Talk of Moving UK’s Embassy in Israel

As things stand, the EU prohibition on relocating embassies to Jerusalem will fall on Nov. 1, writes Craig Murray.

By Craig Murray
CraigMurray.org.uk

Following U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers in London last week, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has been asked to speed up contingency planning for the U.K. to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, with an eye to an “early announcement” post Brexit.

The U.K. is currently bound by an EU common foreign policy position not to follow the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. As things stand, that prohibition will fall on Nov. 1. FCO officials had previously been asked to produce a contingency plan, but this involved the construction of a £14 million new embassy and a four-year timescale. They have now been asked to go back and look at a quick fix involving moving the ambassador and immediate staff to Jerusalem and renaming the consulate already there as the embassy. This could be speedily announced, and then implemented in about a year.

Johnson heads the most radically pro-Israel cabinet in U.K. history and the symbolic gesture of rejection of Palestinian rights is naturally appealing to his major ministers: Home Secretary

Priti Patel, Chancellor Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. They also see three other political benefits.

Three Benefits Seen

Firstly, they anticipate that Labour opposition to the move can be used to yet again raise accusations of “anti-Semitism” against Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader.

Secondly, it provides good “red meat” to Brexiteer support in marking a clear and, they believe, popular break from EU foreign policy, at no economic cost.

Thirdly, it seals the special link between the Trump and Johnson administrations and sets the U.K. apart from other NATO allies.

Bolton also discussed the possibility of U.K. support for Israeli annexation of areas of the West Bank to “solve” the illegality of Israeli settlements on occupied territory. My FCO sources believe this is going to be much more difficult politically for the cabinet to agree than simply moving the embassy, due to lack of support on their own backbenches.

This is an insight into the future of British foreign policy if the Johnson government, and the U.K., both survive. In the massive defeat of the U.K. at the UN General Assembly two months ago over the illegal occupation of the Chagos Islands, the U.K. was in a voting bloc with only the U.S., Israel, Australia, Hungary and the Maldives, against the rest of the world. The Maldives had a particular maritime interest there, but the leadership of the others – Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Scott Morrison, Benjamin Netanyahu and now Boris Johnson – constitute a distinct and extreme right-wing bloc. These are very worrying times indeed.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.

This article is from the author’s blog site,  CraigMurray.org.uk.

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THE ANGRY ARAB: Armies & Politics in the Middle East

As`ad AbuKhalil reviews Middle East rulers’ reasons for distrusting their own militaries.   

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

A close association between armies and politics has pertained in the Middle East for a long while. Army leaders have led many Arab countries in contemporary times. In Israel, prime ministers are often drawn from the ranks of former generals or commanders. Shimon Peres, for instance, was a director-general of the Israeli Defense Ministry and he played a key role in Israeli acquisition of nuclear weapons through devious and deceptive means that violated international laws and the laws of many countries, including the U.S.

In Israel, the military has been romanticized and glorified and Israeli chiefs-of-staff are often expected to run for high office as soon as they retire from the military.  The public in Israel has always sought leaders who can promise — and deliver — mass violence on the Arab population and the ability to impose Israeli will by force.  Israeli top generals exemplified the doctrine of mass violence which served as one of the founding elements of state Zionism.  

The Israeli war crimes against the native Palestinian population have created a special place for Israeli military commanders, and has in fact militarized the entire Israeli society.  This militarization is seen as heroic here in the U.S. (even liberals swoon when Amos Oz would talk about his role in various Israeli wars), and for Arabs it has made it unfortunately difficult to distinguish between military and civilian targets in Israel, where all adults are expected to serve in the army (non-Druze Arabs are not permitted except in some cases while students of Jewish religious seminaries are exempted from service). 

The entry of Arab armies into Arab politics began in earnest after the occupation of Palestine in 1948.  Armies launched coups in Egypt, Syria and Iraq (three in Syria in one year alone in 1949, two of which were probably engineered by U.S. intelligence) and often in the name of helping the Palestinians return to their homeland.  [For more on this, see Patrick Seale’s “The Struggle for Syria,” and Hugh Wilford’s “America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Making of the Modern Middle East.”]

‘Palestine’ in Coup Lingo

Coups in Sudan, Libya, and Yemen also invoked the name of Palestine, as did coups that failed, as the Al-Watha’iq Al-Arabiyyah documentary anthology for 1969 and 1970 details. “Palestine” became a word used for political rationalization and legitimization by seekers of political power. All new regimes had to offer a promise or a vague plan for the liberation of Palestine. Syrian President Amin Hafiz, in office during the 1960s, even announced that he was willing to liberate Palestine in a matter of hours. 

In the 1950s and 1960s (up until the devastating 1967 defeat), Arabs were made to expect that a battle could erupt any minute now and that it will be the final blow which will bring the Zionist state down. But the 1967 defeat dashed the hopes of the people, and it erased the prestige that Arab people have bestowed —rather unfairly — on Arab armies.  Military expenditure was justified in the name of liberating Palestine but the abysmal performances on the battle field exposed the militaries as either tools of corrupt regimes or as instruments of local repression, or often vehicles of Western political machinations and intrigue. 

The military has been tainted in Arab politics and rulers don’t trust the military anymore.  In the Gulf, the military is an important element of political power but the regimes don’t trust them in the hands of strangers, i.e. commoners.  Relatives (usually brothers or half-brothers) of the rulers run the military and intelligence apparatuses. Rulers’ utmost care towards the military apparatus has led them to attain military degrees to project an image of military expertise.  This started with King Husayn of Jordan, who attended the U.K.’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. After him, most Gulf regimes sent sons and nephews of the rulers to Sandhurst. (Arab royals don’t undergo the regular military degree-issuing program, but special training is arranged for them and presumably for large sums of royal donations). 

In Arab republican regimes such as Iraq and Syria, the rulers have also assigned members of the family to key military and intelligence assignments. This was the case under Saddam in Iraq and also under Hafidh Al-Asad, the former president of Syria. It may have been reduced under Bashar, Syria’s current ruler,  but only due to the death of his brother-in-law. And Bashar’s brother, Maher, still commands The Fourth Armored Division.

Egypt’s Road to Revolt

Hazem Qandil, in his excellent recent book, “Soldiers, Spies, and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt,” sheds new light on the nature of the relationship between the ruler and the military.  He maintains that Gamal Abdel Nasser lost all his control over the Egyptian army as soon as `Abdul-Hakim `Amer was put in charge after the 1952 revolution. Amer would continue to exercise supreme control over the armed forces until the devastating 1967 defeat, which was largely of his own making.  Nasser took control of the army in 1967 until his death in 1970.  During that time, Nasser restructured the army, professionalized it and distanced it from political affairs by drastically reducing the number of former military people in the Egyptian cabinet.

After Nasser’s death, Anwar Sadat isolated the army and assigned the police and the Ministry of Interior key roles in government and in imposing internal repression.  Sadat feared that the army would become too powerful and would rival his authority, as it had done under Nasser.  Ever since, the Egyptian army has become weak politically (until recently) and entirely subservient to the political leadership.  During and after the 1973 war Sadat made sure to taint the reputation of every war hero out of fear of political competition.  Sadat turned the defeat of 1973 into a victory (as did the Syrian regime) and took full credit for the ostensible victory. 

Husni Mubarak followed in the footsteps of Sadat, and both relied on the U.S. to provide all the instruments and equipment of repression, while the Egyptian army was permitted to obtain only those weapons that are licensed by the Israeli lobby in D.C.  [See Edward Tivnan here on AIPAC approving and disapproving of sales.]  Only once did Mubarak feel threatened by an Egyptian commander-in-chief (and defense minister), `Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah, who was dismissed from his post in 1989 when his aura started to eclipse that of the Egyptian president.

But the Arab armies may, in some cases, be independent in their interests from those of the rulers.  The recent uprisings in Algeria and Sudan demonstrated that the army may act against a ruler if it feels that his preservation in power is posing a threat to the interests of the military-intelligence apparatus. 

Let us also remember that the military-intelligence apparatus in the region is almost entirely beholden to the U.S., which funds, trains and equips almost all Middle East militaries (except Syria and Iran) in the name of fighting “terrorism” but also for purposes of internal repression, which suits U.S. interests.  When Egyptian masses stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo in 2011 after the eruption of the popular uprising, Israeli Mossad agents (referred to as “security staff” by some  press) were stuck inside the building. Under U.S. and Israeli pressure, Egyptian troops at the embassy were deployed to save them. The U.S. invests in regimes and not in individuals — notwithstanding the high praise U.S. officials often give to Middle East despots.

Armies in the Middle East continue to wield great influence and political power because the U.S. regional hegemony schemes require the utilization of loyal local troops who can assist the U.S. in its various wars and military interventions.  The militaries were the place from which Arab leaders emerged, and now they are mere tools in the hands of the leaders in the Gulf, and they are sometimes more powerful than the leader in republican regimes. This gave Mohammad Morsi’s presidential election its pyrrhic quality. Had he moved quickly to purge the top ranks of the Egyptian military, the U.S. would have stopped him. But doing so was the only way he might still have been president today.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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For Cliff May, War Pays

About the only thing the Defense of Democracies’ founder does not love about war is fighting it himself, writes Daniel McAdams.

By Daniel McAdams
Ron Paul Institute

To say that Clifford May, founder of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,  loves war would be an understatement. He loves almost everything about war and he thinks the U.S. should be in a lot more of them. He thinks that the U.S. should never go home, should never withdraw troops, should forever be searching for “bad guys” to fight, lest they come find us and fight us here. Because the rest of the world is exclusively focused on how to invade and destroy the United States.

He likes to invoke Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and Plato to make his case for endless wars. Neocons love to do that because it makes them sound erudite and grounded in history — when in fact they are neither.

About the only thing Clifford May does not love about war is fighting it himself.

While others of May’s generation were being blown to bits in that lost cause called “Vietnam,” May was drinking brewskis at Sarah Lawrence College and then Columbia University. His experience of war consists of covering it as a pampered correspondent of the shining lights of the mainstream U.S.  media like Newsweek and The New York Times.

Not only does May disdain the idea of soiling his dainty hands with the real blood and guts of war, he actually disdains those unlucky young Americans who find themselves churned up in the endless killing machine called “U.S.  empire.” 

In a recent Washington Times editorial, tellingly titled, “Why endless wars can’t be ended,” May argues that members of the U.S.  military should be constantly in battle. Not a moment’s rest from the killing and being killed. After all…“the men and women volunteering to serve in America’s armed forces are not doing so in order to hang around the house drinking brewskies.”

May’s is a rare look into the utter contempt the neoconservatives feel for members of the United States military. Veteran suicides are an epidemic in the United States and are in fact the second leading cause of death in the U.S. military. Veterans make up 18 percent of all U.S.  suicides while representing only 8.5 percent of the population.

Why are veterans killing themselves at a rate of 20 per day? A recent study found that the risk of military suicide rises with rapidly repeating deployments — just the kind of constant warfare that Cliff May calls for in his Washington Times article this week.

After all, what the hell else would these kids be doing if they weren’t driving themselves to suicide from endless wars… “hanging around the house drinking brewskis?” Right, Cliff?

In The Washington Times piece, May argues passionately against President Donald Trump’s stated goal of removing U.S.  troops from their positions occupying parts of Syria. U.S.  troops in Syria are, in his telling, “both preventing a revival of the Islamic State, and helping contain the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

This above sentence is key to understanding May’s constant push for more U.S.  involvement in the Middle East. Hint: It’s not really about America. 

May’s Foundation for the Defense of Democracies is lavishly funded by single-issue billionaires who believe they are helping Israel by sending U.S.  troops to the Middle East to constantly provoke and kill those they believe are Israel’s enemies. Thus far it has not brought peace any closer to either Israel or its rivals in the region. In fact, the opposite. But the money keeps flowing so May keeps blowing. And American troops (along with millions of innocents in the target countries) keep on dying.

Just as the neocons like it.

Daniel McAdams is executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

This article is from the Ron Paul Institute.

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A Letter to President Trump

“First, I would advise you against using the words ‘win’ and ‘winning’ to describe war, especially from a U.S. perspective,” begins Habib Ahmadzadeh.

By Habib Ahmadzadeh
Mint Press News

Dear President Trump,

In a recent Tweet, you claimed that “Iranians never won a war, but never lost a negotiation.” As a world citizen and a veteran of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, I have firsthand experience with the bitterness of war, and I have a few suggestions and responses for you. 

First, I would advise you against using the words “win” and “winning” to describe war, especially from a U.S. perspective. American history is filled with bitter experiences of losing wars. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and even the engagement in Yemen — none of these horrifying interventions has ever reached its goals. 

You should recognize that the first step in any combat is understanding your adversary. As an experienced Iranian war veteran, I strongly suggest you study the culture and history of an old civilization such as Iran. Iranians, those you label as living in a “terrorist nation,” are proud that in the past 250 years we have never initiated a war. We are proud that we have never invaded, intruded and oppressed other nations, neither in our neighborhood nor even in response to our foes. 

Nonetheless, there is a delicacy in the sophisticated culture of Iran that separates us from you and your hawkish #Bteam — Bolton, Bin Salman and Bibi Netanyahu. The major difference is the view we each have toward war. For us, war is not an option; we never choose to go to war; we only respond to war. 

In 1915, during World War I, Rais Ali Delvary, a young man from a tiny village near the Persian Gulf, gathered a group together to defend the country from British invaders. They stopped the intruders who violated Iran’s neutrality during the war. Rais Ali’s slogan at the time is still applicable today. “We are in this war not to win over the invaders’ capital and assets; we are in this war to save our capital and assets from loss.” That is how we define losing and winning in a war. Rais Ali and his people won that war, as his disciples did almost a century later, and will do it again if they have to.

Mr. President, Iran has never initiated a war. Iran has never seized other nations’ resources to gain wealth and benefit for itself but Iran, of course, has and will vigorously defend its belongings, resources, life, and identity. Iran has done that throughout its four thousand years of history and will do it again if necessary. Rais Ali and his team did it in 1915. People in my generation did it in 1980-88 when the whole world stood behind Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain and helped him throughout those terrible eight years of war. We Iranians sacrificed everything to defend our nation. 

Under the world’s watch, Saddam Hussain dropped bombs and used chemical weapons on civilians. In the end, he was not able to seize even an inch of our homeland. Iranians became one body in defense of our homes and families. 

We lost hundreds of thousands of precious lives. To this day, Iranians, despite our differences, are all proud of the eight years we spent defending our country. Losing so many lives was a terrible tragedy and the nation still mourns the lives lost during those eight years. However, we stood firm and saved our homeland. Iran is still Iran; we did not lose an inch of terrain. 

Mr. President, in our lexicon, the one who starts a war is the only loser. The one who plans to steal the happiness, life, and wellbeing of others is the real loser.  

War is not our business, but negotiations and diplomacy are. War is not our purpose. Peace is our mission. Peace is our philosophy in life, and you are right, diplomacy is our art. 

Iran has proven its mastery in the art of diplomacy. Diplomacy, forbearance and patience are inclinations that cannot be achieved by billions of dollars of weapons. The United States’ allies in the region, including the Saudis’ Bin-Salman and Israel’s Bibi Netanhayu, can testify to that. They have spent many billions of dollars in arms sales but have not been able to dominate Iran.

Just be aware, Mr. President, that your friends on the #Bteam are pushing you into the same quagmire they created with Iraq. In desperation, they have now tied the hands of our master of diplomacy, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, by imposing sanctions on him. They should have learned their lesson by now — they might be able to ties the hands of our master chess players, but we will find other ways to move the pawns and horses. And a final word of advice: Don’t play checkers with the grandmasters of chess.

Sincerely,

Habib Ahmadzadeh

Habib Ahmadzadeh is an Iranian author, filmmaker and veteran who often uses his experience in the 1980-1988 Iran/Iraq war in his work.

This article appeared in Mint Press News.

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The Ongoing Dread in Gaza: So Many Names, So Many Lives

Activists in Chicago this month evoked the deadly trauma of Israeli aerial attacks, Kathy Kelly reports. 

By Kathy Kelly
The Progressive

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day, preparing for this talk” – Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian from the territory of Gaza.

Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian now living in the United States, grew up Gaza. In Chicago earlier this month, while addressing activists committed to breaking the siege of Gaza, he held up a stack of 31 papers. On each page were names of 1,254 Palestinians living in Gaza who had been killed in just one month of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” attacks five years ago.  

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day preparing for this talk,” he told the group. He described his dismay when, looking through the list of names, he recognized one of a young man from his small town.

“He was always friendly to me,” Abusalim said. “I remember how he would greet me on the way to the mosque. His family and friends loved him, respected him.”

Abusalim recalled the intensity of losing loved ones and homes; of seeing livelihoods and infrastructure destroyed by aerial attacks; of being unable to protect the most vulnerable. He said it often takes 10 years or more before Palestinian families traumatized by Israeli attacks can begin talking about what happened. Noting Israel’s major aerial attacks in 2009, 2013 and 2014, along with more recent attacks killing participants in the “Great March of Return,” he spoke of ongoing dread about what might befall Gaza’s children the next time an attack happens.

Three Days of Action 

Eighty people gathered to hear Abusalim and Retired Colonel Ann Wright, of US Boat to Gaza, as they helped launch the “Free Gaza Chicago River Flotilla,” three days of action that culminated on July 20 with a spirited demonstration by “kayactivists” and boaters, along with onshore protesters, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. Wright resigned from her post as a U.S. diplomat when the United States launched the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq. Having participated in four previous internationals flotillas aiming to defy Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza’s shoreline, Wright is devoting her energies preparing for a fifth in 2020.

Another organizer and member of U.S. Boat to Gaza, Elizabeth Murray, who like Wright formerly worked for the U.S. government, recalled being in a seminar sponsored by a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., when a panel member compared Israeli attacks against Palestinians with routine efforts to “mow the lawn.” She recounted hearing a light tittering as the D.C. audience members expressed amusement. But, Murray said, “Not a single person objected to the panelist’s remark.” This was in 2010, following Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,383 Palestinians, 333 of whom were children.

Abusalim’s colleague at the American Friends Service Committee, Jennifer Bing, had cautioned Chicago flotilla planners to carefully consider the tone of their actions. A colorful and lively event during a busy weekend morning along Chicago’s popular riverfront could be exciting and, yes, fun.

But Palestinians in Gaza cope with constant tension, she noted. Denied freedom of movement, they live in the world’s largest open-air prison, under conditions the United Nations has predicted will render their land uninhabitable by 2020. Households get four-to-six hours of electricity per day. According to UNICEF, “sewage treatment plants can’t operate fully and the equivalent of forty-three Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw or partly treated sewage is pumped into the sea every day.”

Forms of Solidarity

Facing cruel human rights violations on a daily basis, the organizers urge solidarity in the form of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. U.S. residents bear particular responsibility for Israel’s military attacks against civilians, they note, as the United States has supplied Israel with billions of dollars for military buildup.

U.S. companies profit hugely from selling weapons to Israel. For example, Boeing, with headquarters in Chicago, sells Israel Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems and Small Diameter Bombs that deliver Dense Inert Metal Explosive munitions. All of these weapons have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas.

During the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, I was in Rafah, Gaza, listening to children explaining the difference between explosions caused by F-16 fighter jets dropping 500-pound bombs and Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles. 

Israel continues using those weapons, and Israeli purchases fatten Boeing’s financial portfolios.

Remembering Those Killed

On July 19, young Palestinians outside of the Israeli consulate read aloud the names of people who had, five years ago, been killed in Gaza. We listened solemnly and then proceeded to Boeing’s Chicago headquarters, again listening as youngsters read more names, punctuated by a solemn gong after each victim was remembered. Ultimately, 2,104 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of whom were civilians, including 495 children, were killed during the seven-week attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

During the Free Gaza Chicago River flotilla on July 20, Husam Marajda, from the Arab American Action Network, sat in a small boat next to his grandfather, who was visiting from Palestine. His chant, “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!” echoed from the water to the shore. Banners were dropped from bridges above, the largest reading, “Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians.”

Kayakers wore red T-shirts announcing the “Gaza Unlocked” campaign and managed to display flags, connected by string, spelling out “Free Gaza.” Passengers on other boats flashed encouraging peace signs and thumbs up signals. Those processing along the shore line, carrying banners and signs, walked the entirety of our planned route before a sergeant from the Chicago Police Department arrived to say we needed a permit.

We can’t permit ourselves to remain silent. Following the energetic flotilla activity, I sat with several friends in a quiet spot. “So many names,” said one friend, thinking of the list Abusalim had held up. “So many lives,” said another.    

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

A version of this article was published July 23rd at The Progressive.  

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PEPE ESCOBAR: US and Iran Stuck on Negotiation Ground Zero

Donald Trump says he’s ‘okay either way’, whether there’s war with Iran and Tehran seems to be okay  with that too, warns Pepe Escobar.

By Pepe Escobar
in Paris
Special to Consortium News

All bets are off in the geopolitical insanity stakes when we have the President of the United States (POTUS) glibly announcing he could launch a nuclear first strike to end the war in Afghanistan and wipe it “off the face of the earth” in one week. But he’d rather not, so he doesn’t have to kill 10 million people.

Apart from the fact that not even a nuclear strike would subdue the legendary fighting spirit of Afghan Pashtuns, the same warped logic – ordering a nuclear first strike as one orders a cheeseburger – could apply to Iran instead of Afghanistan.

Trump once again flip-flopped by declaring that the prospect of a potential war in the Persian Gulf “could go either way, and I’m OK either way it goes,” much to the delight of Beltway-related psychopaths who peddle the notion that Iran is begging to be bombed.

No wonder the whole Global South – not to mention the Russia-China strategic partnership – simply cannot trust anything coming from Trump’s mouth or tweets, a non-stop firefight deployed as intimidation tactics.

At least Trump’s impotence facing such a determined adversary as Iran is now clear: “It’s getting harder for me to want to make a deal with Iran.” What remains are empty clichés, such as Iran “behaving very badly” and “the number one state of terror in the world” – the marching order mantra emanating from Tel Aviv.

Even the – illegal – all-out economic war and total blockade against Tehran seems not to be enough. Trump has announced extra sanctions on China because Beijing is “accepting crude oil” from Iran. Chinese companies will simply ignore them.

Okay With ‘OK Either Way’

“OK either way” is exactly the kind of response expected by the leadership in Tehran. Prof. Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran confirmed to me that Tehran did not offer Trump a “renegotiation” of the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal, in exchange for the end of sanctions: “It’s not a renegotiation. Iran offered to move forward ratification of additional protocols if Congress removes all sanctions. That would be a big win for Iran. But the US will never accept it.”

Marandi also confirmed “there is nothing big going on” between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and tentative Trump administration negotiator Sen. Rand Paul: “Bolton and Pompeo remain in charge.”

The crucial fact is that Tehran rejects a new negotiation with the White House “under any circumstances,” as expressed by Hossein Dehghan, the top military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Dehghan once again made it very clear that in case of any sort of military adventure, every single base of the U.S. Empire of Bases across Southwest Asia will be targeted.

This neatly ties in with Iran’s by now consolidated new rules of engagement, duly detailed by correspondent Elijah Magnier. We are well into “an-eye-for-an-eye” territory.

And that brings us to the alarming expansion of the sanctions dementia, represented by two Iranian ships loaded with corn stranded off the coast of southern Brazil because energy giant Petrobras, afraid of U.S. sanctions, refuses to refuel them.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a fervent Trump groupie, has turned the country into a tropical U.S. neo-colony in less than seven months. On U.S. sanctions, Bolsonaro said, “We are aligned to their policies. So we do what we have to.” Tehran for its part has threatened to cut its imports of corn, soybeans and meat from Brazil – $2 billion worth of trade a year – unless the refueling is allowed.

This is an extremely serious development. Food is not supposed to be — illegally — sanctioned by the Trump administration. Iran now has to use mostly barter to obtain food — as Tehran cannot remit through the CHIPS-SWIFT banking clearinghouse. If food supplies are also blocked that means that sooner rather than later the Strait of Hormuz may be blocked as well.

Beltway sources confirmed that the highest level of the U.S. government gave the order for Brasilia to stop this food shipment.

Tehran knows it well – as this is part of the “maximum pressure” campaign, whose goal is ultimately to starve the Iranian population to death in a harrowing game of chicken.

How this may end is described by an ominous quote I already used in some of my previous columns, from a Goldman Sachs derivatives specialist: “If the Strait of Hormuz is closed, the price of oil will rise to a thousand dollars a barrel representing over 45 percent of global GDP, crashing the $2.5 quadrillion derivatives market and creating a world depression of unprecedented proportions.”

At least the Pentagon seems to understand that a war on Iran will collapse the world economy.

And Now for Something Completely Different

But then, last but not least, there’s the tanker war.

Dutch analyst Maarten van Mourik has noted significant discrepancies involving the UK piracy episode in Gibraltar – the origin of the tanker war. The Grace 1 tanker “was pirated by the Royal Marines in international waters. Gibraltar Straits is an international passage, like the Strait of Hormuz. There is only 3 nautical miles of territorial water around Gibraltar, and even that is disputed.”

Mourik adds, “The size of the Grace 1 ship is 300,000 MT of crude oil, it has a maximum draught of about 22.2 meters and the latest draught via AIS indicated that she was at 22.1 meters, or fully laden. Now, the port of Banyas in Syria, which is where the offshore oil port is, has a maximum draft of 15 meters. So, in no way could the Grace 1 go there, without first having to offload elsewhere. Probably a very large quantity to get within max draught limitations.”

That ties in with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif refusing on the record to say where Grace 1 was actually heading to, while not confirming the destination was Syria.

The tit-for-tat Iranian response, with the seizure of the Stena Impero navigating under the British flag, is now evolving into Britain calling for a “European-led maritime protection mission” in the Persian Gulf, purportedly to protect ships from Iranian “state piracy.”

Observers may be excused for mistaking it for a Monty Python sketch. Here we have the Ministry of Silly Seizures, which is exiting the EU, begging the EU to embark on a “mission” that is not the same mission of the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign. And on top of it the mission should not undermine Britain’s commitment to keep the JCPOA in place.

As European nations never recede on a chance to flaunt their dwindling “power” across the Global South, Britain, Germany and France now seem bent on their “mission” to “observe maritime security in the Gulf,” in the words of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. At least this won’t be a deployment of joint naval forces – as London insisted. Brussels diplomats confirmed the initial muscular request came from London, but then it was diluted: the EU, NATO and the U.S. should not be involved – at least not directly.

Now compare this with the phone call last week between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron, with Tehran expressing the determination to “keep all doors open” for the JCPOA. Well, certainly not open to the Monty Python sketch.

That was duly confirmed by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who said Iran will “not allow disturbance in shipping in this sensitive area,” while Iranian vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri rejected the notion of a “joint European task force” protecting international shipping: “These kinds of coalitions and the presence of foreigners in the region by itself creates insecurity.”

Iran has always been perfectly capable, historically, of protecting that Pentagonese Holy Grail – “freedom of navigation” – in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran certainly doesn’t need former colonial powers to enforce it. It’s so easy to lose the plot; the current, alarming escalation is only taking place because of the “art of the deal” obsession on imposing an illegal, total economic war on Iran.

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

Before commenting please read Robert Parry’s Comment Policy. Allegations unsupported by facts, gross or misleading factual errors and ad hominem attacks, and abusive language toward other commenters or our writers will be removed.




THE ANGRY ARAB: Maxime Rodinson & the Palestinian Question

A new book attacking the French scholar for his views on Israel and Zionism spurs As`ad AbuKhalil to provide his own assessment.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

The French Orientalist Maxime Rodinson was by far one of the greatest scholars on Islam and the Arab world in the 20thcentury (if not ever).  His contributions belie the notion that all Orientalist production can be dismissed as purely ideological (and that was not the contention of Edward Said in his “Orientalism,” all distortions of Said’s work notwithstanding). I, for one, owe a great debt of gratitude to Rodinson for influencing me early on in my conception of, and education in, Middle East studies.  Rodinson wrote the best contemporary biography of the Prophet, and he examined him from a Marxist historical perspective (the book was translated into many languages, including Persian but not Arabic).

Rodinson’s “Islam and Capitalism” also powerfully debunked classical Orientalist myths about Islam and Muslims (including the thesis of Max Weber about capitalism and Protestantism) by showing that Muslims were able to go around the theoretical theological ban on usury in their financial transactions. Later, in “Europe and the Mystique of Islam,” Rodinson introduced the notion of “theologocentrism” to critically characterize the Western school of thought in academia that attributes all observable phenomena among Muslims to matters of theology.  Furthermore, refreshingly, Rodinson paid attention to Arab leftism and wrote about Lebanese and Syrian communists who he knew well in the seven years he spent between Syria and Lebanon during and after World War II.

Attention to Rodinson is prompted by the publication of Susie Linfield’s “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky.”  The author is a professor of journalism at NYU and has no background in Middle East studies.  Yet, she uses her platform to launch an attack on critics of Israel and Zionism and situate them in the category of self-hating Jews.  But her method of handling Rodinson is not even honest: she accuses the author (who lost his parents in Auschwitz) of not talking about his Jewish background or even about Nazi atrocities when, in fact, he spoke at length about such matters.  She even accuses Rodinson of being silent about the crimes of Arab governments and misdeeds of the PLO when he was a harsh critic of them both.  And she makes up a story that Rodinson was accused by Arabs of “lacking respect for Islam (and worse)” without providing any evidence. Rodinson remains highly respected in the Arab world.

Rodinson was born to Jewish communist parents (his father played chess with Leon Trotsky), who were fierce anti-Zionists.  He grew up in a secular atheist family, and that rankled Linfield, who considered it a disqualifier in his writings on Palestine. Not identifying with an ancestral religion is anyone’s right, including Rodinson who became a communist early in his youth.  He also developed a keen interest in languages and Middle East studies.  Rodinson never tried to ignore the Palestinian question: in the West, talking about the Palestinian question from a non-Zionist, or anti-Zionist, perspective can result in enormous pressures and negative consequences.  To this very day, many Western academics choose to either champion Zionism or to ignore the Arab-Israeli conflict altogether (many of the Western academics who feigned concern for the Syrian people in recent years had never written or said a word about Palestinians).

‘Most Famous Anti-Zionist in France’

Rodinson became (in his own words) “the most famous anti-Zionist in France” (“Cult, Ghetto, and State,” p. 23).  His piece for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Temps Modernes in 1967 made Rodinson a target of Zionist forces worldwide.  His article (later published as a book, including in Arabic) was titled “Israel: A Colonial-Settler State?”  While Rodinson answered his question in a sophisticated argument in the affirmative, he qualified the answer with an attempt to provide Israeli founding with extenuating circumstances. In other words, Rodinson’s stance on the Palestinian question was not as radical as it was reputed to be although his arguments about the nature of the Zionist project were quite radical — and accurate.

Linfield finds Rodinson’s characterization of anti-Semitism among Arabs to be apologetic, while he was clearly critical of the plight of non-Muslims under Muslim rule historically.  But Rodinson lived among the Arabs, and was accepted by them, in the 1940s, when Jews (regardless whether they were practicing or not) were being exterminated in Europe.  Rodinson knows more about Arab attitudes toward Jews than Linfield. Rodinson rightly pointed out that the creation of Israel triggered the rise of anti-Semitism among Arabs and resulted in the translation of some Western works of anti-Semitism (even Bernard Lewis concedes that Arab anti-Semitism is political).

In May 1972, Rodinson gave an interview to Shu`un Filastiniyyah in which he gave an accounting of his views of the conflict (it was reprinted in “Cult, Ghetto, and State”).  In that interview, Rodinson (commenting on a remark by the late professor Ismail Faruqi to the effect that a Zionist state is objectionable even if it was established on the moon) said that he would not object to a Jewish state on the moon.  But should not a secular Marxist object to any state with a religious identify and which is founded on the principle of the juridical supremacy of one religious group over others?  Rodinson’s point was to remind readers that his objection to the Jewish state was not in principle but was due to the displacement of the native Palestinian population and the harm that Israel has inflicted on them.

Israel’s Founding 

Having said that, Rodinson in his book, “Israel: A Colonial-Settler State,” does not shy away from answering in the affirmative. The extenuating circumstances that he provides to the Zionist argument are that: No. 1) the immigration of Jews from Europe due to Nazi crimes was a matter of survival; No. 2) the socialist character of the Yishuv; No. 3) he talks about the sale of land to the Jews and says that it was “to the benefit of the seller and the agricultural development of the country” (p. 87). 

But the immigration of Jews into Palestine took place without the consent of the native population, and it was forced either by the British government or by illegal immigration of Jews: and Western governments that were generous with their support for Jewish immigration into Palestine were strict about their restriction on Jewish immigration into their lands.

Furthermore, the question of land sale is not really salient to the discussion of the creation of Israel because Israel became a Jewish state by force and not by legal transactions (the percentage of land sold to the Jews was minuscule in comparison to the forced theft of Palestinian land). 

Finally, the socialist character of the Yishuv should be irrelevant to a discussion of a colonial subjugation of a people: what does it matter to the victims if their oppressors and killers were socialist or capitalists?  (This while the socialist character of the Yishuv has been highly exaggerated and the experiment ended in an ultra-capitalist state, and Western socialists have never been free of racism and prejudice). Zionists began to abuse the natives and practice discrimination against them from early on. (The ideal of “Hebrew labor” referred to the deliberate exclusion of Arab workers from Jewish enterprises).

Rodinson agrees that Zionist settlement amounted to colonialism but then proceeds to suggest that Israel was a peculiar kind of colonialism because the occupiers wanted to rule over a territory but not a population. But how can you rule over a territory and not rule over a population, most of whom were expelled by force in 1948? And does that argument make a difference to the victims? To rule over a territory and not bother with the population is the worst kind of colonialism.

Rodinson makes a strong case against Israel but then provides weak solutions that are not commensurate with the crimes that he helped expose.  While he says that Arabs should determine the outcome of the struggle themselves, he advises against military solutions.  How did history treat those who called on the French living under Nazi occupation (or blacks under Apartheid South Africa) to practice pacifism?

Rodinson maintains that there are two distinct communities in Palestine that have to be represented in two separate political entities, i.e. two-state (non-solution).  It is ironic that Rodinson’s powerful refutation of Zionist claims concludes with a weak call for Palestinian accommodation of Zionist occupation over 78 percent of historic Palestine. But Rodinson also said (in “Israel and the Arabs”): “On the other hand, a total victory for the Arabs some day is not out of the question.  Israel’s military superiority will not last forever, or, at least, will not be absolute forever” (p. 352).  If only Rodinson had been around to watch the Israeli humiliation in South Lebanon in 2006.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism” (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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Israel’s Involvement in Libya’s Civil War

For several reasons, Israel has joined various Arab powers to back a strongman in Libya, explains Giorgio Cafiero.

By Giorgio Cafiero
Special to Consortium News

Since mid-2014, Libya has been mired in civil war, pitting the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli against a rival administration in Tobruk, the House of Representatives (HoR), which is allied with General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). Despite lacking UN legitimacy, Haftar and his forces have received backing from a host of powerful states whose leaders view the Benghazi-based commander as Libya’s only alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist actors in the war-torn North African country. Among these nations is Israel.

Tel Aviv, along with Cairo, Paris, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi support Haftar, whose opponents suspect him of wanting to become a “new Gaddafi” who seeks to establish an Egyptian-style military dictatorship in Libya.

Israeli backing of the Benghazi-based commander illustrates the regional geopolitical dynamics which have led Sunni Arab states—specifically Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE—to find themselves in the same boat with Israel, sharing the same perceptions of security threats.

Coordination between Haftar and the Israelis, which has been conducted through the UAE, began in 2015, if not sooner. Initially, Israel’s interests in post-Qaddafi Libya were from the perspective of its interests in the Sinai Peninsular. Links between various jihadist forces in Libya and the Sinai have been well-documented.

In 2015 and 2016, Haftar met Mossad agents in Jordan in “strict secrecy”. One military source told The New Arab that Israel began providing the LNA with sniper rifles and night vision equipment at that time. This source suggested that the Israeli military began carrying out air raids in Libya in coordination with the LNA after Haftar launched Operation Dignity in 2014. By mid-2017, Algerian media outlets reported that officials in Algiers warned Haftar against receiving Israeli military support.

Last year, al-Araby al-Jadeed explained that Haftar held another meeting in Amman “to deepen security coordination between him and Israel” and that Haftar sought a stronger Israeli presence in southern Libya to thwart Italy from asserting significant influence throughout the Fezzan, the southwest region of Libya. Middle East Monitor quoted an unnamed source claiming that Haftar promised Israel “safe centers” in Libya’s desert, and that the commander’s connection with Israel is Oren Hazan, a member of Israel’s Likud party who has Libyan roots.

MEMO‘s source also said that while the Egyptian government backs Haftar’s tacit and covert partnership with Israel, authorities in Cairo have not wanted Haftar’s communication with Tel Aviv to be become direct.

In May, Al Jazeera Arabic published an investigation which uncovered Israeli support for Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli, which the LNA launched on April 4. A joint Emirati-Kazakh firm, Reem Travel, had an aircraft registered to its name which was flying between Egypt, Israel, and Jordan prior to arriving in LNA-controlled territory in Libya shortly before Haftar’s westward assault began, according to al Jazeera.

Why Did Israel Take Sides in Libya?

Israel’s intervention in the Libyan civil war on the side of Haftar is understandable from its point of view, given a host of factors. First, when it comes to coordinating with actors in the Middle East and North Africa, Israel’s clear preference is for strongmen regardless of ideology. Like Hosni Mubarak and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, or King Abdullah II in Jordan, Haftar is perhaps the type of Arab leader whom the Israelis can engage with on intelligence sharing.

Second, Israeli support for Haftar brings Israel into greater de facto alignment with the Sunni Arab states that have been backing the eastern commander for years, namely Egypt and the UAE, and more recently Saudi Arabia too. Thus, by supporting Haftar, Tel Aviv can further cement its role in this emerging bloc of regional Sunni states, which share Israel’s perception of a threat from both Iran and Iranian-backed militias, as well as certain Sunni Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. As one Israeli Defense Forces source told Middle East Eye, “A friend of our friend – and an enemy of our enemy – is our friend, and Haftar is a friend of Egypt, Jordan, and UAE. He also fights ISIS.”

Third, the opportunities to secure money through lucrative weapons sales also help explain Israel’s interest in backing Haftar. As a leading arms dealer, Israel has made billions by selling arms and leasing Israeli military advisers to different conflict-plagued countries in Africa, such as South Sudan. Israel is expanding its clout in Africa, where it is seeking to deepen its role and strengthen its relations with a host of countries. Israel’s Africa foreign policy reached a watershed in January when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Chad to meet President Idriss Deby and renew bilateral relations. Tel Aviv’s closer relationship with Haftar can further advance Israel’s grander geopolitical interests in the region.

Fourth, Libya’s natural resources are a factor too. Constantly looking for oil-rich allies to sell it oil, Israel may expect to secure access to Libya’s petroleum after backing Haftar in the country’s ongoing civil war. As the eastern commander’s forces have demonstrated, their capacity to take control of virtually all onshore oil fields in Libya means Israel likely sees a tacit alliance with Haftar as a prudent move in regard to its energy needs.

France Also Backs Haftar 

France’s support for Haftar, which has been based on Paris’ view of the LNA as a bulwark against Islamist extremism, has created a major division within Europe with respect to Libya. This division has had a remarkably negative impact on French-Italian relations. Unquestionably, Paris and Rome’s different ideas about Libya have been another factor contributing to the North African country’s crisis, while France and Italy compete for influence in this part of the Maghreb. (The U.S. officially supports the GNA, yet Trump has praised Haftar, so the U.S. position is unclear on Libya).

Turkey and its own interests are in play too. Tension is heating up between the LNA and its external supporters on the one side, and the GNA-allied militias with Turkey on the other. To counter the LNA’s advance on Tripoli, the Turks have provided GNA-aligned factions with armored vehicles and drones, including one shot down by Haftar’s forces late last month. By siding with Haftar, Israel has firmly positioned itself with Abu Dhabi, Cairo, and other capitals, which view Haftar as the strongest leader in Libya capable of taking on “terrorists,” while returning stability to the country.

With the further regionalization of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis, which has been a driver of greater instability in Libya and other countries in Africa, Israel’s position is unambiguous in the Abu Dhabi-Doha clash. By supporting the Emirati and Egyptian positions on Libya—firmly placing Israel at odds with both Ankara and Doha—Tel Aviv is making clear it prefers Arab figures representing the model of Western-backed authoritarian stability and secular dictatorships, rather than those who advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s vision for the region.

For the Libyan people, a dismal future is most likely. The proxy war has been fueled by many external actors, which have come into the country seeking to fill the power vacuum that emerged after Moammar Qaddafi’s fall in 2011. With GNA-allied fighters recently pushing back against the LNA offensive, it is unclear how the civil war will evolve as Haftar’s forces continue to shell Tripoli.

The growing danger for Libya, torn apart by various militias fighting with the support of Israel and the other external actors, is long-term fragmentation.

Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy.

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Evangelical Christians Risk Setting Middle East on Fire

Jonathan Cook explains why the wave of pro-Zionist preachers taking an interest in Israel is bad news for Palestinians and loaded with ominous historic precedent.  

On Monday Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the annual summit of Christians United for Israel, espousing Christian Zionist support for the state of Israel.  Jonathan Cook takes a deep look into this phenomenon. 

By JonathanCook
in Nazareth

Jonathan-Cook.net

The recent arrival of Africa’s most popular televangelist preacher, TB Joshua, to address thousands of foreign pilgrims in Nazareth produced a mix of consternation and anger in the city of Jesus’s childhood.

There was widespread opposition from Nazareth’s political movements, as well as from community groups and church leaders, who called for a boycott of his two rallies. They were joined by the council of muftis, which described the events as “a red line for faith in religious values.”

Joshua’s gatherings, which included public exorcisms, took place in an open-air amphitheater on a hill above Nazareth that was originally built for papal masses. The site was used by Pope Benedict in 2009.

The Nigerian pastor, who has millions of followers worldwide and calls himself a prophet, aroused local hostility not only because his brand of Christianity strays far from the more traditional doctrines of Middle Eastern churches. He also represents a trend of foreign Christians, driven by apocalyptic readings of the Bible, interfering ever more explicitly in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories – and in ways that directly aid the policies of Israel’s far-right government.

Much-Needed Tourism Boost

Nazareth is the largest of the Palestinian communities in Israel that survived the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, which forced most of the native population out of the bulk of their homeland and replaced it with a Jewish state. Today, 1-in-5 Israeli citizens are Palestinian.

The city and its immediate environs include the highest concentration of Palestinian Christians in the region. But it has long suffered from the hostility of Israeli officials, who have starved Nazareth of resources to prevent it from becoming a political, economic or cultural capital for the Palestinian minority.

The city has almost no land for growth or industrial areas to expand its income base, and Israel has tightly constrained its ability to develop a proper tourism industry. Most pilgrims pass through briefly to visit its Basilica of the Annunciation, the site where the angel Gabriel reputedly told Mary she was carrying Jesus.

Nazareth’s municipal officials leapt at the chance to exploit the publicity, and income, provided by Joshua’s visit. The municipality’s longer-term hope is that, if the city can attract even a small proportion of the more than 60 million Christian evangelicals in the U.S. and millions more in Africa and Europe, it will provide an enormous boost to the city’s economy.

Recent figures show evangelical tourism to Israel has been steadily rising, now accounting for about 1-in-7  of all overseas visitors.

Playing with Fire

But as the fallout over Joshua’s visit indicates, Nazareth may be playing with fire by encouraging these types of pilgrims to take a greater interest in the region. Most local Christians understand that Joshua’s teachings are not directed at them – and, in fact, are likely to harm them.

The Nigerian pastor chose Nazareth to spread his gospel, but faced vocal opposition from those who believe he is using the city simply as the backdrop to his bigger mission – one that appears entirely indifferent to the plight of Palestinians, whether those living inside Israel in places such as Nazareth, or those under occupation.

Political factions in Nazareth noted Joshua’s “ties to far-right and settlers circles in Israel.” He is reported to have had meetings about opening operations in the Jordan Valley, the reputed site of Jesus’ baptism but also the agricultural backbone of the West Bank. The area is being targeted by the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu for settlement expansion and possible annexation, thereby dooming efforts to create a Palestinian state.

A View of Armageddon

During his visits to Israel, Joshua has also enjoyed access to key government figures such as Yariv Levin, a close ally of Netanyahu’s, who has been in charge of two portfolios viewed as critical by the evangelical community: tourism, and the absorption into Israel of new Jewish immigrants from the U.S. and Europe.

Many in the evangelical community, including Joshua, believe it is their duty to encourage Jews to move from their home countries to the Promised Land to bring forward an end-times supposedly prophesied in the Bible.

This is the Rapture, when Jesus returns to build his kingdom on earth and righteous Christians take their place alongside him. Everyone else, including unrepentant Jews, it is implied, will burn in Hell’s eternal fires.

The cliff above the Jezreel Valley where Joshua and his disciples congregated offers views over Tel Megiddo, the modern name of the biblical site of Armageddon, where many evangelicals believe the end of the world will soon happen.

Speeding up the Second Coming

These Christians are not simply observers of an unfolding divine plan; they are active participants trying to bring the end-times closer.

In fact, the traumas of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the decades of bloodshed, violent colonization and expulsions of Palestinians – cannot be understood separately from the interference of Western Christian leaders in the Middle East over the past century. In many ways, they engineered the Israel we know today.

The first Zionists, after all, were not Jews, but Christians. A vigorous Christian Zionist movement – known then as “restorationism” – emerged in the early 19th century, predating and heavily influencing its subsequent Jewish counterpart.

The restorationists’ peculiar reading of the Bible meant that they believed the Messiah’s second coming could be accelerated if God’s chosen people, the Jews, returned to the Promised Land after 2,000 years of a supposed exile.

Charles Taze Russell, a U.S. pastor from Pennsylvania, travelled the world from the 1870s onwards imploring Jews to establish a national home for themselves in what was then Palestine. He even produced a plan for how a Jewish state might be created there.

He did so nearly 20 years before the Jewish Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl published his famous book outlining a Jewish state.

The secular Herzl didn’t much care where such a Jewish state was built. But his later followers – deeply aware of the hold of Christian Zionism in Western capitals – focused their attention on Palestine, the biblical Promised Land, in the hope of winning powerful allies in Europe and the U.S.

Rallying Cry for Herzl’s Followers

Imperial Britain’s support was especially prized. In 1840, Lord Shaftesbury, who was connected through marriage to Lord Palmerston, a later prime minister, published an advert in the London Times urging the return of Jews to Palestine.

Christian Zionism was an important factor influencing the British government in 1917 to issue the Balfour Declaration – effectively a promissory note from Britain that became the blueprint for creating a Jewish state on the ruins of the native population’s homeland.

Writing of the declaration, Israeli historian Tom Segev has observed: “The men who sired it were Christian and Zionist and, in many cases, anti-Semitic.” That was because Christian Zionism took as its premise that Jews should not integrate into their own countries. Rather, they should serve as instruments of God’s will, moving to the Middle East so that Christians could achieve redemption.

Edwin Montagu was the only British cabinet minister to oppose the Balfour Declaration, and he was also its sole Jewish member. He warned – for good reason – that the document would “prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world.”

‘Struggle Until the Rapture’

While Jewish Zionists looked to the imperial powerhouse of Britain for sponsorship a century ago, today, their chief patron is the U.S. The standard-bearers of Christian Zionism have been enjoying growing influence in Washington since the Six-Day War of 1967.

That process has reached its apotheosis under President Donald Trump. He has surrounded himself with a mix of extreme Jewish and Christian Zionists. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, are fervent Jewish supporters of the illegal settlements. But so too, it seems, are key Christians in the White House, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Before he entered government, Pompeo was clear about his evangelical beliefs. Back in 2015, he told a congregation: “It is a never-ending struggle … until the Rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

This past March, he backed the idea that Trump might have been sent by God to save Israel from threats such as Iran. “I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Pence, meanwhile, has said: “My passion for Israel springs from my Christian faith … It’s really the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice-president to a president who cares so deeply for our most cherished ally.”

Sleeping Giant Awakens

Trump’s relocation last year of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting any negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, was designed to pander to his Christian Zionist base. Some 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016, and he will need their support again in 2020 if he hopes to be re-elected.

Not surprisingly, the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem was consecrated by two prominent televangelist pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, known for their fanatical support for Israel – as well as occasional anti-Semitic outbursts.

More than a decade ago, Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, told delegates at a conference organized by AIPAC, Israel’s main political lobby in Washington: “The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the state of Israel.”

The Hagee group’s activities include lobbying in Congress for hardline pro-Israel legislation, such as the recent Taylor Force Act that slashes U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting. The group is also active in helping to push through legislation at the state and federal levels, penalizing anyone who boycotts Israel.

For U.S. evangelicals, and those elsewhere, Israel is increasingly a key issue. A 2015 poll showed some three-quarters believe that developments in Israel were prophesied in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

Many expect Trump to complete a chain of events set in motion by British officials a century ago – and more and more of them are getting directly involved, in hopes of speeding along that process.

Closer Ties to Settlers

Israel’s vision of an “ingathering of the exiles” – encouraging Jews from around the world to move to the region under the Law of Return – fits neatly with Christian Zionism’s beliefs in a divine plan for the Middle East.

The efforts of extremist Jewish settlers to colonize the West Bank, the bulk of any future Palestinian state, also chimes with Christian Zionists’ understanding of the West Bank as the “biblical heartland,” an area Jews must possess before Jesus returns.

For these reasons, evangelicals are developing ever-closer ties with Israeli Jewish religious extremists, especially in the settlements. Recent initiatives have included online and face-to-face Bible studies programs run by Orthodox Jews, often settlers, targeted specifically at evangelical Christians. The tutorials are designed to bolster the settlers’ narrative, as well as demonizing Muslims and, by extension, Palestinians.

The most popular course offered by Root Source, one such venture, is titled “Islam – Insights and Deceptions.” It uses the Old and New Testaments to make the case that Islam “is extremely dangerous.”

A few months ago, Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper, published an investigation into the growing flow of evangelical volunteers and money into the West Bank’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to achieving a two-state solution.

One U.S. organization alone, Hayovel, has brought more than 1,700 Christian volunteers over the past 10 years to help in a settlement close to Nablus, in the heart of the West Bank.

Infusion of Evangelical Money

An increasing number of similar initiatives have been aided by new rules introduced last year by the Israeli government to pay Christian Zionist groups such as Hayovel to advocate abroad for the settlements.

It is much harder to know exactly how much evangelical money is pouring into the settlements, because of a lack of transparency regarding U.S. donations made by churches and charities. But the Haaretz investigation estimates that over the past decade, as much as $65 million has flowed in.

Ariel, a settler town sitting in the very center of the West Bank, received $8 million for a sports center from John Hagee Ministries a decade ago. Another evangelical outfit, J H Israel, has spent $2 million there on a national leadership center.

Other Christian charities that have historically funded projects inside Israel are reported to be increasingly considering assisting the settlements too.

Should a Trump peace plan – touted for publication later this year – back annexation of parts of the West Bank, as is widely expected, it would likely unleash a new and even greater wave of evangelical money into the settlements.

Immune to Reason

This is precisely the problem for Palestinians, and the wider Middle East. Christian Zionists are meddling yet again, whether they be government officials, church leaders or their congregations. Evangelical influence is to be found from the U.S. and Brazil to Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Western governments typically have more practical and pressing concerns than realizing biblical prophecy to justify divide-and-rule policies in the Middle East. Chiefly, they want control over the region’s oil resources, and can secure it only by projecting military power there to prevent rival nations from gaining a foothold.

But the uncritical support of tens of millions of Christians around the world, whose passion for Israel is immune to reason, makes the job of these governments selling wars and resource grabs all the easier.

Both Israel and the West have benefited from cultivating an image of a plucky Jewish state surrounded by barbaric Arabs and Muslims determined to destroy it. As a result, Israel has enjoyed ever greater integration into a Western power bloc, while Western governments have been offered easy pretexts either to interfere in the region directly or delegate such interference to Israel.

The payoff for Israel has been unstinting support from the U.S. and Europe, as it oppresses and drives the Palestinians off their lands.

With an evangelical base behind him, Trump has no need to offer plausible arguments before he acts. He can move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, or approve the annexation of the West Bank, or attack Iran.

Standing Against Israel’s Enemies

Seen this way, any enemy Israel claims to have – whether the Palestinians or Iran – automatically becomes the sworn enemy of tens of millions of evangelical Christians.

Netanyahu understands the growing importance of this uncritical overseas lobby as his and Israel’s standing drops precipitously among liberal U.S. Jews, appalled by the rightward lurch of successive governments.

In 2017, Netanyahu told a crowd of evangelicals in Washington: “When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us.”

For Palestinians, this is bad news. Most of these evangelicals, such as T B Joshua, are largely indifferent or hostile to the fate of the Palestinians – even Palestinian Christians, such as those in Nazareth.

A recent editorial in Haaretz noted that Netanyahu and his officials were now “endeavoring to make evangelicals – who support Israel’s hawkish rejectionism regarding the Palestinians – the sole foundation of American support for Israel.”

The truth is that these Christian Zionists view the region through a single, exclusive prism: whatever aids the imminent arrival of the Messiah is welcomed. The only issue is how soon God’s “chosen people” will congregate in the Promised Land.

If the Palestinians stand in Israel’s way, these tens of millions of foreign Christians will be quite happy to see the native population driven out once again – as they were in 1948 and 1967.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth.

This article is from his blog at Jonathan Cook.net.




On The New York Times Cartoon Ban

Daniel Lazare looks into the Times’ overreaction to charges of anti-Semitism. 

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times was so sorry last month for publishing an allegedly anti-Semitic cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind Donald Trump, that it’s decided never to run any satirical cartoon on any topic again.

Based on five minutes of googling, the consensus seems to be that it’s a gross overreaction. But the reason the Times can’t stop apologizing is that the cartoon shows the Israeli prime minister with a blue Star of David around his neck and Trump with a yarmulke atop his orange hairdo.  Using such symbols in this way makes many people uncomfortable, which is understandable. 

But imagine, if you will, a cartoon showing Canadian President Justin Trudeau with a maple leaf on his shirt, Angela Merkel with a German eagle, France’s Emmanuel Macron dressed up like Napoleon, or Britain’s Theresa May draped in a British flag?  Why don’t any of those stir an outcry?

The reason, one might counter, is that those images are political whereas the Star of David is religious. True, but that’s precisely the point. Canada, France, and Germany are all secular societies in which church and state are firmly separate.  (Britain is a bit more complicated thanks to the queen’s role as head of the Church of England, but that’s another story.)  But the upshot is zero overlap as far as political and religious imagery are concerned.

Indeed, for all its sins, the same is true even for the United States.  Think of America and what comes to mind – Uncle Sam, a bald eagle, or a missile-laden F-16?  Perhaps. What does not come to mind is the cross even though 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian, a higher portion than Canadians (67.3 percent), Germans (64.2), Brits (59.5), or French (51.1).  Thanks to the First Amendment and a succession of Supreme Court cases dealing with things like school prayer, the U.S. government has been de-religionized and the very idea of America has been de-religionized as well.

But it’s not true for Israel. To the contrary, the same Star of David that appears in the cartoon also appears on the national flag while the yarmulke is also virtually a national symbol thanks to the growing ultra-orthodox influence.  Instead of separation of church and state, the consequence is an ever-closer union. Back in 2003, the late historian Tony Judt stirred a hornet’s nest by pointing out that Israel has less in common in this respect with other postwar nations than it does with the ethno-religious states of the 1920s and ’30s.  As he put it in The New York Review of Books:

“At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming ‘nation-states,’ territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate.  When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity.  A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, ‘ethnic’ majority – defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three – at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.”

Ethno States 

Ironically, the most inconvenient local minority of all was the Jews, who were all but obliterated when the same ethno-states were taken over by fascism during World War II.  Yet, under the Zionists, Israel has reduced Palestinians to strangers in their own land as well.

Indeed, the situation is far worse than when Judt wrote.  Where Israel “risks falling” into the camp of “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states,” as he put it, it’s now the leader of the pack, a role model for up-and-coming ethno-authoritarians like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, or, of course, Trump, as they make their way through an increasingly illiberal political landscape.

One purpose of an ethno-state is to dazzle, confuse, and disarm. There are many reasons that the Star of David appears on the Israeli flag, but one of the most important is to de-legitimize the criticism of de-legitimization by making it all but impossible to attack the Jewish state without attacking Jews.  Outsiders wind up damned if they do and damned if they don’t, spineless apologists for an increasingly brutal regime if they keep their mouths shut, and anti-Jewish bigots if they dare to speak up. 

This is the boat that António Moreira Antunes, the unfortunate Portuguese artist behind the Times cartoon, finds himself in now that he’s been branded as anti-Semite across the globe.  Antunes says he merely wanted to use Israeli national symbols to make a point, which is that “Trump’s erratic, destructive and often blind politics encouraged the expansionist radicalism of Netanyahu.”  Yet he found himself running headlong into a buzz saw of condemnation almost before he laid down his pen.

Not only does such doubled-edged symbolism make honest criticism more difficult – it also makes real anti-Semitism easier.  Traditionally, anti-Semites have hidden their bigotry behind seemingly legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.  Going on about this or that crime against the Palestinians is supposedly a way of going on and on about the Jews without quite saying so.  But as the British anti-Zionist campaigner Tony Green stein points out, today’s anti-Semites are good deal cleverer. Instead of hiding behind criticism, they hide behind support.

This is why someone like Orbán is so eager for Israeli approval even as he goes about rehabilitating Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian dictator from 1920 to 1944 who was a key Nazi ally and who, according to the historian Raphael Patai, bragged of being “an anti-Semite throughout my life.”  All Orbán wants is for Netanyahu to sprinkle him with a little holy water, so to speak, so he can continue with his neo-Horthyite goal of creating an ethnically pure Greater Hungary in which Muslim refugees are prohibited.  When the Hungarian president visited Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial last summer, furious demonstrators blocked his motorcade shouting, “Never again!” and “Shame on you!” and denouncing Yad Vashem for hosting him.

Favorite Target

Bad as this is, the real story is even worse.  Orbán’s favorite target, the key to his success in fact, turns out to be the Hungarian-American financier George Soros.  Soros is a major funder of liberal causes and organizations throughout the world, including the Free University in Budapest, a liberal bastion that has long been a thorn in Orbán’s side.  Soros also happens to be Jewish.  For the Hungarian president, therefore, he’s straight out of central casting, an international Jew who can be blamed for everything from the migrant crisis to the economic slowdown and know-it-all foreign critics.  A recent government-funded poster campaign showed Soros’s portrait along with the inscription, “Let’s not let George Soros have the last laugh” – a reference, Tony Greenstein’s suggests, to a famous speech that Hitler gave in January 1939:

“I have often been a prophet in my life and was generally laughed at. During my struggle for power, the Jews primarily received with laughter my prophecies that I would someday assume the leadership of the state and … then, among many other things, achieve a solution of the Jewish problem.  I suppose that meanwhile the then surrounding laughter of Jewry in Germany is now choking in their throats.”

Just as Hitler didn’t want Jews to have the last laugh, Orbán doesn’t want them to either.

But Orbán didn’t dream up the anti-Soros campaign on his own.  To the contrary, a pair of rightwing American Jewish political consultants named Arthur Finkelstein and George Birnbaum thought it up for him.  After Finkelstein and Birnbaum helped Netanyahu become prime minister in 1996, he returned the favor by recommending their services to his old friend in Budapest. Amid the economic devastation caused by the 2008 financial blowout, they helped him win re-election, Hannes Grassegger reports in Buzzfeed, by persuading him to target bureaucrats and foreign capital.  When Orbán needed a fresh enemy to consolidate his control, they then came up with another target.  Following their advice to the letter, Orbán sailed into Soros at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis:

“His name is perhaps the strongest example of those who support anything that weakens nation states, they support everything that changes the traditional European lifestyle.  These activists who support immigrants inadvertently become part of this international human-smuggling network.”

This was the international Jew as enemy of the nation, tradition, and Christianity – an angle of attack that a couple of Netanyahu emissaries not only inspired but designed.  Instead of defending Jews, Israel was egging on their attackers.  Not for nothing does Israeli dissident Ronnie Barkan argue that “the greatest anti-Semitic force in the world today is the state of Israel.” 

Yet the only thing The New York Times can do in response is to shoot the messenger by forever banning political cartoons from its pages.  By censoring critics, editorial page editor James Bennet, the genius behind the new policy, hopes that maybe the problem will just go away.  But it won’t of course.  He’s guilty, rather, of a hear-no-evil strategy that will only make matters worse.  The Times’s definition of “all the news that’s fit to print” grows narrower and more distortedby the day.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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