Behind the Mask: Racism from Israel to the RNC

Sudanese woman being deported from Israel in June 2012. Image courtesy of The Raw Story.;
The new fence between Israel and Egypt. Image courtesy of ynetnews.com
Ban Ki-moon, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Mohamed Morsi at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran. Photo courtesy of Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency/Reuters
Syrian refugeses at a camp in Turkey. Photo: Vadim Ghirda/AP, courtesy of Foreign Policy Blogs
By Rebecca Gordon
August, 2012

En español

Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #88/August 31, 2012

By Rebecca Gordon

This month has seen it all. War Times web editor Rebecca Gordon reports on a near-lynching in Jerusalem and anti-Sudanese demonstrations elsewhere in Israel; a bizarre nativist eruption on the floor of the Republican National Convention; and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees overwhelming Turkey, along with the spillover of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems determined to drag his country, along with the U.S., into a war with Iran.

XENOPHOBIA IN ISRAEL AND A NEAR-LYNCHING IN JERUSALEM

In May of 2012, some 3,000 South Sudanese officially-recognized refugees lived in Israel. That’s when Knesset member MiriRegev of the governing right-wing Likud party told a demonstration against African presence in Israel that the refugees were “a cancer in our body.”The crowd turned ugly, and demonstrators attacked nearby Africans, shouting slogans like, “infiltrators get out of our homes!” Three months later, most of the 3,000 have “voluntarily” left Israel, in response to a combination of financial inducements and threats of prolonged imprisonment.

A get-tough policy, including detentions of up to three years and construction of a new 150-mile fence across the border with Egypt, has slowed the influx of Africans seeking asylum, work, or both in Israel. But an estimated 60,000 Africans who are not recognized as refugees remain in Israeli urban slums. Likud and its supporters would like these migrants either detained or deported. And according to a poll reported by Haaretz, nearly 60% of Jewish Israeli 12th graders agree.

Opponents to this African presence argue that their numbers threaten the Jewish nature of the state.This demographic anxiety about the dilution of a Jewish majority reveals the true face behind the mask of Israeli democracy. An unavoidable contradiction lies at the heart of Israel: democracy cannot coexist with ethnic purity.

A few days later, three 13-year-old Israeli settler children were arrested for firebombing a Palestinian taxi on the West Bank, seriously wounding six people.If the Israeli right wing is worried about the demographic challenge of a relatively small number of Africans, they appear flat-out terrified of the larger number of Arabs living in their midst. August saw the near-lynching of 17-year-old Jamal Julani, of East Jerusalem. As Haaretz describes the event, a group of about 30 teenagers, egged on by companions shouting “racist curses,” such as “Jews are souls; Arabs are sons of bitches,” picked Julani out as a random Arab on the street in West Jerusalem. They beat him nearly to death. Eight people have been indicted, including seven minors.

Over the next few years, expected demographic changes will only intensify the contradiction at the heart of Israel. The government’s Central Bureau of Statistics predicts that by 2017, over half the country’s school children will be either Arabs or ultra-orthodox Jews. How long can Israel survive as an apartheid state?

RACISM RAMPANT IN TAMPA AND BEYOND

Meanwhile, the Israeli right wing’s biggest boosters have been partying in Florida.

But the planners of the Republican National Convention could not have been entirely happy when chants of “USA! USA!” erupted on the convention floor on Tuesday  just as the Puerto Rican woman who chairs the party’s Committee on Permanent Organization stepped up to podium. Zoraida Fonalledas was taking the stage to announce the nomination of House Speaker John Boehner as permanent convention chair. As she began to speak in what a Harper’s columnist calls her “accented English,” delegates shook their fists and more took up the chant. The bewildered Fonalledas tried adding her own “USA!” to the tumult, then turned to acting convention chair Reince Priebus for help. In the C-Span video of the event, it’s difficult to tell whether Priebus’s condescension is greater towards the Ron Paul delegates he’s just finished unseating, or towards Fonalledas.

The Republicans and Fonalledas herself were quick to tell Fox News Latino that the chanting had nothing to do with her or her Puerto Rican origins. The shouters were still carrying on an earlier fight over procedural maneuverings that unseated Ron Paul delegates from Maine, they argued. However, this clipfrom C-Span seems to show that while the Paul delegates were indeed already yelling “Nay” and “Seat them,” the “USA” chants didn’t begin until Priebus introduced Fonalledas and she began walking to the podium.

Already that day, two attendees had been tossed out of the conventionfor throwing peanuts at a Black CNN camerawoman while shouting, “This is how we feed the animals!”

What’s under the mask of “reasonable” conservatism is a lot uglier than a few hundred nativist yahoos acting up in Tampa. It’s a party whose platform would make all abortion illegal, limit access to birth control, and send women barefoot and pregnant back to the kitchen (unless, of course their children receive Temporary Aid to Needy Families, in which case, it’s out to work and then to the kitchen). The party had to disown Todd Akin, when he pulled the mask aside to opine on how women’s bodies prevent pregnancy in cases of “legitimate” rape. But his position -- opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest -- made it into the RNC platform.

Observers who’ve been mildly amused that nature sent Tropical Storm Isaac to Tampa will be surprised to learn that for once God had in fact turned his wrath on the Republican Party. Operation Rescue President Troy Newman explains, "Heaven sent a hurricane to hold off Gov. Romney's coronation, so today we're urging pro-life GOP delegates to abstain from any voting on Romney's nomination until all GOP financial support for Todd Akin is reinstated…”

If the Republicans deeply dislike and distrust women, they hate and fear people of color.

They have spent the last four years working hard to suppress the Black and Latino vote, especially in likely swing states. The methods vary by state. South Carolina, for example, passed a law requiring voters to present picture ID. The Nation’s George Zornick reports that governor Nikki Haley:

"got one of the biggest applause lines of the convention so far when she boasted about her voter-suppression achievements back home. ‘We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America—the right to vote,” she said.

Meanwhile in federal court, state Representative Alan Clemmons, the law’s author, was forced to admit that the state had never seen a single example of in-person voter fraud. And the laws racist motivation was exposed when lawyers challenging the law presented this charming email exchange between Clemmons and an unidentified supporter named “Ed.” Ed was objecting to the idea of offering incentives to encourage people to register to vote:

Supporter:It would be like a swarm of bees going after a watermelon.

Clemmons: Amen, Ed, thank you for your support.

Voting rights advocates are also fighting suppression efforts in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In case there was any doubt about the purpose of Ohio’s move to end early and weekend in-person voting, Ohio election board Republican Doug Preisse clarified things, telling the Columbus Dispatchin an email: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.”

In Florida, supporters of voting rights won a victory when a federal judge announced he would vacate legal restrictions that prevent community organizations from registering voters.

Like their counterparts in the Israeli right wing, U.S. Republicans are playing to the deep racial anxiety of a shrinking white majority. Conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan says that Romney “has now firmly grasped the race weapon,” with ads that suggest that Obama’s Medicare changes will steal money from older whites in order to provide health care for “the poor, who tend to be more minority than the rich.” But even some Republican stalwarts worry about how this will play in the long run – not for reasons of morality or justice, but only considering their effectiveness. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham laid bareboth today's Republican strategy and its pitfalls yesterday:

"The demographics race we're losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

IRAN IN THE CROSSHAIRS?

Will he or won’t he? Rumors abounded all month that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is determined to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before the U.S. elections. The theory is that in the heat of an election campaign, President Obama would have no choice but to approve an Israeli fait acompli. But as the U.K. Independent reports, internal Israeli opposition to a strike not sanctioned by the U.S. includes the President Shimon Peres, and “the immediate past heads of Mossad and the internal security service Shin Bet” along with “most of the serving security establishment, excluding the defence minister Ehud Barak.”

So it may be that Netanyahu is merely bluffing, in order to get the U.S. to tighten its sanctions on Iran. Or it may be these maneuvers – including making gas masks available in Tel Aviv – are aimed at the U.S. electorate. 

SYRIANS ON THE ROPES

At the end of August Iran assumed leadership of the Nonaligned Movementas representatives of the Movement’s 120 nations arrived in Tehran. In attendance, despite objections from the U.S, was U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, along with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Ban met with Iranian leaders and publicly castigated Tehran for its record of human rights abuses.

Morsi hopes to bring Iran into peace talks for Syria, where a vicious civil war continued to rage throughout August. He has proposed a four-party “contact group” composed of Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the Washington Post reportsthat at least some rebel groups have already rejected the plan because of the inclusion of Iran, which is providing significant support to the Assad regime, and its almost its only remaining state ally. Morsi used his airtime at the Nonaligned Movement summit to denounce the Syrian regime, a move that undermines Egypt’s possible role as an honest broker.

Meanwhile, the war goes on, and noncombatants continue to suffer and die. On August 15, the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report accusing both the government and opposition forces of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Commission places most of the blame on the government, whose massacres have continued, and even escalated, since the report was issued. On August 27 in Daraya, a town southwest of Damascus, government forces killed between 200 and 400 civilians, mostly Sunni Muslims.

The civil war has provoked a refugee crisis, in which more than 200,000 have fled Syria. Some 80,000-100,000 are now in Turkey – which is now considering closing its border with Syria, as refugee camps are overflowing. (Others have landed in Jordan and Lebanon, were some are now living in Palestinians refugee camps established almost 40 years ago.) The Syrian war is reviving sectarian and ethnic tensions along the Turkish border as well. Turkey’s financial and logistical support for the Syrian opposition angers Turkish Alawites in border towns. And the Assad government has enlisted the support of Syrian Kurds, who like their Turkish counterparts have a long-standing hatred of the Ankara government.

To prevent further influx of refugees, Turkey now advocates creating a safety zone for refugees inside Syria – an option the Assad government rejects outright, and which would require military intervention to establish and maintain. It’s unlikely, too, that Russia, Assad’s major ally in the U.N. Security Council, will support such a proposal when Turkey brings it to the Council, which it is scheduled to do on August 31.

It adds up to extremely dangerous times in the Arab and Muslim world. And a West that is adding more powerful weapons to the mix – not to mention threats of direct intervention – is only adding fuel to the fire. Slim as it seems, the "least worst" path forward seems to be a negotiated arrangement that provides for Assad to step down and creates a path backed by all regional powers for the Syrian people themselves to select a new democratic government.Syria’s civil war is also threatening to destabilize Lebanon, which saw street fighting this month in Tripoli between Sunni and Alawite militias. The Lebanese army, one of the few multi-ethnic Lebanese institutions, risks being riven by revived sectarian strife, as it is called upon to suppress violent clashes like those in Tripoli. Lebanese who remember the bitter 10-year civil war of the 1970s and '80s desperately hope this is not the beginning of a new one. In that earlier war, Israel, the U.S. and Syria supported a variety of ethnic or religious factions. With Iran supporting the Shiite Hezbollah, presently in coalition with the Maronites, and the majority party in government, if Syria drags Lebanon into civil war, it could well provide the spark for a regional conflagration. Add to that the possible repercussions throughout the region if Israel attacks Hezbollah’s sponsor Iran.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Rebecca Gordon is a member of the War Times/Tiempo de Guerras organizing committee. She has been a political activist for more years than she cares to remember, working on issues of feminism, war and peace, economic and racial justice, and specifically torture in the post-9/11 United States. Rebecca's new book, Mainstreaming Torture comes out in May 2014 from Oxford University Press. She's also the author of Letters From Nicaragua, a record of six months spent in the war zones during the contra war.

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