“Poor George, he can’t help it . . .”
“Poor George, he can’t help it — he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
This memorable line from future Texas Governor Ann Richards was aimed at soon-to-be President George H. W. Bush. It was included in Richards’ keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention, which nominated Michael Dukakis as its candidate to oppose Bush.
It is a superb Texas sweet-talking barbed description, dripping with sarcasm and righteous anger. It came to me that this is a term that fits all sizes of U.S. politicians who “can’t help it” when it comes to Israel. They were born into political life with the silver foot of the Israeli narrative dictating their every political move.
The video of Richards’ famous line is at the end of this posting.
I recalled the impact of that 1988 “Poor George” line when I read what former President Bill Clinton said at an event honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres on the occasion of Peres’ 90th birthday:
“The longer the Palestinian conflict remained unsolved, the more acute the demographic challenge would become for Israel. […] No matter how many settlers you put out there, the Palestinians are having more babies than the Israelis as a whole… You’ve got an existential question to answer.”
Poor Bill, he can’t help it. He talks about Palestine and Israel as though Palestine is not in the room. He can’t help it. Demographics is the problem? Please.
Clinton’s speech was delivered on the opening night of the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference, held in Jerusalem. It was an upbeat look to the future by the famous guests. According to Ha’aretz, the opening night included a celebration of President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday. In addition to Clinton’s speech, Barbara Streisand (right) was on hand for a concert honoring Peres.
There were at least 24 Emmy, Grammy, Nobel and Oscar winners at Jerusalem’s Internation al Conventions Center for the gala event. David Alexrod, former Obama advisor, showed up to engage movie actress Sharon Stone in a closing night discussion on leadership.
During Streisand’s concert, Ha’aretz reported that:
Streisand sang two songs: “People,” from Funny Girl, and, at the request of Peres, also Avinu Malkanu, a song based on the Jewish prayer recited during services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. “This is a song that asks God to have compassion for us and our children,” she explained.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and actor Robert De Niro were among the many seen swaying to the tunes.
Stephen Hawking was nowhere to be seen. As I wrote for Wall Writings on May 14:
University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking stunned Israel last week with his announcement that he would boycott the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem, June 18-20.
Hawking was responding to an incongruity: He had been invited to attend an Israeli conference of scientific, economic and political world leaders under the lofty title: ”The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow”.
After the Streisand concert, USA Today wrote:
At a time when some of her fellow entertainers are bending to demands by pro-Palestinian activists to boycott Israel, Barbara Streisand – on a week-long visit here – proudly touted her Jewish roots and love of Israel.
USA Today gave more details later in the story about the “pro-Palestinian activists”.
A movement under the name Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) has been pressuring artists, entertainers and academics not to go to Israel or even attend conferences where Israelis are participating as a show of solidarity with Palestinians.
The movement was begun by Palestinians and joined by European leftists and academics to cripple Israel’s economy and international standing to get it to bend to the position of Palestinians on political and security matters.
The writer Alice Walker recently banned an Israeli publisher from printing her novel, “The Color Purple,” in Hebrew. Musician Alicia Keyes was asked not to perform here this summer but like Streisand she intends to play on. Entertainers who have cancelled Israeli appearances include Elvis Costello, Coldplay and Snoop Dogg. Streisand did not say whether she was contacted by the BDS movement.
Editor’s note: The USA Today is incorrect when it reports that the BDS movement has been confined to Palestinians and left-wing European activists. In fact, the BDS movement is now a world-wide movement, reaching from South Africa to the U.S. The movement also has activists involved from religious institutions worldwide.
Clinton, of course, has shown no signs that he has heard from the BDS movement. He is, after all, a highly successful American politician who was brought up on the political doctrine that he must believe the Israeli narrative with all the fervor with which he believes the earth is round.
Bill Clinton loves Israel. He said as much in his speech for Peres, “I love this country more than I have words to say.”
Pause for a moment and think about the way these other Clinton sentences sound to Palestinians:”No matter how many settlers you put out there, the Palestinians are having more babies than the Israelis as a whole”.
For Clinton, as he speaks to an Israeli crowd, the “existential question” facing Israelis is not one of human rights. It is not a matter of justice. It is a matter of demographics.
Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, The Palestine Center, has been quick to inform the former president that his statement about what Munayyer rightfully calls, “paranoid baby counting,” is a racist comment.
Munayyer (at right) put it this way:
Put aside for a moment the very racist notion of paranoid baby counting and consider the overall framing. The freedom of millions of Palestinians living under the yoke of Israel’s military occupation is portrayed as a matter that Israel should resolve because eventually they may be dealing with a larger problem: Having to accept Palestinians as equals. Palestinian rights are reduced to an Israeli prerogative.
Aaron David Miller, who has worked for Clinton and several other presidents, has added his diplomatic pro-Israeli spin on what his old boss sees as a “demographic challenge”. Miller, now a a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, wrote in a recent essay for The New York Times:
Israel has serious worries: The gaps between rich and poor are growing; the military conscription issue highlights the resentment toward the ultra Orthodox, their unemployment rate (60 percent for men) and the drain they place on state resources. The country’s demographics look bad — too many ultra-Orthodox Jews, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and not enough secular Jews.
Miller believes the demographics “look bad” for Israel because there are too many “others” being born there.
To live under the control of the Israeli narrative is to ignore all other perspectives when facing issues affecting Israel. Clinton concluded his speech honoring Peres, according to The Times of Israel, by praising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
Netanyahu in his first term as prime minister reached an agreement that, had the Second Intifada not erupted, would have given the Palestinians “more of the West Bank than they have today.” And Netanyahu, in his second term as prime minister, Clinton recalled, froze settlement building for several months. The Palestinians “made a mistake” at the time “in not entering talks,” Clinton said.
Spoken, of course, like a true believer in the Israeli narrative, a believer who was twice elected U.S. president, and was in the White House when the Palestinians refused to accept that “gift” of “more of the West Bank than they have today”. This is, of course, an Israeli narrative version of the “talks” to which Clinton refers.
The framing of the situation between Israel and Palestine today was repeated by President Barack Obama recently in a speech to the Israeli public. In the speech, Yousef Munayyer reports, Obama said:
You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.
Munayyer adds that while “Some believe that making this argument to the Israeli public advances the interests of peace. In reality, the opposite is true, it just makes things worse”.
It is worst, because by encouraging the Israelis to see Palestinian freedom “not as the legitimate and urgent right of Palestinians but as a choice Israelis can or cannot make when and if they get around to it”, Obama speaks entirely from the Israeli perspective of what is best for Israel.
Perspective is all. Look at Palestinian freedom from the Israeli perspective and what do you see? You see a challenge that must be met in Israel’s best interests.
But look at Palestinian freedom from the Palestinian perspective and you see not a challenge for Israel, but a responsibility placed upon an Israeli government that continues to rely on the occupation as its way of ”controlling” the neighborhood.
To describe Israel’s “problem” as one of demographics, is to turn Israel’s moral wrong into an accepted right. There is an historic reason why the demographics of a moral wrong has become an accepted right. It was planned that way from the beginning. In a recent posting entitled, “How many is too many?’, Munayyer explains:
Demographic engineering is central to Zionism and has been through every stage of Zionist history. I suppose when a political movement seeks to transplant millions of non-natives into a land of indigenous Arabs, to borrow “father of Zionism” Theodore Herzl’s phraseology, demography must become a central obsession.
An ideology that seeks to build a society around a certain type of people defined by ethnicity or religion is inevitably going to feature racism, supremacy and oppression—especially when the vast majority of native inhabitants where such an ideology is implemented are unwelcomed.
At the conclusion of Yousef Munayyer‘s posting on Clinton’s speech, he offered a few words of advice to Israel, to former President Clinton and to current President Barack Obama:
Palestinian freedom should not be framed as Israel’s choice. Rather, as the occupier of Palestinian territory and millions of stateless Palestinians, this is Israel’s obligation, an American obligation and an international obligation. It’s about time we start talking about it this way.
The picture above of Barbara Streisand was taken by the AP’s Dan Balilty.
Filed under: Human Rights, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Politics and Elections | 4 Comments