Friday, May 27, 2011

5 Things To Remember About Israel-Palestine

I watched the Glenn Beck show, in full, four times last week. No, I haven't converted to the dark side. And, as far as I can tell, I haven't gone crazy. I was interested because he was talking about Israel all week. It's funny, he obviously doesn't know much about Israel-Palestine and also doesn't seem curious to learn. But he's convinced that Obama has betrayed Israel in a way that will probably lead to either genocide or Armageddon. Never mind that Obama was simply re-articulating the traditional US stance on the issue (two states, pre-'67 borders, etc), with which the world is in nearly unanimous agreement. Glenn Beck portrays the Israel-Palestine issue as a stark dichotomy: You either "stand with Israel" and are thereby following God's commandments from the Bible, or you stand with the Palestinians, spit in the face of God, and want all Jews to die. And of course he's very emotional, on the verge of tears, about it.

What's scary is that I think a lot of people agree with him on this. Heck, based on a number of comments I've seen on Facebook I know plenty of people who agree with him.

So I'd just like to throw out five thoughts to help pull this discussion in a more sane direction.

1. Even if you believe the Bible commands you to "stand with Israel," the Bible does not command you to support militaristic, unjust, apartheid policies of the Israeli government. The Bible does not command you to support the oppression of the Palestinian people. It's an absurd argument to say that for a Christian to live out his beliefs he must support the Israeli government's actions no matter how egregious they are.

2. Jews/Judaism and the nation-state of Israel are not interchangeable. It's an important distinction, yet people like Beck speak as though they are one and the same. Only about 42% of the world's Jewish population lives in Israel. More Jews live in America (45% of world population) than in Israel. Israel itself is only 75% Jewish. And if the Palestinians in the occupied territories were counted, Jews would not even be a majority in Israel. Which leads to the next point...

3. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands that Palestinians "recognize Israel as a Jewish state," he is implying, among other things, that Palestinians within Israel will always be second-class citizens. To put that in perspective, imagine people demanding that Ireland "recognize Northern Ireland as a protestant state." Imagine Alabama demanding to be recognized as a Baptist state.

4. The most humane and sensible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is also the most radically left-wing. I'm talking about a "one-state solution." It goes like this: Make all Palestinians citizens of Israel, incorporate the Palestinian territories into Israel's territory, and allow the refugees to return from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and elsewhere. Have a secular, democratic government that protects minority rights and freedom of religion. In other words, do what is just and stop treating one group as superior to another. Isn't this also the most "American" solution? You could say that a "one-state solution" is what ended up happening in the segregated American South and in apartheid South Africa. This solution also recognizes the facts on the ground--that Jews and Palestinians are going to live intermingled one way or another. But the strongest opponents to a one-state solution are those on both sides whose positions of privilege would be threatened by democracy and tolerance.

5. Israeli public opinion is much more "Pro-Palestinian" than you think. Most Israelis support a two-state solution with pre-'67 borders. Most Israelis support direct negotiations with Hamas. Most Israeli's support dismantling most of the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories as part of a peace deal. So whoever wants to "stand with Israel" should stand with the Israeli people against their right-wing government.

That's all for now. But next time you hear someone being called an Anti-Semite because they are arguing for democracy and justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike, step into that discussion with some of these points. It will hurt Glenn Beck's feelings. And make him cry. Literally.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Another MLK Quote To Chew On

I've seen lots of Martin Luther King Jr. quotes making the rounds on Facebook since the death of Osama bin Laden. They've been quotes about loving our enemies, which seem especially apt right now as Americans
process and debate the appropriate reaction to bin Laden's death.

It seems like there is a King quote for any occasion. This reminds me of another one I came across recently:

"There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism"

This is not the MLK my generation learned about in elementary school. The watered-down Dr. King we were taught was solely focused on civil rights for African-Americans. He had "a dream" about a future where Blacks and Whites were equal. And that was all.

But the real King--who hasn't yet been erased from history--fought for civil rights and economic justice and peace and knew that these things could not be separated or viewed in isolation. This is why his speeches, especially the later ones, are filled with references to worker's rights, unions, Vietnam and defense spending.

Here's the quote in more context:

"You can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can't talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry.... Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong... with capitalism.... There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism."

This was King trying to put it all together. Is anyone on the national stage doing that today?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obama A Lock To Win Re-Election

Warning. In this post I discuss the American political implications of Osama bin Laden's death. To some--mostly Republicans who don't want President Obama to get credit for anything--this sort of discussion seems somehow out of bounds or too early or too divisive. To me, it seems as normal and natural as the air we breathe. Everything about bin Laden's public life and death is interconnected with US policy, so let's talk about US policy and politics.

First, in case you had any doubt before that President Obama would be re-elected, you can probably cast away that doubt now. Bin Laden's death is the single best news item Obama could have hoped for in his first term, with the possible exception of a miraculous economic recovery. In the minds of ordinary voters (those who aren't following political news all the time like you and me), Obama is now associated with patriotic ass-kicking. His campaign commercials will rekindle that association in the Fall of 2012. And patriotic ass-kicking wins elections.

Republicans also just lost what has been their top issue in recent elections: national security. I don't agree with Obama's conduct of the wars he inherited. But what room do Republicans have to criticize him? He fights their wars better than they did. And it's a fair question to ask: Why couldn't George W. Bush catch bin Laden? Maybe because he wasn't really trying...

"I just don't spend that much time on him, really, to be honest with you."

For Bush, bin Laden was more useful as living justification for his Global War on Terror and the exercise of unprecedented executive power. Remember, at the time of the remarks above, he was still plotting how to use 9/11 as justification to invade Iraq and maybe later Iran. Obama, on the other hand, campaigned on the strategy of shifting resources from Iraq to Afghanistan ("the right war") to better hunt bin Laden. When he took office he ordered the CIA to make Osama bin Laden its top priority. Whether those policies were right or wrong, they do mean Obama will get political credit for bin Laden's death. The old policy was failing, he changed it, and the new policy succeeded.

Finally, I've been watching as Republicans struggle to settle on their talking points about all this. For some, the line is simply, "Congratulations to our brave troops and how dare anyone politicize this." Others are bigger about it and congratulate everyone involved including President Obama. But Rush Limbaugh tried out something different the other day. He said something like, "I congratulate the president and thank him... for following the Bush policies in the war on terror." Oh please. The Bush policy of ignoring bin Laden? The answer to that argument is simply to play the video above.

More to follow as I try to pull the tarp off and fire up this old blog.