Al-Ahram Weekly Online   27 August - 2 September 2009
Issue No. 962
Focus
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Israel threatens Lebanon and Obama

Obama is sending shockwaves through the pro-Israel lobby community, if not for his actions then his reluctance to tow the traditional Zionist line, writes Franklin Lamb from South Lebanon

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Suddenly they were all over the place, arriving not as singles but in battalions. Many, like Maryland's 5th District Rep Steny Hoyer had been to Israel nearly a dozen times; career stalwarts once more showing fealty to Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine while lamely telling their constituents that they were on a legitimate "fact finding mission". For many, their real purpose was to signal their president that there must be no change in the US policy of coddling Israel's increasingly apartheid regime.

Among the nearly four-dozen members of Congress were some of the most Islamophobic and anti- Arab ever to be elected by American voters.

House majority leader Hoyer, leading a delegation of 29 Democratic congressmen, appeared to read from a cue card as he explained in Jerusalem that he had misgivings about Obama's insistence on stopping colonial expansions (euphemistically called by the Israel lobby "settlements"). Hoyer downplayed Obama's demand to stop the expansions and informed the White House that the issue "should be a subject of negotiations". Hoyer refused comment on Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's "leak" of part of last year's CIA study that Hoyer helped the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) bury on Capitol Hill. Appearing to quote from the now withdrawn "study", Livni declared in a former Palestinian village now renamed Tirat Hacarmel: "I see the despair and desperation of many Israelis. Hundreds of thousands see what is happening and arrange for a foreign passport, send their children to study abroad, and even buy a house overseas."

Livni got it right. Israeli officials see the writing on the wall, and there is not deep affection for Israel on Capitol Hill. Most feel the US will sooner or later "cut Israel loose", but still they don't want its domestic lobby on their case. Many outside of Washington don't understand this, and Americans in the Middle East are sometimes queried "Why do you Americans love Israel so much when you claim you oppose colonialism elsewhere?"

Hoyer remained focussed on undermining Obama: "I don't think settlements are nearly the big issue that confronts the Palestinians and the Israelis in reaching an agreement. President Obama has called for a stop to any additional settlements. But that is a thorny, tough issue," he said, adding: "It's an issue that has to be solved at the bargaining table, even if it takes a while." Hoyer's comment presumably warmed the hearts of his hosts and handlers even as it reportedly infuriated some in the now divided White House.

Remarkably, Hoyer, now in his 14th term in Congress (on 3 June 2008 Steny set the all-time record for the longest serving member from Maryland) has yet to find a single aspect of Israel's occupation, numerous wars against Lebanon, assassinations, slaughter of innocents and massive violations of international humanitarian law and violations of US laws (Arms Export Control Act of 1976, the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, and rack of other laws) "a big issue".

But God forbid some misguided Palestinian preteen lobs a piece of gravel at one of Israel's 400+ US funded (now $6 million each!) 130,000 pound, 1,200 horsepower, 30 foot long, 13 foot wide, Merkava IV, triple impenetrable (except to Hizbullah rockets we recently learned) tanks and Hoyer is on the House floor crying "Palestinian terrorism!" and ready to support another AIPAC congressional resolution demonising Arabs and Islam.

GET OVER THERE AND DO SOME GOOD! Earlier this month, AIPAC dispatched two congressional delegations to Israel. Their primary purpose, as they nearly stumbled over one another, was to warn President Obama to "back off Israel".

Both delegations accomplished their mission as they interviewed victims of last year's rocket attacks at Siderot for the umpteenth time while avoiding swine flu Gaza and its victims of 60 years of Israeli occupation and terrorism.

One delegation was led by minority whip Eric Cantor from Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in Congress. The delegation of 25 Republicans said the week-long mission to Israel was designed to promote Mideast peace and that the delegation remained "troubled" by Obama's "policy on Israel".

Cantor, who works closely with AIPAC, drafting anti-Arab, anti-Muslim congressional resolutions, said his delegation was "concerned about what the White House has been signalling of late," and warned that Obama should concentrate on "the primary issue of import... and that is the existential threat that Iran poses not only to the State of Israel but to the United States."

Cantor said his delegation supported Israel's handling of the eviction of two Arab families from a house in East Jerusalem earlier in that week, a move criticised by the European Union and the White House. With a straight face, Cantor told an Israeli government organised press conference: "I don't think we, in America, would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws."

Israeli President Peres set the tone for the US politicians with his "Israel has no problem with Lebanon" speech, and some congressional visitors repeated for the media his "Israel never was and never will be an enemy of Lebanon, and there is no reason for enmity between Lebanon and the Jewish state" sound bite. It is likely few -- if any -- of those visiting Israel from Washington DC recall much recent history. It would be instructive if AIPAC dispatched congressional groups to South Lebanon. Which member of Congress has even spent one hour in South Lebanon (besides Dennis Kucinich) since Israel was expelled from most of Lebanon in May of 2000?

Not to be outdone by Republican supporters of Israel's occupation of Palestine, Florida Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is tied with Shelley Berkeley of NY for the total number of anti-Arab, anti-Islam, pro-Israel congressional House resolutions this past decade (44 in total), dashed to Israel with a delegation of Democrats to show support for "our US ally against the violent extremists". Critical of Obama as being "soft on terrorism" (read: "Arabs and Muslims"), Ros-Lehtinen, according to her congressional office, visited the Wailing Wall for her seventh time and Siderot for her fourth.

Thanks to the marvels of Twitter, Ileana was able to keep US taxpayers up to date by the hour on her "quest to advance Middle East Peace". A few excerpts made available by her Florida district office follow:

ILEANA'S TWEETS: - Finished amazing dinner with soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces. Courageous young men. From TwitterBerry.

- Had informative mtng with Palestinian Media Watch, who wants to help with peace process but sees all the hatred and incitement against Jews.

- On way to Siderot, an Israeli town close to the Gaza border, still subject to constant rocket attacks by Hamas. 10:18pm, 10 Aug from TwitterBerry.

- Inspecting Kassam rockets again at an Israeli police station in Siderot. New ones since my last visit.

- Watched new documentary, The Third Jihad, in Israel with producer and editor. Same folks who made Obsession. Need to get wider US showing.

- Just finished meeting with Israeli prime minister: discussed rise of radical, militant Islam extremists and threat it poses to free ppl. About 17 hours ago from TwitterBerry.

- Met with lawyer from Israel Law Centre: they go after $ from Hamas, Hizbullah in diff courts across world to stop its financing in banking. About 22 hours ago from TwitterBerry.

- Had great mtng w/Shimon Peres, Prez of Israel, discussing a nuclear Iran: the viability of strong sanctions and the roles of China n Russia. About 24 hours ago from TwitterBerry.

Voters in Illeana's congressional district will presumably decide if they got their money's worth.

Not to be outdone by a bunch of "Washington insiders", former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, claiming to be the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination to take Obama's job, said this morning that the United States should not be telling Jewish people where they can and cannot live in Jerusalem, and he compared such a policy with racial segregation.

"My question is how would President Obama feel if Prime Minister Netanyahu began to dictate which people could live in the Bronx, which ones could live in Manhattan, which could live in Queens, and say, 'We only allow certain people to live in those neighbourhoods,'" he said. "How would that go over? It wouldn't go over very well." The position that our government has taken recently is far more harsh [than the previous administration], even halting peace talks until there is compliance with these demands," he noted. "I'm not sure where we would get the authority to demand of the Israelis what they should do in their own country. I'd like to think that the rights of Jewish people in their own homeland would be the same as the rights of American people in their homeland," Huckabee said.

"We in America take our rights very seriously." And so it goes... welcome to the 2012 presidential campaign. Imagine what way the Israel lobby is leaning.

ZIONISTS UP THE ANTE: In an act of defiance against US President Barack Obama's insistence on the removal of illegal colonial outposts, a group of Jewish students from the United States spent last week working to develop them and declaring that henceforth the fight to save the settlements would be waged by Americans. The new organisation, called the Zionist Freedom Alliance (ZFA), which claims branches on half a dozen US college campuses and hopes to grow into a mainstream programme for US Jewish students, is a spin-off of Campus Watch with seed money arranged by AIPAC.

ZFA leader Yehuda HaKohen explained: "This partnership between US Jewish youth volunteers and Jewish farmers (on stolen Palestinian land) is a blessing for both sides: the farmers need working hands, and the youth get an unforgettable experience that connects them to the Land of Israel. These students oppose Obama's imperialist approach to the Middle East. Obama is trying to shrink the State of Israel and ethnically cleanse our people from the heart of our land. The students are volunteering in the exact areas Obama is trying to destroy. When it comes to Israel, American Zionist youth are increasingly declaring where their blood ties are."

Elsewhere, seemingly on cue, following Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's instruction to Obama against attempting to impose a Middle East peace deal, his informing Obama that "the most peace talks can achieve for the coming year is improving security and the Palestinian economy", 71 US senators, including majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), issued a letter insisting that President Obama press Arab leaders for "dramatic gestures" on behalf of Middle East peace. (No mention made of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative).

Trying to corner Obama into the defensive, the senators wrote: "We would like to understand what steps you are urging Arab states to take and what your expectations are from Arab states in the coming weeks and months." They also urged that Obama demand Arab leaders to end the Arab League boycott of Israel, meet openly with Israeli officials, boost trade relations with Israel, issue visas to Israeli citizens and invite Israelis to take part in academic and professional conferences, as well as sporting events. And for good measure, Obama was told to require that the Arabs "immediately and permanently end official propaganda campaigns, which demonise Israel and Jews." Fantastically, the letter, edited by AIPAC staffers -- as virtually all congressional matters on the Hill are, to "get it right" -- claimed that "Over the past few months Israel has taken several concrete measures to reaffirm its commitment to advancing the peace process." No specifics were included.

According to congressional staff sources, Israel blames Obama for much of what it sees going wrong recently. The past few months have not been good for Israel in Lebanon and its wants accountability. From Obama.

First there is Israel's "spy problem". Dozens have been apprehended in Lebanon as part of Hizbullah's "Surprise at Dawn" operation, and with no end in sight. Israel has demanded that Washington do something about the Russians, whom Israel Army Intelligence claims are working not just with Iran and deepening its military cooperation with Syria, but helping Hizbullah and are engaged -- not for the first time -- in anti-Israel activity. The Obama administration's low key response to Israeli claims that Russian agents are "blanketing every corner of Lebanon with their sophisticated surveillance systems, were able to detect the spy rings one by one, and additionally hack into Israeli intelligence databases" has upset some Israeli officials.

Then Lebanon's 7 June election did not go exactly as planned. True, Israel's much-preferred March 14 team maintained its "majority", but just barely, and the Hizbullah team won the popular count by close to 500,000 votes. Two months later there is no cabinet and Hizbullah's support is stronger than ever, and the party and its allies will have more political power in the next parliament than in the previous one. Not quite the election outcome desired by Israel, predicted by Washington or paid for by Saudi Arabia.

Israel also blames the Obama administration for the fact that March 14 appears to be crumbling. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt shocked many and reversed what he now calls his "black period" under the Bush administration and has recommitted to the cause of "Arabism and Palestine" on which he was raised by his father, Kamal, and his Lebanese National Movement political allies, which included Arafat and Abu Jihad. Last Friday, Walid sent his son, Taymour, to attend Hizbullah's rally where Hassan Nasrallah spoke, explaining that the gesture was aimed at consolidating his roots in confronting Israel and supporting Palestine. "I grew up listening to the voice of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and seeing his image," Jumblatt said. "I deliberately sent Taymour to Dahiyeh because it's the symbol of struggle against Israel... I hope for my son it will be the beginning of a cultural and political road to strengthen the roots of his grandfather Kamal Jumblatt in confronting Israel."

TAKING DOWN OBAMA: Israeli leaders also expected more help from the Obama White House with what they view as an anti- Semitic avalanche of unwarranted criticism of Israel, including the following headlines: "UN rights chief criticizes Israel", 10 August 2009; "Irish expert before Gaza inquiry", 07 July 2009; "Israel 'wantonly' destroyed Gaza" -- Amnesty International, 02 July 2009; "UN investigating Gaza offensive", 1 June 2009; "UN war crimes team leaves for Mideast", 29 May 2009; "Israel, Gaza situation 'intolerable'" -- UN official, 25 March 2009; "Israel 'unlawfully' fired phosphorous shells", 25 March 2009; "UN reports say Israel targeted civilians in Gaza", 24 March 2009.

Friends of Israel in Congress also expected the Obama White House to bring Lebanon's president, Michel Suleiman, "onboard". Instead, the Maronite Christian president has been telling audiences that repeated Israeli threats call on all the Lebanese to strengthen their internal resistance, work fast on forming a national unity government, and to overcome personal interests. Alarmingly, Suleiman has said: "Lebanon needs the resistance, which has an important national role to play." "What kind of a Lebanese president talks like this? Would Bush have not acted on such careless language?" a staffer on Congresswoman's Jane Harman's staff asked. "Why is Obama mute?"

Interestingly, even Saad Al-Hariri stated recently: "We are neither against Iran, nor against Syria; we are only against Israel, because it is our enemy".

Both Suleiman, former head of the army, and Al-Hariri -- and virtually everyone in Lebanon -- support the army. But given Lebanon's particular situation, that army will not be a national defence force in the foreseeable future, and it will likely remain an internal security force. Lebanon needs its resistance to help defend its borders and many are starting to express this openly.

A Middle East expert who works at the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress explained by e-mail the other day: "What Israel sees in Lebanon is that the Christians are becoming too close to Muslims, particularly Hizbullah. It is getting more difficult to find the old Israeli militant rightist stalwarts like Bachir Gemayal to galvanise the Christians against the Palestinians. Israeli society cannot accept its perceived humiliating 2006 defeat along with the continuing unravelling of the garrison state's many myths. Israeli actions in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza 2009 have shattered pretences for many that Israel is other than a terrorist state. Who but Dershowitz, Foxman or Dore Gold possesses the chutzpah to speak of 'purity of arms' anymore?"

Meanwhile, the Capitol Hill office of AIPAC (yes, Hizbullah has a couple of friends there too) claims to have proof that Nadav Tamir, Israel's consul in Boston, who has since been recalled to Israel to explain what on earth he was doing, wrote an internal memo that was leaked to Israel's Channel 10 TV saying that Israel's public clashes with Washington over the US demand for a settlement construction freeze was causing "strategic damage to Israel, that the Obama White House was involved".

In the memo, Tamir warned that his government's confrontational attitude towards the Obama administration seriously harms Israel's standing, adding that, "in the distance created between us and the US administration, there are clear implications for Israel's deterrent capabilities."

In the strongly worded memo, the diplomat wrote, "There have always been differences between the governments, but coordination was always maintained. Now there is the feeling in Washington that Obama has to deal with obstinacy from the governments of Iran, North Korea and Israel."

The Obama administration has not commented.

WHERE DOES THIS ALL END? And if all this is not enough to send Obama a message, the US Israel lobby has just summoned from the great thereafter one of its formerly most effective congressional operatives, the late Tom Lantos. From his grave, the late ultra Zionist Rep Lantos (D-CA), founder of the fake Congressional Human Right Caucus (fake because in 30 years the caucus never has been able to find any human rights issues in Israel's occupation of Palestine) and never surpassed in the annals of Congress as the most anti- Arab and anti-Muslim zealot, joins the fray through an article he wrote in 2001, circulated last week by AIPAC and Lantos's wife, Annette, and those advocating against awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson.

Annette has released a statement on the Robinson honour, saying she is "deeply disappointed by the decision of President Obama to honour [former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] Robinson in this manner." The Latin maxim, De mortuis nil nisi bonum ("Of the dead say nothing but good"), taught to this observer by Mrs Bess Williams, my 10th grade Latin teacher and Sunday school teacher, restricts further comment on Tom Lantos. May he rest in peace; he worked so long and so hard against the human rights of the Palestinians he must have been tired indeed.

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