Monday, March 19, 2018

Perverse arguments from Israel's perverse lobby

Pro-Israel advocates took umbrage lately when an EU lawmaker suggested they belonged to a “perverse lobby.”

Daniel Schwammenthal is a protagonist in that lobby, whose arguments tend to be perverse.

He heads the AJC Transatlantic Institute, the Brussels office of the American Jewish Committee. According to his narrative, Israel is always being picked on by nasty neighbors.

While the turmoil in the Middle East can be difficult to fully comprehend, Schwammenthal and his colleagues see things with an absolute clarity. In their view, Israel is the “fireman,” while the governments in Damascus and Tehran are a joint “arsonist.” Or – as Schwammenthal has put it – Israel is the “victim” and its rivals the “aggressor.”

Schwammenthal’s comment was directed at Carl Bildt, formerly Sweden’s foreign minister.

Bildt had tried to strike a specious balance in a tweet by stating that Iran “obviously” sent a drone into Israeli airspace during February – something the Tehran authorities have denied – though also acknowledging that “Israel regularly violates the airspace of Syria and Lebanon” – something which is irrefutable.


It was by no means the first time that Schwammenthal tried to cast Israel as innocent or altruistic. Writing for The Wall Street Journal in December last year, he claimed that Israel’s intervention in Syria’s war had been limited to “providing medical help” and depriving Hizballah of what he called “strategic weapons.”

Schwammenthal failed to remind his readers that Israel’s “medical help” has been somewhat selective. It has treated wounded fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, a group affiliated to al-Qaida, so that they can return to the war. Israel, therefore, has been helping terrorists, not running a charity.

Israel has recently ramped up its support for armed groups in Syria. The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported last month that at least seven “Sunni rebel organizations in the Syrian Golan are now getting arms and ammunition from Israel, along with money to buy additional armaments.”

In the same Wall Street Journal article, Schwammenthal predicted that if a violent situation erupts in Lebanon, “Israeli efforts to avoid civilian deaths” will be ignored by journalists and the United Nations. Such efforts “surpass even NATO standards,” he added.

His reference point is not reassuring – NATO forces have bombed hospitals and weddings in Afghanistan. NATO is not a bunch of peaceniks, as Schwammenthal implied, but a military alliance dominated by that infamous arsonist, the United States.

Nor does Israel have a good record of sparing noncombatants. Most of the 900 civilians killed during the 2006 assault on Lebanon died from “Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes,” Human Rights Watch has stated.

That assault spawned the Dahiya doctrine, named after a Beirut neighborhood that was destroyed by Israel on the pretext that Hizballah militants lived there. Under the doctrine – subsequently employed in Gaza – Israel treats civilian villages as military bases, thereby giving its troops carte blanche to commit the most heinous war crimes.

Was that what Schwammenthal meant by “Israeli efforts to avoid civilian deaths”?

Not surprisingly, his article drew no attention to how Israel has occupied part of Syria – the Golan Heights – since 1967.

Tweaking injustice

Schwammenthal can be brazenly misleading. In another recent tweet, he suggested that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is not illegal, “only settlements are, according to some.”

Contrary to what Schwammenthal hinted, the settlements and a long list of illegal Israeli policies and practices designed to enforce the occupation – frequent killings, arbitrary detentions, home demolitions and collective punishments – are inseparable from the overall occupation.

Located in a zone that comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank, the settlements have not been deemed illegal by a few maverick lawyers. Their illegality has been confirmed by multiple UN Security Council resolutions and by the International Court of Justice.

Schwammenthal has suggested that it is extremist to reject a two-state solution for Palestine. An event which he hosted last month gave a glimpse of how that type of “solution” may look in practice. The main guest was Yair Lapid, a party leader with ambitions to be Israel’s prime minister.

Lapid contended that “the best thing” for Israel would be “for us to separate from the Palestinians.” It clearly would not be a separation based on equality, he indicated, as Israel would be stronger militarily than the Palestinians.

Appearing like a recipe for a continuation of Israeli apartheid in some form, that “vision” contradicts Schwammenthal’s attempts to paint Israel as a perpetual victim. Yet if he was offended by his invitee’s remarks, Schwammenthal did not say so.

His reticence on this important point is logical. Schwammenthal smears Palestine solidarity activists yet is silent when Israel’s apologists give the impression that manifest injustices can be tweaked to look moderate or reasonable.

People of conscience would have grave difficulty sleeping at night if they had to swallow such flagrant hypocrisy. The swallowing is probably easier for those who belong to a perverse lobby.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 9 March 2018.

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