Jean-Jacques Rousseau described the reciprocal relationship between a government and its people as a “social contract.” Even from the first legal code by the Babylonian Hammurabi, one learns that the principal benefit that government bestows on the people is the promise of justice. By the time of the Roman Republic, the principle of equal justice under the law for all citizens was enshrined as a fundamental right, even though it might sometimes be abused by the rich and powerful. When that abuse became the norm because of corruption, the Republic fell. The framers of the U.S. Constitution carefully studied the demise of the ancient experiments in representative government. They sought to create a system with checks and balances and a Bill of Rights that would guarantee fundamental fairness in the way that the law was applied, without fear or favor.
In the federal republic that is the United States, there are 51 chief executive officers. They are the president and the 50 state governors. They all swear an oath to uphold their respective constitutions and to see that justice is administered impartially to all the people. In a certain sense, it is their principal responsibility, because the law is the cornerstone of respect for individual liberties. Any abuse of the judicial system will inevitably produce many other evils.
To be fair, most governors take the responsibility to ensure equal justice seriously, even if presidents of the United States since 2001 have not. Unfortunately, when a governor chooses to make a run for the presidency, a type of amnesia compounded by political triangulation sets in. Not wishing to be seen as someone whose view is restricted to one state or region, the gubernatorial presidential candidate expands his horizons by taking on an international role and begins to reach out to constituencies that have nothing to do with his or her state. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has done so by moving to the right of fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann as the “hawk” among the Republicans candidates, out-George-W.-Bushing George W. Bush in his embrace of overseas interventions. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who has yet to declare his candidacy but who is seen by many as a potential front-runner, is apparently also sharpening his foreign policy credentials. And he is doing it in the traditional way by cozying up to the Israel Lobby.
On June 28, 2011, Perry wrote
to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding “Violations of U.S. Law by
Organizers of Gaza Flotilla.” The letter is on official state
letterhead, and Perry signed it as governor, not as a private citizen.
Now you might well express surprise that such a communication even
exists; after all, what does the Gaza flotilla have to do with the
governance of Texas? Perry does not exactly answer that question except
by noting that he is an “American citizen and governor of one of its
largest states.” His letter claims that the flotilla would “interfere
with Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip,” and it calls on
Holder to prevent “these illegal actions” and “prosecute anyone who may
elect to engage in them.”Citing “additional information provided … by
Shurat HaDin,” the letter asserts that
“a coalition of violent anti-Israeli organizations” is behind the
To strengthen his case, Perry further maintains that the flotilla is a “naval expedition against a people with whom the United States is at peace … with the intent that it be employed to commit hostilities” and that it constitutes, under the PATRIOT Act, “provision of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” He then reminds Holder that last year’s Gaza flotilla ended with the “deaths of nine people and serious injury to numerous IDF SEALs and other Israelis.” Perry concludes by calling on Holder to “bring to justice all parties found to be in violation of U.S. law by their participation in these efforts.”
Where to start? First of all, Perry is a governor who is acting in his official capacity on behalf of a foreign country in criminalizing a peaceful protest by U.S. citizens taking place 7,000 miles away and in which his state has no possible interest. It is by no means clear who exactly egged the governor on to write the letter, but he does cite the assistance of Shurat HaDin, the Israeli lawfare center, which is dedicated to using lawsuits to silence any and all criticism of Israel. You might reasonably conclude that Perry is engaged in pandering to the many friends of Israel in the media and elsewhere and is making sure that he is in the good graces of the Israel Lobby in case he decides to make his presidential run, but it is also possible that he believes what he has written. He is an evangelical who has visited Israel a number of times, pledged his undying loyalty to the government of that country, and on a 2007 visit received the Friend of Zion award.
Perry is wrong in every citation of “fact” with which he makes his case. It is Israel’s blockade of Gaza, not the flotilla, that is generally considered illegal under international law. The flotilla participants all signed nonviolence pledges and had the cargoes of their ships meticulously inspected before the planned departure so there would be no question about whether they were carrying potentially lethal or contraband materials. The suggestion that the ships constituted a “naval expedition” or planned to “commit hostilities” is completely delusional, coming straight out of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s playbook, and the recommendation that the Americans on board should be prosecuted for aiding terrorism is something that Joseph Stalin would be proud of.
And the alleged results of last year’s flotilla? Nine dead to be sure, all unarmed Turks, one of whom also happened to be an American citizen, which does not appear to interest Perry at all. At least one of the dead was shot in the head at close range, but Perry’s recalls only the “numerous” injuries to the heavily armed Israeli commandos “and other Israelis.” Maybe he is referring to an IDF storm trooper breaking a fingernail while rifling through flotilla participants’ personal possessions to steal money, cellphones, and cameras.
Perry calls on the United States government to prosecute as criminals and terrorist supporters a group of American citizens who had, at that point, broken no law, were clearly intending not to break any laws, and were in any event incapable of engaging in any violent or subversive act. And he does so on behalf of a foreign government, Israel, uncritically using information provided by that government to make his case. If Eric Holder had been foolish enough to heed Perry’s advice, a number of American citizens might well have to risk spending the rest of their lives in a federal prison for doing absolutely nothing wrong.
I have to question how a man of so little moral character as Rick Perry gets to be governor of a large state in the first place, but that is perhaps a discussion for another place and another time. If the people of Texas were seriously concerned about the Constitution and civil liberties, they would remove him from office for his attempt to criminalize the actions of a group of innocent citizens. When a government believes itself to be empowered to go after its own people on trumped-up charges, watch out. When it does so on behalf of a foreign government, all kinds of warning flags should be going up. That no one in the media or punditry seems to care is a tribute to the grip that Israel and its friends have over politics in the United States. And that is precisely why I and other contributors to Antiwar.com keep raising the issue of Israel. Its tight embrace and the policies that it forces on the sheep in Washington are central to what is wrong with us as a nation. Until we loosen that hold, we will continue to stumble and fall, and we will have the presidents that we deserve, possibly including Rick Perry.