Sunday, December 24, 2006

Return of the ‘American’ Jedi

Dr. Khaled Batarfi,
The Israeli lobby in America is under pressure these days. It seems they crossed so many red lines that some hot-blooded Americans felt obliged to protest.
The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner, former US President Jimmy Carter, is not alone with his recent book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” and LA Times and Guardian article, “How I See Palestine.” A recent Harvard study entitled “The Israel Lobby” by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt details the ways of the lobby and its victims. Tellingly, they later joined the victim list. There are similar studies and books exposing the lobby, like “They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby” by 22-year veteran Congressman Paul Findley whose stand cost him dearly, and “Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment” by American-Jewish insider, J. J. Goldberg.
Some still think this is a lobby like any. An American friend argued that the tobacco and gun lobbies are among the strongest in the US. They use similar aggressive methods to advance their agenda and influence decision makers in Congress and the Administration — what is the difference? I explained that these groups are working on an all-American platform, claiming to represent and defend the interests of the American public and businesses. In the Israeli lobby case, it is Americans for Israel. They fight and pressure not for the good of the American nation, but for that of a foreign country. They even dare to say it loud and clear, like former House Majority Leader Dick Armey who pronounced in September 2002: “My No. 1 priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.” (Not America)!
This Christian Zionist congressman and chief author of the Republican Contract with America, who called in May 2004 for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, is not alone. According to the Harvard study, the lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Tom DeLay, former majority leader in the House of Representatives and Trent Lott, Senate minority leader. All of whom believe Israel’s rebirth is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God’s will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters. Other Jewish senators and congressmen work to ensure that US foreign policy supports Israel’s interests.
You can’t argue with success. For decades, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history.
According to the Harvard study, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War II, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the US foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a budget surplus and a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.
Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s agenda. The US consistently supported the Israeli position in every peace negotiation. An American participant at Camp David in 2000 later said: “Far too often, we Israel’s lawyer.” Finally, the Bush Administration’s ambition to transform the Middle East is at least partly aimed at improving Israel’s strategic situation.
Israel knows it could rely on the lobby and its friends in the American power structure. They never fail it even if it means sacrificing their own country’s best interests. Whatever Israel wants Israel gets.
That is why Israeli former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Oct. 3, 2001 said to Shimon Peres, as reported on Kol Yisrael radio, “Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that...I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.”
I wonder what type of Americans know this and accept it. I am pretty sure it is not the American public.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Carter’s Book: The Lobby Strikes Back

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

I have been asking the same questions President Jimmy Carter raises in his new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” and LA Times article “How I See Palestine,” but I stood no chance of convincing most Americans for the simple reason of being an Arab.

During my graduate studies in the US, I noted how difficult it was for any, even in a university sanctuary, to debate, let alone criticize, Israel. It is suicidal, I was told, for politicians, writers, journalists, professors and even students, to ask the wrong questions about Almighty Israel. You may deny the existence of God, if you wish, but you will be crucified if you doubt the right of Israel to exist or the holy “pay me for life” arrangement with the budget-surplus state. Freedom of speech does have its limitations. Like any mafia, the Israeli lobby knows how to muscle and reward. They buy whoever is for sale and character assassinate anyone whose soul isn’t available. They think and operate with their bucks and guns. And they have plenty of both.

Please, don’t take my word for it; don’t even take the words of the Harvard study, “The Israeli Lobby,” or the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Maybe we are all conspiring against poor Israel and its poorer lobby. Let’s listen here to the words of a great American president who happened to be a world class peacemaker, observer and advocate. He is also the godfather of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords, the first Arab-Israeli peace agreement. And if his words are not enough, I’ll bring you, next week, powerful Israeli voices, including those of a former president and prime minister.

In the LA Times article, Carter reveals: “The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize policies of the Israeli government is due to the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.

On the ways of the lobby, he discloses the open-secret unknown only to the American public: “It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians.”

Of the American “free” press compliance with the lobby, he complains: “What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land. Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that ‘he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.’”

The myth of the freedom of information, research and debate in academia is also visited by Carter. “My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors.”

So what is so wrong about the book that put the lobby on fire? According to its author, “the book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine’s citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine, to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers.”

Carter goes on to denounce the treatment of Palestinians, “In many ways, this is more oppressive than what blacks lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the casualties on both sides.

He concludes, “The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.”


Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report, Amen!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

The most important recommendations the Iraq Study Group (ISG) came up with were exactly what we, US friends in the region, were calling for since the start of the disastrous invasion-occupation of Iraq: Solve the Arab-Israeli issue, cooperate with Iraq’s neighbors, and bring all Iraqi parties to the table — your enemies included. My last article reached those conclusions.

Many American readers felt I was an Arab extremist. Now, their own officials and senators, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, are in agreement. Interestingly, the pro-Israel neoconservatives and evangelicals are accusing the Baker-Hamilton group of weakness and appeasement — the opposite of extremism and wickedness charges against me.

It is understandable, though, that the “Israeli more than Israel” are nuts about uncovering the Israeli link to the Iraqi debacle. It was much easier and safer for their Zionist deity when the blame was squarely on the savage side — the extremist Arabs and Muslims.

As they portray it, the Crusaders, on God’s orders, were only spreading the light of democracy, freedom and love! The champions of peace and prosperity were fighting the ghosts of darkness and forces of evil.

They had to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders as a small price to pay for defending superior values of a superior religion, culture and race. They had to burn the woods to save a tree. Now that they failed, it is entirely the others’ fault. That includes not only the long list of enemies, but also agents, allies and friends. The only exception, of course, is the one who dragged them there — Israel.

It is frustrating to hear the arguments of the ISG critics. They come strong, for example, against any contacts with the so-called evil regimes — Syria, Iran and Hamas. That is amazing coming from a country that kept a presidential hotline with the worst of its enemies, the Soviet Union, for forty chilling years.

Such contacts saved America and the world from nuclear annihilation more than once, the most famous being the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The lesson here was, you lose nothing by talking to your enemies, but you may lose everything by not doing so.

You and your enemies have shared interests. If you start on them, you build a working relationship that could help your negotiation about contrasting interests. In the case of Iraq, all, except Israel and the warlords, have the same interests — peace and stability. This is a good start.

Then there are valid concerns and legitimate interests you should appreciate. You cannot ride over to people’s backyard promising loud and clear: I’m going to change your world forever. Iraq first, Syria and Iran next, then the rest of the Arab world, and expect all to wait in the slaughter line peacefully. You cannot let yourself be led by Zionists, spilling rivers of blood, yours included, to make the world a better place for Israel, and expect Arabs and Muslims to be cooperative. You cannot divide a united nation, taking sides, and letting one party prevail over the other, getting away with theft and murder, then blame the oppressed losers for fighting back.

More importantly, you cannot set a standard that can only apply to you. If you break the universally agreed rules you can’t blame the others for charting their own. In Iraq, you shocked and awed the whole population as a proudly announced strategy. You shot and bombed on suspicion and collectively punished, collaterally damaged your enemies.

Why, then, do you expect the reaction to be any different? In your treatment of prisoners of war, you killed and tortured, and when exposed, lightly punished the perpetrators and let their superiors get away untouched. In doing so, you set an example that endangers your own as the insurgents felt justified in doing the same to their hostages.

Appreciating your opponents’ valid concerns and showing your readiness to accommodate their legitimate interests will help win their confidence and cooperation. It is not a zero-sum, win or lose game. There are enough gains for all from a comprehensive peaceful solution for the region’s staggering conflicts — including Israel. That is what the Iraq Study Group found, and that is what we were advocating for ages.

Simply put, you cannot pick and choose what to fix in a falling roof. Every column has to be raised, every window has to be fixed, and every weak link and leak has to be addressed. Solving the root of all troubles, the Arab-Israeli conflict as the group recommended, is a must.

Since America, with the powerful Israeli lobby in control of its Mideast policies, cannot play the honest broker, the way out is what the Baker-Hamilton report advised: An international conference that includes every stake holder in the region plus Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Europeans and the United Nations. The same goes for Iraq and Iran — the multinational, multilateral approach is the one and only way to go.
From what I hear, the new Congress is all for the ISG recommendations. The question is, will this administration buy in? Or is it too invested in its arrogant policies that we have to endure the hell waiting until a new administration takes over? Only Cheney can tell!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Restoring Credibility, America!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

My American host was genuinely puzzled. Why was it wrong to liberate Iraq from an oppressive regime, introduce democracy to a cave-age region and rid it of weapons of mass destruction? He also wants to know where America went wrong, and how to rectify that, make friends with the Muslim world and get out safely from Iraq.
I was on a two-month training program, The Emerging Leaders Fellowship, sponsored by the US State Department in the Northwestern University Media Management Center and the Seattle Times.
Questions on these lines were asked in many media and academic circles by people concerned about their country’s dire standing in the world, and the Iraq quagmire.
I start by asking them to read the Harvard research paper, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Part of the study explains how the Iraq invasion was drummed up by Likud allies in the US government, Congress, media and think tanks against basic American interests. Christian Zionist senators and congressmen, like majority leader Tom Delay and Dick Armey who proclaimed that protection of Israel is their highest priority and God meant for Israel to exist and expand, went out of their way to push the White House into this war.
Not even oil, arms and construction business were higher in their agenda.
If getting rid of dictatorships in the world was the real motivation, the closer-to-home Castro regime should have been first. Communist Cuba has been a constant pain and challenge to the US for half a century. Two generations of victims are now American citizens and residents.
Then, there is North Korea — an absolute Stalinist state that never hid its nuclear ambitions. To achieve such aspirations, hundred of thousands of citizens died of malnutrition. It is a present and clear danger to its neighbors who are US allies and a challenge to Washington’s strategic interests.
Instead, America took on the more difficult, less urgent task of overthrowing the Iraqi government. Why?
The “Clean Break” plan to invade Iraq was actually drawn by neoconservatives in 1996 and presented to the then Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a Likud hard-liner, who thought it was too extreme. The same plan was later presented to President Clinton, then to his successor Bush and his deputy, Cheney. All turned it down. After 9/11, the campaign was renewed and intensified by pro-Israel groups. This time the plan was endorsed. To sell it to the American public and the world, pretexts and evidences, like Iraq’s link to Al-Qaeda and its weapons of mass destruction, were manufactured.
Knowing why America really went to war, which was obvious to all, except the American people, explains why recently America and Israel were globally voted the most dangerous nations threatening world peace and stability, ahead of North Korea and Iran.
The Israeli link also explains the unprecedented animosity the US built up in the Arab and Muslim world. Understanding this background will help find a lasting, comprehensive and peaceful solution for the region and a safe and easy way out for America.
Getting into a mess is easier than getting out. America went to the war with an attitude. Its leadership felt they know all they needed to know, depending on Israel’s intelligence with its American supporters and Iraqi agents. No one else, including Arab allies and internal opposition in CIA and State Department, were given a fair hearing. All plans were focused on winning the war, not the peace. They counted every bullet and bomb up to the day of victory, but not much attention to details for the day after.
Ignorance combined with arrogance is an explosive mix. Leaders who didn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shiite, and have never fought a war, assumed they knew better than seasoned political and military experts. Even when it was obvious the drive was slipping in the wrong direction, they “stayed the course” rather than admit mistakes.
To change this perception of being an Israeli hunting dog, America needs to declare its independence from Israel. It is easier to talk business with those who care only about their own interests, and exclusively represent their own country. Double loyalty is confusing.
Second, you need fresh leaders who can credibly say: I had nothing to do with this! Recycling the same discredited faces makes it much harder for people to believe their sincerity.
Finally, you need to humbly and sincerely apologize to your victims, ignored allies and people whom you turned enemies.
Then you should invite all, foes and friends, to the table; sell your plans; ask for help and support; and make sure they believe you. People recognize their interests when they see them.
Governments, groups and individuals will cooperate if your offerings solve their problems, allay their fears, relieve their pain and/or give them better options. It is basic human nature. And humanity is what has been missing in this game.