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Tough love from Clinton at a ‘left-leaning’ celeb party beats having anything to do with Palestinians

Israel/Palestine
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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

This morning the New York Times chimes in on Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday celebration.  With A-list celebs like Barbara Streisand, Sharon Stone and Robert DeNiro, and a net worth of the attending guests estimated at $24 billion, you can have quite a party.

The Times is gushing and that’s before they get to the celeb of celebs, former President Bill Clinton. He loves Israel and Shimon Peres, too.  Clinton’s fee:  $500,000.

Reading the Times there’s hardly a care in Israel’s world, which is also seemingly void of Palestinians, except one – a Palestinian from Hebron who thanked Peres for facilitating his lifesaving surgery in an Israeli hospital.

On Peres’s accomplishments the Times is circumspect.  At best, he hasn’t done much.  The reason the Times gives for those attending isn’t much better – avoidance.  Think of the Times summing up as Peres’s and the peace camp’s obituary: 

They came from across the globe — or sent in glowing video tributes — for a grandfatherly figure whose post is largely ceremonial, with little ability to forge peace with the Palestinians. Long derided across Israel’s political spectrum as a schemer and serial election loser, Mr. Peres has grown in popularity as he has become a symbol of a distant peace. So Tuesday’s two-hour tribute was a hot ticket for the local crowd, and a way for mostly left-leaning international figures to gain the benefits of supporting Israel without wading deeply into its divisive politics.

Haaretz is also on the scene with a focus on Clinton’s talk. Summing up Clinton’s talk isn’t difficult. Just to cut the suspense, he gave another in the increasingly endless series of, Watch out, the Two State solution is almost over and think who you might be living with cheek to jowl if don’t go for it now- speeches.

If the Times article offers faint praise for Peres and his guests, Haaretz is a text book case of coded language – by the speaker – and coded writing – by the reporter.  Neither actually spells out what’s going on, yet everyone seems to understand. 

The only way I can handle the Haaretz article and Clinton’s presentation is by posing as a guest interlocutor chatting with our former President.  If you’re startled by how glib I am, see it as a survival technique.  The entire scene is humiliating.  To maintain my sanity I have to join in.

Israel shares its fate with its neighbors and therefore should consider what kind of future it wants, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Monday during a visit to Israel, adding that the two-state solution remained the only viable option for the region.

ME: Is that so?  You mean Israel’s neighborhood is actually the Middle East and not the United States and Europe?  OK, now I’m following you. 

Speaking at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot, the former U.S. president said he always felt at home in Israel and that he loves the country more than words can express.

ME: Really? Most American Jews don’t feel at home in Israel.  There are more than a few Jews who no longer feel at home in Israel either.  That’s why they’re leaving.  But it’s good you feel at home in Israel, Mr. President.  I wonder if that’s because you travel like a king when you’re in Israel. You never have to experience either Israeli or, God forbid, Palestinian life.

Clinton also called President Shimon Peres, who is celebrating his 90th birthday, one of the world’s greatest visionaries. “He is always thinking about tomorrow. He promised that he would attend my 90th birthday, that he would speak at my funeral. The rest of you are here celebrating his wisdom – I came to get his diet.”

ME: Your friend Shimon, a visionary?  I suppose in his dealings with the French for advanced armaments after Israel was born, and then there is Dimona and Israel’s still not so secret nuclear arsenal that he was instrumental in developing.  Compared to you, Mr. President, Shimon might indeed be visionary but, sorry, I’m afraid that isn’t much.  Not much at all. 

Clinton also said that the worst day in his own presidency was when then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

ME: Yes, a bad day indeed.  But worse than when you finally figured out what was happening in Rwanda? I know you don’t want to talk about the “ethnic cleansing” side of your assassinated friend.  Since it’s a birthday party I’ll leave it for another day.  I won’t mention his role in crushing Palestinian Uprising either.  So much of Yitzhak’s life to talk about! 

The former U.S. president said that while it would make sense for Israel and Arab states to prepare for the worst, focusing on the negative would hinder any chance of creating something good.

ME: At least you included the Arab states in preparing for the worst. I assume you mean preparing for uprisings by their own people.   Everybody has to be on guard today, I guess.  Anyway, they’re containing the Palestinians just like Israel, Europe and the Unites States.  Did I leave out Russia, China and Japan?  So, yes, Israel and the Arab nations are in the same neighborhood and, lo and behold, in the same boat.  Shall we say that whatever floats Israel’s boat floats almost everyone else’s boat, too? 

“Your neighbors are still your neighbors,” he said. “One way or the other you are going to share the future with them.”

ME: How disappointing for Israel to be stuck in the Middle East.  A real bummer.  If only Israel was a suburb of, say, Boston or New York City, then Israelis could commute into an American city when they wanted to.   Instead they’re left with commuting from their settlement cities to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  It’s not everything they could hope for but better than being stuck with Palestinians without having their own exclusive transport system to make sure they don’t go native. It just goes to show that in some neighborhoods you can’t have everything. 

Praising Peres’ role in establishing Israel’s security, Clinton said that had Israel not built “a credible defense” it would not have survived, but added that leaders should sometimes take risks. “Some people, including president Peres and I, believe that risk is a part of life… sometimes we are right, sometimes they are right.”

ME: True enough on the risk element.  If only any Israeli government – and your friend Shimon spent his life in almost every one of them – had actually risked the concession Israel needs to make, then the risk of reparations and equality could have fallen in place, don’t you think?  Having your cake and eating it too isn’t a risk.  Sometimes I think Shimon’s a gladhander – just like you, Mr. President! 

Clinton also said that no credible alternative had yet been presented to the two-state solution to preserve Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state. 

ME: Unless you can enlighten me, I don’t think Israel has ever offered a real Two State solution, so we don’t know about its rejection or an alternative.  I know Noam Chomsky has called Israel – and the United States – rejectionist for decades.  He even said that about you, Mr. President! I wonder if Noam was invited to the birthday bash. Seeing Noam and Barbara together would be a hoot and photos of the perfectly groomed Shimon and permanently unkempt Noam– well it would have been something to remember.

Describing the issue of voting rights in the occupied territories as an “existential question” that must be answered by Israelis, Clinton expressed concern over the prospects faced by Israel in the face of its presence in the West Bank.

“Democracy is not only majority rule, but also minority rights,” he said. “The question [the Israeli public has to] confront is, is it really ok with you if Israel has people in its territory that will never be allowed to vote? If so, can you say with a straight face that this is a democracy? If you let them vote, can you live with not being a Jewish state?

ME: Your Gentile concern for preserving a Jewish state is touching, Mr. President, and so appreciated by Jewish leaders.  Your concern for Israel being a democracy touches every Jewish heart.  Know that Jews everywhere appreciate your advice and counsel. It’s overwhelming really and so important for Jews to hear your pearls of wisdom.  It’s fantastic that you’re with us, lest we have to live with them.

“The longer this goes on, the tougher [the implementation of a two-state solution] is going to get,” he added. 

ME: Are you sure Mr. President?  If you don’t want a Two State solution in the first place, getting “tougher” really doesn’t matter.  Wouldn’t it be better to pretend you want a solution, never offer Palestinians anything and then blame the situation on them? And do that until there’s nothing left for a Palestinian state? When you were President that was your way of presenting the “hard” choices to Palestinians. You and your friend, Yitzhak were both “hard” choices kind of guys. 

Well, I could go on and on.  What else can I do?  The pandering by the guests worth billions, the stars who lighten up our movie screens and the writers whose books fill our library shelves and best seller lists – are they a repeat of The Treason of the Intellectuals, that 1920s expose, where intellectuals and artists, ostensibly guardians of the mind and soul, sold out for material gain, crass nationalism and racism?

Of course, nothing of that was stated at the birthday bash or even in the reporting that filled the pages of our great newspapers.  It was all in code and obfuscation.  A decade’s worth more to come.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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23 Responses

  1. seafoid
    seafoid
    June 19, 2013, 10:37 am

    Peres is such a lying slimeball. I’d honestly prefer Bennett- at least he’s honest.
    He is what passes for a statesman in Spartastan.

    Here is Peres on Dutch television, explaining why so many Palestinian children were killed during Cast Lead (takes him just one minute):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8XQspTXz_A

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/oct/28/alliance-dared-not-speak-its-name/

    “Shimon Peres, the wheeler-dealer who served as David Ben-Gurion’s right hand on arms procurement before stepping into the political limelight himself, takes a bigger beating than P.W. Botha for his “customary sanctimony.” In private, he could laud South Africa’s white leaders, telling them that they shared “a common hatred of injustice.” In public, he called apartheid “the ultimate abomination” and “the cruelest inhumanity.” Having ascended to the post of prime minister, he assured the president of Cameroon that “a Jew who accepts apartheid ceases to be a Jew. A Jew and racism do not go together.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/nov/18/israel-gaza-live-updates
    “Israeli President Peres saying “Basically, our purpose is peace. Their purpose is to destroy Israel”

    http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/peres-to-iran-return-to-your-persian-heritage-of-culture-not-missiles-1.419621

    “Peres opened his greeting in Farsi, wishing Iranians wherever they may be a happy Nowruz. “I wish the Iranian people a real, true holiday, in which they may taste freedom, dignity and human honor,” he said. “It is not too late to replace the corrupt regime and return to your glorious Persian heritage, a heritage of culture and values, not of bombs and missiles.
    “At times I ask myself how such a civilized nation, with such a rich history, has allowed such a radical, blind and hate-filled group to dishonor its historic legacy. How does a people permit a regime to sow fear, rob people of their freedom and horrify the younger generation, which is looking for a way out of dictatorial Iran?” Peres asked.”

    • MRW
      MRW
      June 19, 2013, 11:47 am

      I’m with you, seafoid. He’s a phony from top to toe. Peres is playing to his future US biographers.

    • Tzombo
      Tzombo
      June 19, 2013, 1:07 pm

      What is Peres’ achievement for the history books? He was/is a prefect figleaf for the likes of Sharon and Netanyahu. That should be his epitaph: Here lies Shimon Peres, a figleaf.

      • seafoid
        seafoid
        June 19, 2013, 2:47 pm

        And he never won an election.

    • Chu
      Chu
      June 19, 2013, 1:42 pm

      I think he’s terrific representative for Israel, based on the points you mention!
      What a slimy veneer. Clinton must enjoy his company.

    • Clif Brown
      Clif Brown
      June 19, 2013, 10:57 pm

      Isn’t all of the celebration par for the course for those powerful politicians who survive to old age? The Presidents, the Secretaries of State, the National Security Advisors, etc., etc., and of course notable Israelis are part of the same glittering galaxy. Stir in Barbra Streisand. Dang! A lustrous patina collects on everything they did and imposing memorials come at their departure. Oh the tears! Oh the greatness! Pure show business as epic egos express how close they are to each other. Of course they all are invested in polishing each other’s image and this event was only the latest example. And did I mention it’s a perfect example of the wealthy making the wealthy even more wealthy – half a million for a friendly chat by Bill.

      What is most galling is the condescension/arrogance. Please think of the Palestinians! Come on now, they have feelings too! But if you don’t take our soft and gentle words of persuasion, hey, we’re still good friends. The U.S. and Israel just wallow some more in the sticky goo of the special relationship.

      It reminds me of a group of neighbors who gather to ask one of their number, let’s call him Pete, to please stop beating his dog. A few days later the dog is still beaten and everyone shrugs their shoulders and says, “well, what can you do?” After all, it’s only a Ara., er, I mean a dog, and Pete’s a good guy.

      65 years and counting.

  2. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    June 19, 2013, 11:03 am

    When will they admit that you can not call for a Jewish and Democratic state at the same time.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      June 19, 2013, 12:08 pm

      I like this medical acronym. I think it’s appropriate for Zionism given what’s coming down the track

      TF BUNDY : totally fucked but unfortunately not dead yet.

  3. just
    just
    June 19, 2013, 11:09 am

    Wow. Did Clinton really get paid to gush @ the bash of all bashes in celebration of his fellow “visionary”?

    Marc, this is brilliant– thank you. I always appreciate your analyses.

  4. eljay
    eljay
    June 19, 2013, 11:50 am

    >> … the former U.S. president said he always felt at home in Israel and that he loves the country more than words can express.

    What’s that gagging noise I hear? Is that a… [“Hee-haw!”] …oh, Bill, why’d ya do it! 8-o

    So, do American politicians (past and present) not have any shame? Or are the briefcases really big and full of large-denomination notes…or the threats of assassination particularly convincing?

  5. MRW
    MRW
    June 19, 2013, 11:57 am

    Marc, I prefer the vitriolic side of you much mo’ bettah. Do more like these.

  6. seafoid
    seafoid
    June 19, 2013, 12:17 pm

    Sort of tangential but Michael Hastings the Rolling Stones journalist died yesterday and he knew how to talk to the Clinton entourage.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/jun/19/michael-hastings-war-correspondent-killed

    “Assange was not the only subject of Hastings’ occasional intemperance. In an exchange with Hillary Clinton’s aide, Philippe Reines, in September 2012, Hastings was asked: “Why do you bother to ask questions you’ve already decided you know the answers to?”
    He replied: “Why don’t you give answers that aren’t bullshit for a change?”

    RIP

  7. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw
    June 19, 2013, 1:29 pm

    Tony Blair made a speech at the Peres bash last night, the middle east peace envoy [no don’t laugh] stated his support for an intervention in Syria, and in relation to Iran “we must confront and overcome that threat” The clown has learned nothing from his lies on Iraq and one million dead, now the peace envoy wants to plunge the whole of the middle east into all out war, effecting everyone on the planet see here…http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22973445

    • HarryLaw
      HarryLaw
      June 19, 2013, 2:12 pm

      Meanwhile talking about interventionists, John Kerry pushed vociferously for air strikes on Syrian airfields following the claim of the use of chemical weapons [notice they are not called weapons of mass destruction]. His call for airstrikes was met with resistance as General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that a series of budget cuts known as sequestration had undermined the Pentagon’s ability to implement such a plan.

      Gen. Dempsey also said that Kerry’s plan lacked clear entrance and exit strategies, noting that taking out Syrian airfields could not be achieved by simply dropping “a few bombs,” rather it would require more than 700 airstrikes, according to Bloomberg. Kerry sounds like one of those hotheads the Russians are talking about. see Press tv here.. http://www.presstv.com/usdetail/309836.html

    • Tzombo
      Tzombo
      June 19, 2013, 3:12 pm

      Tony Bleh has made a growth industry out of the ‘peace process’. There are no words for how much I despise him. He has done more to destroy European leftism than Thatcher and Reagan combined.

    • Castellio
      Castellio
      June 19, 2013, 4:15 pm

      He might have learned nothing, but he’s earned much.

    • Inanna
      Inanna
      June 19, 2013, 11:17 pm

      Why does he need to learn? Tony Blair’s position gives him access to all sorts of money-making schemes and no-one is stopping him. He can throw out all the platitudes he wants and his lies-as-truth and he keeps getting rewarded for it.

  8. kayq
    kayq
    June 19, 2013, 9:15 pm

    When Peres dies, the critics come out. His “legacy” will be no more.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      June 20, 2013, 4:27 am

      Very true. He will leave very little behind because Zionism is not going to make it.

      • kayq
        kayq
        June 20, 2013, 6:55 pm

        Precisely! I mean, it’s a shame people praise Rabin, when he took an active part in ethnic cleansing etc. Maybe because he was murdered by a right wing settler, so the praise is more sympathy, although people begin to boast about his “legacy”…
        yet somehow still laud Arafat as a “terrorist” who didn’t want peace, how does that work?

  9. Inanna
    Inanna
    June 19, 2013, 11:43 pm

    I feel sorry for Israel. Bill Clinton is only saying these things to get the cool half million for his foundation and to grease the skids for fundraising for Hillary 2016. It’s called cupboard-love. If the money runs out, so does the love.

  10. seafoid
    seafoid
    June 20, 2013, 8:26 am

    Gideon Levy in fine form

    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/president-peres-evening-of-lies-1.530900

    “We’ll start with the name of the presidential conference, the slogan under which the celebration took place: Facing Tomorrow. A country that has no clue where it’s headed, what will be with it in a decade, what it wants and how it plans to achieve its vague goals, convenes a presidential conference on tomorrow. The “tomorrow” of the conference, like that of its host, consists of nanotechnology, sustainability and brain research.
    That’s nice, but before we get too moved by this brilliant vision, we have to remember the more disturbing, existential questions. There is no mention of those. Does this country, which is “facing tomorrow,” want to be religious or secular, Western or Middle Eastern, domineering or just, Jewish or democratic? Does it want to continue the occupation forever, and does it plan to grant civil rights to its subjects? Nobody has a clue. Barbra Streisand singing “People,” and the embarrassing salute by a female army officer, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, of course, are enough to make people forget all those things.
    The birthday boy was presented as a man of peace and vision. That’s also nice, but what about the truth? The party thrown by the man of peace was attended by leaders from all over the world, including the presidents of Albania and Rwanda. But who wasn’t there? Not a single Arab statesman. There wasn’t even a single Palestinian, except for the token child who was successfully healed in an Israeli hospital, a generous gift to the thousands of Palestinian children who have been killed or injured by the State of Israel, which is also Peres’ Israel.
    Peres said in his speech, “Let us pray together for tomorrow’s peace,” and for a moment actually spoke truth: His contribution to peace indeed consisted of prayers ‏(and speeches‏). He even sang the “Song for Peace” at the rally at which Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, and “Give Peace a Chance” at his birthday party. The man who was present at every decisive junction in the nation’s history bears a heavy responsibility for the state of the nation today. His talent for deception and his artful presentation of the state as seeking peace has been no less detrimental to Israel than the settlement enterprise, for whose launch he is also responsible.
    It is those who recalled his longevity and endless tasks, who identified him with the state, saying he is the state, who ought to have taken him to account on the status of our state in its 66th year, when only North Korea and Iran are more hated by the world. “

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