(updated below - Update II)
The latest Haaretz column by the outstanding and courageous Israeli columnist, Gideon Levy, is entitled "America, Stop Sucking Up to Israel," and it highlights one of the most bizarre political facts: criticism of Israeli actions is far more tolerated and permitted in Israeli political discourse than it is in America's. It's simply inconceivable that any establishment journalist or national politician would ever echo Levy's scathing indictments of Israel's conduct and his calls for the U.S. to apply serious pressure and even threats to coerce changes in Israeli behavior. After describing the increasingly conciliatory actions towards Israel by the Obama administration in exchange for nothing but obstinance, Levy writes:
Before no other country on the planet does the United States kneel and plead like this. In other trouble spots, America takes a different tone. It bombs in Afghanistan, invades Iraq and threatens sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Did anyone in Washington consider begging Saddam Hussein to withdraw from occupied territory in Kuwait?
But Israel the occupier, the stubborn contrarian that continues to mock America and the world by building settlements and abusing the Palestinians, receives different treatment. Another massage to the national ego in one video, more embarrassing praise in another.
Now is the time to say to the United States: Enough flattery. If you don't change the tone, nothing will change. As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America's automatic veto will save it from condemnations and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaigns without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world's policeman making a sound, it will continue in its ways.
Illegal acts like the occupation and settlement expansion, and offensives that may have involved war crimes, as in Gaza, deserve a different approach. If America and the world had issued condemnations after Operation Summer Rains in 2006 - which left 400 Palestinians dead and severe infrastructure damage in the first major operation in Gaza since the disengagement - then Operation Cast Lead never would have been launched.
It is true that unlike all the world's other troublemakers, Israel is viewed as a Western democracy, but Israel of 2009 is a country whose language is force. . . . When Clinton returns to Washington, she should advocate a sharp policy change toward Israel. Israeli hearts can no longer be won with hope, promises of a better future or sweet talk, for this is no longer Israel's language. For something to change, Israel must understand that perpetuating the status quo will exact a painful price.
Israel of 2009 is a spoiled country, arrogant and condescending, convinced that it deserves everything and that it has the power to make a fool of America and the world. The United States has engendered this situation, which endangers the entire Mideast and Israel itself. That is why there needs to be a turning point in the coming year - Washington needs to finally say no to Israel and the occupation. An unambiguous, presidential no.
It's simply impossible to imagine that sort of harsh and blunt critique being voiced by any establishment political commentator or national politician in the U.S. In fact, one finds the exact opposite trend of the one Levy advocates. As Levy suggests, and as Spencer Ackerman insightfully documents and condemns, the Obama administration appears to be rapidly retreating on what was once its promising and commendable demand that Israel cease all settlement growth. The U.S. is unwilling merely to demand from Israel a cessation of activity which is illegal in the eyes of the entire world and destructive to American interests.
Even worse, the U.S. Congress appears poised -- yet again -- to enact a meaningless though odious Resolution that has no purpose other than to shield Israel from criticism; place ourselves squarely on Israel's side no matter what it does; and once again obstruct war crimes investigations. That Resolution -- co-sponsored by two members of Congress from each party, including supreme AIPAC loyalist Howard Berman, the Democratic Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- would advance the repellent through all-too-familiar personal smears against U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone by urging that the U.S. "oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration" of Goldstone's report -- which found both Israel and Hamas likely guilty of "war crimes" in the war in Gaza -- on the ground that the Report was biased, flawed, one-sided, pre-ordained and false.
It's apparently not enough that the U.S. Government block all efforts to investigate its own war crimes while immunizing its own war criminals. Now the U.S. Congress has decided that they were elected to do the same for Israel. The reality is that Goldstone's report found that both Hamas and Israel committed war crimes in the war in Gaza, but the focus of the report was on Israel because the number of civilian deaths it caused was -- as usual -- many times the magnitude caused by Hamas. Just to get a flavor for what the U.S. Congress is poised to endorse and protect, here is Goldstone himself, being interviewed by Bill Moyers, describing what he saw as part of his war crimes investigation (h/t Siun):
BILL MOYERS: I mean, there are allegations in here, some very tough allegations of Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed civilians who pose no threat, of shooting people whose hands were shackled behind them, of shooting two teenagers who’d been ordered off a tractor that they were driving, apparently carrying wounded civilians to a hospital, of homes, hundreds, maybe thousands of homes destroyed, left in rubble, of hospitals bombed. I mean there are some questions about one or two of your examples here, but it’s a damning indictment of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, right?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, it is outrageous, and there should have been an outrage. You know, the response has not been to deal with the substance of those allegations. I’ve really seen or read no detailed response in respect of the incidents on which we report.
BILL MOYERS: Why is that?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, you know, I don’t know. I suppose people hate being attacked. There’s a knee-jerk reaction to attack the messenger rather than the message. And I think this is typical of that. And of course, a lot of the allegations, I certainly don’t claim anything like infallibility. But I would like to see a response to the substance, particularly the attack on the infrastructure of Gaza, which seems to me to be absolutely unjustifiable.
BILL MOYERS: What did you see with your own eyes when you went there?
RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers. I saw chicken farms, for egg production, completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of chickens killed. I met with families who lost their loved ones in homes in which they were seeking shelter from the Israeli ground forces. I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose family were killed. One family, over 21 members, killed by Israeli mortars. So, it was a very difficult investigation, which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life.
Any decent human being would react with horror and disgust at such a report and demand a full investigation and accountability. But the members of Congress in both parties -- predictably -- are doing the opposite: they're condemning the report itself, demonizing those who prepared it, and demanding that investigations be suppressed. As Levy says, why would Israel ever feel constrained to stop any of its behavior when it knows that the U.S. Government is unwilling and/or unable to do anything but subserviently cheer it on?
Just to underscore how permissive Israeli political debates are as compared to the U.S., consider the recent actions of the often admirable J Street, which is supposed to be devoted to challenging the AIPAC-imposed orthodoxies of U.S. policy towards Israel. In his rather cringe-inducing attempt to convince The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg of his Seriousness credentials, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami dutifully affirmed to Goldberg numerous requisite "pro-Israel" claims -- among other things, equating Walt/Mearsheimer with anti-Semites and categorically opposing any use of America's military aid package to induce changes in Israeli behavior. As Andrew Sullivan correctly observed about that:
What's interesting here is that J-Street's head insists that the only serious lever the US has over Israel should be taken off the table before any deal is even negotiated. This is the lefty, peacenik, goddamned hippie position! Military aid, mind you, is already formally illegal because of Israel's secret nuclear bomb program (which no American president can, you know, mention), but is retained because, well, because it would never be repealed by the Congress. And so Netanyahu knows he can do anything he wants without any real blowback from the US. And he has about as much interest in a two-state solution as I have in marrying a woman.
This leaves the US with no leverage over a central party in critical discussions which indeed affect the national security of Americans. In what other case does that apply?
J Street even recently issued a rather mealy-mouthed statement on the Congressional Resolution to condemn the Goldstone Report. I have almost nothing but good things to say about J Street -- they are fighting a difficult and largely noble battle -- but the fact that not even this group, devoted to orthodoxy-busting, is willing to get anywhere near what Gideon Levy advocates illustrates how constricted American debates over Israel continue to be compared to Israel's.
As this highly revealing exchange between Hillary Clinton and Pakistani journalists over the meaning of "terrorism" reflects, nothing destroys our efforts to improve our image in the Muslim world as these blatant double standards do (blatant, that is, to virtually everyone outside of the U.S. and much of Western Europe). Even Iran's dissident leaders point to America's double standards on Israel to justify their own government's conduct. It's so obvious as to require no explanation that we cannot and will not be taken seriously in our campaigns against "terrorism" and "war crimes" when we are not only willing, but eager, to exempt ourselves and Israel from those sermons. But after some initial, impressive steps from Obama, we are continuing to do that as much as ever, probably to Israel's detriment and certainly to our own.
UPDATE: Obviously related to all of this, Matt Yglesias and Mother Jones' Nick Baumann document a defamatory and reckless (though quite typical) smear campaign led by neocon character assassins Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, against National Iranian American
Iranian-American Council founder Trita Parsi. Parsi is guilty of the crime of opposing punitive military actions and harsh sanctions against Iran and therefore must be impugned and discredited. America's Israel-related orthodoxies are always enforced by individuals like these -- the most discredited neocons among us, uniformly advocates of the attack on Iraq, and fixated on one issue only: Israel (one of the most vile examples was the recent, blatantly racist attempt by a former AIPAC and Israeli official to impugn J Street on the ground that it has supporters who are Arab and Muslim). Few things are more urgent than putting an end to their destructive tactics.
UPDATE II: On an unrelated note: Alan Grayson has received much attention for his unusually aggressive political rhetoric, but more important, he has been very innovative in highlighting critical substantive issues, many of which I've written about here -- from the Fed's opaque transactions to oozing lobbyist influence and defense contractor corruption. As a result of all of that, and due to his being in a difficult district, he has become one of the GOP's prime targets for defeat in 2010. Today, he is holding a "money bomb" to assist in his re-election, and those who wish to participate can pledge to his campaign here.