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US engagement fostered rogue Israeli policies, but Tom Friedman can’t say so

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In his New York Times column of Nov 11, “My President is Busy,” Tom Friedman tells Israelis not to count on the U.S. government to rescue them from their own leaders’ catastrophic policies. “I find it very sad,” writes Friedman, “that in a country with so much human talent, the Israeli center and left still can’t agree on a national figure who could run against Netanyahu and his thuggish partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman… Don’t count on America to ride to the rescue. It has to start with you. My President is busy.”  

Even though this column was written before the horror of Israel’s latest carnage perpetrated on Gaza, an action sanctioned and made possible by our government, my breath was taken away by the smugness and hypocrisy of this statement. Friedman ignores the fact it is our policies that have saddled the Israelis with this rogue government. America’s massive financial and unconditional diplomatic support of Israel have allowed the most right wing and pernicious elements in Israeli society to take control of the state. But Friedman would have us abdicate our responsibility.  Instead, he blames the Israeli public, themselves victims of successive Israeli leaders who have taught them only hate and fear. “You are home alone,” intones Friedman, abandoning the Israelis to the fate to which we have effectively consigned them. And, not neglecting the Palestinians, Friedman faults them for failing to accomplish the “radical change” – what this is to be is not at all clear – that will help them out of the situation and will be the condition for earning our help, “to get us to fully re-engage.” 

Tom, you’ve got it backwards. The problem is not that we are not engaged, the problem is that we are VERY engaged, and it is the nature of that engagement that must change.  

And that change is coming.  The clearest indication of this occurred on October 5, when fifteen leaders from major Christian faith communities in the United States issued a courageous statement calling our government to account for its key role in the continuation of Israel’s unjust and criminal actions toward Palestinians through our unconditional provision of massive military assistance. Kairos USA issued an Action Alert urging emails to Members of Congress in support of the letter.  Wake up, America, the authors of the letter are saying, and cast a clear eye on what an increasing number of Americans have come to realize: that our “friend” in the Middle East is headed at breakneck speed over a cliff, and we are putting them in the car that is taking them there. 

Friedman, however, wants us to ignore this reality. “Focus on Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, not on Bethlehem, Palestine, and focus on getting us out of quagmires (Afghanistan) not into them (Syria). No, my Israeli friends, it’s much worse than you think: You’re home alone.” Well, we may not have boots on the ground in Gaza or the West Bank, but are Americans aware of how much money flows to Israel every year to buy increasingly sophisticated and destructive military equipment and build illegal settlements and Jewish-only roads, policies that, as Friedman points out, only push us farther from peace?  How precisely is this not a quagmire? 

No, Tom, the Israelis are not home alone.  We have been with them every step of the way, feeding their government’s addiction to militarism and the politics of fear. But perhaps Friedman is right about the Israelis being alone. America has abandoned Israel in the most profound, destructive and cruel way possible. We see their problem, which is their addiction to militarism and their political captivity to the most extreme elements in their society, a grim reality leading directly to settlement expansion in the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, which are the root causes of the violent resistance originating from Gaza – we see this, and we continue to hand over the cash for another bottle. It’s far worse than leaving them alone. Friedman ignores the fact that the money continues to flow and the UN vetoes continue to be as good as guaranteed.  How is this leaving Israel home alone?  This is like telling your kid you will no longer support his drug addicted, lawless lifestyle, but in the meantime continuing to send the fat monthly allowance. 

In the Letter from a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out that “we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.” The Christian leaders’ October 5th letter was not an act of civil disobedience or a call for boycott, but in our context today it qualifies as a direct action by King’s definition because it has surfaced critical issues driving the discourse over the issue of Israel and Palestine. This is the power of this letter, the same power demonstrated by Kairos documents past and present, the same power contained in the cries of the prophets and the ministry of Jesus as records of movements of nonviolent resistance to tyranny and injustice. 

True to King’s words, the tensions immediately surfaced with the publication of the letter, and they arrived from two sources. First, the voices of American Jewish lobbying and advocacy organizations made themselves heard, with a ferocity and intensity that took some of us by surprise. We heard the familiar charges of “anti-Judaism and relentless attacks on the Jewish state” and the specious claim that in holding Israel and the U.S. responsible for the failure of peace efforts, the letter was ignoring Palestinian intransigence and refusal to “return to negotiating table.” Second, voices within the church denominations themselves were raised, voices challenging the bold and clear action of the 15 signers, warning that the letter could cause “an irreparable rift between U.S. Jews and Protestants.” They called for a return to the policies of interfaith dialogue here and negotiations between the “two sides” there  — voices seeking to preserve at all costs the “peace without tension” that King spoke about.

The calls from within the church for “balance” and “patience” were answered clearly and firmly by church leaders and grassroots organizations echoing King’s assertion that only a firm commitment to justice and human dignity would honor the church’s true mission, and asserting that it was the responsibility of the church to call our own government to account for its complicity. And the leaders are holding firm – here is a recent example from the United Church of Christ. The strident protests of the Jewish establishment groups  called out the equally impassioned voices of American Jewish organizations, including the small but growing number of rabbis who are saying: Enough! We want to redeem our tradition and liberate our own people from the sin and the catastrophe of a state that has abandoned the most fundamental principles of decency and international law.  We support our Christian colleagues in calling our own government to cease its sinful complicity and to bring our friend back from the brink.

Rabbi Brian Walt, co-convener of a recent trip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territory with the Dorothy Cotton Institute, wrote the following in response to one prominent rabbi’s prediction that the Christian letter may permanently damage Christian-Jewish relations. “It may be more accurate,” writes Walt, “to say it may cause a rift between the American Jewish establishment and the Christian leaders who have until now been cowed with the warning that the price for ‘interfaith dialogue’ is silence on Israel’s human rights violations.” 

The Rabbi’s observation is telling. He is reminding us that what we are seeing is the rise of the prophetic church, a church we have seen before, in this country and in other lands, when the cry of the oppressed was heard. This is where the real struggle is – between the voices the voices urging moderation and patience, and the emergence, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his own letter of 50 years ago, of “a colony of heaven, called to obey God rather than man.” We are witnessing, in the words of the courageous South African church leaders facing down their own government barely ten years before the fall of Apartheid, “a moment of truth…At this moment in South Africa the Church is about to be shown up for what it really is and no cover-up will be possible.”  

We must show both Israelis and Palestinians that they are not home alone. Values and principles deeper and stronger than those that govern institutional church policy and international diplomacy are being called forth. As it has been in the past, when it acted to end legalized racism in our country and a tyrannous, racist regime in South Africa, the church is called. 

My president is busy, writes Tom Friedman. If that is true, then it is time we got busy getting him, and our other elected officials, to pay attention to our country’s business. 

“Change the wind,” writes Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, “transform the debate, recast the discussion, alter the political context in which decisions are being made, and you will change the outcomes. And you will be surprised at how fast the politicians adjust to the change in the wind.” 

Mark Braverman is Program Director for Kairos USA






Mark Braverman

Mark Braverman serves on the Advisory Board of Friends of Sabeel North America and is National Program Director for Kairos USA. He is the author of A Wall in Jerusalem: Hope, Healing, and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine, Jericho Books, 2013.

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17 Responses

  1. chinese box on November 22, 2012, 10:22 am

    There’s a lot of things Friedman can’t say if he wants to keep his perch in the MSM…

  2. Betsy on November 22, 2012, 10:28 am

    Wonderful post, Mark Braverman!

    We need a mass justice movement, employing direct action & civil disobedience on the scale of the civil rights or labor or suffragette movements — that connects the dots between military / industrial complex & the deep corruption of politics (in US & in our client states) & the ‘austerity’ cult which is trying to deflect even more govt funds from public services & goods. As Chris Hedges says in “We are all Gazans now”

  3. John Douglas on November 22, 2012, 11:24 am

    Mark Braverman makes the point that (paraphrasing) since the U.S. enables, indeed promotes, the mess that is militaistic Zionism and the consequent suffering of the Palestinian people, it cannot walk away now. But, first what would be the effects of applying that ethic to U.S. actions everywhere that it has meddled, e.g., Iraq, Syria, Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam, and more? Or is the U.S. relationship to Israel again to be held “special”? Second, might not walking away, a policy of benign neglect (no more military aid, no more diplomatic cover, no more military cover, no more phony “100% behind Israel’s right to defend itself”) be the most effective way to force Israel to dismantle its system of theft and oppression, unleashing international courts, EU boycotts, diplomatic isolation, UN recognition for Palestine and more?

  4. crone on November 22, 2012, 4:11 pm

    A good beginning (imho) would be for the US NOT to veto/block Palestine’s bid to the UN later this month…

    • on November 22, 2012, 5:48 pm

      > “for the US NOT to veto/block Palestine’s bid to the UN later this month…”

      Agreed. In a week (Nov 29th) we will see how strong or weak America’s commitment is to peace and Palestinian statehood.

      • James on November 22, 2012, 8:58 pm

        it is more likely the usa will continue to demonstrate it’s slavish commitment to israel… we all know how that translates here.

  5. DICKERSON3870 on November 22, 2012, 5:02 pm

    ● RE: “our ‘friend’ in the Middle East is headed at breakneck speed over a cliff, and we are putting them in the car that is taking them there.” ~ Braverman

    ● MY COMMENT: We are quite possibly in the very same car. If that is indeed the case, then the only question left is which one of us is Thelma, and which one of us is Louise?!?!

    ● SEE: “Is There a Way Beyond Israeli Madness?” [Will the Chosen People and the Exceptional People Go Down Together?] ~ by John Grant, Counterpunch, 8/31/12


    “The patient, by the name of Israel, walks into the room and instantly bursts into a tirade of arguments conclusively proving his credentials, and says that he is better than everyone else.” ~ Ofer Grosbard, ‘Israel On The Couch: The Psychology of the Peace Process’

    Americans have an Israel problem. . .
    . . . The problem Americans have with Israel is that the region it exists in is in the midst of a major political sea change, while Israel is frozen in time and holding on to its militarist, right-wing policies of extending settlements in the West Bank. It’s a policy that harks back to the ideas of the British-trained militarist Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall [SEE WIKIPEDIA – J.L.D.], which is based on the idea a live-and-let-live policy between Jews and Arabs is impossible and, thus, Jews must militarily control and repress Palestinians . . .

    . . . How does a people turn back a racially-oriented demonization program with roots that extend back many decades? How do you ratchet down a nation’s narcissism so people are able to simply see the other as a human being? . . .
    . . . On our part, Americans and the United States need to stop being a permissive yes-man [i.e. a habitual “enabler” ~ J.L.D.] and begin to show Israel some tough love. We need more US criticism of Israel. No doubt this approach will be received with gales of cynical laughter from hardliners . . . but so what?
    In my mind, the Israeli narcissistic and arrogant mindset would benefit from a little Buddhist detachment, more of the posture that sees the world not of separate individual selves and egos but of human beings as part of a larger flow of life. The Buddhists call the self-obsessed, separatist state-of-mind [i.e. the “pale” of Israel surrounded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall – J.L.D.] that Israel thrives on and defends with weapons as “the illusory self.”
    “Once one identifies with a permanent self-concept, the pride and craving adhering to this become the pivot from which an egocentric world arises,” writes Gay Watson, a psychotherapist attuned to Buddhism.

    David Loy puts it this way: “To become completely groundless is also to become completely grounded, not in some particular, but in the whole network of interdependent relations that constitute the world.”
    I’m not suggesting Israel become a Buddhist nation. The point is for Israelis, and more important Americans, to figure a way out of the worsening condition of “us versus them” to avoid the need to obliterate them and set off a war that no one really wants. The point is to re-shape our minds to make “the other” less threatening to permit talking.
    I’m not holding my breath that Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman are going to become peace activists. But I’m done as an American being a silent stooge while Israeli militarist madness fuels hatred and sets the stage for war.


  6. douglasreed on November 22, 2012, 6:07 pm

    Without US funding, without US F16s, without US helicopter gunships, without US cluster bombs and billions of dollars in civil and military aid, there would be no rogue state of Israel with a gang of thuggish ministers who violate international law every day in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and of course, in Gaza.

    The killing of civilian families of 10 men, women and children is NOT collateral damage, it is a War Crime! That the US congress colludes in these criminal acts and terms it ‘democracy’ is one of the most shameful acts in American history.

    And as for President Obama, words fail me! Such hope, such integrity, such statesmanship, all thrown away in an abject surrender to the Israel lobby.

    How immeasurably sad, how pathetic, how obscene. How do you sleep at night?

  7. David Doppler on November 22, 2012, 6:49 pm

    Obama has seemingly boxed himself in with pledges of eternal unity, guarantor of Israeli Security, vetoer of UN resolutions, unseemly deference to the right-wing nuts in Tel Aviv . . . . But perhaps he’s left himself some room to “change the wind.” Some totally unexpected act of conversation-changing generosity, but with strings attached, that could not be denied or rejected, without gross ingratitude, total loss of credibility, but that would change the conversation to one based on reality in the unbalance of power, and American values of self-government and equal justice, the result of which would require a Palestinian state, or a democratic single state. If he’s history genius and giant, perhaps he can figure out what that would entail.

    • Mooser on November 25, 2012, 12:14 pm

      “If he’s history genius and giant, perhaps he can figure out what that would entail.”

      He’s a chump, and his own freakin intellectual vanity convinced him he, the great Barak Obama, could make the Bush “anti-terrorism” policies work. I mean, any guy who is smart enough to pick the real, death-deserving terrorists from a bunch of pictures?

  8. American on November 22, 2012, 8:34 pm

    For what its’ worth.
    I post the entire article in case some can’t access it.

    Clinton warns Netanyahu not to punish Palestinian Authority for UN bid

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her talks in Israel this week not to take any extreme actions in response to the Palestinian move in the United Nations for recognition as a non-member state. Clinton said such steps against the Palestinian Authority could bring about its collapse. The Palestinians are planning to ask the United Nations General Assembly to vote on upgrading its status from non-member entity on the symbolic date of November 29.
    The day after the cease-fire with Hamas took effect, Israel is preparing for the next crisis with the Palestinians, which is scheduled for six days from now. November 29th is the anniversary of the United Nations vote on accepting the Partition Plan in 1947, which led to the founding of the Jewish Sate. It is also the United Nations’ International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
    The Palestinians are expected to have the support of at least 150 of the 193 UN members for their bid. Israel is particularly worried about the upgraded status, since it would allow the Palestinians to also ask for membership in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and then bring cases against Israel, such as for construction in the settlements. In an attempt to deter Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel threatened to respond with various punishments against the PA.
    Clinton met with Netanyahu Tuesday night in Jerusalem. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also were present. The focus of the meeting was on the attempts to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza, but the issue of the Palestinian UN proposal was also discussed.
    On Wednesday morning Clinton visited Ramallah and met with Abbas. Clinton asked him to reconsider the UN bid, or at least postpone it until after the Israeli elections. But Abbas sounded determined not to put off the UN vote, both in his meeting with Clinton and in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a short time later. Abbas told Clinton “the train has already left the station.” Abbas told Ban that if Israel punishes the Palestinians the day after the UN vote, “I will invite Netanyahu to the Muqata in Ramallah and I will give him the keys and go home,” said a Western diplomat.
    Clinton returned to Jerusalem from Ramallah and met again with Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman. The Palestinian UN bid also came up at this meeting. Clinton told Netanyahu he should examine how to strengthen Abbas now, especially after the operation in Gaza, which brought about the strengthening of Hamas among the Palestinian public.
    Two senior Israeli officials and an American official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the American message to Israel was not to take any irreversible actions and to act wisely the day after the UN vote.
    The Obama administration thinks it is necessary to try and minimize the potential damage of the Palestinian move in the UN, said the U.S. official. Extreme acts by Israel the day after will not help, they will only make the situation worse, he added.
    Clinton told Netanyahu that such punitive steps against the PA would only weaken it, which would not serve Israeli interests, said a senior Israeli official. Clinton emphasized that steps such as annulling the Oslo Accords or freezing Palestinian tax funds could bring about dangerous consequences, including the collapse of the PA, said the official.”

  9. David Doppler on November 23, 2012, 1:03 am

    Let’s see, petitioning the government for redress of grievance. Oh yes, that appears in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. A right any citizen has against its government. The Palestinians have grievances, let them petition for redress. Let the Israelis respond as to why they believe the Palestinians are mistaken. To punish the aggrieved for petitioning for redress of grievances is inconsistent with the fundamental rights of humans. It is foolish of the Israelis to ask the Americans to violate their own fundamental values to support the Israelis. It shows a complete lack of understanding of American values, or a complete contempt for them.

    • Citizen on November 24, 2012, 6:21 am

      @ David Doppler
      I’d say that the Israelis have a justifiable contempt for American values since they know the history of the native Americans, and how easily American politicians can be bought by AIPAC et al, and they know that the Palestinian POV gets such short shrift in US main media. For starters.

      • Mooser on November 25, 2012, 12:19 pm

        “It is foolish of the Israelis to ask the Americans to violate their own fundamental values to support the Israelis. It shows a complete lack of understanding of American values, or a complete contempt for them.”

        Seems to have worked out pretty well for them so far. And David, if you are going to depend on philo-semitism to make your arguments,(and you do, every time, baby, every time) at least go into an area where the perception of the Jewish advantage hasn’t been blown to smithereens. Keep away from anything having to do with morals or intelligence. If it was me, Dave, I’d stick to the contention that circumcision makes you sexier. Very few people have much information about that, and tend to respect religious customs.

  10. pineywoodslim on November 23, 2012, 7:58 am

    I feel that most posters–and I include myself among those–have the belief that a large part of what it would take to achieve justice in Palestine would be for the US to drop its unconditional diplomatic, political, military, and financial support for Israel.

    I’m no longer so sure. While there’s no doubt US support has allowed Israel to go down the rabbit hole like it has, I also believe that the irrational and the crazy is so entrenched in zionism that I could imagine an Israeli public and politics feeding on a go it alone, us against the world strategy. That’s part of Israel’s core values anyway. And it makes sense that Israel would have a plan for that, along the lines of–“the West? f*** you, think we’re brutal already? Just wait”

    Could that strategy work in the long-run? Probably not, I think the state would ultimately collapse, at least in its present form, but that collapse would not be immediate and in the short term that could equate to an Israel even more dangerous and brutal than it is now.

    And no, this post should not be construed in any way as advocacy for continued US support for Israel . I’m just speculating.

  11. Citizen on November 23, 2012, 8:40 am

    Latest figure I read was US (directly) gives tiny Israel what amounts to $8.2 Million per day. Clearly there’s no “fiscal cliff” for Israelis, just for Americans.

  12. gingershot on November 24, 2012, 7:09 am

    Tom is a professional fixer for the Israeli Lobby – his goal is to always try to protect the Israeli Lobby of which he is a keystone

    That includes his occasional criticism when the Lobby has acted so egregiously as to endanger it’s/his own interests

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