With an election approaching in 2012 President Obama and Republican Presidential candidates have been attempting to prove that they support Israel more then their rivals. On 20th December the United States blocked a United Nations resolution criticising Israel's settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli newspaper Haaretz said:
"Fourteen frustrated members of the UN Security Council pointed a finger at the United States Tuesday for blocking any condemnation of Israel's accelerated settlement construction in Palestinian territory."
British UN ambassador Mark Lyall (who also spoke for EU members France, Germany and Portugal) said:"Israel's security and the realization of the Palestinians' right to statehood are not opposing goals…..but they will not be achieved while settlement building and settler violence continues." South Africa's UN ambassador Baso Sangqu said Israeli settlement construction was "the main impediment for the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and that settler attacks against Palestinian civilians increased 50 percent this year. Haaretz also add that:
"While the United States was not mentioned by name, the diplomats anger was clearly directed at Washington which vetoed a resolution in February backed by the 14 other council members that would have demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building."
When asked to explain the US position State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nulandsaid:
"We declined to join that statement for all of the usual reasons……our longstanding policy remains that we don’t recognize the legitimacy of the continued Israeli settlements, but we don’t think statements in the UNSC are the way to pursue the goal of getting these parties back to the table."
The current UN security council presidentis Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin and according to Haaretz "Clearly referring to the United States, Churkin said dismissively that one delegation believes things will "miraculously" sort themselves out on their own.
"encouraged by the latest positions of the international community with regards to the Palestinian right to self-determination and Israel’s illegal settlement policy" and urged the US to "to join the international community in supporting a meaningful right to self-determination for the Palestinians, and to firmly stand by its policy against Israel’s illegal settlement activities."
US support for Israel is of course well known, despite being a first world country Israel is the largest recipient of US overseas aid and much of that 'aid' is military equipment. To give a few recent examples; The Wall Street Journal reports that US military aid to Israel was due to jump to $3 billion in 2011 up from $2.78 billion in 2010 which was itself a record high. Obama has also requested from Congress $205 million to fund Iron Dome a rocket defence shield which will shoot down missiles fired from Gaza or Lebanon.
The US is already committed to a ten year $30 billion package of military aid to Israel signed by George W. Bush in 2007. "Uniquely, officials said, the….deal allows Israel to spend 26.3 percent of the aid on arms from Israel’s domestic defence industry; the rest of the money must be spent on American equipment." Although the US was also selling weapons to Saudi Arabia Israel received promises that it "will keep its “qualitative edge" regionally in military technology". In true Orwellian double speak "Officials called the aid a long-term investment in peace" and presumably managed to keep a straight face whilst saying it.
Israel can rely on the United States for protection from UN resolutions criticising its policies, since 1972 the US has been the single solitary veto against 42 UN security resolutions condemning Israel. This would have become 43 if a Palestinian bid for statehood had gone to a vote but
"US diplomats managed to secure enough abstentions from the Security Council's 15 members to deny the Palestinians nine votes, thus saving the US from having to veto".
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu "thanked Obama for…….speaking out against any UN bid to declare a Palestinian state."
On the 21st September 2011 Obama made a speech at the United nations where, amongst other things, he said "the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own." But as far a Palestinian ambitions went that was about it. Under the headline "Obama gets a Kosher seal of Approval" Haaretz said the speech was "probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual UN General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none", Israel's far-right foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman"was literally gushing with praise"
Writing for Aljazeera MJ Rosenberg claims that
"This [Obama] administration has been the most one-sided supporter of everything Israel asks for since 1948. There is no competition. Not even George W Bush comes close….Since 2009, 1,600 Palestinians (overwhelmingly civilians and over 400 children) have been killed by the Israeli army. Thirteen Israelis have been killed over the same period. Despite that, Obama devoted 120 words of his speech to Israeli suffering (even going so far as to cite the Holocaust) and not one word to Palestinian suffering."
He added that "Israel's thuggish far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told reporters that: "I am ready to sign on this speech with both hands."
Palestinians were (obviously) not happy, a protest was held in Ramallah outside the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas protesting against Obama's opposition to their bid for statehood, the protestors held up signs saying "Obama the hypocrite" and another claiming Obama was siding with "killers against victims"
However Obama's UN speech was still not good enough for some people,in recent weeks Republican Party candidates have been queing up to show their support for Israel and condemning President Obama for not supporting Israel enough during his presidency. Governor Mitt Romney said that
"In his inaugural address to the United Nations, the President chastised Israel......He's publicly proposed that Israel adopt indefensible borders. He's insulted its Prime Minister." He then added "I will travel to Israel on my first foreign trip……I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable."
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann accused Obama of "weakness" which has "emboldened the Palestinians", she added
"A Bachmann administration will recognize that Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people, My administration will fully recognize Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital. My administration will also recognize Israel's 1980 annexation of the Golan Heights and any settlements, which Israel, as a sovereign state, chooses to annex."
"American-Israel policy…[is]…a deeply personal issue for me. I feel a special connection to Israel, dating back nearly 20 years when I first visited the Holy Land……I walked in the footsteps of the heroes of Masada, a fortress of defiance symbolizing their loyalty to freedom more than life itself." (* See Below).
Former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich said that the Palestinians were an "invented" people and sees no difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority
"These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, 'If there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?"
(Palestinian textbooks do not say this Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports "Three researchers…..said the example Gingrich cited in the Dec. 10 Republican debate does not exist in the texts. Gingrich's office did not respond to two emailed requests for further comment." )
If anyone can bare to read it there is a long list of statements by Republican Presidential candidates at the The Israel Project website. Apart from a couple of quotes by Congressman Ron Paulwho asks "Why do we have this automatic commitment that we're going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?" and says he believes in "a non-interventionist foreign policy" all candidates speak of how much they love Israel and that Obama has let Israel down.
* Masada is an ancient fortress over looking the Dead Sea.
The legend is that a group of Jews left Jerusalem and in 68CE overcame the Roman soldiers at Masada, they were later joined by other Jews from Jerusalem and attacked the Romans in the surrounding area. In 72CE the Romans laid siege to Masada and rather then be captured the 960 Jews in the fortress committed a mass suicide. The Israeli Tourism ministry website says that Masada "symbolize[s] human endurance" where "Jews chose death over captivity". This is probably the version of events that Rick Perry meant when he spoke of the 'heroes of masada'. The reality is very different.
There is only one source for the Masada legend, the book "Flavius Josephus's Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans" (usually shortened to 'The Jewish War') written by Josephus in about 75CE. (Josephus was himself Jewish and had taken part in the revolt against the occupying Romans before joining the Roman side.) The Jews he describes at Masada did arrive from Jerusalem but were actually expelled from the city by other Jews (stopping off at Ein Gedi on the way where they murdered 700 other jews). Few of those who died at Masada actually committed suicide, each man killed his wife and children, lots were then drawn and ten men chosen to kill the survivors, lots were drawn again to decide who would kill the other nine. The last man was to set fire to the fortress and then kill himself.
Haaretz writes that Nachman Ben-Yehuda of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has written two books on "what he calls the manipulation of Masada to suit a fledgling Jewish state desperately short of heroes." Archaeological digs did not begin in earnest until the 1960s, when it was overseen by Yigal Yadin, a fervent nationalist. "I won't say there was outright lying about the findings," Ben-Yehuda said. "But those archaeologists knew exactly what to emphasize and what to play down".
“When we carefully examine ……. the Great Revolt [against Roman rule] and Masada, a portrait of heroism …… is simply not provided. On the contrary. The narrative conveys the story of a doomed (and questionable) revolt……….of large-scale massacres of the Jews, of different factions of Jews fighting and killing each other, of collective suicide (an act not viewed favourably by the Jewish faith) by a group of terrorists and assassins whose “fighting spirit” may have been questionable.”
"If truth be told, what he [Josephus] describes is not a story of bravery, nor is it pleasant…….they were brigands who, en route to the fortress killed 700 Jews in nearby Ein Gedi. How come that never gets mentioned in the narratives?" Ben-Yehuda is "scathing about Professor Yadin's conclusions, and says these were systematically modified to support the story of Josephus…..the Sixties excavators were disappointed that they found so little to confirm the last stand and mass suicide"
However not everyone gets the message, when Masada became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001 education minister Limor Lavant said that ""Here we have a heritage of courage, of choosing a terrible death rather than submitting to slavery"
For a real and more modern 'Masada Story' look no further then Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In his book The Fateful Triangle Noam Chomsky explains that when the Israeli army overran the Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon after 5 days of fighting, the Israeli Soldiers
"are reported to have "found many of the defenders had committed suicide, a grisly Palestinian replay of the fate of the ancient Jewish warriors of Masada""
(The Baltimore Sun 28th June 1982 Quoted in The Fateful Triangle, Noam Chomsky (1999)p.313)