Sunday, June 06, 2010

Will Helen Thomas Be The Next Victim Of U.S. Psychosis Over Israel?


As Helene Cooper wrote in yesterday's NY Times, "[s]ome topics are so inflammatory that they are never discussed without first inserting a number of caveats." She was talking about Israel and if you think it's true of wherever you live, believe me, it's even truer in the New York metropolitan area, home to about 1.9 million Jews, making it the second biggest Jewish city in the world (after Tel-Aviv Metro). L.A. is the city with the second most American Jews, around 621,000, a bit more than Jerusalem... and southeast Florida. The U.S. has around 6.5 million Jews; Israel a bit less than 5 million. I didn't mean to get off into a demographic tangent; just remind people that it isn't easy to criticize Israel with impunity in NYC. So there are always qualifications. Criticisms start by acknowledging that "America’s commitment to Israel is motivated by morality and ethics-- a reaction to the Holocaust, to Western anti-Semitism and to American foot-dragging before and during World War II that left European Jews slaughtered by the Nazis. Second, Israel is a democracy with the same values as the United States. Third, the United States will never abandon Israel, and will help it keep its military edge over its neighbors. And America will guard Israel against an Iranian nuclear threat." And then comes the point:
[A] dispassionate argument that has gained increased traction in Washington-- both inside the Obama administration (including the Pentagon, White House and State Department) and outside, during forums, policy breakfasts, even a seder in Bethesda. Recent Israeli governments, particularly the one led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Cordesman argued, have ignored the national security concerns of its biggest benefactor, the United States, and instead have taken steps that damage American interests abroad.

“The depth of America’s moral commitment does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset,” Mr. Cordesman wrote, in commentary for the centrist Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he is the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in strategy. “It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”

The list of recent moves by the Netanyahu government that potentially threaten American interests has grown steadily, many foreign policy experts argue. The violence that broke out when Israeli commandos stormed aboard a Gaza flotilla last week chilled American relations with a key Muslim ally, Turkey. The Gaza fight also makes it more difficult for America to rally a coalition that includes Arab and Muslim states against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Mr. Netanyahu’s refusal to stop Jewish housing construction in Arab East Jerusalem also strains American ties with Arab allies. It also makes reaching an eventual peace deal, which many administration officials believe is critical to America’s broader interests in the Muslim world, even more difficult.

Both President Obama and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have made the link in recent months between the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict and American security interests. During a press conference in April, Mr. Obama declared that conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure”; he drew an explicit tie between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

General Petraeus sounded a similar theme in Congressional testimony earlier this year, when he said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for America. After a furor erupted, he said he wasn’t suggesting that soldiers were being put in harm’s way by American support for Israel, and he went to great lengths to point out the importance of America’s strategic partnership with Israel.

“But the status quo is unsustainable,” he said in an interview Friday. “If you don’t achieve progress in a just and lasting Mideast peace, the extremists are given a stick to beat us with.”

And in March, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, that new construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank “exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit.”

All of this has led to deep soul-searching in parts of the American Jewish community, alongside a fierce debate among officials from past and present administrations. Mr. Obama’s mere characterization of the acts that led to the deaths in the Gaza flotilla as “tragic” unleashed a withering response from Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president. “There is no middle ground here,” she said in a statement. “Either the United States stands with the people of Israel in the war against radical Islamic terrorism or we are providing encouragement to Israel’s enemies-- and our own.”

Ms. Cheney’s remarks reflect some of the alarm among Israeli officials and some American Jewish leaders, who preferred the Bush administration’s steadfast support, no matter which Israeli government was in office and no matter what actions that government took.

Why anyone cares about what the singularly unaccomplished daughter of a disgraced and universally loathed former vice president-- who did so much to bring this country so low-- is a uniquely American phenomenon. I was more interested in what my friend Lyor has to say about it.

Lyor is part of the Israeli diaspora; he lives in L.A. His parents were born in Morocco and he was born in Israel. He's a surfer. He was also in the Israeli Navy and he's been giving me some good insights about how the Gaza-bound ships would have been handled better from a military perspective. But it was his political perspective that stunned me. He thinks the European Jews made a big mistake when they followed the Zionists to Palestine. "Worthless desert filled with angry Arabs; they should never have gone there. The biggest mistake they ever made was not taking the British up on their offer to let Jews settle in Uganda. We would have that country so rich by now. Look at all that's been wasted in Palestine."

I was flabbergasted. First of all, I didn't realize anyone, let alone someone in their twenties, even remembers how the Brits tried getting the European Jews to settle in Uganda. At the time it was perceived that the Palestinians might be hostile to the concept of the Jews moving in and, besides Uganda, the alternative places considered were Cyrenaica (currently known as Libya), Mesopotamia (yes, today's Iraq), Angola, Canada and Galveston (where nearly 10,000 European Jews actually settled!) And then there was Sitka, Alaska, soon to be a Coen Brother's smash...

Lyor doesn't see a happy ending, by the way. He thinks a huge war-- which will include Iran and possibly even Turkey, although I find that hard to believe-- is imminent. He feels that the only future for a Jewish state in Palestine would be if it were the 51st state of the United States, but that would probably take something really outlandish-- like a President Huckabee or President Palin. Nor does he think most Israelis would go for it.

He also reminded me of something else that I had forgotten. The ultra religious Jews that have wound up in control of the far right parties that now run the show in Israel don't work. That's right; working is against their religion. They read the Torah all day. I assume they're grateful for the couple of billion dollars a year American taxpayers contribute towards Israel so they can continue not working but living well, reading the Torah and making America less safe.

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At 11:03 AM, Blogger Statistikhengst said...

Helen Thomas' comments were beyond the pale and she deserves to be lambasted for having said something this stupid and ignorant. I expect better from liberals who claim to be intelligent.

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

I've got my copy of Exodus right here and I say the Israelis are stepping in it big time and The US is increasingly on the wrong side of the Issue...

On a lighter note I would LOVE a link to a hebrew version of John Lennon's Instant Karma and Cold Turkey. I found I am a Walrus but I don't think it belongs here...

Thanks in advance and the ghosts of Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Ben-Gurion thank you as well....

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Israel got accepted into the OECD, it is now considered one of the world's richest nations. It has the most advanced military technology in the world. The largest Intel and Motorola research facilities in the world. It has the most advanced missile defense systems in the world. Israel is considered to be a world leader in medical technology and medicine. Israeli companies make up more of the Nasdaq than ANY NATION outside the UNITED STATES. Almost every country in the middle east which claims to hate Israel is still secretly buying technology and supplies from them. Iran is no threat, Israel has 4 nuclear subs stationed off the shores of Iran. Iran's puny military is a farce, they photoshop pictures to make their missiles look more powerful. The Russians are taking their money and laughing just like they did to Syria, they know Israel will blow their nuclear reactors up. If Russia really cared about Iran they would sell them the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Egypt escorted Israeli warships into Iranian waters not too long ago. The governments in the middle east are terrified of Iran as they have taken over the Gaza strip and Lebanon with proxy armies. Israel is doing better than the US financially and the vaunted 2 billion dollars a year" is a formality. The US uses Israel to design much of its latest micro-technology and this 2 billion dollars is not aid, it is to continue a military relationship that is intertwined. Israel designed the US missile defense system. Israel designs much of the propulsion and guidance systems Nasa uses. Write an article when Israel actually loses a war or conflict (and I don't mean public opinion). Then we can discuss them relocating, otherwise, they are staying! Oil is now being found in Israel and natural gas, this is going to radically change the middle east. Israel can make peace with its neighbors, it was on the verge of it before the Iraqi war.

At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen Thomas' comments may have been beyond the pale for some, but she just voiced what lots of people have been thinking, including even Israelis. Not every Jew thinks living under the duress caused by the current Israeli government's regime is worth the hassle. In fact, some have even returned to Germany home of the Holocaust because "Israel should be about building more than just a bunker."

At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her remarks were certainly blunt, indeed. Certain, too, is that the indignation from the press is completely out of proportion. Clearly, yes, criticism of Israel and Jewish people is simply not allowed. Any critic is immediately branded and purged.

Ms. Thomas needs for supporters of free thought and speech to stand up now.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Well, it's ok for Netanyahu to call the activists (some were murdered) on the flotilla for Gaza "thugs." No one says a word. The massive and weepy response to any critique of Israel is simply ridiculous.

Shame on Obama. Shame on him for not saying "Helen Thomas is a good friend and her prestige in the White House press corps has grown over many decades. She spoke harshly and may wish to restate her feelings. But she is entitled to speak and I defend to the death her right to express an opinion --- even on Israel. Yes."

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Daniel said...

The problem with her comments was with the follow up question, specifically "Where should the jews go"? So by her saying that Jews should go back to Germany and Poland (and I dont know what she meant by "back to America"), that wasnt criticizing Israel. That crossed the line into antisemitism and ethnic cleansing. That is unacceptable by any means, and is no longer political opinion. It is the equivalent of saying that Blacks need to get the hell out of america and go back to Africa. Clearly, that would never be accepted.


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