The Hypocrisy of Netanyahu

By Juan Cole

juancole.com

The sloppy Israeli propaganda effort against the Free Gaza humanitarian flotilla has been so bad that the pictures released by the Israeli army have been tagged by alert bloggers as forgeries, some of them having been on the Web for years. This site alleges that many of the pictures put out by Israel purporting to show arms on the aid ship still contained internal tags allowing them to be identified as old photos from years ago. Even if the charges of forgery are false, the photos show chains, sticks, an axe- things that would be on any ship.

The defiant speech on Wednesday of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defending the Israeli boarding of an aid flotilla headed for Gaza, and his insisting that the blockade of Gaza would continue displayed all the problems with hyper-nationalist Israeli discourse, of inappropriate analogies, factual errors, propaganda, and magical thinking. These fallacies have dominated the narrative presented by members of the Netanyahu government and those who support it.

The first fallacy is to identify all the people of Gaza with the Hamas party-militia, dismissing them all as "terrorists." But over half of the 1.5 million people of Gaza is children, who can hardly be terrorists. And if Palestine Authority elections had been held in both the West Bank and Gaza this spring, likely Fatah (which recognizes Israel and has agreed to peace talks) would win, not Hamas, according to a recent Angus Reid poll. (The news is even worse for Hamas: nearly a third of Palestinians want to throw in the towel and seek Israeli citizenship. Oh, yeah, Palestinian nationalism is such a threat to Israel; geez, this is like a third of Americans in the 1950s announcing that what they really wanted was Soviet citizenship).

So collectively punishing all the people of Gaza, as Israel does, is just wrong. It necessitates half-starving little children, since they are so much of the population. And the Israeli perpetrators of the blockade assume that they are punishing Gaza supporters of Hamas when it is clear that a majority of Palestinians would not vote for Hamas at this point.

The Israeli hyper-nationalists argue from contiguity, from things being next to each other, demonizing entire groups and peoples rather than considering their actions in the real world. Thus, IHH, the fundamentalist Turkish charity that sponsored the lead ship in the aid convoy, sympathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The ship was then branded a "Hamas" vessel. But none of the passengers is known ever to have actually engaged in anything like terrorism and the Turkish government would not allow it to operate if it were actually considered radical (look at the way Turkish security tracks down the Turkish Hizbullah).

And, since Iran sympathizes with Hamas, as well, and since IHH is a known sympathizer with the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, actually the ship is not just a Hamas ship but is an Iranian one. Even though Iran had nothing to do with it and even though it had no weapons aboard. All of Gaza is transformed by this way of thinking (if you are sympathetic with a group, you are identical to that group and they are identical to you) into an "Iranian port on the Mediterranean." In fact, of course, the Israelis do not allow the Gazans to have a port at all, much less an Iranian one. And, if that were the danger, then surely Tyre (in Lebanese Hizbullah territory) is already an `Iranian port on the Mediterranean,' since Iran is a patron of Hizbullah. But wait, that situation already exists. And no one in Europe has been menaced by Tyre, of which most of them have not heard. Imaginary dangers in the future can always be dressed up as more menacing than mundane existing situations.

The fallacies of guilt by association, appeals to emotion, poisoning the well, etc., etc. reach such a crescendo in this Israeli discourse that the IHH charity is simultaneously accused of being a stalking horse for Shiite Iran and for Shiite-killing hyper-Sunni al-Qaeda. The absurdity of a whole host of European parliamentarians, former US diplomats, Nobel prize winners, and a Swedish novelist, being fronts for `al-Qaeda' is so profound that it is like a Monty Python skit. `No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!'

Netanyahu also presents Gaza not as a territory conquered and occupied by Israel, but as an independent Hamas "regime" with which Israel is actively at war- a war that would justify a military blockade that must be honored by other nations. But Gaza isn't an independent `regime'. It is not a state at all. It has no army or navy. It is the height of cruelty for Netanyahu to deny the Palestinians statehood but then to declare that he may half-starve them because he is at war with a Palestinian state! Gaza is a territory occupied by Israel, which controls its borders, air space and seas, and even whether its children may have chocolate and nutmegs (the answer is no, and I can't help hearing in my mind a version of the line from Seinfeld about the cranky soup chef: `No nutmeg for you!')

So the entire `blockade of an enemy state during war' analogy to World War II trotted out by Netanyahu and his minions is mind-bogglingly stupid.

Since in the real world Israel is the Occupying power in Gaza, it is responsible under the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 for the welfare of its residents. Israel may not alter their lifeways, may not engage in collective punishment, and may not arbitrarily "put them on a diet" as a Likud spokesman observed was the real motive of the blockade when it was first tried out.

And since there is no Gazan state with which Israel can be at war, but only a squalid slum under the Israeli jackboot, it is not in fact legal for Israel to rampage about attacking civilian aid ships in international waters, summarily murdering the humanitarian workers aboard them.

After all those imbecilic World War II analogies that the Neoconservatives tried to sell us about Iraq, the idea that Netanyahu is yet again just doing his bit to defeat Adolph Hitler by shooting down humanitarian volunteers rings hollow indeed. It isn't always 1938 or 1942, folks. Get over it.

In reality, the poor Israelis have gradually become one of the last colonial regimes in the world, and they are acting the way the French did in Algeria or the British did in 1950s Kenya before decolonization. The Israelis have the same chance of ultimate success that the British and French empires had once local people began mobilizing socially and politically, which is to say, none. The French polished off several hundred thousand people during their futile resistance to Algerian independence, and that seems to be where Israel is now headed. Except that France was large, populous and could retreat across the Mediterranean, whereas Israel is small, lacking in manpower, and stuck with defending a postage stamp territory from 300 million Middle Easterners almost all of whom deeply sympathize with the people of Gaza. Netanyahuism can hasten the end of this story, to Israel's detriment, but can do nothing to stop the rest of the Middle East from getting wealthier, better educated and more militarily sophisticated over the next decade.

Not to mention that several of the nationals the Israel troops murdered were Turks, whose state is already in the G20 and who already possess a formidable military capacity within a NATO context (which Israel lacks).

All this does not end well for Netanyahuism, which, moreover, is itself bankrupt and hypocritical. Israel, which keeps screaming about nuclear proliferation, has as many nuclear warheads as the UK. Netanyahu, who says `terrorist' as often as other people say the word `the' openly celebrates the Zionist terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel late in the British Mandate, which infuriates the British. Netanyahu had a prominent Hamas leader actually poisoned nearly to death in the late 1990s, and the Clinton administration made him produce an antidote because they wanted to negotiate with him. Khaled Mashaal, Netanyahu's intended murder victim, recently declared that if the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza ended, so would the resistance to it. That's as close as you will get to a peace offering from Hamas; it couldn't have been made if Netanyahu had succeeded in his bungling attempt to lift the plot of some old Agathie Christie murder mystery.

Netanyahu's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, may be the most corrupt and thuggish politician now serving in elective office anywhere in the world. A former member of the racist Kach party, Lieberman has a thing about wanting to drown people, whether it be prisoners or the entire Egyptian nation. Why it is acceptable to fete Netanyahu and Lieberman in Washington but not to so much as negotiate with Hamas is incomprehensible. And these Israeli thugs get to shoot down innocent aid volunteers in international waters with impunity.

But, well, reality cannot be postponed forever. There will be unpleasant consequences for Israelis of their inhumane and illegal blockade of Gaza. Already, a plurality of Norwegians is eager to boycott Israeli products over what they see as Israel's Apartheid policies toward the Palestinians. If Netanyahu and his successors go on like this, that sentiment is sure to grow throughout the European Union. Israel deeply depends on trade and technology transfers with Europe, and if those dry up in the next decade, it will limit Israel's growth and even military strength.

According to the Bible, the ancient Israelis once had a prophet, who dared instruct Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" The Israelis have fallen into a shameful role for Jews, playing Pharaoh, denying Palestinians not only food, medicine and cement but the very right of citizenship in a state, which is the basis for all civil and human rights. They have to let those people go. We know what happened to Pharaoh when he refused.

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