by Andrew E. Harrod
Inauguration weekend has come and gone, and with it the preceding "No Blank Check for Israel" rally on Saturday, January 19, 2013. Rally participants first assembled in Farragut Square to hear various speakers and then marched through adjoining streets to Pennsylvania Avenue between Lafayette Square and the White House where President Barack Obama two days later reviewed the inauguration parade. The central demand of the rally was to "condition" American aid to Israel upon respect for human rights. Although presented in terms of human rights, the rally's speakers and participants cast grave doubts on the willingness of Arabs in the Middle East to make peace with a Jewish state of Israel now having survived over 60 years of conflict.
An amateur video of the rally available online (I appear viewed from behind at 6:00 wearing a light blue sweater and khaki slacks) clearly indicates the participants' sentiments towards Israel. The master of ceremonies for the event, Radio Rahim, for example, condemned American support for Israeli "war crimes" perpetrated against "innocent, defenseless people" as well as, for good measure, "genocide." Rahim later warmed up the crowd with chants of "No to the dark side, no to apartheid." Rahim suggested that American support for such Israeli "apartheid" flowed naturally from an America founded upon racism in which a "racist ideology still works through the veins of the system." Continuing this racism meme two days before the Martin Luther King holiday, one of the event speakers, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), cast American-financed Israeli security policies in terms of a "triplet of evil" of racism, poverty, and militarism opposed by King. Although Bennis described Israeli "apartheid" as distinct from its infamous South African namesake, Israel still deserved this appellation, as there "people who are Jews are privileged" and both cases "are in violation of international law."
Also making an appearance accompanied by his wife Cindy was Craig Corrie, the father of Rachel Corrie, who died on March 16, 2003, when an Israeli army bulldozer crushed her while she protested the destruction of Palestinian homes (the Israeli military and judiciary have ruled the killing accidental, not intentional, as alleged by the Corries). Corrie compared sending military aid to Israel in the name of peace as "making about as much sense as sending four cases of beer to a fraternity to encourage sobriety." An introductory webpage for the website of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice founded by her parents, meanwhile, describes Israel in terms of "apartheid" as well.
Other speakers were universally hostile to Israel and its continued American aid. Rev. Graylan Hagler of Washington, DC's Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ condemned that there had been a "silence for too long" while "business machinery" continued "to grind down the hopes of people" in the Palestinian territories as a "corporate press" looked away. While Martin Luther King, meanwhile, "had a dream, Obama has a drone." Philip Farah of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace (WIAMEP) said that the rally was about "people who do not know how to say no to war." In case anyone was confused by the rally's message, Najla Said, the daughter of Edward Said, declared that the "facts are simple" in the Arab-Israeli conflict while comparing civilian casualties during Israeli military action to the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting. Rahim as well stated during one of his "dark side" chants that "apartheid here is Israel, just in case you didn't know."
Examination of the crowd indicated that they would be receptive to the speakers. Copies of the Socialist Worker were available for the taking on a handout table. One sign held by a rally participant called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "war criminal" while another sign listing the internet address of Occupy AIPAC declared "America First, Not Israel." One individual wore a National Lawyers Guild hat while someone from the other side of the political spectrum wore a Ron Paul button. Members of Code Pink, one of the event's organizers, were also present in their trademark color.
Shelley Fudge from the DC chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, another event supporter, spoke of Israeli "Judiazation" of Jerusalem, prompting one rally participant to cry out "Arianization." During the march to the White House, the demonstrators chanted "Viva Palestina/Long live Palestine" along with "Free, Free Palestine" and "Resistance is justified when people are occupied."
Personal interviews with rally participants during the march and on Pennsylvania Avenue did nothing to change impressions of the rally. Asked about an average annual American aid of $2 billion since the 1979 peace with Israel to Egypt, the second largest American aid recipient after Israel, for example, one Palestinian-American noted that Egypt's much larger population meant that Egyptians per capita received much less aid than Israelis. Left out of this reply, though, was any understanding of the American interest in such aid, as opposed to that of the recipients. Indeed, as David Meir-Levy has analyzed in various online articles at FrontPage Magazine, America reaps many benefits from aid to Israel, in contrast to the more questionable merit of aid bestowed on many Muslim-majority nations such as Egypt. Discussions of per capita international aid to Palestinians being significantly larger than the post-World War II Marshall Plan in Europe, meanwhile, merely brought the response that the Palestinians had nothing to show for this aid not because of Palestinian misuse but because of Israeli destruction.
Most surprisingly, rally participants seemed to question the very existence of Israel. Another Palestinian-American participant in the march rejected any reference to Jews as a people with a historic homeland in Israel, seeing them merely as diverse adherents of a religion scattered across the world who had imposed themselves as foreigners upon an Arab territory. My initial Palestinian-American conversation partner described Zionism as a "fanatical religious movement" that supposedly disrupted a tolerant, multi-faith Middle East and provoked in turn the development of militant Islam. Accordingly, these Palestinian-Americans as well as other participants in the march found nothing shocking in my references to the May 27, 2010, statements by the Lebanese-American journalist Helen Thomas that Israel's Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Germany and Poland.
The overall result of the rally was to leave a pessimistic impression upon any objective observer concerning future prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. All rally participants showed no reservation about demonizing Israel with comparisons to German Nazism, American racism, and, of course, South African apartheid. Yet as the pro-Israeli Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has documented in detail, many allegations of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs both within and without Israel are unsubstantiated.
The reality of Israeli-Arabs in particular, Karsh's colleague Daniel Pipes discovered in Israel, is that they are "intensely conflicted about living in a Jewish polity." While these Arabs resent the inherently Jewish nature of Israel expressed, for example, in a Jewish "Law of Return" allowing global Jewish immigration at will in Israel, they appreciate the domestic peace and prosperity of Israel's free society in which Arabs have obtained considerable societal success as equal citizens. In the end, Karsh notes that Israeli-Arabs "enjoy more formal prerogatives than ethnic minorities anywhere else in the world." Consequently, Israeli-Arabs "immediately voice their indignation" when Israeli policymakers suggest transferring Israeli-Arab towns to any new Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement involving Israeli-Palestinian territorial exchange. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who enjoy Israeli social benefits and unhindered travel throughout Israel also show a preference for becoming Israeli, and not Palestinians, citizens in the future.
Such factual nuances apparently did not disturb the demonstrators in Farragut Square, who had clear black/white understandings of Jewish perpetrators and Arab victims. Although many in the crowd would claim to limit their opposition to Israel to nonviolent means analogous to those used by the mainstream global anti-apartheid movement in the past, the crowds' sentiments would not rule out a group like Hamas resorting to force against Israel. While Israeli uses of force always incited condemnations of "genocide", "ethnic cleansing", "war crimes", and "terrorism" from various rally participants, no one appeared to recognize any terrorism on the part of Arab forces in the region. While crowd participants complained about aid to Israel, they seemed to have no reservations about aid to terrorism-supporting groups like Hamas and the PA or the now MB-dominated Egyptian government.
Such views went in tandem with an abiding rejection of Israel's legitimacy as a free Jewish nation-state even after over 60 years of its successful existence despite all adversity. If people in Washington, DC, supported by 15 left-leaning Christian organizations, can hold such views, the Arabs in the region must have even more negative opinions of Israel. Future peace prospects for Israel must be bleak.
Andrew E. Harrod
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