Category Archives: Elections

The Only Jewish Ghetto in the Middle East

The results from Tuesday’s Israeli elections have confirmed what many of us have known for a long while. The Jewish state is an ultra nationalist right wing swamp. Israel is more hawkish than more hawkish than ever. There is not a single Jewish Israeli Left wing party. The Democratic Party is led and mentored by a war criminal. What is left of Israel’s Labour Party has very little to do with peace, harmony and reconciliation. In fact, that Party is also led by a person wanted for war crimes.

As things now stand, although Bibi’s right/religious block has shrunk, Israel is more right wing than ever. The longest serving Israeli PM cannot form his natural right/religious coalition. Most Israeli commentators agree that the only way out of the current political stalemate is with a wide ultranationalist government led by Likud, Blue and White and others. Such a coalition will be brokered in the coming days by the rabid nationalist zealot Avigdor Lieberman who has skillfully made himself into Israel’s king maker.

While Netanyahu has proven to be pretty cautious in his deployment of Israel’s vast military forces, we have good reason to believe that a coalition led by Blue and White and its IDF generals, Lieberman and Netanyahu, may be less adept at such maneuvers. The components of Israel’s next government are destined to compete among themselves for the ‘Mr. Security’ title. They will be determined to reinstate the long faded Israeli ‘power of deterrence,’ and presumably, they will push for questionable measures that will likely pull the region into carnage.

This was written on the wall some time ago. Israel, that was born to emancipate the Jews from diaspora conditions, to replace the Jewish ghetto and to eradicate the ghetto mentality, didn’t just fail in its mission: it has matured into the epitome of a ghetto. It has surrounded itself with humongous ghetto walls. It hates its neighbours and not surprisingly, it is not loved in return.

The Jewish ghetto on the Palestinian seashore resembles, on many levels, its East-European ancestor. Israel’s Jews are united by their hostile feelings towards their neighbours although they are in sharp disagreement amongst themselves about pretty much everything else. Once again, the old Yiddish joke comes to mind: “How many synagogues do you need in a village with just one Jew? Two, one to go to and one to boycott.” Jews are defined not only by what they are or what they believe themselves to be, but also by what they hate or claim to oppose.

Israel is not troubled by its failure to fulfill the early Zionist promise to ‘civilize’ the Jews by means of a ‘homecoming,’ to become “people like all other people.” For more than three decades Israel has defined itself as the Jewish State. Israel is not a state of its citizens. Israel is the state of the Jews, both Israelis and Diaspora. Israel is a state that enforces racial laws and has institutionaized discrimination against the people of the land, the Palestinians.

Unlike Israeli Jews who are divided in their politics, the Palestinians are more united than ever and not just in Gaza. Once again, the Arab Joint List is the 3rd biggest party in the Knesset. If Likud and Blue and White manage to form a national unity government, the Arab party will be leading the opposition in the Knesset. The Arab party not only united the Palestinians in Israel, it is also the only Left party in the Israeli parliament. It has been said that the Party expanded electorally on Tuesday because those very few Israeli Jews who adhere to Left universal values gave their votes to the Arab party. It is more than symbolic that the only humane and universal political force in the Israeli ghetto is a Palestinian party.

Israelis Have Made their Verdict Clear: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Time is Up

For most Israelis, the general election on Tuesday was about one thing and one thing only. Not the economy, nor the occupation, nor even corruption scandals. It was about Benjamin Netanyahu. Should he head yet another far-right government, or should his 10-year divisive rule come to an end?

Barring a last-minute upset as the final ballot papers are counted, Israelis have made their verdict clear: Netanyahu’s time is up.

In April’s inconclusive election, which led to this re-run, Netanyahu’s Likud party tied with its main opponent in the Blue and White party, led by retired general Benny Gantz. This time Gantz appears to have nudged ahead, with 32 seats to Netanyahu’s 31 in the 120-member parliament. Both parties fared worse than they did in April, when they each secured 35 seats.

But much more significantly, Netanyahu appears to have fallen short of the 61-seat majority he needs to form yet another far-right government comprising settler and religious parties.

His failure is all the more glaring, given that he conducted by far the ugliest – and most reckless – campaign in Israeli history. That was because the stakes were sky-high.

Only a government of the far-right – one entirely beholden to Netanyahu – could be relied on to pass legislation guaranteeing him immunity from a legal process due to begin next month. Without it, he is likely to be indicted on multiple charges of fraud and breach of trust.

So desperate was Netanyahu to avoid that fate, according to reports published in the Israeli media on election day, that he was only a hair’s breadth away from launching a war on Gaza last week as a way to postpone the election.

Israel’s chief law officer, attorney general Avichai Mendelblit, stepped in to halt the attack when he discovered the security cabinet had approved it only after Netanyahu concealed the army command’s major reservations.

Netanyahu also tried to bribe right-wing voters by promising last week that he would annex much of the West Bank immediately after the election – a stunt that blatantly violated campaigning laws, according to Mendelblit.

Facebook was forced to shut down Netanyahu’s page on two occasions for hate speech – in one case after it sent out a message that “Arabs want to annihilate us all – women, children and men”. That sentiment appeared to include the 20 per cent of the Israeli population who are Palestinian citizens.

Netanyahu incited against the country’s Palestinian minority in other ways, not least by constantly suggesting that their votes constituted fraud and that they were trying to “steal the election”.

He even tried to force through a law allowing his Likud party activists to film in Arab polling stations – as they covertly did in April’s election – in an unconcealed attempt at voter intimidation.

The move appeared to have backfired, with Palestinian citizens turning out in larger numbers than they did in April.

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, intervened on Netanyahu’s behalf by announcing the possibility of a defence pact requiring the US to come to Israel’s aid in the event of a regional confrontation.

None of it helped.

Netanayhu’s only hope of political survival – and possible avoidance of jail time – depends on his working the political magic he is famed for.

That may prove a tall order. To pass the 61-seat threshold, he must persuade Avigdor Lieberman and his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party to support him.

Netanyahu and Lieberman, who is a settler, are normally ideological allies. But these are not normal times. Netanyahu had to restage the election this week after Lieberman, sensing the prime minister’s weakness, refused in April to sit alongside religious parties in a Netanyahu-led government.

Netanyahu might try to lure the fickle Lieberman back with an irresistible offer, such as the two of them rotating the prime ministership.

But Lieberman risks huge public opprobrium if, after putting the country through a deeply unpopular re-run election, he now does what he refused on principle to do five months ago.

Lieberman has nearly doubled his party’s seats to nine, by insisting that he is the champion of the secular Israeli public.

Most importantly for Lieberman, he finds himself once again in the role of kingmaker. It is almost certain he will shape the character of the next government. And whoever he anoints as prime minister will be indebted to him.

The deadlock that blocked the formation of a government in April still stands. Israel faces the likelihood of weeks of frantic horse-trading and even the possibility of a third election.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of Palestinians – whether those under occupation or those living in Israel as third-class citizens – the next Israeli government is going to be a hardline right one.

On paper, Gantz is best placed to form a government of what is preposterously labelled the “centre-left”. But given that its backbone will comprise Blue and White, led by a bevy of hawkish generals, and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, it would, in practice, be nearly as right wing as Netanyahu’s.

Gantz even accused Netanyahu of stealing his idea in announcing last week that he would annex large parts of the West Bank.

The difficulty is that such a coalition would depend on the support of the 13 Joint List legislators representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority. That is something Lieberman has rejected out of hand, calling the idea “absurd” early on Wednesday as results were filtering in. Gantz appears only a little more accommodating.

The solution could be a national unity government comprising much of the right: Gantz’s Blue and White teamed up with Likud and Lieberman. Both Gantz and Lieberman indicated that was their preferred choice on Wednesday.

The question then would be whether Netanyahu can worm his way into such a government, or whether Gantz demands his ousting as a price for Likud’s inclusion.

Netanyahu’s hand in such circumstances would not be strong, especially if he is immersed in a protracted legal battle on corruption charges. There are already rumblings of an uprising in Likud to depose him.

One interesting outcome of a unity government is that it could provoke a constitutional crisis by making the Joint List, the third-largest party, the official opposition. That is the same Joint List described by Netanyahu as a “dangerous anti-Zionist” party.

Ayman Odeh would become the first leader of the Palestinian minority to attend regular briefings by the prime minister and security chiefs.

Netanyahu will continue as caretaker prime minister for several more weeks – until a new government is formed. If he stays true to form, there is plenty of mischief he can instigate in the meantime.

• First published in The National

Challenging the NDP on Palestine During the Election Campaign

Last week I interrupted Jagmeet Singh at a public event to criticize the NDP’s suppression of Palestine solidarity activism.

Holding a placard with the words “Jagmeet, Palestinian Lives Matter”, I demanded the NDP leader apologize for overturning the vote of members who elected Rana Zaman to represent the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour ridding because she defended Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers. I also asked him to apologize for suppressing debate at last year’s convention on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations. I also criticized his refusal to heed the call from 200 prominent individuals, labour leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG).

While my intervention was a bit chaotic — there was a concurrent disruption and my phone rang — it served its purpose. It was mentioned in a La Presse story and Global News did a 2 ½ minute clip titled “Protester asks Jagmeet Singh for apology over removal of former NDP candidate in Halifax.” Two hundred people in the room heard the criticism and the video I shot of the intervention was viewed more than 3,000 times online.

In his response, Singh claimed he wasn’t responsible for ousting Zaman but rather a party committee. While technically correct, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t okay it, particularly considering NDP National Director Melissa Bruno – quoted justifying Zaman’s ouster – was Singh’s chief of staff as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP between 2012 and 2017. (Bruno took a break to be “part of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign”, notes her bio.) Similarly, during the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the Palestine Resolution at the convention. Additionally, Singh explicitly rejected the call for the NDP to withdraw from CIIG.

Zaman is not the only candidate the NDP blocked from running at least partly because they support Palestinian rights. A number of individuals who signed the open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from CIIG had their bids sabotaged. Robbie Mahood and Barry Weisleder were formally disallowed while Saron Gebresellassi and Sid Ryan’s bids to run in the upcoming election were subverted. Christeen Elizabeth who didn’t sign the letter but supports the Palestinian led boycott movement was also blocked.

The recent decision to block pro-Palestinian candidates follow on the heels of the NDP stopping as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates in 2015 for defending Palestinian rights. Back then at least the NDP had the excuse that it was the official opposition and atop the polls with Thomas Mulcair explicitly positioning the party as the mainstream alternative to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Today, after the Liberals campaigned to their left in the last election, the NDP has the third most seats in the House of Commons, is languishing below 10% in the polls and the Green Party is polling ahead of them. Many NDP MPs are not running again and the Liberals are portraying themselves as the only credible “left” alternative to the Conservatives.

While it is clear that most voters have decided there is little point to a ‘Liberal-lite’ brand of NDP, the party brass seems determined to follow the same anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian, centrist script that proved a dead end before. It seems they are more eager to play to the dominant media than party members.

But, there’s a better way. When the Liberals recently ousted Hassan Guillet as a candidate for challenging Israeli apartheid, the NDP should have asked the high-profile Imam to run for the party. The winner of the Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel riding nomination gained global notoriety for his sermon at the memorial for the victims of the 2017 Québec City mosque attack. Offering Guillet a spot would have embarrassed the Liberals, brought many Quebec Muslims into the NDP fold and increased the party’s chance of winning Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel or another Montréal riding. It would be good for the NDP to be seen as willing to challenge the Israel lobby, dominant media and Liberals over the issue.

Pro-Palestinian supporters of the NDP should not be afraid of challenging the party leadership during the election campaign. Having seen Singh in action during a confrontation, as well as Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer, I can tell you the NDP leader performs better than the others. Rather than have security usher me out, he at least responded by expressing sympathy towards the plight of Palestinians.

The right wing, Israeli nationalist lobby will be active during the election campaign. So too must the Palestinian solidarity movement.

While B’nai B’rith can garner coverage of their criticism of the NDP by releasing a statement, Palestine solidarity activists must disrupt public events for the media to take interest. If that means wherever he goes across the country Jagmeet Singh is confronted by Palestine solidarity activists raising the name of Rana Zaman, the Palestine Resolution and the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, so be it. Palestinian lives matter. Certainly, more than the comfort of politicians and political parties.

How Israel’s Religious Right is Now in the Driving Seat

The real fight in Israel’s re-run election next month is not between the right wing and a so-called “centre-left” but between two rival camps within the nationalist right, according to analysts.

The outcome may prove a moment of truth for the shrinking secular right as it comes up once again against an ever-more powerful camp that fuses religion with ultra-nationalism.

Will the secular right emerge with enough political weight to act as a power-broker in the post-election negotiations, or can the religious right form a government without any support from the secular parties? That is what the election will determine.

An earlier election in April, which failed to produce a decisive result between these two camps, nonetheless confirmed the right’s absolute dominance. The Zionist centre-left parties, including the founding Labor party, were routed, securing between them just 10 seats in the 120-member parliament.

Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, was forced to stage new elections, on 17 September, after April’s ballot left him unable to rope together secular and religious parties on the right.

To secure a majority in parliament, he needed to include the five seats of the anti-religious Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman eventually pulled out of coalition talks, saying he was not prepared to sit in a government with two parties effectively run by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. This time, he has indicated he won’t sit with any of the religious parties.

Vehicle for protest

Much of the rest of the secular right has deserted Netanyahu’s Likud party. At the last election, they mostly found a political home in the new Blue and White party, led by a former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz.

Polls suggest Lieberman may also attract a larger share of these voters after his recent stand-off with Netanyahu. He has demanded an exclusively secular right-wing government, comprising Likud, Blue and White, and his own Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Blue and White has presented itself chiefly as a vehicle for protest against Netanyahu. They oppose a decade of governments in which he has allowed the religious right to play an increasingly assertive role, and the ever-deepening corruption scandals he has been embroiled in. Netanyahu is expected to be charged with fraud and breach of trust in the immediate wake of next month’s election.

Blue and White has been misleadingly labelled as centrist by some observers. But it tied with Netanyahu’s Likud, at 35 seats each, in April by appealing to a largely secular strain of right-wing nationalism that three decades ago was the domain of the Likud party.

Now Netanyahu and the religious right hope to work in tandem to secure between them a narrow majority of seats to form a government without relying on the secular right-wing parties of either Lieberman or Gantz.

A more polarised Israel

Yossi Gurvitz, an Israeli journalist and researcher on religious extremism, said the rise of the religious right was an indication of wider shifts in Israeli society.

“Israel is getting more religious, and its religious parties are getting more extreme, while much of what’s left of Israeli society is becoming more militantly secular in response,” he told Middle East Eye. “Israel is polarising, and each side is increasingly intolerant of the other.”

The secular camp, however, has been playing a less significant role with each passing government.

Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, said he doubted whether it was still possible for a secular government to be established without including some of the religious parties.

“It would be a nightmare,” he told MEE. “Any move, whether allowing transport on Shabbat, dismantling settlements or talking to the Palestinian leadership would face an enormous social backlash if it was made without the sanction of the religious factions.”

‘Chosen people’

A poll of Israeli Jews last year by the liberal Haaretz newspaper highlighted Israeli society’s growing religiosity, which closely aligns with the rise of ultra-nationalism.

Some 54 percent of the Jewish public expressed a belief in God, with that figure rising to 78 percent among those describing themselves as on the right.

An overwhelming majority of right-wing Israelis – 79 percent – view Jews as the chosen people, and a similar number, 74 percent, believe Israel exists by divine promise.

Younger voters are markedly more religious than their grandparents – 64 percent compared to 22 percent. Exactly half of young Israelis reject the scientific theory of evolution, and 58 percent believe in life after death. Haaretz noted a clear correlation between Israeli youth’s growing religiosity and their embrace of right-wing views.

“If you think Israel is religious, conservative and hawkish enough as it is, wait for the fundamentalist theocracy that’s lurking around the corner,” the paper’s analyst Chemi Shalev concluded.

Rallying the right

How Israel’s coming election plays out will depend on how successful Netanyahu is in rallying religious voters to the polling booth, either for Likud or for a handful of more overtly religious parties.

The religious right itself is characterised by three main blocs. All believe that the occupied territories belong exclusively to the Jewish people, and are united in their unabashed support for the settlements and the entrenchment of the occupation.

Political differences relate chiefly to matters of how quickly and brazenly the occupied territories should be annexed and how the Palestinian population there should be dealt with.

More significant than ideological differences, however, are the varied religious constituencies that each bloc represents.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is the largest, and draws primarily on the support of religious traditionalists – Israeli Jews who are generally observant and socially conservative.

Likud, Gurvitz noted, has moved more firmly into the religious camp since 2005 when its then-leader, Ariel Sharon, pulled the last remaining settlers out of Gaza. A backlash from the settlers effectively forced Sharon and his supporters out of Likud to create a short-lived secular faction called Kadima.

“What was left behind in Likud was the hard right,” he said. “The party has been moving ever further to the right under Netanyahu.”

Since then, the settlers and their allies have come to dominate Likud’s internal committees, meaning none of its parliamentary candidates wish to risk alienating them, according to Gurvitz.

Politics of the rabbis

The second bloc comprises two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, which look to their respective chief rabbis for political direction. Between them they won 16 seats in April.

The main difference between the two relates to ethnicity. United Torah Judaism represents the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community, whose recent ancestry is traced to Europe. Shas, meanwhile, represents the Mizrahim, Jews whose families hailed mostly from the Arab world.

Shas, observed Gurvitz, has blended its rigid belief in divine law with nationalism more easily than UTJ because of its long-held anti-Arab positions. A section of its followers serve in the army. Some also work, unlike most Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox men, who devote themselves to studying the Torah.

The UTJ, by contrast, has adapted more slowly. Historically, it was anti-Zionist, rejecting the secular institutions of an Israeli state – including the army and the courts – until the Messiah arrived to build God’s kingdom.

But over the past two decades, its leaders too have gradually, though more reluctantly, moved into the nationalist fold.

That change, according to Gurvitz, has happened because, given the ultra-Orthodox public’s high birth rates, many have been forced to seek cheap housing solutions in the settlements.

“As they move into the settlements, their politics shift further rightwards,” said Gurvitz. “Nowadays they give their leaders hell if they don’t stick fast to ultra-nationalistic positions, or if they try to cut deals with parties outside the right.”

Gurvitz added: “This means the ultra-Orthodox parties are today effectively in the bag for Netanyahu.”

Orders from God

The third bloc comprises various small far-right parties representing what are known in Israel as the national-religious camp – those who subscribe to the ideology of the settler community.

Gurvitz estimates the camp numbers close to one million – or about one in seven of Israel’s Jewish population. About half live in the settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The majority are religious, but not all of them.

The camp has proved fractious, but its three main parties established an electoral coalition last week called United Right, which polls currently suggest may win up to 14 seats.

The oldest of the parties is Jewish Home, whose new leader is Rafael Peretz, a former chief rabbi of the Israeli army and currently serving as Netanyahu’s interim education minister.

Peretz has caused controversy recently by referring to a trend of American Jews marrying non-Jews as a “second Holocaust” and by speaking out in favour of gay conversion therapy, claiming to have performed it himself successfully in the past.

The second party, Tkuma, is led by Bezalel Smotrich, currently the transport minister. After being appointed, he declared that he took his orders from God, not Netanyahu.

Smotrich has in the past called for a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian children who throw stones, and demanded segregated maternity wards to prevent Israeli and Palestinian citizens mixing. He has also described himself as a “proud homophobe”.

Both Peretz and Smotrich were due to deliver speeches this week at a ceremony honouring Yitzchak Ginsburgh. The controversial rabbi has praised the King’s Torah, a notorious handbook that sanctions the murder of Palestinian children, and has previously lauded Baruch Goldstein, who massacred dozens of Palestinians in a Hebron mosque in 1994.

Gaza’s ‘little snakes’

The third party in the coalition, New Right, which broke from Jewish Home late last year, narrowly failed to pass the electoral threshold in April, costing Netanyahu his victory.

Now led by Ayelet Shaked, a secular politician, New Right downplays the role of Jewish religious law. It has tried to appeal to secular, nationalistic Jews by adopting a more tolerant stance on identity issues, such as gay rights and feminism.

Shaked, who previously served as justice minister, has been outspoken in rejecting liberal democratic values, however, calling them “utopian”. She has said: “Zionism should not – and will not – bow before a system of individual rights interpreted universally.”

During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, she also declared that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy”, and appeared to approve of the slaughter of Gaza’s civilians, calling for Palestinian mothers to be killed to stop them giving birth to “little snakes”.

Three smaller national-religious parties are outside the United Right coalition and, barring last-minute changes, are not expected to make it into the parliament.

Noam is a backlash party from within the national-religious camp to the social liberalism of Shaked’s New Right, demanding a “normative” Jewish family life.

Jewish Power comprises the unrepentant remnants of the virulently anti-Arab Kach party, led by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, that was outlawed in Israel in the 1990s.

And the libertarian-nationalist Zehut party, led by Moshe Feiglin, an exile from Likud, demands full annexation of the West Bank.

State agencies infiltrated

Gurvitz observed that the three main national-religious factions all place a strong emphasis on military service, and have focused on getting settlers into senior roles inside the army.

Rather than rejecting the state’s secular institutions, as the ultra-Orthodox tend to do, the settler parties have been working hard to infiltrate and gradually take them over, with some success in the case of the police, the courts, the education system and even the ruling Likud party.

They view themselves as in a culture war, trying to infuse Israel with a stronger Jewish identity.

The three parties have minor differences over their approaches to annexation of the West Bank, likely the biggest issue facing the next parliament.

Shaked’s New Right and Peretz’s Jewish Home demand formal annexation of most of the West Bank, denying Palestinians there equal rights and imposing apartheid-style rule over them.

Since Donald Trump became US President, Likud has moved closer to openly adopting this as its policy.

Smotrich, meanwhile, would prefer to annex the entire West Bank and has been more explicit in suggesting it would be necessary to ethnic cleanse Palestinians as part of that annexation process.

Courts intimidated

Paradoxically, two of the three religious-dominated blocs are led by secular politicians: Likud by Netanyahu, and the coalition of settler parties by Shaked.

Shaked’s leadership role is the more surprising given that national-religious rabbis have pushed to remove women from public life.

However, Shaked has won support from influential figures such as Avichai Rontski, a former army chief rabbi. He has approved partnerships with nationalist secular politicians, calling them “religious in the broad sense of the word”.

Analysts noted that Shaked has won a dominant role in the political leadership of the national-religious public, over the rabbis’ objections, for two reasons.

First, she proved to be a very effective justice minister for the settlers in Netanyahu’s last government. She intimidated the courts and promoted a large number of conservative religious judges, including to the supreme court.

Equally importantly, noted Gurvitz, she changed the justice ministry’s position on settlement “outposts”, built in violation of a settlement freeze agreed by Israel in the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s.

Traditionally, justice ministry officials accepted – at least in public – that these 100 or so outposts were illegal and that they should be dismantled when the army or the government viewed the time as right.

But officials under Shaked changed tack, arguing to the courts that the outposts were in essence legal, but had been created with administrative irregularities that needed correcting. The Regularisation Law formalised this approach, clearing the way to future annexation of much of the West Bank.

Nationalism as ‘a bridge’

Second, Klein pointed out, Shaked was seen as a bridge between the religious and secular nationalist right that could maximise its electoral vote.

The complexity on the right, he said, was caused by the fact that “Jewish” identity had both religious and ethnic components.

“For some people their Jewish nationalism is based on theology and religious observance. For others, like Shaked and Netanyahu, their nationalism derives from an idea of Jewish peoplehood, without a religious element. You can find both types supporting Likud and the national-religious bloc.

“The ‘peoplehood nationalists’ are not interested in universal values. They think the Jewish people are special, and that they have extra rights as Jews. Any religious sentiments they harbour are subservient to this idea of peoplehood,” he said.

Polls have shown Shaked to be remarkably popular among religious nationalists, coming out way ahead of her rivals.

For all three parties to pass the electoral threshold and avoid wasting votes, Klein observed, they needed to unite.

In fact, to maximise votes for the religious right and avoid needing Lieberman’s seats, Netanyahu pushed hard to get the openly anti-Arab party Jewish Power into the United Right coalition – without success.

Klein noted that Netanyahu preferred working with the religious over the secular right. In the run-up to the election, all the religious parties have been keen to pledge allegiance to a Netanyahu government.

“They are very easy partners for Netanyahu,” he said. “Give them a few ministries and some budgets for their community and they will get behind whatever he wants to do.”

‘Difficult dance’ for votes

Shaked and Netanyahu are politically similar. Shaked worked as Netanyahu’s bureau chief back in 2006, and a short time later brought in Naftali Bennett, her current partner in New Right. Both left four years later after a personal falling out with Netanyahu.

The Israeli media widely reported Shaked’s efforts to return to Likud before the September election. Netanyahu rebuffed her. That may be in part because he fears she could be a major challenger for his Likud crown were she to gain a foothold.

Gurvitz observed that Netanyahu was involved in a “difficult dance” with the settler parties for votes.

“He needs their votes to ensure he can form a government, but he doesn’t want them so strong that they can dictate terms to him,” he said.

Gurvitz believed that, with the United Right now certain to pass the threshold, Netanyahu would seek to steal votes from them in the final stages of the election, as he has done before.

The fact that Likud and the United Right compete for largely the same pool of voters had fuelled even more extremist positions on the right, he added.

“The national-religious parties need to offer more extreme policies to distinguish themselves from Likud, otherwise they will lose votes to Netanyahu,” he said.

“But that then encourages Netanyahu to take more extreme positions to ensure he doesn’t look less nationalist than his rivals. It ends up creating a spiral of extremism.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Survivor 2020, and some Ghosts from Recent Elections Past

Gore Vidal once remarked that the United States has only one political party with two right wings.  At the risk of betraying my own political bias:  I couldn’t agree more!  Still, maybe 2020 will be different?

The ultra-marathon-up to the next election has already begun in the Summer of 2019 with the Democratic Party debates.  MSNBC, a kind of Fox News for liberals network, hosted the first round, fielding twenty candidates, split evenly over two nights.  Most of the presidential contestants in this “high concept game show” format were treated as bunting, or so many doodles in the margins of a Big Pharma script, more to be seen than heard..  As boutique diversity merges into statistical redundancy, the DNC theory seems to be: the more contestants, the more emphatic shall be the “win” of the eventual “winner.”  But, wasn’t that the Republican formula in 2015/16?

No matter how the contest is set up, upsets are always possible–or, even desirable.  For example, witness Hillary Clinton’s nomination over Bernie Sanders — “Oops!” — only four years ago.  Then, lo and beholden to all the bankers who’ve bailed him out, Donald Trump “burned,” so to speak, Clinton in the general election, which he only lost by a whopping 3 million votes — and Clinton wasn’t all that popular to begin with!  Just ask Bernie Sanders, or Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Indeed, contrary to conventional expectations, upsets were the order of the day during the last quadrennial election cycle.  God forbid that we should be allowed to elect a Socialist-sounding Jew from Vermont! Hillary Clinton, and her big bank backers, certainly did not want that; so, why not hand the country off to a Reality TV show host like the big bank beholden Trump, instead? Was that the sound of our one political party rubbing its two right wings together?

Because American politics have become so like sports by other means, it is worth reiterating that the 2020 DNC strategy has not only copied the 2016 Republican playbook:  they have actually expanded upon it by simply adding more players.  Recall that the Republican side of the post-Obama campaign began with a baker’s dozen of contestants with “unelectability” literally tattooed on their foreheads — including that tweety faux-pachyderm, Trump.  Given the “surprising” results of 2016, it is notable that Team Trump chose not to challenge Barack Obama in 2012, despite Trump’s weirdly well-publicized “birther” campaign against Obama, which foreshadowed both Big Media’s free press pass for all things Trump, as well as the aura of illegitimacy that has framed the Presidency ever since…Trump was “elected“?  One wonders how far an illegitimate fruit can fall from an illegitimate tree?

Indeed, Trump’s strange election eerily echoes the hollow resonance of the most bizarre quadrennial in recent history, when George Bush the Second rode a single Supreme Court vote into the Oval Office, in 2000. However, before delving into that doozy, its follow-up, in 2004, deserves special mention.

There once was an anti-war candidate named Howard Dean (from Vermont, of all places!) whose front-runner status got Debbie Wasserman-Schultzed, as it were, by Presidential campaign veteran Dick Gephardt, in Iowa.  Before the Gephardt take-down, Dean had been riding high on his opposition to the occupation of Iraq, which was clearly going very badly.  Dean’s potential nomination meant that the anarchy in Iraq — a direct result of the illegal American-led invasion — would factor prominently in the general election. In the event, the anti-war buck was preemptively stopped in Iowa, allowing the Iraq war hawk John Kerry a “surprise” win. From Iowa, Kerry cruised to the nomination, only to play second fiddle to his Skull-and-Bones Yale fraternity mate, the incumbent Bush, and a disastrous war policy had been saved.

Later, Howard Dean was given a participation award in the form of the DNC Chairmanship.  Since then, the former anti-war candidate has swiveled full circle to become a cranky Yankee who has vilified 2020’s anti-war star, Tulsi Gabbard.  Put another way:  Howard Dean was eaten by the one party political machine, only to be regurgitated in a more palatable form — if not rocking the War Party’s boat is anyone’s idea of a more palatable form.

Now, back in 2000, nothing very military was going on.  The one party political apparatus had coughed up two equally unappealing Junior fur balls:  Al Gore and George W. Bush.  Incidentally, Bush would have never gotten his day in Supreme Court if Gore had won his home state, Tennessee.  In fact, well before Dan Rather “called” Florida for Gore on election night, “dirty tricks” in South Carolina had pushed Bush — in a tight race — past Senator and Vietnam War veteran John McCain.  McCain was later given a participation trophy for services rendered:  the Republican nomination in 2008, where he was soundly squashed by the relatively unknown upstart Barack Obushma — I mean, Obama — who had himself “upset” Hillary Clinton (of all the usual suspects!) for the Democratic side of the one party nomination in 2008.

Ironically enough, both Obama and Trump have an “upset” of Hillary Clinton in common.  That Obama and Trump share two sides of the same big bank coin:  is this insight becoming increasingly more obvious?  For example, despite 8 years of the “Change”-ling Obama, America is still making Afghanistan a “Great Game” again under Trump, as if Bush the Second’s war-mad regime were still ghosting about in office 18 years later, like it never left.  And the War Party rolls on…

However, before the War Party got really rolling, in 2001, there was Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader, who remains the most interesting figure in the scandalous 2000 election.  In 2000, Nader scooped all mainstream media pundits by correctly identifying his major party opponents as “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” Nevertheless, unlike our current “Fake News” President, Nader was not granted a free press pass for “bucking the System.”

And not only that.  Nader’s campaign was seen as so threatening to the one-party-with-two-faces that he was physically denied access to the sites of nationally televised debates between TweedleBush and TweedleGore1, for fear of Nader’s potentially “disruptive” influence.  Pointing out the obviousness of duopoly:  how “disruptive,” indeed!

Meanwhile, back in 2019, the “Survivor 2020” program seems hell-bent on appearing to include everyone — even if you’re Andrew Yang and your mic’s not turned on.  “Technical glitches, folks; just technical glitches.  We’ll get everyone a Universal Basic Income right after these words from our sponsors!”  Of course, it’s a game predicated on extinction, the last contestant standing.  No one wants to go home a dinosaur, having voted a dinosaur in office.  Next thing you know, extinction’s your next door neighbor!

Not to beat a dead horse race, but to rest my case, I recall a certain debate between status quo Auntie Hillary and Grandpa Donny-boy Trump, in 2016, at Washington University in St. Louis, where Hillary, wearing an irradiant shade of white, accused an obviously lurching Trump of being a “puppet.”  In true Trump form, the Donald shot back:  “No, you’re the puppet!”  Each political actor then accused the other of being “the puppet” in a seemingly spontaneous exchange of pointless, puppet blows.  Which was an uncanny moment of Truth for both of these foremost Liars vying for the Presidential Throne; each recognized the “Other’s” puppet status, quite equally — and for All to see!

In case there are any questions about the Duopoly:  See Gore Vidal…

  1. See: John Hagelin vs the Federal Election Commission, decided on June 10, 2005.

Greece:  Suicide or Murder?

Pundits from the left, from the right and from the center cannot stop reporting about Greece’s misery. And rightly so because the vast majority of her people live in deep economic hardship. No hope. Unemployment is officially at 18%, with the real figure closer to 25% or 30%; pensions have been reduced about ten times since Syriza – the Socialist Party – took power in 2015 and loaded the country with debt and austerity. In the domain of public services, everything that has any value has been privatized and sold to foreign corporations, oligarchs, or, naturally, banks. Hospitals, schools, public transportation – even some beaches – have been privatized and made unaffordable for the common people.

While the pundits – always more or less the same – keep lamenting about the Greek conditions in one form or another, none of them dare offer the only solution that could have rescued Greece (and still could) – exiting the euro zone; return to their local currency and start rebuilding Greece with a local economy, built on local currency with local public banking and with a sovereign Greek central bank deciding the monetary policy that best suits Greece, and especially Greece’s recovery program. Why not? Why do they not talk about this obvious solution? Would they be censured in Greece, because the Greek oligarchy controls the media as oligarchs do around the (western part of the) globe?

Instead, foreign imposed (troika: IMF, European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission (EC) — the latter mainly pushed by German and French banks and the Rothschild clan — austerity programs have literally put a halt on imports of affordable medication, such as like for cancer treatments and other potentially lethal illnesses. So, common people no longer get treatment. They die like flies; a horrible expression to be used for human beings. But that’s what it comes down to for people who simply do not get the treatment they humanely deserve and would have gotten under the rights of the Greek Constitution; however, they simply do not get treated because they can no longer afford medication and services from privatized health services. That is the sad but true story.

As a consequence, the suicide rate is up, due to foreign imposed (but Greek government accepted) debt and austerity, annihilating hope for terminally ill patients, as well as for pensioners whose pensions do no longer allow them to live a decent life and especially as there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, these same pundits add a little air of optimism to their reporting, as the right wing New Democracy Party (ND Party) won with what they call a ‘landslide’ victory on the 7 July 2019 elections; gathering 39.6% of the votes, against only 31.53 for Syriza, the so-called socialist party, led by outgoing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who represents a tragedy that has allowed Greece to be plunged into this hopeless desolation. The ND won an absolute majority with 158 seats in the 300-member Greek parliament. Therefore, no coalition needed, no concessions required.

The new Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis (51), son of a former PM of the same party, in his victory speech on the evening of 7 July, vowed that Greece will “proudly” enter a post-bailout era of “jobs, security and growth”. He added that “a painful cycle has closed” and that Greece would “proudly raise its head again” on his watch.

We don’t know what this means for the average Greek citizen living a life of despair. What the “left” was unable to do – stopping the foreign imposed (but Greek accepted) bleeding of Greece; the strangulation of their country – will the right be able to reverse that trend? Does the right want to reverse that trend? Does the ND want to reverse privatization, buy back airports from Germany, water supply from the EU managed “Superfund”, and repurchase the roads from foreign concessionaires, or nationalize hospitals that were sold for a pittance and – especially – get out from austerity to allow importing crucial medication to salvage the sick and dying Greek, those who currently cannot afford treatment of their cancers and other potentially deadly diseases?

That would indeed be a step towards PM Mitsotakis’ promise to end the “painful cycle” of austerity, with import of crucial medication made affordable to those in dire need, with job creation and job security – and much more – with eventually a renewed Greek pride and Greek sovereignty. The latter would mean – finally – it’s never too late to exit the euro zone. But, that’s an illusion, a pipe-dream. Albeit  it could become a vision.

If the ND is the party of the oligarchs, the Greek oligarchs that is, those Greeks who have placed literally billions of euros outside their country in (still) secret bank accounts in Switzerland, France, Lichtenstein, Luxemburg and elsewhere, including the Cayman islands and other Caribbean tax havens, hidden not only from the Greek fiscal authorities, but also impeding that these funds could, crucially, be used for investments at home, for job creation, for creation of added value in Greece. If the ND is the party of the oligarchs, they are unlikely to make the dream of the vast majority of Greek people come true.

Worse even, these Greek oligarch-billionaires call the shots in Greece not the people, not those who according to Greek tradition and according to the Greek invention, called “democracy” (Delphi, some 2500 years ago) have democratically elected Syriza and have democratically voted against the austerity packages in July 2015. Now, that they are officially in power, they are unlikely to change their greed-driven behavior and act in favor of the Greek people. Or will they?

Because, if they do, it may eventually also benefit them, the ND Party and its adherents — a Greece that functions like a country, with happy, healthy and content people, is a Greece that retains the worldwide esteem and respect she deserves — and will, by association, develop an economy that can and will compete and trade around the world, a Greece that is an equal to others, as a sovereign nation. A dream can become a reality. It just takes visionaries.

Back to today’s reality. The Greek Bailout Referendum of July 5, 2015, was overwhelmingly rejected with 61% ‘no’ against 39% ‘yes’, meaning that almost two thirds of the Greek people would have preferred the consequences of rejecting the bailout, euphemistically called “rescue packages”, namely exiting the euro zone, and possibly, but not necessarily, the European Union.

Despite the overwhelming, democratic rejection by the people, the Tsipras government reached an agreement on 13 July 2015 – only 8 days after the vote against the bailout with the European authorities for a three-year bailout with even harsher austerity conditions than the ones rejected by voters. What went on is anybody’s guess. It looks pretty obvious, though, that “foul play” was the name of the game which could mean anything from outright and serious (life) threats to blackmail, if Tsipras would not play the game and this to the detriment of the people.

President Tsipras’ betrayal of the people resulted in three bailout packages since 2010 and up to the end of 2018, in the amount of about €310 billion (US$ 360 billion). Compare this to Hong Kong’s economy of US$ 340 billion in 2017. In that same period the Greek GDP has declined from about US$ 300 billion (€ 270 billion) in 2010 to US$ 218 billion (€ 196 billion), a reduction of 27%, hitting the middle- and lower-class people by far the hardest. This is called a rescue?

The democracy fiasco of July 2015 prompted Tsipras to call for snap elections in September 2015, hélas – he won, with a narrow margin and one of the lowest election turnouts ever in Greek postwar history; but, yes, he ‘won’. How much of it was manipulated – by now Cambridge Analytica has become a household word – so he could finish the job for the troika and the German and French banks, is pure speculation.

Today, the ND has an absolute majority in Parliament, plus the ND could ally with a number of smaller and conservative parties to pursue a “people’s dream” line policy. But they may do the opposite. Question: How much more juice is there to be sucked out of broken Greece? Of a Greece that cannot care for her people, for her desperate poor and sick, cannot provide her children with a decent education, of a Greece that belongs into the category of bankruptcy? Yes, bankruptcy, still today, after the IMF and the gnomes of the EU and the ECB predict a moderate growth rate of some 2%?  But 2% that go to whom?  Not to the people, to be sure, but to the creditors of the €310 billion.

Already in 2011, the British Lancet stated “the Greek Ministry of Health reported that the annual suicide rate has increased by 40%”, presumably since the (imposed) crisis that started in 2008. From this date forward the suicide rate must have skyrocketed, as the overall living conditions worsened exponentially. However, precise figures can no longer be easily found.

The question remains: Is the Greek population dying increasingly from diseases that could be cured, but aren’t due to austerity- and privatization-related lack of medication and health services and of suicide from desperation? Is Greece committing suicide by continuing to accept austerity and privatization of vital services, instead of liberating herself from the handcuffs of the euro and very likely the stranglehold of the EU?  Or is Greece the victim of sheer murder inflicted by a greed-driven construct of money institutions and oligarchs, who are beyond morals, beyond ethics and beyond any values of humanity? You be the judge.

• First published by the New Eastern Outlook – NEO

U.S. 2020 Presidential Election: A Watershed Moment for Humankind and the Planet

The 2020 presidential election in the United States may be the most critical political event in human history. At no time in the history of global civilization have human beings faced existential crises on a global scale. Regional crises of the past 10,000 years reveal that economic regimes have often outstripped local and regional resources, but these crises remained regional in scope. Today, however, the excesses of global capitalism have driven all of humanity to the brink of ecological and civilizational collapse.

Our addiction to fossil fuels has significantly warmed the global atmosphere and accelerated the loss of polar ice caps faster than predicted. Capitalism has fueled industrial activities that have ravaged large portions of the planet, destroying habitats and endangering innumerable animal, plant and insect species worldwide, according to a recent UN report on global biodiversity. Our oceans are contaminated with heavy metals and plastics. Global population pressure, inefficient and wasteful industrial practices combined with climate change have placed enormous pressure on fresh water sources.  Destructive superstorms, wildfires and persistent drought will likely bring profound economic instability and declining food production in coming decades.

Global capitalism has also generated vast disparities in wealth distribution, destabilizing social systems as well as ecosystems. As global and national wealth concentration grows rapidly, the poverty of billions and declining living standards for millions more strain social relations throughout the world. These injustices give rise to disillusionment, desperation, terrorism and mass migration, to epidemics and resistant bacteria and fungi. Armed conflict is endemic in many of the world’s poor regions and wars have brought invasions of poor countries by wealthy countries to stem perceived terrorists’ threats and protect geopolitical interests.

In less than a year and one-half the 2020 U.S. presidential election will occur and the candidate and policies the majority of Americans embrace will help lead the world in one direction or another.  American voters will decide whether the most powerful leader in the world will aggressively tackle the world’s unprecedented and unfolding environmental and social crises or will exacerbate these crises by facilitating unrestrained capitalist exploitation and accumulation. Working Americans are primed for an alternative to global economic system, having recently lost millions of jobs and much of their modest wealth during the Great Recession. Universal healthcare and child care, a higher minimum wage and equal pay, student debt relief, tuition-free higher education, climate change and a green economy as well as a truly progressive tax policy to fund social and environmental initiatives are on the minds of ordinary Americans, if not the majority of them. This is an opportunity for progressive voices across the nation to demonstrate that unregulated capitalism threatens American families and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Certainly, ingrained capitalist ideology and vested institutions present formidable political obstacles leading to the 2020 presidential elections. Donald Trump and the Republican Party actively resist reform of capitalism, rejecting the Paris Accords and enacting severe cuts in domestic regulations restricting corporate activity and protecting the environment. Conservative strategists are clearly framing the 2020 election to protect the advantages in wealth and political power conservatives have gained in the global economy. Trump’s abject disregard for global warming and the failure of Republicans to address it is a clear threat to the future of the planet. His nuclear war-mongering, with the tacit endorsement of the Republican Party, has flirted with planetary annihilation. For these reasons renowned linguist and ferocious political critic Noam Chomsky has stunningly and aptly dubbed the Republican Party “the most dangerous organization in human history”.

While it will likely take decades and even generations to rein in and reform our global economy enough to achieve some practical level of global sustainability, the magnitude and urgency of the challenges we and the world face make the 2020 U.S. presidential elections an extraordinary watershed moment. This is no time for a program of tepid, incrementalist reforms.  If the Democratic Party fails to embrace an agenda of far-reaching regulation of global capitalism that focuses on climate change and wealth disparity, it risks losing the presidency. Should a moderate Democratic candidate lacking the necessary vision and resolve be elected president in 2020, it may prove to be a kind of hollow victory.

The fundamental questions before American citizens could not be more crucial to the future of our nation and the world: Can we afford to ignore the ravages of climate change and the deleterious impact of our unsustainable production and consumption on the planet’s health? Can we fail to confront the concentration of wealth in fewer hands while poverty, lack of opportunity, ill health and violence driven by these realities rob generations of their potential as human beings? Should we discount, or even underplay, the fact that environmental degradation and wealth disparities on a global scale are exacerbated by inadequately regulated global economic regime?

Billionaires and American Politics

Is the United States becoming a plutocracy?

With the manifestly unqualified but immensely rich Donald Trump serving as the nation’s first billionaire president, it’s not hard to draw that conclusion.  And there are numerous other signs, as well, that great wealth has become a central factor in American politics.

Although big money has always played an important role in U.S. political campaigns, its influence has been growing over the past decade.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, by 2014 the share of political donations by the wealthiest 0.01 percent of Americans had increased to 29 percent (from 21 percent four years before), while the top 100 individual donors accounted for 39 percent of the nation’s super PAC contributions.

With the 2016 presidential primaries looming, would-be Republican nominees flocked to Las Vegas to court billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, who had donated well over $100 million to Republican groups during the 2012 election cycle.  Although even Adelson’s money couldn’t save them from succumbing to vicious attacks by Trump, Adelson quickly forged a close alliance with the billionaire president. In 2018, he became the top political moneyman in the nation, supplying Republicans with a record $113 million.

In fact, with Adelson and other billionaires bringing U.S. campaign spending to $5.2 billion in that year’s midterm elections, the big-ticket players grew increasingly dominant in American politics.  “We like to think of our democracy as being one person, one vote,” noted a top official at the Brennan Center for Justice.  “But just being rich and being able to write million-dollar checks gets you influence over elected officials that’s far greater than the average person.”

This influence has been facilitated, in recent years, by the rise of enormous fortunes. According to Forbes ― a publication that pays adoring attention to people of great wealth―by March 2019 the United States had a record 607 billionaires, including 14 of the 20 wealthiest people in the world.  In the fall of 2017, the Institute for Policy Studies estimated that the three richest among them (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett) possessed more wealth ($248.5 billion) than half the American population combined.

After this dramatic example of economic inequality surfaced in June 2019, during the second Democratic debate, the fact-checkers at the New York Times reported that the wealth gap “has likely increased.” That certainly appears to be the case. According to Forbes, these three individuals now possess $350.5 billion in wealth―a $102 billion (41 percent) increase in less than two years.

The same pattern characterizes the wealth of families.  As Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies recently revealed, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries (their fossil fuel empire), the Mars candy family, and the Waltons of Walmart now possess a combined fortune of $348.7 billion―an increase in their wealth, since 1982, of nearly 6,000 percent.  During the same period, the median household wealth in the United States declined by 3 percent.

Not surprisingly, when billionaires have deployed their vast new wealth in American politics, it has usually been to serve their own interests.

Many, indeed, have been nakedly self-interested, sparing no expense to transform the Republican Party into a consistent servant of the wealthy and to turn the nation sharply rightward.  The Koch brothers and their affluent network poured hundreds of millions (and perhaps billions) of dollars into organizations and election campaigns promoting tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of corporations, climate change denial, the scrapping of Medicare and Social Security, and the undercutting of labor unions, while assailing proposals for accessible healthcare and other social services.  And they have had substantial success.

-Similarly, billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, spent $49 million on right-wing political ventures in 2016, including funding Steve Bannon, Breitbart News, and Cambridge Analytica (the data firm that improperly harvested data on Facebook users to help Trump’s campaign).  After Trump’s victory, Robert stayed carefully out of sight, sailing the world on his luxurious, high-tech super yacht or hidden on his Long Island estate.  But Rebekah worked on the Trump transition team and formed an outside group, Making America Great, to mobilize public support for the new president’s policies.

The story of the Walton family, the nation’s wealthiest, is more complex.  For years, while it fiercely opposed union organizing drives and wage raises for its poorly-paid workers, it routinely channeled most of its millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Republicans.  In the 2016 elections, it took a more balanced approach, but that might have occurred because Hillary Clinton, a former Walmart director and defender of that company’s monopolistic and labor practices, was the Democratic standard-bearer.

Although some billionaires do contribute to Democrats, they gravitate toward the “moderate” types rather than toward those with a more progressive agenda.  In January 2019, an article in Politico reported that a panic had broken out on Wall Street over the possibility that the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee might go to someone on the party’s leftwing.  “It can’t be Warren and it can’t be Sanders,” insisted the CEO of a giant bank.  More recently, billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman made the same point, publicly assailing the two Democrats for their calls to raise taxes on the wealthy. “Taxes are high enough,” he declared. “We have the best economy in the world. Capitalism works.”

The political preferences of the super-wealthy were also apparent in early 2019, when Howard Schultz, the multibillionaire former CEO of Starbucks, declared that, if the Democrats nominated a progressive candidate, he would consider a third party race.  After Schultz denounced Warren’s tax plan as “ridiculous,” Warren responded that “what’s ‘ridiculous’ is billionaires who think they can buy the presidency to keep the system rigged for themselves.”

Can they buy it? The 2020 election might give us an answer to that question.

Failure to Impeach Trump Is a Way to Reaffirm Him

Would the American people re-elect a president caught in the midst of a multi-faceted impeachment inquiry? One never knows.

Or would the American people be more likely to re-elect a president free from any impeachment inquiry?

With no commanding presidential candidate likely to emerge till well after the Iowa caucus on February 3, 2020, the center of Democratic Power is now in the House of Representatives, largely in the hands of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is so determined to give Trump a pass on impeachment that Trump’s lawyers cite her position in their court briefs. That seems like a pretty bad place for a supposed opposition party to find itself.

Pelosi and other Democratic Party leaders have indicated a willingness to pursue impeachment if “the people want it.” Then the same leaders do little or nothing to encourage the people to want it. That is the opposite of leadership. That is also a failure to understand how the impeachment of Richard Nixon became supportable through the conscientious evidence-gathering that persuaded the public that Nixon had committed impeachable offenses.

Pelosi is slippery to the point of dishonesty on the question of impeachment. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a long wet-kiss article titled “It’s Nancy’s Parade” in the Sunday Times of July 7. Dowd asked Pelosi if she had said about Trump, as reported, “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison.” That’s a classic false-choice deflection to begin with, but Pelosi danced it disingenuously further:

I didn’t exactly say that…. You can’t impeach everybody. People wanted Reagan impeached but that didn’t happen. O.K., they impeached Clinton for something so ridiculous — getting impeached for doing a dumb thing as a guy. Then they wanted to impeach Obama…. [Trump] has given real cause for impeachment.

This is scattershot distraction Trump-style, seeming to make some point while avoiding the underlying question. If Trump, as Pelosi says, “has given real cause for impeachment,” then why has the House not begun to impeach him?

There is a glaring omission in Pelosi’s list of recent presidents – Reagan, Clinton, Obama, but neither Bush. The second Bush lied the country into war, a war that continues to cost us. Even that was not enough for Pelosi. She opposed impeaching Bush for the war crimes he so plainly committed. Does she lack principle? Does she lack courage? Does she always make her decisions on the narrowest partisan political calculation? What is really going on?

Democrats have the power to initiate impeachment proceedings. Democrats have the power to control the pace of those proceedings. There are numerous impeachable offenses, in almost every area – climate, immigration, census, war-making, regulating contrary to statute, emoluments – the list of failures to faithfully execute the laws or the office of the President is long and easily demonstrated. Even Pelosi says, “he every day practically self-impeaches by obstructing justice and ignoring the subpoenas” – which he is allowed to do with impunity.

There are about 80 Democratic House members reportedly in favor of moving ahead on impeachment. That leaves another 155 Democratic House members either uncommitted or opposed to impeachment. These Democrats are not outspoken on the question and many of them oppose impeaching a flagrantly dishonest, probably criminal president mainly because it might put their own re-election at risk. No profiles in courage there. We saw them flex their muscles recently when they forced Pelosi to capitulate on protecting immigrant children and accept the Senate bill that would do little to assure that the Department of Homeland Security follows the law.

Pelosi misleadingly talks about impeachment, characterizing it as if it’s a compact, unitary event. It’s not. “Impeachment” itself is only a formal accusation, a Congressional indictment that requires an investigation of uncertain length by the House Judiciary Committee, including having hearings, drawing of articles of impeachment, publicly debating and voting on them, and delivering those approved to the full House for a final vote. Only then do the articles of impeachment go to the Senate for a trial of indeterminate length and a final vote.

The impeachment process for Bill Clinton began in January 1994 with the appointment of a special prosecutor (Ken Starr took over in August 1994). The process ended more than five years later when the Senate acquitted Clinton on February 12, 1999.

The impeachment process for Richard Nixon began formally with the creation of the Senate Watergate Committee in February 1973, less than eight months after the Watergate burglary. The House Judiciary Committee started its investigation in October, voting for articles of impeachment at the end of July 1974. Nixon resigned on August 9, before the full House considered the impeachment articles. That abbreviated impeachment process took about 550 days.

As of July 9, the November 3, 2020, presidential election was 483 days away. That is plenty of time for the House Judiciary Committee to accomplish something meaningful without having to risk defeat in the Senate.

So it’s a calculated question for 2020: Would a prolonged, careful, substantive impeachment inquiry make Trump stronger or weaker by election day? Would a prolonged period of sniping at Trump’s faults, without daring to impeach him, make Trump stronger or weaker on election day? Regardless of who the Democratic candidate turns out to be, it seems more likely that he or she will be strengthened by a House impeachment inquiry carried on with integrity before the election. Yes, it will be partisan, but that is offset if it is also principled. But first, Pelosi has to help it happen. According to Dowd:

Now Pelosi is in her element, ready for the fight of her life with Trump…. Pelosi keeps moving forward, a shark with a permagrin…. If combating an inhumane Trump requires a superhuman effort, Pelosi may be just the woman to do it.

But Dowd does not say how this will be done. She supports the hope with an anecdote about Pelosi carrying on bravely at an Irish political event just after having her right hand smashed in a car door. This shows grit, to be sure. But it was only for one night, and the struggle with Trump has more than a year to go.

Reflecting the traditional political timidity of mainline Democrats, Pelosi has taken potshots at fellow Democrats in the House like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, mocking the Green New Deal, or Ilhan Omar, reinforcing the right wing’s anti-Semitic canard. Pelosi has demonstrated that, in a pinch, she does not have their backs or Rashida Tlaib’s or Ayanna Pressley’s. Pelosi againdenigrated all four women of color to Dowd. This is ugly, gratuitous infighting, not principled leadership. Little wonder, perhaps, that Corbin Trent, an aide to Ocasio-Cortez, told reporter Ryan Grim that the Democratic leadership is “driven by fear. They seem to be unable to lead.”

“The greatest threat to mankind,” according to Trent, a co-founder of Justice Democrats, “is the cowardice of the Democratic Party.”

The Democrats Pelosi denigrates are all agents of change. Pelosi talks about defeating Trump, but she doesn’t embrace much change of any other sort. She cavils at the more ambitious proposals of Democratic presidential candidates. Why has the House pushed so little legislation that challenges the status quo? Is there anything Pelosi truly believes in besides herself? Dowd characterizes her as the most powerful woman in the country (with Trump the most powerful man). She seems to have made the calculation that she’d rather preserve her speaker-ship than take any serious risk. Are the ambitions of a 79-year-old multimillionaire really more important than the good of the country?

Much Ado About Nothing: Asking Who Won the Political Debates

It amazes me that alternative journalists would spend even a minute writing about the ongoing Democratic Party debates.  They are meaningless and they are not debates. How many times do we have to go through this ridiculous charade before this can be accepted once and for all?  The “debates” are farces, total theater, as are the Presidential elections. They don’t matter.  The political quiz show of duopoly is fixed.  Discussing who has won is the height of absurdity.  It legitimizes the system of oppressive duopoly.  It is political “jeopardy,” and only the fixers win when they suck us into watching and opining.  One expects the corporate media to do their jobs and drone on endlessly about nothing, but not those who oppose this anti-democratic sham.

Emma Goldman is alleged to have said, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”  She was right then and is right now. With the exception of JFK, who was assassinated by the national security state when in his last year he radically turned against its war agenda, not one American president since has posed the slightest risk to the systemic power of the elites who own and run the country. If anyone ever did, they would not be on the ballot or in office. Here and there, a candidate running for the nomination of one of the ruling parties makes it into a debate only to be marginalized for bluntly attacking war policies; e.g., Tulsi Gabbard in 2019.  Those who enjoy the support of capitalism’s invisible army (the CIA) and Wall Street’s corporate merchants of death are allowed to present nuanced “anti-war” positions that their backers know are lies but suckers bite on in their desperation to believe that the system works; e.g., Obama in 2008.

Because Emma Goldman opposed the U.S. war and conscription policies during World War I, she was charged and imprisoned under the Espionage Act in 1917, “for conspiring against the draft,” a form of state imposed slavery.  Like Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, she was punished for telling the truth to the American people and the world. To contemplate their confinement in these prison hellholes sickens the soul.

When I was young and was seeking release from the Marine Corps as a conscientious objector, I spent quite some time pondering prison life, something I was expecting and preparing for but surprisingly avoided when the Commandant of the Marines released me so I could “take final vows in a religious order.”  It was an outright lie, something I never mentioned in my C.O. application, but it allowed them to save face while getting rid of a troublemaker.  Ironically, as a religious young man, I had often thought that the life of a Catholic priest or nun, in their respective celibate rooms in rectories or convents or monasteries, was similar to the life of a prisoner, and it struck me as very depressing.  Even a few years in a federal prison felt more liberating, so I steeled myself for that possibility by reading Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, and Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, among others, and disciplining myself physically, mentally, and spiritually for what never came to pass.

Now the world is our prison, as John Berger wrote in 2005 in a stunning article with the understated yet hopeful title, “Meanwhile.”  Because he was not caged by traditional categories of conventional thought but just wrote, trusting that words were winged creatures that rise and fly out of sentences into the unknown, Berger was able to discover truths that many feel but cannot articulate.  Often referred to as a Marxist art critic, such a description fails to capture the liberated nature of his writing, even when he is describing how we are imprisoned:

I’m searching for words to describe the period of history we’re living through.  To say it is unprecedented means little because all periods were unprecedented since history was first discovered….The landmark that I’ve found Is that of a prison.  Nothing less.  Across the planet we are living in a prison….No, it’s not a metaphor, the imprisonment is real, but to describe it one has to think historically….Today the purpose of most prison walls (concrete, electronic patrolled or interrogatory) is not to keep prisoners in and correct them, but to keep prisoners out and exclude them….In the eighteenth century, long-term imprisonment was approvingly defined as a punishment of ‘civic death.’  Three centuries later, governments are imposing – by law, force, economic threats and their buzz – mass regimes of civic death….The planet is a prison and the obedient governments, whether of the right or left, are the herders [US prison slang for Jailers].

At the heart of this prison system is financial, not industrial, capitalism, and the system of globalization fueled by the Internet that allows speculative financial transactions to be continually performed instantaneously. Speed is the essence of cyberspace, a placeless “place” that allows this worldwide prison system to operate.  Space, time, nationalities, local traditions, and idiosyncrasies of any sort are washed away by this tyrannical flood of abstract power controlled by the jailers and their henchmen in and out of governments.  This planetary prison’s “allotted zones vary and can be termed worksite, refugee camp, shopping mall, periphery, ghetto, office block, favela, suburb.  What is essential is that those incarcerated in these zones are fellow prisoners.”

The prisoners that are us are often just dimly aware that they are prisoners, but dimly is better than unaware.  For the jailers also use cyberspace to misinform, confabulate, lie, confuse, and convince the prisoners that they are not in cells but are free on their cells and had better be on constant alert to protect themselves and get theirs, theirs always being some commodity, which comes in many forms, including political candidates, sometimes “new and improved” and sometimes just “bright and new.”  The prisoners are always free to choose more of the same, if they can be conned.  While everyone “knows” these candidates sell themselves and that’s what debates are about – “if you liked that (one), you will like this (one)” – the jailers create what Berger calls “a hallucinating paradox” that keeps the prison population believing that the rigged system somehow works for them since they are exceptions to the rule that renders others moronic suckers.

So the question – who won? – is a good one, if you are a sports fan, but not when applied to the Democratic (or Republican) candidates’ debates.  Better to sing “Mrs. Robinson” along with Simon and Garfunkel: “Going to the candidates’ debate/Laugh about it, shout about it/When you’ve got to choose/Every way you look at it you lose.”

Those writers who wish to help their fellow prisoners should refuse to be herded into doing the work of their jailers and using language in a way that suggests the game is not fixed and they are not being seduced, as Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), the recent Williams College graduate, willingly was by Mrs. Robinson in the 1967 film, The Graduate.  Ben may have been put off by the suggestion that his future lay in “One word: plastics,” but if he were graduating from Williams or any other elite college and university this year or in any of the past twenty-five, a top career choice, flashing dollar signs, would be in the financial “services” industry, where he could join the financial tyrants in the use of cyberspace to imprison most of the world.  Our universities have become human “resources” departments (as people have become commodified resources like copper or nickel) for financial capitalism and the whole complex that ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls “the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academe-Think-Tank (MICIMATT) complex, in which the corporate-controlled media play the sine-qua-non today.”

Alternative writers should refuse to rate the candidates or discuss their debates, but, like John Berger, think historically, structurally, and imaginatively, finding “enclaves of the beyond” for their fellow prisoners, little gifts, sunlight and blue sky through the jail cell’s window, not prizes for the winners.  That is not dissidence.

And while I am a harsh critic of the digital revolution, I realize Berger is right when he says:

Prisoners have always found ways of communicating with one another.  In today’s global prison, cyberspace can be used against the interests of those who first installed it.  Like this, prisoners inform themselves about what the world does each day, and they follow suppressed stories from the past, and so stand shoulder to shoulder with the dead.  In doing so, they rediscover little gifts, examples of courage, a single rose in a kitchen where there’s not enough to eat. Indelible pain, the indefatigability of mothers, laughter, mutual aid, silence, ever-widening resistance, willing sacrifice, more laughter….The messages are brief, but they extend in the solitude of their (our) nights.  The final guideline is not tactical but strategic.

“Meanwhile” is a hopeful word.  It implies that we are between times and the future is coming.  It can only be different if we do not play our jailors’ game, buy their lingo, and discuss the fixed quiz show that is American presidential politics.

“Liberty,” concludes Berger “is slowly being found not outside but in the depth of the prison.”