Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

Report on Gaza protest

Posted by Kevin on January 1, 2009

So on Tuesday I attended a protest in Burlington against Israeli brutality in Gaza organized by Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel. In the process we visited the offices of our Congressional delegation (Rep. Peter Welch, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Sen. Bernie Sanders) inquiring about their positions and demanding they condemn the attack. [This is probably the best news story I’ve been able to find on it.] As a recent transplant to Vermont, I wasn’t really familiar with any of their positions on the issue beforehand, so this was a learning experience for me.

Good news first: I was glad that all three offices actually sent people out to meet with us, and that except for Welch they had statements prepared. That in itself was a big change from some parts of Illinois I’ve lived in. I went to undergrad in Dennis Hastert’s district while he was still House Speaker, and his office frequently refused to meet with opponents, at one point refusing to even accept a petition from antiwar activists. So I have a lot of respect for politicians whose staffers will meet with people they might not necessarily agree with.

I haven’t been able to find Leahy or Sanders’ statements on their websites [which unfortunately indicates that this issue isn’t a very big priority for them, especially in Welch’s case], so I’m going off of memory when I refer to them – and therefore I don’t have much in the line of direct quotes.

In their defense, I will say that the statements were a lot better than the “near-unanimous support for Israel” by other prominent Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid [or for that matter my former senators from Illinois, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, both hardcore pro-Occupation partisans]: that Israel’s massive aerial assault is totally justified by Hamas’ primitive rocket fire, and the resulting loss of innocent life is entirely the fault of Hamas. So, I’m not saying Leahy and Sanders are sociopathic douchebags like Reid and Pelosi.

Still, I found myself pretty dissatisfied with Leahy and Sanders’ positions. I’m realistic enough not to expect that they’ll embrace Dennis Kucinich’s position (outlined in the above article), but I still hoped for a little better. Not only did they not go far enough, but they also embraced some lousy framing of the conflict. They both bent over backwards trying to please all sides, to not criticize Israel too much.

For instance, even while calling for a ceasefire, they both felt the need to preface their statements with something along the lines of, “Israel has the right to defend itself, but…” Both included statements like, “Oh, it’s horrible what both sides are doing.” Several of the protesters criticized them for trying to create a false equivalency between the two sides, as if one side doesn’t have an almost complete monopoly on the use of force, and as if the other side isn’t resisting an illegal and horrific occupation. That may not justify Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, but the context does pretty much destroy any claim of equality between the two sides, as well as any Israeli pretext of “self-defense.”

Here’s a good quote on the matter from Titus North at Electronic Intifada:

I know that it is customary for many to equally condemn both sides whenever violence flares up in the conflict, but there is nothing equal between the two sides. The Palestinians have for decades been subjected to occupation, disappropriation, assassination and siege, always with massive suffering to civilians, and are expected to accept it without lifting a finger. Should the Palestinians put up any resistance, Israel feels free to launch any scale of attack, secure in the knowledge that at most it will be subject to calls for “restraint” and condemnation of violence on “both sides.” While I do not like the rockets that get fired from Gaza, as long as we as Americans provide the military, financial and diplomatic support that makes the Israeli occupation and siege possible I feel that we as Americans are in no position to condemn the Palestinian resistance.

And another good one from Robert Fisk:
…we demand security for Israel — rightly — but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was “under siege” — as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

Leahy’s statement in particular criticized Israel’s “disproportionate” attack, which sounded good at first glance until I noticed that he’s still saying an attack was on some level justified, if only it had been more “proportionate,” whatever that means.


Sanders’ statement argued for the need to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but neither senator made any mention whatsoever of the cause of that crisis: Israel’s blockade. There’s not going to be a lasting resolution to the crisis without an end to the blockade, but apparently that would involve too much criticism of Israel for their tastes.

We also urged them to vote to end military aid to Israel. None of the staffers had anything to say one way or the other on the matter. I’m not optimistic.

American policy isn’t going to change unless we demand it. I strongly urge everyone reading this to write to and/or call your representatives and senators (as well as the Obama transition team) demanding that they publicly come out against Israel’s brutality in Gaza. Also consider signing this open letter to Obama from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation urging a change in Israel/Palestine policy. Write letters to the editor, and see if there’s any actions near you (or consider organizing one if there isn’t). Most importantly, educate the people around you on the conflict, and call them out if they spread misinformation or use bad framing.

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