Take a large dose of hubris, combine it with Lord Acton’s famous dictum (“power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”), and you emerge with an explosive, reckless abuse of authority on a number of fronts.
We could talk in this regard about BP (“too big to take on”) and its ruination of an entire region of the U.S., the Catholic Church’s continuing coverup in its sexual-abuse-of-children scandal, President Obama’s ratcheting up disastrous CheneyBush policies domestically and in Afghanistan, and no doubt many others you can think of. But, since space is limited, let’s concentrate on the example of Israel’s horrific abuse of its military power on the high seas.
Bibi and Victimhood
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The Netanyahu regime in Tel Aviv, and the U.S. Hard Right and its mainstream media enablers, are attempting to divert attention away from the real issue underlying Israel’s murderous raid on the Gaza Peace Flotilla. Instead, they are trying to refocus the discussion elsewhere: the “self-defense” boundary rights of nations in international waters, for example, or Helen Thomas’ reprehensible statements about the necessity for Jews in Israel to leave their country and “go home” to Germany and Poland.
The real issue, of course, is Israel’s self-defeating Occupation and its refusal to accept the reality that Hamas won a democratic election to represent Palestinians in Gaza and that Israel needs to negotiate with it. On the other side, Hamas refuses to recognize the reality that Israel is not going to disappear from the scene no matter how much they wish it were so and that Hamas will have to negotiate with it.
Israel’s raid on the flotilla, Netanyahu hoped, would rub Palestinian noses in the utter powerlessness of Hamas and thus convince Gaza residents to abandon that political organization as their protector. Israel’s over-reaction — who could have guessed?— led to the exact opposite result: It bolstered Hamas’ position.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing from Bibi’s short-term point of view, since he doesn’t want any peace that would result in an independent Palestine next door. He, like Sharon and other Likudnik prime ministers, prefers instead to crush and destroy the Palestinians — perhaps getting them to migrate to Jordan or Egypt or somewhere — or, at the very least, to keep them forever humiliated, weak, powerless, fighting amongst themselves. (New York Senator Charles Schumer praised Israel’s policy of half-starving Gaza’s residents, which tactic of “mass punishment of civilians” is a war crime under international law.)
Making You Enemies Disappear
The unfortunate outburst by veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas (whose long, courageous career of speaking-truth-to-power and journalistic tenacity deserves to be honored) is based on a similar fantasy held by huge numbers of Palestinians and other Muslims: that “the Jews” in Israel, most of whom made their homes in that country for many decades, will disappear into the ether somehow or voluntarily migrate to Poland, Germany, the U.S., et al., supposedly countries that will be overjoyed by that prospect. Ain’t gonna happen.
The ideology of victimhood explains a lot about the stubborn refusal of both Netanyahu and Hamas and their followers to recognize reality. In their respective views, only they qualify as true victims, with the exclusive right of “self-defense” to protect themselves from further harm. The Other is some lesser human species, with no rights or concerns worth bothering about.
Hamas, of course, has some short-range rockets to send into Israel and an occasional suicide bomber. Israel, on the other hand, can obliterate the Palestinians with its U.S.-supplied military might, and even has nuclear weapons in its back pocket, just in case. So there is no equivalancy in military power here, and Israel, acting out of hyper-paranoia and “never-again” rage, is rampaging around the Middle East exercising its advantage like bullies everywhere, seemingly without any consideration of the consequences on their victims and themselves.
The Turkish Factor
But there is another theory making the rounds, which holds that Israel’s real intent in the Gaza Flotilla raid was to send a shot across the bow of Turkey, which is re-asserting its major-power role in a developing regional alliance with Syria and Iran. Turkey, feeling unwanted by its Western allies in the European Union, is turning East, the theory goes. (For more of this Turkey theory, see Pepe Escobar’s “There Is a Method to Israel’s Madness.“)
While I think there is some validity in this analysis — most of those shot dead at close range by the Israeli commando raiders were Turkish activists, let us not forget — I stick to the mad-dog incompetence theory behind Netanyahu’s rampage.
In a way, Netanyahu is Bush in a yarmulke. He is so uncomfortable dealing with the complexities of real-life situations that he quickly resorts to his default black-and-white solution: military violence. Which, as was the case with Bush, makes him a reckless, dangerous leader, one with tunnel vision focusing mostly on short-term gain and to hell with history.
Netanyahu thus is a perfect manifestation of power run amok. His government faces a weak domestic opposition and an American president who basically makes noises of disapproval but continues backing Israel no matter what it does. Nobody else in Israel’s neighborhood wants to take them on in warfare. In short, Israel feels it can do whatever it wants to do, behave as brutally as it wants to, tell the complaining world to sod off, and suffer no real consequences.
Power unfettered all too often is power unleashed. The world witnessed that last week in Israel’s over-the-top military assault on the Gaza Flotilla, with the resulting deaths and injuries, some captured on videotape. The pro-Palestinian activists who organized that humanitarian mission knew Netanyahu’s reputation as a hardliner and probably counted on an Israeli over-reaction (but not one this extreme) that would bring the issue of the Gaza blockade once again front and center onto the world stage.
And, of course, Bibi reflexively swallowed the bait. He could have successfully handled the ships running Israel’s blockade in more traditional, less-provocative ways, but Netanyahu had a point to make to the outside world (especially to the Turks and Americans): back off, don’t intervene in our area of hegemony.
Zionism and My God vs. Yours
But let’s step back just a bit and see where the Likud’s bullyish policies might have originated.
Zionism arose in the late-1800s after centuries of deadly anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. After Hitler wiped out six million Jews, the post-war rallying cry was “Never again!” In other words: “Next time we’ll fight back and you’ll rue the day you even thought of attacking us. We will never again be thought of as Jews who went meekly to the gas chambers. We will make our enemies quake in their boots at our strength and willingness to strike back with ferocity.” That kind of thinking, which is in the DNA of so many Israelis, helps us understand a lot about that country’s policies.
Zionism rested on a belief that the land of Palestine really belonged to the Hebrew tribes, and the Torah and history were used to assert their case. As is now obvious, anyone who believes God favors their cause exclusively is going to get in big trouble, since others also claim divine authority for their exclusive causes. Hardly an attitude that can lead to anything but conflict and national/religious warfare.
Continuing this brief historical summary: The Zionists arrived in Palestine in huge waves of immigrants; using terrorist tactics, they forced the British rulers out and, after the United Nations proposed a partition of Palestine, Zionist zealots proceeded to frighten many Palestinian inhabitants into leaving. (Also not to be forgotten: Neighboring Arab leaders and countries urged Palestinians to leave “temporarily” until the Israelis could be defeated in war.) Whenever threatened or attacked by their Arab neighbors, Israel responded with overwhelming military power. It was hardly ever an eye for an eye, but more like 100 eyes for an eye. The “Never Again” policy resulted in Arabs thinking twice before enraging the Israel military giant, which was backed, as always, by overwhelming amounts of military hardware obtained from their senior partner, the U.S. of A.
Israel seemed an invincible force in the Middle East. The only way to attack it was by asymmetrical means: publicize their brutality, shame them into more civilized behavior, make them pay for their Occupation, have kids throw rocks at their soldiers, send rockets their way, hijack airplanes, kill Olympic athletes, dispatch suicide bombers into pizza parlors and weddings in Tel Aviv, etc.
But instead of having the desired result of Israel altering its violent ways, the effect was like poking a stick into a hornets’ nest, and Israel responded with overwhelming force, bombing and bulldozing homes and assassinating PLO leaders and firing live ammunition into demonstrations and so on. Did Israel care that much of the world saw them as arrogant thugs, and passed antagonistic resolutions in the U.N. Security Council? Not really: “We showed them we won’t be messed with. Never again!” Rinse and repeat.
Will Things Ever Change?
Netanyahu and his rightwing allies are locked into that violence-first-ask-questions-later mode. The changing realities on the ground just roll off them like water on a duck’s back. They don’t even seem to care that the demographics inside Israel are not in their favor. Or that they left Mossad’s M.O. and evidence all over the Dubai assassination of a Hamas leader. Or that they suffered a severe bloody nose in Lebanon at the hands of Hezbollah. Or that Obama is starting to make louder noises of disapproval about Israel’s militarist policies. Or that millions of American Jews no longer blindly support Israeli policy — indeed, these American Jews tend to believe that for the sake of morality and fairness and Israel’s future, there needs to be a major shift in Israel’s Palestine policy. This shift includes actually altering policy to lead to a viable two-state solution, ending the Occupation of the West Bank, pulling out of most of the Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, etc.
But as long as Netanyahu is in power in Israel, it seems apparent that nothing will change. The only hope for a real shift in policy would involve the U.S. government threatening to cut off economic and military aid if that change is not forthcoming, and/or if the internal politics inside Israel alter enough to lead to a withdrawal of public and parliamentary support for Netanyahu.
If none of that happens and soon, and it doesn’t seem likely, we should prepare to see a Middle East conflagration beyond our worst fears, with mass slaughter on scales unimaginable, more terrorist attacks abroad and even within the U.S., and with America dragged into yet another war in that unfortunate region of the world.
As U.S. citizens who care about America’s future, Israel’s future, the Palestinians’ future, the world’s future, we cannot sit by and let that happen.#
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international relations at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner.