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Obama’s Dred Scott decision

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I find myself incredibly dispirited by the Obama veto of the UN Security Council resolution against the settlements. There hasn’t been a sadder more craven day in recent Amercan history. Two years after Obama promised in the largest Arab city that he would stop the settlement project, he caved to neoconservatives and the Israel lobby.

I’m not talking about the end of the two state solution. The two state solution probably died a long time ago. James North says that Israel might have preserved itself in 2002 with the Arab Peace Initiative; that was its best chance to survive as a Jewish state. But it rejected the offer.

That is Israel’s problem, I am talking about America. The Israel lobby is in America, and  it twisted the progressive president’s arm. Huckabee has now positioned himself as the defender of greater Israel, and because of the Israel lobby, Obama must accommodate the Huckabee position rather than taking it on and politicizing the question and trusting the people. He doesn’t want Democratic money to go over to the Republicans. That’s the game. AIPAC and the Israel Project urged him to veto, and neocon Jennifer Rubin, supported fully by the Washington Post, told Obama that if he voted against settlements he would join a “pack of jackals” that is against Israel. He heeded her.

Our politics are hopelessly corrupted on a question of basic fairness, as they were corrupted by the slave power, which everyone knew was wrong in the 1850s. Still the Establishment kept extending slavery. Other countries were abolishing slavery; but both our existing political parties were for it, and the Supreme Court made the historic decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857 to return a slave to his owner. And the president supported the decision, thinking that if the court so ruled slavery could be removed from politics. And look what befell the country in 3 years, an issue that was never fully politicized was the cause of a terrible war. 

Lincoln rose by exposing and denouncing that conspiracy; and the good thing about this moment is that it exposes the lobby’s power. Dennis Ross used to claim it was just in Congress, that was a lie. David Gergen said no one talked about the politics of the issue in the White House—another lie. When the actual political understanding in the Establishment is that Jimmy Carter lost his second term due in good part to the lobby, and ditto George HW Bush, who opposed settlements in ’91 and lost his head a year later. This was a lesson not lost on George W. Bush, who rode the lobby into Baghdad, or Barack Obama, who thought he could run against the hardline lobby and now kneels to it on settlements so as to escape Carter and Bush 1’s fate. 

The veto also helps expose the weakness of the Chomsky view that American rigidity in the Middle East is a corporate policy. If the corporations have so much power, and if the corporations had a real interest in Middle East authoritarianism, why did they let us lose Egypt in the face of a popular rebellion– why did they let us side with the good guys? When meantime, we continue to side with the thugs in Israel and squelch all Arab protest? Because corporations don’t govern this policy, the Israel lobby does, and the lobby cares a lot less about who is in Egypt than about whether Israel must sacrifice an inch of territory.

The weakness in Chomsky’s materialist analysis is his blindness to passions other than greed, and the premise that an ethnic lobby cannot wield power, or more specifically, that Jews don’t have power. This premise is based on tragic history in Europe, in which Jewish power was problematized and the answer was genocide; but it represents a collapse of understanding when it comes to the U.S. The Chomsky analysis simply refuses to reckon with messianism. It cannot reckon with the fact that a leading liberal Jewish institution, the 92d Street Y, has now banned the appearance of a Palestinian author whose three daughters were murdered in Gaza two years ago because the Jewish author who was to counterbalance that author cancelled her appearance. The materialist analysts would probably say, Oh that is just one cultural institution, it has no power. And as they cannot reckon with messianism inside Jewish life, they cannot reckon with the prominence of pro-Israel Jews in our politics. They wield power in much the way that the Christian right lifted Reagan in 1980.

How much power, I don’t know, because the press never investigates the question; but the Security Council veto suggests that it is backbreaking power. For the lobby is now blinding Americans to the most basic facts about the Israel/Palestine issue: that Palestinians have been dispossessed for 63 years and are losing land by the minute. It is a situation as grossly unfair as slavery– 5 million people denied their rights– and Hillary Clinton says it is unsustainable even as she sustains it.

These people are whistling in the dark the same way that President Buchanan was when he pushed the Supreme Court to uphold slavery in Dred Scott so that the issue would go away.

It won’t go away. Arab societies are being ravished by democracy; and thinkers I trust believe the Jewish state is finished. Jack Ross said it lately, Ali Abunimah predicted it some time ago. John Mearsheimer all but says it also. The only way to save it was the Arab Peace Initiative; and Israel was too greedy to listen.

I am not crying about the end of Israel– I would prefer a democracy in Israel and Palestine. What I’m crying about is my country’s inflexibility, its inability to support any semblance of fairness, any semblance of Arab self-determination. Because remember, the Palestinian Authority wanted this resolution; and now the neoconservative Washington Post is slamming them for even daring to want to hold a fragment of their own land. And Obama has sided with the Post. So we respect the idea of Arab self- determination in Egypt, we rubbish it in Israel and Palestine.

It may be 5 years, it may be 20, but Israel is finished; it will some day be a state of its citizens. And my fear surrounds the fact that the most powerful country in the world is the last to have figured out where things are going, we are living in denial, and feeding an Israeli denial of the reality that surrounds it. I believe that Obama made a deal with the Israelis not to bomb Iran and he would protect the settlements, but even that was a craven deal; and now as Iran fades as an existential threat because Israel has lifted its foot off that pedal, we will be bludgeoned with other existential threats. What will happen when the Palestinians rise up in another intifadah, or the Egyptians demand that Gaza be free, or Israel Arabs launch protests? The U.S. will snap to attention.

In Egypt we got on the right side of history. In Israel we are firmly on the wrong side. And if history teaches anything it is that such gross errors of judgment about the direction of civilization are not overcome peaceably.

Carl Coon has a good post on the exposure of American weakness here. And John Robertson makes many similar points to me, about Obama choosing the wrong side of history and opposing self-determination, and the likelihood that the Jewish state will come to an end, here.

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