Saturday, September 20, 2014

SENATOR WARREN: "It's Not Progressive to Justify Israeli War Crimes!"

Senator Warren’s progressive supporters demand accountability for her rightwing pro-Israel positioning

Jeff Klein on September 18, 2014

When Elizabeth Warren came to Tufts University in Medford on Monday she was met by anti-war and Palestinian rights activists who asked why the popular senator and national Democratic Party celebrity seemed to echo Israeli talking points about the recent Israel attack on Gaza.

Warren at Tufts, (c) Pat Westwater-Jong
Warren had appeared as the keynote speaker at the Netroots Nation in July. She proudly identified herself a progressive and stirred the crowd with these words:

We know that this economy grows when hard-working families have the opportunity to improve their lives. We know that this country gets stronger when we invest in helping people succeed. We know that our lives improve when we care for our neighbors and we help build a future—not just for some of our kids, but for all of our kids. That’s what we believe in. These are progressive ideas. These are progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values we are willing to fight for.

A dozen activists met Warren at Tufts with signs and banners, distributing a flyer with the headline: “It’s Not ‘Progressive’ to Justify Israeli War Crimes in Gaza!”

The protest and the Gaza-related questions to Warren after her talk at Tufts received some attention locally and nationally – but the media coverage largely centered on the “controversy” after a blogger at the rightist Weekly Standard claimed that Warren was “comparing  Israel’s Actions in Gaza to the Holocaust.”  Some local media was more serious, noting that the activists had spotlighted the Israel-Palestine issue and compelled Warren to respond.

Warren has focused her legislative work and public speaking almost exclusively on consumer protection, finance and other economic issues that have struck a populist chord with Democrats and independents, many of whom are enthusiastic fans of the freshman senator from Massachusetts.  By political calculation she has been almost silent on international issues and has rarely spoken out on questions of war and peace that are also important to her progressive base. As MW has reported, she literally ran away from commenting on the Israeli attack on Gaza.

However, Senator Warren was put on the spot with questions about Gaza when she appeared at a constituent meeting last month on Cape Cod and her response was reported by the local media and then spread widely on the Web.  When questioned by a local resident about her support for additional military aid to Israel in the middle of the Gaza attack, Warren responded with these remarks:

“I think the vote was right, and I’ll tell you why I think the vote was right,” she said. “America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world.”

Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel “indiscriminately,” but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have “not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for.” 

When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel’s attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the “last thing Israel wants.”

“But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” Warren said, drawing applause.

Noreen Thompsen, of Eastham, proposed that Israel should be prevented from building any more settlements as a condition of future U.S. funding, but Warren said, “I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.”

Many of Warren’s progressive supporters, who had been urging the senator to speak out on war and peace issues, were shocked.  Remaining silent was one thing, but repeating Likud talking points was worse.  Many of us wrote to Warren or called her office to express disagreement and ask for meetings to discuss her statements and legislative record on Israel-Palestine issues.  What they received in return were boilerplate responses asserting her advocacy of a peaceful solution and special support for Israel.

Aside from concurring in Congressional cheerleading for the attack on Gaza and appropriating more funds for Israel in the midst of the slaughter, Warren also recently signed on (tardily, to be sure) as a co-sponsor of the US-ISRAEL STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP ACT (S.2673) and justified her stance in letters to constituents.  Earlier, in June, she joined 87 other Senators in signing on to an AIPAC-written letter to President Obama expressing “concerns” over the new Palestinian unity pact and threatening a possible cutoff of US funding to the Palestine Authority.

The week before Warren’s Tufts appearance, members of Massachusetts Peace Action wrote to Warren, expressing frustration with her stance and requesting (for the umpteenth time) a meeting with the Senator:
Dear Senator Warren,
It is safe to say that nearly all our members voted for you in the last election – and more than a few worked actively on your campaign. We very much appreciate your outspokenness as a progressive voice in the Senate on behalf of ordinary citizens over banking interests and we welcomed your support for the Budget for All campaign.

However, we were very disturbed to read about your recent statements regarding Israel and its attack on Gaza.  We strongly urge you to rethink the positions you expressed, which are at variance with the facts and do not advance the goals of a just peace.

To interpret Israeli actions as merely “the right to defend itself” ignores the long history of occupation and siege imposed on the people of Gaza.  It belittles the killing of more than 2100 Palestinians —  the majority of them civilians, as the UN and respected human rights organizations have documented.

Moreover, a careful review of the chronology of this latest conflict reveals that it was instigated by Israeli actions, not “indiscriminate” attacks by Hamas.  And the charge that the Palestinians use “human shields” has been debunked by serious investigators. In fact, the Israeli use of this practice has been amply documented.

In our view, it is not “progressive” to justify the slaughter of civilians in Gaza.  It is not “progressive” to remain silent when Israel seizes more and more Palestinian land for settlements that are universally regarded as illegal under international law.  It is not “progressive” to enable on-going human rights violations and war crimes through the continued uncritical appropriations of more military aid to Israel.

The time is long overdue to re-examine our policy of supplying billions of dollars of arms to Israel every year. We believe that your co-sponsorship of the US-ISRAEL STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP ACT (S.2673) sends exactly the wrong message to Israel in the light of its recent attack on Gaza and the on-going siege it maintains.

We ask that you speak up for Israeli accountability, adherence to international law and compliance with existing statutes regarding the permissible uses of exported US weapons.  We also ask that you vocally support Secretary of State Kerry’s objections to the latest Israeli land grab in the West Bank.
We respectfully request a meeting at the earliest possible date to elaborate on these concerns.
At Tufts on Monday, the standout was organized principally by Mass Peace Action, with support from Boston Jewish Voice for Peace, along with some Tufts students and faculty.  Warren was appearing as part of a “Distinguished Speaker Series” organized at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. She was introduced by Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont, formerly a Clinton-appointed ambassador and a serious Democratic Party rainmaker as National Finance Chairman of the DNC.

In response to Solomont’s softball questions, Warren stuck to her folksy populist message: she retold stories of her family struggles, stressed themes of opportunity, civic engagement and reform of the student loan program.  Those topics were further elaborated in response to the first questions from the audience.

Then three questioners in a row asked about Gaza and Palestine. First was a Palestinian-American whose family had been exiled from Haifa in 1948 asking why Warren could not be more even-handed in advocating for Palestinians as well as Israel. She was followed by Mass Peace Action board member Eva S. Moseley, who said she was “concerned that Jews don’t do to another people what was done to them” and asked whether Palestinians as well as Jews had “a right to self-defense?” (Eva identified herself carefully as a Jewish Holocaust refugee, since her family fled Vienna after the Nazi occupation of Austria in 1938, but this did not hinder the vile FrontPage Magazine web site from a calling her a “Fake Holocaust Survivor” who “support[s] terrorists.”)  The third question was from a Tufts student charging that Warren was an apologist “for Israeli attacks on schools and hospitals” and had an “AIPAC alignment.”  The questioners mentioned that they had supported Warren’s bid for election to the Senate.

Warren responded to each question almost identically:  She was against violence; both the Israeli and Palestinian families should be able to live free from fear and secure in their own states. “I don’t want to see anyone kill more people.”

After these exchanges Dean Solomont said he wanted to “lower the temperature a bit” and closed by asking Warren about her grandchildren, and  “the big question of the day”. . . Not the expected “Are you running for President” but What was her favorite movie? (If you’re wondering: Casablanca)

Outside, near the back entrance to the auditorium, the protesters gathered to be visible to Warren as she departed from the campus.  One of her staffers was furious, oddly chastising the activists for not telling the Warren staff ahead of time what they were planning.  We said we had been trying to see Warren for years. The staffer claimed, rather implausibly, that Warren had never met with AIPAC or any Israel lobby organization. He claimed that the senator was taken by surprise at the Cape Cod meeting and that she spoke “off message” as a result.

Warren, who is a possible presidential contender and the dream candidate for the progressive blogosphere, was very much “on message” on Monday. She was carefully even-handed, pro-peace and for two states in Israel-Palestine.  In a brief interview after talk (with Alan Solomont at her side) she repeated the mantra that “the parties themselves are the ones who will have to negotiate” and “it is not up to the United States to impose it.” And: “At the end of the day it’s got to be what the Israelis and Palestinians negotiate, what they can live with.”  No mention of one-sided US military and diplomatic support for Israel, or the asymmetrical power of the occupied and the occupier, of course.

As she exited the auditorium, Warren — an irrepressible campaigner — approached the activists, shook their hands and warmly thanked each of them for being there. We handed her a flyer as she entered her car to leave.  The aide promised a meeting soon. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, speculations about a possible Warren presidential bid continue.  Warren has announced that after November she will make her first trip abroad since entering the Senate – to Israel.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Letter to the Boston Globe, July 29, 2014

To the editor:

Israel – with US financing and US weapons -- has created a massive humanitarian disaster in Gaza.  More than 1100 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured.  According to the UN, three-quarters of the dead are civilians, including hundreds of children and women.  Tens of thousands have been made homeless. The strip’s only power plant is now in flames from Israeli bombardment.

Yet our Congress has unanimously passed legislation blaming only the victims and is considering further resolutions  that aim to legitimize and prolong the slaughter.

What is needed are measures to end the bombing and offer the people of Gaza, as well as Israel, freedom from violence and the possibility to live normal lives without being under siege in their tiny patch of land.  In the longer run, only a just end to the blockade of  Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank can offer the prospect of a lasting peace.

As I understand it, Secretary of State John Kerry has been working to achieve a cease-fire and negotiations to achieve those outcomes.  For his efforts, he has been openly vilified in the Israeli press.  Kerry and his diplomatic process deserve our support, instead of joining the campaign to malign him as Israel and its US supporters are doing.

It is, frankly, shameful that our Congress – especially its Democratic Party members -- would even consider a resolution written by the agents of a foreign country, whose spokespeople have insulted our secretary of state and whose chief of state virtually endorsed the Republican candidate in the last US presidential election.

Jeff Klein

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Cutting the Grass" Again in Gaza

Horror on Gaza Beach
DEMOCRACY NOW! Had The Best Roundup here

Meanwhile, in the US, the Obama administration and the Congress have piled on. . .in support of the slaughter and to back Israel’s aims in the current hostilities.

Obama Endorses Israel’s Gaza Assault at White House “Iftar”
At the annual White House Iftar dinner commemorating the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, President Barack Obama endorsed Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip and defended government spying on Muslim-Americans. Alongside dozens of Muslim-American community activists and Muslim diplomats, the White House welcomed Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, an outspoken advocate of Israel's settlement enterprise who has claimed Muslim and Arab culture is endemically violent.  More

Senate passes resolution in support of Israel
The Senate passed a resolution expressing support for Israel on the same night the country launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) authored S.Res. 498, which reaffirms Senate support for Israel, condemns unprovoked rocket fire and calls on Hamas to stop all rocket attacks on Israel. “The United States Senate is in Israel’s camp,” Graham said on the Senate floor Thursday. Passage of the resolution came moments after Israel announced that it launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip, following a week of heavy rocket attacks from Hamas forces.  More

Senator Elizabeth Warren was anxious to avoid responding to a question about Gaza.

The House and Senate resolutions, which were undoubtedly written by AIPAC, make no mention of casualties in Gaza, call the rockets “an unprovoked attack”  and also demand that the Palestinian Authority dissolve its unity agreement with Hamas.

Gaza: this shameful injustice will only end if the cost of it rises
For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories. Since Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip began, just over a week ago, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly 80% of the dead are civilians, over 20% of them children. Around 1,400 have been wounded and 1,255 Palestinian homes destroyed. So far, Palestinian fire has killed one Israeli on the other side of the barrier that makes blockaded Gaza the world’s largest open-air prison. But instead of demanding a halt to Israel’s campaign of collective punishment against what is still illegally occupied territory, the western powers have blamed the victims for fighting back. If it weren’t for Hamas’s rockets fired out of Gaza’s giant holding pen, they insist, all of this bloodletting would end.   More

We single Israel out because we in the west are shamefully complicit in its crimes
For its many supporters in the west, Israel is being unfairly singled out for criticism… Why pick on plucky Israel? What about the Chinas, Russias, Syrias, Saudi Arabias, Irans, Sudans and Burmas? Where are the protests against Isis, Boko Haram or the Pakistani Taliban? … Israel is “singled out” today, but by its friends and not just by its enemies. It has been singled out for unparalleled support – financial, military, diplomatic – by the western powers. It is indeed, to quote Ben-Ami, a “special case”. Which other country is in receipt of $3bn a year in US aid, despite maintaining a 47-year military occupation in violation of international law? Which other country has been allowed to develop and stockpile nuclear weapons in secret?   More


“CUTTING THE GRASS is a racist term used by the Israeli security establishment as a way to “manage” Palestinian resistance by periodically launching limited attacks on Gaza to degrade to ability of Hamas and other armed factions to confront the occupation of their land. It is a strategy for limiting, rather than ending the conflict.  Short VIDEO here

GAZA is the size of heavily urban Suffolk County – but at 1.8 million inhabitants almost three times as densely populated. With all its borders closed, there is literally nowhere for people to escape or hide from the bombing.

Compared to the intermittent firing of small-caliber mortars and mostly home-made rockets from Gaza, since 2006 there have been almost continuous Israeli attacks and assassinations against political and civilian leaders in Gaza.  There have been thousands killed in Gaza and tens of thousands wounded or displaced from their homes.  During the same period, the best estimate is that 27 Israelis have died since 2004 in rocket attacks launched from Gaza. (In 2012 alone, 263 Israelis died in traffic accidents).

Gaza continues to be legally occupied territory:
While Israel has argued that it ceased occupying Gaza in 2005 when it unilaterally redeployed its troops outside of Gaza and withdrew its settlers from Gaza, Gaza continues to be occupied in accordance with international law and in the views of the international community, including the U.S.[i], the EU, and the U.N.[ii]. Israel’s continued responsibility as the occupying power in Gaza results from several factors.  First, Israel continues to exert effective control over Gaza including control of the borders, airspace, waterways, population registry, currency, the movement of people, trade, electrical supply, water supply, and more. Second, Israel maintains and exerts a right to conduct regular military operations in Gaza, giving it effective military control over the territory. Under international law[iii], effective control is the key measures of occupation.  More

Since 2005, when Israel decided to remove its settlers and troops from inside Gaza, in order to maintain its siege from outside and strengthen its colonization of the West Bank, there have been almost continuous restrictions on the entry of food and other humanitarian necessities.  Israeli politicians joked, in the infamous words of Dov Weissglass, chief aide to former Israeli President Ariel Sharon: “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger… It's like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won't die…"

Israel’s Incremental Genocide in the Gaza Ghetto 
The present genocidal wave has, like all the previous ones, also a more immediate background. It has been born out of an attempt to foil the Palestinian decision to form a unity government [4] that even the United States could not object to… Ever since June 1967, Israel searched for a way to keep the territories it occupied that year without incorporating their indigenous Palestinian population into its rights-bearing citizenry. All the while it participated in a “peace process” charade to cover up or buy time for its unilateral colonization policies on the ground.  With the decades, Israel differentiated between areas it wished to control directly and those it would manage indirectly, with the aim in the long run of downsizing the Palestinian population to a minimum with, among other means, ethnic cleansing and economic and geographic strangulation.  More

Israel controls two out of three sides of Gaza on the land and its naval patrols maintain a sea blockade; Israel’s (and US) ally Egypt keeps the third land side mostly closed and in any case honors the agreement with Israel to limit Rafah access to foot traffic alone.  So all goods coming in and out of Gaza are controlled by Israel.

Compared to the intermittent firing of small-caliber mortars and mostly home-made rockets from Gaza, since 2006, there have been almost continuous Israeli attacks and assassinations against political and civilian leaders in Gaza, with concomitant “collateral damage” killing hundreds of others.  
Periodically, Israel launched heavier attacks resulting in even higher casualties, the majority civilian in all cases.  Notice the consistent and obscene Israeli terminology in naming its attacks:

June 2014 – Protective Edge: 265 killed and counting
November 2012 – Pillar of Defense: killing 168 Palestinians and destroying hundreds of homes
December 2008 – Cast Lead: More than 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, were killed and over 16,000 Gazans were permanently displaced from their homes which were destroyed during the attack. 
February 2008 – Warm Winter: killed 120 (34 children) and injured 269 (at least 63 children)
June 2006 – Summer Rains/Autumn Clouds: at least 351 Palestinians dead and 848 injured
February 2006 – Lightning Strike
September 2005 – First Rain
October 2004 – Days of Penitence: 130 killed, hundreds wounded
May, 2004 -- Operation Rainbow: at least 43 killed, hundreds wounded.

Whenever a temporary truce was negotiated (and scrupulously maintained by Hamas), the pattern has been for Israel to renege on the terms and break the ceasefire with fresh attacks when it deemed them useful.  And contrary to the Israeli claims that this was “to protect its citizens,” the pattern reveals that the most dangerous time for Israeli civilians is when Israel is launching an attack on Gaza.

Reigniting Violence: How Do Ceasefires End?
…we found that this pattern -- in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause -- becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days… Thus, a systematic pattern does exist: it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first following a lull. Indeed, it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.   More

A Tale of Two Ceasefires
Egypt, acting as the United States normally does, worked out the details of its ceasefire idea primarily with Israel. The deal reflects the Israeli and Egyptian agenda: it mostly follows the formula of “quiet for quiet,” essentially bringing back the status quo ante of early June. It offers Hamas a vague promise of future negotiations to address the siege of the Gaza Strip. But this is hardly something Hamas will put stock in. The 2012 ceasefire agreement, which was negotiated by then-Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a man much friendlier to Hamas than the current Egyptian leadership, also made such a promise and it never came to anything. Finally, Egypt says it is willing to open the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt more widely but only if Hamas allows Palestinian Authority security to police it instead of their own people.  It’s not hard to see why Hamas viewed that offer, and its exclusion from the talks, more like a call to surrender than a ceasefire…  Hamas recently confirmed its terms for a ceasefire: Israel should lift the siege it has imposed on the strip for the last seven years, and release all the prisoners it arrested last month during its sweep of the West Bank while the Netanyahu government was keeping the Israeli public and the world from immediately finding out that the three youths who were ostensibly being searching for were already dead. In exchange, Hamas would agree to a ceasefire.   More