Thursday, January 15, 2009

Olmert and Bush and arrogance

All of the blogosphere (here, for example) is talking about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's arrogant remarks, delivered during a speech in Ashkelon, in which he bragged about his control over George W. Bush. This story comes to us by way of a reliable news source, Associated Press.
"Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a telephone call he made to U.S. President George W. Bush last week forced Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain in a U.N. vote on the Gaza war, leaving her "shamed."

Pouring on political bravado in a speech late Monday, Olmert said he demanded to talk to Bush with only 10 minutes to spare before a U.N. Security Council vote Thursday on a resolution opposed by Israel calling for an immediate cease-fire.

"When we saw that the secretary of state, for reasons we did not really understand, wanted to vote in favour of the U.N. resolution ... I looked for President Bush and they told me he was in Philadelphia making a speech," Olmert said.

"I said, 'I don't care. I have to talk to him now,'" Olmert said, describing Bush, who leaves office on January 20, as "an unparalleled friend" of Israel.

"They got him off the podium, brought him to another room and I spoke to him. I told him, 'You can't vote in favour of this resolution.' He said, 'Listen, I don't know about it, I didn't see it, I'm not familiar with the phrasing.'"

Olmert said he then told Bush: "'I'm familiar with it. You can't vote in favour.'

"He gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favour of it -- a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organised and manoeuvred for. She was left pretty shamed and abstained on a resolution she arranged," Olmert said.
To some degree, Olmert is guilty of bragging: Bush was not pulled away from a podium. Still, I think that Olmert's boast is, if not 100% true, then at least true-ish. As Juan Cole notes, we may add this incident to evidence suggesting that Israel "has something" on Bush.
I remember that Bush had taken on Sharon in September of 2001, calling for a Palestinian state and ordering Sharon to stop colonizing the West Bank. Sharon was so furious that he compared Israel's situation to that of Czechoslovakia in 1938, when the rest of Europe let Hitler grab part of it. But by spring of 2002 Bush was bending over backward to please the Likud. What changed? Something did. There is a mystery to be explained here. I only point out that along with the previous two explanations, this one would make sense of otherwise baffling behavior on Bush's part.
In the past, I have offered a suggestion as to "what changed." Congressman Bob Ney, an Abramoff crony, arranged for an Israeli company called Foxcom to handle all wireless communications for Congress. Anyone with any brains can figure out the rest of the story: Mossad got a chance to overhear everything said by Republican senators, House members and their staff. That intelligence slush pile may well have uncovered blackmail material on all sorts of people, including the President.

Or, if you seek a simpler explanation, perhaps we may simply whisper the name "Abramoff" and leave it at that. Never forget that Jack Abramoff's first loyalty has always been to Israel.

The Olmert boast reminds me of another long-standing story. Supposedly, in October of 2001, Ariel Sharon boasted that Israel controlled the White House. The story goes that he said this in a broadcast heard on Kol Yisrael radio.

Previously, everything about the Sharon story always struck me as fishy. (Thanks, b., for reminding me). No major news source mentioned the remark, and the actual broadcast was never made available to the public. I never thought that Sharon would ever be so stupid as to say such a thing in public.

Now we have a remark by Olmert, which comes to us by way of AP, in which he displays an arrogance far exceeding anything in the alleged Sharon quote. Does Olmert's outburst add any credibility to the earlier report?

I imagine that some Israeli-friendly voices in the media will try to pretend that the speech in Ashkelon never happened, but the toothpaste cannot now be re-tubed.

There have been other precedents. Consider the case of Israeli pundit Ari Shavit. Here, in Ha'aretz, he brags that
The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history.
Anti-Zionist sources (here, for example) also claim that Shavit made the following statement in a piece published in the New York Times on May 27, 1996, vis-a-vis the killing o Lebanese civilians:
“We killed them out of a certain naive hubris. Believing with absolute certitude that now, with the White House, the Senate, and much of the American media in our hands, the lives of others do not count as much as our own....”
I have yet to see confirmation for that last quote, and I have not seen the context.

Of course, Mr. Olmert may say whatever he wishes, and he may say it in public. He knows that major media will give even his most outlandish comments limited publicity. If you quote him accurately, you will be called an anti-Semite.


Portia said...

How interesting. What do you see looking forward with regard to the Obama administration? I thought I read some scuttlebutt about Emmanuel and his supposed ties to Israel. I have not seen any evidence that Obama does his own thinking, so who are the people likely to impact the new administration's policy toward Israel? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

Anonymous said...

perhaps you can post here the transcript of the phone call between a Jewish donor and the then head of AIPAC, circa 92, when the AIPAC head states that they will be able to pick the Secretary of Defense, other top posts and even the Supreme Court.

Anonymous said...

I found the article you were looking for.


How Easily We Killed Them
Shavit, Ari. New York Times. (Late Edition (east Coast)). New York, N.Y.:May 27, 1996. p. 19 (6 pp.)

Copyright New York Times Company May 27, 1996

[Author Affiliation]
Ari Shavit is a columnist for Haaretz, a Hebrew-language newspaper, from which this article was adapted.

We killed 170 people in Lebanon last month. Most were refugees. A good number were women, children and the elderly. Nine civilians, including a 2-year-old and a 100-year-old man, were killed at Sachmor, a village. Eleven civilians, including seven children, were killed at Nabatiyeh, a town. At the United Nations compound at Qana, a village, 102 were killed. We killed all these people not in a fit of inflamed passion, not because of messianic extremism or nationalist fervor.

We killed them under the umbrella of a peace campaign. Under the leadership of a peace Government and in the midst of an election campaign that features peace. We killed them so that peace could be re-elected. We killed them because our peace coalition needed to prove it is just as tough as the opposition.

How easily we killed them -- without shedding a tear, without establishing a commission of inquiry, without filling the streets with protest demonstrations. And without the carnage claiming a place as an election issue.

It would seem we have matured quite a bit, for this time we shot and did not weep. This time, we killed with yuppie efficiency. We were meticulous in our cold calculations and matter-of-fact considerations. Meticulous in emptying out the villages in an orderly, precise manner. Meticulous in killing only from a distance. And we did it all in a secular way -- ignoring the archaic concepts of sin, of God's image, of ''Thou shalt not kill.''

Our one big alibi was this: The responsibility is not our own; it is Hezbollah's. But this is a somewhat bogus alibi. For when we decided to carry out a large-scale offensive in civilian regions in southern Lebanon (at a time when no mortal danger was posed to Israel), we decided in fact to spill the blood of X number of civilians. When we decided to remove half a million people from their homes and to shell those remaining behind (at a time when in Israel there was not a single civilian victim), we decided in fact to execute dozens.

What allowed us to make such cruel decisions without perceiving ourselves as scoundrels was their anonymous, statistical character. For we did not know that we would kill precisely that mother in Nabatiyeh and her seven children, all buried under the ruins of their home. We did not know we would kill precisely the three children of the Diib family and five children of the Belhas family, whose parents harbored the mistaken belief that the United Nations site at Qana would protect them from us.

All we knew was that a large-scale killing of civilians was inseparable from the futuristic combat style the Israel Defense Forces have chosen. All we knew was that it could be assumed that the operation would kill 100 civilians, give or take a few.

Still, it is important to be precise. We did not kill them with prior intent. We killed them because it was not important for us not to kill them. Because the yawning gap between the unlimited sacrosanct importance we attribute to our own lives and the very limited sacred character we attribute to the lives of others allowed us to kill them.

We killed them out of a certain naive hubris. Believing with absolute certitude that now, with the White House, the Senate and much of the American media in our hands, the lives of others do not count as much as our own. Believing we really have the right to instruct 400,000 people to leave their homes within eight hours. And that we have the right, when those eight hours have passed, to treat their homes as military targets. And that we have the right to drop 16,000 shells on their villages and small towns. And that we have the right to kill without being guilty.

An Israeli massacre can be distinguished in most respects from an Arab massacre in that it is not malicious, not carried out on orders from High Above and does not serve any strategic purpose. It contrasts with Israel's declared national policy and its accepted cultural norms. Yet, while these distinctions are valid they mitigate neither the gravity of the massacre nor our responsibility. For an Israeli massacre usually occurs after we sanction an unjustifiable degree of violence so that at some point we lose the ability to control that violence. Thus, in most cases, an Israeli massacre is a kind of work accident. Such was the case in Qana.

The mortars and Katyushas that caused us to kill 102 people were fired 12 minutes before we killed them. Twelve minutes is a very long time on the battlefield. It is enough time to look at the map and see that the place from which the Katyushas were fired was some 300 yards from a large United Nations compound. Enough time to clarify whether this camp, like most, was being used by dozens or hundreds of refugees. Enough time to recall that for days U.N. officers had warned that shells were landing too close.

Enough time to recall that, despite its great sophistication, our radar has problems precisely identifying the spot from which Katyushas are fired. Enough time to recall that the margin of error for the first shellings in a series by our howitzers is well over 1,000 feet. Thus, 12 minutes is more than enough time to think twice and conclude that the prospect of firing at Qana and hitting only Hezbollah fighters is relatively slight, whereas the prospect of shelling Qana and harming hundreds of innocent civilians is much too great.

Twelve minutes is enough time to expose the fact that if the shelling was carried out according to the procedures and orders of Operation Grapes of Wrath, something must have been deeply wrong with those procedures and orders. Something not completely humane. Something bordering on the criminal.

But the system worked extremely well. The public backed the media, which backed the Government, which backed the Israel Defense Forces' Chief of Staff, who backed the review officer, who backed the commanders, who backed the soldiers who fired the three rounds of shells that killed 102 people at Qana.

With the election not far off, neither the peace movements, nor the human rights activists, nor the left-of-center press rocked the boat and presented the military-political complex with harsh questions that needed to be asked. What would have been unthinkable during the years the peace elite was in the opposition now occurred without a murmur of protest.

It was very important to us that the victims stay faceless, nameless people. People who are quite unreal. Who had the misfortune of finding themselves on the wrong side of our superior technology. Who had the misfortune of finding themselves on the wrong side of our Jewish and democratic values. Who had only the blue-clad soldiers from the Fiji Islands to collect them into body bags.

So now Qana is part of our biography. Precisely because we have tried to deny and ignore the outrage, it remains affixed to us. And just as the Baruch Goldstein massacre of praying Muslims in Hebron and the murder of Yitzhak Rabin were extreme manifestations of some rotten seed planted in the religious-nationalist culture, it now seems that the massacre at Qana was an extreme manifestation of rotten seeds dormant in our secular Israeli culture: Cynicism. Arrogance. Egocentrism of the strong. A penchant to blur the distinction between good and bad, the allowed and the forbidden. A tendency not to demand justice, not to be adamant about the truth.Eighteen years ago, I happened to be in Qana. It was no big deal -- only a limited military action. First, we shot at the village with machine guns, then we entered in one column of armored vehicles and two columns of infantry. Finally, we found three terrorist youths and stormed them in the most idiotic way possible, losing two of our own.

I have not stopped thinking about Qana. Its place is in our lives. Our lives are in it. I recall how we appeared on its horizon in 1978, leaving some casualties behind and vanishing. And then we came back.