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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: January 2009

J-Street: The Anti-Israel Lobby

January 9th, 2009 - 2:13 pm

In a previous blog, “With Friends Like These:The Return of Moral Equivalence,” I wrote about those purported friends of Israel who in reality are its worst enemies. Now, Jamie Kirchick, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has given us the single most effective expose of its real agenda. Kirchick rightfully calls it “The Surrender Lobby.”  His main point:

What makes J Street’s pretensions to being “pro-Israel” so dubious is that it advocates policies overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis. For instance, direct negotiations with Hamas, which is opposed not just by the governments of Israel, the United States, and the rest of the Quartet, but also by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Such negotiations would undermine the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, embolden a genocidal terrorist organization, further erode the credibility of the peace process, and ultimately cause more harm to the Palestinians themselves, who have suffered terribly under Hamas rule.

Not only is J-Street opposed to the positions of most American Jews, it also opposes the position of more than 80 per cent of  Israelis. Claiming falsely that it- not other Jewish groups represent the mainstream-J-Pac, Kirchick proves, is “either stunningly ignorant of the recent history of the situation or actively hostile to Israel.”  They do not, he concludes, support Israel’s security. Rather, they “support its surrender”

On the issue of whether or not Israel’s response to the Hamas bombings is disproportionate, the eminent political philosopher Michael Walzer, the man most known for his brilliant treatise on just war, explores on TNR’s website and Dissent magazine’s site, the arguments offered against Israel.  Walzer writes:

So Israel’s Gaza war was called “disproportionate” on day one, before anyone knew very much about how many people had been killed or who they were. The standard proportionality argument, looking ahead as these arguments rightly do, would come from the other side. Before the six months of cease-fire (when the fire never ceased), Hamas had only primitive and home-made rockets that could hit nearby small towns in Israel. By the end of the six months, they had far more advanced rockets, no longer home-made, that can hit cities 30 or 40 kilometers away. Another six months of the same kind of cease-fire, which is what many nations at the UN demanded, and Hamas would have rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv. And this is an organization explicitly committed to the destruction of Israel. How many civilian casualties are “not disproportionate to” the value of avoiding the rocketing of Tel Aviv? How many civilian casualties would America’s leaders think were “not disproportionate to” the value of avoiding the rocketing of New York?

Walzer understands that commentators who accuse Israel of a disproportionate response have the responsibility to ask hard and tough questions before making foolish accusations, such as asking whether the tactics used by armies are protective of the civilian population. Israel does that. Hamas does not, using its civilians as human shields.

So I have one question for Michael Walzer.  He is listed on J Street’s website as a member of its Advisory Council. Isn’t it time he publicly join those who rebuke the organization, and withdraw from membership and a position that implies support of the organization’s basic purposes? After all, he clearly is not among those who favor Israel’s surrender.

Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has gone to Israel, where he is reporting from and presenting his usual first-rate and incisive comments on the military situation. Unlike so many others who write, Peretz understands that one side is moral and the other- Hamas-is thoroughly immoral. As he points out, “the Palestinian Taliban, which is what Hamas is, targets nothing and everything indiscriminately.” He knows that the war is the total fault of Hamas, which it started by breaking “the already-violated cease-fire in two decisive ways,” by declaring it a dead letter, and by sending up 70 rockets a day immediately after ending the truce.  His main point:

In any case, whatever anybody thinks, Israel will not allow the circumstances to revert to a situation in which Hamas receives or builds more and more advanced weapons for later use. I proposed earlier this week that a force of real soldiers from real European states (and not U.N. blue helmeteers) be dispatched to impose an arms embargo on Gaza. Then maybe–and just maybe–negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel can be pressed. There are already many issues on which the two parties agree. And the fact is that Hamas will agree to nothing meaningful. That is not its agenda–and, increasingly, European and even some Arab leaders agree, a few of them in public.

The truth is, as Peretz notes, that “Hamas is sworn to the elimination of Israel.” Virtually everyone knows this, although many prefer to ignore it. On his blog at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg- the single best reporter writing on the Middle East- notes that Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas leader, “is making an explicit plea to jihadists everywhere to take matters into their own hands and kill Jews.” These men leave no doubt that in their mind, Israel and Jews are one and the same: the enemy of Islam.  

It is becoming more clear, if it was not for some at the start, that the new anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism. They are one and the same. Those who say they only oppose Israel and are not anti-Semites are fooling themselves. The signs at the demonstrations in Europe calling for “death to the Jews” and “throw them into the ovens” are merely the open expression of what these monsters sought to hide at first.

In our own country, “experts” like the former CIA operative Michael F. Scheur, who regularly appears on the News Report with Jim Lehrer on PBS, writes that “Israel is not only an unnecessary and self-made liability for the United States, it is an untreated and spreading cancer on our domestic politics, foreign policy, and national security.” As Goldberg comments, those who refer to Jews and the Jewish State as a “cancer” are usually the leaders of Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda. And, of course,  the leaders of the defeated Third Reich.

So, to end with Peretz. “There are times,” he writes, “when people must choose, and this is one of them.”  We must stand in solidarity with Israel in its time of need, and help it to defeat Hamas—which, we must understand, will be a victory for the West and the United States, which needs to do all possible against radical Islam.

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On the matter of torture, I received the following brilliant comment from Mark Kramer, editor of The Journal of Cold War Studies and head of the Harvard Project for Cold War Studies.  Here is Kramer’s response to my blog on the issue of torture:

Ron, I fully agree with your comments here, with one exception.  I was strongly opposed to the Bush administration’s decision in late 2001 and early 2002 to set aside the Geneva Conventions, and I’ve been staunchly opposed to the administration’s efforts to institutionalize the use of torture.  But my grounds for opposing torture are not the question of efficacy, which I don’t think is a valid argument.  If torture were ineffective, this would be an easy issue, and we wouldn’t even need to debate it.  Everyone could agree that we should give up an ineffective and immoral tactic.  But the historical record suggests that torture can in fact be effective in some cases.  The French never would have won the Battle of Algiers in 1957 if they hadn’t resorted to the systematic use of grisly torture and extrajudicial killings.  Similarly, the Millennium Plot was disrupted in 1999 mainly because the Jordanian police used torture to pin down the details and locate the would-be perpetrators.  These are just a couple of the many cases that could be cited.  It’s true that in a large majority of cases, information can be extracted through methods short of torture, but in at least a few important cases torture has proven effective when other methods did not.

 

So, my opposition to torture has never been based on the question of efficacy.  I’m willing to concede that torture can in some cases be effective when other methods wouldn’t have been.  But even on practical grounds you can argue that what’s tactically useful is apt to be strategically disastrous.  For example, in the short term, the use of torture gained the French a lot in Algeria with the victory in the Battle of Algiers, but in the longer term it proved to be a grave setback not only because French intelligence sources dried up in Algeria but also because the torture sparked a backlash in France once the use of it was revealed, reinforcing public opposition to the war.

 

Beyond that, I oppose torture on the grounds of what I’ve always felt the United States stands for (or at least should stand for).  As a hawk but also a staunch civil libertarian, I don’t want to live in a country in which the government tortures people.  I’m willing to forgo the potential benefits of torture because the benefits of not engaging in it are so much greater for our identity as Americans.

 

I would contrast the Bush administration’s demeanor on this issue unfavorably with what happened during the Cold War.  The United States signed and ratified the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, but during the Vietnam War the Johnson administration initially was unsure whether to extend full Geneva protections to Vietcong prisoners.  Even though U.S.

troops in Vietnam were fighting a war against ruthless guerrillas who themselves did not abide by any laws of war, the Johnson administration ultimately decided — wisely — to accord full coverage to all prisoners, Vietcong as well as North Vietnamese.  In Latin America the United States at times was implicated in the abuse of presumed subversives, most notably when CIA personnel distributed a manual containing guidance on torture, but when political leaders learned about the torture manual they saw it as an embarrassment and as something antithetical to U.S. values.  Despite the many tradeoffs and compromises the United States felt compelled to make during the Cold War, U.S. officials were unwilling to emulate the Soviet Union in resorting to torture.  John McCain in his memoir recalls that one of the main things that sustained him when he was being tortured by his North Vietnamese captors is that he knew he was fighting for a country that did not engage in such practices.  I fully agree with McCain, and I wish that John Yoo and David Addington did, too.

The Panetta Appointment and the Torture Issue

January 6th, 2009 - 12:36 pm

My blog on Leon Panetta has raised some interesting questions among my readers. I received a private e-mail from a well known blogger, who accused me of being silent on the issue of torture, and who objected in particular to the phrase I used: “interrogation techniques vigorously opposed by the Left.” My blogger critic argues that these are techniques of torture vigorously opposed by every American President, until that of George W. Bush. Why, he asks, didn’t I make that point?

Well taken, and deserving of an answer. Let me make myself clear: I oppose the use of torture when interrogating our Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. I accept the argument that non-coercive techniques work as well and are often much more successful; that once we move down the road of torture we become morally no better than our opponents; that under torture people will do and say anything to make it stop, often even incriminating innocent friends and acquaintances; and finally—I believe some techniques often called simply harsh are in effect torture.

These include first and foremost- waterboarding, and  then standing in one position without movement for many hours, sleep deprivation, extreme heat and cold, kept in tiny cells in which one cannot move, mock executions, etc. When I interviewed refugees from Nicaragua during the Sandinista years in the 1980′s on a human rights mission, I took testimony from many people who after arrest, were subject to such treatment.  Our report condemned the Sandinistas for  torture. We pointed out that these techniques were well defined and accepted definitions of torture by all major human rights organizations.

The Castro regime was always notorious for use of these techniques. When the former political prisoner Armando Valladares published his prison memoir after many years in prison, he recounted in detail the excruciating torture he received during confinement. I commented at the time that the same international Left that had condemned the French for using torture during their Algerian war, and the American Left that always condemned the United States for horrible treatment of its own domestic prisoners, remained silent when evidence appeared of torture regularly used by regimes of the Left, like Cuba and later Nicaragua.

Obviously, one cannot be even handed—opposing torture only when it is used by governments we dislike, and overlooking it or justifying it when used by governments we support. Torture is either good or evil; it cannot be good at one time or bad at another. We can favor a fight against Islamofascism, as I do, and oppose torture in that battle.

The point I was trying to make about the Panetta appointment was that although his hands are not tainted by any acceptance of torture, that alone is hardly a sufficient reason to appoint him. I have learned that our fellow blogger and my friend Michael Ledeen has said Panetta is a good choice, as have Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. Their arguments, that he is a good manager and can possibly clean up a highly ineffective and politicized CIA, hopefully has merit. Counterpoints, however, have been effectively made by J.G. Thayer, who writing on the Commentary magazine’s Contentions, blog, writes the following:

Some of Panetta’s experiences and skills would certainly serve him well at the CIA. He would be good at making sure the Agency stays within its budget and uses its funding most efficiently. He would keep the Agency from getting too close to breaking laws. And his lengthy experiences in government would help him maintain good relations with other agencies and government bodies.
But those are all peripheral to the primary task of the CIA: to collect information, analyze it, and manage it to best uphold our national security.
We’ve seen, far too often, what happens when the CIA fails. The price is often paid in blood – American blood. “Failures of Intelligence” are often cited as the prime factors in the success of the 9/11 attacks. Such failures also lie at the heart of the the Saddam-WMD mistake. And now Barack Obama – for whatever reason – wants to put in charge of the CIA a man with literally zero experience in intelligence, espionage, and covert operations.

 And our own PJM DC bureau chief Jennifer Rubin, writing on the same Commentary website, makes much the same point:

 “So if the criteria for the post are loyalty to the Democratic party and vocal criticism of the Bush administration, Panetta would become a more logical pick. But that hardly seems appropriate in these dangerous times. Now is not the the time for an entirely political appointment to a key national security position. On a day when Bill Richardson’s withdrawal is being chewed over you have to wonder what is going on with the Obama transition team. Really, Leon Panetta at CIA?”

 Perhaps Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle and Doug Feith, from their own personal experience and vast acquaintance with people in the defense and intelligence community, may be correct. But from the vantage point of an outsider, for the present at least, I think those who doubt the merit of the Panetta appointment may have the better case.

 

Why Leon Panetta?

January 5th, 2009 - 5:45 pm

The choice of Leon E. Panetta as new head of the CIA has created not only shock waves in Washington, but an obvious lack of enthusiasm on the part of some influential Democrats. Taken by surprise, Senator Dianne Feinstein told the New York Times “I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.” And Leon Panetta may be smart, a good manager and an overseer of budgets, but he is anything but an intelligence professional.

His only work in intelligence, evidently, took place between 1964 and 1966, when he was in the U.S. Army at Camp Ord in California. When he served in Congress he did not sit on the House Intelligence Committee, and a review of the CIA budget when he was Chief of State in Bill Clinton’s White House is hardly enough to qualify him as a man who had, as the Times reporters wrote, “hands-on intelligence experience.”

His choice by President-elect Obama, therefore, is much more than an “unusual” one, which is how a lot of people are characterizing it. So why did Barack Obama pick Panetta? First, it falls in line with his  decision to mine the former Clinton Administration for seasoned Washington operatives, and to avoid having a job search for someone without political chops. 

The problem is that especially in today’s world, chief of the CIA is a position that must be held by an individual with both intelligence and counter-terrorist experience. Instead of picking such a person, it appears that Obama put politics first: he is seeking above all to appoint someone who had no connections whatsoever with interrogation techniques vigorously opposed by the Left, or the domestic wiretapping program initiated by the outgoing administration. But counter-terrorism and intelligence will likely be one of the most important jobs the new CIA chief will confront. Selecting an individual whose only seeming qualification is opposition to Bush policies is hardly sufficient reason for such an appointment. 

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During the dark days of the Cold War, the doctrine of “moral equivalence” began to emerge. It referred to those who equated the expansionist aims of the Soviet Union with the defensive response to its policies by the Western powers. Its adherents also compared the repression typified by Stalin’s vast Gulag system with the era of so-called McCarthyism in the United States.  In contrast to the millions murdered by Stalin, McCarthyism resulted in job losses or in some cases imprisonment for contempt of Congress when a few opponents of the bi-partisan Cold War policies of the United States refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

What “moral equivalence” actually revealed was the lack of understanding of what the Cold War was about by those who believed the United States was as guilty and as evil as the Soviet Union. Today, unfortunately, we are seeing the re-emergence of this kind of thinking by those who condemn Israel for its attack on Gaza, and who accuse it of being as responsible as Hamas for the fighting and the deaths of innocent civilians.

What is most galling, however, is that this confused thinking is coming from liberal quarters in the “progressive Jewish community,” in particular, the group known as J-Street. The organization was founded last year as a self-proclaimed alternative lobby to AIPAC, which according to the new group’s founders, was too in line with the Bush Administration’s foreign policy and too hawkish. J-Street defines itself as the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement and as such supports a new direction for American foreign policy in the Middle East.  Their goal is to start a public debate about the U.S.’s role in the region that will be a break from the past.

J-Street believes that they, not AIPAC, are the true friends of Israel. Proclaiming that most American Jews were actually liberals (true) and in favor of a two-state solution in the Middle East(also true), J Street announced that it, more than AIPAC, would represent the actual political sentiment of most American Jews.

J-Streets real agenda, however, is to be seen in its response to Israel’s action in Gaza. The IDF campaign, they declared, not only left hundreds dead and wounded, but pushed “the long-running Palestinian conflict further down a path of never-ending violence.”  Arguing that they alone stand for “sanity and moderation,” they claim that there is “truth on both sides,” i.e., Israel and Hamas both have equally valid arguments and that “neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong.”

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The Disgrace of “The Nation”

January 1st, 2009 - 1:03 pm

As Israel fights a life and death battle with Hamas terrorists, the American Left is doing its part to come to the aid of Hamas. Spearheading this effort is The Nation magazine.  A few months ago, my wife and I wrote an article in the pages of the World Affairs Journal about Freda Kirchwey who was the Nation’s publisher and editor in the 1940′s.  Kirchwey was instrumental in furthering the case for the establishment of Israel at the U.N., a cause that she fervently believed in and thought that all Americans should support.

The magazine’s current editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, has made clear her own view that what she calls “Israel’s self-destructive occupation” is now the major threat to the country’s future.  This view is reflected in the Nation’s pages as they respond to Israel’s defensive actions  against the rocket offensive Hamas has unleashed against the Jewish state and its citizens.

Most outrageous is their lead article by Richard Falk, the UN’s “Special rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Territories,” whom I and others have previously shown to be a conspiracy mongering flake. Ignoring the long standing terrorist war waged by Hamas, Falk proclaims Israel’s response to be a massive violation of international humanitarian law, accuses Israel of targeting all of Gaza’s inhabitants because of the actions of “a few militants,” of intentionally “targeting civilians,” and finally, of waging a “disproportionate military response.”

Falk acknowledges that the rocket attacks “are unlawful,” but his sole concern is with what he sees as Israel’s illegal response which he argues are “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.” Evidently the rocket attacks are only unlawful, and cannot be construed as war crimes. Nor does he note the missiles provided to Hamas by their patron Iran. Instead, he is concerned with the “complicity” of those who help Israel violate international law by giving the Israelis planes and their own missiles and who support the “siege” of Gaza. Thus, he calls- with the magazine’s obvious approval-for international condemnation of Israel.

Not content with running Falk, The Nation offers the views of its latest foreign policy expert, playwright-actor Wallace Shawn, whose idiocy is as evident here as the bumbling characters he often plays on screen.  Shawn says he is concerned with the terror perpetrated against Gaza  by the “force and violence” of Israel, and by its “cruelty…starvation” and “slaughter” caused by the Israeli “occupation.” 

Jews, he explains, are just irrational because of their persecution throughout the ages. They overreact and instead of seeing that Palestinians are justified in fighting them as oppressors, see them as part of “an eternal mob of anti-Semites.”  His speculation on Jewish sanity, of course, has little bearing on the actual reasons why Israel has finally responded to Hamas’s constant rocket attacks, including their current longer range Katyusha rockets, striking closer to major Israeli cities in addition to their having made living in the southern part of the country unbearable .

Next, Nation contributor Robert Dreyfuss seeks to explain that in defending itself, Israel is in effect only reviving Hamas, which was on the verge of collapse.  Israeli actions will only further radicalize the Palestinians.  What Israel should do, he suggests, is accept that Hamas only wanted to negotiate a cease fire by getting better terms for itself, and therefore not respond to their assault by fighting. Dreyfuss then prepares the magazine’s readers for what will inevitably be their attacks on the incoming Obama administration. What they want, Nation columnist Robert Scheer further  explains, is to follow the policies of ex President Jimmy Carter, who Scheer writes “has worked so courageously to confront” the supposed cycle of violence caused by Israeli intransigence.

One wishes the readers of The Nation would consult the writings of those who are discussing the real issues at stake.  I suggest an important article  by Professor Robert J. Lieber, who teaches international affairs at Georgetown University.  Lieber points out that Israel’s air strikes are a reaction to continual and unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks- 200 alone since December 19th, after Hamas broke a six month truce. And unlike those with illusions about Hamas, he notes that it has one objective it consistently stands by, the destruction of the state of Israel.  Lieber argues:

While the details of the conflict often appear complex, the fundamentals — hard truths about Gaza, its Hamas rulers and the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict — are straightforward. First, despite the tragic deaths of civilians, Israeli’s airstrikes have been precisely aimed at Hamas fighters, installations and rocket launchers. Inevitably, the use of force causes injury and death to innocents, but from initial figures announced by U.N. personnel, it appears that more than 80 percent of those killed were Hamas security personnel or other militants — a ratio that might compare favorably with the use of force by U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. In view of Hamas’s practice of deliberately placing missile launchers and other weapons in the midst of densely populated areas, the precision is remarkable. It also reflects the fact that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) seek to minimize civilian deaths, while Hamas deliberately targets civilians.

            As to the argument that Hamas is just reacting to the Israeli occupation, Lieber points out that the only Israeli occupying Gaza for the past three years is Silad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas.

            Another article I recommend  is by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, one of Israel’s most outspoken defenders in the United States. Dershowitz writes that Israel is saying to  Hamas, “If you stop engaging in the war crime of targeting our innocent civilians, we will stop engaging in the entirely lawful military acts of targeting your terrorists. Under the cease-fire, Israel reserved the right to engage in self-defense actions such as attacking terrorists who were in the course of firing rockets at its civilians.” 

While Israel, he notes, is trying to pin-point as accurately as possible Hamas military targets, with the intention to minimize civilian casualties, Hamas is purposefully making that goal harder to achieve.  Thus the BBC correspondent reported that Hamas’ compounds are in the middle of the city where people live. The correspondent himself saw a compound destroyed that was  only 20 meters from his home.  Dershowitz understands that the guilty party is Hamas, that makes civilians human shields “behind whom they fire rockets at Israeli civilians.” This “false moral equivalence,” he concludes, “only encourages terrorists to persist in their unlawful actions against civilians.”

And as for the constant cry that Israel’s response is disproportionate, Melanie Phillips points out that “if anything has been ‘disproportionate,’ it’s been Israel’s refusal to take action during the years  when its southern citizens have been terrorized by rockets and other missiles raining down on them from Gaza. No other country in the world would have sat on its hands for so long in such circumstances.”

Thankfully, the current administration understands this, and one trusts, so will Barack Obama.