Obama Backs Israeli “Kangaroo Court” Search For Justice at Sea

by James M. Wall

President Obama has endorsed Israel’s decision to investigate its own navy’s May 31 attack on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara.

The Associated Press reports “The White House has backed Israel’s internal investigation, calling it ‘an important step forward.'”

Obama does not believe the attack, which killed nine volunteers on a Turkish-organized Gaza aid flotilla, calls for an outside investigation.

While the President waits for results from Israel’s “kangaroo court”–a show trial of clashing cymbals signifying nothing–the people of Gaza fall deeper into a state of abject poverty.

Make no mistake, when Israel raided the Turkish-sponsored aid flotilla, it was not looking for weapons.  It was conducting its own strategy of economic warfare

The McClatchy Newspapers have obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory.

The Israeli government has long said the aim of the blockade is to stem the flow of weapons to militants in Gaza. Israel repeated that claim after it attacked the aid flotilla.

However, in response to a lawsuit by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group, the Israeli government explained the blockade as an exercise of the right of economic warfare.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare,'” the government said.

Whichever Israeli rationale he accepts, President Obama would not describe the Israel-controlled investigation as a “kangaroo court”. But he is a law professor. He knows about kangaroo courts:

Kangaroo courts are sham legal proceedings which are set-up in order to give the impression of a fair legal process. In fact, they offer no impartial justice as the verdict, invariably to the detriment of the accused, is decided in advance.

Such courts are associated with groups who have found a need to dispense a rough and ready form of justice but are, temporarily at least, outside the bounds of formal judicial processes. For example, inmates in jail, soldiers at war, settlers of lands where no jurisdiction has yet been established.

The origin of ‘kangaroo court’ is unknown, although, given that kangaroos are native nowhere else, we might expect the term to have originated in Australia . . .

The natural inclination to want to base the phrase in Australia has led to suggestions that the vacant stares of kangaroos when meeting humans for the first time were mimicked by jury members in court. There’s no documentary evidence to support this, or any other Australian derivation, and it seems highly speculative.

Israel investigated its own conduct in its 2008-09 invasion of Gaza. Then it demanded the United Nations reject the findings of the Goldstone Report, which had found good cause to conclude that war crimes may have been committed by both the invaders and the defenders.

Mr. Obama, the law professor, took Israel’s side and influenced the UN to reject the Goldstone Report.

Right wing media attacks against President Obama have accused him of being another Jimmy Carter. He should only hope that could be true.

The evidence is building that he is no Jimmy Carter, but a potential reincarnation of Ronald Reagan.

Think back to the early years of the Reagan reign.

In his new book, Beware of Small States, David Hirst, for many years the Middle East Correspondent for the London Guardian, provides horrific details of what followed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, after he defeated Carter, was good news for Israel.

As [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin himself acknowledged, there had never been an administration as favorable to Israel as [the Reagan administration].

It included many luminaries, largely Jewish, of the ‘neoconservative’ movement, now achieving real influence for the first time, and was impregnated with their ‘good-versus-evil’ view of the world, their crusading zeal against the Soviet Union, their strident advocacy of military power, and, above all, their devotion to Israel, especially the militant, expansionist, right-wing Israel of Begin and [Ariel] Sharon.

For them, American and Israeli interests were one and the same, and the PLO wa an enemy of peace, a Soviet proxy, which as Sharon said, had  ‘converted’ [Lebanon] into the world center for terrorism operated by the Soviet Union. (page 136).

Fast forward three decades, replace the Soviet Union and Lebanon with Iran and Gaza, substitute Begin and Sharon  with Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barack, and behold, we just may be witnessing the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan.

There is, however, a difference. Hirst writes that when the Reagan era began, “America’s love affair with Israel was no longer an embarrassment, or liability, in its relations with the Arab world; Israel was now elevated more clearly than ever before, to the status of ‘strategic asset’. Hirst writes:

[Israel was] the only ally on which, thanks to its ‘democratic will, national cohesion, technological capacity and military fiber,’ the US could ‘truly rely’ for the prosecution of its policies in the region.

This attitude prevails today in Obama’s willingness to agree, against international opposition, that Netanyahu can be trusted to establish and control an in-house investigation of a murderous assault on the Turkish-organized relief flotilla.

Liberal Democrats, including the PEPs (Progressive except for Palestine), unite with their conservative colleagues in both parties, to endorse whatever Bibi Netanyahu tells them he favors. They accept his statement at face value when he insists:

I am convinced that the commission’s uncovering of the facts will prove that the goals and actions of the state of Israel and the Israeli military were appropriate defensive actions in accordance with the highest international standards.

Few of them give much thought to 1982, when with Reagan’s hidden blessing, Israel launched its military invasion of Lebanon.

Reagan knew that Israel’s goal was to join with Lebanon’s Phalangists–Maronite Christians–to fight the “terrorist” PLO.

Israel had long felt the most effective way it could deal with the large Arab majority in the region was to form alliances with minority communities within larger states by providing “support and encouragement, generally clandestine, not of a state, but of individuals, factions or whole communities, usually  ethnic or religious, within a state (Hirst, p. 21).

Israel’s favorite candidate for this strategy and the one they thought might yield the greatest results was “the small state” of Lebanon, where the Maronite Christians were dominant..

Begin factored the conflict between the Lebanese Maronites and Arabs in his invasion plans, an alliance which, resulted in a war with Lebanon’s Arabs that led to the “grisly climax” as David Hirst describes it, of the massacre in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

The Sabra and Shátilamassacres killed from 800 to 3,500 Palestinian and Muslim civilians over two days, September 16-18, 1982.

The massacres were carried out with a vicious zeal by a Christian Lebanese militia group, while the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) stood by as the militia conducted their slaughter against helpless civilians.

The slaughter continued throughout the night, aided by flares provided by the IDF.

David Hirst describes the horror of the event:

After hearing stories of summary executions and other “horrors” from Israeli officers, the military correspondent of Israeli television, Ben Yishai, telephoned the defense minister and told him that something had to be done immediately. He continued:

“In a few hours the press of the entire world will know about it, and then we’ll be in a real mess”.

Sharon listened attentively and asked if had any more details. He supplied some. “The minister did not react,” he was later to recall. “He thanked me and wished me a happy New Year.”

“My impression was that he knew what was going on in the camps. He knew very well, and so did most of he high command, both in the field and back at headquarters in Israel; but no one lifted a finger to stop it. (Hirst cites as the source for this exchange, Armed Struggle and the Search for a State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993.) (For information on a recent visit to the US by Yezid Sayigh see Helene Cobban.)

The next day, the world did indeed learn. Journalists descended on Sabra and Shatila to find the hundreds of bodies which the Phalangists had not had time to bury, the limbs which protruded from the hastily dug graves of those they had, the naked women with hands and feet tied behind their backs, the victims of car-dragging, one of them with his genitals cut off, piled in a garage, the baby whose limbs had been carefully laid out in a circle, head crowning the whole.

In the US, Hirst writes, a very angry President Reagan

pointed out that Israel had justified its entry into West Beirut [where the refugee camps Sabra and Shatila are located] on the ground that it would thereby forestall just the kind of tragedy which had now taken place.

Like Reagan, Israeli supporters everywhere felt a kind of betrayal.  This was not the Israel they thought they knew. Nowhere was this more potentially dangerous than in the US–its Administration, Jewish community or the public at large.

A New York woman, interviewed by National Public Radio, said that if Jews could not retain their ethically high standards, she no longer wanted to be one.

A Jewish lawyer in Connecticut aid he now believed that even Jews were capable of genocide.

The Washington correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, Wolf Blitzer [now with CNN] called the massacre “a disaster for Israel in Washington–indeed throughout the US. It will take many years–if ever–to regain its once very high moral image in America.”

It did indeed look as though Israel had squandered much of the moral credit on which it had so often to draw in order to wrest political, military and economic support from a sometimes reluctant, if basically subservient, administration.

Israel reacted defensively by resorting to “damage control, to the commission of inquiry for which Israelis–in huge demonstrations in Tel Aviv–and the world clamoured.” (page 161).

The Israeli government report was written by the ruling establishment, and quickly endorsed by Israel’s main stream media. The Jerusalem Post said it was a “splendid example of Israeli–not to say Jewish–justice at work”

The Kahan Commission–so called after its chairman, Itzhak Kahan, president of the Supreme Court–“enunciated its own, judicially spurious and morally expedient doctrine of ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ responsibility.”

The “directs” were the Maronite Christians; the “indirects” were the Israelis. Israel’s cause is too great to be bothered by accusations of indirect blame.

The Kahan report did evoke Israeli demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. A young Israeli soldier, Emile Grunzweig, protesting the Lebanon invasion, was killed during a demonstration. A few hours after his death the Begin cabinet accepted the findings of the Kahan Commission.

The report led to Ariel Sharon’s resignation as defense minister.  Begin accepted the resignation and promptly reassigned Sharon to the cabinet as a “minister without portfolio”.

Sharon later returned to serve as Israel’s prime minister during a period of massive growth of the new settlements on occupied Palestinian lands.

David Hirst describes how Israel reacted to the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla:

By the time of Sabra and Shatila that time-honored Israeli reflex–demonizing all enemies as terrorists and thereby legitimizing any means of combatng them–had reached a new level of intensity; and it was all the more effective in that it coincided with the new American one, which the Israelis themselves had done much to foster, of portraying ‘international terroism’ as the great new global meanace, the ‘vogue evil’ that made of ‘anti-terrorists. . .the fashionable crusade”.

And the reflex came, in this Begin era, laced with a contemptuous, racist terminology, which was replete with genocidal overtones and tended to reduce the Palestinians to a ‘subhuman ‘ category. . . . (page 166).

If any American president should understand the grave danger inherent in the national embrace of a “contemptuous, racist terminology,” it should be Barack Obama.

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 writings.me, 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 jameswall8@gmail.com 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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3 Responses to Obama Backs Israeli “Kangaroo Court” Search For Justice at Sea

  1. Jim Wall’s words are accurate and address the content and the tone of Obama’s failure in foreign policy, including how the policy relates to Israel.

    However, these words have been said before. Until Mr. Wall, and other object journalist organize a gathering/meeting in Washington, D.C. specifically to put Obama on the hot seat, he (Wall) will simply be preaching to the choir.

    Good wishes to Rev. Wall.

  2. Paul says:

    Littleton is correct–this is another good column (Obama as Reagan) but it is preaching to the choir.

  3. wallwritings says:

    Rich and Paul,

    Every choir should hold weekly practice sessions to learn new songs and practice, practice, practice.

    Not to worry, this White House needs pressure from the left. We all must apply that pressure.

    FDR’s well-known comment to a member of Congress went something like this: “I want what you want, but your job is to make me do it.”


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