Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

April 19, 2002

Israel Firsters rally against Bush-Powell peace plan

We don't really need to know much about the recent "We stand with Israel, now and forever" rally held in Washington, D.C., except the following report from Associated Press:

"A top administration official was interrupted and booed Monday when he told thousands of people gathered at the Capitol for a pro-Israel rally that Palestinians as well as Israelis have been victims of Mideast violence. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was drowned out by chants of 'no more Arafat' and booed as he told a packed crowd of thousands that 'innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact.'"

Every movement has its nutballs, and the most radical are always the loudest, but from the transcript of the rally and various news reports, the jeering clearly wasn't an isolated phenomenon; it was a roar of disapproval from the crowd that threatened to drown out Wolfowitz, at least momentarily. Gary Alcorn of the Sydney Morning Herald zoomed in on one of the hecklers:

"'Booooooo. Go home,' yelled Laurence Mammon, an antique dealer who was crammed with tens of thousands of people on the grass in front of the Capitol building.

"When the staunchly pro-Israel Mr Wolfowitz pointed out that 'innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying' as well as Israelis, Mr Mammon joined in with a chant that almost drowned out the secretary. 'No Double Standard! No Double Standard!' It was the mantra for what was said to be the biggest rally in support of Israel in United States history. "

Ah yes, they must mean the double standard whereby we bombed Yugoslavia for allegedly doing what Israel is visibly trying to do in Palestine.


The boos are not recorded in the transcript (although "cheers" and "applause" are dutifully noted). When Wolfowitz was done, Zuckerman admonished the crowd: "Hold your comments. We'll have time in a little while for all of you to be heard."

Yes, those who ask, if only implicitly, "why shouldn't the Palestinians suffer?" – they also had their say at this rally.

The same crowd that jeered Wolfowitz --and the very idea of compassion for Palestinian suffering – cheered Bill Bennett's demagogic pitch for "moral clarity." Michael Gelman, the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, introduced Bennett by saying:

"On September 12th, the day after the terrorist attack on our country, my neighbor and friend, Bill Bennett, said to me, 'Now we are all Israelis.'"

Here is the perfect device to evade the present conflict between American and Israeli interests in the Middle East: simply deny the divergence by proclaiming that, somehow, Americans are Israelis. But is America really analogous to an occupying power, one that, furthermore, finds itself in natural collision with the entire Arab-Muslim world?

The amen corner would certainly like to convince us that it's America and Israel against most of the rest of the world, but certainly the Bush administration is of another opinion. The perfect convergence of Israeli and American interests is a fiction, one easily dispelled by Bennett's own writings: it was he, after all, who concurred when Sharon compared the President of the United States to Neville Chamberlain. In any conflict between Israel and the US, the Israel lobby – of which Bennett is one of the most visible spokespersons – always chooses the former.


In claiming that "Israel has been fighting terrorism for 54 years," what Bennett is really saying is that the Palestinians never had any rights, anyway, including the right to self-defense: they, not the Israeli colonizers, are the interlopers, and any action Israel may take against them is justified. Israel is to be given a blank check, and, says, Bennett, the US has no moral right to intervene:

"Israel, we need to remind some of our countrymen, is not asking us to fight for it. It is asking only for the right to be left alone to fight its own war on terrorism. And if we let Israel fight her war, we will be the beneficiaries."

Israel wants the right to be left alone – as long as the US foots the bill. Those IDF tanks, those modern weapons, those bloody bulldozers – all were paid for by the US taxpayers. That's $90 billion-plus since 1949. Oh, yes, I'm sure they want to be left alone to spend our money on building "settlements" over bulldozed Palestinian communities – and attack helicopters to do battle with stone-throwing children – and yet surely the US has some interest in not being seen as an accomplice to Sharon's crimes. But since "we are all Israelis now," there are no American interests, only Israeli interests.


That was the point of Bennett's speech, and the theme of this rally – the biggest rally held on behalf of a foreign power since the huge pro-Soviet rallies of the 1930s. Indeed, the resemblance is positively eerie: while the ideological slant is quite different, we see the same hectoring style, the same apologia for abuse in the name of "moral clarity," the same mystical faith that the god of History is embodied in a revered foreign nation. In a direct appeal to Judaeo-Christian fundamentalists, Bennett declaimed:

"In sum, I am here as one of tens of millions of Americans who have seen, in the founding and flourishing of the Jewish state, the hand of the same beneficent God who attended our own founding and who has guided our fortunes until now."

God is on Israel's side, while the Palestinians, presumably, represent the forces of the Devil. And we know what do to with devils, don't we? Drive them out, exorcise them, expel them from the Promised Land.


Such brutal methods are rapidly becoming the program of Israel's radicalized Likud Party, the biggest component of Sharon's governing coalition. With the Labor Party anticipating going into opposition over the Powell peace plan, the Likudniks are increasingly looking to their right for new coalition partners. This can only widen the American-Israeli split, and make the position of Israel's American apologists even more untenable and contradictory. Bennett, after all, poses as a great "patriot" – and yet takes the side of a foreign power over and against an American President in wartime.

Is it me, or does it seem like only yesterday that Bennett and his fellow neoconservatives were equating criticism of this President and his policies with "anti-Americanism" – and who's "blaming America first" now?


Bennett believes that "moral clarity" in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

"Requires the understanding of distinctions, such as the distinction between a democracy and a dictatorship. There is a difference, a real and substantial difference, between a democracy fighting for survival and its opponents fighting to push that democracy into the sea."

But what if it is "democratically" decided to bulldoze the last Arab home and ethnically cleanse the Palestinians out of the occupied territories and into Jordan? Is that okay? Bennett also draws a distinction "between civilization and barbarism, between decency and terror," but what if terror is adopted as the policy of a democratic government – and the majority agrees? Last week, 46 percent of Israelis endorsed mass expulsion: by now the ethnic cleansers may have a majority.

Well, then, so be it. Or, as Bennett puts it, "the time for moral equivocation and moral equivalence should be over." In other words, those hecklers were right to boo Wolfowitz's reference to Palestinian suffering – for any sense of moral compassion for Palestinians is just more of the "moral equivalence" that Bennett disdains.


The outrageousness of sending Benjamin Netanyahu to openly lobby the US Senate, and make a direct appeal to the Democrats – who flocked to support him – was equaled only by the nerve of inviting Natan Sharansky, Israel's deputy prime minister, to address the rally. The spectacle of a high Israeli official at an American political rally, on American soil, not-so-implicitly scolding an American President for his Mideast policy, was an act of brazen insolence, the sort of behavior that wouldn't be tolerated from any other country. These agents of influence aren't at all concerned about covering up their fealty to a foreign power: as they boast about having thrown together the effort in record time, a little over a week, one can only wonder: where did all the money and organizational support came from?


Whether or not the Israeli government was directly involved, or merely encouraged and indirectly supported these activities, the reality is that the Israel Firsters are little more than a small, somewhat wacky, albeit vociferous fifth column, whose influence is way out of proportion to their actual numbers. A Time-CNN poll, released April 12, shows that most Americans would reduce or completely eliminate aid to Israel if Sharon doesn't withdraw his troops from Palestinian areas. 60 percent would cut or eliminate aid; and a full 75 percent support America's diplomatic initiative.

As such a great believer in the virtues of "democracy," will Bennett now accede to the wishes of the majority and accept the end of aid to Israel?

I thought not….

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