The Dangers Behind America's Misguided Foreign Policy Plans by Salim Muwakkil

Last week, 800 U.S. academics published a public letter against "expulsion of the Palestinians," warning that Israel's ruling coalition may soon initiate ethnic cleansing in Israel and the occupied territories.

The letter was written in support of an "urgent warning" letter signed by 187 of their Israeli colleagues and published Sept. 29, 2002. "We, members and friends of Israeli academe, are horrified by U.S. buildup of aggression toward Iraq and by the Israeli political leadership's enthusiastic support for it," the Israelis wrote. "We are deeply worried by indications that the `fog of war' could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing," the Israelis added.

The U.S. letter echoes that urgency. "We join with our Israeli colleagues in calling for vigilance as events unfold in Israel and the occupied territories," the letter said. "With an average of more than $10 million per day of American tax dollars going to Israel, we believe Americans cannot remain silent while crimes as abhorrent as ethnic cleansing are being openly advocated."

These concerns are being expressed at a time when Israel's ruling coalition includes many parties that advocate the "transfer" solution, that is, forcibly relocating the Palestinians out of Israel and the occupied territories to Jordan or some other neighboring country.

Until recently, the transfer solution was considered beyond the pale of Israeli policy options. But as the numbers of civilian deaths have climbed in Israel, the Israeli people have become less averse to retaliatory extremes.

The Germans were fearful of the "Jewish influence" that Nazi propaganda claimed was corrupting their civilization. Jews were demonized as Bolsheviks and other subversive elements, and fear of those demons nurtured the growth of Nazism.

That dark era is an object lesson with special relevance to Jews, historical victims of anti-Semitism, one of the most vicious forms of demonization. But Israelis, whose nation was formed partly as a sanctuary from that deadly bias, now find their leadership busy demonizing Palestinians.

This history lesson is also relevant to the U.S. war on terrorism. We refer to our putative foes as "evil-doers" and the "axis of evil," and set them outside the boundaries of human morality; they are intrinsically malevolent, we are told.

Complicating things further is the attempt to fuse America's and Israel's respective demons into one. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has cannily used the American war on terrorism to draw parallels between Israel and the U.S.

After Sept. 11, Americans finally know how Israelis feel as victims of Palestinian terrorism, Sharon told us. He didn't tell us that Palestinians are engaged in a struggle to end illegal occupation of their land.

Despite these manifest differences, U.S. policymakers seem to have bought Sharon's specious argument conflating the Palestinian's struggle with the jihad of the radical Islamists.

Even worse, our military policy also has become "Israelized." The U.S. has incorporated widely condemned Israeli tactics--like pre-emptive strikes and targeted assassination, among others--into its new anti-terrorism policies.

One reason for this new concordance between Israel and the U.S. is the sheer number of Israeli partisans serving in the Bush administration.

A recent article in the left-leaning online magazine CounterPunch reports on the strong links between active promoters of Israeli interests and Bush administration policymakers. The article, written by Kathleen and Bill Christison, two former CIA analysts, names many of these "Israeli loyalists" and pinpoints their role in bending U.S. policies in Israel's direction.

Another reason is the lack of critical engagement by U.S. citizens in our foreign policy decisions. Unlike the 800 academics who signed the letter cited above, too many of us are passively watching the Bush administration follow Israel's right-wing leadership into an era of never-ending warfare, perpetual budget deficits and complicit support for ethnic cleansing.

Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times and regular contributer to the Chicago Tribune and can be reacehed via e-mail at:

Note: This article originally appeared in the December 23, 2002 edition of The Chicago Tribune

Salim Muwakkil

Thursday, December 26, 2002