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Weissman writes: "Without a nuclear deal, the United States will move back toward another idiotic war in the Middle East, which would almost certainly destroy any hope of serious domestic reform. As progressives have been saying for years, Americans need to choose between going to war and building a decent society. We can no longer have both."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: Michael Fatta/EPA)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: Michael Fatta/EPA)

Let's Give Netanyahu and the Neocons a Mandela Moment

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

07 December 13


xpanding Social Security and Medicaid. Making Medicare available to all. Raising the minimum wage. Dramatically reducing inequality. What do these and other domestic priorities have to do with slamming Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu and his minions for trying to scuttle a long-term nuclear deal with Iran?

The answer is obvious. Without a nuclear deal, the United States will move back toward another idiotic war in the Middle East, which would almost certainly destroy any hope of serious domestic reform. As progressives have been saying for years, Americans need to choose between going to war and building a decent society. We can no longer have both.

In years past, when Cold War liberalism reigned supreme as the nation's dominant political ideology, its high priests - Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lyndon Johnson - promised guns AND butter. The military-industrial complex created well-paying union jobs, where "the working class," the revolutionary proletariat of ancient left-wing lore, built the weapons of war. Wages continued to rise into the 1960s, allowing workers to afford good homes, send their kids to college, and enjoy the American dream. The Pentagon played a positive role in racial desegregation, and LBJ used the assassination of John F. Kennedy to push through the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even as he was sending combat troops to Vietnam, he was also sending disadvantaged children to Head Start.

This was the crooked political compromise that self-identified "radicals" of the New Left - precursors of today's progressives - directly challenged. I remember appearing on Berkeley's KPFA radio to debate sociologists Seymour Martin Lipset and Nathan Glazer, who were still lionized as liberals before they and their friends at Commentary magazine came out of the closet as neoconservatives. Why on earth were we opposing LBJ on Vietnam, they demanded. Didn't we understand that he was creating "the Great Society?" Didn't we understand that he was fighting the good fight in opposing Communism in Vietnam?

Civil rights leaders like Bayard Rustin, who had organized Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963, openly red-baited us for marching against the war in company with known American communists.

Until his famous speech at New York City's Riverside Church in April 1967, even Martin Luther King felt compelled to keep silent about his opposition to the war.

Netanyahu's unending attacks on Obama's negotiations with Iran, along with the efforts of the Israel lobby and its neocon allies to pass new sanctions even in the midst of the nuclear talks, dramatizes how much times have changed. The old Cold War has passed, though a new one with China could be in the offing. Liberalism and the left have waned, though pundits are predicting a new New Left. And, according to the polls, the great American public wants peace even it means allowing Iran to join Israel, India, and Pakistan as a regional nuclear power.

The overwhelming desire for peace makes it a great time to expand the agenda for domestic reform, and an even better time to permanently brand Netanyahu and the neocons as the warmongers they are. Not that we will ever shame them into going away, but we can make it extremely painful for members of Congress to follow their lead in defiance of what most Americans want.

We should also urge domestic progressives who have mistakenly been hawkish on Iran, good people like Elizabeth Warren and New York's new mayor Bill de Blasio, to see the inescapable link between sanity abroad and reform at home.

How far should we push our attack on Netanyahu and the neocons? In an earlier column, I accused the Israeli leader and his supporters of "dealing from the bottom of the deck, consciously stirring up irrational fear of a second Holocaust at the hands of Iran simply to bolster Israel's strategic role as a regional super power." They are still doing exactly that, and I'm even more convinced that "Jews and non-Jews alike should reject this as the cynical ploy it is."

But this is just an analytical starting point. We need to act in a way that makes the point to Congress, grabs Netanyahu's attention, and perhaps saves "the nightmare man" from himself. As the top-notch Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote last month in Haaretz, the success of sanctions in persuading Iran to seek a negotiated settlement suggests that similar sanctions "will get Israel to end the occupation" of the West Bank. The first step, he argues, is the movement now building in Europe and the United States to boycott the settlements.

"There's no reason to continue the masquerade of peace talks," Levy writes. "As long as Israelis don't pay a price for the occupation or are blind to it, they won't end it."

Logically, Levy doubts that the boycott can be limited to the settlements themselves. "Every Israeli organization, institution or authority is somehow involved in what's going on beyond the Green Line," he explains. "Every bank, university, supermarket chain or medical institution has branches, employees or clients who are settlers. The settlements are an all-Israeli project and the boycott can't be limited to them, just as the boycott of apartheid-era South Africa couldn't be limited to the institutions of apartheid."

No fool, Levy understands that "boycotting all of Israel is likely to morph into the rejection of its very existence, something most of the world justly does not want." But he hopes that the limited boycott could provide "a last wake-up call" for Israel.

With the death of Nelson Mandela, Gideon's call takes on a new poignancy, as so many people who supported apartheid now claim to celebrate the great man's life. Yes, he was a champion of peace, one of the greatest the world has ever known. But he was also a man of struggle, and we can pay no greater tribute to him than to continue his fight against apartheid in Israel.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."

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