I would hate to be the president of the United States. I can only imagine the agony of knowing what you were elected to do and being unable to follow through because to do so would cost you your job. And it’s not just a job; it’s having the opportunity to make so many other things right, or at least better… such as health care, protecting the environment, gay rights, welfare for the needy and race relations.
The thing that bothers me the most is how a president who seeks so hard to care for the “least of these,” can do so little to address the suffering of the Palestinian people.
“ Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different,” said the president when sending bombs against Muammar Qaddafi. of Libya. At the same time he was silent when Israel bombarded Gaza, killing more than 1400 people. including 350 children.
Others spoke out.[i] According to Norman Finkelstein:
Israel had to cope with a mountain of human rights reports condemning its crimes in Gaza that began to accumulate after the ceasefire. Because of the sheer number of them, the wide array of reputable organizations issuing them, and the uniformity of their major conclusions, these reports could not be easily dismissed.”[ii] I don’t think this humanitarian crisis is easily dismissed by Barack Obama, but Israel’s conduct is in every affect dismissed, even when it cost American lives.
Obama is not the first president to turn his back on American citizens in peril. In 1967 Israel attacked the U.S.S. Liberty, an intelligence gathering ship with no combat capability, killing 34 U.S. service men and wounding 171 others, two thirds of it crew. When the Aircraft Carrier, The U.S.S. Saratoga, thirty minutes away, launched fighter jets in response to the Liberty’s call for help, Lyndon Johnson, unwilling to embarrass an ally, ordered them back. It was dawn of the next day, 15 hours after the attack, before medical aid reached our wounded. Of course, Israel said it was a “mistake.” Immediately, Johnson ordered a cover-up. The surviving crew, upon pain of court marshal, were ordered to not speak of the attack to anyone, not even their families.
Admiral Thomas Moorer, no less than Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff said,
The clampdown was not actually for security reasons but for domestic political reasons. I don’t think there is any question about it. What other reason could there have been? President Johnson was worried about the reaction of Jewish voters… I will never buy the idea that the pilots did not know this was an American ship. The attack was deliberate.[iii]
Dean Rusk, Secretary of State agreed, “I never accepted the Israeli explanation.”
Even if it was a mistake, which no one believes anymore, deliberately shooting up life rafts in the water of a ship in distress is a war crime. If it’s not, it should be. Yet, to this day, there has been no congressional investigation of the attack on the Liberty. Was Johnson afraid of Israel? Hardly. He was afraid of the ire of the American Jewish voting community and its lobby.
George Ball, former undersecretary of state wrote, “If America’s leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seemed clear that their American friends would let them get away with almost anything.[iv]
That was in 1967. Little has changed. Last month, Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco charged:
The Obama administration appears to have given a green light to an Israeli attack on an unarmed flotilla, carrying peace and human rights activists – including a vessel with 50 Americans on board – bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. At a press conference on June 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Campaign by saying it would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”[v]
Two questions need to be addressed; Since when did the entire Mediterranean become Israel’s waters and in what way does an unarmed humanitarian ship threaten any civilized nation? This effort is one of a series of flotilla seeking to deliver aid to Gaza. The previous one (May 13, 2010) resulted in a commando rid on the Mavi Marmara which killed nine people, including an American.
How can our elected officials be so blind to Israel? I remember our congress jumping up and down like a jack in the box, 29 times giving standing ovations to Benjamin Netanyahu. One can only imagine what President Obama could do for the American people and the hurting people of the world if congress would give that kind of support to him. And why does he not have that support? Does anyone think our politicians, who after being elected and sent to Washington to represent us, might be afraid of AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, an anemic media and the Christian Right’s obsession with a wild haired end of the world scenario?
There are times when I wish the president would simply declare himself to be a one term president and do the things he knows are right and just. On the other hand, I realize that it would not just be his downfall, but many others in congress. Those who would be defeated in 2012 would be the very ones who in their hearts support the kind of peace through justice for which so many of us are working. Again, I would hate to be the president of the United States.
August 5, 2011
[i] Some of those organization who have consistently condemned Israel for its abuse of the Palestinians would include: The International Court of Justice. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Selem, International Red Cross, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders. and the United Nations Human Rights Council. In fact, I have read of no critic of Israel who after investigation became pro-Israel.
[ii] Norman Finkelstein, This Time We Went Too Far., (OR Books, New York, 2011) p.55.
[iii] Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out. (Lawrence Hill, New York., 1989) p. 179
[iv] James Scott, The Attack on the Liberty, Simon and Schuster, 2009.) p.287.
[v] Stephen Zunes, Washington Okays Attack on Unarmed U.S. Ship, Antiwar.com, July 2, 2011. As of July 19, 2011, The American Ship, The Audacity of Hope is being held up in Greece. Two other ships of the flotilla have been sabotaged and severely damaged.