friends in the defense industry while cutting social spending. It gives them an excuse to spy on their own citizens and to meddle in other country’s affairs.

Randolph Bourne once said, “War is the health of the state.” For Israel, and increasingly for the U.S., it is becoming the state’s whole raison d’etre.

Gilad Atzmon, Peter Jenkins, and the “Just War”

November 3, 2012


Gilad Atzmon

Dissident Voice, which posts articles by Israel Shamir and Andre Fomine, continues to lower its bar by posting an article by Gilad Atzmon. Entitled Ex-British Envoy Told the Truth (for a change), the article begins:

    Peter Jenkins, Britain’s former representative on the International Atomic Energy Agency, has told the debating union at Warwick University that a “just war” is not a Jewish notion. Jenkins was obviously telling the truth but the Zionist Jewish Chronicle is not happy.

    The retired Foreign Office diplomat, speaking in a debate on nuclear proliferation in Iran, said: “Israelis don’t practise an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, they practise ten eyes for an eye and ten teeth for a tooth.” He also added that “the idea that a just war requires the use of force to be proportionate seems to be a Christian notion and not a Jewish notion.”

So, does Jenkins believe that the Crusades, in which many Jews and Muslims were killed, were a “proportionate use of force” in response to the peaceful Muslim occupation of the Holy Land? Or how about the invasion and conquest of Mexico, done in the name of spreading Christianity? Was it a “proportionate use of force” in response to the mere existence of the Mexican people?

Jenkins’s argument is obviously nonsense – so, of course, Atzmon fully approves of it. Responding to criticism of Jenkins, he writes:

    Yet, I am slightly perplexed, why is telling the truth about Jewish culture anti-Semitic? Is not the Old Testament far more violent than any Quentin Tarantino film?

I can think of many things that are far more violent than a Quentin Tarantino film. Here are just a few: the Mahabharata, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Mabinogion, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. (I’m not kidding about the last. You should read them in the original German, or in a faithful translation.) The authors of the Old Testament certainly weren’t the only people who like to write about violence.

A little later, Atzmon comments:

    I would obviously argue that it is our intellectual duty to call a spade a spade and to criticise Jewish politics and Jewish culture for what they are.

What exactly does Atzmon mean by “Jewish politics”? Noam Chomsky? Norman Finkelstein? Alan Dershowitz? Joseph Lieberman? Binyamin Netanyahu? Amy Goodman? Your guess is as good as mine. Atzmon doesn’t seem aware that the term “Jewish politics” embraces quite a large spectrum of personalities, ranging from Karl Marx to Ayn Rand.

In response to one critic of Jenkins, Atzmon writes:

    Mr Sacerdoti is obviously a Hasbara spin master. He mentions that “this particular view, that Jews do not adhere to the concept of ‘just war’ implies that Jews are by nature bloodthirsty and unjust. I believe any such generalisation about the nature of Jews is racist.” But here is a slight problem, Mr Jenkins didn’t speak about Jews, the people, the ethnicity or the race, he was clearly referring to “Israel”, i.e., The Jewish State and to Jewish culture.

You see, Jenkins wasn’t referring to the Jews; he was actually referring to Jews. (“The Jewish State and Jewish culture” pretty much includes all Jews, does it not?)

Atzmon ends:

    The truth better be said. Mr Jenkins told the truth and actually used a moderate and careful language. I wish the BBC and The Guardian were as courageous as Mr Jenkins. I also do not think Zionist organisations should be the ones who moderate the critical discourse of the Jewish State and Jewish culture.

And, clearly, Atzmon shouldn’t be moderating that discourse either.

Dr. Ismail Salami and the “Clash of Cultures”

September 26, 2012


Ismail Salami, Shakespearean scholar, author of children’s books, spouter of gibberish.

Dissident Voice has recently posted this cracking good article by Ismail Salami, entitled West Braces for Clash of Cultures. (No one I know is bracing for a clash of cultures, but then maybe I just don’t move through the right social circles.) The article begins:

    With the publication of the profane pictures of the holy Prophet of Islam in Charlie Hebdo magazine, the West seems to be consciously moving in a direction where chaos will dominate the international arena and a clash of cultures will inevitably run deeper for an indefinite period of time.

A literary agent once said to me, “You’ve got to grab the reader by the throat and lift him out of his chair.” Dr. Salami (I’m trying hard not to go for the obvious joke here) has clearly accomplished this with this extraordinary paragraph/run-on sentence. But what exactly does it mean? In the first half, he seems to suggest that Charlie Hebdo is published by somebody named “the West”. In the second half, he seems to be saying that a “clash of cultures” will “run deeper” (like a submarine?).

Clearly, Salami is a master of the Nietzschean aphoristic syle. However, he can be shockingly blunt when he puts his mind to it:

    There are abortive attempts by western analysts to interpret the two baneful incidents in the light of freedom of expression and thereby explain away the emotional hurt of the Muslim world.

That’s right, 1.6 billion Muslims will not be able to sleep tonight because of some cartoons in an obscure left-wing newspaper in France. If you believe that, I’ve got some property in Florida I’d like to sell you.

    However, to an intellectually trained mind, this seems more than just an insult to Islam and the Muslims.

Of course, those of us without intellectually trained minds just have no idea what the fuck is going on, do we? (By the way, someone needs to explain to Dr. Salami that “intellectually trained mind” is redundant.)

    The calculated move of the French magazine [sic] in publishing the insulting cartoons immediately after the blasphemous film indicates a united front forming against Islam in the West.

Damn right. As soon as the right-wing Christian producers of Innocence of Muslims had finished filming, they immediately called up their left-wing atheist comrades in France and said, “It’s your turn, bros!” Tag team style.

    On the one hand, the move can be seen as an attempt to help escalate the crisis in the Middle East region and on the other hand to plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.

“… plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.” This may not be worthy of Shakespeare, but it’s almost worthy of H.P. Lovecraft.

    Should we naively believe that the anti-Islam film which has caused much uproar and intellectual chagrin in the Muslim world is the work of a Coptic Christian Egyptian fraudster, a small-time porn director and a bunch of extremists who harbor deep hatred against Islam?

Uh… yes? Is this some sort of trick question?

    This is a good question and it deserves an answer.

As my Aunt Bea used to say, “Every good question deserves an answer.”

    Still, the answer seems to be found in the incident which followed the film i.e. the publication of the blasphemous cartoons.

Uh… what?

    Seen from an analytical point of view, the entire scenario apparently tilts the scale in favor of the Zionists who capitalize on a large-scale fracas between the Muslim countries and the rest of the world. In fact, they are the ones who will catch the bigger fish in these trouble waters.

Bigger than whose fish?

    Amidst this craftily authored plan [yeah it’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it?], Israel has commenced a series of war games in Golan Heights, the biggest the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has conducted in the six years since the second Lebanon war on Hezbollah in 2006. Military sources say the war game looks like a real war with tens of thousands of soldiers and senior officers, including the artillery and the air force taking part. Israeli officials have announced that the situation in Syria is precariously volatile and that the country is in possession of a huge arsenal of chemical weapons which they fear might fall into the hands of wrong people stockpile if President Bashar Assad is ousted. This is the excuse which they use to justify their military show-off. In point of fact, Israel is readying itself to wage a military encounter in the region by using the anti-Islam scenario.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but the last two sentences seem to contradict each other. If Israel can use an alleged chemical weapons stockpile as an excuse to intervene in Syria, why would they need to use “the anti-Islam scenario” (whatever that is)? (By the way, the Israelis have never needed an excuse to do anything.)

One can clearly see why the editors of Dissident Voice thought this article was worth posting. What better way to understand what is currently happening in the Muslim world than by reading gibberish?

I feel inspired to write my own article for Dissident Voice. It will be a learned dissertation on why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Watch for it.

Jean Bricmont

September 5, 2012

The August 31 edition of CounterPunch contains an interview with the Belgian writer and physicist, Jean Bricmont, conducted by Kurosh Ziabari. I agree with most of what he says, but he makes a couple of highly problematic arguments. In response to a question about U.S. policy in the Middle East, Bricmont says:

    Well, I think one has to make a difference between support for Israel and the desire to “devour” oil. The two policies are not the same and are, in fact, contradictory. As, I think, Mearsheimer and Walt have shown, the pro-Israel policies of the U.S. are to a large extent driven by the pro-Israel lobby and do not correspond to or help their economic or geo-strategic interests. For example, as far as I know, there would be no problem for our oil companies to drill in Iran, if it weren’t for the sanctions imposed on that country; but the latter are linked to the hostility to Iran from Israel, not from any desire to control oil.

I can’t quite agree with this. Does Bricmont really think that the U.S. derives no advantage from having a heavily armed ally in the Middle East? The Arab Spring exposed the fragility of the U.S.’s client states in the Arab world. Israel, on the other hand, is rock solid. Now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to have a “policeman” in the Middle East. As for drilling for oil in Iran, even if there were no sanctions it would be impossible, because Iran has a nationalized oil industry.

From this, Bricmont immediately segues into another argument:

    The second remark is that the anti-war people are not necessarily on the left. True, there is a big part of the Right that has become neo-conservative, but there is also a big part of the Left that is influenced by the ideology of humanitarian intervention. However, there is also a libertarian Right, Ron Paul for example, that is staunchly anti-war, and there are some remnants of a pacifist or anti-imperialist Left. Note that this has always been the case: the pro and anti-imperialist position, even back in the days of colonialism, do not coincide with the Left-Right divide, if the latter is understood in socio-economic terms or in “moral” terms (about gay marriage for example).

    What we do not have is a consistent anti-war movement; to build the latter one would have to focus on war itself and unite both sides of the opposition (Right and Left). But if movements can be built around other “single issues,” like abortion or gay marriage, that put aside all socio-economic problems and class issues, why not?

This is the same as the “left-right” alliance argument that the late Alexander Cockburn used to make. This idea has always been a non-starter, for reasons that should be obvious. These “anti-war” conservatives all have terrible politics. Pat Buchanon is a racist. Ron Paul has ties to white supremacist groups. Israel Shamir is an anti-Semite. These things are not accidents. The supposed “anti-imperialism” of such people is really just the outward expression of an essentially nativist world-view. It is simply absurd to think that leftists can march side-by-side with racists and neo-fascists. Bricmont might as well talk about why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Why I’m Not Keen on Seeing ‘The Dictator’

May 17, 2012

I’ve been debating in my mind whether or not I should go see Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, The Dictator. Judging from what I’ve seen and heard about it, it doesn’t look very promising. First of all, the main character, Aladeen, is obviously modeled after Muammar Gaddafi: the sunglasses, the gaudy uniforms, the female bodyguards. The movie poster shows him posing on the back of a camel. (Gaddafi might have done this, but I can’t imagine any other Arab leader doing it.) The problem with this is that Gaddafi is dead. It would be just as timely for Baron Cohen to do a parody of Hitler or Stalin. It would be more relevant to make a film parodying the government of Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or the army generals who are trying to reverse the gains of the Egyptian revolution. One can only assume that Baron Cohen decided to make a film about Gaddafi because his notoriously eccentric personal behavior makes him an easy target.

And then there’s the trailer:

It starts with film clips of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and David Cameron. This is apparently meant to make the obvious Gaddafi connection even more obvious. However, it leaves out the fact that these leaders were all cozying up to Gaddafi until the uprising in Benghazi, when they suddenly decided to dump him. Western leaders do not oppose dictators unless they decide it is politically expedient to do so.

The synopsis on Wikipedia doesn’t make it sound any more promising:

    For forty years, the North African Republic of Wadiya has been ruled by Admiral General Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen), a lecherous, anti-western and antisemitic despot who surrounds himself with female bodyguards and intends to develop nuclear weapons. After the United Nations Security Council resolves to intervene militarily, Aladeen travels to the UN Headquarters in New York City to address the council. During his stay, he is kidnapped and shaven by a hitman (John C. Reilly) hired by his traitorous uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley). Tamir intends to replace Aladeen with a political decoy, who he can manipulate into signing a document democratizing Wadiya and opening the country’s oil reserves for business. Aladeen escapes and is discovered by activist Zoey (Anna Farris), who offers him a job at her co-op. Following the advice of his ally Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), Aladeen accepts the offer, as Zoey’s employees have access to the UN headquarters. Aladeen manages to acquire a new beard taken from a corpse, and infiltrates the headquarters, tearing up Tamir’s document in front of the UN delegation. Upon seeing Zoey in the room, he declares his love for her and vows to democratize his country. Upon returning to Wadiya, he marries Zoey, but is shocked when she crushes a glass and reveals herself to be Jewish.

If Tamir wants to open up the country’s oil reserves, why the hell would he want to democratize it? Instead, he would want all power for himself, so he could cut deals with trans-national oil corporations (as Gaddafi was doing). And how do you “democratize” a country just by signing a document?

Also, I find it interesting that Baron Cohen thinks he has to explain Aladeen’s opposition to Israel by making him an anti-Semite. It apparently doesn’t occur to him that there might be other reasons why an Arab leader would be opposed to Israel. (By the way, Gaddafi was warming up to Israel during the final years of his life.)

I suppose this is what happens when someone who isn’t interested in politics tries to make a political satire.

Now, maybe I would enjoy this film despite its problems. Maybe. But somehow I just can’t get enthusiastic about it. I would sooner see The Avengers again. At least it doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than itself.