PATRICK LAWRENCE: Decency Becomes Indecent

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At this point, Washington’s defense of Israel becomes as baldly obscene as the apartheid state’s long record of lawless aggression toward the Palestinian population. 

Man with body bags in Jabalia, Gaza Strip, Oct. 9. (Bashar Taleb, Palestinian News & Information Agency, or Wafa, in contract with APAimages, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

There have been many, very many singular moments among America’s purported leaders and assorted officials and commentators since Hamas staged its daring assault on southern Israel on the morning of Oct. 7. Let us consider a few of these moments and draw some conclusions. 

Let us look closely at what is being said and what the American public is now urged to think and accept as Israeli forces prosecute a campaign against Gaza’s 2.1 million people so extreme as to suggest ethnic cleansing is, as many have long argued, the ultimate Israeli project. 

“Well, there have been some members of Congress who have called for a ceasefire, and they have not gone as far as backing the administration’s call for support for Israel.” This was a reporter’s observation at a press conference last week that featured President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean–Pierre, and Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser.

Jean–Pierre’s response merits careful parsing for the large implications we find in it. In my read it reflects Washington’s increasing desperation as Israel’s conduct toward Palestinians tips into a savagery no rational human being can defend.  

“So, look, I’ve seen some of those statements this weekend. And we’re going to continue to be very clear,” Jean–Pierre replied. “We believe they are wrong, we believe they’re repugnant, and we believe they’re disgraceful.”  

Let’s not miss what transpired in those few seconds. To call for a ceasefire as the Israeli Defense Forces level an entire city and turn a million human beings into refugees — murdering many children and noncombatants in the process — is humane by any serious definition. To describe such a call as wrong, repugnant, and disgraceful is to assert that what is ordinarily decent must now be cast aside as indecent. 

At this point, Washington’s defense of Israel becomes as baldly obscene as the apartheid state’s long record of lawless aggression toward the Palestinian population.     

‘Not Two Sides’

Jean-Pierre in February. (White House, Hannah Foslien)

Pressing on in a tone that is combative and unmistakably defensive all at once, Jean–Pierre added, “Our — our condemnation belongs squarely with terrorists who have brutally murdered, raped, kidnapped hundreds — hundreds of Israelis. There can be no equivocation about that. There are not two sides here. There are not two sides.”

Not two sides, asserted twice. This, too, has implications we must consider.

Later at the same presser, another White House correspondent asked Jake Sullivan, “Is the goal the destruction of Hamas? … What is — where do you draw the line? Is there a red line of where do you draw that line of what you need to accomplish?” 

Good questions, if inarticulately posed. To which Sullivan replied, “I’m not here to — to draw red lines or issue warnings or give lectures to anybody.” 

Sullivan during a White House discussion of the conflict in Israel and Gaza, Oct. 9. (White House, Adam Schultz)

Translation: No, we, the one nation with the power and influence to stop the most nakedly racist case of violence in the IDF’s long history of such aggression, will do nothing to prevent it.

Let us continue. 

Last Friday Akbar Shahid Ahmed, the foreign affairs correspondent at HuffPostreported on an internal State Department memorandum advising diplomats and other officials to refrain from any suggestion that Israel moderate its bombing campaign or its planned ground invasion into Gaza. 

“In messages circulated on Friday, State Department staff wrote that high-level officials do not want press materials to include three specific phrases: ‘de-escalation/ceasefire,’ ‘end to violence/bloodshed’ and ‘restoring calm,’” Ahmed wrote. “The revelation provides a stunning signal about the Biden administration’s reluctance to push for Israeli restraint…” 

I would have liked an extended quotation of the memo’s text, but I am not the least bit doubtful that State circulated the instructions Ahmed described. By last Friday Antony Blinken, the Biden regime’s spineless secretary of state, had deleted messages calling for restraint that he had earlier posted on his X account. 

Biden followed by Blinken, about to address the attacks in Israel, Oct. 7. (White House, Oliver Contreras)

A headline atop an editorial in Saturday’s New York Times — signed, significantly, by the Editorial Board: “Israel Can Defend Itself and Uphold Its Values.” Under it, this assertion: “What Israel is fighting to defend is a society that values human life and the rule of law.”

In an interview with The New York Post Sunday, Chuck Schumer, the U.S. Senate majority leader, denounced U.S. demonstrators calling for Israel to stop its indiscriminate military campaign against Gazans and said Israelis must get “everything they need” — the objective being “to totally eliminate Hamas.” 

“Totally eliminate.” Does the phrase summon any echoes in history?  

On the halfway-humorous side, Lydia Polgreen, a Times columnist, published a piece last Friday under the headline, “Now Is the Moment for Biden’s Age to Be an Asset.”

And in the same line, Douglas Emhoff addressed Jewish leaders at the White House last Wednesday. With the incoherent president by his side, Emhoff  reassured them, “I know you’re all hurting…. But thank God we have the steady leadership of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris during this unthinkable time in our history.  Their moral compass, their calm and empathy are what we need in this time of crisis.”

Emhoff, just a brief aside, is the vice-president’s spouse. 

U.S. Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Emhoff disembarking at Denver International Airport in March. (White House, Lawrence Jackson)

On Monday evening the White House announced that Biden will travel to Israel Wednesday — not at his initiative but in response to a telephone call from Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. Biden’s purpose, as the Times described it in Tuesday’s editions, is “to bolster the country’s resolve to eradicate Hamas.” 

In other words, to endorse a military campaign against Gaza that grows more obscene by the day.  

A bottomless inventory of this stuff, these preposterous declamations, this bloviating, this full-frontal approval of criminal aggression, has accumulated since the Hamas incursion into Israel on Oct. 7. Let’s be clear about the intent of this extraordinary onslaught.

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This is the most powerful campaign to manufacture consent in behalf of apartheid Israel in my lifetime, and that almost certainly includes yours. We need to ask why this is so. 

[Related:  Atrocity Propaganda]

True, the perception-management blitz that assaults us daily is easily mistaken as nothing more than what we have had — routinely over many decades — from official Washington and the hack reporters and columnists regurgitating the orthodoxies.  A criminal regime is dressed up as the democracy of the Middle East, Palestinians act violently without cause or provocation, the Israeli state is rightfully defending itself and its citizens — innocent citizens, of course.  

History Is Erased

Jaramana Refugee Camp in Damascus, Syria, established after Nakba, 1948. (Wikimedia)

Jaramana Refugee Camp in Damascus, Syria, established after the Palestinian Catastrophe, or Nakba, 1948. (Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Above all, far above all, events are completely stripped of history. Never is there any mention, when events such as the Hamas assault occur, of all the savagery to which Palestinians have been subjected since al–Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1948. 

[Related: Israel’s Official Ethnic Cleansing Program]

All the land-thefts, village bulldozings, olive-grove burnings, the arrests and tortures, the murders of children, and on and on: All this is airbrushed out of the picture. It is the most powerful of erasures, for what remains, as Karine Jean–Pierre so well put it, is only one side. All context is made invisible. History is erased. 

[Related: Human Rights Watch: Israel Guilty of Apartheid]

In the present case, we must recognize that the Hamas militias’ murders of noncombatant Israelis in the 20 towns and villages it assaulted on Oct. 7 cannot be excused or condoned. Those killings, by officials counts at least 1,300, were wrong no matter which way one turns the case. 

But neither can we accept official assertions that Hamas acted without provocation. Washington officials and the corporate media, which we must count official but for the ownership structure, remain silent in unison about the events that preceded the Oct. 7 assault. 

We read nothing of the scores of right-wing settlers, a freak-show of racist fanatics, who stormed al–Aqsa just prior to the Hamas intervention — an obvious and by the evidence intentional provocation. In its own way this news blackout, too, is wrong. 

 

Is what we get from the propaganda mills this time routine, more of the same? I do not think so. My reasoning begins with events that occurred two years ago. In May 2021, readers will surely recall, Israeli police attempted to restrict Palestinians’ access to al–Aqsa and the associated Dome of the Rock — this during Ramadan no less.   

“Then came Hamas’ retaliatory rockets fired into Jerusalem from Gaza after an ultimatum it issued to retreat from al–Aqsa was ignored,” I wrote in this space at the time. “And now we watch Israel’s fourth attack on Gaza in the past dozen years. And now we read in our corporate press of Israeli–Arab ‘clashes’ and of Israel’s ‘right to self-defense.’” 

Hamas rocket attack from Gaza into Israel, Oct. 7. (Tasnim News Agency, Wikimedia Commons,CC BY 4.0)

Something happened amid those events, it seemed to me then and seems to me now. The deranged, at this point psychotic violence of the Israeli state — and many of its citizens — was too obvious to deny. The apologetics would return like an incoming tide, but neither official Washington nor corporate media was able to avoid some bold admissions of responsibility. The mainstream press even made occasional mention of history. 

There was a crack in the wall whose bricks were made long ago of denial and lies and erasures, this is to say. It suggested very strongly a turn in world opinion.

I recall these thoughts as I listen to Karine Jean–Pierre, Jake Sullivan, and the editorial writers at The New York Times. Their defenses of Israel and denials of the past have grown so ridiculously hollow that we are effectively invited not to believe what is right before our eyes. 

We are urged to think the decent is indecent, this is to say — and by the same token that the indecent is decent. 

Refusing to face reality, the propagandists and liars are left with but one alternative: to insist ever more loudly and aggressively and in ever shriller tones that the obviously false is true. And a certain desperation, to me pronounced, necessarily creeps into the official narrative when it seeks to pervert our perceptions so fundamentally.

It cannot hold and is not. From all I hear and read in various comment threads, some attached to the work of apologists at The New York Times and elsewhere, the façade of Israeli righteousness, the “self-defense” dodge, the subtraction of history — all this is weakening. Unmistakably, I would say. 

To turn this matter another way, Washington’s neoconservative cliques cannot indefinitely defend and prolong a foreign policy that is failing this spectacularly. 

In all the short, faux-confident sentences — “There are not two sides here,” etc . — I urge you, readers, to hear anxiety and apprehension. You can claim the sky is not blue and it does not get dark at night only so long before no one listens and opinion turns decisively against you.

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend with Christian Müller, a prominent Swiss journalist for many years and now the publisher and editor of GlobalBridge.ch, a German-language current-affairs publication. Is this the moment, we wondered together, when the international defense of Israel crumbles and the apartheid state stands effectively alone, the U.S. its only defender? 

It is our question, and there are signs of it. I mentioned comment threads here and there. There are also the Europeans, whose enthusiasm for the Israeli project shows serious signs of weakening. Over the weekend Gideon Rachman, a Financial Times columnist and long a reliable friend of Israel, quoted European diplomats saying ruefully — and of necessity anonymously — “We may be about to see a massive ethnic cleansing.”

Such remarks are not those of sanguine allies of a regime that is obviously out of control. 

I answer my friend Christian with a qualified negative. No, public opinion and the support Israel has long enjoyed among the Western powers is not on the brink of tipping over. The Hamas incursion into Israel and the Israeli response will not prove decisive in this way. 

But if we think in terms of a gradual evolution toward justice, the winds blow unmistakably in the right direction. They have gathered force gradually for some years now. The horrific events of 2021 were pivotal, we can see, but they were not the decisive turning point some of us thought we saw at the time. 

It is the same now. The offensive pretense of Israeli innocence has never been more thoroughly exposed as fraudulent, never more obviously a matter of moral irresponsibility. It will nonetheless require more time before the lights go on and the great, grotesque game of charades we call “democratic Israel’s self-defense” is over. 

 

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