Ilene Cohen: ‘Why am I so boringly repetitious about pro-Israel ‘talking points'”?

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 27 Comments

Ilene Cohen writes:
Richard Falk in this interview is,
as always, unflappable and indefatigable. He is challenged by the BBC
interviewer that the Israelis "dismiss" him because he is "biased," and
following the interview, an Israeli spokesperson is quoted as (what
else) dismissing Falk, again, because he is "biased." This is of course
the stock Israeli response to all negative reports about its behavior,
whether from its own human rights organization, foreign human rights
organization, journalists, or others (Chas Freeman, for one). You will
note, however, that the pattern is always the same: the standard
talking point is all the "evidence" (in this case, the "bias against
Israel," or "anti-Israel") without reference to any of the specific
issues raised by the individual or organization in question. That holds
for the Gaza War and it always holds for talk of settlements: mention
settlements and you're accused of having a "bias." There's never a
discussion of the settlements. Obviously, if they had a credible
answer, they'd offer it up. But the settlements are illegal and even
violate US policy, so they're consigned to the "bias" defense.

I wish to explain why I am so insistent–boringly repetitious–about
using the term "talking points" to characterize "pro-Israel" responses
to critics. Once you start paying attention to what they actually say
or write, you find that they almost always eschew discussion of the
specifics in question. Rather, they "construct" a story (Richard Falk's
word), for example, about how they came to start the Gaza War, that is
completely at odds with the facts–in this case, the fact that Israel
engaged in a major violation of the cease-fire in early November. Most
journalists, of course, are not interested in those facts, even if
their own paper reported them at the time. Actually, most journalists
are simply afraid to follow up on those facts. From there, Israel can
just let loose with the talking points. It's a kind of swift-boating.
The story of the Gaza war crimes grows by the day. Rest assured that the Israeli government/IDF is not going to do any serious "investigation." That is because it knows the answers already and they're not something anyone over there has any intention of putting in a report. But, as The Guardian reported yesterday, others will investigate, and not only the human rights organizations: the soldiers' group, Breaking the Silence, which made its debut several years ago with soldier testimony about abuses against Palestinians in Hebron, plans to do its own research. Remember in 2006 that the UN begged the Israelis to provide information about "where" they shot the million cluster bombs, in order to aid in gathering up the many as-yet unexploded shells. The Israelis stonewalled and never helped. Truth is, what could they say–the instructions to soldiers in southern Lebanon (as reported in Haaretz from interviews with soldiers) was, Shoot everything you have, wherever you can. Not a story one would want to share in an official memo to the UN.

My second item is Roger Cohen's latest piece in the Times, clearly connecting the US relationship with Israel to the evolving US policy toward Iran. Obama himself by his statements, most specifically his new year's video sent last week to both the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is setting out a new framing for our dealings with Iran, one that is not defined by the Israeli insistence that he plunge into his "diplomacy" game and get it over with quickly and move on to hostilities. Other signs that this is the US intent are DNI Dennis Blair's explicit differentiation of US thinking on Iran from the Israeli position and the statements by Secretary of Defense Gates, who shows no inclination to have a military confrontation with Iran and who also didn't meet last week with Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who came to Washington to harangue high-placed figures in the US government about Iran. All Ashkenazi got was Dennis Ross.

I would emphasize Cohen's conclusion, that the US needs to "rein . . . in Israeli bellicosity." It's essential. We don't need to hear them running at the mouth day in and day out about what Obama needs to do vis-a-vis Iran; this distorts the discussion. Iran is not Hitler's Germany and this is not 1938 (Netanyahu's talking point for the past three years). It is essential for Obama to convey to the Israelis, in private, for starters, that the US will oppose and not support any unilateral military action against Iran on their part and that he expects them to tone down the rhetoric. I would say that such advice should come with the added warning that if they can't muzzle it, he (or Gates) will need to say these things publicly. Bush and Cheney used to say publicly that they can't control what Israel chooses to do; Obama can say otherwise very clearly, that the US simply will not tolerate from them anything of the sort that they've been threatening. It's a world of difference. Most important is to make it very clear to them that he is the Un-Bush.

27 Responses

  1. ...
    March 23, 2009, 12:55 pm

    'biased' or 'anti israel' is an improvement from 'anti semite'… perhaps after a while those labels will become redundant as well, with an engagement in conversation as opposed to a labeling of those involved in the conversation…

  2. Richard Witty
    March 23, 2009, 1:30 pm

    "Biased" is a reasonable response. Falk's credibility is determined by his ability to remain unbiased, unprejudicial.

    The reason that bias is such an oft-used word, is that so much of what is presented as facts, or Israeli history, is a portion of it.

    The realities of BOTH the Zionist experience and Palestinians' experience is DIFFERENT. They saw different things. Even seeing the same things, they interpreted them differently.

    There is no "truth" that captures the story. The story can only be captured by hearing.

    "There's never a discussion of the settlements. Obviously, if they had a credible answer, they'd offer it up. But the settlements are illegal and even violate US policy, so they're consigned to the "bias" defense."

    Thats a biased interpretation. The reality is that the title of the land that the settlements are on is ambiguous. Formerly, the land was either: 1. Jewish owned, 2. Jordanian owned, 3. Palestinian owned.

    The land that is attributed to Jordanian state ownership, then transferred to someone when they renounced sovereignty over the West Bank is unclear. The land that was Jewish owned, but the Jews were forcefully removed (ethnically cleansed) should by rights return to their rightful owners (individuals or collective entity). The land that was Palestinian owned should be Palestinian.

    The question of sovereignty is a DIFFERENT question.

    "Stolen" refers to title, to ownership.

  3. Richard Witty
    March 23, 2009, 1:31 pm

    Peres' comments were DIFFERENT than Obama's, clearly.

  4. Richard Witty
    March 23, 2009, 1:33 pm

    If the politics played out that the US had to make a CHOICE, that Iran would not exchange ambassabors if the US maintained a relationship with Israel, or vice-versa, which would you choose?

    If you had to?

  5. stevieb
    March 23, 2009, 2:31 pm

    "The land that is attributed to Jordanian state ownership, then transferred to someone when they renounced sovereignty over the West Bank is unclear. The land that was Jewish owned, but the Jews were forcefully removed (ethnically cleansed) should by rights return to their rightful owners (individuals or collective entity)"

    When and what land was jewish owned in the West Bank? And when were jews 'ethnically cleasned'.

    And where are the jews now that were 'ethnically cleansed"??

    Are you making stuff up, again Richard?

  6. Scott
    March 23, 2009, 2:42 pm

    Who is this Ilene Cohen? She's very smart.

  7. Eva Smagacz
    March 23, 2009, 2:49 pm

    Richard,

    Just because there is uncertainty about the land title, it does not follow that a third party can swoop down with the guns and pocket the lot.

    The communal land is a concept that is understood by all except Israel which uses people like you to translate the lack of a single owner into the licence to steal the land.

    International law is clear in this respect: irrespectively of whose land it is it is not Israeli land.

    If my family home is a commonhold (English communal ownership) it does not entitle my neighbour to run my family out of the grounds any more than disputed (between Greek and English governments) ownership of Elgin Marbles makes it ok for Putin and Russian Army to confiscate it and use to make floor tiles in Kremlin.

  8. Richard Witty
    March 23, 2009, 3:01 pm

    If the status of land were "understood by all", then it would be consented and not contested.

    Between 1929 and 1948, the majority of Jews that resided in the West Bank, including in the old city of Jerusalem were forcefully evicted and their land confiscated by the Jordanian government.

    International is NOT conclusive at all, is the point. The status of the land is contested.

    I believe that the land SHOULD be Palestine, and titled to those that can prove title and/or degree of title. But that is a DIFFERENT statement than to say the land IS Palestinian.

    Its important to ALWAYS distinguish between title and sovereignty.

    A new entity that repeats the same that it criticizes is hypocritical. A dissenter that urges that repitition is also.

  9. Citizen
    March 23, 2009, 3:01 pm

    @ Witty
    Since the (arm-twisted, and without the locals participating) UN gave the jews 54% of the Palestinian mandate in partition, though they were much less of the local population, and most of those jews that were came from Europe, shouldn't you shut your trap and be grateful Uncle Sam is owned by your friends?

    My you are greedy. If the world allows the jews to have their UN approved 1947 borders, you should be more than happy. Get a grip.

  10. Eurosabra
    March 23, 2009, 3:30 pm

    Richard,

    Unless you know something I don't about people who remained, ALL the (surviving) Jews living in the West Bank were ethnically cleansed by the Jordanian Army in 1948-49. Admittedly the civilians did not have to endure a year to year-and-a-half in captivity east of the Jordan.

  11. Eurosabra
    March 23, 2009, 3:33 pm

    For starters, all of the communal Jewish religious institutions of the Old City of Jerusalem held real property in land, buildings, and cemetaries. These were destroyed, and the population transferred.

    Since stevieb knows nothing, he deserves no more of a reply.

  12. Richard Witty
    March 23, 2009, 3:51 pm

    I thought that there were a couple of families that remained in East Jerusalem.

    I describe the sweeps as "ethnic cleansing".

    It is ignored by the "left", that prefers a political approach to title issues rather than a legal one.

  13. Shirin
    March 23, 2009, 4:41 pm

    "The communal land is a concept that is understood by all except Israel"

    Oh, Israel understands it just fine. This is just one of their numerous ploys.

  14. fultronix
    March 23, 2009, 4:46 pm

    Witty – do you ever tire of or even grow self-concious of your intellectual hand-waving (the "how many angels can dance on the point of a needle" type rubbish) ?

  15. Julian
    March 23, 2009, 4:49 pm

    "My you are greedy."

    What do the Arabs have 99.5% of the Middle East? Far too much.

  16. curious
    March 23, 2009, 5:15 pm

    I believe that the land SHOULD be Palestine, and titled to those that can prove title and/or degree of title. But that is a DIFFERENT statement than to say the land IS Palestinian.

    What about the land of Israel? Would you apply the same rules there?

    Also concerning the Jewish National Fund?

  17. fultronix
    March 23, 2009, 5:40 pm

    Another brilliant comment from Fenton:
    Me victim, you anti-semite. Oh did I mention the holocaust – again?

    I must give you Zionists credit for being utterly unabashed in your painful repetition of easily (and frequently)refuted lies and propaganda. There are some of us here who have done our research on the subject – or better yet have witnessed first hand the horrors of your ideology – who realize that facts as well as humanity are stupid things to you.
    Perhaps the Hasbara effort is not aimed at us, but at the occasional bewildered passerby looking for answers as to why the madness in the world is seemingly growing. The more civilized of us (yes and proud of it) can only hope that those questioning souls will, even if feeling confused by your lies, at least see the inhumanity if not utter barbarity of many of the ZioPosters here.
    Where are my supporting facts and supporting arguments ?
    I simply cannot gather the energy personally to bring facts to bear in an argument with liars and their tag-along murdering lunatics. That is a personal choice on my part. I am thankful to the others here that never seem to tire of presenting the facts in the face of this onslaught. It is most important that the questioning fellow traveller hear them.

  18. Carrington Ward
    March 23, 2009, 6:19 pm

    "If the politics played out that the US had to make a CHOICE, that Iran would not exchange ambassabors if the US maintained a relationship with Israel, or vice-versa, which would you choose?

    If you had to?"

    Easy choice: friends close, enemies closer. Israel would do well to consider the history of U.S. relations with Taiwan (nee China).

    The fact that Israel is in a geopolitically 'tough neighborhood' — and that it is not an island — is all the more reason for it to maintain a consistent, independent, foreign policy.

    There will come a time when big brother is not around to help — either through unwillingness or incapacity — and there will be dire consequences to picking the wrong fight. .

  19. MRW.
    March 23, 2009, 8:12 pm

    It was "several Kibbutzim and their lands" that the Jordanian Army overran in 1948, according to Hillel Halkin. The rest of the nonsense about this above sounds like Daniel Pipes' take on it. Hyperbole.

  20. Duscany
    March 23, 2009, 9:38 pm

    fultronix

    The hasbara types here know that Phil is an increasingly influential member of the commentariat. They want to stop him before he becomes mainstream.

  21. Ana Sanchez
    March 23, 2009, 11:06 pm

    Julian, the Africans have 99.5% of Africa….do you think they're greedy too?

  22. Margaret
    March 24, 2009, 2:55 am

    My recollection of what I've read leads me to believe that something similar to civil war flared up periodically from 1929 to 1948: first one side brutalized the other, then it was turn-about. The British couldn't conquer the territory, but they did a good job of creating divisions among the people who lived there and those who were encouraged to move there from Europe.

    One must ask what Jordan's actions in that era have to do with Israel's behavior toward the Palestinians now? Was Operation Cast Lead with it's multiplicity of inhumane activity supposed to be some kind of reparation for the persecutions Jewish people have suffered in the past? If so, one wonders what is in store for the rest of us (which would include the Jewish people who are not Israeli)?

    Or is the reference yet another of those attempts at diversion which fail to divert but instead serve to indicate how lacking in empathy are those who defend Israel's brutality.

    It is familiar as yet another of the talking points.

  23. Richard Witty
    March 24, 2009, 5:40 am

    Mr W,
    Your comments sounds like something I'd expect from Netanyahu. It wasn't communities that had remained in Israel for 3000 years. It was a couple kibbutzes only.

  24. Citizen
    March 24, 2009, 9:42 am

    @ Witty

    "If the status of land were "understood by all", then it would be consented and not contested."

    The whole point is that ZOA, AIPAC, Israel et all do all they can, and constantly, pulling all Jewish levers of power and guilt-tripping, so that the status of the land, and its history, is not understood by all. I am happy Witty understands why the Zionist right winger Likudniks keep information muzzled for the average American. Gotta keep milking that cash cow and rigid UN veto.

  25. jku
    March 24, 2009, 9:46 am

    What do the Europeans have virtually 100 % of Europe? Far too much. Why do the states of the USA have so much land? Far too much. Why do the Palestinians have nothing? Far too little.

  26. Nina
    March 24, 2009, 10:08 am

    Very well said, Ana!
    Nice try, Julian.

  27. Marilyn
    March 24, 2009, 2:09 pm

    All of the land is Palestine. Full stop. There is no point maundering on that it is Israel as Israel rejected resolution 181 because they didn't want to have any borders and Ben Gurion specifically said he refused to give up taking more land.

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