Tag Archives: mavi marmara

Obama: Shoulder to Shoulder with an Apartheid State

Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ari Zoldan)

Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ari Zoldan)

THE HEAD of the U.S. empire paid a three-day visit to the praetorian guard of the Middle East oil lake that concluded March 22. President Obama’s trip to Israel aimed to shore up anxious vassals and reassert U.S. political and military hegemony in a region in the midst of revolutionary turmoil and economic instability.

On both fronts, he appears to have succeeded, for now.

News of President Obama’s much-heralded visit has focused on two events: his speech in Jerusalem and the phone call he choreographed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As is usually the case with acts of diplomacy, Obama’s speech and telephone rapprochement were filled with unctuous platitudes to mask the crude reality.

His Jerusalem speech intertwined the Zionist fable of a national liberation movement for Jews that never was with the African American civil rights struggle, using rhetorical flourishes best described as Obamaesque. He said:

As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed–“I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that…we, as a people, will get to the promised land…” And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea–to be a free people in your homeland.

Like every U.S. president since Truman, Obama depicts Israel as an expression of the democratic yearnings of an oppressed people, as opposed to being an imperial manipulation of historical crimes against the Jewish people to justify a colonial-settler state on Palestinian land. Israel is a nation that’s come to serve as an outpost for U.S. imperial interests in the region.

No doubt, Obama glimpsed the 25-foot-high, 450-mile-long apartheid wall that has been condemned as illegal in the International Court of Justice. He knows of the growing civil disobedience against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the broadening resistance to the indefinite detention of Palestinians such as Samer Issawi, now on hunger strike more than 245 days.

Even the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is getting greater coverage than ever in the U.S. media, making it almost impossible for Obama to remain unaware of the rising Palestinian civil rights movement that the New York Times’ Ben Ehrenreich suggests is a possible “third intifada.”

It’s quite likely Obama’s awareness of all these factors compelled him to reference Palestinian suffering and aspirations in his speech–if only to give a nod toward a crisis he has no intention of resolving. After all, if Obama were intent on actually doingsomething, then millions of American taxpayer dollars that help finance the expanding illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank would dry up.

Weapons sales and high-tech deals between the U.S. and Israel would be placed on hold. Obama would demand an immediate end to Israel’s siege of Gaza, a blockade of goods enforced since 2009. Netanyahu’s new hard-right cabinet filled with open racists and opponents of any Palestinian state would have been challenged. Yet none of these actions were even considered.

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WHEN IT comes to Obama in Israel, as at home, it’s crucial to follow the money and the weapons, not the words.

Though in all truth, even the words betray a policy of continued full-throated support for Israel. When Obama insists “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state” as the starting point for negotiations, he is essentially demanding that Palestinians concede ongoing occupation by an ethnocracy and the implicit apartheid regime of laws that comes with it. As with past presidents, Obama calls for Palestinians to embrace their own dispossession as the entry point to “peace talks.”

The phone call Obama arranged between Netanyahu and Turkey’s Erdogan was an effort to confront the central geostrategic issues hanging over the entire visit. Containing Syria’s ongoing revolution and stanching Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons development were central to this diplomatic mission.

On the surface, the call was about Netanyahu apologizing to Erdogan for a raid by Israeli commandos on an unarmed Turkish humanitarian flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, that killed nine activists on board the ship in the middle of the night in the Mediterranean Sea in May 2010.

The three-way call established that Israel will pay reparations to the families of the dead and Turkey will cease legal actions against Israel for the cold-blooded murders of the nine.

As the Palestinian member of Israel’s Knesset, Hanin Zoabi, who was on the Mavi Marmara, countered: “The issue is not only Marmara; Marmara was the small crime. The big crime was the siege on Gaza.”

Whatever words were uttered about easing the years-long blockade of Gaza, little is likely to change on that front so long as Israel controls the flow of goods, resources and people in and out of Gaza. But the real point of the call was for Obama to formally reconcile two of his most important and comparatively stable allies in the region. Containing the two regional powers, Iran and Syria, is far more difficult without unity between Israel and Turkey.

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AND OBAMA needs a beefed-up guardian in the Middle East gateway to Asian expansion westward as part of his overarching mission to push back China, too.

It’s become clear to both the U.S. and Israeli administrations that their longtime ally in Syria, the dictator Bashar al-Assad, can no longer hang on to power in the face of a popular uprising, which began as a revolutionary upheaval and now appears to have become a civil war that’s killed at least 70,000.

Even before Obama landed in Tel Aviv, Israeli and U.S. warmongers were peddling unconfirmed reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria in order to pressure the Obama administration to approve direct U.S. military involvement there. Turkey, Israel and the U.S. had already been working behind the scenes to select a Syrian-born American, information technology executive Ghassan Hitto, to be the first “prime minister of an interim Syrian government” elected by the unrepresentative, Western-backed Syrian National Council.

As for Iran, Israel would prefer a direct hit against Tehran for its supposed development of nuclear weapons, but the U.S. imposition of deadly sanctions on that country will do for now. And diplomacy is quickly jettisoned when the U.S. and Israel collude in illegal targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, as they did in early January 2013.

While some may see hope in Obama’s soothing words for Palestinians and others seeking justice in the region, such hopes in Obama are misplaced. The relationship between the U.S. and Israel must remain sacrosanct. They need each other desperately now, as even Muslim Brotherhood allies over the border in Egypt are facing broadening opposition from strikes and protests.

In a dangerous world with shifting alliances, military and economic competition and depression, the U.S. empire needs its loyal Israeli vassal more than ever.

Techdud Chats With Glenn Greenwald

A couple of hundred newbies and seasoned politicos managed to breach the phalanx of trial lawyers in training at Brooklyn Law School last evening to attend a really fantastic event on the Mavi Marmara Flotilla massacre—the Turkish humanitarian aid ship attacked in international waters off Gaza on Memorial Day, leaving 9 dead.

Speaking were Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi and Gaza Flotilla survivor Fatima Mohammadi. Greenwald will be posting a video of it on his blog, which I enthusiastically recommend.

Afterward I had an opportunity to chat with Greenwald, whose writings and TV appearances have provided a rare whiff of sane commentary to a mass audience in the United States. He lives part-time in Brazil with his partner, giving him bragging rights over all of us on commuting nightmares. Naturally, techdud—that would be me—managed to record every fart and burp in the room during two hours, but I’m tearing my hair out trying to find what appears to be a lost recording of the five minutes I snagged with Greenwald at the end.

I won’t attempt to recreate it all—since you’re likely to think I just pulled it out of my ass—but I do want to comment on the sense of what he said to me as well as those in the room. And at the end I do post Greenwald’s recorded response to a young fellow wondering—like more than a few of us—if it will take riots to win some change.

Since Greenwald posted the snarky commentary last week by President Obama about liberal criticisms of his administration at a $30,000-per-plate dinner, complete with chortles, I asked Greenwald about the posture of the Obama administration regarding the left. Previously that sort of snippiness was outsourced to Obama’s Uzi-toting, potty-mouthed chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel.

Greenwald responded that under siege by the right, Obama and co. really do feel they are unjustly attacked by the left. Rather than blame their own inept policies, the administration is pointing fingers at liberals and the left for their lack of enthusiasm and will blame us if they go down in flames during the midterms.

When I asked him about the inevitable liberal drum beat over the coming weeks leading into November—that the barbarians are at the gates and we must circle the wagons and support “our team” (the Dems)—I thought his response was spot on (and will forever kick myself if I don’t locate his actual words).

Greenwald said that every election year we are told is the most important of our lives and this one will be no different. But that because there are only two political parties—according to his Wikipedia page, Greenwald doesn’t vote for either of them, making us kindred spirits—we are trapped in this narrative of one or the other. Inevitably it means that the Dems take us for granted because where else would the left go and so there is no weaker position than buying into that because it guarantees that the left will never get anything  without a fight.

Amen brother.

One last thing that I did capture on tape. A young man of about 20 was the first to ask a question in the room. Keep in mind that this was in a law school, not an anarchist co-op. He said quite simply that the electoral process isn’t working, the world is a mess, so “should we just wait for the rioting to escalate around the world in order for there to be change?”

Greenwald responded: “A lot of sunshine and optimism in that question. I think it’s a hard question to answer and a complex topic, so I’ll just try to answer it as follows. I think if you look at the current administration there are clearly rhetorical changes and symbolic gestures that are different than the prior administration and would have been if John McCain had been president. The sentiment, the sort of flavor and atmosphere when you talk about the Middle East would have been different. But the substance is relatively, in ways that matter, unchanged.

“So you can ask yourself whether Obama doesn’t really believe in the claim that things ought to be different or he’s pretending that they should for political advantage. Or it could be the fact that he does authentically believe things ought to be different but there are impediments that he is incapable of overcoming even using the power of the presidency in order to consolodate those changes that he thinks ought to be brought about.

“You see that today with these leaks from Bob Woodward’s book where he says Obama was supposedly internally extremely opposed to escalating things in Afghanistan yet he did it anyway. I think one of the important things is that there really are permanent important power factions in Washington that exist separate from and beyond and at times have even more power than an elected president has. The reason that their allowed to exert that power is that it’s essentially unchallenged.

“I think some of the things that Professor Khalidi was just talking about as far as the changes that we’re seeing and the reasons for optimism is that is these orthodoxies are starting to erode further and the way in which this power is exerted  becomes more apparent, that’s when I think change can start to happen. You start to open up the debate and make Americans realize the extreme burdens that they’re undertaking not for their own interests, but the interests of a foreign country.

“And then when the population starts demanding real change—and you see this in a whole variety of areas in the United States over the last four decades—then I think it [change] becomes quite possible.”

Sherry Wolf  is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on The Struggle for LGBT Liberation, How Can We Unite to Fight the Right and on Breaking the Siege of Gaza at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of the Progressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.

How Do You Make a Bomb With a Kazoo?

If I were a college student, I would grab some friends and a card table and make a beeline for the busiest spot on campus to set up shop. On the table I’d place a chicken breast, a two-by-four and a kazoo and hang a sign reading: “How do you make a bomb with these?”

Fresh meat, wood and kazoos are among the dozens of items banned in Gaza by the Israeli state under the pretext that weapons could be made of them to attack Israelis. To be fair, kazoos are not specifically mentioned—though fresh meat and wood for construction are—but ALL musical instruments are banned from the Strip and I figure even a strapped American student can purchase a kazoo from a 99-cent store.

In fact, in the Kafkaesque world of Israeli state sanctions on Gaza no actual list is published and the banned items must be deduced from the day-to-day practices of the authorities. An up-to-date list is maintained at Gisha.

This week marks exactly three years since Gaza, the open-air prison camp of 1.5 million, was named an “enemy entity” by its warden, the Israeli state. While the policies that have isolated and stranded Gazans in a Mediterranean hell began in 1991, they have intensified since Hamas took control in 2007 following elections that all international observers agree were democratically run.

Wrap your brain around that for a moment. Nineteen-year-old Gazans—the age of many college sophomores—have only known stultifying restrictions on their movements inside the territory. A generation was born and has now reached maturity never having traveled even as far as the 48 miles between Gaza City and Jerusalem.

An essay by Harvard scholar Sara Roy in the newly released Midnight on the Mavi Marmara reveals the outcome of Israel’s blockade. Seventy-five percent of the population is dependent on humanitarian aid, chronic malnourishment is rampant and 90–95 percent of all water is “unfit for drinking.” Regarding the sewage-steeped water, the United Nations’ Goldstone Report declares, “Gaza may not even be habitable by World Health Organization norms.”

In attempting to render Hamas a pariah leadership to Gazans, Israel has not only created a humanitarian catastrophe, but actually strengthened the hand of its stated enemy. The formal banking sector obliterated, Hamas stands as “the key financial middleman,” according to Roy.

In Mavi Marmara, Israeli journalist Amira Hass adds that the rule of Hamas only grows stronger as the desperation serves to concentrate their power, if not their popularity.

Israeli state propagandists would like everyone to believe that even Jews in solidarity with Palestine are secretly in cahoots with Hamas. They talk as if secular reds like me raised on Bar Mitzvahs and basketball want to drive Jews into the sea. What? Why would I want to push my parents into the East River? Or the Mediterranean?!

Listen. We on the left are accustomed to taking on sisyphian tasks like ending imperialism or stopping global warming. This is not one of them. Ending the siege of Gaza—breaking the blockade—and establishing basic human norms for Palestinians is within our reach.

Last week, even the British Trades Union Council voted to extend its boycott of Israeli goods in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Palestine. Ever since the killing of nine humanitarian aid activists on the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship on May 31, 2010, the movement has expanded to include European governments and students worldwide.

We must act with clarity of vision and urgency to expose Israel’s crimes and build the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. You can even start with a card table and a kazoo.

If you’re in the NY Metro area, come out to the Siege Busters’ Ball fundraiser Tuesday, Sept. 21, at Littlefield’s in Brooklyn. And do not even think of missing out on the book launch for Midnight on the Mavi Marmara the following Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 7PM, with a panel that includes an embarrassment of riches: Moustafa Bayoumi, Rashid Khalidi, Arun Gupta, Max Blumenthal, Phil Weiss, Adam Horowitz, and Alia Malek.

Sherry Wolf is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on Breaking the Siege of Gaza at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of theProgressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.

Left to Stew in a Soup of Filth and Rubble

I am not feeling funny today. I am outraged and sickened by the fact that as “peace talks” proceed in Jerusalem, Palestinians continue to live under siege in Gaza—subsidized and approved by our own government.

To the left I have embedded the video trailer for the new book released by my own publisher, Haymarket, which once again lives up to its tagline: “books for changing the world.” The book is called Midnight on the Mavi Marmara. Click on “Watch videos at Vodpod.”

Buy it. Read it. Act.

To check out my own piece about the conflict that appeared a couple of weeks ago in Socialist Worker, please click: “A Divestment Movement for the 21st Century.”

I’ll be speaking tonight at  Barnard/Columbia at 7:30PM, BUT the meeting space has been moved to: Diana Center 203 on the Barnard campus. Matt Swagler describes the building as “the new, kind of grossly orange/brown and glass building” right on Broadway at what would be 117th st. Enter at the main Barnard gates. take the 1 train to 116th St. And yup, it’s still free.

Sherry Wolf is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of theProgressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.