Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Most Galling Veto Yet

At about the same time in the UN Security Council U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice was issuing our veto to the resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, I was leaving Newark's International Airport for Israel’s Ben Gurion. I came here in part to visit Israeli and Palestinian friends who devote their lives to pursuing a just peace for both peoples. Sadly, I come ashamed of my country’s and, more importantly, my President’s actions. Ambassador Rice compounded our shame with the double talk explanation of why we really do condemn this construction; we just don’t think the UN is the proper venue to discuss it. As my friend Bob Tobin said this morning, “What better place to discuss it. This is the body that created Israel in 1948.”

Later this morning, I walked to my favorite money changer on Salah Ed-Din to buy some shekels. The young man behind the counter is invariably pleasant and engaging. As I was his sole customer, we chatted for some time. When the subject of our recent veto came up, he said, “It’s okay. We no longer expect anything from the U.S. government. The Israeli lobby seems to have them locked up pretty tight. To tell the truth, I think Americans are just naive. They don’t know much about the world, and the media doesn’t help. We’re invisible to most Americans.” All this said without any sign of animosity to me or to Americans in general.

Message to President Obama: the average Arab man on the street “gets it.” And I fear they will not forget it for decades.

What I fail to understand is the reasoning of those in the administration who made this decision. This veto takes place in the context of an historic movement among Arabs in the Middle East, seeking an end to economic and political oppression and autocratic rule. Cautious as it may be, this administration sends the courageous Arab young (and old) men and women messages of encouragement, and, at the same time, tells them by our actions: “Don’t count on us. When the chips are down, we didn’t really mean it.”

I cannot believe it is primarily the strength and success of AIPAC, or even our genuine devotion to Israel that leads us to such duplicity. There must be some larger mythology, some ideological frame like those that brought us Vietnam and Iraq, that drives us once again to fail to be the beacon of hope we so want to believe we are.

I have hunches about that mythology, but if anyone thinks they have a handle on this, please offer it. We need the best analysis we can muster if we are going to make any contribution at all to redirecting the destructive path we are on.

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