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

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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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.

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