Israel, the Middle East, the Left, and Obama

Brendan O’Neill quotes journalist John Pilger:

“Until the Palestinians are given back their rights we’re going to have instability throughout the Middle East,” declared John Pilger on ABC1’s Q&A last night. “That is central to everything.”

O’Neill responds:

Yet, one of the most striking things about the uprising in Egypt was the lack of pro-Palestine placards. As Egypt-watcher Amr Hamzawy put it, in Tahrir Square and elsewhere there were no signs saying “death to Israel, America and global imperialism” or “together to free Palestine.” Instead, this revolt was about Egyptian people’s own freedom and living conditions.

Yet on the pro-Egypt demonstration in London on Saturday, there was a sea of Palestine placards. “Free Palestine,” they said, and “End the Israeli occupation.” The speakers had trouble getting the audience excited about events in Egypt, having to say on more than one occasion: “Come on London, you can shout louder than that!” Yet every mention of the word Palestine induced a kind of Pavlovian excitability among the attendees. They cheered when the P-word was uttered, chanting: “Free, free Palestine!”

This reveals something important about the Palestine issue. . . . [It] has become less important for Arabs and of the utmost symbolic importance for Western radicals at exactly the same time.

I’m not so sure O’Neill is right about the lack of anti-Israel sentiment among the Egyptian revolutionaries and elsewhere in the Arab world—I certainly hope so, but have seen several items pointing in the opposite direction. For example, USA Today reported that “the top leaders of the protest movement that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak” have demanded that the government cut off the flow of natural gas to Israel, on grounds that “the Zionist entity” is mistreating those same Palestinians. I’m not all that positive that USA Today or anyone else can clearly identify “the top leaders of the protest movement” so clearly at this point in time, but this report is surely grounds for serious concern about the attitude of the emerging Egyptian government toward Israel. And here is a very disturbing report about anti-Semitism in Tunisia. Again, I hope O’Neill is right about declining anti-Israel sentiment in the Arab world, but I have my doubts.

O’Neill is clearly correct, though, about his other point: the absolute centrality of the anti-Israel (“pro-Palestinian”) cause to the leftist movement throughout the western world.

While there are still many decent and well-meaning people on the left, this side of the political spectrum is increasingly populated by people who are utterly irrational and motivated by uncontrollable rage. Based on history and psychology, one would expect such people to be anti-Israel and often even outright anti-Semitic.

Obama’s association with the angry left has been one of his formative influences, and even if his expressed attitudes on Israel are not as extremely negative as some, it should be clear by now that he is no friend of that country. See Bookworm:

I’m so upset about what happened at the UN today (Feb 18), I can’t speak (or write). Hot Air explains what happened: after casting a veto against the Security Council’s vote on Israeli settlements, the U.S.’s Ambassador, Susan Rice, launched into a vitriolic attack that would have come easily from the lips of the Syrian or Iranian representative.

Read her whole post, which has a large number of comments.

18 thoughts on “Israel, the Middle East, the Left, and Obama”

  1. Funny thing is that you are not seeing large Palestinian demonstrations, not even against Israel, let alone their own corrupt and dictatorial governments.

  2. If the Arabs cared about the Palestinians, they would have resettled them in 1949. One thing about Palestinians; they are businessmen. They are a lot like Jews in their interest in education and their skills at running small businesses. We used to have a lot of Palestinian refugees around when I was in college in the 50s. They ran small liquor stores and other small businesses. Many may have been Christian but the names seemed the same as Muslims. If only they had had the opportunity to use their natural talents. But they are stuck in the middle of Muslim lands and used as pawns.

    I may have told the story here already about the Palestinian doctor whose son I helped get into medical school. We were invited to a party they held to celebrate. The son and his friends were inside the house while the parents and friends were outside. At one point, the girls demonstrated the results of their belly dancing classes. They were all taking lessons. No mention of anything but their pleasure at his admission to medical school. Of course, Major Hassan gives one pause.

    The problem is Islam, especially with the Palestinians who probably share 99.99999% DNA with Jews, at least those that stayed in the middle east.

  3. Pilger is 100% right. But until the brutal dictatorships (Hamas, PLO, whatever) that oppress the Palestinians are overthrown and their people de-Nazified, until they surrender their religion (which has no concept of “rights”) to rationality, in short, until they find their humanity, the Palestinians will never have human rights.

  4. If they cut off natural gas won’t the Palis be deprived as well?

    BTW Israel has found such copious quantities of gas that they are considering exporting it once it is developed.

  5. M Simon…true that about the nat gas, but will take a while to get it operational, of course. There’s also a plan to build an LNG terminal, but not slated to be up and running until end of 2012.

    Whether they actually cut off the gas or not (I’m guessing not), the threat is a sign that attitudes among the revolutionaries are not all as benign as they’ve been painted by much of the media.

  6. One issue that Stratfor has discussed but I haven’t seen here is the question of Libyan oil. It is located in two large deposits separated by hundreds of miles. The population occupies a narrow strip along the sea. The two centers approximate the oil deposits but the smaller, western oil field is near the larger population center. The larger oil field is close to Egypt and has a smaller population surrounding it. What if Egypt decides to lop off eastern Libya and annex it ?

    That would be a huge boon for Egypt and most people wouldn’t mourn Ghaddafi and Libya too much. Apparently, Ghaddafi has lost control of that eastern end of his country with the largest oil deposits.

  7. Most of the ideological explanations of the Middle East uprisings are more wishful thinking on the part of the idealogues who offer them up. Religion and politics had a lot less to do with it than economics. Food consumes 48% of the average household income in Egypt and that is what drove the people to the streets. Thanks to the Internet more and more people in backwards cultures know they don’t have to live that way.

  8. Thanks to the Internet more and more people in backwards cultures know they don’t have to live that way.

    I was thinking something along the same lines, Bill Waddell. Local conditions are pretty rough for most of these people and they are unhappy with their lot for a variety of reasons but the staples like food really hurt when prices go up. There were riots in India, too, I think, over the rising price of onions which are a staple in that diet.

    – Madhu

  9. A lot of the “backwardness” is related to very poor decision making by the corrupt governments and rentier-ocracies.

    How can development take place when it is thwarted?

    Why are some people so into the big development schemes from the IMF and stuff? It doesn’t seem to help the people very much. Just enriches cronies.

    – Madhu

  10. Madhy..If someone believes that everything should be centrally planned, he almost *has* to focus on “big” projects…indeed, it is almost a tautology. Khrushchev could say (and did) “Wheat is the key to our agricultural progress…everybody go plant a lot of wheat!” but he had no meaningful way to order “Everybody look at your local soil and climate conditions and plant the crops that work best for those conditions!” Stalin could order the construction of Whit Sea Canal (at an immense human cost and little ultimate economic value), but achieving the optimum balance of road, rail, and canal transportation in every region throughout the country was not something that could be done through simple commands.

    A lesser but still damaging form of the same phenomenon can often be seen in poorly-managed and overly-centralized companies, where top-down-driven megaprojects suck up all the oxygen and allow no room for initiatives which *might* have eventually become very successful and very large.

  11. David: one small correction: Nikita had stuck on corn, not wheat; otherwise you are correct re: complete disregard to soil conditions/local climate.
    Aside: anyone who uses “refugee” describing Palestinian Arabs should look up definition of the word.

  12. David, yes, of course: “was”, not “had”. Thanks.
    About V.Suvorov: his books are more in “fiction” category than in “documentary”, as I heard. I don’t read this sort of literature.

  13. @ David Foster:

    I was thinking about something else when I wrote my comment and didn’t really make myself clear. I was talking about Western development programs and, specifically, something like this:

    The history of economic development suggests that rent-ridden countries create governments with few incentives to build strong political institutions or listen to their people. In Egypt, for instance, these various rents account for about two-thirds of foreign exchange earnings. Directly or indirectly they generate at least a third of government revenues. This is not as large as other oil exporters in the region, like Libya, but substantial nonetheless. And Egypt’s state, in common with others across the Middle East, has used these rents to appease and suppress dissent, creating circumstances in which they have little need to develop competent political institutions.

    Even if the people of Libya and Bahrain join those of Egypt and Tunisia in overcoming their cursed political systems, the economic manifestations of their rent curses will remain. Even if they become more democratic, because these countries benefit from substantial rents they will have less need to tax their peoples. This precludes the need to reform state controlled industries to create private sector wealth. It also will stop the development of genuine democratic systems, the usual basis for the legitimate taxation of citizens.

    Weak economic institutions will be the consequences of these nations’ ongoing reliance on rents. These will fail to deliver essential services, such as education and skill creation, in turn limiting the pool of entrepreneurial talent. Such institutions also create bloated bureaucracies, weak legal enforcement of property rights, and obstacles for starting businesses, especially for those outside the regime’s inner circle. Without reforms the private sector will still likely thrive only through connections to a rent-addled state, not because of the raw dynamism found in many Asian countries.

    There is an interesting article in Foreign Policy (AfPak channel online) about the corrupting effects of large amounts of aid and its destabilizing affects on governance. Nothing new for this crowd here or at the site I’ve linked but I am surprised that it is getting more play in some of the progressive blogs that I read.

    At any rate, that is a situation any sort of demogogue can, and will try to, exploit. Anyway, I know it’s a tangent to your original point but somehow your blog post and Bill Waddell’s comments made me think about all of that.


    – Madhu

  14. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is not only not central to the Middle East, it is near irrelevant. If Israel were to vanish tomorrow, a new exterior entity to blame things on would arise. The conflicts in the region have been similar for hundreds of years before 1948.

    That is not to say that the antisemitism is not real. It very much is, as it is the ready explanation people have for every difficulty, and no amount of disproof will sway some of them. But it pays for us to remember that no one in the region except some of the Israelis really wants a solution to the Palestinian problem. The status quo works for many people. When people actually want solutions, there are changes. They might be ineffective changes or even deterioration, but the ground shifts. Nothing is shifting in the Israel-Palestine disputes.

    Now that everything else is changing, we may find that the current order cannot hold, and some new stasis be found. May.

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