“Peace is hard,” a Nobel Peace Prize winner told the UN in 2011, explaining why the United States was going to veto Palestine’s bid for statehood. Despite all evidence to the contrary, many Americans concerned with the suffering of Palestinians welcomed Obama’s election in 2008 as a sign that US policy towards Israel-Palestine would take a more progressive turn.
As it turns out, the Obama administration’s record has been one of “unprecedented” support for Israeli violence, shielding the settler state from accountability for its crimes while repeatedly telling the Palestinians to drop dead. As the US’s already astronomical military aid to Israel has increased, the State Department has cut off funding to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for the heinous act of admitting Palestine as a Member State.
Of course, disregard for human rights and international law is nothing out of the ordinary for US foreign policy. So what makes the “special relationship” with Israel so special? For one thing, as Margaret Kimberley pointed out on Black Agenda Report, every US President since Israel’s founding in 1948 has put the interests of the Israeli government over the safety and well-being of Americans. On Obama’s watch, the IDF murdered nine passengers aboard the May 2010 Gaza aid flotilla, including a US citizen, Furkan Doğan. The US refused to condemn or even investigate the killing of an American. A year later, Obama threatened any US citizen who might find herself on the next flotilla with “fines and incarceration”.
At best, it would’ve been naïve to expect anything new from the reelected President on his “Mideast tour”, which ends today with a visit to his friend, the King of Jordan. Once upon a time, Obama and his wife would have dinner with the likes of Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, and Ali Abunimah. For those watching Thursday’s sycophantic speech in Israel, it would seem a lifetime ago. All the required pandering was on display: Biblical clichés, US solidarity with Israel’s pioneer spirit, the usual lip service to a two-state “solution”.
Obama invoked the tired line about Israel’s “right to defend itself” against evil Muslims, bravely calling Hezbollah a terrorist organization: “[T]he world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians, stockpiles rockets to shoot at cities and supports the massacre of men and women and children”. He could easily have been talking about the IDF, the sectarian militia that rings in each election season with a bombing campaign against a civilian population.
In late 2008/early 2009, the IDF slaughtered 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza. The UN’s fact-finding mission reported Israel had committed “serious war crimes and also possibly crimes against humanity” by deliberately targeting civilians and infrastructure like schools, hospitals, water and sewage treatment, and power plants. Around 170 were killed in November 2012, after which the IDF admitted to targeting journalists. Each time, Obama chose to reaffirm his support for Israel’s “defense”. The President knows very well that US taxpayers are shelling out billions every year to arm a rogue nation with a history of military aggression against its neighbors.
To be fair, Obama did mention the suffering of Palestinians: “It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank…or displace Palestinian families from their homes. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.” If only the President with a “100% pro-Israel voting record” could hear Barack Obama say that. Instead of the so-called criticism of settlement activity as “counterproductive”, we might see Obama ask for a settlement freeze like those radical leftists, the Bushes.
He might not mock the “heckler” asking why he hasn’t sought justice for Rachel Corrie, the US citizen murdered trying to save a home in Rafah from a settler bulldozer. He might not mindlessly spout liberal Zionist ideology about the need for two states if the “Jewish and democratic state” is to preserve ethnic privilege in the face of “the demographics west of the Jordan River” (read: Palestinian babies). He might be alarmed that the current plan is more colonial expansion and the descent into fascism of “Israel proper” (which, by the way, does not recognize non-Jews as Israeli nationals and has issued over 60 laws discriminating against its Palestinian citizens).
It simply doesn’t matter what Obama says or thinks. Not if he continues to bankroll a system of apartheid in both the Occupied Territories and “democratic Israel”. Not as long as he backs the savage blockade that has turned Gaza into an open-air prison (The UN recently reported the Gaza Strip will be “unlivable” by 2020). It’s just a fact that no one in the world does more to enable Israeli terrorism than the President of the United States. And he has no choice but to support policies of permanent war and a racist police state – because they’re his policies too.
The founding of the US on slavery and genocide had the good sense to happen before there were things like human rights organizations and the United Nations and cell phone cameras. Israel’s founding crimes are ongoing, and have earned it almost universal condemnation. But the imprint of institutional violence on both societies, and their growing isolation, makes their governments the biggest security threat in the world today – including to their own citizens. That’s what shared values means.