Understanding the war in Gaza was always going to be difficult for those in the United States who have expressed an opinion or advocated a course of action.
They are used to billiard ball politics: “Any enemy of my friend is my enemy”, with the additional erroneous implication that everyone in every polity behaves and thinks the same way. Or ought to.
Most politicians (of all complexions) seem incapable of distinguishing between the vast majority of Palestinians and Hamas. And between the many Jewish Israelis who want peace and the IDF following Likud orders.
By far, the vast majority of public comments on the war in Gaza have been uniformly callous and deadly. Almost all ‘analyses’ and suggestions implicitly acquiesce in, support and approve of the death of over 4,000 infants and children and the reduction to rubble of at least 45% of dwellings in Gaza.
An almost total ignorance of history is also predictably evident. Ignorance not only of the plight of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. But also of the likelihood now of reprisals against Israel and its backers, including the United States.
Politicians and pundits rarely seem able to adduce even the crudest of historical interpretations when pronouncing on a situation as complex and rooted in past developments as both the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and wider Israel and the oppression of Jews both before and after 1948 when Israel as a state which it was hoped would co-exist alongside lands that had been predominantly Palestinian for centuries; those of the Israelites millennia before that. But the widely different extent to which the two populations have suffered at one another’s hands in recent decades is almost always ignored or obscured. Rarely, if ever, is this oppression, which has lasted for nearly 20 years.
It’s tempting to see that one of the few lessons we learn from the past is that we do not learn from the past. Look at Middle Eastern geopolitics after both the United States’ acts of aggression and slaughter against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 (where 11,000 and 15,000, respectively, have been killed annually in the wars led by US terrorists). Is it likely that Hamas (and/or whatever takes its place) can be defeated by the kind of massacres which Likud/IDF is perpetrating now?
Since the beginning of October, racism in both directions has been to the fore in word and deed across the United States. It is, of course, racist to patronise those Israelis responsible for and in support of the genocide in Gaza by pretending that any criticism of their (government’s and armed forces’) belligerence and destructiveness is anti-semitic.
Just as insulting and condescending is any stance which fails to distinguish between the several thousands of civilians slaughtered in Gaza (and increasingly now on the West Bank) and the likes of Hamas: “They’re all Moslems…” is often heard.
One wonders what the aspirant Republican candidates who offer blanket support for Netanyahu and his belligerence and destruction and total condemnation of ‘the Palestinians‘ would say if the aggression were reversed and Hamas was conducting its attacks inside Israel to the extent and on the scale that Israel has done since October 7 inside Gaza.
It may be cynical to wonder why anti-semitism has suddenly taken second place to Islamophobia in the United States. Could it be the fact that there are only an estimated 3.5 million Arab voters living in the US as opposed to perhaps more than twice as many Jewish ones?
After all, the Republicans’ leader called those who chanted “The Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville in August 2017 “…good people…”. What’s more, Trump has often entertained and offered support for avowed anti-Semites and praises dictators who are.
Nor does it seem to have occurred to more than a tiny handful of those who have lined up to endorse the attack on inhabitants of the Gaza Strip (which has so far killed more than 11,000, the vast majority non-combatant children, women and men) that the Hamas actions – condemnable though they always will be – should be seen as much as a politically as racially motivated attack after decades of apartheid blockades, occupation and wild and wilful oppression. Again, the stances of Netanyahu’s fascist Likud party have consistently and regularly deployed the Israeli Defence Force against those whose only crime was to have been born Palestinian in Israel. Hardly any media outlet seems even vaguely aware of this.
Reason is missing. Adult analysis as well. Empathy is nowhere. A majority of congresspeople appear quite unashamed by comments such as these: on November 1 by congressperson Brian Mast (Republican, Florida): “I would encourage the other side to not so lightly [sic] throw around the idea of innocent Palestinian civilians, as is frequently said. I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II.” In other words, this Republican thinks that there are no innocent Palestinians. Similarly, Trump supporter Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, when asked the same day, “Is there a threshold for you, and do you think there should be one for the United States government, in which the US would say, ‘Let’s hold off for a second in terms of civilian casualties?'” replied without thinking, “The answer is no. There is no limit.”
Although the backlash and attempt to silence anyone speaking out (in full horror at the atrocities committed by Hamas) in favour of a more nuanced understanding of why the latter acted as it did came quickly, the less bigoted outlets like CNN and MSNBC slowly made insipid gestures in generalised support of life for those suffering unspeakably in Gaza. Direct action, such as those hundreds who blocked the Port of Tacoma in Washington State last week to stop union members from loading a ship with weapons intended for Israel, is also encouraging but receives scant attention.
But this is a small comfort when setting aside the Islamophobia of the likes of the vast majority of legislators and US companies. Such notorious outlets as Fox consistently and relentlessly support these. Prime time programme after prime time programme deliberately mischaracterises any move, speech, protest, demonstration, or publication which explains the horror of the situation in Gaza for the two million Palestinians who stand to be killed, displaced or injured as firstly entirely pro-Hamas and secondly only anti-Semitic. It seems inevitable that these lies and distortions will materially and significantly misinform the many millions who routinely watch Fox.
Almost needless to say, our old friend, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, was not absent from the howling for death and suffering. As families were trying to escape from Gaza one week into the war last month, DeSantis welcomed them with open arms in his usual caring, tolerant way: “I don’t know what (President Joe) Biden’s gonna [sic] do, but we cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees. I am not going to do that… If you look at how they behave… they are all antisemitic. None of them believes [sic] in Israel’s right to exist”, he blundered while campaigning in Creston, Iowa.
One Florida state lawmaker went further. Last week, as Israel was bombing Gaza’s largest hospital, where possibly 50,000 people were sheltering, the state legislature was debating calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. Democratic Florida state representative Angie Nixon asked: “We are at 10,000 dead Palestinians. How many will be enough?”—to this one, Michelle Salzman actually shouted, “All of them”. After that, the Florida State House voted to reject calls for a ceasefire 104-2.
The Speaker of the US House of Representatives is much more powerful than the occupier of the office with the same name in the UK (currently Lindsay Hoyle, in the House of Commons). In the United States, the office of the Speaker is more akin to that of the British Prime Minister. The US Speaker is not a chairperson but the politician who controls legislation, its introduction and the relative priorities of a session’s programme. The House of Representatives elects the US Speaker, who is almost invariably a member of the majority party in the House; what the Speaker in the US does thus materially affects most residents in the country – and potentially hundreds of millions of people elsewhere in the world.
After a group of fascist congresspeople removed Kevin McCarthy, the previous Speaker of the US House of Representatives, in September, there were three weeks of chaos and elbowing for power. The House of Representatives (with a government shutdown and – consequent – funding crisis imminent) ceased to operate. After several unsuccessful attempts by various far-right nominees to win approval across the congressional Republican party, one Mike Johnson, a little known far-right and inexperienced (he only entered Congress in 2016) congressperson from Louisiana, won enough votes to take on the role. It seems almost certain that Johnson’s success owes a lot to Trump’s approval. The congressperson who led the move to oust McCarthy, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, celebrated Johnson’s (who has already proposed cuts of trillions of dollars to pensions and healthcare for the elderly) elevation with the assertion that “MAGA Is Ascendant”. So it appears to be.
Johnson is a vocal supporter of Donald Trump. He also played a crucial role in trying to overturn the 2020 election. He belonged to a group of House Republicans who attempted to reject the electoral votes that went for Biden on January 6, 2021. In 2020, Jonson also lobbied every party member, sending an email from his personal account to elicit support for a lawsuit in Texas which would have similarly invalidated electoral college votes from multiple states. He publicly exhorted Trump to continue to ‘fight’ when Biden’s victory in the 2020 election was announced. Johnson voted against impeaching Trump.
To be clear, for the third most powerful and influential politician in the United States after President and Vice President, it’s OK to try and subvert elections when they don’t produce the result which you want.
Speaker Johnson has also written in favour of criminalising gay sex. Indeed, he once blamed homosexuality for the fall of the Roman Empire. He is wildly against women’s health and has worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the authoritative body tracking such groups. Almost needless to say, Johnson has no time for Palestinians. Nor does he accept the evidence for the climate catastrophe – unlike nearly three-quarters of the people whom the legislature of which he is now in control ought to be serving.
Racist rhetoric continues to try and whip up more antipathy towards migrants forced from their countries in Central and South America. The usual threats to deport not only immigrants from the Middle East but to stop funding Ukraine to repel those being forced to flee their oppressors and avoid impoverishment in Central and South America could be heard at the third presidential ‘debate’ (really just a series of fiery presentations) last week. But Juan González, a senior fellow at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago, recently published a new report, ‘The Current Migrant Crisis‘. It highlights yet again how it is largely the actions of the United States which are fuelling the exodus from countries like Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The report highlights ‘economic warfare’ against the inhabitants of those (and other) countries. That plays a huge part in convincing many of those who live there to risk a perilous journey to the US: “All these three countries have [this] in common… They are all being subjected to United States sanctions, [which…] are reducing the ability of people to survive in the region, and then we’re surprised by all these people appearing at the border.”
In environmental news, a report released last week by Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform details the surprisingly high frequency and seriousness of chemical ‘accidents’. Contrary to the impression given by those few media outlets that now cover the environment, fires, explosions, leaks, spills, and other releases of toxic, noxious and deadly chemicals occur almost daily in the United States. Residents across the country have been injured, killed or otherwise adversely affected by as many as 829 hazardous chemical incidents from January 1 2021, to this time last month.
It seems probable that 2023 will turn out to be the hottest year on Earth in 125,000 years as Republican hopefuls for president make no mention whatsoever of arguably the planet’s most pressing problem. The egregious Vivek Ramaswamy, for example, promises no remedies for this condition but accelerated and augmented planetary destruction.
The fondness for sadism by the élite in Florida is well known. Last month, in the state with the third highest number of unhoused nationwide, activists from West Palm Beach were charged with the crime of sharing food with houseless community members. Food Not Bombs is a collective which offers vegan or vegetarian food to others in need. The City Council passed an ordinance in March which slowed this process down by requiring a permit. Over a dozen charitable people now face fines of up to $500 (£411) or 60 days in jail.
~ Louis Further
Image: Rod Webber