The unfortunate Donald Trump Administration decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel serves no visible American interest, in spite of what some of the always-loyal-to-Israel punditry has been suggesting. Israel is already moving to exploit the situation in its usual fashion. Immediately after the announcement was made, Israeli Ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer suggested that the decision on Jerusalem could now be extended to include other disputed areas, most particularly Syria’s Golan Heights that were occupied in 1967. And the decision on Jerusalem itself will quite likely prove elastic as the Israeli government has already prepared legislation to incorporate large chunks of settlements into the city limits, far beyond the historic boundaries.
The currently popular among Zionists argument that recognizing Jerusalem will somehow perversely accelerate a drive for a final peace settlement with Israel as it will demonstrate to the Palestinians just how hopeless their cause is has little merit as desperation is more likely to lead to increased violence than a political solution. A more intriguing reading suggests that Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia are conniving at squeezing even more Palestinians into a slightly enlarged prison-camp in Gaza, leaving the rest of the West Bank open for absorption by Israel. Again, such an outcome is not very likely as the 2.5 million Palestinians remaining in the region will likely have some say regarding the issue no matter how much pressure is exerted by the Saudis and Jared Kushner for them to submit.
Nothing good will come out of the Trump decision as the situation in the region is already starting to unravel. The Turks are talking about opening an Embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem and the 56 other Muslim countries in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation might follow suit. Israel, which has physical control of the entire city, would use force to prevent that, creating some interesting new points of conflict in the Middle East. The U.S. would, of course, become involved given its role as Israel’s patron and protector. The evolving situation is likely to develop into Israel and the United States versus the rest of the world, with unfortunate consequences as the conflict will spill over into normally unrelated issues like trade and otherwise innocuous international agreements, while American travelers and businesses will increasingly become targets for terrorism.
If you want to understand the reason why the United States cannot pursue sensible objectives in the Middle East or anywhere else, one has to look no farther than the all too often Israel-centric neocons who have become adept at advising nearly everyone in the government from the White House on down regarding what should be done, particularly in foreign policy. The Trump Administration’s slowness in filling senior positions has meant that there are many vacancies, which has opened the door to eager neoconservative-leaning nominal Republicans to re-enter government. At the State Department Brian Hook of the neocon John Hay Initiative is now chief of policy planning, courtesy of Margaret Peterlin, Tillerson’s chief of staff. They have recently hired David Feith, the son of the infamous Pentagon Office of Special Plans head Doug Feith, to head the Asia desk. And Wes Mitchell, whose policies are largely indistinguishable from his predecessor, has replaced Victoria Nuland as Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. While Elliot Abrams, Eliot Cohen, the Kagans and other prominent neocons have been blocked, second-tier activists carrying less political baggage have quietly been brought in.
And Congress is to a certain extent the source of all evil, as its numerous committee meetings gorge on advice from experts who are frequently anything but, reflecting the hardline views of many of the legislators themselves with nary a contrary opinion in sight. A recent session of the Senate Armed Services Committee featured a statement by leading neocon Eric Edelman. His presentation is hawkish in the extreme, with particular focus on Iran and Russia. It can be summarized briefly by citing some of the section headings: “Adopt a post-ISIS Strategy for Syria and Iraq,” “Develop Credible Military Leverage Against Iran,” “Recognize Russia as an obstacle, not a partner,” “Increase internal pressure against the Iranian regime,” and “Enforce nuclear restrictions on Iran.”
So it’s garbage-in and garbage-out on how much of the government gets a large percentage of its information. And given the White House track record relating to Iran and Jerusalem over the past several months, one might also reasonably come to the conclusion that Israel will get whatever it wants, including a catastrophic war with Iran, because it’s also garbage-in at the White House by way of son-in-law Jared Kushner’s view of the Middle East.
But there is a second story playing out about Israel right here in the United States which should be even more concerning as what is happening on the ground in Palestine and Syria. You see, the problem that Israel has is that it is indeed an apartheid state based on race and religion. The 320,000 Palestinians attempting to hang on in and around East Jerusalem have no rights whatsoever and are being systematically forced out by being denied building permits and through arbitrary oversight by the Israeli military and police. Christian churches and foundations are also under pressure from the Israeli authorities but you won’t hear much about that from Congress or the White House.
The truth about Israel is quite unpleasant, so it has been necessary to construct a completely untrue but compelling counter-narrative which relies psychologically on cultivation of claims of perpetual victimhood linked repeatedly to the holocaust. The false narrative usually starts with the myth about Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East, that it is a tolerant place where all religions can worship and where everyone enjoys freedom under law. But, alas, poor Israel is treated unfairly by the international community solely because it is Jewish.
The reality of life in Israel is quite different if one bothers to ask any Palestinian Christian or Muslim who has the misfortune to live there. Or if one reads about the essentially racist de-humanization of Arabs by Israelis, which has led to the killing, beating and imprisonment of children as well as an army sniper’s recent shooting dead of a legless Palestinian protester in a wheelchair.
And once you construct the false narrative you have to protect it by making sure that no one can easily pose a challenge to it. Much of the national media is on board this effort, voluntarily limiting or eliminating any coverage that is negative about Israel. And major players in the alternative media community have come around also, with increasing direct censorship and other manipulation of material appearing on sites like Facebook and Google. The ultimate objective of the Israel Lobby is to follow the example in some European countries, where criticism of Israel is equated to anti-Semitism and is therefore categorized as a hate crime, with both civil and criminal penalties attached.
I have previously reported on how 24 states are now requiring statements pledging not to boycott Israel from those citizens and organizations that receive government funding or even seek local government employment. And there is the reported progress in Congress of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which constitute two major steps forward in the same direction. Both seek to define as anti-Semitism any criticism of Israel. On December 12th the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act was approved by the House of Representatives with 402 affirmative votes and only two libertarian-leaning congressmen voting “no.” The Israel Anti-Boycott Act that is also currently making its way through the Congress would far exceed what is happening at the state level and would set a new standard for deference to Israeli interests on the part of the national government. It would criminalize any U.S. citizen “engaged in interstate or foreign commerce” who supports a boycott of Israel or who even goes about “requesting the furnishing of information” regarding it, with penalties enforced through amendments of two existing laws, the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Act of 1945, that include potential fines of between $250,000 and $1 million and up to 20 years in prison. According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the Senate bill was drafted with the assistance of AIPAC.
Perhaps more dangerous than current and pending legislation, which is already being challenged in courts as a violation of First Amendment rights, are the bureaucrats being put in place by the Trump Administration to interpret and enforce laws and regulations. As we have discovered from the James Comey experience and the activities of some of his associates, senior bureaucrats have considerable freedom to interpret how they should carry out their responsibilities, making the “rule of law” standard for ethical government somewhat mythical. In that light, the recent naming of Kenneth Marcus as head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education should be raising red flags for those who are concerned about civil liberties.
Marcus is currently head of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which he founded in 2011. The Center has been involved in serial litigation with one objective – stopping protests staged by students at colleges and universities against Israeli policies. Marcus is focused on silencing the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which has been gaining in popularity among young Americans, and which the Israeli government sees as a major threat to its legitimacy. The Brandeis Center mission statement is clear: “The leading civil and human rights challenge facing North American Jewry is the resurgent problem of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on university campuses.”
For those who respond “So what? Marcus has a right to promote his viewpoints by whatever means,” the response might well be that his appointment is putting someone with a clear agenda in charge of an organization established to make sure there are no agendas relating to the civil rights of students. To be sure, Marcus has never won a case in court, but that is not what he is seeking to do. He is more interested in creating trouble, bad publicity and in driving up the costs due to litigation. As he describes it, “These cases – even when rejected – expose administrators to bad publicity… If a university shows a failure to treat initial complaints seriously, it hurts them with donors, faculty, political leaders and prospective students.”
Marcus will have the power and authority to deny federal funds to colleges and universities that do not meet his standards for action to quell the rising tide of Israel criticism, making him little different than the journalist who writes puff pieces on Israel or the politicians who takes PAC money and stands up twenty-nine times to applaud the monstrous Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, at Marcus’ confirmation hearing not one Senator asked him about his full-time advocacy for Israel.
Many universities are dependent on federal dollars and have already taken administrative steps to distance themselves from Israel criticism or to ban it altogether. Marcus will be able to move the bar even lower, putting pressure on colleges to drive the “Israel haters,” as he refers to them, out of the educational system. It is possible to foresee a future in which students will be free to criticize the United States on campus while discussing the foreign state of Israel with any candor will be forbidden.