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October 10, 2003

Israel Defends Itself


As Cynthia McKinney, 'Child of the 60s', Tapdances

by Anthony Gancarski

Reading the New York Post Letters page is like smoking opium, without the body high. It seems so surreal, so removed from reality, that I wonder if the letter writers are real people or simply constructs.

The Letters from 7 October, "Israel's Right to Take the War to Damascus", were the first I'd read in a while. I hadn't noticed the new advertiser links before; one of the current crop urges me to take the advice of the Good Book and adopt two orphaned Iraqi children [left unsaid is why they're orphans, whether their parents were done in by the recent invasion or by the Clinton-era sanctions].

But I digress. On 7 October we have five separate letters, all of which assert, with admirable consistency, Israel's right to defend itself. Mr. Brosnan of Kinderhook contends that since "Syria supports Hamas, then Israel has the same right as the United States: to bomb terrorist camps in Syria, like the United States did in Afghanistan against al Qaeda." Brooklyn's Harvey Karten is incredulous that "innocent Syria is asking the United Nations to condemn Israel for attacking its terrorist camps!" From Mr. Geller of Hoboken, "How hypocritical is the U.N. Security Council that it would call an emergency meeting when a country accused of harboring and funding terrorists gets attacked?" Flushing's Maurice Moore simply states that "Israel has a legitimate right to protect its citizens." And Michael Ber maintains that "Israel has to stop caring what the world says or what monetary repercussions might occur, shut their mouths and do what is way overdue."

Five letters on the page, all of which make the same point. That Israel is irreproachable. That Israel is given rights the governments of Syria, Iran, or Egypt would never be granted. That Israel deserves unquestioning support. That Israeli lives matter as much as American lives, and that the accursed non-Israeli might as well just die like a dog; Israel has the right to defend itself, after all, whatever the hell that even means.

What are the consequences of Israel not being a debatable issue in public forums? According to Reuters on 7 October, "Buoyed by U.S. backing for Israel's right to defend itself, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the Jewish state was ready to hit its enemies anywhere following an air raid deep inside Syria. Speaking at a memorial service marking the anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war, Sharon took a tough line but made no specific threats after Sunday's strike on what Israel said was a training camp for Palestinian militants."

Defend doesn't really mean defend, obviously. It means to retaliate, perhaps, or to attack under false pretense. This from 7 October's Newsday: "The Bush administration, which yesterday defended Israel's bombing of Syria, has given the green light to Congress to approve economic sanctions against Syria. The Syria Accountability Act, which had been stalled in the House for a year by administration opposition, will be approved by the House International Relations Committee tomorrow, staff members said." [And it indeed was approved].

It has come to this. We rely on the Bush White House for moderation, for measures that ameliorate an amoral cabal's push for a fruitless war that will span the Middle East once it gets started. Instant legislation, as if awaiting an inevitability.

What happens to politicians who don't assert Israel's right to defend itself? Many have lost their jobs for taking just that position. Consider Cynthia McKinney, the Georgia Democrat who lost her House seat in 2002 in a Democratic primary. McKinney defines herself as a "child of the 60s", and embraces the rhetoric of the left in explaining what happens to those few dozen in Congress [right or left; in this case it's all the same] who challenge select planks of the prefabricated consensus in America. She has addressed the topic in the past, but most recently in remarks prepared for the October 4, 2003 "Project Censored" awards ceremony in San Rafael, California.

McKinney as a Democratic primary candidate would be a draw. But she isn't likely to run anytime soon in an election as a Democrat. Why? Because she spoke out against Israel's right to defend itself, and got her ass handed to her, that's why.

The 4 October remarks bespeak her legitimate sense of betrayal. She went to the wall for every special-interest clique and every pet "progressive" issue imaginable, yet wondered "what the progressive community in Georgia and around the country was thinking as I was running my race… Was it that I deserved the mischaracterizations because I had dared to hold this Administration and America accountable on the 2000 election, the missing $2.3 trillion at the Pentagon, the Pentagon's corporate sweetheart deals with political insiders, US continued use of depleted uranium in Iraq, US covert activities in Africa that resulted in genocide, clearcutting of our national forests, a return to COINTELPRO through the legislation we were passing, the treatment of black people in this country?"

Was that why McKinney lost? Because she spoke out on the behalf of black people? Check out this tale of woe: " [I] was even booed at our annual Gay Pride Parade despite my lifetime 100% HRC voting record. And Atlanta's white gay and lesbian leadership refused to march with me, including Georgia's only openly gay Member of the Legislature whom I had endorsed and for whom one of my trusted staffers had worked to ensure that she won. I protected her during redistricting when other Democrats targeted her. A white lesbian that I helped get elected in a majority black district."

To hear McKinney tell it, speaking out against clear cutting and Cointelpro were why McKinney found herself unseated from Congress [despite having "worked to ensure" a "white lesbian [getting] elected in a . . . black district]. That's a fanciful recollection, at best. McKinney lost her spot because, as Alex Cockburn succinctly put it last August on the CounterPunch website, "she wasn't cowed by the Israel right-or-wrong lobby and called for real debate on the Middle East. And she called for a real examination of the lead-up to 9/11."

I would add that the tone for her removal was illustrated best when Cynthia McKinney's father Billy was asked by Fox News if he bore a special antipathy for Jews. McKinney, a veteran of Georgia politics, replied that his quarrel wasn't with Jews, per se, but with "Zionists." Without allowing the reporter to interject, he asked her a question rarely heard amidst the din of the international Cable News Conspiracy: "Are you a Zionist?" The reporter refused to affirm or deny; for once, someone had called the bluff of a Fox News employee, putting her on the defensive, getting in the last word via posing an inconvenient question. An admirable gambit: Papa McKinney, as the saying goes, was screwed, blued, and tattooed; but at least it was on something approaching his own terms, providing a tantalizing flicker of spontaneous political theater.

Would Billy's daughter Cynthia ask a question worthy of her father at this point? The difference between McKinney in 2003 and McKinney last year boils down to Israel alone. She's scared to even mention the place at this point; the word Israel, as far as I could tell, was absent from her remarks in San Rafael. But just think – if she toes the line for long enough maybe she'll get an ovation at a future Gay Pride Parade. [And they say the minstrel tradition is dead].

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Anthony Gancarski, the author of Unfortunate Incidents, writes for The American Conservative, CounterPunch, and LewRockwell.com. His web journalism was recognized by Utne Reader Online as "Best of the Web." A writer for the local Folio Weekly, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

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