Sunday, January 18, 2009

Paying for peace?

In the UK, there was a debate about Gaza. It sounds like it was a real debate. A powerful moment:
Sir Gerald, who was brought up as an orthodox Jew and Zionist, told MPs: "My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town .. a German soldier shot her dead in her bed.

"My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza."
Chris Mullin, the Labour former minister, says that war crimes are being committed by the Israelis. He accepts that Israeli civilians are at risk, but he says civilians were killed in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s by terrorists "and we did not go and level west Belfast".
And there were plenty of other criticisms of Israel, and of course plenty who spoke in defense.

But, regardless of who was right and who was wrong, the debate in the Commons did reflect something of the difficult nature of the issue, as well as (no doubt) the split in British opinion over the issue.

In America opinion is similarly split. Shortly after the attacks Rasmussen did a poll. In the general populace, about 44% supported the attacks, while 41% opposed -- a pretty even split. Among Democrats, 55% opposed, 31% supported -- so Democrats opposed the attacks by a rather large margin. And this was in the early days of the offensive; the numbers would be rather less kind to the IDF today.

But such a split in opinion is hardly registered at all among America's politicians. Glenn Greenwald noted this early on, and then we had the spectacle of a one-sided resolution passing in Congress 309-5, with 22 abstaining. The chorus-line of unconditional support for Israel in all it does was, apparently, broken only by Paul and Kucinich.

It is bad enough that the American government effectively gave Israel carte blanche. But that is not the deepest problem. It would be one thing if there had been a vigorous debate, of the sort that occurred in the UK, leading to the wrong conclusion -- if there had been a fight where the good guys had lost. But there was hardly any fight at all. It's not just that there was a wrong conclusion; rather the whole political discourse is so corrupt (so one-sided, so out of contact with both the opinions of the general populace and the nature of the issue itself) that it is impossible to see how the end result could possibly have been different.

Juan Cole places the blame on AIPAC, which he thinks is more or less uncontested in its rule over this issue in Washington. He argues that the only way to bring some sanity to American foreign policy with respect to Israel and the Palestinians is to have a lobby which can counter the influence of AIPAC. (He has more to say about it here, following a mind-boggling report of Ehud Olmert bragging about how Bush and Rice are his little puppets).

Such a lobby would have to involve money, which of course speaks louder than (say) protests or letters. But Cole thinks this is in fact doable. He argues that the main obstacle to his proposal is that there is a lack of organization. It is not that the cash is unavailable. He claims that AIPAC often gets its way with relatively modest sums of money.

But something feels dirty about the idea of paying money for peace. The direct beneficiary of that money is going to be some politician of dubious moral character. This does not satisfy the idealistic bleeding heart. But that's beside the point. The real question is one of effectiveness. And it is hard to see what could be effective, if not this.

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