Developments in Syria and Egypt have been a godsend for Israel. The bloodshed and political turmoil have meant that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can continue with business as usual, with no one paying much attention to what is going on as he dismembers Palestine. Amidst all the fun and games, Israel launched a new air attack on Syria, the fourth such incident this year and an act of war, which was scarcely reported in the media while Netanyahu characteristically signaled his contempt for the Obama Administration by announcing a new settlement expansion just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived to jump start a new round of pointless peace talks with the Palestinians. Israel’s government is also simultaneously moving ahead with the Prawer Plan, which will remove as many as 70,000 Palestinian Bedouin from their ancestral homes in the Negev Desert, the latest phase in the ethnic cleansing of Arabs which has been going on since 1947.
But even when Israel is not featured in the headline, it somehow finds its way into the story. Here in Washington last Wednesday Samantha Power was questioned by Senators to determine her worthiness to become US Ambassador to the United Nations. Power was confronted by the redoubtable Senator Marco Rubio for having suggested on a book tour in 2002 that if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were moving toward genocide America should be prepared to alienate a powerful "domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import" – meaning the American-Jewish community – to send in a "mammoth protection force" to prevent another Rwanda. The proposal itself might well be considered idiotic, just what one might expect from a Harvard professor, but Power’s comment was also construed as being both anti-Israeli and borderline anti-Semitic because it implies that Jews have a lot of money and political clout while at the same time combining in one sentence "Israel" and "genocide" with the clear presumption that the Palestinians would be on the receiving end.
In 2007 Power was still at Harvard as the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, the significance of which I will leave to the imagination of the reader. She wrote in a paper that has since disappeared from the Harvard website that "America’s important historic relationship with Israel has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics which, as the war in Lebanon last summer demonstrated, can turn out to be counterproductive." It was a mild enough critique of Washington and Tel Aviv’s actions to be sure, but apparently enough to induce David Horowitz’s FrontPage Mag to label her an "Israel hater."
When Power was nominated to the U.N. post President Barack Obama preemptively noted that she had been relentlessly "fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism." She also herself took steps to address her perceived vulnerability vis-à-vis Israel’s many friends by holding a personal meeting with forty Jewish leaders. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a former spiritual adviser of Michael Jackson who had set up the gathering, describes what occurred when she addressed the accusations that she harbored animus toward Israel. "…in the presence of the leaders of our community, she suddenly became deeply emotional and struggled to complete her presentation as she expressed how deeply such accusations had affected her. Tears streamed down her cheeks and I think it fair to say that there was no one in the room who wasn’t deeply moved by this incredible display of pain and emotion. More than a few of the leaders of the room came over to me afterward and said that, based on her comments and her unabashed display of emotional attachment to the security of the Jewish people (it bears mentioning that Samantha’s husband is also Jewish), they would never again question her commitment to Israel’s security."
Groveling before the Senate in a performance described as "almost wholly indistinguishable from the talking points of Israeli diplomats," Power was somewhat less emotional but equally assertive, saying "… that shielding Israel from unfair attacks by its political adversaries would be one of her top priorities. Others…would include fighting UN corruption and waste, standing up against repressive regimes, and championing the cause of ‘human rights and human dignity.’" She added that "The United States has no greater friend in the world than the state of Israel. I will stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it."
Power was rewarded for her crawling by being endorsed for the UN position by the Israeli Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren, a bit of intrusion into US politics that did not seem to surprise or bother anyone. Power also told the Senators "this country is the greatest country on earth … I would never apologize for America. America is the light to the world," which might lead a disinterested observer to question both her objectivity and her judgment even if she avoided mentioning "American Exceptionalism."
Samantha Power, basically just another Ivy League-cloned ambitious parvenu with an infinitely elastic moral compass, clearly feels good about herself because she possesses a bleeding heart that is constantly on display to demonstrate how much she truly cares about downtrodden people worldwide. Excluding the Palestinians, of course, for whom human rights and dignity are just figures of speech or, at best, aspirations. She surely has enough intelligence to know how to spell and even understand the word hypocrite but is the product of a corrupt system that rewards mendacity. She is a poster child for the cowardice of the Obama Administration’s professional "progressives" whenever it comes time to speak candidly about Israel.
Power’s perch at the United Nations will enable her to make all the bureaucratically approved mitigating noises when Netanyahu steals still more Palestinian land, but she will not be in a good position to go much beyond defending Israel from its numerous critics. Far more dangerous than ciphers like Power is the continued drive by Israel and its friends in congress to jump start a war with Iran, a process which is proceeding underneath the radar. Former CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar describes it as "A prolonged campaign to keep us scared about what is depicted as an inexorable Iranian march toward acquiring nuclear weapons." Since the few critics who might challenge such a narrative are preoccupied with crises elsewhere in the Middle East, Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have been engaging in what might be seen as a full court press to bring about a new war before anyone knows what is happening.
What have they accomplished? Well, Iran continues to be the number one enemy of choice. On Tuesday Senator Lindsey Graham promised a cheering Christians United for Israel crowd that he would table a resolution this fall authorizing war. Even though the election of relatively moderate Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, who is committed to disengaging from Iran’s sometimes bellicose foreign policy, appeared to provide an opportunity for bilateral talks to resolve outstanding issues, a cautious welcome by the White House and even by some in congress appears now to have gone back into the deep freeze due to a concerted disinformation campaign emanating from AIPAC and the media. The Lobby has unambiguously signaled to Obama that such talks are not desirable and they and congress are united in forcing American direct involvement in Syria’s civil war as Damascus is seen as Tehran’s proxy. Pushback by the Pentagon, which appreciates that any engagement in Syria is fraught with peril, is being ignored.
And Israel is also again telling Washington what else it must do about Iran. Returning to a familiar theme, on July 14th Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Face the Nation to instruct the American public on what should come next in the Middle East. Netanyahu first warned that Iran would have a nuclear weapon "in five years" back in 1992. That warning has been repeated regularly since then with the date constantly moving forward but Iran has yet to produce such a device. Confronted only by a series of softball questions from Bob Schieffer, Netanyahu claimed that Iran is yet again approaching the "red line" that the Israeli government had fantasized about at the UN last year. Plus they are "Building ICBMs to reach the American mainland within a few years…ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles to reach you! They don’t need these missiles to reach us…they have to be stopped."
So Bibi has finally taken the mask off and it turns out that he is actually a fine and honorable gentleman who is really doing everything in his power to defend his great friend the United States from attack. But then again maybe not because there’s a catch. Washington has to do the heavy lifting to end the threat. "…they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action. That’s the only thing that that will get their attention, to take military action…" Netanyahu concluded.
In an Emperor’s New Clothes moment Bibi also said that disarming Iran has to be the entire world’s number one priority because it is a "messianic, apocalyptic, extreme regime that would have atomic bombs." His description actually fits Israel under his hard-right government better than Iran but for the fact that Netanyahu already has the nukes and by some accounts is ready to use them against the entire world if his country is threatened. But, of course, that’s all a secret.
In a sane world Netanyahu might well be dismissed as a complete nutter but for his always dangerous backing from a powerful AIPAC and its carefully orchestrated fellow travelers in the US Congress. Senator Dick Durban, a normally moderate Democrat, appeared on Face the Nation just after Bibi and was quick to point out that though Washington is not looking for a war "…the Iranian leadership shouldn’t push us to the brink." Presumably Durban has some brink in mind but it is not at all clear what it might be. Iran is a minor player on the world stage with a tiny defense budget and antiquated weapons systems backed up by a crumbling economy. There is absolutely no evidence that it actually has a nuclear weapons program. Iran is isolated and constantly under threat from Tel Aviv and Washington, despised by all of its neighbors but Iraq, which the United States ironically enough "liberated" some years back.
So when it comes to actual war and peace, those of us who have been preoccupied by the crises in Egypt and Syria would be well served by taking another look at what Israel has been up to. Settlements are expanding and still more Arabs are being dispossessed, making peace all but impossible. Benjamin Netanyahu bombs Syria, for which there are no consequences, while dictating what the United States must do to support his government. Back here at home, the pandering to the Israel Lobby a la Samantha Power is incessant and, quite frankly, should be seen as humiliating by every American.
Syria and Egypt might well morph into full scale civil wars, but what Israel is demanding from Washington is US entry into yet another major war in Asia, this time against Iran, close on the heels of the misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt and Syria, no matter what way they turn, will not pose disaster for the United States. War with Iran would be different, however. It would be no cakewalk, would unleash a new wave of global terrorism, and would upend a slowly recovering world economy. It would be a catastrophe not only for Iran but also for the United States, but it is what Israel wants and in Washington Israel and its many friends nearly always win the policy debate.