Winograd v. Harman race turns white hot over Winograd's call for peace through an Israel/Palestine 'one-state' solution...
By Ernest A. Canning on 1/15/2010, 8:52am PT  

Guest essay by Ernest A. Canning

Had Marcy Winograd simply chosen to denounce violence, both individual and state-based; had she objected to the oppressive nature of Iran's theocratic regime, or, during the 1980s, denounced a South African regime mired in racist apartheid, few would so much as raise an eyebrow.

Winograd's Feb. 15, 2008, speech, "Call For One State," delivered at the Friends of Sabeel Conference on behalf of L.A. Jews for Peace, however, was not merely directed against violence per se or against nations that permit a disparity in the rights of their citizens on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion. She denounced all forms of violence, including "Israeli state terrorism"; asserted that Israel had rendered a two-state solution all but impossible, and said she favored a "one state solution" because you "cannot establish a democracy in a state founded on the institutionalized superiority or exclusivity of one of religion, ethnicity, or culture."

In doing so, the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)-endorsed Winograd, now seeking to unseat a wealthy seven-term 'Blue Dog' Democrat, Jane Harman (D-CA36), touched what many see as a third rail in American politics.

The real question is whether American criticism of Israel should continue to be a political third rail or whether the courage to challenge "the bipartisan mainstream" consensus is long overdue...

Constricted discourse

Former President Jimmy Carter said [emphasis added]:

Americans don’t want to know...what is going on inside Palestine. It’s a terrible human rights persecution that far transcends what any outsider would imagine. And there are powerful political forces in America that prevent any objective analysis of the problem...I think it’s accurate to say that not a single member of Congress with whom I’m familiar would possibly speak out and call for Israel to withdraw to their legal boundaries or to publicize the plight of the Palestinians or even to call publicly and repeatedly for good faith peace talks...So this is a taboo subject. And I would say that if any member of Congress did speak out, as I’ve just described, they would probably not be back in the Congress the next term.

Carter's observation is about to be put to a test, not just within the general confines of the American political system but within the relatively narrow confines of the American Jewish community. (At an estimated 5,128,000, American Jews make up approximately 1.7% of the U.S. population).

Henry Waxman (D-CA), the somewhat progressive and powerful Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who has served in Congress since 1975, would appear to have little in common with the 'Blue Dog' Harman. Yet, he not only endorsed Harman, but submitted an open letter in which he described Winograd as "far outside the bipartisan mainstream of views that has long insisted that US policy be based upon rock-solid support" for Israel.

Waxman, in turn, has drawn the ire of progressives, especially Richard Silverstein, a prominent Jewish writer, who accused Waxman of a McCarthy-like "Israel-baiting," which Silverstein asserts is "the Jewish equivalent of red-baiting."

Both Carter, who expressed the view that Palestinians in Gaza were being treated "more like animals than human beings,” and Waxman are correct. Within the confines of the political elites inside Congress there exists near unanimity entailing unquestioning support for whatever Israel chooses to do, even when that support conflicts with U.N. Resolutions and entails ignoring compelling evidence of a state-sponsored oppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people.

The scope of acceptable discourse on the topic is not much greater within the corporate-owned media. Indeed, one of the intriguing features that emerges from the historical depth and expert analysis contained in Norman Finkelstein's informative work, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, is that his cited sources reveal that the published range of political dissent over Israeli policies is far greater within the State of Israel than it is within the U.S. (E.g., the 10/17/04 Haaretz article by Gideon Levy, quoted by Finkelstein, in which Levy pointed to the disproportionate number of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces, and then added, "the question of who is a terrorist should have long since become very burdensome for every Israeli.")

Zionism and Manifest Destiny

In Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein suggests that the Israel/Palestine conflict is "perfectly amenable to comparative analysis, bearing in mind...the limits of historical analogy":

The obvious reason Israel's apologists shun such comparisons...is that, in any of the roughly comparable cases --- the Euro-American conquest of North America, the apartheid regime of South Africa --- Israel comes out on the wrong side of the analogy.

One can easily point to examples in the collective works of Finkelstein and others, far too numerous to be recounted in a single blog item, that support comparisons of the Israeli/Palestinian relationship under the auspices of Zionism not only to the 19th Century relationship between Euro-Americans/Native Americans under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, but to the more general studies advanced by Prof. Phillip Lombardo in The Lucifer Effect, derived from his early studies of the impact of power disparity between guards and prisoners, and from the process of dehumanization, which is “one of the central processes in the transformation of ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of evil….a ‘cortical cataract’ that clouds one’s thinking and fosters the perception that other people are less than human…to see…others as enemies deserving of torment, torture, and even annihilation."

That "cortical cataract" can be found in an article which appeared in The Jerusalem Post, recounted by Wikipedia, entitled "New Response to Palestinian Terrorism," in which renowned Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz advocated that Israel respond to "the first act of Palestinian terrorism" by destroying "a small village" --- an act which James Bamford of the Washington Post asserts is "outlawed under international law" and which Finkelstein, in Beyond Chutzpah, compared to "the Nazi destruction of Lidice."

That said, there is a fundamental distinction.

Where the Euro-American conquest of Native Americans was carried out under a doctrine --- Manifest Destiny --- that was grounded in racist perceptions of superiority and entitlement, Zionism, though characterized by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 3379 "as a form of racism," also arises from a more benign quest for a "Jewish Homeland" that is the product not just of the Holocaust but a millennium of anti-Semitic persecution throughout the diaspora.

The deep-seated, psychological need for a Jewish homeland, as well as a dehumanized perception of Arabs that is embedded in American culture, helps to explain the seemingly irrational claims in Waxman's open letter.

Waxman expressed the belief that Winograd's call for a peaceful transition to a truly democratic state of Israel in which all citizens --- Jews, Christians and Muslims --- would have equal standing, amounted to a call for the end of Israel as a nation-state. He also believes this would place Jews "at the mercy of those who do not respect democracy or human rights."

Zionist psychological vulnerability and the fear engendered by the process of dehumanization helps to explain the "politics makes strange bedfellows" relationship between Waxman and Harman; a relationship which is not nearly as bizarre as the willingness of many Israelis and American Jews to align themselves with a loony Christian-right, whose Christian Zionism is intended only to hasten "End Times."

As I noted in "’Terrorism’, ‘State Terrorism,’ and Point of View’", albeit in the context of the so-called "Global War on Terror":

If we are to put an end to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described as the "madness," the American public must, en masse, acquire the point of view of those upon whom the bombs are falling....Without that understanding, peace will always remain beyond our grasp.

While I don't necessarily disagree with Silverstein's description of "Israel-baiting" as a 21st Century form of McCarthyism --- a concept better applied to what Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky describe as a dissembling Dershowitz --- such harsh rhetoric fails to take into account the deep seated Jewish insecurity which lies at the foundation of Zionism and which helps to explain why a Henry Waxman would erroneously equate a call for a peaceful, democratic "one-state" solution with a call for the destruction of Israel.

That said, from the perspective of either the the 19th Century Native American or the 21st Century Palestinian, it makes little difference whether the source of their oppression flows from the racist superiority embodied by Manifest Destiny or the religious and ethnic-based insecurity of Zionism. The result is the same, as is the dire need for those of good conscience, and I consider Henry Waxman to be that, to acquire empathy and an understanding of the plight of those who are displaced, oppressed or brutalized by Zionist conquest and occupation. It also points to the dire need to broaden the scope of discourse, especially given the pivotal position that the Israel/Palestine conflict occupies in matters of international war and peace.

Israeli roadblock to progressive change in the American Jewish Community

The almost non-existent range of debate in both Congress and the corporate-owned media is attributable not simply to the extraordinarily effective lobbying by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (A.I.P.A.C.) but to what Finkelstein describes in Beyond Chutzpah as periodic propaganda campaigns that depict anyone who is critical of Israel as an anti-Semite.

The tactic becomes a bit more difficult when, as in the case of Finkelstein, the Israel critic is an American Jew of considerable intellectual stature. It is there that Dershowitz, who at one time served as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and who was a 1983 "recipient of the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award from the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai Brith for his work in civil rights," sought to squelch academic freedom when, in the words of Noam Chomsky, Dershowitz launched an academic "Jihad" to prevent Finkelstein from receiving tenure at De Paul University.

And even when this "taboo" subject is addressed, the speaker finds a need to tout his or her Jewish/Holocaust credentials, as Winograd did when she submitted a Jan. 3, 2010 open, letter response to Waxman, in which, while acknowledging a willingness to accept a "two-state" solution, Winograd boldly set forth her reasons for advancing the "one-state" solution:

Like you, I am intimately aware of our Jewish history. On my mother’s side, my great-grandparents escaped the Russian Pogroms to make a better life for themselves in Europe. On my father’s side, my great-grandparents were killed in the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Because of our collective experience with persecution, it behooves us to stand in opposition to persecution anywhere and everywhere, rather than sanctify reductionist state policies that cast all Jews as victims who can only thrive in a segregated society. Furthermore, we must stand in explicit opposition to the Israeli persecution of the Palestinians; the brutal blockade of Gaza, an act of war by international standards, denying children clean water, food, and medicine.

We are better than that.

In your letter, you reference my speech in support of a one state solution, one that would recognize both Israelis and Palestinians as equals in a land of great historical significance to both. Security for Jews and Palestinians will be increased, not decreased, by efforts to establish a state where all are welcome and treated equally...

Unhealthy absence of dissent

As James Madison so astutely observed:

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

In a truly democratic society there should be no taboo subjects; no third rails; no "bi-partisan" consensus that is so rigid as to amount to a form of groupthink.

A broad range of discourse is essential to the health of our democracy.

Like Martin Luther King before her, who bravely called his own nation "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" in his seminal "Beyond Vietnam" speech, Marcy Winograd's "Call for One State" address deserves recognition as a moral attempt to bring order out of chaos, as a bold effort to break an endless cycle of violence and as an example of the progress that can be made when we acquire an empathetic understanding of the point of view of the other.

It is a speech which underscores her extraordinary qualification for the office she seeks and no doubt one of the many reasons why so many thinking progressives have endorsed her candidacy.

Note: While it should really make no difference in how this piece is perceived, perhaps it should be pointed out that my late father was British and a Protestant; my late mother, a Russian Jew. In the words of one of my dear Jewish friends, that makes me "neither fish nor foul" though others have told me that "if your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish" --- as if my father had nothing to do with my birth. I do not adhere to either religion. I'm an atheist.

UPDATE 01/17/10: In posting this article, the PDA provided a link to the Israel/Palestine Action Group, which site states, in pertinent part:

PDA believes that a peaceful and just resolution of the Israel Palestinian conflict can significantly advance the potential for the people and nations of the planet to live in a world without war. A peaceful and just resolution of this conflict requires the international community to recognize the national aspirations and to honor the human rights of all peoples and ethnic groups living in the occupied Palestinian Territories, within Israel, and in the Jewish and Palestinian diaspora (as defined by international law and recognized principles of human rights). PDA calls for equal democratic rights for Israelis and Palestinians --- including the right to collective sovereignty within a political entity or entities of their own choosing --- and for an immediate end to hostilities in the region.

===

Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).