Tag Archives: middle east

A broader understanding of LGBT issues

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

It’s hard to believe, but much earlier this month, Senator Al Franken was campaigning for a new batch of anti-discrimination measures at the federal level for LGBT people. Designed to impact the negative experiences of members of those communities when seeking out or using housing, employment, or other basic economic arrangements, this was just a new chapter in a far longer history, of seeking a broader set of anti-discrimination LGBT-minded protections.

It’s strange to note that that’s where some prominent members of the federal government were focusing at the beginning of this month, because public discussion has quickly move on to other topics. Franken hasn’t changed positions on that or any other LGBT-related policies, nor have most people in the federal government or at more local levels. In the wake of the Paris attacks, however, political debate in the US has solidified around the on-going humanitarian and security concerns raised by the intensifying conflict born out of the unresolved Syrian Civil War.

All Out, an international LGBT advocacy organization, has implicitly called into question whether we can necessarily talk about either of those issues that way – with LGBT rights and the instability in the Middle East as totally separate topics. While a recent fundraising request from them highlighted LGBT asylum seekers from countries in that region with various experiences with the Syrian Civil War, it included a key mention of a same-gender Syrian couple, displaced by a number of factors in the war-torn nation.

In a months-earlier debate about asylum seekers and refugee camps in the US, the anti-LGBT aspects of who had been displaced and what special considerations they might need were largely overlooked. This new refugee crisis is an opportunity for the US to be more thoughtful of those dimensions of what people are at greatest risk and need inclusion and respect in the asylum-seeking and refugee-status-attaining process.

Even now, the legal statuses of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America remain uncertain. In the near future, many are expected to undergo immigration court assessments, often only swayed when children “prove they have been abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent” – but not necessarily with particular attention to anti-LGBT animus that may have motivated or influenced the abuse, abandonment, or neglect.

gay_asylum_seekersFrom here.

The chance to step up and address the complicated aspects of these and other immigration-related crises is on-going. In both of these major incidents, unique attention to the needs of LGBT people hasn’t been paid.

There is growing awareness of the need to do just that in the basic functioning of our society with policies like ENDA. In a more complex examination of how countries and institutions work, not so much. An LGBT-mindful approach to immigration has yet have been incorporated into the legal oversight that determines the fates of ultimately millions of people. The way in which discussions so far about LGBT rights have been treated as fundamentally a different discussion than those about the needs of Syrian refugees suggests that unfortunately, that will likely remain the case.

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Puzzles of the Orient: a random note on the Republican Debate

Last night’s debate didn’t strike me as something worth liveblogging on twitter or even commenting about as I posted in the middle of it. That anything much is going to be said that’s new or original is hopefully something no one came into the debate expecting. In passing, still, one strange entanglement of talking points caught my attention and seems to speak to something rather horrifying about the politics of not only the Republican Party, but the United States and even the broader world.

In the midst of the debate, Senator Marco Rubio argued that the supportive relationship between the US and Israel in contrast to the combative and hostile relationship the US has with almost every other country in the region made sense, saying:

“For goodness sake, there is only one pro-American free enterprise democracy in the Middle East. It is the state of Israel. And we have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the Ayatollah in Iran. And so our allies in the region don’t trust us. […] all those radical terrorist groups that, by the way, are not just in Syria and in Iraq, ISIS is now in Libya. They are a significant presence in Libya, and in Afghanistan, and a growing presence in Pakistan.

Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia. They are coming to us. They recruit Americans using social media. And they don’t hate us simply because we support Israel. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States. Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own.”

While his criticism of Arab or Islamic communities highlighted the sexism he perceived, the point seems deeply interconnected to other ideas about how societies should work. Not only should women be able to drive cars, they should be able to vote. It’s hard to imagine that kind of plea for “modern” women’s rights without accompanying ideas about “modern” political rights and other expectations (in Rubio’s mind that goes hand in hand with free enterprise, notably).

Mere minutes later, Ohio Governor John Kasich in his own words gave the audience “a little trip around the world”. He transitioned from describing a military strategy towards Russia to one in the Middle East, which in turn led him to saying this about the political culture of the region: “Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they’re fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history.”

The limitations on free speech in Saudi Arabia are, of course, far more extreme than the limiting of funding for radical clerics. The regular and increasing use of the death penalty by the government there is primarily used on clerics critical of the Kingdom, especially those critical because of sectarian disagreements. Overwhelmingly, it’s the Shia minority clerics targeted with that and other state controls designed to limit their communities’ voices and shutdown opposition. They are also famously one of the governments in the region which most systemic restricts women’s rights – to drive, to go out in public, and to control their bodies and appearance. Those, in Kasich’s words, are “our friends” because of how they restrict their people and simultaneously, in Rubio’s view, someone we are locked in an existential struggle with… because of how they restrict their people.

Virtually no one – from Politico to the Seattle Globalist – pretends that the current government in Egypt is democratic. Politico’s coverage touches on a particularly interesting point, that sitting president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a product of the military exchange programs run by and within the United States. In short, he was more than a little groomed for his current strongman role, with his wife beside him, notably in a hijab not in the more veiling niqab. When it comes to other women, however, his defense of the use of “virignity tests” to assess rape and harassment claims by women participating in the street democracy movements in Egypt speaks for itself. Much like Saudi Arabia, the same despotism that is woven into the fabric of how we decide that part of the world is categorically deserving of criticism, and yet oddly also, its saving grace.

Hopefully I don’t have to explain the irony in a debate where most of the Middle East is criticized as undemocratic where another person calls for the Hashimite dynasty in Jordan to rule for a thousand years. It’s worth noting that’s not just simply a millennium of rule, it’s another millennium.

It’s worth noting that even if Kasich and Rubio understood each other as disagreeing, they both continue to address the realities of political life in the Middle East with a common assumption. If you look at the autocratic and patriarchal aspects of life in that part of the world and judge it as exotic and foreign and Other to a US-backed alternative, at least one of the mistakes you’re making is overlooking the ways in which the US has encouraged these undemocratic and restrictive politics. If you look at the dictatorships and call them our friends, you’re insisting that popular rule in the region would inherently be incompatible with US interests and those are more important. Rubio looks at the region shaped by US and other foreign meddling and wonders how it got that way, while Kasich simply shrugs and notes we have to keep them in line. In either case, there’s a denial of the violence inherent in US policy, stretching back decades.

Whether you view this as a cultural war or a strategic conflict, the Republican debate last night offered only variations on viewing the average person in the Middle East as lesser, with no alternative to that.

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When Maddow finally goes too far…

TW: Syrian conflict, US imperialism

There’s an interesting post that’s made rounds on Tumblr as of late that talks about Rachel Maddow as being fundamentally an apologist for US imperialism and other forms of military aggression, who wraps herself in the cloak of queer liberation and democratic norms. It seems that never has this been more clear than in her most recently electronically available show, which she bookended with two very intriguing if unsettling pieces on the current push within the US for intervention in Syria.

First, she mentions how Obama has broken with previous policy (namely that of Reagan’s) by requesting congressional approval for the conflict before acting (at least, so far). This builds on her book, Drift, which in turn is a more publicly palatable version of her earlier academic work. In short, it’s at least a democratically investigated and analyzed intervention. To be fair, her original works made clear that democratic standards provided some checks on imperialist and interventionist drives within the White House, but there’s no rigid guarantee in that, so she conveniently fails to raise that issue.

Ultimately, she concludes the show on a similar note, asking her audience to imagine a US under the leadership of Obama’s 2008 rival McCain. She runs through the list of countries McCain has suggested we should be bombing, have invaded, or continued the Bush-era occupations of. The implication is clear – the democratic elements to political governance in the US have resulted in a less militaristic governance than they could have (twice even!).


(From here.)

In short, she’s framed the entire discussion around how this intervention (presumed to be inevitable in essence) constitutes a “better” interventionism. The actual ostensible goals – of detaining Assad, penalizing chemical weapons use on the international stage, or cutting short the on-going Syrian conflict – all become minor or nonexistent parts of the policy equation. “It’s not as bad as it could be” cloaks the entire show. Never mind whether we’re an empire, at least we’re democratic in our pursuit of global hegemony!

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Arabs: surprisingly non-identical

The New York Times has really suffered from some decline in recent years – look no further than Ben Hubbard and Rick Gladstone’s recent reporting on the developing crisis in Egypt. It’s rich in generalizations from the region to Egypt and from Egypt to the region. The real core of their point seems to have been:

It is clear that the region’s old status quo, dominated by imperious rulers who fixed elections, ruled by fiat and quashed dissent, has been fundamentally damaged, if not overthrown, in the three years since the outbreak of the uprisings optimistically known as the Arab Spring. […] What is unclear, however, is the replacement model. Most of the uprisings have devolved into bitter struggles, as a mix of political powers battle over the rules of participation, the relationship between the military and the government, the role of religion in public life and what it means to be a citizen, not a subject.

The strangeness to the article’s argument is underneath it’s waffling examination of the futility or effectiveness of the Arab Spring and its subsequent results. The odd framing of it rests in this way of considering the whole Arab world, which reduces it down into a singular political experience, an “Arab politics” of sorts. While dynamic in that it admits that political upheaval has happened, it creates a sense of profound continuity in that it presents the dysfunction found in several Arab states as a comparatively stagnant trait. Arab people are consequently in this view tied together and tied to the past century’s politics.

But are those assumptions warranted? As yesterday’s coverage by Egypt-based media outlets showed, Christian minorities in Egypt have played a very dynamic role in first tentatively supporting the revolution and now tentatively supporting the counter-revolution (in response to seemingly unorganized so far anti-Christian violence). This stands in contrast with the situation in Syria and Tunisia, actually, where Christians have respectively long had a much closer relationship with the state power structures for many decades and are a significantly smaller part of the population.

2013-08-15_1821
(Tunisia is the darkest green value with nearly exclusively Sunni Muslim population. Egypt is a notably lighter green with approximately 10 percent of its population being Christian. Syria has even larger non-Muslim minorities and is also, unlike Egypt’s and Syria’s, very divided between Sunni and Shia Muslim populations.)

In fact, Tunisia’s internal issues can be fairly easily summarized as being two overlapping conflicts – one over how to fix the ailing economy and another over what degree of islamist political influence is ideal. While economic issues are common to the region (and rooted largely in common difficulties with unemployment, rising utilities costs, and housing), the particulars of the religious population of those three Arab-majority nations is reflected in what social fault lines exist (both among Muslims and between them and other religious groups).

Properly understanding those unique aspects to various predominantly Arab countries is central to evaluating their different conflicts as well as built on a way of talking about the Arab world (which by most estimates is significantly larger than the United States in population) that doesn’t reduce it to a singular set of conditions. That’s what the New York Times did yesterday, however, and its readers understanding of what’s happening in all of those countries potentially suffered for it.

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It’s bad

TW: police brutality, military government, 2013 Egyptian coup, islamist violence

It seems that we’ve reached the place in Egypt where there shouldn’t be continued debates about whether the interim military government rose to power during a coup or adequately respects the will of Egyptians. The world got it’s answer today as to where on the murky boundary between playing with fire and burning the house down the Egyptian military’s current governance falls: and it’s not a good answer.


(Protesters dislodging a police vehicle from a raised road, from here.)

Ahram online is documenting (among other issues) how the increasingly close relationship between Christians and the military is fueling the sectarian elements to this crisis, as populists target Christians assuming they supported the coup and Christians respond by backing the violent security forces. Contrary to claims by non-Egyptian Christians, the military is arguably aggravating the religious conflict dimensions to this crisis.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has posted more of those fascinating (and seemingly, in the international press, increasingly iconic) images of protesters overturning a police vehicle and then pushing it off of the higher road where it had been. As was unfortunately unacknowledged by too many at the beginnings of this, a large part of Morsi’s ouster is attributable to his loss of legitimacy with nearly every faction in Egypt. A common assumption, especially outside of Egypt seems to have been that the military would fill that vacuum of respected government. It’s clear that a significant number of Egyptians have rejected that idea, and seem to view the military as equally if not more so unacceptable as the ruling order.

Finally, the Guardian has an interested blueprint for what an idea international response might be. It’s biased towards the anglophone world, focusing on the US and UK especially, but it contains an extremely interesting point that

“it is worth exploring whether countries with their own history of internal strife, civil-military conflict, and reconciliation, and respected international leaders, have a constructive role to play. Leaders from government and civil society in South Africa, Turkey, Serbia, Greece or Spain, South Korea come to mind (as would Aung San Suu Kyi, were it not for Myanmar’s own mistreatment of its Muslim minorities).”

A truly international and consensus-driven group of countries coming together to address this issue would be an amazing and arguably most likely to succeed response to this crisis. I hope it comes to pass.

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Helen Thomas and “the palestinian question”

TW: Holocaust/Shoa, Israeli occupation, Zionism, sexism

I have to be as brief as possible today, so I’ll recommend reading what I’ve already written on how the historically pivotal and intriguing journalist Helen Thomas is being remembered. In a nutshell, the way she created the news seems really inseparable from her gender, in spite of the flurry of obituaries that either don’t discuss her gender at all or do so in comparatively shallow way.

When I say “don’t discuss” it at all, I honestly do mean that. The Guardian’s Dan Kennedy seemed to do so in fascinating oblique way. Among the actually utterly bizarre sections of his piece I could pull out, here’s the two most striking. First, when establishing her as not merely critical of Israel but (as his piece intended to) as antisemitic, Kennedy quotes this confusing mess:

“Her comments – that Jews [specifically modern Jewish settlers] should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘go home’ to Poland and Germany – brought Thomas’s 67-year career to an abrupt end. On Monday, she announced her retirement from the Hearst news service amid condemnation from the White House and her fellow reporters. ‘It’s hard to hear the words ‘the Jews of Germany and Poland’ and not think of anything but the millions and millions of Jews who were incarcerated, enslaved, tortured, starved and exterminated in the Holocaust,’ wrote Rachel Sklar at Mediaite, concluding: ‘Which means that, sad as I am, Helen Thomas can no longer be a hero to me.'”

Sklar better explains her point later in that article (most “couldn’t go back to where their families came from in Germany or Poland even if they wanted to, because entire villages were wiped out”), but there really isn’t much of a there there. Of course survivors of the Holocaust have every reason to want to leave Germany and Poland, but it seems a rather difficult length to go to where Thomas was saying they couldn’t leave those countries. Her statement was made within the context of the Israel-backed right of any Jewish settler to any Palestinian land they might want, free of charge, because it’s “theirs”. The need for many Holocaust survivors to leave the cites of that massacre doesn’t give them the right to any property they so choose, and the militant efforts to establish their ability to do so anyway is what has prompted many current residents of the region to tell the settlers to go elsewhere (including to Germany or Poland).

Kennedy shows how he’s willfully ignoring that entire context of forced land redistribution when he closes his article saying, “It would be unkind to suggest that Thomas, who was born in Kentucky, should ‘go home’ to Lebanon, from which her parents immigrated. But it would be in keeping with her own loathsome views.” For one, virtually none of the Holocaust survivors whom he and Sklar pointed to were born in Palestine as Thomas was in Kentucky. What’s more, unless the Thomas’ have an extensive yet well hidden criminal record, they didn’t take their home in Kentucky from a family which had been living there, but purchased one. His entire point collapses under this conflation of the survivors of the Holocaust and any Jewish person who is afforded citizenship rights and certain social privileges by Israel, as well as an astounding romanticization of the settlement process.

The second egregious flaw in Kennedy’s argument is much less illuminating and more utterly baffling. Having cycled through recent Thomas quotes up to the Israeli attack on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in 2010, he wrote, “to assert, as Thomas did, that Israeli commandos landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara with the express intent of shedding Muslim blood is to deny Israel’s very legitimacy as a state.” That is then explained as the “subtext” to her and other critics’ response to that action by the Israel Defense Forces. I honestly have no idea how he goes from one action of the state being illegal under international law to Israel itself being vaguely ‘illegitimate’ but it’s quite breathtaking. If that’s how international human rights standards work, then we should all prepare to live in anarchy while nearly every state on the planet is presumably dismantled for ‘illegitimacy’.

The only angle through which I can squeeze some modicum of sense through those statements is that Kennedy (and Michael Hirschorn) honestly believe that the attack on the flotilla was exaggerated or a set-up or some other bizarre conspiratorial situation or account, which was created for the use by the villainous Thomas and her ilk against the good (if perhaps flawed) state of Israel. There’s sadly no charitable way of putting how ludicrous that is, given that it was Israel that put out blatantly false evidence of the “threat” posed by the flotilla.


(This is one of the infamous pictures supposedly taken after raiding the flotilla of their “weapons”, the metadata of which suggested that the photos were taken years prior to the flotilla raid, from here.)

Ultimately, that’s what these issues (of the rights of Palestinians and other gentile groups within Israeli-controlled territory to basic dignity) boil down to. Thomas, although dead, seems to have coaxed Kennedy and those like him into making these same broken arguments, based on falsehoods or strange comparisons, with a fervor that betrays them. Even beyond the grave, she’s getting answers out of people that they don’t want to give.

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Why no one is intervening in Syria (yet)

TW: killing of civilians; marginalization of Kurds, Palestinians, and Jews of Ethiopian ancestry; coerced sterilization

Yesterday, Amnesty International posed a question on twitter, or at least seemed to while promoting their most recent report on Syria. Their official account tweeted:

Amnesty International's tweet
(An Amnesty International tweet.)

That’s a fair question to ask, especially since, as the report claims, Syrians themselves are often asking it. It claims that one Syrian woman who the anonymous research spoke with wanted to know, “Why is the world doing nothing while we continue to be bombed to pieces every day, even inside our homes?”

As near as I can tell, one of the most pressing problems with intervening in Syria is that doing so appears likely to ignite a conflict as complicated and multifaceted as the first “World War” was for Europe. And this time, that would be after almost a century of technological refinements in weaponry. On the other hand, the problem with inaction, unfortunately, is that it seems only to reduce the risk of that outcome – not actually actively prevent it.

Map of Syria and its neighbors
(Syria and its neighbors, from here.)

Syria has a geopolitical context – it shares borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as a narrow maritime border that wouldn’t be terribly in the case of an intervening force having to enter Syria without land or air support from any of those five countries. Syria also has close ties with Iran, which is also the neighbor of both Turkey and Iraq. Having listed all those connections, let me explain – that is an incredibly diverse slice of the world covered in a mere seven countries. Along with that comes an incredibly diverse slice of on-going international conflicts that have in the past threatened all of the states governing those seven countries with destruction. In short, Syria is at the heart of a powderkeg.

Just to run down the events that have happened recently in that corner of the world:

-The Israeli and Iranian governments have begun speaking as if they are on the verge of starting a massive international war, which could potentially draw US, Chinese, and European support and proxies into the fray in a massive conflict between the “West” and the strongest “non-Western” nations in the world. Intervention by Iran would be read as an advance against Israel. Intervention by Israel or the US would be read as an advance against Iran. The balance of power necessary to prevent that outbreak of such a conflict in part requires that no one intervene in Syria, if not the freezing of the situation in Syria where it is.

-Within Israel, extremist factions have successfully lobbied for even more extensive segregation between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and the Israeli government has admitted to supporting the coercive sterilization of Jews with Ethiopian ancestry. These adds to the previous months of conflict and violence in Israel and Palestine, which has led to threats of another Intifada (active, potentially armed resistance by Palestinians) and highlighted the continuing conflict within Israeli communities over who qualifies as “properly” or “ideally” Israeli or Jewish. As a result, Israel seems particularly politically unstable at the moment and likely to make choices that are unwise in the long term.

-Turkey, which has long been plagued by undemocratic movements, has experienced a bit of panic over whether Islam has a growing political presence. This seems likely to herald both undemocratic restrictions on free religious expression and the growth of militant Islamism. This is pertinent to Syria as some of the opposition to the government is often couched in religious terms and much of the government’s violence is excused (as undemocratic acts in Turkey have been) as a preventative strategy against militant Islamists. Turkey, to some extent, finds itself fighting the same conflict as neighboring Syria, and is likely to have a stake in the outcome. That fact is complicated by the reality that Turkey has the support of NATO and much of the Western world in a way that Syria doesn’t and thus a trump card to play against Syria if the conflict is either willfully introduced into or accidentally threatens to spill over into Turkey. But Turkey also doesn’t want a destabilized Syria to serve as a training grounds and resupply territory for the increasingly intent Kurdish rebels.

In short, there are multiple ways for the conflict in Syria to ignite a broader religious conflict in the Middle East, to alter the ability of marginalized groups in Israel and Palestine to effectively protest their oppression, and to provide a means of militant Turks who want to guarantee the free expression of devout Muslims and Kurds within Turkey to militarily organize. The risks of intervention are not only that it will fail to actually improve the lives of Syrians, but that it will actively reduce the stability of almost every surrounding country.

But the conflict is already spilling into Iraq, with Syrian forces and anti-regime forces fighting in Iraq (and causing Iraqi civilian casualties). The Iraqi state is stuck in an even more reminiscent position of Syria’s government’s – as a Shia government finding itself in perpetual electoral and military conflict with various anti-government Sunnis. Both have at least some ties to Iran (although Syria’s are much stronger), and unlike Turkey, Iraq doesn’t have the means to have international actors demand that the conflict be prevented from spilling over. With all that in mind, the Iraqi government has started treating the Syrian soldiers injured in its territory. The field of conflict is broadening independent on Turkish, Israeli, Palestinian, and even Iranian interests in keeping Syria’s conflicts contained if not resolving them.

It’s worrisome to think that a better question for non-Syrians to ask themselves in the place of why they haven’t intervened in Syria is whether they will ultimately decide to intervene there and elsewhere in the future as the conflicts spreads.

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Recommended sources?

One thing I’ve noticed is that not only do I tend to write more about the US (because I live there), but I also tend to cover events or issues in the Middle East and North Africa more frequently than those in other world regions. While I think there’s a lot of different issues driving this, I suspect it’s because many of the news sources I favor focus there. France24 prides itself on excellently covering that neighboring region as well as domestic French issues. Similarly, producing good local coverage is obviously a point of pride for the UAE-based Al Jazeera, the Egypt Independent, the Jerusalem Post and Cairo-based Ahram Online. There’s even a few higher quality partisan media outlets like the unabashedly Israeli Haaretz, the noticeably pro-Saudi Al-Arabiya, and the quite anti-Zionist Israel-based 972 Mag.

The sources I know of are just rarer once you step outside of that corner of the world. For the whole of Latin America, I look to NTN24. For the more than billion people of India, I rely on The Hindu which is not above the occasional bout of navel-gazing. For the entirety of Russia, I read the sometimes dubious Russia Today. Outside of the Middle East and Western Europe, where I can always turn to familiar (but frustrating) standbys like Le Monde, the Guardian, or der Spiegel, those are  the few bright lights in the dark. In the coming weeks I’m going to try and highlight at least a few important events or issues that have happened outside of the US, but not necessarily related to the Middle East (which you’re probably sick of hearing about anyway, with another war breaking out there).

So, if you can help me during my current campaign to broaden my horizons, please do so! Let me know if you know of a great news source for Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, or the rest of Asia (you know, where all those billions of people live?) in the comments. And if you’re just as in the dark on that issue as me, that’s fine – I’ve got a link to share with you. While everyone’s been dropping coverage of Syria’s civil war to focus on Israel and Gaza, Al Jazeera quietly put out an interesting look at the difficult situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

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They make a desert and call it peace…

TW: civilian casualties of war, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli-Lebanese conflict, Israeli-Syrian conflict, Israeli-Turkish conflict

If you’ve been on twitter, or Facebook, or any other social media site at all today, you’ve probably encountered the familiar yet impossible-to-resolve arguments about Israel that crop up every time there’s a military conflict involving it. Yes, we’ve already slid back into another conflict in which Israel is involved for the sixth time in the past few years. In 2006, it was Lebanese civilians and Hezbollah. In 2007, it was North Korean workers and the perceived threat of a nuclear Syria. In 2008 and 2009, it was Gazan civilians and Hamas militants. In 2010, it was Turkish activists. In 2011, it was Gazan civilians and Hamas militants again. And now we have a newfangled youtubified war between, you guessed it, the Israeli military and Hamas-affiliated militants in Gaza.

Continue reading

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What are the US and Israel partners in?

TW: excessive use of force by the police, voter suppression, voter disenfranchisement

Why are the United States and Israel allies? As that connection seems increasingly dependent on both nations tolerating blowback for the other’s policies (with the US endangering Israel with the long-term impacts of “regime change” and Israel possibly dragging the US into war with Iran), it seems worth investigating why the United States is still bothering with this. Israel is much more politically isolated, so the answers are much more straightforward.

If you listen to advocates of a close relationship between the two nations, some of whom are even quite liberal, it’s almost impossible to get through the explanation without a certain word coming up: democracy. Now one of the US Senators from Minnesota, former comedian Al Franken wrote during the Bush Administration, “Neo-cons support the Jewish state for the same reasons I do: because it is the only democracy in the region”. You see, the US apparently has to support some threshold number of governments in the region, so we might as well go with supporting the democracies.

This investment in Israel’s democratic bona fides as legitimizing the unique relationship between the United States and Israel is a noticeable media phenomenon in both countries. It’s seemingly reached the point where any uncertainty that the  political system of Israel is as democratic as it should be has come to be labeled as criticizing the positive relations between the two nations. Deriving the good relationship from the shared democracy has grown more difficult as of late.

Anti-Israeli-Arab Police BrutalityPolice Brutality against US student protesters
(Left, Israeli police attacking an Israeli-Arab family during an eviction last year. Right, pepper spray of illegal strength being used on protesting UC Davis students by US police. Photos from here and here.)

If nothing else, the recent realization that several hundred thousand Jerusalem residents and millions of Americans will be effectively disenfranchised should shake this vision of Israel and the United States as partners in democracy.

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