Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Israel's choke-hold in America loosens - Rami Khouri

By Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star, April 1, 2009

One of the important, even historic, changes taking place in the United States these days is the slow but steady erosion of the once absolute taboo to speak about the excessive influence of pro-Israeli groups in the United States. Pro-Israeli forces in politics and the mass media can still destroy a public career, especially for a politician, but the stranglehold on discussing this phenomenon is slowly loosening.

I witnessed one example of this earlier this week when I participated in the second annual symposium on Gaza, jointly organized by and hosted at two outstanding universities, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Equally noteworthy was that it was sponsored by mainstream units at the universities, including MIT's Center for International Studies and the Program on Human Rights and Justice, and Harvard's Middle East Initiative at the Kennedy School, the Center for Middle East Studies, and the Human Rights Program at the Harvard Law School.

A respected member of Congress who had recently visited Gaza, Brian Baird from Washington State, made the opening comments, which were strongly critical of Israeli actions in Gaza - especially the excessive and disproportionate use of force - and of the American position supporting Israel.

Most of the speakers criticized Israel and supported Palestinian rights, pointing out the importance of the "resistance" of the Palestinians in Gaza who refused to be removed from history or from their land by the force of Israeli settler-colonialist violence. Boston University Political Science professor Irene Grendzier suggested that two phenomena have defined events in the Middle East in recent years - the problem of weapons of mass destruction, but also the problem of "weapons of mass deception" in the United States public arena.

The deliberate deception of the American people about realities on the ground in Israel and Palestine was one reason the US government and public could take a position of "overwhelming silence" on the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, and its continuing strangulation of that society.

"The deception is breaking down slowly, however" she said, because of the availability of alternative sources of news available to anyone who sought it out on the internet or non-American television services. This meant that "we are witnessing the public beheading of Israeli myths on events in Palestine."

Other speakers - Arabs, Americans, Israelis, Europeans - made similar points that emphasized how the gravity and often the criminality of Israeli actions in Gaza were at once facilitated and exacerbated by American and other foreign policies. Oxford University lecturer Karma Nabulsi said that a consistent aim of American-Israeli policies was to deny the Palestinians the right to represent themselves, and then also to deny them the right to resist when faced with occupation and assault.

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