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In praise of Mr. Netanyahu’s political theater

In a brazen diplomatic affront to President Obama, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu denounced the President’s negotiations with Iran before a packed audience of the US Congress on March 3. Obama dismissed the speech as political “theater” while over fifty Democratic congress members skipped the speech. We, by contrast, applaud Mr. Netanyahu’s affront and fault the skipping of the speech as empty theater.

This is not the plea from the Israel-can-do-no-wrong camp. We condemn Israel’s longstanding abuses of Palestinians, occupation and accompanying settlements, which the United Nations has condemned as illegal and the primary obstacle to a peaceful resolution. Indeed, we joined Jewish Voice for Peace in support of full equality and human rights without discrimination for all Palestinians and Jews. Moreover, we share the widely held view, echoed even by former Israeli Mossad head Meir Dagan, that Netanyahu’s proposed stance toward Iran would be a disaster for global stability.

We welcome Mr. Netanyahu’ address to cheering members of Congress because the spectacle laid bare the ugly reality of America’s bipartisan “special relationship” with Israel. While clashes in personality pop up periodically between US and Israeli leaders (with Netanyahu being particularly quarrelsome), the US maintains vast levels of military, economic, and diplomatic support, no matter which party is in power. Here, President Obama, Speaker Boehner, minority leader Pelosi and virtually all of the Democrats who skipped the speech are on the same page.

The consensus cannot be simply explained by the power of a narrow “pro-Israel” lobby. Rather, both Israel and the US are afflicted by a self-destructive political culture whereby global challenges are met by militarism, aggressive interventionism, and disregard of fundamental norms of international law, like self-determination, human rights, and nonaggression. In the case of Israel, this stance has not only caused suffering to generations of Palestinians but produced a perpetually insecure state of Israel, dependent on overwhelming military superiority and the support of a distant great power. At home, the pattern of unilateral invasions, support for brutal authoritarian regimes, and execution of unlawful counterinsurgency policies – including extrajudicial killings and CIA-led torture programs – have inspired new terrorist movements, poisoned the US image abroad, and made us more insecure.

Given these longstanding realities, the personality squabbles between Netanyahu and Obama and the breach of diplomatic protocol are a sideshow to the robust congruence of destructive political cultures. By skipping the speech, the fifty-plus Democrats offered up a meaningless gesture that distracted attention from the far more fundamental and pathological dynamics afflicting US-Israeli relations.

By contrast, Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to a boisterous crowd of Democratic and Republican representatives delivered a much-needed wakeup call. Through this distasteful spectacle, the American people gained a vivid glimpse of the dysfunction of our system. Even in this unusual case where an American President is seriously pursuing a peaceful resolution, he was confronted by powerful resistance calling him back to the crippling underlying political culture of bombs and missiles, sanctions and threats. The American public witnessed their elected representatives cheering a foreign leader who asked us to follow the customary pathway of rejecting diplomacy, thereby making war and the further proliferation of WMD’s more likely. We fervently hope that this blatant display will help free Americans from their dangerous stupor and prod them to demand a new approach to global affairs before it is too late. If not, we are in for new rounds of destructive conflict that foment terrorism and despair abroad and hollow out freedom at home.

So, thank you Mr. Netanyahu for your act of political theater which brilliantly illuminated the politics of self-destructive paranoia. While we oppose all that you stand for, you may have inspired a change in consciousness that will bring about a far more sane and just US policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Jonathan Graubart and David Deutsch

Jonathan Graubart is a professor of political science at San Diego State where he directs the International Security and Conflict Resolution program. David Deutsch is retired from a career in public finance. Both are founding members of Jewish Voice for Peace, San Diego. The views expressed are solely their own.

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25 Responses

  1. pabelmont on March 5, 2015, 9:48 am

    “What we want” and “What is “good for us” often differ radically. Candy tastes good but is bad for our teeth and our weight. War-making at national level (and various acts often called criminal at more individual levels) satisfies human atavistic impulses toward machismo and violence and cruelty but makes our world less secure and less pleasant. Congressional giving-in to the big money boys of the American establishment (which many call our Oligarchs) makes professional employment (as congressmen) secure but is bad for our country’s governance.

    The American Oligarchs are securely wedded to American imperialism, and thus to the expenditure of vast sums (Iraq cost $1T some say), and to Israeli imperialism as well, human rights as usual be damned. The American Oligarch “Big Defense” (military-industrial-congressional-media-university-complex) likes Israel to test our new weapons, to buy and use (and use up) our expensive weapons, and to keep Americans complacent with the constant war-footing of the USA and Israel. In this sense and to a large extent, therefore, there is “no light between” Israeli policy and American policy. We’re both militarist imperialist monsters. Since 1945, we’ve both acted to make the world a far more dreadful place.

    But we appear to differ (America’s oligarchs differ from Israel’s oligarchs?) on one point: USA wants to pressure Iran (sometimes to obtain changes of behavior) by economic sanctions whereas Israel would prefer to pressure Iran by war; and USA wants peace between Israel and Palestine — which Israel does not want at all — but USA doesn’t want it very much, not enough to do or forgo doing anything to secure it.

    As to N’u’s speech in Congress, it only showed the power of The Lobby (“Big Zion”) to those able to perceive it, and USA’s mainstream media (“Big Media”) don’t point up the power of “Big Zion” because, as a matter of general policy, they don’t point up the mechanism of the Oligarchy in any way.

    • on March 5, 2015, 12:52 pm

      “The consensus cannot be simply explained by the power of a narrow “pro-Israel” lobby. ”

      Baloney.

      The consensus (both major parties loyalty to Israel) is clearly due to the power of “The Lobby” .

      The Lobby is far from “narrow” and is much more than a simple lobby.

      The James Petras coined term “Zionist Power Configuration” is perhaps the best term anyone has yet come up with to describe the placement of pro Israel Jews throughout the American power structure (in finance, the media, politics, the justice system).

      My personal term would the Zionist Crime Family.

  2. Philip Munger on March 5, 2015, 10:40 am

    Iraq cost $1T some say

    — a lowball figure. And it is far from over. I work with and teach Iraq War vets. If as many congressmen and women committed suicide every day as Iraq War vets do, Congress would be empty within weeks. Let us see our legislators applaud that heartily, eh?

    Other than that, great comment.

  3. talknic on March 5, 2015, 10:47 am

    There’s something odd with that photo…

    Here corrected https://talknic.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/netanyahu-does-congress-2015.jpg

    • Bornajoo on March 5, 2015, 4:54 pm

      Brilliant, Talknic
      Now the only things missing are to dye his hair black and put in the little square moustache under the nose
      Albert speer would have been proud

  4. amigo on March 5, 2015, 11:26 am

    “There’s something odd with that photo” talknic

    It is the new ” Knessgress” or is that ” Congret”.

  5. ritzl on March 5, 2015, 12:19 pm

    If Netanyahu’s theater exposed his lies and their accompanying destructive US political sycophancy, the people who skipped the speech made it all noteworthy and discussable.

    Both were crucial for the moment to become a Moment.

  6. maiselm on March 5, 2015, 12:34 pm

    I am speaking as a Jew and as a member of the same chapter of JVP as my friends Dr. Graubart and Mr. Deutch. I very much agree that the speech itself laid bare the heart of an imperialist mob to which both sets of rulers (Congress, Obama, Knesset, Netanyahu) belong–and compared to whose major ideological agreement any differences are minor. Objectors in the Knesset are in the same position of impotence as Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Congress.

    It is much more important, then, to call on the American and Israeli and Palestinian peoples to organize outside of the imperialist and colonialist parties of their rulers in order to resist and overcome them. Does the national JVP’s joining of the call to “skip the speech” cut across or support this major strategy?

    At first it seemed to me, as it does to my friends G. and D., an empty gesture carried out in the wrong theater. But consider: more than 50 players in the imperialist theater itself withdrew offstage. Not because they are no longer participants in the charade (which they all have the nerve to call “democracy”), but rather because many of their “constituents” threatened to bolt from the theater as well! Those constituents, like the other Americans whom JVP is trying to reach, were thus able to measure the current relationship of forces while not completely abandoning the idea that countries should be ruled democratically. In other words, JVP (and the others who moved the 50 away from the trough momentarily) made the “skippers” draw a sharp distinction they’d rather not have drawn, between the ideal of democracy and the charade that is the U.S. reality. This is not, then, “empty.”

    I think it is important that JVP (and other opponents of this show of dog-and-tail–which is which? we are often led to wonder) maintain the distinction between a “demand” (we demand that the U.S., our government, stop supporting/inciting the Israeli government’s war on Palestine that is now becoming a war on whomever they deem to be “goyim”) and a “call” (we call on the peoples of the United States and of Palestine to unite behind the demand and to organize separately from the quasi-governmental bodies involved).

  7. JLewisDickerson on March 5, 2015, 12:57 pm

    RE: “The consensus cannot be simply explained by the power of a narrow ‘pro-Israel’ lobby. Rather, both Israel and the US are afflicted by a self-destructive political culture whereby global challenges are met by militarism, aggressive interventionism, and disregard of fundamental norms of international law . . .” ~ Jonathan Graubart and David Deutsch

    SEE: “Contrived Brouhaha; Obama-Netanyahu Feud”, by Norman Pollack, CounterPunch.org, Feb 27-Mar 01, 2015

    [EXCERPTS] When thieves have a falling out, it is common to look for the “good guy” as though everything is relative and subject to comparative analysis. Not so here. Assume their feud is real, we still have Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a race to the political-ideological-moral bottom when the scope is enlarged to take in the fuller position of both and the respective countries they each represent: America and Israel, joined at the hip, no matter personality differences of the current leadership, macro- and micro-hegemonic policies, goals, and aspirations to destroy all opposition to their presumed superiority and place in the global sun. To effect their national purposes, which in reality are the same in a sybaritic relationship of mutual war-criminality, drawing sustenance from one another’s extremism, there is an underlying long-term authoritarianism making them absolutely callous to the human suffering each inflicts on the weak. . .

    . . . Given the inlaid paradigm of self-appointed proconsul to the world, well-publicized tiffs over specific policy decisions count for naught insofar as endangering the most basic posture of counterrevolution whether regional or global or in fact, for each, both. The US and Israel, Emperor and Praetorian Guard, colossi astride the international order, the intertwining of intervention, assassination, regime change, espionage, each nation cooperating with, and learning from, the other, a perpetual-motion machine lest breakdown, displacement, loss of will occur. Killing becomes the elixir of life, whether Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, for one, ethnic cleansing to inaugurate the New State, then the follow-up, the Palestinian Territories and, chiefly now, GAZA, the Bergen-Belsen of the Arab world, for the other. Gaza is the war-crime of the new century; so today all Netanyahu is doing is raising the stakes on the partnership—arms will continue to flow, military and intelligence communities to coordinate as one, same old, same old, since the late 1940s.

    Why? Americans’ love for the Jewish people? Doubtful. Lobbying activities of Jewish organizations in the US? Not sufficient unto itself as an explanation. Rather, Israel had proven itself a trusted ally of the US from the earliest days of the Cold War, perhaps doubly useful because of the pseudo-socialist façade of the kibbutz imagery, providing a welcome crack in the American line-up of friends and allies many of whom were fascist in origin or practice. Geopolitics cannot be gainsaid, a US-inclined military-strategic oasis at the heart of the European underbelly, with ready access to North Africa and the Far East as well. But even geopolitics, in the immediate sense of regional control, hardly reveals a developing affinity of purpose. Israel, by the early 1950s, was code for everything to which America professed a desire to be, strong, ruthless, a beacon of legitimate repression (“legitimate” because unsuccessfully challenged), the worthy protagonist of the forces of evil arrayed against God, democracy, and freedom.

    With a Manichean view of these proportions, love always trumps differences of the moment. In truth, it is hard to exceed Obama in the virtues of totalitarianism. Israelis need not worry about being sold down the river; even on Iran, America on his watch has inflicted sanctions and cyber-espionage sufficient to give the most skeptical grounds for assurance. Diplomacy, when it comes to the Enemy, is sleight-of-hand for pressures aimed at capitulation and humiliation. Rather, if Obama is not responsible for the imbroglio with Israel, Netanyahu is, and daily proves himself more dysfunctional to the relationship. This is not surprising, because, a faithful microcosm of Israel’s own descent into a collective state of hubris mirroring his own, the relationship itself is a strain on both partners, neither one willing to draw back from a seeming abyss of belligerence, perhaps to keep up with the other. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/02/27/obama-netanyahu-feud/

    • JLewisDickerson on March 5, 2015, 1:25 pm

      P.S. ALSO SEE – “John Hagee: Obama’s Treatment Of Benjamin Netanyahu Will Cause God To Destroy America”, by Kyle Mantyla, RightWingWatch.org, 2/4/2015

      When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington, D.C., in March to lobby for tougher sanctions against Iran, President Obama will not be meeting with him and several Democratic members of Congress may skip his address.

      Naturally, none of that is sitting well with John Hagee, who warned on yesterday’s “Hagee Hotline” that God will destroy America for failing to adequately support Israel.

      “I am a student of world history,” Hagee said, “and you can wrap up world history in 25 words or less and here it is: the nations that blessed Israel prospered and the nations that cursed Israel were destroyed by the hand of God.”

      The Egyptian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire have all been wiped out, Hagee said, and even the British Empire has been “reduced to one tiny island because, since Edward the First, they have been and remain an anti-Semitic nation.”

      America will face the same fate, Hagee warned, because God “is watching what America does as it responds to Israel. If America turns its back on Israel, God will turn his back on America. And that’s a fact. It’s proven by history”:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jx_jeBTtiv8

      SOURCE – http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/john-hagee-obamas-treatment-benjamin-netanyahu-will-cause-god-destroy-america

      • JLewisDickerson on March 5, 2015, 1:40 pm
      • talknic on March 5, 2015, 5:00 pm

        Thx JLewisD

        The poor guy, believing in a G-d who wasn’t around at Masada, wasn’t around for the Holocaust and wasn’t around to bestow on him intelligence enough not to back a three times loser

    • JLewisDickerson on March 5, 2015, 1:45 pm

      P.P.S. AND SEE – “John Hagee: Ebola is God’s punishment for Obama ‘dividing Jerusalem'”, By Joshua Fechter, MySanAntonio.com, October 16, 2014
      LINK – http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/article/John-Hagee-Ebola-is-God-s-punishment-for-Obama-5827110.php

  8. on March 5, 2015, 1:06 pm

    ‘The consensus cannot be simply explained by the power of a narrow “pro-Israel” lobby.’

    Yes it can.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on March 5, 2015, 2:10 pm

      Agreed. I used to be of the Chomsky-ite view that the power of The Lobby was overstated. Not anymore. I now belive that if Burkina Faso could afford a Burkina Fasovian version of The Lobby, every senator in the USA would be jumping up and down like a yo-yo to extoll the praises of Burkina Faso.

      • eljay on March 5, 2015, 5:48 pm

        || MDM: I used to be of the Chomsky-ite view that the power of The Lobby was overstated. Not anymore. I now belive that if Burkina Faso could afford a Burkina Fasovian version of The Lobby, every senator in the USA would be jumping up and down like a yo-yo to extoll the praises of Burkina Faso. ||

        IMO, that speaks at least as much to the (im)moral fibre of American politicians as it does to the power of any given lobby.

      • W.Jones on March 5, 2015, 5:49 pm

        MAXIMUS,

        Very simple question:

        Which organization’s or nation’s leader could come to the US legislature and get a comparable amount of applause (1/4 of a long speech)?

        1. Those who consider the lobby to be small say that the special relationship is due basically to US capitalism and imperialism. Would the head of any key business or military organizations like Haliburton or NATO get a comparable amount of applause?

        2. Those who support the Israeli system say that it is simply because of sympathy and natural alliances against Islam. Would the leaders of very potentially strategic Mideast Christian societies or their major forces like those in Lebanon, Armenia, Iraq (1.5 million), or Cyprus get anywhere near similar applause?

  9. echinococcus on March 5, 2015, 4:10 pm

    That picture! I now pay attention for the first time to the lictorial fascii on each side, framing a guy looking and sounding uncannily like Benito Mussolini (and way more of a dangerous fascist…)

    • Mooser on March 6, 2015, 11:12 am

      “the lictorial fascii on each side”

      Why, thanks again “echinococcus” (whichever of the six species you might be.) I never knew that’s what they are called.

      • echinococcus on March 7, 2015, 5:42 pm

        You’re welcome. Which of the six subspecies is, no offense intended, none of your business, as we, including the sixty-six later convert species, are one big tribe descended from one ancestor at the start of time. You better not be on the dog we’ll recolonize, holding the original deed!

  10. W.Jones on March 5, 2015, 4:56 pm

    Dear Jonathan,

    Unfortunately, due to the existence of the “Progressive except for Palestine” phenomenon, you reach the wrong explanation here:

    the US maintains vast levels of military, economic, and diplomatic support, no matter which party is in power. Here, President Obama, Speaker Boehner, minority leader Pelosi and virtually all of the Democrats who skipped the speech are on the same page.

    The consensus cannot be simply explained by the power of a narrow “pro-Israel” lobby. Rather, both Israel and the US are afflicted by a self-destructive political culture whereby global challenges are met by militarism, aggressive interventionism and disregard of fundamental norms of international law

    This thesis is that the consensus on intense military and economic support for the State is not due to the lobby alone, but to a “culture” of militarism in global challenges.

    Let’s say however that the US did NOT have a culture of militarism in global challenges, but instead its culture was to follow international laws and avoid interventionism. In that case, intense aid to the Israeli State could still exist as an EXCEPTION to a pro-peace culture.

    There are several major examples to show this.

    1) In the pre-WWII period, the US took a non-interventionist stance in the Eastern Hemisphere, and yet the pro-Israeli movement was strong in US politics. From then until now, the US Left has also been generally pro-Israeli. Just look at Bernie Sanders and others even in the US congressional left who still support massive aid.
    2) Even in the 1950’s and mid-1960’s, even the “far left”, which was pro-peace and anti-militarist was frequently pro-Israeli at a time when the worst ethnic cleansing in that State’s history was enacted.
    3) J Street and AIPAC are two of the main lobbies, and both of them support massive military aid, even though J Street proposes itself as pro-peace. J street and Americans for Peace Now have a pro-peace culture yet support the special relationship.
    4) Modern Germany is not very militaristic and yet it gives massive aid.

    These examples and others show that one can be pro-peace in one’s culture (like Bernie Sanders and AFPN, perhaps) and yet still have intense support for the Israeli system and military aid.

    The existence of large, influential numbers of PEPs in US history show that it is not enough to have a pro-peace culture, but to apply it in this particular case.

    Second of all, lobbies can be a decisive factor in whether the US, political parties, and any “pro-peace politicians” choose to apply “pro-peace” values to the conflict or make an “exception”. That’s because lobbies run the US political system. Just look at the oil, gas, tobacco, gun, and healthcare lobbies. If a lobby is particularly powerful in the capitalist political system, legislators find it very persuasive.

    In conclusion, due to the fact that important pro-peace politicians still support the consensus of intense military aid, a pro-peace culture is insufficient to determine whether that aid continues. If Progressives Except for Palestine (Sanders, J Street, etc.) are politically stronger than those who are consistently pro-peace (as they are), then that support would continue.

    The question becomes: If PEPs overpower consistent Progressives and neither are militaristic, then how do you account for the greater political power of the former?

    THE NATION has a strong “culture of peace”. So why is Eric Alterman a writer there and yet Phil Weiss, who is far more “pro-peace”, not getting tons of invitations from the major pro-peace outlets?

  11. JWalters on March 5, 2015, 7:53 pm

    Skipping Netanyahu’s speech was absolutely not a “meaningless gesture”, as other commenters have already noted. It definitively shattered the illusion that all Congress is forever trapped in the Zionist chokehold. It was, as Phil stated elsewhere, an “emperor has no clothes” moment, akin to Israel’s last grotesque slaughter in Gaza.

    Further, the conflict between Obama and Netanyahu is is not a “personality squabble”. Obama is perhaps the first U.S. president since JFK who truly appreciates the power and danger of the war profiteering oligarchy, and who is attempting, carefully and strategically, to bring them down.

    Obama has directed the CIA to end all covert operations and stick to intelligence gathering and analysis. JFK was attempting to do this when he was assassinated, because he saw first-hand how the CIA was used to manufacture wars. See Col. Fletcher Prouty’s classic book “JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy”. Prouty was in charge of providing military resources for clandestine CIA operations, so he had a deep insider’s view of events. Naturally, this classic book has been ignored by the war profiteer owned media.

    Obama also ended DADT in the military. This was more than a civil rights issue, since sexual blackmail of gays in the military has been an important control tool for the war profiteers, according to Kay Griggs. Griggs is the ex-wife of a top-level U.S. Army assassin with important inside knowledge. Another blow to the oligarchy’s levers of control.

    If Obama can get a deal with Iran, that will be a major change of trajectory toward peace in the Middle East. It would make future wars harder to manufacture there. This would be a devastating outcome for the war profiteers. Hence their hail-Mary pass with Netanyahu’s speech.

    No president could reverse all the evil of the oligarchy at once. There is no magic presidential wand. But his determined fighting back against Netanyahu, even with his gentle manner, is historic in importance. Lincoln said there was an unbreakable bond between the North and the South. And then he took on the responsibility of cleaning his own house.

  12. concernedhuman on March 6, 2015, 11:10 am

    A group of Senate Democrats on Wednesday said they would vote against a bill on Iran they themselves are sponsoring if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) brings it up for a vote next week.

    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/192166

    And republicans thought they can easily pass the bill after all those applause and standing ovations.

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