US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

Lifting the Liberal veil on US support for Israel

Originally published on April 7, 2014 in History News Network; can be accessed here: 

Support for Israeli political and military actions have been doing the work of American conservative ideologies, but in liberal disguise

The American Studies Association is an academic David dwarfed by the political Goliaths currently managing Israeli-Palestinian relations.  But the association’s academic boycott of Israel, for “policies that violate [the] human rights” of Palestinians, has produced a tremendous reaction because it reveals the long-hidden role of American political divisions in US policies in the region.

And yet, among all the debating points against and for the boycott, there has been minimal attention to the role of American political ideologies.  Instead, the arguments against the ASA’s action have been based on the proper role of an academic organization in relation to political events, while supporters of the boycott focus on Israeli restrictions on Palestinian civil rights often with use of military force.

This dynamic is a reminder of the situation in American universities in the mid-1960s. While Civil Rights and the Vietnam War agitated the country, many students with some faculty support asked for a broadening of education to include discussion of race relations and war and peace; most administrators rejected these calls arguing that they fell outside the proper bounds of academic inquiry, labeling them outside issues, or even subversive.

The ASA has long served the academic community and US civil society by telling truth to power.  I first learned American Studies from William McLoughlin, a productive and inspiring scholar in religious and Native American history at Brown University, and a constant agitator for social justice; he had a poster in his office with a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Action to the scholar is secondary, but essential.”

With its resolution for boycott, the ASA joins a growing minority of scholars and advocates seeking to shift the rhetorical agenda by encouraging debate about Israeli policies and “the unparalleled military and financial ties between the U.S. and Israel.”

The ASA president Curtis Marez has been ridiculed for sounding frivolous when he defended the boycott by saying, “We have to start somewhere,” as if it were an action of feckless meandering.  However, given the prevalent American attitudes about Israel and its environs, this may actually be the organization’s trump card for its willingness to challenge the longstanding inertia about a seemingly impossible situation.

The current mainstream US narrative is that the situation is a mess, and the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are untrustworthy.  Add to this, for a significant minority of Americans, Islam is an illegitimate religion, and many even believe that it will fall sway in an epochal battle that will bring the victory, not ultimately of Jews, but of Christians.  In fact, a higher percentage of American white evangelicals than of American Jews support Israeli claims to Palestinian land.

To most Americans, Israel represents our team in the region, with its harsh measures fulfilling American interests.  This narrative is often presented as both a moral defense of Jews, and as a practical necessity for sustaining American power in this sector of the globe.  With its lack of attention to the Palestinians, this path also suggests a bleak future for Israeli Jews in tense relations with the other Semites in their midst, and with many Palestinians even contained behind walls.  Graffiti on one wall reads “Ich bin ein Berliner,” recalling John Kennedy’s defiance of the Berlin Wall in 1963.

Fear and anger have haunted each side for decades, with tragic cycles of terror and military reprisals.  The boycott is a welcome turn to nonviolence that should be applauded by all sides—except, of course, for those who find Arab terror useful for maintaining fear and justifying robust military policies.

It would be a tragedy if criticism of the ASA about the proper role for an academic organization would distract from the way that Israeli policies toward Palestinians have become a chapter in the contemporary American culture war between neo-conservative support of aggressive military strength by contrast with progressive hopes to scale back military action and spending in favor of diplomatic solutions.

Within this American polarization, ironically, the boycott has prompted some academic progressives to affiliate with Israel’s military measures for dealing with a population within its dominion.  The ASA action reminds us that Israeli political and military actions have been doing the work of conservative ideologies, but in liberal disguise.

US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

The ASA Shifts the Spotlight on Israel and its Neighbors

Originally posted on February 6, 2014 on The Hawblog; can be read here:

The ASA boycott should remind liberals that Israeli political and military actions have been doing the work of conservative ideologies.

  The American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, for “policies that violate [the] human rights” of Palestinians, will have little tangible political significance.  The tremendous reaction to the bold words of a relatively small academic organization is based on a topic central to the concerns of American studies, the clashing political cultures of the US.

  But the role of American politics in this issue is not immediately clear in the arguments opposing the ASA’s action, which are expressly based on the proper role of an academic organization in relation to political events.  Most critics insist that this organization for the study of United States culture is stepping outside its specialized purview and that the boycott will intrude on proper academic discourse.

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US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

Recalling 9-11: Between values, violence

September 2012

With all the suffering and destruction of 9-11 in 2001, when the United States was brutally attacked, the results also produced a peaceable possibility. Even the French Le Monde newspaper gushed with a sympathetic headline, “We are all Americans.”

Then-president George W. Bush liked to talk of “political capital,” and the U.S. had it in abundance, a potential resource for tackling the roots of those hatreds, to isolate and humiliate the terrorists, to build a more constructive basis for resolving tensions in the Middle East.

Led by that same president, the U.S. took another path, fighting fire with fire, seeking revenge on Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorists, and declaring an endless war on terror, directed at the hiding terrorists, and then expanded with another war.

A look at the rest of this essay serves to begin a conversation about where 9/11 fits into our collective history.

US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

U.S. roots of U.N. scandal

November 2004

Another scandal? We have heard about so many powerful people abusing their positions to gain still more power that many suffer from scandal fatigue. But we ignore these all-too-frequent events at our peril: they raise our taxes, erode confidence in our institutions, reduce our security—and even cause bloodshed.

Peter Brown’s column “Why does U. N. get free ride in scandal?” last Friday was a welcome assault on that jaded indifference toward scandal. It sheds light on an alleged skimming of billions of dollars by Saddam Hussein and U. N. officials from the organization’s Oil for Food Program during the 12 years before the Iraqi dictator was overthrown in 2003.

If true, this is outrageous. And while we learn about the scandal, we also need to understand its contexts.

To learn a little more about the 2004 scandal, read the rest of this piece here!

US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

International politics down the street

May 2003

This is a story of grave international policy questions and clashing worldviews as they played out on a side street in the small town of DeLand where I live.

The story starts with my own skepticism last fall about the policy for invasion of Iraq. While recognizing that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, I suspected war would make matters worse.

My whole family agreed, so we decided to make our small voices heard: We put up a yard sign in January that said “War is Not the Answer.”

For more on the politics right down the street, click here!

US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

More Than Two Choices in the War on Terror

First published in the DeLand Beacon newspaper in central Florida, November 6, 2001

We are moving beyond shock and into a period of forceful action in response to the horrible terrorism of Sept. 11 and subsequent acts of bioterrorism.  Most Americans feel an urgency to do the right thing.

We keep hearing that there are only two choices: side with terrorists or with a policy of military retaliation.  Is our imagination limited to that stark contrast?  If we keep talking war and making war, that will encourage terrorist responses. But if we treat this as a campaign of intelligence operations to identify and arrest the leaders, of activities to reduce our military footprint and foster good will, and of publicity to discredit terrorist actions in embarrassing and lurid detail, we have a better chance of stopping the support for terrorism before it is fanned into murderous passion.  Read whole essay here….