Sit down & shut up

Kindly remain seated

By Lamis Andoni, 27 May 2011 09:29

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu must have felt more at home speaking to the US Congress than when he addressed the Israeli parliament: Had he made the same speech at the Knesset, he would have been repeatedly cut off by members – Arabs and Jews alike – objecting to the extremist positions and claims that could only appeal to the Israeli far right.

But in the warm arms of the US Congress, he got away with alleging that Jewish settlers – living in illegal settlements – in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not occupiers, that the West Bank (using the biblical Judea and Samaria) is not occupied territory, that a united Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and that Israel should be recognised as “a Jewish state”.

In Israel, at least, a few of the Knesset members would have interrupted Netanyahu’s rhetorical hubris, reminding him that the West Bank and Gaza are under Israeli occupation, that settlers should leave the illegal settlements and that his talk about recognising Israel as a Jewish state was downright racist. Sure enough, there was more criticism of Netanyahu’s speech in the Israeli media than in any US newspaper.

But in Washington, Netanyahu was the unchallenged king of Capitol Hill. Members of the US Congress reacted to every utterance Netanyahu made with warm applause, if not standing ovation. The representatives of the people of the US are either ignorant to the facts or immune to notions of equality and justice that would have otherwise guided them to react with outrage at Netanyahu’s brazen declarations.

It was shocking, almost surreal, watching the smiling faces of Congressmen and Senators enthralled at Netanyahu’s glorification of the subjugation of another people under the yoke of military oppression. It was the equivalent of celebrating the war of extermination of Native Americans, slavery and racial segregation all at once.

US president Barack Obama just loves to repeatedly stress “the shared values” between the US and Israel that create “an ironclad” American commitment to Israel. Of course, by making such assertions, Obama is extolling the values of freedom, equality and justice that he believes are part of the American heritage.

But these are not the values that describe either US policy towards the Israeli-Arab conflict or the Israeli dispossession of the Palestinian people – let alone the joint US-Israeli military partnership to ensure the continuity of a deadly occupation. The “values” of this alliance are not rooted in the American war of independence or the civil rights movement but rather invoke the darker side of US history and present world policies.

Yes, there are shared Israeli-American “values” that Netanyahu understood so well when he was confidently making a speech that showed utter disdain to the humanity of the Palestinians. Netanyahu was invoking the imperial notions that led to the US wars in Korea and Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan and the invasion and occupation of Iraq – to list some American military misadventures.

He was also appealing to the naked political ambition of members who want to ensure their re-election and to safeguard their seats on Capitol Hill. But the total disregard of the US Congress to the humanity of the Palestinians is not solely an indication of the influence the pro-Israeli lobby has in Washington.

That was more than evident at the annual conference of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – where all key leaders of the Senate and the Congress unabashedly competed to prove their support for Israel. There is also no doubt that the last congressional elections produced some of the most pro-Israeli and at times blatantly right-wing members and leaders of the US Congress and Senate.

Take, for example, Congressional majority leader Eric Cantor, who in his speech to AIPAC summarised the whole history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by blaming Arab culture:

Sadly it [Arab culture] is a culture infused with resentment and hatred. But it is this culture that underlies the Palestinians’ and the broader Arab world’s refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. And this, this [repeated for emphasis], is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it is not about the ’67 line.

Needless to say, Cantor would not get away with such a blatantly racist statement about any other culture. Cantor does not only dismiss the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, but he is effectively asking the Palestinians to renounce their own rights and history. The Israeli stipulation to accept its right to exist – as a Jewish state, no less – is not based in international law, and is basically a demand that Palestinians negate themselves and submit to their Israeli-determined fate.

Support for such a demand to recognise Israel is only understandable if it is backed by overtly racist members of the US and the Congress. For such a pronouncement to be endorsed by at least the majority of the two houses is equivalent to declaring that the US should be recognised as a “white state”.

But the fact that a sitting African American president has enthusiastically adopted such a racist demand has made legitimate for all to accept – unquestioning its meaning or implications.

It seems, however, that Arabs are treated in a totally different category, where values of equality need not apply.

Only in one of the illegal settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem could have Netanyahu enjoyed such a love fest as the one that unfolded on Capitol Hill.

Indeed, maybe the US Congress would feel more at home in one of those settlements, where they both share common American-Israeli values, such as a narrow and distorted world view that encourages intolerance.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs. or or

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