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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "Israel"

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Is the State Department Going Rogue? Or Did It Just Forget How to Spell?

July 13, 2012 ·

The State Department, reporting on the latest U.S.-Israel "Strategic Dialogue," was very proud of the "productive, wide ranging discussion of issues of mutual concern."  (Apparently the recommended legalization of all the illegal and expanding settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory is not an issue of "mutual concern" to the U.S. deputy secretary of state and his Israeli counterpart).

No, the focus was only on the regional situation. Regarding Iran, the State Department made odd allusions to facts about the crisis of which nobody else in the administration seems to be aware.  To begin, State noted that the U.S. and Israel had addressed their concern that Iran is engaged in a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons." There was no explanation of why the conclusion of this U.S.-Israeli dialogue seems to fly in the face of the US intelligence agencies' actual position with regard to Iran's nuclear program, which is that Iran not only does not have any nuclear weapons, and is not building a nuclear weapon, but that Tehran has not even made the decision about whether to build a nuclear weapon.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked his own rhetorical question about Iran: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon?" He then answered with an unequivocal "No."

It was General James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who made clear that the U.S. does not even know "if Iran will eventually decide to build" a nuclear weapon.

Is that what a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons" looks like?  Or is State running its own intelligence agencies these days? 

And then they discussed Syria. Of course it's widely known that the Syrian regime has assisted Hezbollah, a political and paramilitary organization that happens to be the strongest party in Lebanon’s parliament.  But State's view, following its strategic dialogue with Israel, is apparently the other way around – that it is Hezbollah that is somehow shoring up a reprehensible neighboring regime. And apparently, the reprehensible killings it is assisting in that neighboring state are being carried out by a heretofore unknown regime led by someone named "Asad." Perhaps State's note meant to reference the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the brutally repressive government that has reigned over Syria for the past 12 years. But we can't be sure. 

When dangerous regional escalations are at stake, when Israel is threatening war against Iran, and the U.S. and its allies are threatening to join and thus further escalate the civil war in Syria, one would hope for a bit more consistency in U.S. policy – whether or not policymakers are talking to Israel.  Not to mention a bit of attention to spelling.


Palestine, Israel, and all the Countries the U.S. is at War with after 9/11

September 15, 2011 ·

September 11 commemorations were everywhere this past weekend. My own view is that the devastating attacks of September 11 were, along with an enormous human tragedy, a huge crime, a crime against humanity. But they did not threaten our country’s existence, they did not threaten our democracy. It was the acts of September 12, when the Bush administration decided to take the world to war in response, that threatened and continue to threaten our country, our democracy, our security, and the security of much of the rest of the world.

Many of you probably saw the piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, by one of their top editors, Bill Keller, one of the “liberal hawks,” sort of apologizing for having supported the Iraq War. I sent a letter to the Times (we’ll see if it gets in!) to say that his “hard look” back is appropriate, but not nearly hard enough. He spoke of the “monster argument” being so potent in convincing him to call for war against Iraq, but where was he in the 1970s and 1980s when Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was armed and financed by the United States? He ignored the 1990s when the people of Iraq faced not only the continuing brutality of that dictatorship but the monster of U.S.-backed economic sanctions that killed over 500,000 children.

But most of all Keller ignored the fact that the “broad consensus” he invokes was not absolute. He names one skeptic who “joined the hawk club” after Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council — but ignores all those skeptics who watched that same speech and weren’t convinced. Some of us published articles with titles like “Powell’s Dubious Case for War” within hours of Powell’s speech on February 5, 2003. He ignores — as his newspaper so often ignored — the voices of consistent skeptics, those of us who opposed the Iraq war as a drive toward power and empire, who cheered the UN when it joined millions of people around the world who said no to war. We opposed the war then, and we were right. We still are.

Now the 9/11 commemorations have come and gone, and our country is still at war.  Sometimes it seems that one way or another the United States is at war against almost the whole world: 

  • Official (though undeclared) wars in and against Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Official (but not really a war "because U.S. troops aren’t the ones at risk") war in Libya
  • Unofficial (though sort of acknowledged) war in Pakistan
  • Unacknowledged (because murder-by-drone doesn’t count as war) war in Yemen and Somalia
  • Indirect and diplomatic war (through $30 billion military aid enabling Israel’s occupation and by promising another UN veto) against Palestine
  • Unacknowledged and denied (through still-stealth drone campaigns) war in uncertain venues mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East
  • Untitled (though still accurately described as the Global War on Terror) war in the whole world
  • Then there’s the not-exactly-military war, like the war against the poor in the United States because of the hundreds of billions, now trillions, of tax dollars wasted on all those other wars.

It’s been a hell of an end to summer. The new census figures out this week are horrifying. Unemployment is staggeringly high, with more than 14 million people officially unemployed — which of course don’t include those who are under-employed, working two or three slave-wage jobs to survive, or who have simply given up looking. The current new jobs program is completely insufficient. What we need is a major federal jobs program, a real WPA, that we know works. Instead, we’re seeing billions diverted to continuing illegal, useless wars.

Poverty has surged to its highest levels in almost two decades, with one out of five children and one out of six people overall living below the poverty level, including lots of families where someone does have what passes for a job these days. And remember that the official “poverty line” is just over $22,000 for a family of four, no matter where they live! Imagine that for a family in New York or Washington or Chicago or Los Angeles…

And those devastating figures are far worse when we think about where our tax money is being spent. If President Obama ended the Iraq war “right away” — just the Iraq war, not even counting Afghanistan — he could bring home almost 50,000 troops and save almost $50 billion dollars. That’s enough for one million new green middle-class jobs — starting with those returning veterans.

How many of these flags represent countries we are in some kind of war with? Photo by Radar Communications. If the president ended the war in Afghanistan “right away” — and we’re seeing every day how the U.S. occupation is causing more, not less violence in Afghanistan — he could bring home about 100,000 troops and $122 billion of our tax money. Keeping those troops in Afghanistan costs a million dollars a year each. For every soldier we bring home, saving that million dollars, we could hire that once-soldier-now-civilian plus 19 more people in good green jobs.

That’s what I wrote about in response to the celebrations about August — the first month without U.S. casualties in Iraq — but with too many Iraqi civilians still being killed, and too many billions of our tax dollars still wasted. (I also wrote a short op-ed version that went out on IPS’s OtherWords op-ed syndication service.)


But the end of summer also means the UN General Assembly is coming back into session in the next couple of weeks. And Palestine is back on the agenda. After years (more than 20 years, actually) of a failed U.S.-controlled “peace process,” the question of Palestine is once again on the global agenda of the United Nations. And once again the United States is isolated with Israel, standing almost alone in the world in opposing a Palestinian initiative for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood that has long been the claimed, but never implemented, goal of U.S. policy. The fight is ostensibly over venue, not substance; the United States, we are told, supports a Palestinian state. But we don’t support them getting it in the UN. We only support it if it is created under our auspices and control. Otherwise we’ll call it “unhelpful.”

The United States has promised to veto a UN membership bid in the Security Council. But the Palestinians may avoid that by heading straight to the General Assembly where there is no veto, but where their state recognition will not include UN membership, though it would include the potentially powerful right to join the International Criminal Court. But there are a lot of negatives as well, primarily having to do with loss of representation at the UN for Palestinian refugees and support for their right of return, and many Palestinians are against this move. Developments are very uncertain, no one is sure yet what the Palestinian diplomats actually intend to do. What is clear is that we should not allow the United States to be the ones to say “no” to the Palestinian effort.


Lots of other Middle East news. I had a letter published in the Washington Post targeting U.S.-NATO hypocrisy in Libya and objecting to their misrepresentation of the UN resolution supposedly justifying the Western military intervention there. With regional developments changing so fast, at the moment changing especially swiftly in terms of Israel’s increasing isolation and changing relationships with its one-time allies in the region, I discussed the role of Egypt’s changes in determining Israeli actions in Gaza, with The Real News Network editor Paul Jay. (This video, along with some great footage of the protests in Israel, ends rather abruptly when the east coast earthquake interrupted our interview… it’s pretty funny.)

And I collaborated with my friend Richard Falk, the great international law scholar and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on an analysis of the UN’s latest report on last year’s Israel attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla — in which they managed to claim Israel’s blockade of Gaza is somehow legal.

And last, as summer wanes, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is holding our annual national conference, celebrating ten years of work changing discourse and challenging U.S. policy towards Palestine and Israel, and looking forward to a (hopefully) short time left before we can fold up shop and take a vacation, because we’ve succeeded.

We have a lot of work to do.

Thanks for all your support and — for the first time — I’m urging you to follow me on Facebook! (And no snide remarks from those of you who know my Luddite tendencies…) You can find me here: http://www.facebook.com/PhyllisBennis

Sometimes a Veto Means Victory

February 19, 2011 ·

Sometimes a Security Council vote can mean a victory for human rights no matter which side wins. Today’s vote on a resolution mildly condemning Israeli settlement activity is one example. If the U.S. had voted for the resolution, or even abstained and allowed others to pass it, it would have strengthened the international opposition to the Israeli occupation, and perhaps helped set the stage for greater UN and international engagement in ending the Israeli occupation and challenging Israel’s apartheid policies and other violations of human rights. It would have been a great victory. 

But instead, the U.S. vetoed the resolution – the vote was 14 to 1, with no abstentions.  On this issue once again, the U.S. stood absolutely isolated.  And ironically, that was a victory too.  Because the unity of other countries – Britain, Russia, Brazil and others spoke after the vote, expressing stronger than usual support for the anti-settlement resolution, and referencing (Britain most strongly) their recognition of a Palestinian state that may be declared in September.

In actuality, that recognition by itself is unlikely to achieve an end to the Israeli occupation; the PLO’s 1988 declaration of an independent state quickly won close recognition from close to 100 governments and the occupation intensified. But the recent moves towards greater recognition – especially from a number of Latin American countries who had not previously recognized Palestine – may foreshadow greater UN involvement in holding Israel accountable for its violations.

The U.S. had been threatening the veto for weeks. But in the last few days there had been rumors of a possible shift.  A bribe was offered: if the Palestinians would withdraw the resolution, the U.S. would accept a “presidential statement” from the Council; a diplomatic step-down from the power and enforceability of a resolution.  The Palestinian diplomats, backed by global support for the resolution and facing massive popular discontent at home because of concessions offered to Israel during peace negotiations, stood firm.  Then there was another rumor, maybe the U.S. would abstain, allowing the resolution to pass.

In the end, the Obama administration’s early threats proved accurate. The U.S. stood alone. Ambassador Susan Rice’s statement was astonishingly defensive – she went to great lengths to claim that the U.S. actually agrees with the resolution, that no one has done more than the U.S. to support a two-state solution, that the U.S. thinks settlement activity (not, we should note, the continuing existence of longstanding settlements now home to 500,000 illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, only new settlement activity) violates Israel’s international commitments and more.  She tried to convince the world that “opposition to the resolution should not be misunderstood” to mean that the U.S. supports settlement activity – only that the Obama administration “thinks it unwise” for the United Nations to try to stop that settlement activity.  She defined settlements as one of the “core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” not as a violation of international law and a host of specific UN resolutions – therefore, she claimed, the issue was just one of the wrong venue for this debate. 

We’re really against settlements, she pleaded, we just want to end them our way. On our terms.  In our peace talks.  And we all know how well that’s gone so far.

In fact, the U.S. veto in the Security Council was consistent with a long and sordid history. As of 2009, fully half of the vetoes ever cast were to protect Israel from being held accountable in the UN for violations of international law and human rights. Another -third were to protect racist regimes in southern Africa -- South Africa and pre-independence South-West Africa -- from the same accountability.  Taken together, fully five out of six or more than 80% of U.S. vetoes have been cast to protect Washington’s allies accused of apartheid practices.

The Middle East is in the throes of a new wave of democratic revolutionary motion, and it is high time Palestinians were able to be part of that wave. While the U.S. use of the veto remains part of a sordid history, this time the veto may be different. It may actually help set the stage for much greater international engagement in the United Nations that, if combined with the mobilization for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions as well as growing opposition to U.S. military aid, could move once and for all to end the Israeli occupation and apartheid.

Housing Demolition in East Jerusalem

November 8, 2010 ·

East Jerusalem

Walking through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City is a pleasure to the senses: smells of garlic and tea sift through the air, bright colored scarves, coffee pots and evil eye jewelry hang in tiny shops, and crowds of locals and tourists clog the tiny, stone-paved streets. Though most tourists are drawn to Jerusalem for its historical and religious sites, the city is actually a huge locus of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most tangible manifestation of injustice in Jerusalem is arguably the government sanctioned housing demolitions in Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem.

During a recent trip to Israel, I saw firsthand the discrepancy between Jewish and Muslim communities and the physical divide between West and East Jerusalem. I went on a day tour of East Jerusalem with the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent organization that resists housing demolitions in East Jerusalem through direct action, domestic and international advocacy, as well as tours.

The difference between East and West Jerusalem is stark: where West Jerusalem has tree-lined sidewalks and functioning infrastructure, East Jerusalem has dusty, narrow streets, no trash pick-up, and water storage containers on top of houses because most residents are not connected to the municipal water mains. The separation wall stands eight meters high with barbed wire at the top, dividing Arabs in East Jerusalem from their families in the West Bank. Along with the lack of infrastructure in this area, there are no zoning laws so Palestinian residents are not permitted to build new houses: the legal measure that allows the Israeli government to demolish homes. This system serves as a means of making Palestinians leave East Jerusalem. The situation is complex, however, because once Palestinians leave the city, they lose their residency and therefore access to the Old City, their old homes, and their community. Because of this, many people do decide to remain in East Jerusalem despite the constant threat of housing demolitions.

While on the tour, we spoke with a Palestinian woman in the contested neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah. She had been displaced over a year ago – the Israeli government evicted her family and gave her home to Jewish settlers who often spark violence in the area. An international solidarity tent stands nearby where someone sleeps every night to keep watch on the neighborhood. The neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah has entered the limelight because of the scope of its injustice and the ways in which the Israeli government uses its legal system to expand Jewish settlements thereby shrinking the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem.

The most recent East Jerusalem protest ensued on October 25th after the Israeli police gave 231 demolition orders to Palestinian families all across East Jerusalem, including Silwan, an Arab neighborhood in close proximity to the Old City. According to Human Rights Watch, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes peaked this year, reaching 141 in July. This is the largest number of demolitions per month since 2005. Meanwhile, the Israeli government subsidizes Jewish settlements all over the occupied territories and in East Jerusalem as well.

Though Israel places most its inexcusable violent measures under the banner of “security,” this particular form of destruction is purely discriminatory and does not fall into the category of Israeli defense. If Israel intends to continue the peace process, it must stop demolishing Palestinian homes and building Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

From the Frontlines: June 28, 2010

June 28, 2010 ·

SCOTUS is on a roll today, between its significantly harmful gun ban ruling and a rejection of a lower-court ruling that tobacco companies violated racketeering laws by selling a product they knew was harmful.

Oil can't rain from the sky, finds MoJo's Kate Sheppard, addressing a viral video that's been making the rounds in the last week. But "there's a bigger concern than oil visibly raining from the sky; it's the toxins you can't see."

Our Global Economy director, Sarah Anderson, spoke at the US Social Forum about how street heat can continue to strengthen Wall Street reform.

The Tides blog has a great post about how media misinformation impacts the entire progressive agenda, and how you can cut through the noise and stay responsibly informed.

Will the BP oil disaster lead to a new economy in the Gulf? The Institute for Southern Studies, writing from the area, explores the possibilities.

The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss writes that Israel's weakening of the Gaza blockade is an important first step, although he remains skeptical about how far it will help peace talks. Our own Phyllis Bennis agrees, applauding Turkey and civil society for providing an example to other international actors.  

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