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As the presidential campaign season heats up every day brings news of endorsement one-upmanship. In one week we witnessed Al Gore endorsing Howard Dean, Charles Rangel and other black elected officials endorsing Wesley Clark, South Carolina Black Congressman James Clyburn endorsing Dick Gephardt, and Al Sharpton angry because no one had endorsed him. It was expected that Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, would soon endorse Howard Dean as well.
But Cummings’ endorsement hit a temporary snag. The Baltimore Sun reported that the Cummings endorsement was in jeopardy because leaders of Baltimore’s Jewish community were concerned about Dean’s commitment to Israel. Dean made headlines in September when he said that the United States should be “even handed” in dealing with Israel and the Palestinians. One would have thought from the response that Dean had expressed love for suicide bombers. It didn’t seem to help that Dean’s wife is Jewish and that his national campaign co-chairman, Steve Grossman, was formerly president of the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Anyone who steps outside of pro-Israeli orthodoxy gets the cold shoulder, even if his credentials are otherwise acceptable.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been particularly vulnerable to the pressures exerted by the pro-Israel lobby. In 2002 Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Earl Hilliard of Alabama were both defeated by challengers who raised large sums of money from Jewish groups outside of their states. Both McKinney and Hilliard committed the sin of being even handed. The message was not lost on other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Toe the line or lose your seat.
The ascendancy of George W. Bush and the American right wing has emboldened the Israeli right wing and its American allies. So much so that not only black elected officials are under threat. During a call-in segment on C-Span Senator John Kerry gave an odd response to a question about politicians who are afraid to stand up to Israel when its policies don’t merit American support. The caller “sensed a visceral fear of all the candidates to take this issue head on.” Kerry responded that he and other candidates had no such fear but he then went on to answer in such a way that he proved the caller right. He said in part, “Israel is fighting for its survival.” Israel is the only nation in that region with both nuclear weapons and the backing of the world’s only super power. That is not a description of a country fighting for survival.
The unstated assumption of the Baltimore Sun article was that Cummings would suffer the fate of his colleagues if he didn’t ask “How high?” when he was told to jump. The story began to change a bit as time passed, however. The website of the Forward, a Jewish publication, reported that the Sun was incorrect and that the Cummings endorsement of Dean would proceed as planned. Congressman Cummings ended the suspense when he endorsed Dean on December 13, in Atlanta.
The issues raised by this concentration of power effect more than the election chances of black politicians. The same forces that give black politicians pause when dealing with Israel also helped bring about the disastrous American invasion of Iraq. The neo-conservatives who run Bush foreign police advocated this war partly on the premise that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was good for Israel. I wonder when someone will experience an epiphany and figure out that expanding settlements on the West Bank hurts Israel. I am still not sure how the end of Saddam’s regime makes Israelis safe from Palestinian suicide bombers. Instead the hawks believe that the region’s difficulties are caused by a lack of Arab “modernization.” Bringing about modernization seems to mean invading their countries, establishing puppet governments, taking their oil and paving the way for American capitalists to make a fast buck. George W. Bush is so retrograde in his thinking that in a moment of delusion I actually missed his father, who on the advice of Arab allies decided not to remove Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War. In contrast, Bush the younger sees no need for Arab allies. Warnings of dire consequences from the Arab world went unheeded and have resulted in the continuing disaster caused by the American occupation.
The fear of being labeled anti-Semitic keeps many Americans from expressing dissent when issues about Israel are raised. I am not one to say that all Jews wanted war in Iraq or that Jews run the government or the banks or the media. When the pro-Israel connection to the Iraq war is mentioned it is always pointed out that President Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and others aren’t Jewish. Being Jewish isn’t really the issue. The issue is the actions of two countries whose desire for power and control of other nations is insatiable. It doesn’t matter that Dick Cheney isn’t Jewish. His worldview requires that he and his ilk control the resources of that part of the world and make them safe for American capitalists. Israel’s demand for total control of the region meshes nicely with the fantasies of empire of likeminded gentiles. The belief that individuals and nations are “either with us or against us” only increases the danger these two nations present to the rest of the world.
It was recently revealed that Israel is advising the U.S. military on tactics against the Iraqi resistance. Towns have been sealed off by barbed wire, residents cannot come and go as they please and are required to carry identification to enter and leave their communities. America has established a South African style pass system in Iraq. When the next terror attack is committed on American soil will we whine and cry that we don’t know why “they” hate us? I hope that some brave soul stands up and says it’s partly because we are not even handed. In all likelihood such a person will not be a candidate for any office in this country.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in . Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com/