Interviewed on Democracy Now! today, January 23, 2009, Noam Chomsky observed that Obama’s statement on Gaza at the State Department on January 22 was “approximately the Bush position.” I find the use of the word, “approximately” to be a generous. In fact, Chomsky’s appraisal was plain and direct, without mincing words nor paying servile tribute to Obama. [Update: see the video collection of Chomsky’s address on Gaza for 13 January 2009 at 1D4TW.]
To summarize and quote some of the key passages from Chomsky’s interview:
There is “a gap in the reasoning” produced by Obama, and that is that Israel has “a right to defend itself,” but as Chomsky said, “it does not follow that it has a right to defend itself by force.” For Chomsky, and I agree, to say that Israel has a right to defend itself by force, would be like saying that Britain had a right to defend itself by force against the armies of George Washington in 1776 — Chomsky says, no, because they had no right to even be in North America, so the only right they did have was to leave. Likewise it would be like arguing that the Nazis had a right to defend themselves by force against Partisans in the territories they occupied. That would be accepting the right of the Nazis to invade and occupy in the first place, which is a Nazi argument. As Chomsky argued, “Israel can defend itself by stopping its crimes.” Chomsky understands, on the basis of explanations from former Israeli leaders themselves, that Palestinian civilians were to be punished by the Israelis until there would be a complete “cessation of hostilities,” meaning a cessation of resistance. Chomsky notes how Obama, in a subtle way, reproduced that very logic. In fact Chomsky quotes Abba Eban, the former Israeli Foreign Minister and UN Ambassador, as saying in 1981, in defense of systematically bombing civilian areas:
“there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that afflicted populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities.”
But according to Obama, Israel is a victim, that was provoked by rockets. It is a line that is as simplistic, as it is mendacious, as it is factually incorrect. That he would reproduce this slogan, knowing better, shows that his administration is as sanguine toward Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians in particular as the war horses the Obama administration superficially “replaces.”
Speaking at the State Department, America’s newest counterinsurgency doll mouthed these words:
Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats.
For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.
To be a genuine party to peace, the quartet has made it clear that Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements.
Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm.
This accepts Israel’s most convenient self-representation — Obama makes no mention of how Israel broke the ceasefire to begin with, no mention of how Israel had planned to attack Gaza many months in advance, that the timing was a political one and not a military defense rationale, also no mention of how for months before the Israeli violation there were no Hamas rockets, no mention of the crushing economic blockade of Gaza to which the U.S. is a party and which the U.N. in Gaza said was producing “subhuman” conditions, no mention of a mass of people crowded into a camp because their lands were taken away by Israelis, and barely any recognition of the staggering losses suffered by Gazans. Worse yet, there is a subtle appeal to Palestinians to turn on the leaders they elected, democratically and by a majority — as if their bearing the brunt of Israeli violence should have taught them a lesson. That is not just justifying Israeli violence, it is a statement of hope: hoping to reap the reward from massive blood loss.
Obama remains cold in the face of genocide (that is Obama’s actual anthropology, not the one imagined in the various fairy tale renditions of his personal life). Obama is indifferent to the injustices suffered by those who paid with a far greater loss of life. His assessment is as lopsided as the Israeli violence that it approves. It is a logic of state, and of a particular state that wishes to cling to as many opportunities as it can to clamp down on humanity. January 20 was mere pomp for the masses who came to gaze upon an entity they believe to be better, more important, more deserving of attention than any or all of them. Obama used that day to make another noteworthy statement, one premised on the idea that there is a “Muslim World” (Orientalism anyone?):
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
Unclench your fist? This is what an American president, presiding over two active invasions, dares to tell anyone? Corruption and deceit? Who voted for more appropriations of funds to support the reconstruction scams in Iraq and Afghanistan if not Senator Obama? Silencing of dissent? Who approved the continuation of warrantless wire-tapping? If anyone was feeling nostalgia for Bush, at least this much continuity should be very reassuring. Obama seeks a new way forward, which mildly suggests that there was something problematic about the current U.S. way…but then immediately proceeds to point at the splinters in everyone else’s eyes. In other words, the “Muslim world” is the one that shall have to seek a “new way forward,” and toward America. That Obama should take this opportunity, on such an occasion, to instruct and lecture “the Muslim world,” is quite a grim statement.
What Obama does is to continue the same basic thrust of injustice directed against Palestinians, which does not seek a just resolution. There is no Palestinian state, and the vision of a Palestinian state entertained by some leading Israelis is itself nothing short of genocidal — as Chomsky reported in an earlier interview:
They can have a Palestinian state, in fact the right-wing in Israel prefers to have a Palestinian State so that they can then have inter-state relations, but they want it to be a Palestinian state which is derisory. An array of small cantons that can be administered under Israeli control. In fact, the first recognition of the possibility of a Palestinian state, the first one I can find, was by the ultra-right Netanyahu government in 1996; its information minister answering a question said that [on the scraps of land Israel would leave them] ‘the Palestinians can have a state if they want, or they can call it fried chicken’, that’s about the attitude.
Those who claim Obama for themselves, should also realize that they take responsibility for what he does and says. Contrary to the wide eyed adoration of Obama’s skin, or the dutiful praise, the refrain that it is “good to be American” heard even among people who should know better, we need some balance:
January 22, 2009, was DAY ONE for the world’s newest War Criminal, inaugurated into empire. Hail to the thief.