Ryan’s Clash with Catholic Teachings

Republican vice presidential choice Paul Ryan calls himself a devout Catholic, but his right-wing politics would divert more wealth to the rich at the expense of the poor, the opposite of both the teachings of Jesus and the recommendations of the Vatican, notes Catholic ethicist Daniel C. Maguire.

By Daniel C. Maguire

Sound the alarm! There has been a Catholic coup d’etat in the United States of America! Six members of the Supreme Court are Catholics (just imagine the furor if six were Muslims or Jews!). Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell are Catholics. And now, rising to top of this surging Catholic dynasty is the alleged Wunderkind of Republican economics, perky Paul Ryan.

Ryan wears his strange version of Catholicism with a jaunty sophomoric pride: “Catholic social doctrine is indispensable for officeholders.” If only Paul Ryan knew what “Catholic social doctrine” is he would take flight from it just as fast as he is scrambling from the Ayn Rand breasts that, as he has proclaimed, suckled him and inspired all his political and economic views.

Catholics who know the difference between Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand skewered perky Paul. They know that Jesus’ mission, unlike Ayn Rand’s, was “good news for the poor” (Luke 4:18). They embarrassed the righteous Ryan when he spoke at the Jesuit Georgetown University carrying a sprawling sign that asked: “Where were you, Paul Ryan, when they crucified the poor?”

Of course they know where he was. He was driving the nails into everything that helps the poor and remember most of “the poor” are children. Budgets are intensely moral documents. They show where the heart is. To budget-makers we can say: show me the losers and the winners and I will tell you what you are.

The Ryan budget plan, embraced by Mitt Romney as “marvelous,” puts greed over need. Among its losers: Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, health insurance, preschool programs, environmental and financial regulations, Pell grants, Head Start, mortgage guarantees. “Are there no poor houses?”

The budget is not all sour. There are sweet tidings for the already engorged mega-rich. And as for the military, ah, yes, the military, Ryan feels they do not ask enough though they have never been known for modesty or timidity in their requests. Ryan would further feed that black hole in the economy that already sucks out some $2 million a minute. Kill-power is prized more highly than Head Start and Medicaid.

How Dare You, Paul Ryan!

How dare you invoke “Catholic social teaching” to bolster that warped and brutal vision! Had you presented that budget as an assignment in my theology class at Marquette University I would have had to give you an F and a note would go to your parents saying, “this student is wasting your tuition money.”

So, listen up, Paul, and I’ll show you why the “Nuns on the Bus” and Catholic university faculties are storming against your Catholic pretensions. It is no major undertaking to correct you. That’s why your ignorance must be classified as crass.

Just last year, in October 2011, Pope Benedict’s Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace gave all the help you need. The council summed up centuries of “Catholic social teaching” in a single document and applied it to today’s tottering global economy.

When asked about the document, you equivocated about whether you had read it. Clearly, from your recent utterances you either did not read it or you read it and trashed it. Small wonder. It would give Ayn Rand a stroke. Jesuit Thomas Reese said the document is “closer to the view of Occupy Wall Street that anyone in the U.S. Congress.”

Catholic Social Teaching 101

Here it is in gist: The Vatican document supports fair taxation, greed-controlling regulation and bailouts “with public funds” when necessary. Now, brace yourself, Paul, it excoriates “neoliberals,” the greed-is-good creed of your right wing.

The document calls for an international solidarity that would end poverty and obsessive reliance on military violence for security. It calls for more active citizenship, not voter suppression. Internationally it calls for “a new model of a more cohesive, polyarchic international society that respects every people’s identity within the multifaceted riches of a single humanity.”

It calls for a “public, supranational authority with universal jurisdiction, a “true world political authority” and a “world bank” to preside over a “global, universal common good.” Nations need to “transfer a part of each nation’s powers to a world authority and to regional authorities.”

It does not call for a tyrannical despotic world authority. The traditional Catholic tradition of “subsidiarity” means that nothing should be done by a higher authority that can be done by active participation at lower levels. Right-wingers like you grab that one word “subsidiarity” and claim it supports their maniacal hatred of government. It doesn’t.

The document, like the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, considers government the prime care-taker of the common good with a particular mission to protect the powerless and the poor from exploitation.

Catholic social teaching abhors despotism, either that of governments or that of corporate power that can enslave the poor of the world as it is now doing. The blood, sweat and tears of the poor are on our clothing, our shoes and on our iPads. Using what is cynically and euphemistically called “labor arbitrage,” corporations ship most of their work to slave operations in “the third world.”

Now at this point, my student, Paul Ryan, is squirming in his seat. What I had just taught, relying on papal teachings, is not right wing. It is left wing in as much as the Left stresses social justice and fair distribution of wealth and opportunity, and the Left has a preference for peace-power over kill-power.

So, Paul Ryan, call your knavish, mean-spirited budget plan what you will. But do not call it Catholic. Stop defaming and insulting the stirring compassion and richness of Catholic social teaching by associating it with your form of upper-class warfare.

Have you no shame!

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians. He can be reached at daniel.maguire@marquette.edu. (This article originally appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.)




Israel’s Drift into Apartheid

The latest fury over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s condemnation of Israel’s Zionist government as “an insult to all humanity” ignores the growing body of evidence that today’s Israel is evolving into an Apartheid state similar to the old South Africa, Nima Shirazi writes.

By Nima Shirazi

As tends to happen whenever Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech, especially one in commemoration of Al-Quds Day that explicitly rejects the ideology of Zionism and condemns the Israeli government for its inherently discriminatory, exclusivist and ethnocentric policies and actions, all hell broke lose after the Iranian President addressed a large crowd at Tehran University last Friday.

“The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity,” Ahmadinejad said, adding that “confronting the existence of the fabricated Zionist regime is, in fact, protecting the rights and dignity of all human beings.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to the remarks as “offensive and inflammatory.”  The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading nuclear negotiations with Iran, also denounced Ahmadinejad’s speech as “outrageous and hateful.”

Naturally, Ahmadinejad’s words also sparked the usual shock and horror from the usual people, the same people who still insist that (1) Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and (2) believe that such a comment constituted a direct threat of military action against the superpower-backed, nuclear-armed state of Israel.

Without delving into the persistent myths and deliberate falsehoods surrounding that particular talking point (one that has been sufficiently debunked countless times) or seeking to justify anything said by Ahmadinejad, a few things should be noted:

First: While Associated Press described Ahmadinejad’s comment as “one of his sharpest attacks yet against the Jewish state,” which seemed to indicate that this is the first time such language has been used, they failed to point out that Ahmadinejad has used this exact same phrase before.

After Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at a “National and Islamic Solidarity for the Future of Palestine” conference in February 2010, Ha’aretz reported he had said that “the existence of ‘the Zionist regime’ is an insult to humanity,” according to Iranian news agency IRNA. Later that year, he said the very same thing.

Second (and more important): The “insult to humanity” phrase was not coined by the Iranian President to describe a political power structure defined by demographic engineering, colonialism, racism, and violence. For example, a Dec. 11, 1979, editorial in California’s Lodi News-Sentinel stated clearly, “Apartheid is an insult to humanity” and “must be ended.”

But the phrase has far deeper roots – roots with which the UN Secretary-General himself should be well acquainted. A joint declaration by 20 Asian and African countries issued to the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Oct. 1, 1963, called upon the agency to reject the membership of South Africa due to its racist and discriminatory regime of Apartheid.

It noted “with grave concern that the South African Government continues stubbornly to disregard all United Nations and Security Council resolutions and to maintain its apartheid policies in defiance of the United Nations General Assembly, of the Security, and consequently of the IAEA Statute.” The declaration stated:

1. We condemn categorically the apartheid policies of the Government of South Africa, based on racial superiority, as immoral and inhuman;

2. We deprecate most strongly the South African Government’s irresponsible flouting of world opinion by its persistent refusal to put an end to its racial policies;

3. The apartheid policies of the Government of South Africa are a flagrant violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as being an insult to humanity.

The very first International Conference on Human Rights, held by the UN in (get this) Tehran from April 22 to May 13, 1968, “condemned the brutal and inhuman practice of apartheid,” “deplore[d] the Government of South Africa’s continuous insult to humanity,” and “declare[d] that the policy of apartheid or other similar evils are a crime against humanity.”

On Feb. 15, 1995, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights adopted a resolution praising the end of “the era of apartheid in South Africa” which also reaffirmed that “apartheid and apartheid-like practices are an insult to humanity…”

The UN General Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed “that the conclusion of an internal convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid would be an important contribution to the struggle against apartheid, racism, economic exploitation, colonial domination and foreign occupation” and, more specifically, the UN has affirmed time and again that “the inalienable rights of all peoples, and in particular … the Palestinian people, to freedom, equality and self-determination, and the legitimacy of their struggles to restore those rights.”

Third: No one can accuse Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of having any affinity whatsoever for Zionism or the government of Israel. Clearly he believes that Israel practices its own form of Apartheid against the Palestinian people. And he is not alone.

Back in 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, South Africa’s Prime Minister said, “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”

In April 1976, just two months before the Soweto Uprising, South African Prime Minister (and known former Nazi sympathizer) John Vorster took an official state visit to Israel, where he was hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A number of friendship pacts and bilateral economic, military and nuclear agreements were signed.

At a banquet held in Vorster’s honor, Rabin hailed “the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa: the hopes for justice and peaceful coexistence” and praised Vorster as a champion of freedom. Both Israel and South Africa, Rabin said, faced “foreign-inspired instability and recklessness.”

Vorster lamented that both South Africa and Israel were victims of the enemies of Western civilization. Only a few months later, an official South African Government’s document reinforced this shared predicament: “Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples.”

Both Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and as well as many other South African anti-Apartheid activists, have consistently called Israel an Apartheid state.

Michael Ben-Yair, Israel’s attorney general from 1993 to 1996, has written that following the Six Day War in June 1967, “We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities.

“Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one ‑ progressive, liberal ‑ in Israel; and the other ‑ cruel, injurious ‑ in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture.”

That oppressive regime exists to this day. Avraham Burg, Israel’s Knesset Speaker from 1999 to 2003 and former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has long determined that “Israel must shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy,” insisting the only way to maintain total Jewish control over all of historic Palestine would be to “abandon democracy” and “institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages.” He has also called Israel “the last colonial occupier in the Western world.”

Yossi Sarid, who served as a member of the Knesset between 1974 and 2006, has written of Israel’s “segregation policy” that “what acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck it is apartheid.”

Yossi Paritzky, former Knesset and Cabinet minister, writing about the systematic institutionalization and legalization of racial and religious discrimination in Israel, stated that Israel does not act like a democracy in which “all citizens regardless of race, religious, gender or origin are entitled to equality.” Rather, by implementing more and more discriminatory laws that treat Palestinians as second-class citizens, “Israel decided to be like apartheid‑era South Africa, and some will say even worse countries that no longer exist.”

Shulamit Aloni, another former Knesset and Cabinet member, has written that “the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.”

In 2008, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel released its annual human rights report which found that the dynamic between settlers, soldiers and native Palestinians in the occupied West Bank was “reminiscent, in many and increasing ways, of the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Ehud Olmert, when he was Prime Minister, told a Knesset committee meeting, “For sixty years there has been discrimination against Arabs in Israel. This discrimination is deep‑seated and intolerable” and repeatedly warned that if “we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”

Ehud Barak has admitted that “[a]s long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of ­Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Shlomo Gazit, former member of Palmach, an elite unit of the Haganah, wrote in Ha’aretz that “in the present situation, unfortunately, there is no equal treatment for Jews and Arabs when it comes to law enforcement. The legal system that enforces the law in a discriminatory way on the basis of national identity, is actually maintaining an apartheid regime.”

Last summer, Knesset minister Ahmed Tibi told the Jerusalem Post that “keeping the status quo will deepen apartheid in Israel as it did in South Africa,” while Gabriela Shalev, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, told The Los Angeles Times last year that, in terms of public opinion of Israel, “I have the feeling that we are seen more like South Africa once was.”

Council on Foreign Relations member Stephen Roberts, after returning from a trip to Israel and the West Bank, wrote in The Nation that “Israel has created a system of apartheid on steroids, a horrifying prison with concrete walls as high as twenty-six feet, topped with body-ravaging coils of razor wire.”

In April 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu’s own nephew, Jonathan Ben Artzi, wrote that Israel’s “policies of segregation and discrimination that ravaged (and still ravage) my country and the occupied Palestinian territories” undoubtedly fit the definition of Apartheid.

Linguist, cultural anthropologist, and Hebrew University professor David Shulman wrote in May 2012 in The New York Review of Books that there already exists “a single state between the Jordan River and the sea” controlled by Israel and which fits the definition of an “ethnocracy.”  He continues:

“Those who recoil at the term ‘apartheid’ are invited to offer a better one; but note that one of the main architects of this system, Ariel Sharon, himself reportedly adopted South African terminology, referring to the noncontiguous Palestinian enclaves he envisaged for the West Bank as ‘Bantustans.’”

These Palestinian Bantustans now exist, and no one should pretend that they’re anything remotely like a “solution” to Israel’s Palestinian problem. Someday, as happened in South Africa, this system will inevitably break down.

Whether those who get hysterical over Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric agree with the above assessments – many of which were made by prominent Israeli and Jewish politicians, officials and academics – is irrelevant.  It’s clear that Ahmadinejad himself would agree.

Consequently, his reference to Israel (which he sees as an Apartheid state) as an “insult to humanity” (which repeats the same verbiage used repeatedly by the United Nations itself) appears to be far less inflammatory then the outrage that followed would suggest.

Nima Shirazi is a political commentator from New York City. His Web site is www.wideasleepinamerica.com, where this story first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima




Pussy Riot’s Appeal for Justice

Exclusive: A Russian judge has sentenced three female “punk” rockers from the group “Pussy Riot” to two years in prison for performing a protest song at a Moscow cathedral, what the judge called anti-religious “hooliganism.” But Ray McGovern sees the protest as in the spirit of Mary, mother of Jesus.

By Ray McGovern

The song to which the punk band “Pussy Riot” danced on Feb. 21 in Russia’s iconic Christ the Savior Cathedral ends with a prayer asking Jesus’s mother Mary to “become a feminist,” but Mary always was a feminist through and through, with a voice speaking strongly for justice.

Centuries of saccharine portraits and iconography have obscured a more reality-based appreciation of this gutsy young woman. But recent scripture study throws light on how Mary implanted a vision of inclusive justice into the heart of Jesus.

Though Mary is not given a lot of airtime by the men who wrote the scriptures, it is not hard to figure out where she was coming from. Just give her a brief sound bite and those within earshot would have found her profoundly subversive of a corrupt system not unlike that existing today in the punk band’s Russia.

In Mary’s time, the religious authorities in Palestine were working hand in glove with the Herod-type sycophants of Caesar, and doing quite well, thank you very much. (No invidious comparison with Emperor Putin and the successfully co-opted Russian Orthodox prelates is intended, of course.)

Mary is thought to have been several years younger than the courageous women of “Pussy Riot,” but she clearly shared both their outspoken exuberance and belief that God was, in the end, a God of justice and would deliver. Here’s Mary upon learning she was to be the mother of Jesus, who might just deliver the Jewish people from their oppressors:

I am bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song …

God has shown strength,

Scattering the bluffing braggarts.

God knocked tyrants off their high horses,

Pulled victims out of the mud.

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;

The callous rich were left out in the cold. …

It’s exactly what God promised, beginning          

With Abraham and right up to now.”

(Luke 1: 50-55 Eugene Peterson translation)

As the passage shows, Mary was outspoken in her advocacy of inclusive justice, the biblical precondition for Shalom, which can be defined as peace, completeness or the elusive moment when everything is right. For in the biblical perspective, peace is no more nor less than the experience of justice.

Mary was in good company. Indeed, her views fit within the tradition of Miriam and other women prophets. Those familiar with the Hebrew scriptures may recall the part of Exodus recording the song and dancing of Miriam right after the Israelites make it to dry land just ahead of the ill-fated “horses and chariots of Pharaoh”:

The prophetess Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, while all he women went out after her with tambourines, dancing; and she led them in the refrain:

Sing to God gloriously triumphant;

Horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.

(Exodus 15:20-21 The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition)

Bible accounts include a long line of courageous women celebrating freedom, justice and Shalom. These stories of women include what is perhaps the first celebration of highly imaginative, as well as bold, nonviolent civil disobedience.

Who remembers Shiphrah and Puah from the first chapter of Genesis? Okay, here’s a brief refresher. They were the two midwives who defied Pharaoh’s order to snuff out the lives of all male Hebrew babies at birth. “Despite Pharaoh’s command,” says Genesis, “they feared God and refused to kill the boy babies.”

When Egypt’s homeland security operatives told Pharaoh of this defiance, he called Shiphrah and Puah on the carpet. They provided an artful alibi: “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women. Hebrews deliver their babies very quickly, before the midwives can get to them.”

Obstetrics at the time being at their infancy, so to speak, it is possible that Pharaoh’s physicians concurred. I am no biblical exegete and have read no biographies of that particular Pharaoh, but it seems to me equally possible that he was so bemused by their grit and imagination, and perhaps even by their instinctive rejection of infanticide, that he decided to let them off the hook.

In any case, without the fabled courage of Shiphrah and Puah, as the story goes, Moses and his big brother Aaron would never have gotten anywhere near the Red Sea. It strikes me as of a kind with the example set not only by “Pussy Riot,” but also strong American women witnesses for justice, in the Catholic Worker movement, for example, and in Code Pink.

And so back to the witness of the three women of “Pussy Riot,” sentenced to two years of prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” The facts strongly suggest that it was not “religious hatred,” but rather hatred of the undisguised, pandering role to which the Russian Orthodox Church has reverted in giving unqualified political support for President Vladimir Putin, as it did for the Tsars.

This can be seen in the following verses of their offending song, which clearly refer to Tsar Putin, formerly a senior official in the KGB and later head of the FSB, a successor agency to the KGB:

“Black robe, golden epaulettes

All parishioners crawl to bow

The phantom of liberty is in heaven …

 The head of the KGB, their chief saint.

Leads protesters to prison under escort

In order not to offend his Holiness …”

The punk musician JD Samson, interviewed on “Democracy Now,” shared this word of praise for the courage of the young Russian women in standing up to the highly authoritarian Russian government:

“One of the things that’s really strong for everyone is that they are staying so incredibly confident and strong. They’re standing there in handcuffs in a cage smiling, because they know that what they’ve done is ignite a fire in the rest of the world, and they’re extremely happy to have done so. And, yeah.”

And yeah.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington, DC. He has a M.A. in Russian from Fordham and holds a Certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown. He is a radical feminist.




The Know-Nothings Ride Again

In 2012, the political descendants of America’s Know-Nothings demonstrated that they had seized control of the Republican Party, which for much of the past six decades has held the White House and looks to reclaim that immense power again, as Lawrence Davidson explains.

By Lawrence Davidson

There is a universal phenomenon that I call natural localism. The majority of people, wherever they might live, are affected by this condition. It results in limited knowledge knowledge about what is local but ignorance (often breeding fear) about what is not local. Unless countered by positive education and tolerance, natural localism can result in aggressive behavior toward the unfamiliar.

In the year 1849, natural localism was institutionalized in a small nativist party in the United States called The American Party. It was basically an anti-immigrant affair with these white male Americans (overwhelmingly Protestant) ignorant and fearful of outsiders, such as Catholic immigrants of all nationalities, undermining the true character of the U.S. The party was influential for a short time, particularly in the Northeastern states, electing candidates to local office throughout the region.

Appropriately enough, adherents to the American Party came to be called “Know-Nothings.” There were two reasons for this: On one hand, party members tended to be secretive about their political affiliations, giving their party a strong conspiratorial flavor.

When asked about the activities of the American Party they would reply, “I know nothing.” On the other hand, they really did know almost nothing of the groups that exercised their passions. They thought all Catholics were under the complete command of the Pope, like religious zombies.

Ignorance was the hallmark of the “Know-Nothings” and, while they never did capture national power, they never went away. Today you can find their successors throughout the land, fixated on a wide range of issues:

, There are Americans who really know nothing about Muslims but are sure they are a mortal threat to the country. Muslims have replaced Catholics as the chief target of the modern Know-Nothings.

, There are other modern Know-Nothings who know nothing about Mexicans and other people from south of the U.S. borders but are sure that anyone who speaks Spanish or has a Spanish accent must be a threat.

,- There are some who know nothing about Iran, cannot even locate it on a map, but are sure it is a threat and should be attacked.

Actually the list of enemies and targets is nearly endless. And, given that Americans know so little about so much of what they have strong opinions about, it is inevitable that know-nothingness should contaminate the politics of the nation, except that today the Republican Party one of America’s two major parties plays the role of the modern Know-Nothing party.

Strong evidence for this conclusion comes from the circus that was the Republican presidential nominating campaign. Since almost all of the contenders for the nomination were self-congratulatory Know-Nothings, it is no surprise that the man who won that contest, Willard Mitt Romney, is one as well.

The Know-Nothing Candidate

Romney affirmed himself as the standard bearer of America’s modern Know-Nothing party during his recent trip to England, Israel and Poland. Here is how it went:

, He came close to being declared persona non grata in England by gratuitously questioning the adequacy of British security for the Olympic Games after all security issues had been addressed. The British papers pilloried Romney for his comments.

, In Israel, he made a speech before an audience of wealthy potential donors to his campaign (many of them flown in from the United States for the occasion). He told them that the difference between Israel’s economic achievement and that of the Palestinians was a function of a) superior Jewish culture and b) God’s will. Not one word about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

This statement was so outrageous, so historically off the mark, that one might wonder if it was just a publicity stunt to win favor with a moneyed crowd. But that is doubtful since  Romney had long ago aligned his views with his friend, Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu comes from a long line of fanatical Israelis who see the Palestinians as inherently inferior.

And, there is the fact that Romney has publicly stated that his thinking about Israel and the Jews was shaped by a book written by Dan Senor (now a foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign) titled Start-Up Nation The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.  This book suggests that Israel succeeded economically because of genetics: Jews are born smart and entrepreneurial.

Of course, this is just rubbish. Israel is a “donor state.” That is, from the beginning of its modern history and to a great extent today, it continues to thrive because of a huge annual influx of foreign aid. Billions of dollars pour into Israel every year from the U.S. government, donations from elements of world Jewry and also from Christian Zionists.

Given the level of these handouts, any relatively stable nation with a highly educated citizenry could do what the Israelis are economically doing. No Jewish genes required. Yet, just as the reality of occupation is absent from Romney’s frame of reference, so is the largess that has sustained Israel’s economic “miracle” for over 60 years.

, If you would like to publicly challenge Romney or his campaign staff on any of this, the reply you can expect was set down during his brief stay in Poland. As reporters sought to ask questions, Mr. Romney’s press assistant Rick Gorka replied, “kiss my ass.” Mr. Gorka is a Know-Nothing too. His crude response has not been disavowed by the candidate.

Willard Mitt Romney knows about what has been local in his life. He knows how to be a particularly negative businessman, the kind who takes corporations apart and exports their jobs. He also appears to know how to make a lot of money and not pay taxes on it. As a politician he can glad-hand you in order to get a donation and play the chameleon so you are not sure what many of his positions are.

He probably knows the other local things that most of us also know: how to balance a checkbook, drive a car and stay clean, etc. Beyond this, however, it is a safe bet that he is a Know-Nothing. Worse yet, he is prone to fill his void of ignorance with magical thinking. For instance, that declaration that Israeli success is not only based on cultural superiority, but is also a function of the “hand of Providence.”

Now this Know-Nothing candidate wants to be President. And he may well succeed depending on just how many other Americans know nothing in ways that make them comfortable with Mr. Romney’s ignorance.

For instance, we know that Christian Zionists (who outnumber the American Jewish kind) are the same sort of Know-Nothings and magical thinkers as Romney. They will almost surely vote for him.

The infamous 1 percenters, many of whom agree with Mr. Romney’s assertion that corporations “are people too” and have the same rights as individuals (more magical thinking), will vote for him. The “American Firsters,” many of whom think Barack Obama is a closet Muslim and no U.S. citizen at all, will vote for Romney, too.

But that coalition is not enough to win unless the Election Day turnout is exceedingly low. So, how many other Americans, who otherwise might pass for relatively rational individuals of voting age, will successfully be lured into Mr. Romney’s Know-Nothing party? After all, most Americans really know very little about the world beyond their local realm.

As the saying goes, “Ignorance is as ignorance does” particularly on Election Day.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




The Darkness of August 9

During World War II, Aug. 9 came to represent varying barbarities inflicted on innocent civilians, from the gassing of a Jewish Carmelite nun to the beheading of a German Christian war protester to the incineration of a Japanese city with a historic Christian church as Ground Zero, Gary G. Kohls writes.

By Gary G. Kohls

Seventy years ago this week, the Jewish Carmelite nun Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was murdered, killed on Aug. 9, 1942, by fellow German Christians at Auschwitz.

Born Edith Stein on Oct. 12, 1891, she was a contemporary of Adolf Hitler, who was two years older. She was the youngest child of an Orthodox Jewish woman whose husband died suddenly when Edith was a toddler.

Stein was a remarkable German Jewish feminist scholar who titled her PhD thesis “On the Problem of Empathy.” She was a Red Cross nurse during the bloody 1914 1918 “war to end all wars” and was inspired to convert to Roman Catholicism shortly after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila in 1921.

She was a popular lecturer for the German Catholic feminist movement during the Weimar years and felt called to become a Carmelite nun after the anti-Semitic Adolf Hitler took power in 1933. When she entered the Carmel at Cologne, Stein became Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

During the 14 years of the Weimar Republic, which began at the end of World War I, Stein became increasingly alarmed at the growing viciousness of German anti-Semitism. She tried unsuccessfully to warn the Vatican about the trend.

Despite her entry into the cloistered community at Cologne, the Nazis once in power after the Weimar Republic collapsed never forgot about her Jewish roots and her liberal inclinations. She fled Germany, but was hunted down by the Gestapo in Holland and sent to Auschwitz, along with her sister Rosa who had also become a Carmelite nun.

They were transported across Germany by box car in the heat of summer, arriving on Aug. 9, 1942. The sisters were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Their bodies were dumped in a mass grave, later to be exhumed so that the corpses could be incinerated in industrial-strength ovens that had not yet been installed in 1942.

“Gott Mit Uns” (God with us) was stamped on the belt buckles of the German Christian soldiers who made the trip go cheaply and efficiently all the way to the gas chambers. Those soldiers were simply following their orders to arrest, brutalize, transport and murder Jews and others whom their elite leaders considered subhuman. Gassing undesirables, without benefit of a jury trial, had been made legal by Hitler and his henchmen.

Tragically, most German Christian leaders during the pre-Nazi and Hitler years with the exception of a very small minority of courageous resisters had, at least by their silence if not their active support, endorsed the fascist, anti-Christic nationalism, militarism, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia and the legal right of the ruling elite to kill the enemies of the state.

In 1998, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was sainted in the Catholic Church.

Franz Jaegerstatter, Another Aug. 9 Victim

On Aug. 9, 1943, Franz Jaegerstatter, a devout Catholic pacifist from Austria, was murdered by German Christians for refusing to comply with Hitler’s conscription order to “serve” in the German army. He was one of a handful of known Catholic conscientious objectors to war known to have exercised their consciences and oppose the draft during the Hitler era.

Because of Jaegerstatter’s explicitly expressed, gospel-based, conscientious objection to war, he had been abandoned by his priest and bishop, as well as by his family and friends, all of whom had tried and failed to get him to understand that it was his patriotic duty to kill for “Volk, Fuhrer und Vaterland.”

His spiritual advisers had tried and failed to convince him that his commitment to gospel nonviolence was futile – and fatal, given the nationalistic militarism operating at the time. Instead, being obedient to Jesus’s ethical teachings about nonviolence and the God of love (rather than to men), he refused to recant of his beliefs.

Consequently, Jaegerstatter was beheaded at Brandenburg Prison on Aug. 9, 1943. Among his executioners were obedient baptized Christian soldiers whose belt buckles also read “Gott Mit Uns.”

The Bombing of Nagasaki

On Aug. 9, 1945, an all-Christian bomber crew, flying a B-29 Super Fortress that had been christened “Bock’s Car,” took off from Tinian Island in the South Pacific, with the blessings of their Catholic and Protestant chaplains.

In the plane’s hold was the second of the only nuclear bombs to ever be used against civilian cities containing innocent humans. The primary target – Kokura, Japan – was clouded over, so Bock’s Car headed for the secondary target, Nagasaki.

St. Mary’s Cathedral, located in Nagasaki City’s Urakami River district, was a massive building, one of the few structures in Nagasaki that was visible from 31,000 feet. It was one of the landmarks that the Bock’s Car’s bombardier had been briefed on for weeks before the mission. The cathedral was briefly seen through a break in the clouds, and the drop was ordered. The bomb exploded in a searing fireball as hot as the sun 500 meters above the church.

The Urakami Cathedral was the oldest and largest Christian church in the Orient, and Nagasaki had the oldest, largest and most influential Christian community in Japan, which was founded by the Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, in 1549.

The Nagasaki Christian community is legendary in the history of Japanese Christianity because of its secret, catacomb-like survival during two centuries of murderous persecutions by the Imperial Japanese government. Mass crucifixions took place in the early 1600s, with the banning, torturing and killing of devout Christians who refused to give up the faith.

Despite the persecutions and the formal outlawing of the religion (it was a capital crime to be a Christian in Japan for over two centuries), Nagasaki Christianity survived and ultimately flourished – until 11:02 a.m., Aug. 9, 1945.

The Nagasaki Christians who lived in the vicinity of the church did not survive. Six thousand of the church’s members were killed instantly, including all of the parishioners and priests who were attending mass that morning. Of the 12,000 members of the church, 8,500 eventually died because of the bomb. Three orders of nuns and a Catholic girl’s school were wiped out instantly.

Tens of thousands of others, mostly non-Christians, also died the day the bomb hit. Hundreds of thousands were mortally wounded, some in a state of lingering death that lasted for days, weeks, months or years. Radiation-induced disease and deformity among the “surviving” victims and their progeny continues to this day as a gruesome testament to the horrors of nuclear war.

What Imperial Japan could not do to Nagasaki Christianity over a period of 250 years – annihilate it – fellow Christians from America did in nine seconds. The Cathedral was totally destroyed and thousands of Nagasaki Christians were instantly boiled, incinerated, carbonized and vaporized into nothingness.

In my library, I have a picture of an irradiated crucifix that was photographed in the days following the blast, lying helplessly on its back, a deeply profound symbol of a religion gone wrong.

Blessing the Nagasaki Mission

Just before the Nagasaki mission on Aug. 9, 1945, Lutheran Chaplain William B. Downey of Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, prayed for the safety of the crew and for world peace.

Downey and his colleague, Father George Zabelka, were the two chaplains attached to the U.S. Army Air Force’s 509th Composite Group, whose major responsibility on Tinian was the delivery of the atomic bombs. Neither chaplain was aware of the terrible destructiveness of the secret “gimmick” weapons.

But they were just two of many millions of people adversely influenced by societal attitudes at the time. Zabelka said later that the whole structure of secular, religious and military society told me clearly that it was all right to ‘let the Japs have it.’ God was on our side.”

The two chaplains considered themselves responsible for the souls of the soldiers under their care. They both knew what the conventional incendiary and high explosive bombs were doing to Japan’s essentially defenseless cities in the spring and summer of 1945 leading up to the “gimmick” bombs, and yet, Zabelka admitted that I said nothing.He regretted that silence for the rest of his life.

Zabelka spent the last two decades of his life atoning for that silence, working tirelessly for world peace, denouncing militarism as being clearly anti-Christian. A contrite and sorrowful Zabelka was in Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1995, asking for forgiveness from the Japanese people for his role in what is now widely regarded as a crime against humanity and an international war crime.

Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, the foremost apostle of Christian nonviolence in America today, and the person most responsible for Zabelka’s conversion to gospel nonviolence, has dedicated his life and ministry to raising the consciousness of the church to the truths of Jesus’s nonviolent teachings. McCarthy says:

“Today, as for most of the last 1700 years, most Christians continue to justify as consistent with the spirit of Christ those energies, understandings and emotions which lead inevitably to August 9. Today most Christians still do not unequivocally teach what Jesus unequivocally taught on the subject of violence. Today most Christians still refuse to proclaim that violence is not the Christian way, that violence is not the Holy way, that violence is not the way of Jesus.”

Box Cars, Bock’s Cars and Ground Zeros

Every July 1, to call the Christian community to repent and return to the ethical truths of the original form of Christianity,  (i.e., the nonviolent love of friends and enemies as the way of Jesus), Father McCarthy leads a 40- day fast from solid foods, solemnly breaking it on August 9 at the site of the first atomic bomb detonation test site at Alamogordo, New Mexico. That secret test, on July 16, 1945, was blasphemously code-named “Trinity.”

McCarthy suggests that all ethically-minded people, especially Christians who practice their faith as if the Sermon on the Mount mattered, ponder the un-Christ-like horrors suffered by the hundreds of millions of war dead over the last century, the hundreds of millions of spiritually dead and dying veterans of foreign wars and the crippled civilian survivors of war and gun violence.

And he advises considering also the secondarily traumatized families of those soldiers who went off to the killing fields thinking that they were only doing their patriotic duty to some kind of god (and some kind of country) when they were actually mostly cannon fodder doing the bidding of war-profiteering corporations and the wealthy elite.

Of course, it goes without saying that we need to mourn for, repent of and try to reverse our nation’s militaristic nationalism and the ever-lasting U.S.-led wars that create more wealth for the weapons manufacturers and financiers and more suffering for their victims who are riding in figurative “box cars” heading toward torture chambers at detention camps like Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, CIA prisons around the world and maximum security prisons around the nation.

And, of course, we cannot ignore the substantial risk of spiritual death for the obedient active-duty soldiers who are aboard the “Bock’s Cars” over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and who knows where else in the world upon which the American empire is rapidly encroaching.

And we need to apologize to and compensate for the many innocent, un-tried and un-convicted victims of extra-judicial killings who are at the various Ground Zeros of the CIA and Pentagon-launched killer drones.

Gary G. Kohls, MD, is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church (www.ecapc.org) and is a member of a local non-denominational affiliate of ECAPC, the Community of the Third Way.




More US Soldiers Die in Vain

From the Archive: One year ago, 30 U.S. soldiers many from SEAL Team 6 died when a helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, deaths that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern said, tragically, were in vain. Though the war has faded from view, the killing goes on, 46 U.S. dead in July, eight more last week.

By Ray McGovern (Originally published on Aug. 7, 2011)

Many of those preaching at American church services on Sunday (Aug. 7, 2011) likely extolled as “heroes” the 30 American and eight Afghan troops killed Saturday west of Kabul, when a helicopter on a night mission crashed, apparently after taking fire from Taliban forces.

In churches across the country, the U.S. troops were surely praised for protecting “our way of life,” and few would demur given the painful circumstances. But, sadly, such accolades are at least misguided if not dishonest. Most preachers do not have a clue as to what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan or why.

Yet, should we fault these American preachers who reach for words designed to give comfort to their fellow citizens who are mourning the deaths of so many young servicemen? As hard as it might seem, yes, we should. It is high time these preachers be held to account, since the patriotic pap they dish out serves merely to perpetuate unnecessary killing.

Many preachers are intelligent enough to see through the propaganda for perpetual war; but most will not take the risk of offending their flocks with unpalatable truth. Better not to risk protests from pew patriots, and to avoid, at all costs, offending the loved ones of those who have been killed and, understandably, want to give some meaning to the young, snuffed-out lives.

Best to Just Praise and Pray

Far better to pray for those already killed now and those who in the future will “give the last full measure of devotion to our country.”

By and large, American preachers are afraid to tell the truth. They lack the virtue that Thomas Aquinas taught is the foundation of all virtue, courage. He wrote (to use the vernacular) that all other virtue is specious if you have no guts.

Writer James Hollingsworth hit the nail on the head: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Like the truth.

Those who ache the most in the face of unnecessary death are mothers. And many mothers do summon the courage to say, and say loudly, ENOUGH. Yes, my son died for no good purpose, these mothers painfully acknowledge. He did die in vain. Now, we all must deal with it. Stop the false patriotism. And most importantly, stop the killing.

Cindy Sheehan is one such mother. She and others have tried to put a dent into the specious logic that attempts to translate unnecessary death into justification for still more unnecessary death.

But they get little air or ink in the Fawning Corporate Media. Rather, what you can expect to hear today in the FCM is fulsome rhetoric about how these troops “cannot have died in vain”; how their deaths must redouble our resolve to “honor their sacrifice.”

Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, has already primed the pump, saying on Saturday (Aug. 6, 2011): “All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom.”

And Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, said, “The best way we can honor that sacrifice is to keep at it, keep fighting, keep moving forward. I’m certain that is what our fallen would have wanted, and it is certainly what we are going to do.”

All this was duly reported in the Washington Post and other leading U.S. newspapers, without context or comment. Throughout the day, TV viewers got a steady diet of this kind of specious logic from talk show hosts feeding on the grist from Mullen, Allen and others. After all, many pundits work for news organizations owned or allied with some of the same corporations profiteering from war.

Too bad CBS’s legendary Edward R. Murrow is long since dead; and the widely respected Walter Cronkite, as well. Taking the CBS baton from Murrow who had challenged the “red scare” witch hunts of Sen. Joe McCarthy, Cronkite gradually saw through the dishonesty responsible for the killing of so many in Vietnam and finally spoke up.

Corporal Shank & Specialist Kirkland

Five years ago, as I was lecturing in Missouri, the body of 18-year-old Cpl. Jeremy Shank of Jackson, Missouri, (population 12,000) came home for burial. He was killed in Hawijah, Iraq, on Sept. 6, 2006, while on a “dismounted security patrol when he encountered enemy forces using small arms,” according to the Pentagon.

Which enemy forces? Two weeks before Shank was killed, Stephen Hadley, then President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, acknowledged that the challenge in Iraq “isn’t about insurgency, isn’t about terror; it’s about sectarian violence.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Makiki added, “The most important element in the security plan is to curb the religious violence.” So was Shank’s mission to prevent Iraqi religious fanatics from killing one another? What do you think; was that worth his life?

On Sept. 7, 2006, the day after Shank was killed, President Bush, in effect, mocked his death by drawing the familiar but bogus connection to 9/11, claiming, “Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, America is safer, and American is winning the war on terror.”

Back at the First Baptist Church in Jackson, Missouri, Rev. Carter Frey eulogized Shank as one of those who “put themselves in harm’s way and paid the ultimate sacrifice so you and I can have freedom to live in this country.”

Correction: It was not Cpl. Shank who put himself in harm’s way; it was those who used a peck of lies to launch a bloody, unnecessary war, first and foremost, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, not to mention the craven Congress that authorized it and much of the U.S. news media that went cheerily along.

Was separating Shia from Sunni a mission worth what is so facilely called the “ultimate sacrifice,” or, for other troops, the penultimate one paid by tens of thousands of veterans trying to adjust to life with brain injury and/or lacking limbs?

Despite the self-serving rhetoric about “heroes,” the young, small-town Shanks of America stand low in the priorities of Establishment Washington. They are pawns in the war games played by generals and politicians far, far from the battlefield.

In the Army in which I served, the troops were often referred to simply as “warm bodies;” that is, at least before they became cold and stiff. But that term was normally not accompanied by the mechanistic disdain reflected in the memo by a Fort Lewis-McCord Army major that came to light in 2010.

On March 20, 2010, Specialist Derrick Kirkland, back from his second tour in Iraq, hanged himself in the barracks at Fort Lewis-McCord, leaving behind a wife and young daughter. Kirkland had been suffering from severe depression and anxiety attacks, for which he had been ridiculed by his comrades.

Expendable

As for his superiors, it was Army policy to do everything possible to avoid diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And so, Kirkland became a new entry in a little-known statistic; namely, the one that shows more active-duty soldiers are committing suicide than are killed in combat.

Not a problem for Maj. Keith Markham, Executive Officer of Kirkland’s unit, who put the prevailing attitude all too clearly in a private memo sent to his platoon leaders. “We have an unlimited supply of expendable labor,” wrote Markham.

And, sadly, he is right. Because of the poverty draft (aka the “professional Army”), more than half of which comes from small towns like Jackson, Missouri, and from inner cities, where good jobs and educational opportunity are rare to nonexistent.

I suspect that one factor behind the very high suicide rate is a belated realization among the troops that they have been conned, lied to, that they have been used as pawns in an unconscionably cynical game.

I would imagine that corporals and specialists, as well as high brass like the legendary two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, often come to this realization belatedly, and that this probably exacerbates the pain. Butler wrote War is a Racket in 1935, describing the workings of the military-industrial complex well before President Dwight Eisenhower gave it a name.

It is not difficult for troops to learn that the phenomenon about which Eisenhower warned has now broadened into an even more pervasive and powerful military-industrial-corporate-congressional-media-institutional-church complex. Small wonder the suicide rate is so high.

And for what? Please raise your hand if you now believe, or have ever believed, that the White House and Pentagon have sent a hundred thousand troops to Afghanistan for the reason given by President Barack Obama; namely, “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” the 50 to 100 al-Qaeda who U.S. intelligence agencies say are still in Afghanistan?

And keep your hands up, those of you who are about to throw something at the TV screen the next time Gen. David Petraeus intones the squishy phrase “fragile and reversible” to describe what he keeps calling “progress” in Afghanistan.

Troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan know better. It must be particularly hard for them to hear the lies about “progress,” and then be ridiculed and marginalized for having PTSD.

The Establishment Church

I added “institutional church” into the military-industrial-corporate-congressional-media-institutional-church complex coined above because, with very few exceptions, the institutional church is still riding shotgun for the system, and the wars.

Thus, instead of an indictment of “wars of choice” (formerly known as wars of aggression) in which many people die, including thousands of civilians, most men and women of the cloth are likely to fall back on platitudinous, fulsome praise for those who “have given their lives so that we can live in freedom.”

And there will be very few outspoken folk like Cindy Sheehan, painfully aware that courage and truth are far more important than fear, even when that fear includes the painful recognition that the life of a beloved son was wasted.

There may be just a few who will dare point out that the mission given our troops has made us less, not more, safe at home, and even ask what is so hard to understand about the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill or the peaceful message from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount?

Commenting on the killing of the 38 troops in the helicopter crash, preachers could consider using something less “quaint,” less “obsolete”, something more realistic and truer than the customary encomia for those who have made “the ultimate sacrifice.”

It might be more appropriate to turn to Rudyard Kipling for words more to the point, if politically and congregationally incorrect: “If they ask you why we died, tell them because our fathers lied.”

Or: “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.”

Ray McGovern served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for almost 30 years. He now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington, and serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




A Map’s Inconvenient Truth

The charge “anti-Semitism” is thrown around loosely by defenders of Israel as a way to discredit legitimate criticism and sometimes even the expression of inconvenient facts as happened recently regarding a map showing the steady erosion of Palestinian land, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

For the past few weeks, those taking local trains from New York City’s wealthier suburbs into Manhattan have encountered a succinct billboard history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The lesson comes in the form of four aligned maps showing the absorption of Palestinian land by Israel from 1946 to the present, along with a declaration that “4.7 million Palestinians are classified by the U.N. as refugees.” In all respects, the ad is historically correct.

This educational billboard was made possible thanks to the efforts of Henry Clifford, chairman of the area’s local Committee for Peace in Israel/Palestine who purchased the billboard space to educate readers on what really is happening under the Israeli regime of occupation so generously supported by U.S. dollars. Immediately the ads were labeled “anti-Semitic” by area rabbis and Jewish community leaders.

Here is the reasoning of Dovid Efune, “editor of the Manhattan-based Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner”: “This is anti-Semitic because when people think of the Jews they think of the Jewish state. Jews have seen this happen many times. It always starts with messaging that says Jews are committing a crime.”

Three things are to be said about Mr. Efune’s reaction: 1) He seems not to care that the map display and UN statistic are accurate and what that means for the lives of millions of people. 2) No doubt quite inadvertently, he does infer that what the ad reveals is criminal behavior. 3) If there is any truth to the assertion that “when people think of the Jews they think of the Jewish state” it is because Zionist propagandists have, for over 64 years, incessantly insisted on that identification.

Those Jews who have publicly denied the connection between Judaism and Israel have been abused and libeled. So, to the extent that Jews in general are identified with Israel’s “committing a crime,” you can thank the Zionists for that.

Rabbi Joshua Davidson (no relation to me), the senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El in northern Westchester, New York, says the map ad presents “a distorted and skewed view of a complicated conflict.” Actually, that is untrue. The ad simply puts forth historical truth. In addition, the conflict really is not as complex as Zionists say it is. It is the consequence of a rather straightforward, post-World War I, imperialist land grab that, in the case of Palestine, is on-going even now.

It was and continues to be justified by religious mythology on the one hand and the history of anti-Semitic persecution on the other. The land grab was originally abetted by the British imperial politicians, some of whom imagined that they were helping to fulfill biblical prophecy, and others who saw a Jewish homeland in Palestine as a way of solving the “Jewish problem” in Europe. The Palestinians, being seen as inferior natives, were then and are now, still pushed aside.

Fanaticism on the Ground

Rabbi Davidson might object to such simplicity, but Dani Dayan would not. Dayan is the leader of the “Yesha Council of Jewish Communities,” a leading organization espousing Israeli settlement of the West Bank. Unlike Rabbi Davidson, Dayan does not seek refuge in historical complexity. He lays it on the line in a recent New York Times Op-ed:

“Arabs called for Israel’s annihilation in 1967, and Israel legitimately seized the disputed territories, and the right of Israelis to call them home today, is therefore unassailable.”

Unfortunately, the days when conquest automatically resulted in a transfer of sovereignty ended with World War II. The primary rationale for the creation of the United Nations and the expansion of international law was to prevent just the sort of behavior Dayan describes.

Also, like the statement of Dovid Efune, Dayan’s argument is logically confused. He is claiming that the hyperbolic rhetoric of Arab leaders in the run-up to the 1967 war somehow frees Israel from its obligations as a signatory to such international treaties as the 4th Geneva Convention. Article 49(3) of that treaty prohibits an occupying power from “transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Successive Israeli governments, both of the Left and the Right, have energetically violated that law by transferring civilians into these conquered lands.

Dani Dayan now proudly points out there are some 350,000 of these illegal squatters (the number goes up by 200,000 if we include the Israeli transfers into Jerusalem). And, because this now constitutes the new “status quo,” Mr. Dayan proclaims that Israelis have the “right to call” such territories “home.”

Where did he get that right? From his god? From very ancient history? From the fact he walks about the area with an Uzi submachine gun strapped over his shoulder? There is certainly no basis for it in international law.

Dayan presents these illegally accomplished facts on the ground as “irreversible” and the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “unattainable.” He challenges his readers to understand the “realpolitik” truth of his position.

And, according to Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestinian Human Rights, it is hard to “doubt the force of Dayan’s reasoning on this central issue.” Well, if not settler leader’s reasoning, which is faulty, then certainly one cannot doubt Israel’s physical possession of increasing amounts of Palestinian land.

Apparently, the governments of the world have capitulated to Dani Dayan and vigilante squatters. Hamas, which would gladly defy them, is confined, also with international blessings, to Gaza, the world’s largest outdoor prison. Thus, there is no military presence on the ground that can gainsay Mr. Dayan. So what does this imply, that might makes right? Is that Mr. Dayan’s version of Israel acting as a “light unto the nations”? Apparently so.

The Need for Outside Pressure

But Dani Dayan and his settler movement have not written the final act in this tragedy. Even if we take note of his present position in the West Bank, and also admit that the “peace process” is a pitiful fraud, it is premature for Dayan to proclaim that he has won the struggle and we must all accept his “status quo.”

Colonialist ventures can be defeated in more than one way. The “usual” way is through prolonged and bloody armed struggle. Thanks to the world-class military machine the United States has helped Israel create and maintain, this is not a likely path to success. But such regimes have also been forced to transform themselves into more equitable, more democratic, and less repressive ones through concerted outside pressure. And such pressure is now as real and growing as Dayan’s squatter movement.

A major effort at outside pressure is the worldwide BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli-born professor at Exeter University in England, notes that this “campaign’s elasticity has made it into a broad process powerful enough to produce a new public mood and atmosphere.” As someone who has spent the last 35 years espousing the Palestinian cause, I can testify to the truth of that statement, even here in the United States.

It might very well be that Israel is here to stay. But that does not mean that it will always be the racist, oppressive society it is now. Consistently applied outside pressure, growing in scope and strength, can wear down support for ideologues such as those of Dani Dayan and his backers both in and outside of today’s Israel.

It can, slowly but surely, convince ordinary Israelis that they have a choice: go along with their expansionist leaders and face increasing international isolation or, as Pappe puts it, cooperate willingly in “finding a formula for joint living” that is, creating a better society that is tolerant and mindful of the need for justice, first and foremost for Israel’s victims, the Palestinian people. Also a nation that can be trusted to honor its obligations under international law.
 
It should be clearly understood that it is not just Israel’s future or that of the Palestinians that is at stake here. All of us have to ask what value we place on international law. What value do we place on a world that recognizes the primacy of law born of sane human reason, rather than religious mythology, apocalyptic fantasies, and tribal nationalism? It is all wrapped up together; as goes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so goes the viability of international law.

It is ironic in the aftermath of the Holocaust that international law was strengthened and now, as the history so simply displayed on Mr. Clifford’s billboards tells us, it is the Israelis who choose to cast it aside. If we allow this to happen, the world becomes more dangerous for all of us.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Romney’s Clueless Remark on Palestine

Republican Mitt Romney pandered to a right-wing pro-Israeli audience by claiming Israel’s economic success, relative to the widespread poverty in Palestine, reflected superior cultural values and possibly divine preference, a statement that ignored the impact of the longtime occupation, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

I seldom feel much sympathy for those who claim to be offended by someone else’s politically inspired remark. Remarks, however, that not only are offensive but also reveal a profound misunderstanding of an important situation or a destructive approach toward dealing with that situation, or both, should not be allowed to pass unnoticed.

In an exclusive big-money fund-raiser in Jerusalem on Monday, Mitt Romney presented a discourseon why Israel is more prosperous than the Palestinian territories. He couched this subject as an intellectual debate between the scholars Jared Diamond, who explains differences in economic success in terms of geography and natural resources, and David Landes, who explains such differences in terms of culture.

It’s culture, said Romney. “I recognize the power,” he said, “of at least culture and a few other things.” The only “other thing” he mentioned was “the hand of providence,” which preceded a further discourse about Israel as a “promised land” in which Israelis, relying on “themselves and the arm of God,” recognize “the purpose in this place.”

Conspicuously missing was any mention of the huge, elephant-in-the-room reason for the dismal state of the Palestinian economy: the systematic Israeli suppression of Palestinian economic activity.

That suppression has included in the Gaza Strip a suffocating blockade and in the West Bank (the explicit subject of Romney’s comparison) a less all-encompassing but still pervasive system of restricting transportation, separating people’s homes from their livelihoods, denying access to natural markets, requiring and denying permission for the simplest transactions, and countless additional ways of turning into a struggle the daily task of earning a living.

A recent World Bank report on the Palestinian economy stated, “The major constraints to private sector activity are the tight Israeli restrictions, and growth will not be sustainable until Palestinians have access to resources and are allowed to move freely.”

We should not be surprised anymore that Romney, in his effort to win whatever votes he thinks he can win by posing as the most unquestioning and uncompromising lover of Israel in the presidential race, should offer such an absurdly biased and truncated picture of economic realities on the ground.

On this trip he has spoken of his “passion” for Israel, thereby sticking a finger in the eye of George Washington, who in one of the sagest pieces of advice he offered in his farewell address warned that “a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils,” with some of the evils he enumerated being a remarkably prescient description of what we see today in U.S. relations and standing in the Middle East.

As for not only Palestinian economic activity but also Palestinian political and civil rights and national aspirations, Romney has effectively photoshopped them out of the pictures he has provided, including in a major address and interview before his current trip. And although he said he wasn’t going to try to make new foreign policy while on this trip, he did so by declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, even though the United States and nearly every other country in the world does not recognize it as such but instead considers it disputed territory.

Palestinian reaction to Romney’s latest comment was understandable. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said, “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation. It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.”

But the significance of Romney’s discourse goes beyond its offensiveness, racist or not, and its implications for any chance that as president he could be respected as an honest broker in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It indicates a failure, deliberate or not, to recognize a significant moral, legal and humanitarian issue that festers almost within earshot of where he was speaking.

Romney’s campaign claimed that negative reaction to his comments involved taking them out of context; the campaign noted that he made comparisons not only between Israel and the West Bank but also between the United States and Mexico and between Chile and Ecuador. That he did.

It is interesting that the differences in economic status in those other comparisons are of a similar order of magnitude as the approximately 2:1 ratio that Romney asserted was the case with Israel and the West Bank. As some observers promptly noted, Romney was way off in his figures. The World Bank estimates that GDP per capita in the Palestinian territories is about $1,500, not the $10,000 that Romney gave, and the relative difference with Israel is not 2:1 but more than 10:1.

We are not dealing here with one more indiscretion that is counted as a candidate’s gaffe, like that silly business about the Olympics in Britain. It is instead the indication of a fundamentally wrong-headed and destructive approach to a long-running conflict that is very bad for the Palestinians, bad for any hope for peace in the Middle East, for that reason also bad for Israel, and for all of those reasons and the consequences that flow from them, bad for the United States.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Romney Ups the Ante in Israel

Exclusive: Mitt Romney took his campaign to Israel with a belligerent speech suggesting that he, as President, would happily support an Israeli war against Iran. In a major foreign policy speech, he also ignored Palestinian rights and repeated some old Mideast canards, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told an audience of Israelis and some wealthy pro-Israel Americans that he is prepared to employ “any and all measures” to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons “capability,” a vague concept that arguably already exists.

Romney’s speech in Jerusalem on Sunday was accompanied by a comment from his top foreign policy adviser Dan Senor seeming to endorse an Israeli unilateral strike against Iran. “If Israel has to take action on its own,” Senor said, “the governor would respect that decision.”

In what was widely interpreted as an attempt by Romney to peel some Jewish votes and particularly Jewish financial support away from President Barack Obama, Romney insisted that he has long supported an aggressive strategy against Iran.

“Five years ago, at the Herzliya Conference [on Israeli security], I stated my view that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability presents an intolerable threat to Israel, to America, and to the world,” Romney said on Sunday. “That threat has only become worse.

“Now as then, the conduct of Iran’s leaders gives us no reason to trust them with nuclear material. But today, the regime in Iran is five years closer to developing nuclear weapons capability. Preventing that outcome must be our highest national security priority.

“We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded.”

By elevating Iran’s achievement of a nuclear weapons “capability” to America’s “highest national security priority” and vowing to “employ any and all measures” to prevent that eventuality, Romney is essentially threatening war against Iran under the current situation. In that, he is going beyond the vague language used by President Obama, who himself has sounded belligerent with his phrasing about “all options on the table” to stop Iran if it moves to build a nuclear weapon.

However, the nuance here is significant, since U.S. intelligence agencies and even their Israeli counterparts have concluded that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon even as it makes progress in a nuclear program that Iranian leaders say is for peaceful purposes only. Still, those lessons from a peaceful nuclear program arguably can give a country a nuclear weapons “capability.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s ““US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes.”]

In recent months, American neoconservatives and sympathetic journalists have slipped in the new weasel word “capability” in the face of complaints that the earlier formulation about Iran seeking nuclear weapons was contradicted by the U.S. intelligence assessment. For most casual readers, the subtle change was barely noted but the word “capability” can mean pretty much anything.

To deny Iran a nuclear “capability” would almost surely require a war between the United States and Iran, a course that some neocons have been quietly desiring for at least the past decade when the Iraq invasion was seen as a first step to bringing “regime change” to Iran or as some neocons joked at the time, “real men go to Tehran.”

Indeed, the massive U.S. Embassy in Baghdad which now sits increasingly idle can be best understood as the intended imperial command center for a new American dominance of the region. But those neocon plans were spoiled by the disastrous turn of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and ultimately America’s forced military withdrawal from the country at the end of 2011.

Usual Misquote

Romney’s speech in Israel was also peppered with the usual exaggerations about Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making threats about “wiping this nation off the map.” Though that quote is now widely known to be a mistranslation, U.S. leaders, including President Obama, have continued to cite it as part of their tough-talking indictment of Iranian intentions.

Indeed, repeating the bogus quote has become almost an expected signal of support for Israel. Romney even mocked those who note the mistranslation as something of Ahmadinejad apologists by adding: “only the naive or worse will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric.”

Beyond Romney’s full-throated advocacy of Israeli policies in the Middle East, his speech was also notable in that he made no reference to Palestinian rights or the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Romney’s references to the Palestinians were limited to his condemnation of Hamas, the militant group that now governs Gaza.

To drive his apparent disdain for Palestinian rights home, Romney referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, something the Obama administration avoids because the Palestinians hope that East Jerusalem might someday become the capital of their future state.

Besides ignoring Palestinian desires for statehood and self-determination, Romney finished his speech with flowery and some might say hypocritical rhetoric about the commitment of the United States and Israel to the rule of law and to democracy. He said:

“We both believe in democracy, in the right of every people to select their leaders and choose their nation’s course. We both believe in the rule of law, knowing that in its absence, willful men may incline to oppress the weak. We both believe that our rights are universal, granted not by government but by our Creator. 

“I believe that the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world. America’s support of Israel should make every American proud. We should not allow the inevitable complexities of modern geopolitics to obscure fundamental touchstones.

“No country or organization or individual should ever doubt this basic truth:  A free and strong America will always stand with a free and strong Israel. And standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone. We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel, voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries.

“By history and by conviction, our two countries are bound together.  No individual, no nation, no world organization, will pry us apart. And as long as we stay together and stand together, there is no threat we cannot overcome and very little that we cannot achieve.”

The New York Times reported that among the Americans flown to Israel to witness Romney’s speech were casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has vowed to spend $100 million to defeat Obama; Cheryl Halpern, a New Jersey Republican and advocate for Israel; Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets; John Miller, chief executive of the National Beef Packing Company; John Rakolta, a Detroit real estate developer; L. E. Simmons, the owner of a private-equity firm in Texas with ties to the oil industry; Paul Singer, founder of a $20 billion hedge fund; and Eric Tanenblatt, a Romney fund-raiser in Atlanta.

[For the full text of Romney’s speech, click here.]

To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.





Romney Pleases Political Donor on Israel

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is stopping in Israel to highlight his close ties to Prime Minister Netanyahu. But the visit also will showcase super Super-PAC donor Sheldon Adelson, whose money is aimed at defeating President Obama, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

In this first presidential election since the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court took away Congress’s legislative ability to reduce the corrupting influence of big money on the U.S. electoral process, there are worrisome manifestations of that influence every week.

For example, Mitt Romney right now is doing some fund-raising in Britainamong banking nabobs on the heels of the Libor-fixing scandal. A co-chair of an event that is charging $25,000 to $75,000 a head to schmooze with the presumptive GOP nominee is the chief lobbyist of Barclays. He replaced in that role former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond, who resigned (from his bank job and from his role in the Romney fund-raiser) because of his bank’s central role in the scandal.

But if I had to identify one source of big money whose influence is most worrisome on issues I happen to think about a lot, it would be someone who will meet Romney at a later stop on his current overseas trip, in Israel. That source is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Two things about Adelson’s role in this post-Citizens United world stand out. One is the sheer magnitude of the money involved. Adelson appears to be on track to be the single biggest individual donor in this U.S. election year, although we may never know that for sure, given the way the bundling of political money works and the refusal of the Romney campaign to identify the sources of its bundled money.

Adelson’s fortune is currently estimated at about $24 billion. He has taken in stride the fluctuation of his wealth by many billions as shares of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation tanked during the recession before recovering, and he has repeatedly commented about how wide he intends to open his wallet to the candidate of his choice. During the primary season, that candidate was Newt Gingrich. Adelson said he would have been willing to give as much as $100 million to Gingrich’s campaign, before that campaign ended and Adelson turned his support to Romney.

The other distinguishing characteristic of Adelson is the strength of his affinity to a foreign government, not just to a foreign country but to the policies of the current government of that country. It is appropriate that Adelson will be one of the greeters when Romney arrives in Israel because, although Adelson is a U.S. citizen, his declared primary allegiance is to Israel.

Adelson once commented that when he did military service as a young man it “unfortunately” was in a U.S. uniform rather than an Israeli one and that all he and his Israeli wife “care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.”

Adelson is using his fortune to push a political agenda in Israel as well as in the United States. One way he has done that is by establishing five years ago a free-distribution newspaper, Israel Hayom, which has become the highest-circulation daily in Israel. The paper follows a firmly rightist, pro-Netanyahu line. As a business the newspaper is a money loser, but Adelson cheerfully has indicated his willingness to continue losing money on the paper (not a significant loss, in comparison with his fortune) to get its message across.

Israel already has a government to Adelson’s liking, and he is using his money to sustain public support for it. In the United States, it is a matter of still trying to buy a government to his liking. His current hoped-for vehicle for doing that, Mitt Romney, has to date left his foreign policy largely a blank beyond slogans and the most general of themes.

This was fully in evidence in his pre-trip VFW speech, in which the paucity of specific alternatives to the Obama administration’s policies was as evident as the rhetorical vehemence with which the Obama foreign policy in general was denounced. (Jacob Heilbrunn has furnished a good guide on how to interpret that speech.)

It is possible, of course, that very specific foreign-policy ideas are firmly embedded in the candidate’s head, being kept in occultation there until he is elected. It is at least as plausible that there is much opportunity for those who would enjoy influence with a President Romney, including those most helpful in electing him, would have considerable opportunity to influence the policies that eventually emerge.

In Adelson’s case, so much money is involved that it is hard to believe that money would not buy something on matters he feels most strongly about. When Gingrich was his man, it bought a candidate who dismissed the Palestinians as an “invented” people.

Adelson probably has strong feelings about some of the same fiscal and economic matters that some other very wealthy Americans have strong feelings about. He has griped, for example, about the whole idea of progressive income taxes. But given where he has put both his money and his mouth, matters relating to Israel are of prime importance to him.

Romney and the Republicans have, of course, been trying to use sentiment toward Israel as one of the themes for bashing Obama. Here’s what Romney said about Israel in the VFW speech:

“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem. The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.”

The efforts of politicians to win votes by exaggerating differences often makes it hard to recognize how elements of continuity and similarity may be much greater than the differences. The Obama administration’s policies toward Israel mostly have followed in the familiar bipartisan American pattern of great deference to the wishes of the Israeli government of the day.

The billions of aid and security support continue unquestioned, regardless of the difficulties that Israel causes for U.S. interests. The acceptance of, and much U.S. help for, overwhelming Israeli regional military superiority continues.

The Obama administration pointed out the unacceptability of Israeli colonization of occupied territory but then promptly caved to Netanyahu on the issue. On Iran, Obama has adopted the Israeli position about the “unacceptability” of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while saying nothing about the Israeli nuclear arsenal. And at the United Nations, it is hard to figure out what those “accusations, threats, and insults” are that supposedly have been voiced by the President, but under Obama the United States has continued to cast lonely vetoes, against the will and moral sense of the overwhelming majority of the world community, on behalf of Israel on subjects such as Israeli settlements built in occupied territory.

A markedly different U.S. course certainly could be envisioned, but it would not be a course that Romney is recommending and definitely not one that Adelson would want. Any difference between Obama’s policies on Israel and what Romney is suggesting or Adelson is seeking is the difference between usual obeisance to Israel and complete obeisance to it.

A change in this other direction would mean not only furnishing Israel with vetoes of U.N. resolutions about settlements but also not even raising the subject with the Israelis. It would mean being more careful around open microphones in commenting about how much of a problem Netanyahu is. It would mean a bigger act of outsourcing than anything done by any company controlled by Bain Capital: the outsourcing of an important segment of U.S. foreign policy to a foreign government. That is contrary to U.S. interests, no matter which foreign country is involved.

What Adelson is doing also is ultimately contrary to the interests of Israel. Those on the Israeli Left obviously are most inclined to see his activity that way. The blatant nature of his fortune-fueled political activism has also caused some unease in Israel because of the danger of eliciting the most damaging forms of prejudice. Ira Sharkansky of Hebrew University observes:

“It’s hard to imagine a better advertisement for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion than Sheldon Adelson. A Jew who is enormously wealthy on the basis of gambling enterprises on the fringes of respectability, who does not shrink from publicity about using his wealth for Jewish causes, . . . Adelson fits in the long tradition of court Jews, using their wealth to gain access to whoever is ruling in order to benefit the Jewish community. Where Adelson differs from Jewish traditions is in making his wealth felt in front of the curtains rather than behind them.”

To the extent that Sharkansky’s concerns about the exacerbation of anti-Semitism materialize, that would be bad in general and bad for Israel. Even if they do not materialize, Sheldon Adelson is doing no favor to the country he says he loves by promoting policies that condemn it to perpetual conflict and isolation. Sometimes love is blind, even in a man smart enough to have made billions.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)