Obama’s Deadly Silence

Ali Abunimah
The Electronic Intifada

“I would like to ask President-elect Obama to say something please about the humanitarian crisis that is being experienced right now by the people of Gaza.” Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney made her plea after disembarking from the badly damaged SS Dignity that had limped to the Lebanese port of Tyre while taking on water.

The truce Hamas had meticulously upheld was shattered when Israel attacked Gaza, killing six Palestinians, as The Guardian reported on 5 November. A blatant disregard for the facts, it seems, will not leave the White House with George W. Bush on 20 January.
The small boat, carrying McKinney, the Green Party’s recent presidential candidate, other volunteers, and several tons of donated medical supplies, had been trying to reach the coast of Gaza when it was rammed by an Israeli gunboat in international waters.

But as more than 2,400 Palestinians have been killed or injured — the majority civilians — since Israel began its savage bombardment of Gaza on 27 December, Obama has maintained his silence. “There is only one president at a time,” his spokesmen tell the media. This convenient excuse has not applied, say, to Obama’s detailed interventions on the economy, or his condemnation of the “coordinated attacks on innocent civilians” in Mumbai in November.

The Mumbai attacks were a clear-cut case of innocent people being slaughtered. The situation in the Middle East however is seen as more “complicated” and so polite opinion accepts Obama’s silence not as the approval for Israel’s actions that it certainly is, but as responsible statesmanship. It ought not to be difficult to condemn Israel’s murder of civilians and bombing of civilian infrastructure including hundreds of private homes, universities, schools, mosques, civil police stations and ministries, and the building housing the only freely-elected Arab parliament.

It ought not to be risky or disruptive to say that Israel has an unconditional obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to lift its lethal, months-old blockade preventing adequate food, fuel, surgical supplies, medications and other basic necessities from reaching Gaza.
But in the looking-glass world of American politics, Israel, with its powerful first-world army, is the victim, and Gaza — the besieged and blockaded home to 1.5 million immiserated people, half of them children and eighty percent refugees — is the aggressor against whom no cruelty is apparently too extreme.

While feigning restraint, Obama has telegraphed where he really stands; senior adviser David Axelrod told CBS on 28 December that Obama understood Israel’s urge to “respond” to attacks on its citizens. Axelrod claimed that “this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks as Hamas began its shelling [and] Israel responded.”

Axelrod also recalled Obama’s visit to Israel last July when he ignored Palestinians and visited the Israeli town of Sderot. There, Obama declared: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
This should not surprise anyone. Despite pervasive wishful thinking that Obama would abandon America’s pro-Israel bias, his approach has been almost indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s.

Along with Tony Blair and George W. Bush, Obama staunchly supported Israel’s war against Lebanon in July 2006, where it used cluster bombs on civilian areas, killing more than 1,000 people. Obama’s comments in Sderot echoed what he said in a speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, in March 2007. He recalled an earlier visit to the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the border with Lebanon which he said reminded him of an American suburb. There, he could imagine the sounds of Israeli children at “joyful play just like my own daughters.” He saw a home the Israelis told him was damaged by a Hizballah rocket (no one had been hurt in the incident).

Obama has identified his daughters repeatedly with Israeli children, while never having uttered a word about the thousands — thousands — of Palestinian and Lebanese children killed and permanently maimed by Israeli attacks just since 2006. This allegedly post-racial president appears fully invested in the racist worldview that considers Arab lives to be worth less than those of Israelis and in which Arabs are always “terrorists.”

The problem is much wider than Obama: American liberals in general see no contradiction in espousing positions supporting Israel that they would deem extremist and racist in any other context. The cream of America’s Democratic party vanguard — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Howard Berman, New York Senator Charles Schumer, among others — have all offered unequivocal support for Israel’s massacres in Gaza, describing them as “self-defense.”

And then there’s Hillary Clinton, the incoming secretary of state and self-styled champion of women and the working classes, who won’t let anyone outbid her anti-Palestinian positions.
Democrats are not simply indifferent to Palestinians. In the recent presidential election, their efforts to win swing states like Florida often involved espousing positions dehumanizing to Palestinians in particular and Arabs and Muslims in general. Many liberals know this is wrong but tolerate it silently as a price worth paying (though not to be paid by them) to see a Democrat in office.

Even those further to the left implicitly accept Israel’s logic. Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, criticized Israel’s attacks on Gaza as a “reckless” and “disproportionate response” to Hamas rocket attacks that he deemed “immoral.”

There are many others who do nothing to support nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation and colonization, such as boycott, divestment and sanctions but who are quick to condemn any desperate Palestinian effort — no matter how ineffectual and symbolic — to resist Israel’s relentless aggression. Similarly, we can expect that the American university professors who have publicly opposed the academic boycott of Israel on grounds of protecting “academic freedom” will remain just as silent about Israel’s bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza as they have about Israel’s other attacks on Palestinian academic institutions.

There is no silver lining to Israel’s slaughter in Gaza, but the reactions to it should at least serve as a wake-up call: when it comes to the struggle for peace and justice in Palestine, the American liberal elites who are about to assume power present as formidable an obstacle as the outgoing Bush admin-istration and its neoconservative backers.

4 Comments

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  3. swanto

    January 21, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Benjamin Netanyahu-..civilization and other newspeak

    “What’s this”, I asked myself? No more droning?

    A few days into Israel’s attack on Gaza, and listening to the morning score when it was Israel four hundred and Gaza ten, I was startled by the voice of an interviewee claiming to be Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Because the content of what he was saying was so completely absurd, I thought the programmers had finally had enough of the neutered “straight down the middle” and decided on a new, brassy tack.

    Was it Orson Welles imitating Netanyahu? Had the Mercury Theater been resurrected? Was this whole Gaza thing just a spoof like “The War of the Worlds” had been? It’s been so long since that famous stunt; maybe somebody was trying to jazz things up.

    No. As it turns out Orson Welles is dead and gone.

    If not a spoof, what then? Maybe it was the sixtieth anniversary of Orwell’s “Brave New World”? Maybe the speaker was just giving examples of “newspeak”, “doublespeak” and “doublethink”? To be followed by a brilliant illumination of the cultural and psychological roots and implications of “War is Peace”?

    As it turns out George Orwell is dead and gone too, no audience for 1984.

    Max Headroom! That’s it; a ploy to broaden the audience by interesting the Goths in current events. Maybe what Netanyahu was saying was just a message from the Zic-Zac Corporation, part of a necromancer conspiracy, the broadcast just being hacked in from that place they invented: “cyberspace”.

    Sadly, as I continued to listen to the report I realized that despite how crazy the words were this was reality. Not aliens, not a warning of a future that might include “Big Brother”, and not some contemporary nerd internet fetish but a spokesman for an American ally calmly and assuredly praising what just a few generations earlier would have been universally seen as complete crap.

    For what he said, as the body-count ratio was about forty to one, was that the conflict in Gaza was a clear example of moral and cultural superiority. He said that the four hundred or so Gazans murdered by Israel were an example of “civilized” behavior, while the ten Israelis murdered by Hamas rocketry represented “barbarity”. Presumably he said this with a straight face as the NPR host did not gag.

    Even though anyone with half a brain knows that when munitions are expended in civilian areas it is one hundred percent certain that innocents will be killed, this pomposity with an Oxford accent insisted that the fifty or so children blown up were “accidents” and therefore “proof” that Israel represented a superior people. This disgusting and half-witted assertion that the willful and premeditated murder of children is the new standard by which civilized behavior may be measured, indeed praised, was not challenged by the interviewer, nor has any mainstream commentator labeled it the racist garbage that it really is. On the other hand, everyone agrees that the Hamas rockets are “terrorist” acts.

    As shocking as this erosion of humanity in Israel may be, because I am an American, and my father’s people were Jews, I am doubly embarrassed by the complicity of my government in these horrible acts.

    Since these things are really happening, and the report was not an artful concoction to prod our consciences, I abandoned looking to the arts for an explanation, and turned to history for precedent.

    Even though the Israelis had withdrawn from Gaza, I think it would be fair to say that they still exercise a “remote” jurisdiction in that area. While through this clever arrangement they avoid the legal responsibilities of an occupying force, it is that de facto control which leads us to seek other examples of “civilized” behavior by which to evaluate Mr. Netanyahu’s twisted boasting.

    If the object of the assault was a response to the rocket attacks, then how have such acts been traditionally described? When a conquered or occupied people murders members of the foreign force or people, and then the foreign force responds by murdering some of them, what word does history have to describe that situation?

    Reprisal.

    In my mind, the clearest and best learned examples of reprisal in recent history come from the German occupation of Europe during the Second World War. Then, there was no confusion whatsoever as to what “civilized” behavior was and what was “barbaric”.
    It was crystal clear that the German behavior then represented not an honorable or civilized people, but a heinous descent into the most despicable regions of deranged madness ever recorded.

    During that occupation, as so many novels and movies have taught us, when the resistance would snuff a German, the authorities, usually in the form of the dreaded Gestapo, would haul out and execute some perfectly innocent civilians in reprisal as a warning to prevent further acts of sabotage or resistance.

    Not only was barbarism clearly understood when a controlling force deliberately murdered an innocent person, the particularly disgusting nature of the Germans was amplified by the fact that they would shoot ten of the locals for every one German soldier slain. Ten to one became the standard of horror and depravity. No nation in modern history is held in lower regard than the Third Reich. These monsters killed, in reprisal, ten for one.

    Reinhardt Heydrich was, even by Nazi standards, a particularly gruesome character. Highly educated and cultured, he took a particular delight in murder and sadism, and was rewarded by the Nazis with rapid advancement to the highest levels in the apparatus of the Holocaust. Because he personified evil itself, he was a target of the allies and the resisting peoples of occupied Europe. The Czechs got him in 1942.

    The Nazis were furious. Their response, the “reprisal”, is known in history as Lidice.

    After Reinhardt was killed the Germans shot all adult males in town. The women and children were shipped off to work “camps”. Only seventeen of the little ones survived. In all, three hundred and forty Czechs were murdered in reprisal for the murder of a single SA chief. This record, 340 to 1, represents in history an ignoble example of reprisal and barbarity.

    Last week, the representative of Israel, a man who might soon be the head honcho of “our closest ally”, a nation born of the Holocaust, asserted that 40-1 represented a “civilized” act.

    Our leaders, Christian folk at Christmas time, did not condemn this utter insanity.

    Today, with the Palestinians piling up like cord, the body count is about seven hundred to fifteen. The Gazans are becoming more barbaric; now they are being killed at a rate of fifty to one.

    Benjamin Netanyahu, a protégé of the man found responsible for the massacres at Sabra and Shattilla, has long demonstrated a racist indifference to the wholesale slaughter of innocent Arabs. A most peculiar attitude given that no race is more similar to Jews than Arabs.

    Was it Willie Nelson that said “Dreams don’t make noise when they die”? Perhaps on the flip side we might find that like Santa, Big Brother doesn’t ring the bell when he arrives.

    The latent bestiality in all of us is revealed by the process by which we devolve from a moral people who saw Lidice for what it was, into the population that is not indignant by the “Reprisal Show” playing on the telly. Its not just terrorists, or Nazis, or Israelis; it is all of “humanity”. We can accept the upside down “newspeak” definition of civilization, or we can remember what the purpose of “civilizing” was meant to be.

    As the Israelis perfect their concept of civilization, they are still far short of the record of 340 to 1. But give them some time; they are still a young nation. Or, if we cannot wait for history in a world where “everything” has changed”, we can simply take a language shortcut. It would be simpler for everyone if we just redefined what we mean by “civilization”. Why wait for somebody to rack up another 340-1 score before giving them the gold medal? We can just make a new word. I’m leaning towards “Neo-Civilized”.

    In our new morally complacent world we can’t be bothered with old-fashioned concepts of civilization vs. barbarity. We need to get to our superiority faster. “Neo-Civilized” will allow us this distinction even when the reprisal rate remains below 100-1.

    And, oh yeah, Merry Christmas.

  4. Midnight

    January 22, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Who ever wrote this I think you would love the article Moral Clarity below.

    If you think the humanitarian crisis in Dafur and Isreal is relevant, then read on and open your eyes. You are next — the Islamic chant is first the Saturday (jews)people, then the Sunday (christians)people.

    Do you know there was no such identity as the Palestinians before the 1960’s? It’s made up by Arab states. The same Arab states that committed genocide against the Armenians — they weren’t Muslim enough. You know Hitler got his idea from this? Hitler didn’t invent the yellow star, it was present in Islamic cultures that have apartheid against non-Muslims. The Grand Mufit — Yasser Arafat’s uncle was the one that told Hilter to step up killing jews… http://www.palestinefacts.org/pf_mandate_grand_mufti.php

    I have never heard you once call for the liberation of Pakistan — which was formed the same year and same way as Isreal. The Muslims also said no other religion could co-exist there and kicked out millions of Hindus and Sikhs etc. Yet, noone questions Pakistan’s right to exist, or demands a right of return for those people.

    What about all the Jews that were displaced from the Middle East and Africa for the same reason, no one is calling for a right to return..
    http://www.jimena.org/

    If you want a good book that lets you know the history read

    Hatred’s Kingdom by Dore Gold

    and the mindset can be found in the books

    Because they Hate by Brigitte Gabriel

    Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West
    by Robert Spencer

    Moral Clarity in Gaza situation…
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/01/AR2009010101780.html

    Israel…

    http://www.terrorismawareness.org/what-really-happened/

    This is how they are taught to hate…

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3369102968312745410

    http://www.obsessionthemovie.com/

    http://thethirdjihad.com/

    This is the former terrorist Walid Shoebat..

    http://www.shoebat.com/

    3 former terrorists, one from Dearborn, Michigan…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaUftcRJ5wo

    other sites of interest… http://www.christiansstandingwithisrael.com/arab_propaganda_part_one.html
    http://www.geocities.com/palestiniansarelies/PalestinianPropaganda

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