Forgetting Palestine: Howard Dean's Blunt Message

By JOSHUA FRANK

Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean has a fickle stance on virtually every foreign policy issue thrown his way. None, however, are more telling of his party's incompetence than his posture on the Israeli/Palestinian issue, which is virtually identical to that of the neocons.

Recently Dean returned from a week-long jaunt to Israel sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). Shortly after his return Dean spoke to an elite crowd of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) friends and lobbyists in Philadelphia about his trip to Israel. And the audience was pleased with what they heard.

"Literally, from Israel's birth, as that great Democrat Harry Truman took the courageous step to immediately extend America's hand to recognize the State of Israel," Dean espoused. "Democrats have done all we can to foster the special, enduring relationship between the two countries. Maintaining Israel's security is a key U.S. national security interest..."

But Dean's vision of Israel's security is not without consequences for Palestinians or Arab Israelis.

The October 2003 issue of The Jewish Week quoted Gov. Howard Dean as saying that he had been very clear in his support for "targeted assassinations" of alleged Palestinian terror suspects. He believed these men were "enemy combatants in a war," adding, "Israel has every right to shoot them before they can shoot Israelis."

This position bears a striking resemblance to that of both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. And why is Dean's position, like that of Bush and Clinton, so dead wrong? From the 1948 war to the proposal to settle the whole of the Occupied Territories, Israel has always been associated with the policy of expelling Palestinians from the land -- an act that is frighteningly similar to the Nazi objective during the Second World War to round up and clear all the Jews from Europe to provide "Lebensraum" for the citizens of Germany.

Dean's former campaign fundraiser during his bid for the presidency, Steven Grossman, was the ex-director of AIPAC. The most influential pro-Israel lobby in the United States, AIPAC is committed to, amongst other things, defending Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his former Likud Party's every mishap.

What does the AIPAC ideology entail? How about support for the current wall being erected by Israel to keep Palestinians at bay, as well as Israeli settlements in the West Bank, support for a nuclear program in the country, as well as billions in US aid? All this despite the numerous UN resolutions Israel has broken with their dealings of occupied territories of Palestine, including UN Resolution 1402, which demands that Israel withdraw its military from all Palestinian cities at once.

Nevertheless, Dean's defense of AIPAC and Ariel Sharon, whom Bush has called a "man of peace," mirrored the sentiments of many of Washington's most influential Zionist strategists.

A prime example: Richard Perle, the ex-Chairman of the Defense Policy Board who was influential in advising the Bush administration on invading Iraq, certainly would have corroborated Dean's comments in the December 5, 2003 issue of The Jerusalem Post. An article in that issue quoted Dean as saying, "Israel is a democracy, [and] the only democracy aside from Turkey in the region. Israel has incurred severe economic damage as a result of being forced to fight this war. I believe that by providing Israel with the loan guarantees and thereby enabling Israel's economy to grow, the US will be advancing its own interest."

He continued, "As a fellow democracy that shares our values, that is fighting a war against terrorism, Israel is a friend, a strategic asset, and an ally for the US. A strong Israel is essential for advancing the US interest of building a stable world." Given this impassioned rhetoric, it is nearly impossible to imagine that Dean would have ceased to support the US's billion-dollar loan guarantees to Israel if he had been elected.

"The human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories continues to deteriorate. Some 2,500 Palestinians, most of them unarmed and including some 450 children, have been killed by the Israeli army and more than 900 Israelis, most of them civilians and including more than 100 children, have been killed by Palestinian armed groups since the start of the current uprising, or intifada, in September 2000," contends Amnesty International. "Tens of thousand of Palestinians and thousands of Israelis have been injured, many maimed for life. Palestinians do not feel safe, in either the street or in their homes, as Israeli army aircrafts, helicopter gunships and tanks frequently shell Palestinian refugee camps and densely populated residential areas. Israelis also do not feel safe when they leave their homes, as Palestinian armed groups deliberately target Israeli civilians in suicide bombings and other attacks on buses, restaurants and other public places."

When he was interviewed in The Forward in the fall 2002, Dean admitted that his position on Israel was "closer to AIPAC's" than that of Palestinian advocates, such as the Jewish-led Peace Now, and declared his support for building the wall that will separate Palestinians from the occupied territories.

Debunking the ignorance of the Israeli wall, Bernard Avishai, author of The Tragedy of Zionism, wrote in Harper's January 2005 issue:

"This is where the demographic argument gets you. You put West Bank Palestinians behind a wall where economic life is virtually impossible, and you hive off another hundred thousand Arab Israelis and put them behind the wall, too. Meanwhile, you expand your border to include non-Jewish settlements and maintain existing political economic barriers for Arab Israelis, a barrier of institutional practice and law, a barrier of land and common ideology. You say Jews and Arabs must be separated because even if Israel's Arab citizens will make the most of what liberties Israel gives them, they could not possibly want to be absorbed into Israel. And after all of this, you suppose yourself a democracy because you represent the general will of the "Jewish majority." But is the choice really Apartheid or binationalism?"

In the aforementioned Forward issue Dean also championed Israel for taking its battles across the border into Syria. "If Israel has to defend itself by striking terrorists elsewhere, it's going to have to do that," Dean told Judy Woodruff in a CNN interview. He followed this statement by claiming: "[T]errorism has no place in bringing peace in the Middle East ... nations have the right to defend themselves just as we defended ourselves by going into Afghanistan to get rid of Al Qaeda."

Later, when Joseph Lieberman and Kerry questioned Dean's half-baked call for "peace" in Palestine, the former governor responded, "I was a little surprised because people who know me know very well I am a strong defender of Israel ... But after I thought about it for a while, I wasn't surprised. I think that the connection of the Jewish community to Israel is so strong, and the feeling in Israel that someday they may be abandoned is enormous."

Howard Dean's own campaign website even went as far as to boast that the United States should "maintain its historic special relationship with the state of Israel, providing a guarantee of its long-term defense and security."

So here's Howard Dean's blunt message on behalf of the Democratic Party: "Forget Palestine".

Joshua Frank is the author of the brand new book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, which has just been published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.

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