Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Obama, Jews, & The Promised Land

After the wall came down, I visited Berlin. During a taxi tour of East Berlin, the German driver pointed out to me the site for the new US embassy. He then added with a thin smile: “It will be adjacent to the proposed Holocaust Memorial”. Years later the memorial has been built; the US Embassy sits on its north side.

This close proximity of the two installations may be a metaphor for US/Israel relations. Over the years these links have become more entangled; more fused. Whether this situation projects US National Security interests or damages them, appears under review in the Obama Administration.

American Jews voted loyally for Obama. Members donated generously to his campaign. Their celebrities in the entertainment world spoke at political rallies. Jewish supporters and gentiles such as the Clintons, expended a major effort for Obama, mainly focused in Florida.

About the only group of Jews opposed to Obama were the Neocons led by Senator Lieberman who wanted the war in Iraq to continue with US troops stationed there permanently. Both Bomb Bomb McCain and Giuliani also had principal Jewish American national security advisors. These Neocon advisors advocated permanent war. As a result, some American and Israeli Jews argue smugly that they have a serious political influence in both parties. Based on the evidence, who can challenge this conclusion?

Jews represent 1.7% of the US population of which 78% voted for Obama. That was up from 60% that voted for Kerry four years previously. Despite this high percentage that vote Democratic, they are a diverse group – secular and non-secular and from different tribes, some asiatic or north African or European. Intermarriage with non jews dilutes their homogeneity, but nearly all fervently unite on the survival of Israel as a nation.

This fixation brings into question their loyalty, especially those Jews who have dual citizenship. Are they American Israelis or Israeli Americans? The foreign policy goals of both countries are different and in some cases clash.

Evidence of this is apparent in Israeli conduct over the years. In 1967 the Israelis repeatedly attacked an unarmed US Navy research ship the USS Liberty in international waters near Israel. Rockets, bombs and napalm hit the ship launched from Israeli aircraft; Israeli torpedo boats hit the ship from the sea. Thirty four US sailors were killed and 171 were wounded. Israel paid about 7 million to compensate their families. This attack remains as the only serous maritime incident that was never investigated by Congress.

One explanation that dramatizes the effort of American Jews to influence policy is an example provided by John Gunther Dean a former American Ambassador to Lebanon, Denmark, India and Thailand. J. G. Dean is a Jew born in Germany who had relatives murdered by the Nazis; he became a US citizen and rose quickly in the US State Department. In his memoirs, DANGER ZONE, he explains how he was besieged by American Jewish congressman, lobbyists and Israeli operatives to influence policies favorable to Israel. Their argument centered on the Zionist appeal for unity and loyalty to the Jewish tribes. Dean is convinced he was a target for assassination.

Israel engages in massive espionage operations against the US. For its extent and details Google ISRAELI SPYS USA. The latest outrageous cover up was the recent dropping of espionage charges against two Jewish American members of AIPAC, a major Jewish lobby in USA. We know Jewish American Congresswoman Harmon was involved, pressuring the US Justice Department.

An interesting detail that came out was that Condoleezza was to be involved by defense lawyers; that they intended to call her to the stand, because she used APAC to communicate directly with Israel. Why would she circumvent the State Department’s discreet backchannel communication to Israel is unknown. One reason is that there is no US documentation of the communication. This should be investigated as it casts continued suspicion on the affair. But we know the US Congress does not investigate Israel.

Another wing of the Israeli support system in America is the so-called Zionist Christian Evangelists. These Americans have established links with Israel investing in religious facilities in Israel. This sect is fixated by the final battle between the forces of good and evil at Armageddon

I witnessed a preacher on TV from the group. He wore a blue suit, had the slick appearance of a reborn Vincent Price and spoke from Israel. He appealed for donations by offering a silver-plated shofar (Hebrew ceremonial rams horn pipe blown at Jewish rituals) for 1,000 dollar contributions. Guess that is better than gold-plated circumcision instruments. While many dismiss the group as another pack of religious crackpots, Israel does not. On the same TV show the freshly minted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu personally thanked the zealots for their support.

Obama has been inclusive with American Jews. In his White house staff, Axelrod is his long-time friend and closest political advisor. Emanuel is the most powerful as his chief of staff. The President has honored Hebrew traditions with a Seder at the White House. In a few weeks he plans to visit a Holocaust site near Buchenwald.

President Obama became involved in the Arab/Israeli conflict while he was still in his transition period, before his inauguration. Israel was bombing Gaza and striking on the ground in retaliation for rocket attacks from Gaza. By any civilized standard, it was an over reaction by the Israelis. GW Bush, as he did in the most recent bombing of Lebanon, stood by and blocked any International ceasefire.

Uncertain how he did it, but Obama, though not yet president, is given credit for the ceasefire. By that time, 1400 Arabs were dead, many more wounded and the city destroyed. More than 800 of the Arabs killed were women and children while Israelis lost less than six people; it was a slaughter not a victory. Israelis used mainly US military equipment and ordnance in the operations.

After the election of Obama, a left winger, the Israelis elected right winger Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister. Bibi had been out of power for about 10 years; he has an aggressive reputation of shoot first and ask questions later. He and his Likud party are kindred souls of the US Neocons. So there is an awkward historical irony of an American left-wing president having to do business with an Israeli right-wing leader

Netanyahu and Obama's face-to-face meeting occurred in Washington a few weeks ago. There was a clash of policies between the two countries. Previously, Obama had sent his CIA Director, Panetta, to Israel to warn them not to be stupid and bomb Iran.

There are sharp differences between Bibi and Obama other than bombing Iran, i.e.: division of Jerusalem, return of Lebanese land, right of Arabs to return to their land, Golan heights, two-state solution, unrestricted travel of Arabs on their lands and halting settlements on Arab lands. Obama has already drawn a line in the sand on the settlement issue: told them to stop and the Israelis have refused. Some of the Israeli leadership called Obama a pharoah over this issue.(FYI, last time a big time American politician was called a pharoah was the legendary mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley; Obama may be flattered and accept the intended insult, smiling graciously.)

Obama has leverage on Israel. First, Israel without the US cannot survive long term. The US provides diplomatic support and an estimated 4 billion in aid plus loan guarantees for building construction. With much of the aid Israel buys weapons from the US – so some money is recycled to the US for military ordnance and manufactured military equipment. Whether Obama has the political courage to use his leverage is another question, which will soon be determined.

As far as Israel being the only Democracy in the area... How can a theocratic state with officially one religion be democratic? Ask an Arab muslim living under Israeli law about that. You will get another take.

At one time one could argue that Israel was strategically important to the US. With the existence of the USSR and its wars of national liberation, the US support was an acceptable counterpoise. With the end of the Soviet threat, Israel's strategic importance has diminished. If the US needs to stage from the Middle East, there is always Kuwait even if the US presence is curtailed in Iraq. Every time an Israeli kills an Arab with a US weapon, the US pays a price in its ability to influence the situation; it makes more enemies for America in the Islamic world. Blank check support of Israel by the US now is out of habit, not national security interest.

Though the longitude and the latitude are wrong according to Hebrew prophets, the US is their Promised Land. The Jews tried to find it historically in Spain, Germany, Poland and Central Asia; their flourishing communities were rejected – in most cases in a bloody fashion. The beleaguered state of Israel is a warrior state bound to perish unless its leadership finds another path. Until then, the US will continued to be its Promised Land, only if as a minority it does not over reach and rile the majority. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret

Photograph: Poster Wake Up America by James Montgomery Flagg


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