Traditionally, U.S. presidential campaigns are opportunities for candidates to set out what they would do for the welfare and security of U.S. citizens. Hillary Clinton, however, has taken a creative turn with her own bid for office, and is offering more in the way of specifics and assurances about what she would do for the security of Israel than for the people in the U.S. she would like to represent.
Hillary Clinton is no friend to global democracy or human rights. As Senator, she supported an illegal war of aggression against Iraq that helped to spread Al Qaeda, created ISIS, and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. As Secretary of State she advocated for the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and opposed U.S. support for democratic protests in dictators run by her chums.
She was dismissive of the concerns of Occupy Wall Street protestors in 2011 in the U.S., and hoovers up cash from the corporate interests that are gathering unto themselves rights once reserved for living, breathing citizens of our country. She supported (although now is silent on) a massive Pacific trade deal that will weaken labour and environmental regulations, while beefing up corporate power at the expense of citizens inhabiting the region.
One of Clinton’s more consistent and egregious offenses against human rights today is her mulish, immoral, and unrepentant support for the Israeli colonial regime that regularly destroys the lives of Palestinians while making U.S. and Israeli citizens less safe, and ensuring that the Middle East remains destabilized.
Now, during a presidential campaign that should be defined by making U.S. policy abroad more moral, and particularly, by using all of the tools at our government’s disposal to improve the security and quality of people’s lives in our country, Hillary Clinton has written to wealthy supporters of Israel in the United States offering her unqualified support for the colonial regime there.
Her letter (available here) is striking for its historical ignorance, shocking in its one-sided view of the conflict, and offensive in her willingness to cede decision-making about U.S. foreign policy to a small lobby that has a history of imperiling Palestinian, Israeli, and U.S. citizens.
Clinton opens by expressing her “alarm over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement”, which she characterizes as “a global effort to isolate the state of Israel”. Israel is in many respects a rogue state: a nuclear power, it refuses to sign agreements about regulating those weapons; a colonial power, it is in defiance of umpteen United Nations resolutions; a serial abuser of human rights, it is rightly condemned by most of the world’s governments for its behavior. If other countries behaved in this matter, the U.S. would likely be willing to use boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to encourage more respectable behavior. Our government would call for global isolation. And yet Clinton condemns a movement that commands wide global support, and is focused on core issues of human rights.
Clinton condemns BDS efforts to “delegitimize Israel”. But this is a colonial government that is preventing people in its colony from seeking self-determination. It is a government that continues to settle—in defiance of the expressed wishes of the U.S. government that Hillary Clinton purported to represent as Secretary of State—its colonies, pushing its colonized subjects onto ever-smaller pieces of territory. Surely, any government that behaves in this manner is not legitimate?
Clinton outlines her view that “Israel’s long-term security and future as a Jewish state depends on having two states for two peoples”. There are some glaring contradictions here. She praises Israel for its vibrant democracy, but how can a state be democratic of membership in that state is defined by membership in a particular religious group? Defining Israel as a Jewish state nullifies the rights of Palestinians living in that state, giving the lie to Clinton’s portrayal of Israel as a democracy.
Clinton’s historical commentary makes it very clear that her position is one based on rank opportunism, a refusal to consider evidence, and a willingness to distort the past. She expresses concern at “attempts to compare Israel to South African apartheid”.
There are, in reality, striking parallels between Israeli colonialism and South African apartheid.
In the first instance, both are systems of colonialism which emerged and were solidified in an era in which colonial empires were no longer accepted as legitimate forms of rule and governance. Historians resist talking about the “tide” of history, which suggests some kind of inevitability, but both Israeli and South African colonialisms contrasted with events in Africa and Asia, where people freed themselves from colonial domination.
Paranoid about their neighbors—unwilling to admit that their undemocratic rule created security threats to their citizens—both countries staged military interventions in and pursued policies towards neighbouring nations designed to destabilize the regions, creating new generations of security threats to their troubled regimes. Both acquired nuclear weapons, and in fact worked together to do so in a strange political pairing (anti-Semitic apartheid rulers and the leaders of the self-described Jewish state).
Because the survival of their undemocratic rule was predicated on the creation of illegitimate systems, both South Africa and Israel went to great lengths to mask the character of their regimes. In the case of South Africa, black subjects were pushed onto shrinking, fragmented, over-crowded, and marginal “homelands”, which the apartheid regime declared to be independent nations (“nations” 100% dependent on Pretoria, which served as labour reservoirs for the white economy, which had no ability to regulate their own affairs).
In Israel, the Palestinian territories serve a similar purpose. Constructing contorted legal reasoning and denying them independence, Israel nonetheless declaims all responsibility for the dire political, social, and economic conditions in those territories, and subverts every effort by the colonies to seek independence. It steadily encroaches on the territory of its colonial subjects, interferes with shipments of much needed supplies and utilities.
And the political discourse in Israel, like that in apartheid South Africa, is infected by the poison of discrimination, Benjamin Netanyahu’s successful campaign earlier this year having demonstrated the potency of racist, scaremongering language.
Clinton’s arguments suffer from logical deficiencies as well as historical ignorance. She describes Israel as “a vibrant democracy in a region dominated by autocracy, and it face existential threats to its survival”. A colonial government cannot logically be described as a democracy. Moreover, the survival of autocracy in the region is fuelled by Israel’s historic links to and support (together with the U.S.) of many of these regimes (whatever their rhetoric, they are hardly stirred by the democratic aspirations of Palestinians given their willingness to crush dissent at home), which it views as better partners than democratic governments that might find less in common with the colonial regime. If Israel faces threats, they are largely of its own making, or are maintained because of its intransigence and its disinclination—because it is backed by the military and monetary might of the U.S.—to negotiate in good faith.
One also has to wonder which group faces the truly “existential” threat. Citizens of a powerful, affluent state, that has to contend with a few rocket attacks, and which presides over occupied territories? Or the colonial subjects, who routinely have their services disrupted, housing stock destroyed, food supplies restricted, schools leveled, and populations subjected to a punishing bombardment which kills thousands?
Offering the ultimate red-herring, Clinton equates “efforts to malign and undermine Israel” with the “anti-Semitism…on the rise across the world”. Criticism of the behavior of the Israeli state is in no way anti-Semitic, and the regime’s lobby’s dependence on this piece of dishonesty has worn terribly thin over the years. Its vicious slander of anyone who questions the morality or legitimacy of the regime’s colonialism is a sign of the weakness of its moral foundations.
Clinton is nothing if not dogged and undeterred in her support for Israel. She writes how “as Senator and Secretary of State I saw how crucial it is for America to defend Israel at every turn. I have opposed dozens of anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, the human rights council, and other international organizations…Time after time, no matter the venue, I have made it clear that America will always stand up for Israel—and that’s what I’ll always do as President”.
Nineteenth century British statesman Lord Palmerston wrote that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests”. Palmerston was expressing the national chauvinism that characterized British policymaking at the height of its informal empire. At the same time, there is a strong grain of sense in his words. It is totally illogical for our government, representing the public interest, to tie itself fast to any other nation, irrespective of the behavior of that nation and the manner in which the behavior of that nation impacts our own public good. In this case, our wholesale embrace of the Israeli government and its policies have earned the U.S. the ire of people around the Middle East and the world who object—rightly so—to the continued subjugation of Palestinians.
We should not defend Israel reflexively at every turn. We should evaluate circumstances and be fully prepared—as with any other alliance—to offer or withdraw our support depending on the moral rectitude, legality, and intelligence of Israel’s behavior. That a candidate for higher office should boast so openly about their history of serving as a human shield for a regime that perpetrates colonialism, is responsible for the impoverishment and harassment of a population, and stands accused of serial human rights abuses is truly mind-boggling.
And yet, Hillary Clinton is far from unique. Virtually all U.S. politicians, from both political parties, thanks to decades of suasion, threats, donations, and un-used grey cells, regularly trot out their unconditional and un-thinking support for Israel. The Republican Party is perhaps most guilty, as more of its representatives are in the thrall of neo-conservatives, with their ideological commitment to using Israeli citizens as the front-line of the immoral and senseless expansion of U.S. imperial power, and of religious fundamentalists, who see proximity to Israel as beneficial for the arrival of the “end times”.
A common refrain from apologists for Israel, or even for people with no strong opinions about the conflict, goes something like, “Why don’t you spend time pointing out all of the dreadful things that other regimes do? Israel isn’t the only one…”
Unlike North Korea, for example, or any of the other regimes that serially abuse human rights, Israel has an active lobby in the United States, and has managed to convince almost 100% of our nation’s legislators and much of the public to offer unquestioning support for this kind of self-destructive and morally offensive behavior.
The fact that Hillary Clinton (together with the Republican candidates for president) would subordinate the human rights of Palestinians, the public interest of U.S. citizens, and the long-term security of Israelis, and pledge herself—in the manner of the Republicans who swear oaths not to raise taxes come hell or high water—to always defend Israel no matter the immorality of its colonial regime suggests that the former Secretary of State is unfit to represent the U.S. and lacks the capacity to make good moral judgments.
It also echoes what we know about her solicitousness towards the financial sector and confirms my own view that no matter the populist or democratic rhetoric that might flow from her campaign during the primaries, at the end of the day Hillary Clinton’s sympathies and loyalties lie with the same constituency that bankrolls the Republican Party: the rich, the powerful, and those who promote inequality in the United States.