The Middle East and Double Standards
By: P. David Hornik
Sunday, June 21, 2009
The troubling contrast between Obama’s Iranian and Israeli policies.
In the same week that President Barack Obama said it would “not [be] productive [for] the U.S. president [to be seen as] meddling in Iranian elections,” Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that “Everywhere people are born, people die, and we cannot accept a vision of stopping completely the settlements. We have to keep the natural growth.”
Clinton, for her part, “reiterated that the U.S. viewed a total settlement freeze as an ‘important and essential’ step toward achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
In other words, “natural growth”—whether or not the population of a settlement would, say, increase over the course of a year because fifty babies had been born within its confines—remained an issue on the table between the U.S. and Israel. Meanwhile, a poll found only 6% of Jewish Israelis saying the Obama administration was pro-Israeli and 50% saying it was more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli.
Also last week it was reported that the U.S. was upping the pressure on Israel to allow more supplies into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip including cash from Ramallah-based banks to Gaza banks and also iron and steel—even though Israel knows those metals are used to make military bunkers and Qassam rockets. It was also conveyed that “the Obama administration thinks Israel’s linkage of the case of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit and the opening of the [Gaza] crossings was not constructive.”
That is, in return for thousands of rockets being fired at its territory, and its kidnapped soldier being held in Gaza for three years without visits even by the Red Cross, the administration wants Israel to react with—largess, even militarily dangerous largess.
It’s true that on Saturday Obama finally made a less neutral, ever so faintly meddlesome statement on Iran, saying:
…We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights…. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion….
It was an improvement—but not much of one. It somehow didn’t catch the flavor of the axes, daggers, bullets, batons, boiling water, and acid being used against the unarmed demonstrators in Tehran and the other cities. One wouldn’t have known it was being addressed to the most vicious and dangerous regime in the world, the thirty-year epicenter of anti-American and anti-Western terror, champion both of Holocaust denial and a new Holocaust, oppressor-by-proxy of Lebanon and backer of the very Hamas regime in Gaza that the administration seems so intent on bolstering.
Obama’s words—“The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected”—sounded, instead, as if addressed to a reasonable, generally well-behaved regime that had gone off track and needed a little admonishment. Not the regime that hangs homosexuals and teenage girls, whose prisons are some of the world’s worst dens of cruelty and torture, but one that “seeks the respect of the international community” and needs to be mildly reminded that it might be losing it.
There are, indeed, grounds for caution in assessing the situation in Iran. Mousavi’s record is no better than that of the ruling clique that probably robbed him of his win at the polls. Undoubtedly there are genuine democrats as well as Islamists among the protesters, but the fact that they have, even if by default, adopted Mousavi as their figurehead reflects the fact that the liberals have no leader of their own or cohesion of organization and purpose. That, in turn, makes the protesters much less than a sure horse to back against the repressive resources of the regime.
But that does not change the fact that the rebellion marks a potential historical crossroads and an astonishing opportunity—if the U.S. and its allies were there to seize it—to turn the tables on a menacing regime by strongly and publicly backing the rebels, highlighting the regime’s ongoing record of subversion and terror, and marshaling economic and other pressures to further weaken it amid the upheaval. That Obama—still nursing his hopes of negotiating with the mullahs a reasonable compromise over their nuclear plans—has instead subjected the regime to nothing worse than mild admonishment has the look, so far, of a tragedy in the making.
Many have speculated as to Obama’s motives. One fruitful place to look is his policy toward the Middle East’s only accomplished democracy, which has stunned the Israeli people and intimidated a newly elected prime minister into altering his lifelong stance of opposition to a Palestinian state abutting Israel’s capital city, airport, vital infrastructure, and crowded coastal strip.
If the contrast between Barack Obama’s Iranian and Israeli policies indeed stems from a flawed worldview in which aggressors like the Iranian regime and Hamas are manifesting just grievances that it is the West’s duty to mollify, then the world is in for a tough ride and the fighters against evil will keep finding themselves very much alone.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.