Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Truth About Torture, Loud Mouth And Lousy Politicians, Sotomayor, Hate , Violence And Conspiracies?

The Truth About Torture, Loud Mouth And Lousy Politicians, Sotomayor, Hate , Violence And Conspiracies?

And Meet My New Blogfitti Character 


Stop Being Distracted by Loudmouths Like Limbaugh: The Real Problem Is Lousy Democrats Like Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson


Posted by Chris Bowers, Open Left at 3:27 PM on June 10, 2009.


Republicans are not the obstacle to progressive governance. Instead, Democrats who refuse to support a public option are the obstacle.

Here is a message that progressive organizations and media outlets need to start sending to all Democratic party committees and members of Congress:

We are done attacking Republicans until you pass a public option for health care.

Until a public option is passed, I don't want to hear about the latest hate and idiocy spewing from Limbaugh, or Tancredo, or Palin, or Gingrich, or whoever. And to tell you the truth, I don't want to attack them for it, either. Because, right now, Republicans are not the obstacle to progressive governance. Instead, Democrats who refuse to support a public option are the obstacle.

More in the extended entry.

As I wrote last week, passing a public option is the lowest bar for Democrats to cross in passing major progressive legislation right now:

Real health care reform--aka, a public option--is the lowest bar for progressives to clear with the current Congress. It has the most lobbying behind it, bringing in not only health care reform groups, but also unions and mutli-issue groups like MoveOn. It only requires 50 votes in the senate, whereas Republicans will force 60-votes on virtually everything else. It is a very popular, not only in absolute terms (60%+), but also relatively popular compared to other major Democratic agenda items like climate change. And President Obama won't have a 60%+ approval rating forever, either.

The bottom line is this: if we can't get our most popular major agenda item, during the peak in Democratic popularity, when we need only 50 Senate votes, and on the issue where we have given our strongest lobbying and activist efforts, then we aren't going to pass meaningful progressive legislation on anything else.

Stop telling me how bad Republicans are--we don't need a single one to pass the public option. In fact, not only do we not need any Republicans, but a public option can become a reality even if nine Senate Democrats, and 39 House Democrats, defect. This should be a slam dunk.

We should be naming names, flying to their home states to hold large rallies, and lining up primary challengers against public-option averse Democrats. Instead, our leaders are holding fundraisers for them, pressuring their primary opponents, and hosting dinners in their honor. Kind of makes you wonder how serious even those Democrats in favor of the public option are about change.

So here is the deal we should make: progressive media outlets and organizations will only start attacking Republicans again Democrats pass a public health care option that is open to all Americans who are not currently eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or S-CHIP. Until that happens, we are not allies. Instead, they are the obstacle, and we are the pressure.

But, once a public option is passed, Democrats will have rightfully earned themselves years of good will. A public option will be the first major step forward in social investment in this country in decades--possibly since the enactment of Medicare 44 years ago. I'll gladly rip Republicans to shreds, and push for Democrats at all levels if they pass such a public option. It would be a generational achievement.

But, until then, I really have grown sick of progressives telling me about the latest stupid thing that fell out of Limbaugh's mouth. He is not the problem right now. Democrats like Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, and Arlen Specter are. If the Democratic leadership is either unwilling or unable to pressure enough of those types of Democrats into passing the lowest bar of progressive governance, then it is time to redirect our activism into less partisan and /or less electoral directions.

Senate GOPers Ask Sotomayor For More Information

The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have sent Sonia Sotomayor a letter complaining that her questionnaire is incomplete, asking her to submit another supplement: "If you believe that your questionnaire is fully responsive, we would appreciate an explanation to that effect." They also ask her for copies of materials she edited for the Yale Law Review, and to explain why an all-female organization that she belongs to does not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct.

How Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories and Fearmongering Led to the Holocaust Memorial Shooting

By Chip BerletThe Public Eye. Posted June 10, 2009.

The broadcast of hatred and paranoia have led to perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain violent bigotry across the US.

The alleged shooter at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum today has an online book excerpt revealing his deep roots in historic White Supremacy and antisemitic conspiracy theories, including references to the hoax document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His website includes links to White Supremacist and Holocaust denial sites. 

People who believe conspiracist allegations sometimes act on those irrational beliefs, and this has concrete consequences in the real world. The shooting today is a prime example of why it is a mistake to ignore bigoted conspiracy theories. Law enforcement needs to enforce laws against criminal behavior. Vicious bigoted speech, however, is often protected by the First Amendment. We do not need new laws or to encourage government agencies to further erode civil liberties. We need to stand up as moral people and speak out against the spread of bigoted conspiracy theories. That’s not a police problem, that’s our problem as people responsible for defending a free society.

Demagogues and conspiracy theorists use the same four “tools of fear." These are 1) dualism; 2) scapegoating; 3) demonization; and 4) apocalyptic aggression. The tools of fear are a connected constellation of frames, narratives, and processes used by demagogues to mobilize resentment and undermine the democratic process.

The basic dynamics remain the same no matter the ideological leanings of the demonizers or the identity of their targets. Meanwhile, our ability to resolve disputes through civic debate and compromise is hobbled. It is the combination of demagogic demonization and widespread scapegoating that is so dangerous. In such circumstances, angry allegations can quickly turn into apocalyptic aggression and violence targeting scapegoated groups like Jews or immigrants.

Apocalyptic aggression is fueled by right-wing pundits who demonize scapegoated groups and individuals in our society, implying that it is urgent to stop them from wrecking the nation. Some angry people in the ir audience already believe conspiracy theories in which the same scapegoats are portrayed as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action mandatory and you have a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States.

What historian Richard Hofstadter famously described as the “paranoid style” in American political rhetoric can quickly move far beyond the conscious intent of those who practice it

Anti-Abortion Extremist, Hot Wings Fan, Compares Tiller's Murder To Slave Rebellion

By Brian Beutler - June 10, 2009, 6:28PM

Remember when I posted footage of anti-abortion activist Randall Terry from the National Press Club? Where he said that murdered abortion provider George Tiller had reaped what he sowed--and then invited members of the media out for hot wings and Guinness?

Well, now he's given those who missed out a second chance . Terry will host another press conference tomorrow, also at the National Press Club, to make the case that "Tiller's death and office closing can help propel pro-life movement, derail Sotomayor and overturn Roe."

Before that, though, he'll serve members of the wings. And Guinness.

The event was scheduled before today's act of murder by a right wing extremist--and before Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) condemned the politicization of this sort of tragedy. But it's still on the Press Club calendar.

Revealed: Blackwater Still Working in Iraq for John McCain-linked 'Non-Profit'

Posted by Jeremy ScahillRebel Reports at 10:45 AM on June 10, 2009.

A new lawsuit reveals that the notorious mercenary firm is working, under a different name, for the International Republican Institute in Iraq.

It seems as though every week there is a new lawsuit filed against Blackwater for the killing of civilians in Iraq. While the Justice Department has failed to prosecute most of these cases (the September 2007 Nisour Square massacre being an exception), attorney Susan Burke has dedicated a substantial part of her practice to holding the company responsible for its crimes. She works in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Not only is Burke representing the victims of Nisour Square in their civil suit, and the family of an Iraqi guard allegedly murdered by a drunken Blackwater operative, but she has filed at least a half a dozen other cases against the company. “Erik Prince, a modern-day merchant of death, acts as if he is above the rule of law,” charges Burke.

But beyond the specifics of her lawsuits, Burke is also alleging Blackwater/Xe remains firmly entrenched in Iraq, using affiliate companies like Greystone. She also says Blackwater is working for a “non-profit” organization, started under the Reagan administration, with a history of interference in internal affairs and elections of various nations, including allegations it helped foment a coup in Haiti: the International Republican Institute.

“The Iraqi government has barred Xe-Blackwater from operating in Iraq, and has refused to grant the licenses needed to carry weapons in Iraq,” Burke says.  “Yet Prince continues to provide armed personnel to the International Republican Institute. Such repeated illegal conduct by Prince must be stopped.”

According to SourceWatch:

Loosely affiliated with the Republican Party, theInternational Republican Insitute (IRI) works closely with the the National Endowment for Democracy and United States foreign policy instruments, including the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, to support economic and political development programs around the world. The organization is almost exclusively funded by the U.S. government and related agencies.

IRI is also closely linked to Sen. John McCain. According to IRI’s vice president, “Since the summer of 2003, IRI has conducted a multi-faceted program aimed at promoting democracy in Iraq. Toward this end, IRI works with political parties, civil society groups, and government officials and administrators. In support of these efforts, IRI also conducts numerous public opinion research projects and assists its Iraqi partners in the production of radio and television ads and programs.” One IRI grant recipient in Iraq told author Nikolas Kozloff, “Instead of promoting impartial, better understanding of certain ideas and concepts, they [the IRI] are actually trying to further the cause of the Republican administration.” Kozloff notes that in 2005-6 Blackwater donated $30,000 to IRI.

These new allegations surfaced today as Burke filed yet another lawsuit against Blackwater-Xe—this one over a 2007 civilian shooting in Iraq. Burke alleges that “Xe-Blackwater ‘shooters’ operating in Hilla, Iraq unnecessarily fired shots, killing Husain Salih Rabea and traumatizing Ali Kareem Fakhri, a student at the Babylon University College of Biology.”

According to the lawsuit, the men were shot at as they drove in separate vehicles on a public roadway on August 13, 2007. Mr. Rabea died from the gunshot wound, leaving behind five sons and three daughters.

The complaint, which was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that Blackwater/Xe:

• continues to flout Iraqi law and operate without a license by continuing to provide armed men  under contract to protect employees of the International Republican Institute, an American government-funded organization,

• tries to hide its continued illegal operations in Iraq by using the Greystone name rather than the Blackwater or Xe name,

• captured illegal conduct of personnel on videotape and audiotape, but did not report or punish the illegal conduct of “shooters” and instead intentionally destroyed the evidence of illegal conduct, and encouraged the “shooters” to do the same.

Blackwater affiliate, Greystone, which Burke alleges is still operating in Iraq, is covered in-depth in my book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, is registered offshore in Barbados. It is an old-fashioned mercenary operation offering “personnel from the best militaries throughout the world” for hire by governments and private organizations. It also boasts of a “multi-national peacekeeping program,” with forces “specializing in crowd control and less than lethal techniques and military personnel for the less stable areas of operation.”

The most recent lawsuit names as defendants 12 companies or entities owned by Erik Prince. It alleges “war crimes, assault and battery, wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotion distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, training and supervision, and tortious spoliation of evidence.”

Wingnut Murder Spree Or Are WE Part Of The Problem?

 Last week, a right wing extremist known to be mentally ill murdered an abortion doctor, who Bill O'Reilly repeatedly called "Tiller the baby killer." 

Yesterday an imbalanced
 right wing extremist killed a guard at the Jewish Holocaust Museum. 

What's next? A gay couple shot in a gay marriage state as they are wed? A cop shot because he finds an unregistered weapon? African Americans at church? Muslims at mid-day prayer at a mosque? Jews in a synagogue? Latino workers waiting at a bus stop? Protesters run over and killed while peacefully protesting the war? 

The extremist right wing echo chamber has decided to sow unrest by characterizing left wingers and their positions as anti-American, murderous, traitorous, thieving, criminal, family-threatening, communist, socialist, perverted, deranged... and it is working. This is more than sowing unrest. It is sowing ideation-- ideas of killing.

The extremist left wing blogosphere (they don't have an effective mainstream media echo chamber presence,) composed of anarchists, extremist libertarians and conspiracy theorists rails about Zionist plots, about a New World Order that aims to imprison Americans in concentration camps, about government as Mordor (the evil entity in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.) And these people are also interested in their gun rights and fighting. There are less of these, and sometimes it's hard to tell if they are right or left wing. But it's clear they are extremists. 

Hate is rising. Unfortunately, more than 5% of the population has emotional or mental illness. Some stats suggest the rate could be as high as 26%. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports, 

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older - about one in four adults - suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. 

Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion - about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 - who suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44. 

Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for 2 or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity.

This means that when O'Reilly or Hannity or Beck or Savage or even some of the left-appearing conspiracy sites invoke hate imagery, or when neo-nazi, aryan, white power websites characterize minorities hatefully, there are millions of highly imbalanced, severely mentally disordered Americans-- easily exceeding 10 million-- who can be easily influenced. It is amazing that more have not already been "stirred" by extremist media and website evocations to take violent action. But that is changing. We've seen, in recent months, huge increases in violent acts by individuals. Some have been revenge killings. These two recent murders have been clearly associated with hate. 

In early April this year, Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint intelligence assessment: Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization & Recruitment It reports;


This product is one of a series of intelligence assessments published by the Extremism and Radicalization Branch to facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States. The information is provided to federal, state, local, and tribal counterterrorism and law enforcement officials so they may effectively deter, prevent, preempt, or respond to terrorist attacks against the United States. Federal efforts to influence domestic public opinion must be conducted in an overt and transparent manner, clearly identifying United States Government sponsorship. 

Threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical and have not indicated plans to carry out violent acts. Nevertheless, the consequences of prolonged economic downturn-including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit-could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past.

Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.

The current economic and political climate has some similarities to the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence fueled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs, and the perceived threat to U.S. power and sovereignty by other foreign powers.

During the 1990s, these issues contributed to the growth in the number of domestic rightwing terrorist and extremist groups and an increase in violent acts targeting government facilities, law enforcement officers, banks, and infrastructure sectors.

Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson Amy Kudwa, when asked to comment on the tie between yesterday's Holocaust museum killing and the April Intelligence Estimate on Rightwing Extremism referred me to yesterday's FBI report and confirmed that DHS is involved in investigations. The report isn't really worth clicking through to read, it's so skimpy. 

Hate begets more hate. Violence begets more violence. Combine hate and fear radio, hate, fear and intolerance websites, hate podcasts and a crisis economy where people feel they are losing all they have and we see the beginning of a perfect storm of hate crimes and murders committed by a tiny percentage of the millions of unstable, severely mentally ill who have been primed to move from sullen bigotry and anger to violent criminal action. 

There were, in 2004, according to NIMH, 5.7 million American adults with bipolar disorder, 2.4 million with schizophrenia, 7.7 with Post traumatic stress disorder. These people are at risk every day. The hate mongers, like O'Reilly, Savage, Beck, Aryan Nation, Fox News... the list is a long one... are priming these tens of millions of people. 

A social security check arrives late. A bounced check starts bank charges that end up costing hundreds of dollars and one of these people can go over the edge, blaming immigrants, blacks, Jews, gays, war protester-- and the next thing you know we are seeing dead people on national TV. And those millions of other Americans afflicted with mental or emotional illness are also seeing one more case of a person letting go, unleashing the hate that the extremist media has built up. 

Anti abortion people put on a shocked face and decry the murder of Dr. Tiller. 

The Washington Post reports that John de Nugent, white supremacist friend of the Holocaust Museum murderer James W. Von Brunn "called von Brunn a genius but described the shooting as the act of "a loner and a hothead." "The responsible white separatist community condemns this," he said. "It makes us look bad." 

Crooksandliars reports that Glen Beck suggests that the Holocaust Museum killer is not a right winger, he's a lefty.

Beck offered the following rationale on his Fox News show tonight:

Beck: What they're missing is: The pot in America is boiling. And this is just yet another warning to all Americans of things to come.

Actually, Beck has this exactly right. But frankly, it's boiling 
because of people like Glenn Beck, ranting hysterically every night about impending apocalypses of various forms -- looming "liberal fascism," the "economic meltdown," the "New World Order," violence spilling over the Mexican border, even FEMA concentration camps.

Well thank you for your deflection of responsibility sir. But you can't stir up and promote the hate and then beg off when the hate evokes action. 

When behaviors manifest in the public sphere, when extremist "activators" in the media and on the web gives huge amounts of attention to people who go crazy, who act out the worst kinds of behavior, we are likely to see more of the same-- an increased frequency of this kind of behavior. Rupert Sheldrake calls this
 morphogenetic field theory. 

Today's TV news coverage serves James W. Von Brunn well, giving the link to his website, broadcasting in high rotation repetition his message of hate. I can imagine his extremist hate group allies whispering to him at his hospital bedside, "You done good Jim. You're a hero. You've done more for the cause, getting all this publicity than a thousand websites or protests. You've moved the cause a quantum leap forward." 

And they'd be right, thanks to media coverage of his sick act of cowardice. And maybe even this article I'm writing will help to forward that cause, because I too, am helping to cast light on him. 

A government source told me, "continued media coverage only perpetuates the problem." 

What a dilemma, tell a compelling, dramatic story, and by doing so get sucked down the rabbit-hole, helping the haters.  What do we do, shut up?

As a columnist who must plead guilty to years of vilifying the other side, perhaps I must face the reality that we all need to cool the rhetoric and talk about issues, not toxic characterizations. We need to be able to deal with the tough problems we all face. A climate in which the idea of talking about the problem raises the risk of exacerbating that problem is dangerous.


There's no simple answer, but surely, fomenting the wingnuts and adding to their ranks is not part of the solution. 

In the late '90's, Tipper Gore campaigned to get Musicians to clean up their lyrics act. Perhaps it's time for another campaign.

I started this article with a shorter title-- Wingnut Murder Spree. But that involves name calling that goes to the place I'm calling for us all to refrain from. So I edited it. It's a small start.

We are NOT all Anne Coulters and perhaps, whether left or right, we need to work very hard to move far, far away from that way of dealing with our dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. 

It's easy for passions to run high. We need to direct those energies into productive activism that makes change happen, not the anger and hate and toxic talk that potentiates more murders and violence.

Right-Wing Violence Is Very Real and Very Dangerous

Posted by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly at 4:31 PM on June 10, 2009.


'I hope that everyone who mau-maued the Department of Homeland Security for expressing concern [...] feel appropriately ashamed of themselves.'

In light of the shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. this afternoon, allegedly committed by white supremacist James Von Brunn, Matt Yglesias noted, "I hope that everyone who mau-maued the Department of Homeland Security for expressing concern about this kind of thing feel appropriately ashamed of themselves."

It's hardly an unreasonable point. Two months ago, Richard Poplawski, a right-wing extremist, allegedly gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh, in part because he feared the non-existent "Obama gun ban." A few weeks ago, Scott Roeder, another right-wing extremist, allegedly assassinated Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. A few hours ago, Von Brunn, another right-wing extremist, allegedly opened fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

There are other recent examples that bear similar characteristics. This story out of Tennessee from last year continues to haunt: 

Knoxville police Sunday evening searched the Levy Drive home of Jim David Adkisson after he allegedly entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and killed two people and wounded six others during the presentation of a children's musical. [...]

Inside the house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

The shotgun-wielding suspect in Sunday's mass shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was motivated by a hatred of "the liberal movement," and he planned to shoot until police shot him, Knoxville Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV said this morning.

Adkisson, 58, of Powell wrote a four-page letter in which he stated his "hatred of the liberal movement," Owen said. "Liberals in general, as well as gays."

Obviously, we're dealing with sick individuals here. There are key differences between violent right-wing radicals and mainstream Americans who happen to be conservative. Indeed, I'm not suggesting that conservative activists are necessarily dangerous, violent people.

I am suggesting that it makes sense of the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and communicate with law enforcement agencies about potentially violent extremists -- of every ideological stripe -- to help prevent tragedies like the ones we've seen lately.

The DHS report specifically addressed the possibility of violence from anti-abortion radicals and anti-Semitic extremists. And in the last two weeks, Tiller was assassinated and a white supremacist opened fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Republican hysteria over the DHS report -- which was, by the way, initiated by a Bush administration official -- was always based more on a partisan scheme than reality, but the incessant complaints look especially misguided today.

Tagged as: shooting, right-wing violence

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."

Is Israel's Aggression a Question of Pride?

By Ira ChernusAlterNet. Posted June 11, 2009.

Israel would rather go down fighting than survive with a damaged sense of national pride. What would happen if concessions weren't so symbolic?

Suppose Barack Obama really does want to herd the Israelis and Palestinians into serious, fruitful peace negotiations. How could he, or anyone, hope to get an agreement from these seemingly intractable enemies? Two researchers think they've found at least the beginning of an answer.

They asked nearly 4,000 Israelis and Palestinians what kind of peace deal they would accept. When they proposed "rational" bargains, like land for peace or sharing control of Jerusalem, the answers were generally negative. For both sides, the researchers found, the real sticking points are about values that people hold sacred. The tangible issues -- land, resources, political control, and the like -- are only symbols of these sacred values.

That's the best way for the U.S. to understand -- Israeli relations emerging over "natural growth" in the West Bank settlements. In itself it's a relatively small matter. "Natural growth" boosted the settler population by only 3 percent in 2007. Settler families that expand could easily move and find housing elsewhere, as all other expanding Israeli families do.

But the Obama administration has chosen this particular issue as the symbolic gesture Israel must make. And the Israeli government has responded by making "natural growth" the new symbol of all Israel's sacred values.

If they have to give up settlement expansion, what will they have to give up next, they ask. Jerusalem? The Jews' right to have their own state? Perhaps even the state of Israel itself? A people with such a long history of persecution might very well be afraid of losing everything the Jews hold dear. That fear could well explain their intransigence.

Except that's not quite what the research shows. For Israelis -- and for Palestinians -- the crux of the conflict is not about what values each side is afraid of losing and wants to protect. It's about how much they can force the other side to give up.

Most of the respondents on each side demanded a settlement "that involved their enemies making symbolic but difficult gestures." The respondents said they would make concessions as long as "the other side agreed to a symbolic sacrifice of one of its sacred values."

What sacred values? The researchers offered only examples of actions: Palestinians want an apology from the Jews, while Jews want recognition of Israel's right to exist. But what are the deeper values symbolized by these actions? And why is forcing sacrifice from the other side the crucial goal?

I don't know much about the Palestinians. But having grown up in an observant Jewish home, been active in Jewish community life, studied and taught the history of Judaism for decades, and had close relatives living in Israel for decades, I have a pretty good idea of the values driving the Jewish side of the conflict.

One of the key values, perhaps the most important of all, is national pride. And the most cherished symbol of pride is a victory over an enemy -- forcing it to give up something, anything, that symbolizes a loss of its pride.

I first saw this clearly on Yom Kippur 1973. I was in synagogue, observing the holiest day of the Jewish year, when I heard that the Egyptians had crossed the Suez Canal and attacked the Israeli troops stationed on the other side. My immediate response was something like this:

The Israelis are at the Suez Canal because they captured the Sinai Peninsula in the Six Day War in 1967. Why do the Egyptians want the Sinai back? It's a barren desert with no resources of any value. So I jumped to the conclusion (as a young man I was quicker to make assumptions about people I didn't know or understand) that the Egyptians did not want the land back. They wanted their national pride back. They had been humiliated in '67, and now they were going to recoup their self-esteem.

Therefore, I said, the Israelis can gain a huge advantage by withdrawing to the 1967 border, letting Egypt have the Sinai, throwing up their hands and crying "We lost!" They would have lost nothing of value. The Egyptians would be content. The way would be open for peace and security.

A few years later, the Israelis did give Sinai back to Egypt as part of a peace deal, and few Israelis expressed any regrets. How much easier to have done it on Yom Kippur 1973 and saved all that bloodshed.

But when I shared my logical solution with others in the synagogue, they simply didn't get it. I had no more success with my best friend, as I drove him to JFK Airport so he could fly back to Israel and rejoin his army unit for the Sinai war. To most Jews then, as to most Jews now, it was just obvious that when the enemy attacks, you fight back and inflict a loss on the attacker. That's how you bolster your national pride.

Is national pride a truly sacred value? Few Jews will say so directly. But for many Israeli Jews, and for most American Jews since the Six Day War, religion and nationalism have been intertwined. The theologian Emil Fackenheim fused them in his very influential idea that, since the Holocaust, God has given the Jews a new commandment that trumps all others: The Jewish people must survive as a distinct people, or else Hitler's goal of a Jew-free world will be realized.

Now Israel is the fundamental symbol of Jewish survival. So Israel's war victories have an "inescapably religious dimension" because they keep Israel safe from destruction.

But when I heard Fackenheim speak a few years after the Yom Kippur war, I discovered that his real belief was rather different. Someone in the audience asked a question: "You say that Israel must fight its enemies to insure Jewish survival. Yet what guarantee is there that Israel will win every war and always insure Jewish survival?"

The distinguished theologian gave this rather shocking reply: "There is no guarantee. Israel may indeed be destroyed. But the important point is that next time we will go down fighting."

There was no need to spell out the obvious implication: If we go down fighting, we can feel proud of ourselves, even if the last Jew disappears from the earth. Survival is not as sacred to us as pride, and pride comes from fighting the enemy. "Never Again" means never again will we let ourselves be shamefully herded to slaughter without resisting to the last woman and man.

This commitment has always been a central pillar of Israeli life. The widely admired, recently deceased Israeli author Amos Elon wrote (in his 1971 best-seller, The Israelis) that the memory of the Holocaust "explains the obsessive suspicion [and] the towering urge for self-reliance" that marks Israeli Jews. But he added that the same memory also plagues Israelis with "a suspended confusion, a neurotic constriction ... compounded by pangs of conscience, guilt and shame."

Israeli children are taught in school about "the disgraceful shame and cowardice" of all victims of anti-Semitic massacres in the Diaspora, to convince them that only a Jewish state with an invincible army could take away the shame. And Israelis exaggerate the degree of Jewish resistance to the Nazis because it "seems essential to their dignity as a group."

Elon knew that the theme of shame and pride lay at the very root of Zionism. In his biography of Theodore Herzl, he claimed that the father of the Zionist movement was motivated, above all, by "wounded pride" -- being denied what he thought was his rightful place among the elite of European society, simply because he was Jewish. Herzl was well aware that he was making national pride a sacred symbol. He urged the early Zionists to "turn the Jewish question into a question of Zion."

Even earlier, the first important Zionist writer, Leo Pinsker, told the Jews (in his famous tract "Self-Emancipation"): "You are foolish, because you expect of human nature something which it has never had -- humanity. You are also contemptible, because you have no real self-esteem and no national self-respect. National self-respect! Where can we find it?" Pinsker's answer, the answer of most Zionists ever since, was: only in a nation-state of our own.

Pinsker's words and Herzl's wounded pride reveal one root of the profound dilemma that has kept Israel trapped in a seemingly irrational cycle of intransigence and conflict for all these years. It is shameful and contemptible to let oneself fall victim to persecution, the argument goes. But Gentiles will always be persecutors. So Jews living in Diaspora will always feel shame and self-contempt. The mistake that Pinsker, Herzl and most other Zionists made was to assume that a state of their own would free them from this trap.

Instead, the state became a projection of the individual Jew, writ large. And the surrounding Arab nations became projections of individual Gentiles. Since Gentiles were by definition persecutors (according to the dominant Zionist worldview), the inevitable political conflicts between Israel and neighboring Arab peoples were bound to be seen as merely more of the same old persecution and victimization, bringing with it the same sense of shame.

Every tangible goal of Israeli policy became a symbol of the ultimate goal: defeating the Gentiles in order to escape from shame, to gain pride and self-respect.

Today, Israel pursues that aim by demanding the right of "natural growth" in its West Bank settlements. In other words, Israel wants the Palestinians to accept not merely the settlements that exist, but the larger settlements planned for the future, along with abandoning Jerusalem and the right of return. Inevitably, the Palestinians balk at such drastic sacrifices.

For most Jews, every such refusal becomes further "evidence" that the Palestinians are moved by the same irrational anti-Semitism that Jews suffered in Diaspora. To fail to resist it would only increase the sense of shame. So resist the Jews must, no matter what the rest of the world thinks of such intransigence. Indeed, since the rest of the world is Gentile, defying world opinion reaps the benefit of added pride.

And what if the other side does accede to Israeli demands? When the researchers asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a rational bargain -- accepting a two-state solution in return for all major Palestinian factions (including Hamas) recognizing Israel as a Jewish state -- he answered by demanding further sacrifice: "O.K., but the Palestinians would have to show that they sincerely mean it, change their textbooks and anti-Semitic characterizations."

There's more here than distrust of the enemy. Since the whole process is in the realm of symbolism, no tangible gain may ever be enough.

The ideology formulated by Pinsker has become a viciously self-confirming cycle. Israeli leaders fear that anything less than intransigence will cost them dearly at the polls. Unable to turn from resistance to reconciliation, they lock their nation into ongoing conflict and all the insecurity it brings.

Most Israelis do feel insecure. They fear that Palestinians and other Arabs will attack them, if given a chance. But a mere glance at the immense military advantage Israel has over all its neighbors makes that fear seem irrational.

It all becomes far more understandable if we recognize that what most Israelis fear, above all, is losing not their land or even their lives, but their very tenuous sense of national pride. Couple that with a natural desire to blame all the problems on the other side, so that Jews can feel morally pure and innocent, and it's hard to see how they can break out of this vicious cycle.

Are Palestinians caught in the same trap? The researchers who studied both sides found them equally focused on inflicting symbolic defeats on the other side. Perhaps Palestinians are as afraid, as are Israelis, of losing their pride. Perhaps that's why Hamas leaders resist formal recognition of Israel, even though they have clearly signaled their de facto acceptance of the Jewish state for several years and affirm the same view now. But that is for Palestinians and those who know them well to say. If it does turn out that the two sides are mirror images of each other, the conflict might seem even more insoluble.

Yet, the researchers who collected all this data suggest a more hopeful view. Once mediators from outside, like George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, understand that all the tangible issues in dispute are basically counters in a symbolic contest, they can begin to work with both sides more constructively.

In principle, anything can serve equally well as a symbolic counter. So no specific issue need be a sticking point. A truly skilled mediator could identify assets that each side could afford to lose, from a practical point of view, and suggest that they be sacrificed in a show of graceful concession.

Then each side could do what I wish the Israelis had done way back in 1973: throw up its hands, cry "We lost!" this or that or some other thing, and give the other side a reason to feel proud of its victory. As implausible as it sounds, that may be the only way to Middle East peace.


Russia 'could drop nuclear arms'

Mr Putin said he would be happy to meet President Obama

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said his country could give up nuclear weapons if everyone else that had them did the same.

The remarks came as Russian and US officials negotiate a successor to the 1991 Start treaty on arms reduction, which expires in December.

US President Barack Obama will discuss the issue in Moscow next month with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

Meanwhile a top general said Russia should not go below 1,500 warheads.

Col-Gen Nikolai Solovtsov, who commands Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, said Moscow needed this number to ensure its own security.

But he added that the final decision rested with political leaders.

Russia currently has 3,909 warheads and the US 5,576, according the US state department. A limit of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads by 2012 have already been agreed by both sides.

But Mr Putin questioned whether there was a need for nuclear weapons at all.

"If those who made the atomic bomb and used it are ready to abandon it, along with - I hope - other nuclear powers that officially or unofficially possess it, we will of course welcome and facilitate this process in every possible way," he said, in a veiled reference to the US.

He was speaking at a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has also endorsed the idea of reducing the number of nuclear weapons to zero. 

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