…by Jonas E. Alexis & Gwenyth Todd
I have always enjoyed listening to Gwenyth Todd’s perspective. Here you will see that we debate over some (but not all) fundamental issues, and that is perfectly legitimate.
In education, if there are two or three alternatives regarding an important issue, the educator must expose his students to all three and examine the evidence for them, including the strengths and weaknesses of each alternative.
If the educator says, “Alternative number one is just preposterous” without saying why it is preposterous, then there are a number of possible assumptions that could be drawn about the educator.
First, he is incompetent or too lazy to examine alternative views; second, he does not know what the other alternative is actually saying; or third, he must be following an ideology that will probably help him advance his career.
Todd and I believe that this kind of interaction is needed and it allows the arguments to be studied more carefully by readers than is possible in oral debates. This also allows readers to weigh opposing views more carefully.
Alexis: You’ve stated that “No president or no senator can act against AIPAC.” It seems that there has been some change, though not significant. It was reported that AIPAC spent 40 million dollars to stop the Iran deal. In 2014, some Zionist group released a video clip terrorizing much of the American people and basically saying that we ought not to make any deal with Iran:
Despite all of that, AIPAC lost. The Washington Post itself declared last September:
“Not since George H.W. Bush was president has the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sustained such a public defeat on an issue it deemed an existential threat to Israel’s security.
“But the Iran nuclear deal has Washington insiders wondering if the once-untouchable lobbying giant has suffered lasting damage to its near-pristine political reputation.”
What happened? Well, it seems that the American people and much of the world are slowly but surely realizing that this pernicious organization is working against everyone’s interest. There is indeed a small “crisis of Zionism.” Former president Bill Clinton, whom you used to work for, called Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism “A deeply important book for anyone who cares about Israel.”
So, there is enough evidence which seems to indicate that change is on the rise. We cannot really say that it is being done at an astronomical level, but we can safely say that people are waking up. I am a fan of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, G. W. F. Hegel, and St. Augustine. They all believe that the truth will triumph in the end. Both Solzhenitsyn and Augustine actually believed that even though the storm is high, truth will find its way. Augustine calls the storm “the night of iniquity.” Solzhenitsyn specifically said:
“Our way must be: never knowingly support lies! Having understood where the lies begin—step back from that gangrenous edge! Let us not glue back the flaking scale of the Ideology, not gather back its crumbling bones, nor patch together its decomposing garb, and we will be amazed how swiftly and helplessly the lies will fall away, and that which is destined to be naked will be exposed as such to the world.”
What do you think?
Todd: I am an eternal optimist, despite resorting to pragmatism as necessary. I saw deeply into AIPAC’s core due in large part to AIPAC’s efforts to use me while I was in a position of perceived influence. AIPAC suffers from severe internal problems with corruption, power struggles and basic human weakness. A lot of AIPAC’s power is a result of its reputation when in reality, it is just an organization of lobbyists.
The creation of alternative Jewish lobby groups, like J-Street, seems to offer hope that AIPAC’s extremist positions might be successfully challenged by less paranoid, more inclusive, peace-seeking members of the American Jewish community.
Whether such groups can gain support for a humanistic approach towards stopping the Israeli government’s cruel and outrageous treatment of both Palestinians and even Jews who dare to support Palestinian rights is yet to be seen, however.
For now, the situation for those opposed to extremist right-wing Israeli policies appears increasing grim and I cannot help but greet calls for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace discussions with deep cynicism and a sense that the media reporting such pointless “news” is simply distracting the public from a catastrophe occurring elsewhere.
Unlike many people with whom I correspond, I am not anti-Jewish or even anti-Israeli. I have traveled in Israel and I would no more wish to see average Israelis suffer than I would average Palestinians. Ask many Jews and Palestinians whose families were in modern-day Israel before its creation in 1948 and they will tell you that there was harmony among the different communities.
I am not going to get into the lengthy details of the problems surrounding the creation of the modern state of Israel, but I do believe there were grave errors made by all sides that led to violent wars and deaths of innocents from each community, and the scars of those atrocities have never healed.
There is plenty of blame to go around, although that is no justification for the abhorrent violence, brutality and repression against Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, especially since 1967, has been nothing short of genocidal.
At the same time, the Palestinians have had no constructive help from the Arabs, Iranians or Turks, and suffer from deep ideological rifts among themselves that have served as fuel for the most brutal, expansionist Israeli extremists in their quest to justify annexing occupied Palestinian territory since 1967.
I am vehemently opposed to the vast influx of radical Western Jewish settlers into Israel’s post-1967 borders and the extensive support the US Government has directly and indirectly provided to those settlers. I am also acutely aware of and outraged by President Johnson’s efforts to have Israel send the USS LIBERTY and her crew to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea in June 1967.
Johnson’s orders regarding the USS LIBERTY were a criminal betrayal of US citizens everywhere and should be properly publicized and exposed for the US public to see as proof of right-wing Zionist control reaching to the top of the US Government.
No one who learns about the USS LIBERTY can ignore the extent of Israel’s grip on US leaders. I was a child in Malta when the USS LIBERTY was brought into port and my father was the US Embassy liaison, so I have first-hand, vivid experience with this act of treason by President Johnson.
Recognition of the extent of the problem can only take us so far, however. Many people do not seem to realize that there are over 500,000 Jewish settlers now living in the occupied West Bank.
That these settlements were established at all is a travesty, but even worse is the Israeli control of the aquifer beneath the West Bank that has made building huge modern Israeli communities possible at the expense of traditional Palestinian residents’ livelihood.
Now that the Israeli settlers are there, there is no feasible way for them to be absorbed by Israel proper, so they will never leave the West Bank. A two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders is utterly impossible, given the altered demographics, thus anyone who tables the topic of such a solution is either ignorant or intentionally seeking to deceive and distract the public. In most cases, it is the latter.
Meanwhile, the Arab countries do the bare minimum to actually help solve the Palestinian problem, while constantly publicly exploiting Israeli brutality, the Palestinian land crisis and the Palestinian people’s steady destruction for their own domestic political and economic gain.
Even those educated, skilled Palestinian doctors, lawyers and intellectuals lucky enough to avoid being swallowed by refugee camps are treated as second or third class citizens by a large number of their fellow Arabs, especially in the wealthy Gulf Arab countries.
Alexis: Can you elaborate a little on what you mean by the statement that “the Palestinians have had no constructive help from the Arabs, Iranians or Turks…”? It is safe to say that the Turks are up to no good at this present time. But Iran has been consistent for more than ten years. Iran has exhaustively asked the international community to challenge Israel to abide by international law.
For example, Iran has repeatedly told the international community that Israel must sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and Iran has consistently followed the logic behind the treaty from its inception. To me, that’s “constructive help.” In fact, it is a great start.
But since Israeli officials are living in an irrational world, they still want to play double standards—and the U.S. is always happy to support them. The Iranians have proposed numerous solutions for years, but the U.S., most specifically under the Bush administration, rejected virtually all of them. This has been documented by scholars like Trita Parsi. Instead of playing by the rule, Israel ended up assassinating Iranian scientists and allying with violent terrorist groups.
Todd: Legal arguments are showy tactics that rarely lead to resolution of international disputes unless both parties feel it is in their interest to reach a settlement. Israel, up until now, has had absolutely no reason to make a meaningful settlement, despite shrieks, whines, accusations, threats and even war resulting from the ongoing dispute.
Before the state of Israel was established, the Arabs all around urged the Arab inhabitants of the area in Transjordan to stall discussions and not participate constructively on a process which the Arabs, rightly or wrongly, refused to take seriously. Once the state of Israel was declared and recognized by the US, the Arabs attacked. As a result, the Palestinians lost many enclaves that had been previously designated as Arab territory.
Rather than try to negotiate, the Arab states urged the Palestinians to fight on. As the years passed, the Palestinians lost more and more, with the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973. It seemed, and seems, that the Arabs are happy to stand up to Israel until the last Palestinian is dead or homeless.
Meanwhile, the Arab states who had mounted and supported the wars were exposed as feckless and weak. This embarrassment did nothing to make the Arabs appreciate the Palestinians whom the Arabs tend to treat as if they were somehow responsible for letting Israel be created in the first place.
After 1978, Iran got into the game. Lebanese Shi’a took up the Palestinian cause and in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with disastrous consequences for the already war-weary Lebanese. The relative success of Lebanese Shi’a groups like Hizbullah in ceaselessly challenging Israel is due in large part to Iranian support.
Nasrallah, the head of Hizbullah, is a true scholar, cleric, negotiator and military genius. In 2006, Nasrallah managed to do the seemingly impossible by garnering popular support among many Sunni Arabs through facing off against Israel fearlessly. There were huge casualties on the non-Israeli side, as opposed to a few on the Israeli side, but that was considered a real victory under the circumstances.
For the average Palestinian, any “feel-good” moment over the willingness of outsiders to challenge Israel is followed quickly by the realization that these token acts of martyrdom are doing nothing to help the Palestinians hold onto whatever land they have left, let alone regain lost territory.
Meanwhile, Egypt managed to get the Sinai returned and Syria can thank Kissinger from stopping the Israelis from invading Damascus. UN troops man the Alpha and Bravo gates in the Golan and detente between the Syrian government and Israel is enjoyed quietly.
Occasionally groups of Syrians organize bus tours up to the destroyed Golan town of Quneitra and wave in solidarity at the Palestinian refugee camp in the distance in an utterly staged “kumbaya ” gesture that, once again, does nothing to improve the situation of the Palestinians.
Most recently, Turkish leader Erdogan decided to burnish his Islamic credentials by becoming the champion of the Palestinian cause. Erdogan hoped that Israel would not dare upset its alliance with Turkey by preventing aid from being delivered to the blockaded Gazan people in 2010 by the end Mavi Marmara aid flotilla.
Erdogan quickly discovered that Israel cares little about media coverage or international law and the flotilla fiasco served no one but Erdogan himself, who milked the disaster for personal political gain.
Most recently, the efforts by Turks, Arabs and Iranians to compete for the title of Champion of Palestinian Rights has led to millions of deaths. Erdogan has funded any rebel group in Syria willing to undermine Syrian President Assad and destroy the existing detente between Syria and Israel.
If Erdogan can set up a militantly anti-Israeli puppet regime in Syria, Erdogan can reap the benefits of adulation by everyone who wishes someone would stop Israeli atrocities. The result of Erdogan’s selfish move has been a civil war in Syria that has killed countless people and left even more homeless.
Not to be upstaged by Turkey, the Gulf Arabs quickly stepped into the Syrian fray, throwing massive support at any Sunni group willing to challenge Assad. The hope was that if Assad fell, the Gulf Arabs would be able to claim credit for helping the Palestinian cause while also humiliating Shi’a Iran, which has been backing the Assad regime. That “helpful act” in the name of Palestinian rights has led to the creation of ISIS and upped the casualty toll among innocent civilians in Syria and beyond immeasurably.
Finally, Iran is now deeply involved in the war in Syria and Iraq, eclipsing all efforts to invoke international law and negotiation on behalf of the increasingly desperate Palestinians.
And what have the Palestinians gained from all this support? Recently, Israel has announced its intention to formally annex areas of the West Bank. The UN is calling the planned annexation illegal, but that will make no difference.
The Turks, Iranians and Arabs will climb over each other in an effort to take the lead in calling on the Palestinians to fight back and offer financial and materiel assistance, resulting in even more death and disaster.
The US will stand publicly by its support for Israel while making a few noises about how terrible it is that the Peace Process is stalled and sending aid to refugees. The EU will call for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians to resume. Israel will steadily built more new settlements and bulldoze property of any Palestinian suspected of being related to any terrorist. And the Palestinians will lose again.
That is what I mean by no “constructive” help from the Iranians, Arabs and Turks. None of these neighborly solidarity efforts has done anything to help actual Palestinians improve their long-term prospects, and if this sort if “help” continues, there will be no one left to occupy a viable Palestinian state in the event one were actually created.
Alexis: We are both coming to the same conclusion on many issues. I would add that legal arguments are not just “showy tactics that rarely lead to resolution of international disputes.” They are principles upon which all nations should base political discourse. And the fact that the Iranians have never lost faith in those principles means that they have provided “constructive help.”
The West (particularly the United States) needs to act upon those legal arguments or principles. Israel, as you rightly pointed out, has not been willing to follow the political order. I am thankful that Ban Ki-moon has recently told the West that the Palestinians have been waiting for some radical change for over fifty years.
Todd: Only that there has been a lot of good-faith, constructive talk over the decades but while we all talk about principles, the Palestinians are being exterminated. So I am in favor of dropping the never-ending legal and moral debate and instead seeing concrete actions on all sides to physically stop the massacre.
Alexis: True. Something ought to be done with the precious Palestinians who are being slaughtered. But I am not willing to drop legal or moral principles, for we know where that would lead. There is another issue at stake here.
You write, “Iran is now deeply involved in the war in Syria and Iraq, eclipsing all efforts to invoke international law and negotiation on behalf of the increasingly desperate Palestinians.”
We all know that Iran and Russia are fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. I think the issue should be that the international community should challenge the U.S. and indeed Israel to stop funding those terrorist groups. As you know, we have enough evidence which convincingly shows that both the United States and Israel are culpable in spreading ISIS in the region. Would you agree with that assessment?
Todd: Israel is playing a dangerous game, secretly supporting ISIS just enough to hurt Iranian interests but not enough to overthrow Assad, whose regime serves Israeli interests because under Assad, Syria will not directly attack Israel.
Turkey, a traditional US ally is funding and arming ISIS while the US ignores it, choosing to support the absurd claims by Turkey that Kurds along the Iraqi and Syrian borders pose a terrorist threat to Turkey and NATO. Additionally, neoconservatives in the US appreciate having a strong enough ISIS to drain Iranian resources. So yes, I agree.
Alexis: You also argue that “Before the state of Israel was established, the Arabs all around urged the Arab inhabitants of the area in Transjordan to stall discussions and not participate constructively on a process which the Arabs, rightly or wrongly, refused to take seriously. Once the state of Israel was declared and recognized by the US, the Arabs attacked. As a result, the Palestinians lost many enclaves that had been previously designated as Arab territory.”
Let me see if I can play the devil’s advocate here. What kind of constructive discourse would the Arabs be involved in when “the state of Israel was declared and recognized by the US”?
For example, suppose you are at home and a terrorist comes along and rapes your little child right in front of you. To make matters worse, the police comes along and tells you that you ought to negotiate with the terrorist and share your own precious home with him.
Would that be right? Wouldn’t you tell those bastards to go eat some sausage and choke on it? Furthermore, isn’t that saying to the terrorist that it is morally and politically permissible to rape and murder? Wouldn’t you reasonably say that the police and the terrorist are in cahoots?
I think this is the way that the Palestinians have always seen the issue. We have already pointed out that Israeli historians themselves admit that Palestinians were raped in 1948 and were literally uprooted from their precious homes. I can see why “the Arab states urged the Palestinians to fight on.”
Todd: What happened was that Jews began buying up property in Transjordan from locals who did not realize that the Zionists had a private policy of never allowing any land to be sold back to non-Jews. By the time the Arabs and the British figured out that that was actually happening, there was little they could do to reverse it. People like Yitzhak Shamir were ready to resort to terror attacks to overcome British and Arab objections.
Then came the big legal negotiations at the UN. The Arabs delegation refused to engage constructively, instead simply rejecting proposals, frustrating everyone and thus empowering the Jewish delegation further. The non-Palestinian Arabs were highly principled in refusing to compromise.
Yet once the debate was ended and Israel created, the Arabs attacked the new state of Israel, certain they would win. They lost, badly, again and again. And the poor Palestinians were the ones who lost their land, not the principled Arabs, who simply retreated to their homes in other countries in the face of unexpected Israeli military might.
It is easy to stand on principle when it costs the principled party nothing but anger if they fail. Iran and Turkey can do the same: it costs them very little in relative terms. Talk is very cheap and the road to hell for the Palestinians is littered with good intentions and impassioned pleas for justice by many, many people, while the bodies of both victims of Israeli aggression and victims of anti-Zionist terrorism pile up on the verge.
There are no angels in this story. You and I may care about humanitarian and legal principles but statesmen devising National Security policies do not care.
Still, there is hope if people stop pointing and preaching and start dealing with the need to stop the building of new settlements and establish a Palestinian state in the areas not yet settled, with massive financial investment from Arab nations to allow Palestinians to create a viable, peaceful state.
Demanding the dismantling of all existing settlements in the West Bank is pointless because it is simply never going to happen: the right-wing Israelis would sooner die that be driven out. Before Israel resorts to the “Masada Option”, however, it will resort the “obliterate the enemy” option.
This is why we must stop the fighting over past words and actions and come up as soon as possible with a defined Palestinian state financed by the wealthiest oil and gas exporting Middle Eastern nations. Every new Jewish settlement is another nail in the coffin of the Palestinians.
 Catherine Ho, “Groups supporting Iran deal face off against its deep-pocketed detractors,” Washington Post, July 22, 2015; Julian Borger, “The looming August battle for the Iran nuclear deal,” Guardian, July 21, 2015; Democrats Face Intense Pressure As They Weigh Iran Deal,” Huffington Post, August 21, 2015.
 Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello, “How AIPAC lost the Iran deal fight,” Washington Post, September 3, 2015.
 Ron Kampeas, “Playing a losing game, AIPAC still rallies against Iran deal,” Times of Israel, September 2, 2015.
 Jonathan Broder, “How the Iran Nuclear Deal Weakened AIPAC, Washington’s Most Powerful Interest Group,” Newsweek, September 1, 2015.
 Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Solzhenitsyn Reader (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006), 558.
 See Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 267-269.
 Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, Yale University Press, 2007); A Single Roll of Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
 See for example Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars (New York: Levant Books, 2012); Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal, Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service (New York: HarperCollins, 2012); Ian Black and Benny Morris, Israel’s Secret Wars: A History of Israel’s Intelligence Services (New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1991); Gordon Thomas, Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015); Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger, Jewish Terrorism in Israel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).