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Israel's Piracy's Sequel: The Silence of The SheepBy Alan Sabrosky Salem-News.com
Humanitarian gestures such as relief ships and truck convoys may or may not get through, but they cannot alleviate the crisis that is Gaza nor bring Israel to heel.
(JACKSON, Miss.) - Israel’s hijacking last week of The Spirit of Humanity on the international high seas was a simple act of piracy. We have seen different reactions elsewhere to piracy, most notably off the coast of Somalia, or even to the kidnapping of embassy staff and humanitarian aid personnel.
In this case, as in previous instances of Israeli violations of international law, nothing has been done. Indeed, there has been almost no coverage of the incident anywhere in the mainstream media, and a shameless silence from sheep-like political leaders almost everywhere – a silence that needs to be examined carefully.
I’m not really surprised at the inaction of the UN and of other countries. The UN is wearied of perpetual US vetoes on even minimal attempts to discipline Israel, and other countries lack either the military ability or the resources (or both) to affect the outcome.
I’m not even surprised at the silence of Arab countries, which is based on a combination of hope and fear: Hope that perhaps the Obama of Cairo might be laying the groundwork now to do something better later; Fear that a thwarted Obama might treat one or more of them like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was treated by his erstwhile friend and ally in Washington, and end up on their own gallows (or as Israeli victims) someday.
And I’m certainly not surprised at the official Palestinian response: Hamas won its election, but is kept at arm’s length by the US and others thanks to Israeli machinations, and the Palestinian Authority today is little more than Israel’s plaything.
The US itself has all but ignored the incident – indeed, for the mainstream media here, it might not have happened. The US State Department press briefing 01 Jul 2009, , relied on details provided by Israel and relayed them without reservation, including the false assertions, that the ship was in Israeli waters and that Israel had arrested the people on board (thus implying Israel had legal police powers there). When asked about the condition and welfare of the prisoners (several of whom are American, including a former member of Congress), the questioner was referred for an answer to the “Government of Israel.” God weeps.
Obama’s silence is especially disappointing. I recall Obama’s strong statements when a US ship’s captain was taken hostage by Somali pirates, and the swift and deadly response of the US military to the incident. I note the impact of his Cairo speech, which laid out a potentially dynamic road-map for the US. And then I see how much Israel continues to leverage US policy, and how utterly lacking in courage and integrity a US President and his Administration must be to allow a different act of piracy not only to succeed, but to become a non-issue.
Almost as bad is not the whole Congress, which simply stayed bought by AIPAC, but the Congressional Black Caucus. In the past, this body has taken a public and near-united stand in support of its members, past and present, flamboyant or not. But here we have a former black Congresswoman taken captive on the high seas and held in an Israeli jail because she refused to admit to a non-existent crime, and the Caucus says – nothing. The reason for this is self-interest: last year, the Israeli lobby flooded McKinney’s district with money and out-of-state volunteers to unseat her, because of her criticism of Israel’s occupation and her support of the Palestinians. Their success sent a clear message to the other members of the Caucus, who evidently decided that even more ignorance than usual is bliss here.
The Tactics of Change
Humanitarian gestures such as relief ships and truck convoys may or may not get through, but they cannot alleviate the crisis that is Gaza nor bring Israel to heel. Letters or petitions to Senators or Representatives are equally useless. Staff members intercept and process them, and they have no effect on a Congress that is already beholden to AIPAC and company.
But politicians themselves are a different matter. In America, AIPAC and a host of associated PACs lobby the government, dominate the mainstream media, provide money and favors to friendly legislators, and punish those who do not conform (like McKinney, and before her an Illinois Senator named Adlai Stevenson III). It works, and the legislators enjoy it: they like the perquisites of office, with staff to insulate them from reality, and the favorable publicity from the national media that helps them in their periodic re-election campaigns.
None of this applies in their home districts. Representatives and Senators hold open meetings for their constituents, usually sparsely attended by voters but with the local media out in force. All give speeches at local organizations, and not just those scheduled by their political party or campaign. They don’t absolutely have to do these things, but not being visible (and therefore accessible) in these situations inevitably opens the way for a challenger. Little is more damning than to be called “out of touch” with constituents, or too busy to be bothered by what happens there.
And that is their weakness. Except for a few large cities where the national media and the local media are one, local media outlets have their own agendas, and what AIPAC wants and the ADL tries to forbid are generally not among them. They’ll be more than interested in what Representatives or Senators have to say for themselves – the reporters to make their own reputations, and possible challengers to make their own futures.
This is when to pin members of Congress to the political wall – not with chanted slogans or waving placards (those have their place, and it is not here), but with precise questions from well-dressed, polite but forceful people who do not let the target pass the question to a staff member, defer it for study, or side-step the issue. Pin them down, show them slides or pictures from Gaza, give them details, know how they voted on resolutions or measures put out by AIPAC (e.g., how did they vote on the Congressional resolution endorsing Israel’s attack on Gaza), and demand an explanation. And make sure the local media takes in every detail.
They’ll hate you, but in that local context, showing it or running away is a kiss of political death. Remember – most of AIPAC’s ability to leverage Congress comes not just from money and media influence in Washington, but because most Americans everywhere do not know what has actually been happening in the Middle East, what Israel’s role there and in Washington has been, and how much it has cost us – give them the toll in blood and treasure from the Iraq war, for instance, and lay it at AIPAC’s (and therefore Israel’s) door. And watch them squirm.
Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is a writer and consultant specializing in national and international security affairs. In December 1988, he received the Superior Civilian Service Award after more than five years of service at the U.S. Army War College as Director of Studies, Strategic Studies Institute, and holder of the General of the Army Douglas MacArthur Chair of Research. He is listed in WHO'S WHO IN THE EAST (23rd ed.). A Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Dr. Sabrosky's teaching and research appointments have included the United States Military Academy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Middlebury College and Catholic University; while in government service, he held concurrent adjunct professorships at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Dr. Sabrosky has lectured widely on defense and foreign affairs in the United States and abroad. You can email Dr. Alan Sabrosky at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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