Revolution#132, June 15, 2008
Obama’s Speech on Israel:
Auditioning for Commander-in-Chief
Editor’s Note: Last week, Barack Obama was designated as the “presumptive nominee” of the Democratic Party, and Hillary Clinton endorsed him. What does it signify—and what does it NOT signify—that for the first time in U.S. history a Black person has been made the political candidate of a major political party? This is a very important question and we will be exploring it in future issues of the paper, including next week. This issue, however, we want to highlight the particular importance of Obama’s very first act after claiming the Democratic Party nomination—a speech on Israel, to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC is an influential and powerful organization that describes itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” and the AIPAC Conference itself is a major event—in addition to Obama, Clinton, McCain, Condoleezza Rice, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke.
In his speech to AIPAC, Barack Obama asserted many things about the origins and nature of the state of Israel, and emphasized his “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” based “on shared interests and shared values.” And he did so at a time when “Israel’s security” is being invoked as one possible justification or pretext for—or part of a larger scenario—that would compel the U.S. (or Israel, with U.S. backing) to attack Iran.
The Founding of Israel:
Myth vs. Reality
Running through Obama’s speech is an underlying theme that the establishment of the state of Israel is justified in light of the Nazi Holocaust. He says, “I also learned about the horror of the Holocaust, and the terrible urgency it brought to the journey home to Israel.” And, “It was just a few years after the liberation of the [Nazi concentration] camps that David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the Jewish state of Israel.”
The Nazi genocide against the Jews was one of the towering crimes of the system of imperialism. But how does the genocide against the Jews committed by the Nazi regime in Germany during World War 2 provide justification for almost a million Palestinians being forced from their homes into exile, and to suffer the continued ethnic cleansing by the state of Israel? Or, for Israeli attacks on other countries? The Palestinians and the people of the Middle East in general had nothing whatsoever to do with the crimes of the Nazis.
Obama, in his speech, concludes that: “We know that the establishment of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle and decades of patient work. But 60 years later, we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.”
But the establishment of Israel was in fact mainly a product of imperialist moves to dominate the Middle East. In 1917, the British imperialists put their stamp of approval on Zionist settlement in Palestine, seeing this as a way to impose their own interests in the region. The British set themselves up as the colonial administrators of Palestine. Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British military governor of Jerusalem, explained that England’s support for the Zionist “enterprise was one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took, by forming for England ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”
After World War 2, as the U.S. moved to dominate former colonies of Britain and France, Israel aligned with the U.S.
Obama is mobilizing public opinion behind unconditional support for Israel based not on some moral imperative to support an oppressed people, but on the strategic needs of the U.S. And his speech was a statement to the ruling class that as president, he will stay on that course.
Israel’s Strategic Role
When Obama says “our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values,” he is telling the truth. But the shared interests (and values) between the U.S. and its Israeli enforcer have nothing to do with “freedom and fairness…social justice and equal opportunity” as Obama claims.
In a recent op-ed piece supporting U.S. military aid to Israel, U.S. Representative Steve Rothman (who has been a strong supporter of Obama), reminded his colleagues that in the Middle East, “One strategic ally in particular has always stood out from all others: the state of Israel.” And that Israel provides “America with vital security assistance in the Middle East and around the world.” Rothman invokes “literally hundreds of examples of how Israel has helped the United States with our national security goals: intelligence, improving American military technology, capturing Soviet and Iranian equipment, destroying the Iraqi nuclear reactor, eradicating a Syrian nuclear facility, and many more unclassified and classified [secret] instances.”
He argues that “without our partnership with the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces—the Israeli army], the United States might need to have 100,000 or more additional troops stationed permanently in that part of the world to make up for the protection of U.S. interests and vital intelligence provided by Israel to the United States.”
And, Rothman emphasizes, “With the ongoing efforts of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons technology,” Israel’s role is “more critical than ever.” (“U.S.’s valuable, strategic relationship with Israel,” The Hill, June 3, 2008)
It is these kinds of calculations that drive the U.S. ruling class as a whole, and Obama as candidate for commander-in-chief, to make support for Israel unconditional—particularly right now.
“Israel’s Security”—Who is Threatening and Killing Whom?
Part of justifying unconditional support for, and mobilizing public opinion for Israel involves portraying that country as the victim in the region. In his speech to AIPAC, Obama said: “I have long understood Israel’s quest for peace and need for security. But never more so than during my travels there two years ago. Flying in an [Israeli Defense Forces] helicopter, I saw a narrow and beautiful strip of land nestled against the Mediterranean. On the ground, I met a family who saw their house destroyed by a Katyusha rocket. I spoke to Israeli troops who faced daily threats as they maintained security near the blue line.” And he said that “I don’t think any of us can be satisfied that America’s recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure.”
Obama speaks of “Israeli troops who face daily threats as they maintained security near the blue line.” But what is that “blue line”? It is the current border between Israel and Lebanon. Who has brought death and destruction across that line? In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon. The official death toll was 19,000 people. In South Lebanon, the region that borders Israel (just north of the “blue line”), whole communities were leveled.
During Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon in July and August, Israeli jets waged a massive bombing attack on the Lebanese capital, Beirut. By early August of 2002, the newspaper Financial Times reported that eight out of nine homes for orphans in the city had been destroyed by Israeli cluster and phosphorous bombs. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “In the last hours of the last air attack on Beirut, Israeli planes carpet-bombed Borj el Brajne (a Palestinian refugee camp). There were no fighting men left, only the damaged homes of Palestinian families, who once again would have to leave and find another place to live. All of West Beirut, finally, was living in wreckage and garbage and loss.” (August 29, 1982)
In the midst of the bombing of Beirut, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi Holocaust living in Israel, Dr. Shlomo Shmelzman, went on a hunger strike in protest. He wrote, “In my childhood I have suffered fear, hunger and humiliation when I passed from the Warsaw Ghetto, through labour camps, to Buchenwald [a Nazi concentration camp]. Today, as a citizen of Israel, I cannot accept the systematic destruction of cities, towns and refugee camps. I cannot accept the technocratic cruelty of the bombing, destroying and killing of human beings….Too many things in Israel remind me of too many things from my childhood.” (cited in The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, by Noam Chomsky)
In the course of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli military forces surrounded and sealed off the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut while their Lebanese allies massacred between 750 and 3500 people. Israeli military and allied forces were to occupy southern Lebanon for 18 years.
Again, in 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon with over 40,000 troops, killing over 1,000 people, displacing over a million and blanketing South Lebanon with over a million anti-personnel cluster bombs that today still maim and kill Lebanese farmers and children.
Similar horrors take place in Gaza, where a million and a half Palestinians are imprisoned, deprived of basic human needs, and subject to constant Israeli terror [see Gaza article, page 13].
Today, Israel maintains a qualitative military advantage over any country in the region. It receives in the area of three billion dollars in military aid from the United States each year. In a statement widely reported on around the world, but that got much less airplay in the U.S., former president Jimmy Carter said on May 26, while in England, that Israel has “150 or more” nuclear weapons.
Israel has never publicly acknowledged its nuclear weapons program, even while the “open secret” of its nuclear arsenal is held over the Middle East. Israel is one of four countries that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Does any of this argue that Israel is a besieged country on a quest for peace and security?
Unconditional Support for Israel
In the framework of the critical role Israel plays in the region as an extension of U.S. interests in the Middle East, and with the U.S. ratcheting up pressure and threats on Iran, Obama’s speech emphasizes that his support for Israel is unconditional.
It is in this context that Obama presents the Palestinian people with an offer-they-can’t-refuse of a “two state solution,” based on “Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders.” And, with Jerusalem “undivided” (completely controlled by Israel).
Even if the areas administered by the Palestinian Authority were granted “independence,” this could only have the character of the so-called “independent” Bantustans that were set up by the apartheid regime in South Africa (see map of the border between Israel and the Palestinian Authority zones on the West Bank). These areas are isolated, besieged, and cut off from each other by Israeli settlements, walls, and Israeli military checkpoints.
Then, Obama goes on to argue against “those who would lay all of the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East’s only democracy for the region’s extremism.”
As we have been pointing out, Israel exists within a whole network of power relations in the Middle East, and is integral to how U.S. imperialism dominates that part of the world in the larger picture of imposing itself as the world’s sole superpower. Within that, the state of Israel—the U.S.’s attack dog in the region—does inflame the anger of people in the region. As we could only begin to indicate in this article, a great amount of suffering, humiliation, and death has resulted from the birth and ongoing role of Israel. Yes, this has provoked widespread and deep anger throughout the region at Israel and the U.S. Today much of that anger is channeled into Islamic fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism does not, however, fundamentally challenge U.S. imperialism and actually backs up reactionary social relations—for example, the oppression of women. This movement is not just a dead end, but a weight on the back of the people. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is a result of a whole complex set of political and military developments that have included the U.S. funding and enabling such movements during the “Cold War” in opposition to the Soviet Union, as well as policies on the part of Israel and the U.S. to crush progressive, nationalist, secular, and especially communist resistance to imperialism in the region. Now the U.S. wants to “have it both ways” by pointing to the very movement which they originally backed as a pretext to tighten their domination and aggression!
Further, the whole setup in the region, with brutal and corrupt regimes enforcing the role of different countries in the global matrix of imperialism is enforced by U.S. military blackmail and aggression (as in Iraq), and Israel’s military and intelligence operations are a critical part of that.
Iran in the Crosshairs
Obama’s speech, with its pervasive thread of “an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” comes in the midst of very ominous signs that the U.S. may be preparing an attack on Iran. On June 7 the New York Times reported, “In more tough talk in Israel on Friday, Shaul Mofaz, a deputy prime minister and minister of transportation, told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot that, ‘If Iran continues its program to develop nuclear weapons, we will attack it.’”
In his speech Obama said, “The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”
This comes amidst claims by the U.S. and the European powers (and Israel) that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and that even Iran’s ability to enrich uranium—a level of technology far from a capacity to produce nuclear weapons—is intolerable.
It is in this context of real danger of war, and of promoting the whole set of terms and lies that would justify that, that Obama then argues, “Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation. But that only makes diplomacy more important. If we must use military force, we are more likely to succeed, and will have far greater support at home and abroad, if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts.”
In delivering his speech to AIPAC, Obama declared that, “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” When he delivered the speech, he departed from this text to repeat that sentence, and then in case repeating this twice didn’t make the point clearly enough, he emphatically repeated the word “everything” a third time.
Everything means everything (especially when it’s repeated again and again). In the first televised debate of Democratic Party candidates, former Senator Mike Gravel said of the leading candidates at the time (including Obama): “I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me—they frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that’s code for using nukes, nuclear devices.” (Later, TV networks refused to allow Gravel to participate in televised debates even though his poll numbers were similar to several other candidates who were allowed to participate).
Summing up Obama’s speech to AIPAC, the reactionary Republican journal Weekly Standard wrote, “So begins the great transformation, whereby a dovish primary candidate mutates into a (moderately) hawkish nominee.”
Auditioning for Commander-in-Chief
If Obama is selected to be commander-in-chief of the United States, he will inherit and be constrained by a whole course set by the Bush regime’s “war on terror.” Whatever differences he has or does not have with Bush and McCain are within the framework of carrying that forward. And in his speech to AIPAC, Obama is fundamentally pledging to follow that course.
Obama said, “My presidency will strengthen our hand as we restore our standing. Our willingness to pursue diplomacy will make it easier to mobilize others to join our cause. If Iran fails to change course when presented with this choice by the United States, it will be clear—to the people of Iran, and to the world—that the Iranian regime is the author of its own isolation. That will strengthen our hand with Russia and China as we insist on stronger sanctions in the Security Council.”
And even beyond the fact that Obama is arguing that diplomacy would create the best terms for a military attack should the rulers of the U.S. decide on that, imperialist diplomacy is still imperialism—it’s still unjust bullying, aggression, and interference which is directly against the interests of the people. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for example, “diplomacy and sanctions” cost over 500,000 people, mainly children, their lives.
What right does U.S. imperialism have to decide the political landscape of the Middle East and to impose its domination on the region? This has been the reality for over 60 years. For much of this period, Israel, with its nuclear arsenal, has been a strategic enforcer of all this. Imperialist domination of the Middle East has led to one nightmare after the other for the people of that region. Whoever is at the helm of the U.S. will be an overseer for all that.
“After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel.”
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
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