The Incendiary Danger of Unchecked Power: Bibi as Bullyboy
Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers
June 12, 2010
Take a large dose of hubris, combine it with Lord Acton's famous dictum
("power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely"), and you
emerge with an explosive, reckless abuse of authority on a number of fronts.
We could talk in this regard about BP ("too big to take on") and its
ruination of an entire region of the U.S., the Catholic Church's continuing
coverup in its sexual-abuse-of-children scandal, President Obama's
ratcheting up disastrous CheneyBush policies domestically and in
Afghanistan, and no doubt many others you can thi
nk of. But, since space is limited, let's
concentrate on the example of Israel's horrific abuse of its military power
on the high seas.
<b>BIBI AND VICTIMHOOD</b>
The Netanyahu regime in Tel Aviv, and the U.S. Hard Right and its mainstream
media enablers, are attempting to divert attention away from the real issue
underlying Israel's murderous raid on the Gaza Peace Flotilla. Instead, they
are trying to refocus the discussion elsewhere: the "self-defense" boundary
rights of nations in international waters, for example, or Helen Thomas'
reprehensible statements about the necessity for Jews in Israel to leave
their country and "go home" to Germany and Poland.
The real issue, of course, is Israel's self-defeating Occupation and its
refusal to accept the reality that Hamas won a democratic election to
represent Palestinians in Gaza and that Israel needs to negotiate with it.
On the other side, Hamas refuses to recognize the reality that Israel is not
going to disappear from the scene no matter how much they wish it were so
and that Hamas will have to negotiate with it.
Israel's raid on the flotilla, Netanyahu hoped, would rub Palestinian noses
in the utter powerlessness of Hamas and thus convince Gaza residents to
abandon that political organization as their protector. Israel's
over-reaction -- who could have guessed?-- led to the exact opposite result:
It bolstered Hamas' position.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing from Bibi's short-term point of view,
since he doesn't want any peace that would result in an independent
Palestine next door. He, like Sharon and other Likudnik prime ministers,
prefers instead to crush and destroy the Palestinians -- perhaps getting
them to migrate to Jordan or Egypt or somewhere -- or, at the very least, to
keep them forever humiliated, weak, powerless, fighting amongst themselves.
(New York Senator Charles Schumer
praised Israel's policy of half-starving Gaza's residents) which tactic
of "mass punishment of civilians" is a war crime under international law.)
<b>MAKING YOUR ENEMIES DISAPPEAR</b>
The unfortunate outburst by veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas
(whose long, courageous career of speaking-truth-to-power and journalistic
tenacity deserves to be honored) is based on a similar fantasy held by huge
numbers of Palestinians and other Muslims: that "the Jews" in Israel, most
of of whom made their homes in that country for many decades, will disappear
into the ether somehow or voluntarily migrate to Poland, Germany, the U.S.,
et al., supposedly countries that will be overjoyed by that prospect. Ain't
The ideology of victimhood explains a lot about the stubborn refusal of both
Netanyahu and Hamas and their followers to recognize reality. In their
respective views, only they qualify as true victims, with the exclusive
right of "self-defense" to protect themselves from further harm. The Other
is some lesser human species, with no rights or concerns worth bothering
Hamas, of course, has some short-range rockets to send into Israel and an
occasional suicide bomber. Israel, on the other hand, can obliterate the
Palestinians with its U.S.-supplied military might, and even has nuclear
weapons in its back pocket, just in case. So there is no equivalancy in
military power here, and Israel, acting out of hyper-paranoia and
"never-again" rage, is rampaging around the Middle East exercising its
advantage like bullies everywhere, seemingly without any consideration of
the consequences on their victims and themselves.
<b>THE TURKISH FACTOR</b>
But there is another theory making the
rounds, which holds that Israel's real intent in the Gaza Flotilla raid was
to send a shot across the bow of Turkey, which is re-asserting its
major-power role in a developing regional alliance with Syria and Iran.
Turkey, feeling unwanted by its Western allies in the European Union, is
turning East, the theory goes. (For more of this Turkey theory, see Pepe
"There Is a Method to Israel's Madness.")
While I think there is some validity in
this analysis -- most of those shot dead at close range by the Israeli
commando raiders were Turkish activists, let us not forget -- I stick to the
mad-dog incompetence theory behind Netanyahu's rampage.
In a way, Netanyahu is Bush in a yarmulke. He is so uncomfortable dealing
with the complexities of real-life situations that he quickly resorts to his
default black-and-white solution: military violence. Which, as was the case
with Bush, makes him a reckless, dangerous leader, one with tunnel vision
focusing mostly on short-term gain and to hell with history.
Netanyahu thus is a perfect manifestation of power run amok. His government
faces a weak domestic opposition and an American president who basically
makes noises of disapproval but continues backing Israel no matter what it
does. Nobody else in Israel's neighborhood wants to take them on in warfare.
In short, Israel feels it can do whatever it wants to do, behave as brutally
as it wants to, tell the complaining world to sod off, and suffer no real
Power unfettered all too often is power unleashed. The world witnessed that
last week in Israel's over-the-top military assault on the Gaza Flotilla,
with the resulting deaths and injuries, some captured on videotape. The
pro-Palestinian activists who organized that humanitarian mission knew
Netanyahu's reputation as a hardliner and probably counted on an Israeli
over-reaction (but not one this extreme) that would bring the issue of the
Gaza blockade once again front and center onto the world stage. And, of
course, Bibi reflexively swallowed the bait. He could have successfully
handled the ships running Israel's blockade in more traditional,
less-provocative ways, but Netanyahu had a point to make to the outside
world (especially to the Turks and Americans): back off, don't intervene in
our area of hegemony.
<b>ZIONISM AND MY GOD VS. YOURS</b>
But let's step back just a bit and see where the Likud's bullyish policies
might have originated.
Zionism arose in the late-1800s after centuries of deadly anti-Semitism in
Europe and elsewhere. After Hitler wiped out six million Jews, the post-war
rallying cry was "Never again!" In other words: "Next time we'll fight back
and you'll rue the day you even thought of attacking us. We will never again
be thought of as Jews who went meekly to the gas chambers. We will make our
enemies quake in their boots at our strength and willingness to strike back
with ferocity." That kind of thinking, which is in the DNA of so many
Israelis, helps us understand a lot about that country's policies.
Zionism rested on a belief that the land of Palestine really belonged to the
Hebrew tribes, and the Torah and history were used to assert their case. As
is now obvious, anyone who believes God favors their cause exclusively is
going to get in big trouble, since others also claim divine authority for
their exclusive causes. Hardly an attitude that can lead to anything but
conflict and national/religious warfare.
Continuing this brief historical summary: The Zionists arrived in Palestine
in huge waves of immigrants; using terrorist tactics, they forced the
British rulers out and, after the United Nations proposed a partition of
Palestine, Zionist zealots proceeded to frighten many Palestinian
inhabitants into leaving. (Also not to be forgotten: Neighboring Arab
leaders and countries urged the Palestinians to leave "temporarily" until
the Israelis could be defeated in war.) Whenever threatened or attacked by
their Arab neighbors, Israel responded with overwhelming military power. It
was hardly ever an eye for an eye, but more like 100 eyes for an eye. The
"Never Again" policy resulted in Arabs thinking twice before enraging the
Israel military giant, which was backed, as always, by overwhelming amounts
of military hardware obtained from their senior partner, the U.S. of A.
Israel seemed an invincible force in the Middle East. The only way to attack
it was by asymmetrical means: publicize their brutality, shame them into
more civilized behavior, make them pay for their Occupation, have kids throw
rocks at their soldiers, send rockets their way, hijack airplanes, kill
Olympic athletes, dispatch suicide bombers into pizza parlors and weddings
in Tel Aviv, etc.
But instead of having the desired result of Israel altering its violent
ways, the effect was like poking a stick into a hornets' nest, and Israel
responded with overwhelming force, bombing and bulldozing homes and
assassinating PLO leaders and firing live ammunition into demonstrations and
so on. Did Israel care that much of the world saw them as arrogant thugs,
and passed antagonistic resolutions in the U.N. Security Council? Not
really: "We showed them we won't be messed with. Never again!" Rinse and
<b>WILL THINGS EVER CHANGE?</b>
Netanyahu and his rightwing allies are locked into that violence-first-
ask-questions-later mode. The changing realities on the ground just roll off
them like water on a duck's back. They don't even seem to care that the
demographics inside Israel are not in their favor. Or that they left
Mossad's M.O. and evidence all over the Dubai assassination of a Hamas
leader. Or that they suffered a severe bloody nose in Lebanon at the hands
of Hezbollah. Or that Obama is starting to make louder noises of disapproval
about Israel's militarist policies. Or that millions of American Jews no
longer blindly support Israeli policy -- indeed, these American Jews tend to
believe that for the sake of morality and fairness and Israel's future,
there needs to be a major shift in Israel's Palestine policy. This shift
includes actually altering policy to lead to a viable two-state solution,
ending the Occupation of the West Bank, pulling out of most of the Israeli
settlements on Palestinian land, etc.
But as long as Netanyahu is in power in Israel, it seems apparent that
nothing will change. The only hope for a real shift in policy would involve
the U.S. government threatening to cut off economic and military aid if that
change is not forthcoming, and/or if the internal politics inside Israel
alter enough to lead to a withdrawal of public and parliamentary support for
If none of that happens and soon, and it doesn't seem likely, we should
prepare to see a Middle East conflagration beyond our worst fears, with mass
slaughter on scales unimaginable, more terrorist attacks abroad and even
within the U.S., and with America dragged into yet another war in that
unfortunate region of the world.
As U.S. citizens who care about America's future, Israel's future, the
Palestinians' future, the world's future, we cannot sit by and let that
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government
and international relations, has taught at
universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor for the
San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor
of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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