Friday, March 22, 2013

A Modest Proposal! UN and Israel

I was in an Irish bar with Mo Sacirbey, the former Foreign Minister of Bosnia, when a local woman who had overheard us talking about the UN launched into an intemperate tirade against the organisation. Oddly enough, it inspired a modest proposal for the UN and Israel Lobby to work together for a swift response to the US budget crisis. But first, some background. In Blazing Saddles, one of the funniest films ever made, the black sheriff holds himself hostage at gunpoint. This improbable scenario is now being enacted on Capitol Hill. To get a budget agreement Congressional leaders signed a pact that would bring about “sequestration” - deep across the board cuts in Federal spending - including for that Republican Shibboleth, the Pentagon, which they hoped would force Congress to deal.

Fully aware of the voting proclivities of pensioners, the authors of the deal agreed that sequestration would not affect Social Security and Medicare the old age pension and medical programmes, which, technically are pre-paid from previous pension contributions and not part of the budget, although Republican die-hards keep circling them while sharpening knives.

Alas, the framers of the economic suicide pact underestimated the ideological obduracy of the new Republicans, so at a time when the economy teeters on the brink of recovery Federal spending cuts begin, laying off workers and stopping hiring new ones. The Obama administration is, understandably, talking up the consequences. Like  Blazing Saddle’s Sheriff Bart (played brilliantly by Cleavon Little, by the way) he is dealing with idiots, in this case the GOP economic illiterates.

It will indeed have an inhibiting effect on the economy, but the heavy spending cuts would be way down the line. The defence programmes are already committed which is why Boeing its peer companies are not already strafing Capitol Hill.

But then in ride the hobby horses.  The Israel Lobby is trying hard, but discreetly, to ensure that the steady torrent of cash from US taxpayers to its favourite state continues unchecked through the sequestration. Traditionally the Lobby hid behind the Foreign Aid budget as if food for starving refugees were in the same category as phosphorus shells for the IDF. But some of its supporters now want to decouple to connection.

“Despite ongoing budget woes, it is critical that the United States live up to its aid commitment to Israel,” AIPAC states. “As our one reliable Middle East ally, Israel serves critical national security objectives. Any reduction in that aid would send the wrong message to Israel’s — and America’s — enemies.”

It sends a message to US voters as well which is why wiser souls who support Israel want to keep their heads down, since taxpayers who do not have a national health service and free higher education might cavil at shovelling their money as aid to a state that does - and which uses the aid to defend settlements that Washington opposes!

And so to my proposal. An odious, albeit ironic comparison of aid to Israel and dues to the UN as a packaged, essential public-diplomacy exception to the sequestration. While most countries regard United Nations dues and peacekeeping contributions as treaty-bound obligations, the US Congress treats them as discretionary items, ever since they began, half a century ago to penalise the organisation for its votes on, of course, Israel. Under Bush’s second term and under Obama, the US has essentially been paying up without too much demur, which is just as well since peacekeeping operations in places like Mali depend on a flow of contributions from richer countries, above all the US which is desperately interested in Saharo-Salafist affairs.

Listening to the rabid pro-Israeli supporters among local New York politicians, this might appear to be a stretch, since antipathy to the UN is in their ideological chromosomes. But in contrast to their local supporters, Israeli politicians assiduously court the organisation. Secretary General Ban Kimoon welcomes them when they visit New York - even though his public statements forcefully repeat the official UN lines on, for example settlements and Gaza, that the American lobbyists would punish any American politician for. But Ban has a rare talent for understated diplomacy that allows him to speak truths and to keep the Israeli pols coming - albeit probably helped because they can do some fundraising of their own in New York while visiting the UN on official business but also because they have a talent for not listening to advice from outsiders anyway.

Such a tie in would neutralise the bloc that does most harm to UN financing in DC and do no harm at all, since just as it has always done,  in the end, AIPAC will get its money even if kids go hungry in the USA,

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