As I pointed out in my post on Hungary last week, anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss had a profound insight into the way we think. Homo sapiens is susceptible to binary oppositions on any number of questions from good and evil to light and darkness. That is probably what explains the lingering appeal of Platonic idealism on the left, most particularly around the question of imperialism versus anti-imperialism.
On one hand you have NATO, the IMF, the EU and the White House—the guys in black hats. And on the other you have the Russian military, the BRICS Development Bank, the Eurasian trading bloc, and the Kremlin—all in white hats. This kind of binary thinking is poorly suited to explaining why a filthy, racist demagogue like Viktor Orban can line up with the Kremlin. If the criterion is opposition to the West, Orban is a “good” leader while Ukraine’s Poroshenko is “evil”.
But the difficulties reach a breaking point when it comes to Benjamin Netanyahu, who next to Barack Obama, is the most nefarious politician in the world according to the binary brigade. Just a day ago, I learned that Netanyahu and his top military advisers were making a trip to the Kremlin in order to discuss security concerns with Putin and his warmakers. Generally, this has been reported as the two leaders getting together to address Israel’s concerns that the latest shipment of Russian arms flowing into Syria will not get into the hands of Hezbollah, supposedly Israel’s mortal enemy as well as the continuing presence of Iranian troops.
The “anti-imperialists” have told us over and over that Israel is using the jihadists as a battering ram against Syria, which is supposedly the best friend of the Palestinians in the region. Every few months there is a new talking point like in June when wounded al-Nusra front “takfiri” were alleged to being transported to Israeli hospitals and returned afterwards to the Golan Heights battlefields after a full recovery. It did not matter to the Baathist amen corner that none of this could be documented.
Asa Winstanley, one of the Assadiist tools who write for Jacobin, went so far as to tell its readers that Israel was for an ISIS victory in the region:
Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, stated in an interview almost a year ago that Israel wants to “let the Sunni evil prevail” over the greater “evil” of Iran and its regional proxies. Speaking in the context of a massacre of Iraqi soldiers, he seemed to argue that Israel should allow the “Islamic State” to win.
Oren isn’t alone among the Israeli elite. Gilad Sharon — the son of the late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who once called for Israel to “flatten all of Gaza” — stated last month that Israel may actually prefer the “Islamic State” terror group (whose origins lie with the al-Qaeda in Iraq group) to Assad and its Hezbollah and Iranian allies.
Now that Israel is coordinating intervention in Syria with Russia, people like Asa Winstanley will have a major job on their hands explaining this but I assume that he is cynical enough to justify anything. Such people seem to be channeling the CPUSA’s support for the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact. That, of course, is what happens when you are reduced to cheap propaganda rather than radical journalism of the John Reed variety.
What makes a political pirouette all the more difficult for Winstanley and company is Israel’s apparent acceptance of the ongoing Russian-American-Syrian bombing campaign against ISIS, one that Russia and Israel have already begun coordinating as the Jerusalem Post reports:
In Russia, Eisenkot met with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Vasilevich Gerasimov – the first time chiefs of staff from Russia and Israel held a direct meeting. Eisenkot also participated in part of the meeting held between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Afterward, the two sides agreed to set up a joint working group led by the deputy chiefs of staff from each country. The first meeting will occur in two weeks, and the location will be decided in the coming days.
“It will coordinate air, naval, and the electromagnetic arenas,” the source said. The full composition of the working group has not yet been determined, he added.
“Everything will be raised there. The meetings in Russia were held in a good atmosphere,” the senior source said.
Nice to hear that there was a good atmosphere. I can just see the military brass from each side sharing vodka and pickled herring.
Haaretz, the liberal Zionist newspaper that tends to be less ideological than the Likudist press in Israel, had a shrewd assessment of the Netanyahu-Putin powwow:
And although Netanyahu only last week said “commentators” were wrong when they warned of a collapse of ties between Israel and the United States in light of the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu’s current visit to Moscow could be seen as an Israeli jab at Washington. The visit seems to reflect Netanyahu’s lack of faith in the ability or the intent of the United States to protect Israel’s security interests.
The visit cannot be considered good news in Washington, which led a campaign of condemnation and sanctions against Moscow over its involvement in the war in Ukraine last summer. (Israel did not take a position on that conflict and was duly rewarded by Russia which issued a moderate response to Israel’s actions in the war on Gaza shortly thereafter.)
The reference to Gaza is likely tied to Russian opposition to the Goldstone Report being taken up by the Security Council in 2009, a document that charged Israel with war crimes. Russia had voted to approve the report in the Human Rights Committee of the UN but shrewdly decided that relations with Israel should not be compromised by putting teeth into a report that might have led to Netanyahu and company suffering the same fate as Milosevic. In explaining their refusal to take up the Goldstone Report on the Security Council, the Russians made that connection clear:
Many of the recommendations of the report, including criticisms of the actions of Hamas-controlled security forces, as well as provisions relating to the observance of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in general, appear justified. However, a number of proposals in the document go beyond the scope of the mission. This applies particularly to the recommendations addressed to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court and the call upon states to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes during the conflict in Gaza, under universal jurisdiction.
We oppose the referral of the report to the UN Security Council. We believe that it is the UN Human Rights Council that constitutes the platform in the format which this report should be considered. Nor do we believe it is advisable to draw international judicial bodies into the investigation.
So Benjamin Netanyahu’s worse fears were averted. There was no need to hire a lawyer to defend him against war crimes even if Ramsey Clark were still available. Bully for the most fearsome enemy of the West on the BRICS front.
So when did Russia make a “turn” toward Israel disavowing the “anti-imperialist” stance that had endeared it to people like Mike Whitney and Andre Vltchek? Unless you are victim to your own propaganda, the evidence was there from the beginning that the Kremlin considered Israel its good friend.
Keep in mind that Russia and Israel share a loathing for what they call Islamic jihadists. In 2000 when Russia was using the same scorched earth military tactics and the same “war on terrorism” rhetoric now being used in Syria, Israel’s foreign minister, the ultrarightist Natan Sharansky, stood behind Putin, comparing his struggle with Israel’s against the Palestinians. The Washington Post editorialized on the Russian-Israeli commonality of interests on April 29, 2002:
Ever since Sept. 11, Putin and Sharon have tried to convince the world that the Muslim national movements seeking to end the military occupations by Russia of Chechnya, and by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza, are indistinguishable from the terrorists of Osama bin Laden and deserve the same treatment. Both have had some luck — Sharon seems to have persuaded most of Congress and half of the Bush administration. But as a season of summits among Russia, the United States and Europe approaches, only Putin seems to have successfully merged the war on terrorism with his own scorched-earth assault on national sovereignty.
Finally, we must say something about whether Israel ever perceived Syria as a mortal threat to its interests, to the point that Asa Winstanley’s ravings could make sense.
Early on Israel took the position that Assad was the “lesser evil”, referring to him as “the devil you know” as opposed to the rebels who were an unknown quantity. As the war dragged on, however, Israel began to see the wisdom of imperialist intervention against ISIS and al-Nusra whether from the White House or the Kremlin.
A more important question is how Syria viewed Israel and the Palestinians. Despite Baathist rhetoric about solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, there is at least one Palestinian who does not buy the bullshit. I refer you to Tariq Al-Faluji, a Palestinian college student who describes himself as “raised to stand up for what’s right, whether it is in Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, or anywhere in the Arab World.” In an April 28, 2013 article for “Beyond Compromise”, he addressed the problem of Palestinian support for the Assad head-on:
First of all, the Assad family is no friend of Palestine. Before Hafez even became president of Syria, he was a commander of the Syrian Air Force. In 1966, when Salah Jadid took over leadership in Syria in a military coup, he was appointed a Defense Minister, effectively becoming the country’s second in command. In 1970, in the wake of Black September, Syria sided with the Palestinians, sending in armored divisions into Jordan. This marks the first occasion of Assad betraying the Palestinians. As commander of the Air Force, he refused to provide the air cover necessary for the Syrian aid to reach the Palestinians. Because of this, the Syrian forces were re-routed and the Palestinians suffered the consequences of losing. Assad used this particular defeat to discredit Jadid and take over via military coup.
That particular instant is not the first occasion and is certainly not the last. In 1976, at the height of the Lebanese Civil War, the Syrian army aided the Phalangist militia in besieging the Palestinian Tel Al-Zaatar refugee camp in Lebanon. After the Syrians and their Lebanese allies shelled the camp, 3000 Palestinians died. The Syrian army was instrumental in the siege of Palestinian refugee camps by the Amal movement, which left several thousand Palestinians dead. The Syrian role in the Lebanese Civil War would lead to many more Palestinian deaths. It should be telling of the nature of the Assad Regime; psychopathic killers with no friends.
Not to mention, Syria has been a perfect “enemy” to Israel for decades. Since 1973, the Syrian army has fired an illustrious zero bullets into Israel. Even with their territory occupied, they remained quiet even when Israeli planes went as far as flying over Assad’s palace in 2006. This illusion that the Syrian regime is the only regime fighting Israel is simply that, an illusion. There is no question that Assad is not by any means a friend of the Palestinian people.
Additionally, what is happening in Syria is a crime against humanity. Thousands are dying, the country is destroyed beyond repair, and millions are refugees. Which is why it is enraging to find Palestinians who support Assad. As a people, we Palestinians know exactly what it is like to be killed in the thousands, lose our country, and have to live our lives as refugees. A Palestinian who can’t see the parallels between what Israel did to Palestinians and what Assad is doing to his own people is simply blind.
If we as a people can be comfortable with the idea that Assad can get away with the murder of his people, then our 65 years under occupation have taught us nothing. Palestinians should be at the forefront of support for any people who are facing killing, forced to leave their country, and being repressed in the most brutal ways possible. The hypocrisy of a Palestinian who spends hours talking about the injustice in Israeli jails while simultaneously supporting a regime that has kept tens of thousands in much worse imprisonment conditions is astounding. How can we be taken seriously as advocates of freedom when we only advocate it when it suits our own purposes? How can anyone talk about Israel killing Palestinians while accepting and condoning the killing of Syrians? The answer is simple. Those two positions simply cannot coexist without hypocrisy.
I imagine sympathy for such an analysis among Palestinians explains why 315 of their number have been tortured to death in Syrian prisons to this point. It is an abomination that the Baathist amen corner tries to turn such murdering beasts into “anti-imperialist” heroes.