administrative detainees, AIPAC, America's staunchest ally, Camp 1391, Gideon Levy, Israelification, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestinian chair, Rachael Corrie, shared values, targeted killings, Tariq Abukhdeir, The Israel Project
After reading a really flimsy fluff piece in a recent New York Times by former Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren about Israeli-American “shared values” vis-a-vis the “cribbing” (aka “plagiarizing”) of sentences and phrases of the American Declaration of Independence to insert into Israel’s 1947 declaration, and having recently heard more nonsense from Netanyahu and Trump about “shared values”, I began thinking about those values shared between Israel and the United States. Yes, we all know them, don’t we, because they have been trumpeted for decades, in order to cultivate support for Israel. In case you’ve forgotten, here they are, directly from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) website:
“Commitment to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of religion and speech and human rights are all core values shared between the United States and Israel. Both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom. Both were forced to fight for independence against foreign powers. Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being. And both have evolved into democracies that respect the rule of law, the will of voters and the rights of minorities….Israel has an independent judicial system, which protects the rights of individuals and operates under the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Israel also features regularly scheduled elections that are free and fair and open to all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or sex.”
Let’s think again – “rule of law” in Israel is a bit shaky and certainly depends on whether you are Jewish or Arab. Also, what law? Israel routinely flouts international law and thumbs its nose at United Nations resolutions. Contrary to international norms, Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and submit its atomic program to IAEA inspections. “Freedom of religion” in a “Jewish and democratic state”? I don’t think Muslims feel all that comfortable. “Independent judicial system”? Yes, it works well for Jewish Israelis, not so well for Palestinian Israelis. “Waves of immigrants”? Not so much a “shared value” – you are welcomed to Israel if you are Jewish. So all this is tripe, nonsense, mere propaganda to garner support for Israel.
“America’s staunchest ally” and the “only democracy in the Middle East” are cliches used constantly by the pro-Israel media to characterize this rogue nation. Frankly I don’t see much value for the US here. How has “America’s staunchest ally” supported US efforts in its ill-advised wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in fighting the Islamic State? And how democratic really is this “only democracy in the Middle East”, a state that is more an “ethnocracy” “theocracy” than a democracy; a state that relegates its Palestinian citizens to second class status; a state that has been a serial violator of international law and human rights, and a state that has imposed apartheid on the people and the land it has occupied for fifty years. And “America’s staunchest ally” has spied upon America and stolen its secrets, has tried to influence American elections and to undermine American foreign policy, inserting its paranoid and myopic worldview into US foreign affairs. Interesting that before Israel, America had few if any enemies in the Middle East. And this “democracy” that touts freedom, has deprived the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank of their freedom for fifty years. And Israel, always crying about the “existential threat” of Hezbollah, Hamas or Iran, strives every day to obliterate what little still exists of Palestine.
This whole concept of “shared values” between the US and Israel is a clever bit of propaganda, or “hasbara” promoted by Zionists and, interestingly, carefully laid out in a book published by the Israel Project some years ago. This book, written by star Republican marketer, Frank Luntz, contains instructions like, “Draw direct parallels between Israel and America – including the need to defend against terrorism” and, “the language of Israel is the language of America: ‘democracy’, ’freedom’, ‘security’ and ‘peace’. These four words are at the core of the American political, economic, social and cultural systems, and they should be repeated as often as possible because they resonate with virtually every American”. The AIPAC statement above follows these instructions quite well.
But are there other shared values between the United States and Israel? You bet there are, but these are not often discussed because they don’t exactly place us and our “staunchest ally” in the best light. Let’s take a look at a few of the salient but rarely discussed shared values.
One of the most glaring examples of “shared values” has to be the historical removal of indigenous populations and taking their land. Appropriating the land of American Indians is a time-honored historical tradition in the United States. Along with broken treaties and systematized slaughter, was the reduction of Native Americans to uncivilized “savages” and “animals” who did not use land appropriately, i.e. for hunting and gathering instead of for agriculture like the interloping Europeans.
The parallels in the founding of Israel are obvious. First was the propagation of the myth of “a land with no people for a people with no land” to justify the relentless theft of Palestinian land. And in a similar way, the Israeli thieves “making the desert bloom” was superior to Palestinians’ natural use of the land. Also in a similar way, Palestinians have been dehumanized and devalued. Much has been made in the media about an Israeli life being worth much more than a Palestinian life, highlighted by “prisoner swaps” like the 2011 swap of 1000 Palestinian prisoners for Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit.
Another “shared value” is “might makes right”, the reliance of both the US and Israel on militarism and brute force to resolve conflict or impose control instead of diplomacy and negotiation. When has Israel tried to negotiate with the enemies it talks about all the time? And did we ever try to negotiate with Iraq when we claimed that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction”? Did we negotiate with the Taliban when it became known that they had sheltered the terrorists responsible for 9/11? Of course not, American reliance on military action instead of negotiation has deep historic roots. Our “peace-loving” nation has a history of useless bloodshed, from the Mexican War to the Spanish-American War to Vietnam to the endless “war on terror”. And related to this, both the US and Israel share a mutual love affair with “air strikes” – cruel killing and destruction that is far removed from the eyes of the perpetrators, and quite sanitized since the devastation and loss of life is limited to the victims.
Yet another related “shared value” is the fact that the US and Israel always seem to need an “enemy” against whom to fight. The crumbled Soviet Union was quickly replaced by Iraq, Iran, and now the shadowy ill-defined multiple enemies in the US’s “war on terror”. And Israel has thrived on the enmity of its Arab neighbors. But since the peace treaty with Egypt and Jordan, Iran is the focus, in spite of the fact that this country, unlike Israel, has never had expansionist ambitions and still occupies the same land area it has occupied for centuries.
Another contemporary “shared value” that goes unacknowledged is the eerie similarity of US and Israel’s practice of “targeted killings”—extrajudicial executions of “terrorist” suspects and bystanders. Once condemned by the United States— it became the signature policy of President Obama, the only president in history known to keep a “kill list”, which included some US citizens. Israel has been conducting these kinds of killings for decades and, appropriately, is now the world’s leading manufacturer of military drones. I have always thought that “bad guys” should be captured and tried but both Israel and the US remain two of the world leaders in state sponsored murder. It is commonly acknowledged that Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet have murdered dozens of people since the 1950’s. The list is incredible and can be seen in the Wikipedia entry “List of Israeli assassinations”. The authors of “How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower” boast that Israel has earned the distinction of “the first country to master the art of targeted killings”. Some art…congratulations, Israel.
Yet another element of the shared value of “might makes right” is a belief and practice in unprovoked aggression. The US is now conducting unilateral air strikes, acts of war really, in seven locations around the world, without actual provocation from an “enemy”. For decades Israel has routinely violated international borders and airspace with its own air strikes, whenever and for whatever reason it deems appropriate. Its 1982 invasion of Lebanon was one such act of aggression, as was its unprovoked surprise attack on Egypt and Syria which started the “Six Day War” of 1967. Of course the most egregious example of the US’s unprovoked aggression was the Iraq War. So the US and Israel are forever intertwined as partners in gross acts of aggression against other nations, all direct violations of international law.
This shared value is further reflected in the US and Israel’s military “defense” budgets. The U.S. outpaces all other nations in military expenditures. World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015 and the U.S. accounted for 37 percent of this total. U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world, combined. As a percentage of GDP the US military budget is fourth in the world while Israel is second, right after number one Saudi Arabia. And, both the US and Israel do their best to spread military weaponry around the world. Of course, the United States occupies the shameful position of being the world’s largest arms exporter. But Israel is swiftly catching up, earning billions each year as the world’s sixth largest arms exporter through the sale of military equipment to buyers from China and India to Colombia and Russia. And remember, the United States supports Israel’s military with 11 million dollars a day from American taxpayers. What in heaven’s name do we obtain in return for this massive investment? And how has Israel and its supporters managed to convince our government to do this?
And of course the US and Israel share a common disdain for human rights. Just as we have populated prisons, most obviously at Guantanamo with “detainees” who are held for months and years without being charged or tried for a crime, Israel commits the same violations, holding hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as “detainees” without charge or trial. Both countries talk a good game about “human rights”, with the US constantly judging other countries’ human rights records without examining its own or that of its “staunchest ally”. There are over 7000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, with 10 percent of these declared “administrative detainees”, held indefinitely without trial. And some American practices at the prison at Guantanamo Bay have been adopted by Israeli prisons – Israel has now authorized the force feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, really just another form of torture, not the humanitarian practice it is advertised to be.
These two “staunch allies” also share the value of selective application of law. Both share disdain for international law. Remarkably, both Israel and the United States stand out from the rest of the world in their shared refusal to support the International Criminal Court. The ICC was established as an international court that has jurisdiction over certain international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that are “committed by nationals of states parties or within the territory of states parties”. Member states are legally obligated to co-operate with the Court when it requires, such as in arresting and transferring indicted persons or providing access to evidence and witnesses. One might wonder what “shared values” have caused this non-support. Could it be the fact that both the US and Israel have committed war crimes and therefore have much to fear from the Court? Among other examples of this shared disregard for international law is our continuing to market outlawed “cluster” munitions for Israel to use in their periodic slaughter of civilians in Gaza, heartlessly called “mowing the lawn” by Israeli politicians.
Israel and the United States also share an interest in torture and the various means to dehumanize and terrorize captives. The notorious “Palestinian chair” is one horrible method of torture, exposed and described in Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, “Palestine”, published in 2001, and more recently in Eric Fair’s confessional, “Consequence: A Memoir”, about his time as an interrogator during the Iraq War, especially at Abu Graib. Israeli authorities trained the US military and US contractors in how to use the “Palestinian chair” and other methods of torture including ‘hooding” prisoners. In 1997, the United Nations Committee Against Torture had concluded that hooding constitutes torture, a position it reiterated in 2004. Interesting how hooding, now forbidden by the US Army Field Manual, is still being practiced by our proxy militaries in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they are probably still using the “Palestinian chair” as well.
There’s an additional dimension to these shared values regarding torture. Similar to the US practice of maintaining secret prisons across the world in which it tortured detainees, Israel maintains the notorious “Camp 1391” for exactly the same purposes. Inspectors from the from the Red Cross or other international organizations have never been allowed into this secret facility, not to mention the press or even members of the Knesset. But it’s there, it’s real and it employs torture. Just ask the Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab prisoners who have been incarcerated there.
Systemitized institutional and national impunity is another shared value. Both nations routinely break international law and place themselves above any responsibility. The US invades other countries, destroys and kills at will and declares itself immune to rebuke, sanction or prosecution. So does Israel. Israel routinely “investigates” the many crimes committed by the IDF (really should be the IOF, Israel Occupation Forces) and security forces but rarely punishes with more than a slap on the wrist. Israel itself is not held accountable by the rest of the world for war crimes and violations of international law. The 2014 Israeli high tech destruction of 20,000 homes and the slaughter of over 2000 people, including 490 children in Gaza elicited but mild opprobrium from the world community.
Nobody was held accountable for the killing of 23 year old American peace activist Rachael Corrie by an IDF bulldozer. The Israeli police officer responsible for the videotaped beating of Tariq Abukhdeir , a 16 year old Palestinian US citizen was punished with 45 days of community service. An Israeli court recently sentenced Elor Azaria, appallingly a national hero for the cold-blooded execution of Abd al-Fattah al Sharif in March after al-Sharif had already been rendered helpless by being shot and injured following an alleged attempted stabbing attack in Hebron. The murderer received 18 months in prison, one-year probation and a demotion of his military rank – “a sentence fit for a bicycle thief”, in the words of Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy – yet another instance of the systematic impunity Israel affords its personnel who kill or injure Palestinians. The United States has held no one accountable for the sadistic horrors of Abu Graib save a few lowly ranked guards, or for torture, or for lying to the country before the Iraq war. Nor has our country held anyone accountable for the crimes leading up to the financial collapse of 2008.
Another value shared by both the United States and Israel is hypocrisy. The US has always pontificated about its support of democracy, and Israel boasts about its “Jewish and democratic” state, yet the US has been responsible for the removal of many democratically elected heads of government, among them Salvador Allende in Chile and Mohammed Mosaddegh in Iran and replacing them with dictators. And the US sides with Israel in condemnation of Hamas, the democratically elected government in Gaza, and supports Israel’s denial of any semblance of self-determination by the Palestinians in the West Bank. Big talk about human dignity and personal safety become outright lies as the US supports Israel’s blatant violation of the personal safety and dignity of Palestinians, humiliating them with hundreds of checkpoints and threatening their lives and safety with roving bands of violent armed settlers destroying crops and threatening lives. And interestingly, the US made a huge deal about Iraq violating a UN Resolution or two and proceeded to invade and wreck death and destruction in a trillion dollar war. Israel has violated dozens UN Resolutions, yet we have done nothing. Oh yes, and the Israeli Air Force just shot down some kind of drone from Gaza, trumpeting that Israeli airspace will not be violated, while, as noted above, Israel routinely violates the airspace of other nations – Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, to name just a few. And Israel, justifying its behavior to combat terrorism, hypocritically forgets its own convenient use of terrorism during its founding and blatant use of terrorism today. It might be useful to take a look at the definition of terrorism – “unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. And finally, Israel and its enablers insist that it has to “defend itself”, never defining Palestinian resistance to the occupation as Palestinians “defending themselves”.
Another shared value between Israel and the United States is a commitment to employing militarized police forces. We have witnessed this repeatedly in the US, especially obvious in the police actions in Ferguson, Missouri. How did this come about – why do our police forces more resemble the military, equipped to kill and maim, than the neighborhood police dedicated to “serve and protect” communities? This trend began during the tenure of George W. Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff (also an Israeli citizen), who mandated that American police forces be trained by Israeli police teams in crowd control, counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering. Since that time, thousands of American law enforcement personnel have been trained in Israeli tactics courtesy of JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) and the ADL (Anti Defamation League).
Also since that time, shootings of unarmed civilians have gone up 500 percent, attacks by police on legal political protests have become a scandal and huge stockpiles of ammunition and military heavy weaponry have been distributed to law enforcement groups all across America. Journalist Max Blumenthal has called this the “Israelification” of American police forces and cites violent police suppression of peaceful protests like the “Occupy…. “ movements as examples, blurring the lines among protesters, common criminals and terrorists. It is important to note that these Israeli experts have long functioned in an environment where killing civilians under cover of a rigged racist system of government has been official policy for over six decades and are trained to violate human rights on a daily basis.
Yet another shared value between Israel and the United States is the privatization of state functions, especially security and incarceration. US privatization of military and security functions has been occurring for a long time, from protection of US Embassies abroad, which used to be solely a US Marine function to the contracting with multiple private companies assisting in the Iraq War, including the notorious Blackwater. Eric Fair, whose recent book is mentioned above, conducted his activities as an employee of the private security company CACI. Privatization of government functions is conducted under the guise of saving money, usually ephemeral, but privatization does allow a government to conveniently shift blame for abuses and absolve itself from violations of international law – “a contractor did it, not the government”.
In a similar way, the state of Israel is now privatizing many of its security functions that involve abuse of Palestinian human rights and violation of international law. Private Israeli companies like Modi’in Ezrachi and Magal Security Systems are building the barriers and running the checkpoints for much the same reason they have been employed in the US. They conduct the same repressive and cruel activities and enrich their owners. And they also participate in administering Israeli justice to “suspected terrorists” – killing them on the spot.
Another shared value between the US and Israel is a national arrogance manifested in the US in such notions as an “American exceptionalism” and Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” and in Israel as “God’s chosen people” and “God gave this land to us” (and of course, “the only democracy in the Middle East”..etc, etc). This national hubris has, especially in recent years, been readily translated into the nativism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry and racism so prevalent now in both countries, exemplified in protectionism, the construction of barriers and walls and also in strong anti-immigration and pro-deportation policies as well as, shamefully, a cruel anti-refugee bias. Regarding Israel, I have always found it quite interesting that in an age where a state’s maturity can often be measured in the quantity and quality of its pluralism, Israel is a throwback to “racial and ethnic purity”, à la Nazi Germany. Please note – Israel does not accept refugees, period….unless they’re Jewish. In 1950, Israel enacted the Law of Return, giving Jewish people the right to freely immigrate to Israel and receive Israeli citizenship while simultaneously denying indigenous Palestinians their right of return to the homes and lands from which they were exiled.
This shared value has been amplified by the ascendance of Donald Trump as the US president and his railing against immigrants and illegal “aliens” and massive push for deportation. This is quite similar to Israel’s prejudice and discrimination against “dark-skinned people” and the other non-Jewish people in their midst. Netanyahu has proposed a “Jewish Nation-State Law”, thankfully shelved for now, that would have officially enshrined group rights for the Jewish majority as superior to the the individual rights of minorities, making privileges for Jews and discrimination against non-Jews explicit in the country’s legal code.
And finally, another shared value between the United States and Israel is making the rich richer and the poor poorer – income inequality. According to the 2015 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US and Israel have the worst inequality in the developed world. While the gap between rich and poor is at record levels in many of OECD’s 34 member countries, numbers one and two, the US and Israel, stood out from the rest. In the US the richest 10 percent of the population earn 16.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent. In Israel, the richest 10 percent earn 15 times that of the poorest.
So, AIPAC and the rest of you organizations, individuals and other entities peddling this “shared values” stuff between the United States and Israel, please drop the false cliches about democracy, freedom, rule of law, peace, human rights and refugees and tell the truth about what these two countries really hold in common.