Down the Rabbit Hole with George Bush

by James M. Wall

George Bush traveled through Alice’s Looking Glass in mid-May, flying from Tel Aviv to Sharm El Sheik, Egypt. He paid more attention to the world as it might have been described by  the White Rabbit with pink eyes”,  judging from his two major speeches in Israel and Egypt. The region’s dark future was ignored.  Bush sounded like a man who had plunged into a rabbit hole and discovered a parallel universe.

In Tel Aviv the US president was an honored guest at Israel’s 60th birthday celebration. Speaking to the Knesset, Bush lavished praise on the state which had been responsible for the Palestinian Nakba 60 years earlier. Bush took no notice of the Nakba, which resulted from Israel’s creation. 

The surreal journey that took Bush from Tel Aviv to the World Forum in Egypt began with a his Knesset speech which was described by the London Independent’s Donald Macintyre:

[Bush] declared the US was proud to be the ‘closest ally and best friend in the world’ of a nation that was a ‘homeland for the chosen people’ and had ‘worked tirelessly for peace and….fought valiantly for freedom.'” (Donald Macintyre, The Independent, May 16, 2008).

Reality check: The US is Israel’s only ally, not just its closest; and yes, the US is Israel’s best friend in the world, though sadly, after 60 years and counting, the US is Israel’s only real friend in the world. And yes, Israel is a homeland for the people often referred to as “chosen”, but it is also home to 1.4 million Palestinian Arabs who live within Israel and are most certainly not a chosen people.

Has Israel worked “tirelessly” for peace?  Some of its citizens, a few legislators, and some members of the media have. But Israel’s ruling parties have not. Instead, they have worked only to expand borders, build settlements, oppress a captive civilian Palestinian population, imprison and assassinate Palestinian leaders, while maintaining a military occupation of Gaza and the West under the pretense that it is protecting Israel’s security.  Mr. Bush, Israel’s government has not worked for peace.

President Bush’s praise for Israel was barely noticed by his traveling US media entourage. They have seen this movie before, Israel good, terrorists bad. What made news in Tel Aviv was the president’s outrageous linkage of presidential candidate Barack Obama to appeasers who wanted to talk with Adolph Hitler.  

Bush told a foreign audience on foreign soil that “those” who want to negotiate with “terrorists and radicals”, are acting like the leaders who appeased the Nazis before World War II.  This shameful political reference was intended to remind voters that Barack Obams has said he would talk with our enemies. Staff members later tried to suggest Bush was speaking of Jimmy Carter, who has, in fact, talked to Hamas leaders, an attempt at White House spinning no one was buying.

Bush’s only reference to the Palestinians had nothing to do with the Nakba, (Arabic for “catastrophe”) which drove 700,000 Palestinians from them homeland 60 years ago, and left the new state of Israel with 78% of mandatory Palestine. Bush ignored the Nakba and made his only Palestinian reference when he  looked forward to a future for the region, when, on Israel’s 120th birthday, Palestinians would have “the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved–a democratic state that is governed by law”.  

In his World Forum address to 1500 global policy makers and business leaders, Bush attacked what the Associated Press described as “the Arab world”, “about everything from political repression to the denial of women’s rights”.  He described Middle East politics as a region dominated by “one leader in power and the opposition in jail”, an accurate description of the governance in the region, which has served US foreign policy as well as it has the governments in power.

 The “opposition in jail” reference must have had an ironic resonance with the 45 or so Hamas legislators who have been held in Israeli jails since Hamas was elected to run the Palestinian Authority’s legislature. But, of course, Bush was referring to Arab governments, not Israel. 

Arresting opponents is standard practice in Arab states and in Israel.  After President Bush flew home to Washington from his five day farewell Alice-like journey to the region, Israel arrested an American citizen at the Tel Aviv airport.  This was no ordinary American tourist, coming to see the holy sites.  The man detained at the airport was Norman Finklestein, a leading academic critic of Israeli policies.

According to the web site YNet, quoting from Israel News:

Israel deported Jewish-American Professor Norman Finkelstein to the United States on Friday after questioning him at Ben Gurion airport. Finkelstein was denied entry due to “security concerns,” authorities said.  

Finkelstein was detained immediately after landing in Israel late Thursday night and was questioned at the airport before being told he could not enter Israel.” Finkelstein was boarded onto a plane back to the United States before dawn. When he arrived we will decide whether to appeal this decision,” his attorney, Michael Sfard, told Ynet.

Sfard said the entry ban could last 10 years.”A country that starts to fear what its harshest critics write about it is a country that is already behaving in a manner reminiscent of the darkest days of the communist regime,” said Sfard. 

Finklestein is a well known academic critic of Israel. Israeli authorities describe him as a “security risk”, but he no doubt drew the ire of the Israeli authorities for other reasons. Finklestein is not just a critic, he is also an adversary of one of Israel’s biggest boosters in the US, Alan Dershowirtz, the Harvard attorney-professor who makes it his business to verbally attack anyone who has a kind word to say about the Palestinians.  In a review of a Dershowirtz book, Finkelstein wrote that Israel uses anti-Semitism as means to stifle criticism. ‘

Down in George Bush’s Rabbit Hole, life is simple.  It is also dangerous and a threat to freedom through that Looking Glass, as Norman Finklestein can testify. 



About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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