Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Lynchings

Sadly, this reincarnation of MEI has come to end and is being suspended, so this is my last article in the last issue. Anyone out there with a big chequebook and media ambitions should get in touch! Ian

A Tale of Two Lynchings

Passionate Detachment - Ian Williams' America

Middle East International 11 June 2010

In the Eastern Mediterranean, armed Israeli commandos equipped for ‘crowd control’ in that distinctively lethal way reserved for Palestinian crowds, faced a ‘lynching’ by ‘terrorists’ armed with bars. One of them even might have had a knife to confront the might of the IDF. One expects better from a country whose founding myths include David and Goliath.
Within a week, there was a much more plausible lynching, as veteran correspondent Helen Thomas was forced into premature retirement by the combined weight of successive White House spokespeople, and the supine press corps she had often shown up with her aggressive questioning.
In an impromptu interview with a rabbi at the White House, Thomas had suggested that Israeli Jews get out of Palestine and get back to Poland or Germany instead of occupying another people’s land. If she had been a neo-con saying that Palestinians should move out because they had all these Arab countries to move to, she would have been safe, respected and invited to all the major conferences. But at 89 years old, she had skipped on the nuance and failed to distinguish between settlers and people born in Israel. It was probably time for her to go gently into that good night, but in the end she went chased with torches and pitchforks.
Thomas played by normal journalistic rules, not those of a deferential royal palace reporter. New York Times correspondent Jeremy Peters started his story with unconscious irony: “To many in Washington, two sets of rules seemed to apply for journalists covering the president: those for regular White House correspondents, and those for Helen Thomas.” He should have explained that the rules of journalistic sycophancy are self-imposed. As they showed during the Iraq war, most correspondents would not have quibbled if the president had declared the Earth was flat.
Ari Fleischer, press secretary of George W Bush, washed the blood of Iraq off his hands and demanded she go. Judith Miller, the conduit for fictions that started the war, joined the fray for Fox News. Clinton’s press spokesman, Lanny Davies, followed suit. “If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about Blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs,” he inveighed, but failed to point out anywhere where a Black or Hispanic government had occupied another disenfranchised people’s country for over four decades in defiance of international law.
Barack Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs joined the mob with strong words – “offensive and reprehensible.” Now, it is true that Thomas’ longevity on the front row of the White House briefing room might have dulled her sharper edges, but the outrage of the American media at her remarks is a stunning contrast to the relative silence over the murder of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on the Mavi Marmara, and the way the media headlined each Israeli official lie and then ignored the retractions: on the 50 al-Qa’ida operatives who became undocumented, the ‘Auschwitz audio’ that was revealed to be edited and wrongly attributed, or even the alleged shots fired at the commandos.
Certainly the victims’ families and the Muslim world that Obama is trying to reassure, let alone those in the West who are concerned about human rights, have waited in vain for the White House to consider mass slaying on the high seas “offensive and reprehensible”. Sadly, in the US, many of those who profess concern for human rights have an Israeli exception. Patrick Buchanan, Thomas’ nativist alter ego on the right, quite correctly baited the liberal defenders of Binyamin Netanyahu’s latest outrage who rushed to sign the AIPAC letter supporting it despite a clear ethical stand from the J-Street lobby. He wrote, “today, liberal Democrats who regard Martin Luther King as a moral hero for championing non-violent civil disobedience to protest injustice are cheering not the unarmed passengers trying to break the Gaza blockade, but the Israelis enforcing the blockade.”
I am not alone in wondering at Buchanan’s conversion to civil rights and evocation of King, but it is true that it might come as a surprise to Mark Regev and the Democrats in Congress that Rosa Parks did not stay sitting on the bus to get comfortable, nor did her contemporaries go to the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter for coffee, home fries and two eggs sunny-side up. They went to make a point. And the political descendants of their then southern conservative opponents are now shoulder-to-shoulder with liberal Democrats defending the murder of protestors.
While much of the American discussion on the fallout from the flotilla massacre is in line with a French states- man’s comment on one of Napoleon’s barbarism (“It was worse than a crime! It was a mistake”) Obama’s silence breeds impunity. At every level, from the Israeli cabinet down to the staff sergeant who killed six people at point blank range with a pistol, they have solid evidence that there will be no repercussions. Indeed, the sergeant is in line for a medal. Build settlements in defiance of the US – send more aid. Devastate Gaza to international condemnation – the US will double the stockpile of bombs and munitions available for immediate transfer.
The blockade of Gaza is against UN Security Council Resolution 1860 that the US allowed to pass. It is opposed by every country in the world and demurred at by the US. Yet Washington’s support is unwavering. What is a staff sergeant with a Glock supposed to think? Promotion and a medal, of course, and perhaps even a US congressional resolution of congratulations and a quick green card?

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