Ted Cruz grants Israel blanket immunity.

ted cruzDuring his Senate confirmation hearings last Thursday, Chuck Hagel had to face the usual mélange of Senatorial harangues, harangues so unfriendly that at least one Senator felt the need to apologize for them. For those keeping score at home, it’s worth noting that “Israel” was the single most mentioned topic, coming up no fewer than 178 times (by way of contrast, Afghanistan, where the U.S. is currently waging an actual war, got 38 mentions).

Hagel was not particularly articulate under fire, it’s true, but there were at least a couple of questions-cum-accusations that would have rendered the best of us mute. Such as this one, from Senator Ted Cruz of Texas:

A suggestion that Israel has committed war crimes is particularly offensive given the Jewish people suffered under the most horrific war crimes in the Holocaust. And I would also suggest that for the Secretary of Defense, or the prospective Secretary of Defense, not to take issue with that claim is highly troubling.

I just—what?

Because six million people died horrific deaths at the hands of genocidal maniacs 70 years ago, it’s offensive to even suggest that their latter-day descendants are capable of making immoral decisions in the course of war?

This is, frankly, the flip side of the “because Jews went through the Holocaust, everything they do as an occupying power is Just Like The Nazis” argument, and equally ahistorical and dumbfounding.

No, Senator Cruz, suggesting that the wartime behavior of Israel—a country made up of actual, real people, people who (like most people) are capable of both goodness and not-goodness—is somehow exempt from all scrutiny because Jews were once slaughtered is not only insulting to the intelligence and very humanity of Israelis, it’s just silly.

Not every terrible thing done in a war fits the legal description of a war crime (in my book, for instance, killing 20-year-olds in uniform is pretty terrible, but that’s just “war”), but some terrible things are—and it doesn’t matter who’s doing them. You don’t get points shaved off for being Jewish, is what I’m saying.

Has Israel committed war crimes? Without being a legal expert and without having access to the kind of research that a commission on war crimes would have to conduct in order to determine that with any degree of finality, I’m going to go with “probably.” I’m pretty certain that any group of people who has ever waged war on any other group of people has committed some war crimes. We wouldn’t need international legal instruments to protect folks if that weren’t the case.

But whether or not Israel actually has committed war crimes, to say that it’s offensive to even raise the possibility is to unceremoniously pluck Israelis from humanity and reduce them to a kind of action figure status: They look like people—and, hey! They even bend at the knees!—but they’re actually just objects to be admired and/or utilized, as the Senate sees fit.

Which, I will admit, is kind of how Congress as a whole actually treats Israel and the people who live there. But they don’t usually say so out loud.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Obama, Hagel, feminism and the Middle East: A progressive’s dilemma.

Obama-hagelAs a born-and-bred Progressive and long-time advocate for both Israeli-Palestinian peace and women’s rights, I’m used to having to pick my battles. My positions are to the left of pretty much every national leader for whom I’ve ever had the opportunity to vote, in Israel or the U.S. Barack Obama was the first candidate to even come close.

Whatever the President’s opinions were and may still be regarding Israel/Palestine, though, they’ve come to seem of little importance, as his actions have thus far been little but repeats of mistakes made by past Administrations.

On the question of women’s rights, however, the record is much more to my liking: the Lily Ledbetter Act, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, health care reform, his consistent refusal to treat rape as anything less than a crime—these policy decisions and public attitudes are making America a better place for women and girls (and men and boys), right now, today.

So the record is mixed, as far as I’m concerned. Which brings us, of course, to Chuck Hagel.

From the moment that Administration sources whispered the name “Hagel” into the ether, the neocon wing of Hagel’s own party came down like a ton of bricks, spinning anti-Israel and anti-Semitic conspiracies as fast as their words could spin. It was untrue, it was ugly, and it was never really about Israel—it was and remains about the neocon vision for American power, a vision that Chuck Hagel neither shares nor respects.

As I wrote last month, I’ve long appreciated Hagel’s approach to Israel/Palestine, and his preference for diplomacy over war more broadly. As a lifelong Illinois Democrat, I don’t expect to agree with a Republican from Nebraska on much, but I’m certainly glad that we could at least agree on that.

This week I learned, however, that Hagel and I don’t agree on a whole lot else.

Far from being a feminist, in the Senate Chuck Hagel acted to prevent servicewomen from having access to abortion (even at their own expense) if they’d been raped and impregnated, and that frankly horrifies me; the Republican Party’s willing dehumanization of women generally and callousness toward rape survivors specifically is a big part of what got me so involved in Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts this fall. Like other progressives, I’m also nervous about Hagel’s positions regarding the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans, particularly (as Rachel Maddow and my colleague Sigal Samuel have noted) when the Pentagon is poised to deal with so many LGBTQ-specific issues.

But this is where I come back to the guy who hired him: Barack Obama.

I trust the President’s feminism, which I believe has been proven time and again, and while I will agree that Obama’s dedication to LGBTQ rights is less well established, I do believe that it is solid (though it should be noted that as a straight woman, I don’t have to live with the consequences of the President’s positions on these issues, and thus my awareness of them is likely not as keen as that of Americans who do). On the other hand, I am deeply concerned about Obama’s policies in the Middle East.

It is my opinion—and I cannot stress this enough: I do not pretend to know for sure—that a Defense Secretary Hagel serving under President Obama the Feminist will find that his opportunity to oppose basic human and civil rights for women and/or LGBTQ Americans will be sharply limited by his boss’s policies and positions, whereas President Obama the Failed Two-State Facilitator might have appointed a Defense Secretary Hagel precisely in order to help create movement on the ground regarding Israel and Palestine (and Iran) that will lead to real, desperately-needed change in the region.

Do I love the pick? No, and I love it even less now that I know more about Hagel’s record. But I still like Hagel better than Michele Flourney, for reasons that speak very directly to the Defense Secretary’s primary mission, and I do think that as an official in the Obama White House, there’s greater potential for him to do good, than harm.

None of which is to say that we shouldn’t hold the President’s feet to the fire on these issues, because we should—indeed, I hope the Senate questions Hagel very closely at his confirmation hearings. In a democracy, it’s the job of citizens and our elected officials to insist that government reflect our highest values, and I’m pretty sure that “equality for all” is top of the American list.

And of course, my cautious optimism might be proven wrong. But for the time being, I remain an American-Israeli progressive feminist peacenik who is cautiously optimistic about Chuck Hagel. So it goes.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

The anti-Hagel campaign was never about Israel.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chuck_Hagel_official_photo.jpgNow that President Obama has in fact named Chuck Hagel as his new Secretary of Defense, can we finally get one thing off the table, for now and forever more?

The ugly, facts-optional anti-Hagel campaign was never about Israel—and no matter how often the word “Israel” is uttered, neocon fear-mongering never is, in fact, about Israel.

Neocon attacks on President Obama—as channeled through the likes of Bill Kristol, the Emergency Committee for Israel, Jennifer Rubin, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, etc and so on—are about American power. They are about how a certain (pretty well discredited) ideology envisions the use of American power in the world, and they are about how power is shared within America’s borders.

The neoconservative movement is predicated on wanting to see American muscle used everywhere, at all times, for reasons that, as far as I can tell, pretty much boil down to looking tough and profiting from same. And by “profiting,” I mean literal profiting, in the form of America’s corporate interests gaining hegemony over the world’s resources (oil comes to mind), which as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t always translate to defending our shores, no matter how the Right tries to spin it.

Beyond the dream of brute force on the global stage, however, neocons (just like every political subset everywhere) are also heavily invested in wanting to be in charge. They want to set the tone and determine the discourse and, much more importantly, have their hands on the levers. They want to be in power. But they’re not, and that really peeves them off.

I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t a genuine worldview underpinning the longing for power. It’s about as pretty and reality-based as the attacks on Hagel have been. In the neocon world, “we” are objectively better than “they” (whoever “they” may be), and the only language “they” will ever understand is force. If we’re to get what’s rightfully ours (by virtue of being Better Than), we’ll have to beat them into submission. Again and again. Ad infinitum.

And lo! The Israeli right wing’s worldview is strikingly similar!

Diplomacy, cooperation, compromise—all are signs of weakness, and all will prevent us from getting and holding on to what is ours by right. And just to sweeten the deal, Israel gets to frame its muscle-flexing as the reflexes of a victim, all while wielding the Middle East’s greatest military force—a force bristling with American-made arms, and pointed at some of America’s least-beloved peoples. Mazel tov! It’s a marriage of convenience!

Of course, there are plenty of Jews (some of them neocons, some of them Israeli) who genuinely fear that Israel’s future depends entirely on maintaining a belligerent and well-armed posture. That’s an argument that supporters of Israel (such as myself) are free to have, and in fact must have. How are we to ensure Israel’s future safety and wellbeing? What are the limits of force, to what extent is our future entwined with that of the region’s other peoples? Israelis themselves—some of them security veterans—have that conversation every day.

But can we please stop pretending that’s the conversation America’s Right is trying to have, too?

Neocons need Israel to be a place marked by bellicosity and arms purchases, to both undergird the neocon idea, and provide extra military might to back it up. Only when Israel is a place forever in peril, existentially threatened not only by every Arab and/or Muslim on Earth but also by honest words out of American politicians’ mouths, will it serve their ideological needs.

The problem being, of course, that Israel is an actual place lived in by actual people. It is not a prop, or a trope, or a tool to be used either on the world stage or in spittle-flecked op-eds.

The people of Israel desperately need a genuine, durable peace. The “pro-Israel” hissy fits that have become stock in trade for America’s right do not serve that need, on any level.

But then, they aren’t meant to, because they’re not about Israel. They’re about American power.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Conservative “feminism” for Flournoy.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michele_Flournoy_official_portrait.jpg

Michele Flournoy

Despite what you may have heard around the internet, I’m no fan of anti-Semitism, and I am (to top it off) an actual-factual Zionist—and I am furthermore a big ol’ feminist, so I’m also no fan of power structures that shut out women.

One might think, then, that I would like the idea of a Defense Secretary Michele Flournoy, particularly when her biggest competition appears to be in the form of former Senator Chuck Hagel, a man who has just been declared an anti-Semite by folks (like Bret Stephens and Jennifer Rubin) who like to declare such things. A not-anti-Semitic lady! What could be finer?

Well, prepare for a shock: I actually like Hagel.

Aside from anything else, I don’t buy the right’s anti-Semitism argument (so neatly eviscerated by my boss Peter Beinart yesterday), or its sudden-onset feminism. Indeed, I have very little time for either.

As I’ve said before, the false equivalency between opposition to right-wing Israel’s political agenda and anti-Semitism is a-historical, intellectually insulting, and frankly offensive. If American conservatives don’t know what 21st century anti-Semitism looks like, they could always check in with Hungary’s Jewish community. But hey—at least this is an argument I’ve met before.

But Conservative demands for more women in Obama’s next Cabinet? Am I the only one gobsmacked by the unmitigated gall?

I don’t know if you recall, but waaaaay back last week, there was every reason to believe that President Obama was considering a woman for a high-level Cabinet position—but Susan Rice wasn’t, apparently, the right woman. So she was hounded out of the running, with neocon darling John McCain at the head of the pack.

Moreover, the party for which American conservatives cast their votes is the same party which until very recently was trying to win control of the country so that it could do things like limit abortion rights, redefine rape, and repeal a health care law set to roll back an enormous amount of gender-based health care discrimination. So you will excuse me if I don’t take the call to grrl power all that seriously.

No, this sudden interest in Flournoy, Obama’s own former under-secretary is (if I may borrow a term) Lady-Washing, at its most crude.

Neocons don’t like Hagel on Iran. Full stop. (Well, they don’t like him on a lot of things, but they really don’t like him on Iran). And neocons want us to believe that being pro-Israel (and, ipso facto, not-anti-Semitic) is identical with supporting a strike against Iran.

But here’s the thing: It’s just possible to love Israel and the United States and believe that starting a war with Iran would actually be bad for both. It’s just possible to believe that the people who sold us the Iraq War shouldn’t be trusted on Iran. And it’s just possible to be a feminist who thinks a man happens to be best choice for a particular job (optics aside).

One caveat: I don’t actually know that Michele Flournoy would be a bad choice for Defense. I know that I don’t agree with her idea that the U.S. military is in danger of becoming overly cautious as a result of a new “Vietnam syndrome,” and as regards her assertion that “we have to be willing to fail,” well, I’d say our military establishment has done enough failing in the last decade—but as Abe Foxman himself has noted, “the Secretary of Defense is not an independent contractor.”

But I do know that I agree with Hagel’s instinct toward diplomacy, and I have long admired his willingness to speak frankly about Israel and the difference between being pro-Israel and being in thrall to a particular set of Israeli policy positions. Regardless of what Bret Stephens might think, there is actual courage involved in taking that position in American politics—as anyone who paid any attention to the last Presidential campaign can attest.

So please, conservative Americans, miss me with your appeals to my feminism, or to my Zionism, when you try to criticize this President. The bloom is off the rose for fact-free smear campaigns (as anyone who paid any attention to the election’s results can attest). You’re embarrassing yourselves.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,028 other followers