AIPAC, Gaza and Letters to the President

I was reminiscing recently about a very pleasant conversation I had with Stephen Walt, who, along with John Mearsheimer, wrote the explosive book “The Israel Lobby.” Both authors are aware that I disagree with their thesis, and yet Stephen and I were always able to have respectful conversations about it. Would that more conversations about Israel could be conducted in that manner.

But I also disagree with what I call the Chomsky Thesis. Chomsky, and some other analysts, believe that “The Lobby’s” power derives from its essential rapport with American policy aims, and that if it diverges from those aims, it would not prove much of an obstacle.

Saying “The Lobby” is not a considerable force is as false as saying it is the determinative element in US policy. It

Hillary Clinton and AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg at this year's AIPAC policy conference

clearly plays a serious role in American politics, and the more prominently domestic concerns play into an American President’s foreign policy decisions, the more powerful it is. (In fairness, I should note that Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book is rarely understood to encompass this view, though it can certainly be read that way)

“The Lobby’s” field of play is Congress. To the extent Congress can and will push back against a president on foreign policy, “The Lobby” will get it to do so when they disagree with that president’s policies.

It has often been the case that “The Lobby” tries to push the US into a harder line than Israel takes. It has done so again this week.

Letters to Obama

The Senate, almost as a body, has written to the President in full support of Israel’s version of the events aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla over Memorial Day Weekend. It re-states the position that the siege on Gaza is legal and was imposed to stop the import of weapons to Hamas, while ignoring the question of how children’s toys, coriander, mayonnaise and ketchup could be classified as weapons. It also asks the President to consider putting the IHH, the Turkish organization which is most certainly supportive of Hamas, on the list of terrorist organizations.

The letter, at this writing, was signed by 86 senators, and a similar letter is up to 322 signatures in the House. Continue reading

The Three Panels: Investigating the Flotilla Fiasco

Israel is trying to address the massive criticism it is facing over the flotilla fiasco by empowering not one, but three different investigative panels.

It’s not likely to work.

The military investigation, which was the first one empaneled, was intended to address internal criticism that the operation was poorly planned and executed. This is likely to be the most effective panel in terms of its own mandate, but it obviously won’t address international concerns.

The most recent announcement by the state comptroller is actually the most likely to come up with something serious.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss

Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is planning to look into the government’s decision-making process, something which really does need attention. This was initiated by Lindenstrauss himself, and as such is the most likely to yield credible results.

But the comptroller’s investigation will be limited and will not cover the military’s “the tactical or operational aspects of the raid,” nor the legal aspects that the public commission is tasked with.

The main panel, headed by retired justice Jacob Turkel, is already understood to be a sham. Turkel himself has no significant expertise in these matters. Another member, Shabtai Rosen, would have seemed a much better choice to lead the panel, since, as a recipient of the Hague Prize for international law he has by far the most credibility of anyone involved with this panel. The third member, Amos Horev, a retired general, is not known to be a lock-step supporter of all military decisions, but is also not someone inclined toward really sharp criticism. Continue reading

Of Heroes, Villains and Shades of Grey

People love to have their good guys and bad guys neatly defined.

That is a central point in the debate over the narrative of last weekend’s disastrous Israeli raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I’ve seen it particularly in reactions to things I’ve written about the Turkish aid organization, IHH.

The Israeli propaganda machine has helped to inflame and actually define the debate over IHH by accusing them of ties with al-Qaeda. As a result, the debate has revolved around whether they’re “terrorists.”

Crowd at the funeral of one of those killed on the flotilla

The IHH having ties to al-Qaeda was an absurd accusation on its face. If they did, Turkey would never sanction them on any level and would much more likely be persecuting and arresting them. Americans and Israelis might think of al-Qaeda as primarily targeting them, but secular Muslim regimes are much more in their crosshairs than we are. And, indeed, Israel has quietly retracted the accusation.

Thus Israeli propaganda set up the false dichotomy: either the IHH were horrible terrorists or they were pacifistic heroes.

But they’re neither. On five of six ships, tactics of non-violence were employed. Apparently, from the reports of those who were on the ships, these tactics were indeed met with violence from the invading Israeli commandoes. But equally apparently, things did not escalate to the point they did on the Mavi Marmara. Continue reading

Flotilla Fallout: An Early Assessment

There’s a lot more information out now about the disastrous Israeli attack on the flotilla that was heading to Gaza last weekend. That doesn’t necessarily mean more clarity about what actually happened, but there’s enough to start assessing at least some of the impact.

There aren’t a lot of winners in this affair. Facts tend to be one of the first casualties in these things, and such has been the case again. We can start with that.

Israel’s claim that she’s entitled to take this action is disingenuous at best. There simply is no legal basis for taking an action such as this one in international waters, far from Israel’s zone of sovereignty. The idea that a civilian ship intending to run a blockade (one which itself has no basis in law, despite claims to the contrary) can be boarded in international waters before attempting such a run is simply absurd. Boarding civilian ships in international waters by armed commandoes invites the use of force, and the notion that such commandoes were “victims” of a “lynching” simply turns reality on its head.

Israel is also talking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, Israel claims that they needed to board these ships in force, with an elite commando unit, because they feared they might be carrying weapons to Hamas, particularly due to the involvement of “terrorist supporters.” On the other, they say they were unprepared for significant resistance and were expecting non-violent tactics. You can’t have it both ways.

There is a lot of wailing to the effect that the real purpose of these ships was to run the blockade of Gaza and make a media splash, not primarily to deliver the goods they brought.

Well, yes. That’s not a secret, and no one is claiming otherwise.

MJ Rosenberg puts it very well: “Of course the goal of the flotilla was to break the blockade.  Of course Martin Luther King provoked the civil authorities of the South to break segregation.  Of course the Solidarity movement used workers’ rights as a pretext to break Soviet-imposed Communism.”

But the facts are not the only losers here. Continue reading

On non-violence and the Free Gaza flotilla

With many more videos out now since I posted yesterday about the disastrous attack by the IDF on the Free Gaza flotilla, it becomes apparent that I need to address my characterization of the Free Gaza Movement as “non-violent.”

It is obvious that many on board the Mavi Marmara could certainly not be described so. Even granting the claims of some of the group leaders that these videos captured scenes that occurred after other activists had been injured or even killed (and that is not proven at this point) it’s clear that some in the group were quite ready to use violent tactics before exhausting non-violent options.

The Free Gaza Movement itself is not the sum total of the people on the flotilla. As I said, I know this group well and am convinced of their commitment to non-violence, whether that commitment comes from principles or tactical decisions. I suspect it’s both in some measure, but in any case it’s real.

Such is not true of the Turkish humanitarian aid group, IHH, which worked in partnership with the FGM.

I’m not familiar enough with IHH to say how deep its connection may or may not be to the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, both of which have been said to have ties to IHH, something not proven, though their support of Hamas politically (not in terms of violence) has been known for some time. They don’t seem to be on the same sort of page regarding non-violent opposition as the FGM.

Having said that, and adding that the violence by the demonstrators was obviously foolhardy and wrong, we must continue to focus on the much more serious question of Israeli commandoes boarding a ship in international waters.

Even from the point of view of Israel’s military planners, is it reasonable to take such an action and expect no resistance?  Does not the use of such tactics, in fact, invite a fight?  Such an action, in international waters, does indeed open up the soldiers taking the action, when there was no provocation or illegal action at all by the ship in question, to attack in self-defense. There are clearly many circumstances here that continue to bear investigation.

And, indeed we still have the fundamental question I raised yesterday—are we to seriously believe that the flotilla organizers, or some segment of them, were prepared to sacrifice their lives just to make Israel look bad? Seems kind of silly, especially when the likes of Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Ayalon do that job so very well already.

None of this mitigates the fact that Israel took action against civilians, whose express purpose, as acknowledged by Israel as well, was to bring humanitarian supplies to the people of Gaza. The result was multiple deaths and injuries. It was a crime of the highest order.