by James M. Wall
On March 23, the Chicago Tribune presented one of its periodic reports on overseas travel by Chicago area members of the US Congress. The country most often visited? Israel.
The Tribune‘s interest was primarily on what motivated the trips. Were they junkets to resorts or would something really be learned by actually visiting other nations?
Trips to Israel are not junkets. They are described as “educational seminars”.
The report revealed that US Senator Dick Durbin made 14 overseas trips in 2009-2010. He did not, however, visit Israel. No need, Durbin has been one of Israel’s strongest allies in Congress since he first won the House seat previously held by Paul Findley.
Illinois’ junior senator, former House member Mark Kirk, did go to Israel in 2009-2010, as did one other Republican, House member Peter Roskam, now occupying the seat formerly held by Henry Hyde. All other Chicago area members who traveled to Israel in 2009-2010, were Democrats, members who were either new or in need of some additional education on the Israeli narrative. These members were Debbie Halvorson, Daniel Lipinski, Jesse Jackson, Jr, Mike Quigley. Melissa Bean, and Bill Foster.
Jackson is the son of Jesse Sr. and Quigley now holds the seat once occupied by former Obama chief of staff, and Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who needs no introduction to travel to Israel. Three of those six Democrats lost their seats in 2010: Halverson, Bean and Foster. Mark Kirk has left the House for the Senate where he occupies Barack Obama’s old seat.
The organization that funded, planned, organized and directed the trips to Israel in 2009-2010 was the American Israel Education Foundation, a tax-exempt affiliate of AIPAC.
We will hear more from AIPAC May 20-21, when AIPAC conducts its annual Policy Conference in Washington. Since presidential primaries are less than a year away, this year’s conference should attract every living Republican presidential candidate and a large majority of the members of Congress, including some members who have recently traveled to Israel.
One recent traveler was former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Governor Palin was escorted on her visit to the Old City of Jerusalem by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz (left in photo here) and Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon (right) as she emerged from the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City, March 20. The closest Palin got to the West Bank was to the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Also expected to be on hand for the May AIPAC conference will be Israeli officials, beginning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, pictured above addressing the 2010 Policy Conference.
In John J. Mearsheimer’s latest book, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics, he examines the importance of national narratives.
Mearsheimer is the other half of the team (with Steve Walt) that wrote the book, The Israel Lobby, which made such an impact on the formerly impenetrable Iron Wall that protects the “Israel narrative as the only truth” in American culture.
Mearsheimer writes that elites create and dominate “a nation’s discourse”, a version of the state’s founding and ongoing purpose that is a mixture of deliberate lies and patriotic enthusiasm. They do so for two reasons: False stories about the past “help create a powerful sense of nationhood, which is essential for building and maintaining a viable nation-state.”
In particular, these fictions help give members of a national group the sense that they are part of a noble enterprise which they should not only be proud of, but for which they should be willing to endure significant hardships, including fighting and dying if necessary.
These dominating elites first develop the myths, and then control each succeeding generation through internal education that constantly reinforces the myth of the nation’s founding. In the US, think the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Presidents’ Day.
The internet-inspired uprisings in the Arab world is a concern to the Israeli authorities, as an increasing number of younger Jews in Israel have joined hands with Palestinians in protests and demonstrations against Israel’s current right wing government with its tight control and denigration of Palestinians.
Ilan Pappe, the Jewish scholar who literally wrote the book on Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine, wrote in the March 22 issue of the political newsletter Counterpunch, that the current Israeli government has been rapidly expanding its “apartheid laws” against Palestinians inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.
The most recent apartheid law passed by Israel’s Knesset “allows Jewish settlements built on state land inside Israel not to admit Israeli Palestinian citizens as residents and legalizes the wish of these new settlers not to sell land to the Palestinians citizens of the state.”
This is one of many such laws passed recently (the loyalty oath law that turns the Palestinians in Israel to second class citizens by law and one which does not allow them to live with their Palestinians spouses from the occupied territories are two of the more famous apartheid laws passed recently).
The new law, like the previous others, institutionalize the Apartheid State of Israel, or for short, ASOI.
ASOI is now one of worst apartheid regimes in the world. It controls almost all of Palestine (apart from Gaza which it imprisoned hermetically since 2005). . . .
Its policies against the discriminated native population, now composing nearly half of the overall population in ASOI, include atrocities such as barring people from using water sources, from cultivating their fields, building more houses, from getting to work, schools or universities and it bans them from commemorating their history and in particular the 1948 Nakba.
This treatment of a sizable minority of Israeli citizens and Palestinians in the OPT, is an affront to the national myth of Israel as a righteous democracy. The national myth is being exposed as a fraud by the actions of its leaders.
This, in turn, makes it even more imperative that the national Israeli myth be reinforced in other nations.
John Mearsheimer points out any new state must look for support and alliances with those nations who have within their borders “an influential diaspora” to which the new state (in this case, Israel) can export and reinforce its national founding myth. The best example of this phenomenon involves Israel and the American Jewish community.
There was no way that the Zionists could create a Jewish state in Palestine without doing large-scale ethnic cleansing of the Arab population that had been living there for centuries. This point was widely recognized by the Zionist leadership well before Israel was created.
The opportunity to expel the Palestinian came in early 1948 when fighting broke out between the Palestinians and the Zionists in wake of the UN decision to partition Palestine into two states. The Zionists cleansed roughly 700,000 Palestinians from the land that became Israel, and adamantly refused to let them return to their homes once the fighting stopped. . . .
Not surprisingly, Israel and its American friends went to great lengths after the events of 1948 to blame the expulsion of the Palestinians on the victims themselves. According to the myth that was invented, the Palestinians were not cleansed by the Zionists; instead, they were said to have fled their homes because the surrounding Arab counties told them to move out so that their armies could move in and drive the Jews into the sea.
The movie industry has been a reliable diaspora ally. Movies shape a culture, reinforcing the control that AIPAC, which is the American diaspora command center, has over US media, politicians and churches.
At the slightest sign that any narrative contrary to the Israel narrative might emerge in a film, AIPAC and its media allies go into their first line of attack: This Film is Not Yet Balanced. That usually frightens away film makers and distributors, until now.
Miramax, a company with an advertising budget ample enough to cover a two page ad in the New York Times, has entered the game. Miramax also has the media outreach to place directors and stars of films it is promoting into such outlets as the Charlie Rose television interview program. Miramax has won four best picture Academy Award Oscars, including its most recent winner, The King’s Speech.
Miramax is distributing the new film Miral in North America. Is it possible that Miral, which has just opened in New York and Los Angeles, might emerge as the film with the power to threaten the decades old power of Exodus? Probably not, but the Israeli government and its US allies are taking no chances.
Freida Pinto, (shown at right) who was introduced to world audiences in Slumdog Millionaire, plays Miral in the film.
What makes Miral such a threat to Israel’s narrative myth is that Miral begins with the Deir Yassin massacre and ends by commemorating the history of the Palestinian people and the Nakba.
Sandy Tolan, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC and the author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, considers the way in which the novel and movie, Exodus, has shaped the Israeli narrative in American culture. He wrote in Al Jazeera:
Most Americans, Jew and Gentile, grew up with the Leon Uris history of the struggle for the Holy Land. Exodus chronicles the heroic birth of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust. There the story ends; there is no other narrative.
This politically convenient and magnificently incomplete version of history remains the dominant American narrative of the tragedy known as Israel and Palestine.
Despite the cracks in that narrative in recent years, the über story of Exodus – Uris’ 1958 mega-bestseller, and the subsequent Hollywood film starring Paul Newman – still holds a tremendous grip on the American imagination. It may be one of the most influential pieces of fiction ever written in the US. . . .
In Exodus there are only heroic or victimised Jews; only malicious, pathetic or cowardly Arabs, driven not by a love of their land but by fear and manipulation. As Uris tells the story, the Palestinians have no legitimate claim to their homeland: “If the Arabs of Palestine loved their land, they could not have been forced from it – much less run from it without real cause.”
Here there is no Deir Yassin massacre; no “Plan Dalet” and its blueprint for sowing fear and fire in Arab villages; no Nakba and its dispossession of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians.
How eager is Israel to protect its national myth? Consider a bill now moving through Israel’s Knesset that would make it illegal for an individual or an organization to endorse and support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
A word of caution on your next trip to Israel: If you want to make it safely through the Tel Aviv airport, leave your BDS buttons at home. There will be buttons available when you reach your destination.
If you have a DVD of Miral in your carry-on, and your interrogator objects, offer it as a gift to her. Consider it as missionary outreach.
The Palin picture above is from Reuters. It was taken by Ronen Zvulun. The picture of Netanyahu was taken in Washington by Jonathan Ernst, also of Reuters.