Normally this type of endorsement would be done with a quick hit on Twitter, but I thought Michael Cohen‘s article over at Foreign Policy was so ‘necessary’ (usually such a pretentious way of putting it) that it deserved to be flagged in its own post. It is not that he says anything particularly revolutionary, but rather that he says it at all – and that so few others have done the same.
Cohen assesses the disturbing implications of some of the recent statements by various GOP presidential candidates on the Israel-Palestine conflict. These statements are not just factually incorrect (that in itself is not wholly surprising) but borderline racist and certainly discordant with US policy and interests, at least as articulated by the last two or three administrations.
So why are these things said? Because the candidates (barring, seemingly, Ron Paul) are in race to appear the most sympathetic toward Israel and thus the most damning of Palestine. In this quest, accuracy and – even – decency go out the window.
I will ask you head over to Foreign Policy to read the article yourselves, but let me just add that it is surprising that these types of statements have not elicited more outrage in the normally very easily outraged media. It is strange that in a society that is normally so politically correct, where statements about ‘lipstick on pigs‘ or ‘fucking retarded‘ activists can stir a media frenzy, comments about ‘the Palestinians being terrorists‘ or the ‘West Bank being part of Israel‘ go mostly unnoticed. The main point for the media was Gingrich’s comment on the Palestinian people being an ‘invented people’ – hardly the most contentious statement of the evening (for so, of course, are most nationalities, not least Newt’s own).
Perhaps the silence relates to the emotion underlying the Israel-Palestine conflict and the tendency for those who participate to be lambasted by whatever party is feeling threatened (not entirely unlike the ongoing zero-sum conversation on counterinsurgency, in fact). Still, the fear of being attacked cannot prevent us from calling things by what they are, as Michael Cohen does in this important piece.
Finally, there are several sound reasons why the United States ought to distance itself from Israeli positions. For starters, providing an echo-chamber makes it very difficult to amass any credibility with the Palestinian political leadership, which will be important if the US wants to (as it must) play a part in breaking out of the current impasse. A few weeks ago, I attended a discussion between Yossi Beilin and Samieh al-Abid on this particular issue. It was a fascinating exchange, and Beilin made a very salient point on the danger of having no daylight between US and Israeli preferences for the region. With regard to a certain recently retired Special Advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, he notes that…
he thought that real friendship with Israel means to collaborate with Israeli prime ministers (whoever it is) and he created a situation whereby it was impossible for the Palestinians to know whether the ideas which stemmed from the [US] administration were our ideas [Israel's] or theirs. So the suspicion was always that whatever an American president suggested was an Israeli suggestion. And this was one of the problems, especially in Camp David, when Arafat was sure that everything [the US] suggested was an Israeli idea – and by definition for him to accept an Israeli idea was not a preference.