Israel Represses Israelis and Congress Approves

It’s been two years since Israel initiated the “Operation Cast Lead” military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip. Since then, the right-wing Israeli government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has launched an unprecedented wave of intimidation against Israeli peace and human rights groups. These groups say they are “working in an increasingly hostile environment,” according to a New York Times report, and that Israeli government leaders are fostering “an atmosphere of harassment” by turning “human rights criticism into an existential threat.”

However, Congress has chosen to look the other way — and wants the executive branch to do the same.

A resolution — sponsored by House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Howard Berman (D-CA), Middle East Subcommittee Chair Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and soon-to-be House Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) — condemned the findings of the UN Human Rights Council report for documenting such infringements on civil liberties and other human rights violations by the Israeli government.

Included in the resolution were the words: “even though Israel is a vibrant democracy with a vigorous and free press, the report of the ‘fact-finding mission’ erroneously asserts that ‘actions of the Israeli government… have contributed significantly to a political climate in which dissent with the government and its actions… is not tolerated.'” It passed the House by an overwhelming 344-36 vote.

The UNHRC fact-finding mission, led by the prominent South African jurist Richard Goldstone, is best known for documenting evidence of war crimes by both Hamas and the Israeli government. However, it also covered suppression of internal dissent both within the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and within Israel and found that “individuals and groups viewed as sources of criticism of Israel’s military operations were subjected to repression or attempted repression by the Government of Israel.”

Pattern of Abuse

In recent months, I have contacted scores of offices of Democratic members of Congress. I’ve offered them evidence that the UNHRC report accurately documented the growing intolerance of the Israeli government to legitimate dissent. Yet to this day, they stand by their vote, insisting the charges of Israeli repression were “erroneous” and denying that the repression continues.

The rightist Netanyahu government, apparently emboldened by such a broad bipartisan defense of its actions from Washington, has only increased its repression of Israeli citizens in the year since the House passed its resolution. This has included surveillance and intimidation of Israeli peace and human rights groups, with the detention for days without charge of scores of Israeli Jews attending or simply en route to peaceful protests. On December 27, for example, an Israeli court sentenced Jonathan Pollack, a leading young human rights activist, to three months in prison for being part of an “illegal assembly” — a bicycle protest against the war on Gaza.

Other Israelis speaking out have been imprisoned or otherwise censored as well. The Knesset stripped member Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary benefits and her diplomatic passport for taking part in last summer’s humanitarian aid mission to Gaza. The government has detained Israeli community activist Ameer Makhoul — whom Amnesty International has called “a key human rights defender” and “a prisoner of conscience” — on “espionage” charges, though they have refused to make the charges public. And the government charged Israeli whistle-blower Anat Kamm, who documented illegal assassinations of Palestinian opponents by the Israeli military, with espionage and banned the Israeli press from reporting on her detention.

This past June, 25 members of Israel’s parliament introduced legislation that would ban Israeli organizations if they support universal jurisdiction for war crimes. A second bill would make it illegal to support a boycott or other sanctions against products from Israeli settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also pushed for a loyalty oath, which would require prospective citizens to pledge loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish state” in an effort to exclude non-Jews and non-Zionist Jews from citizenship.

There has been a systematic McCarthyistic campaign against academic freedom. Parliamentary hearings supported by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar have challenged the legitimacy of left-leaning professors who address Israeli human rights abuses. Membership in anti-occupation or human rights groups has been used to bar young academics from being hired.

Israeli actors, directors and playwrights who signed a petition that they would not perform in a new theater built in the West Bank settlement of Ariel have been banned from receiving government subsidies, including funding for international tours, as well as the right to perform at state venues.

Im Tirtzu, a nationalist Israeli organization, goaded on by government officials, launched a harsh billboard smear campaign against 12 human rights organizations and their funders, the New Israel Fund and the Ford Foundation. Meanwhile, right-wing thugs have assaulted prominent Israeli peace and human rights advocates with apparent acquiescence of some segments of the police.

Goldstone’s fact-finding mission also expressed concerns at the government’s threat to eliminate the tax-exempt status of human rights groups and limit their ability to receive support from abroad, noting it could have “an intimidating effect on other Israeli human rights organizations.” The New York Times reported that Israeli tax authorities have repeatedly harassed such organizations as the Israeli advocacy group Gisha, which supports freedom of movement for Palestinians.

Congress Balks

Human Rights Watch and other groups have condemned such efforts to silence Israel’s vibrant civil society. But the overwhelming majority of the U.S. Congress continues to insist that such human rights organizations have no basis for such concerns.

The U.S. Congress has gone on record denying — and, by implication, defending — Israeli government repression against Israeli citizens. In this resolution and previously, Congress has rationalized Israeli repression of Palestinians and Lebanese as necessary acts of “self-defense” against “terrorism.” However, this same excuse cannot justify intimidation of Israeli individuals or organizations. By including this clause in the resolution attacking the Goldstone commission report, then, a large bipartisan Congressional majority is effectively legitimizing the suppression of nonviolent peace and human rights activists in a democracy. This action constitutes a very dangerous precedent.

When Congress begins denying well-documented cases of government-backed repression of human rights activists because the country in question is nominally “a vibrant democracy with a vigorous and free press,” then it’s only a matter of time before the Democrats, along with their Republican counterparts, begin denying and defending such repression against human rights groups here in the United States as well.

The U.S. Deserves Its Share of Blame for Fate of Arab Christians

It was the second week in January in 1991. I was in the sanctuary of a large Catholic Church in Baghdad. Every votive candle in the place was lit, no doubt in support of prayers for loved ones in anticipation of the massive US bombing campaign — which was to be known as “Operation Desert Storm” – that was soon to commence. A member of our group asked the priest whose side the church would be on in the forthcoming conflict. He replied that “The Church can only be on one side. That of the victims.”

Little did he realize that, less than twenty years later, Iraq’s Christians would become among the greatest victims.

At that time, there were nearly one million Christians in Iraq. While anyone who openly challenged Saddam Hussein’s government would be subjected to repression, as a decidedly secular regime, there was no fear of being persecuted as Christians. Indeed, Christians played prominent roles in Saddam’s government, including that of foreign minister and vice-president.

As a result of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled that secular government and brought to power a coalition led by Shia Muslim fundamentalist parties and created a backlash by Sunni Muslim extremists, the Christian community in Iraq has been reduced by more than half. Except for a tiny enclave in the autonomous Kurdish region, there were no active Al-Qaeda cells in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion. They have since become a major threat, having massacred hundreds of Iraqi Christians since the United States “liberated” Iraq, including sixty worshippers at a church in October. Though many of us familiar with Iraq predicted just this kind of extremist backlash in the event of an invasion of Iraq, President Bush – backed by such key Democrats as Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, and John Kerry – went ahead with the war anyway, including an occupation which deliberately exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions. (See my article The US Role in Iraq’s Sectarian Violence.)

Christmastide is the time of year when the Western media focuses some attention on the dwindling Christian population in the Middle East. There is a special place in the hearts of those of us who share that tradition with these descendents of the first Christians. Ironically, however, the plight of Arab Christians is often used by the right to demonize the Islamic faith and to rationalize the very policies which have led to their oppression and exodus in the first place.

The U.S.-backed Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak has increased its persecution of the country’s Coptic Christian minority, numbering nearly six million. Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed Saudi regime denies the right of Christians to worship openly. Palestinian Christians, like their Muslim counterparts, have suffered greatly under a U.S.-backed Israeli occupation, with the majority forced into exile.

Perhaps the Middle Eastern country where Christians are safest is under the secular Assad regime in Syria, where they number close to two million, roughly 10% of the population. Yet the United States has targeted that regime with punitive sanctions and threats to topple the government. A 2005 bill strengthening US sanctions declared that Syria constitutes a “threat to the national security of the United States,” language identical to resolutions that targeted Iraq prior to the invasion of that country. Human rights activists fear a US-backed overthrow of the Syria’s secular government could result in sectarian strife and a rise of extremism comparable to what took place in Iraq.

Prior to twentieth century Western intervention, Christian and Jewish minorities in the Islamic world – considered “people of the Book” due to their worship of the same God as Muslims – fared relatively well, certainly better than Muslim and Jewish minorities in Europe. “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for God, spoken both in mosques and in Arabic-speaking Christian churches. More than a century of Western colonialism, however, followed by more recent U.S. interventions, has severely weakened this traditional tolerance.

So whenever you read the sanctimonious articles regarding the plight of Arab Christians, rather than simply bemoan the intolerance of Islamic extremists, let’s remember the role that Washington in supporting repressive regimes and creating the backlash that threatens them.

Democrats Push Through Yet Another Anti-Palestinian Resolution

Though outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has insisted that there just isn’t enough time for the lame duck Democratic-controlled Congress to consider much of the progressive legislation on the docket prior to the Republican takeover early next month, she and other Democratic leaders did find time last Wednesday to pass a resolution condemning efforts by Palestinian moderates to seek recognition of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Oslo accords were signed in 1993 with the vision of Israel’s eventual withdrawal from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This was an enormous compromise on the Palestinian side, given that such a state would leave them with only 22% of their historic homeland, the rest of which became the state of Israel in 1948. Right-wing Israeli politician Benyamin Netanyahu, then in opposition, denounced the agreement and promised to derail it. As prime minister in the late 1990s and again since his coming to office again in last year’s election, he has been doing his best to accomplish this by colonizing large swathes of the West Bank with illegal settlements for Israeli Jews which he insists must be annexed into an expanded Israel. The moderate Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, by contrast, has been working toward the implementation of the Oslo Accords, offering strict security guarantees for Israel in return for an end to the occupation.

Nevertheless, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives has insisted that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are responsible for the breakdown in the peace talks. Recognizing that talks are pointless while Israel’s colonization drive continues and noting the Obama administration’s ongoing refusal to exercise its extensive leverage to force Israel to stop building new settlements, the Palestinians have understandably refused to return to direct negotiations until Israel suspends its construction of new settlements, which has been condemned as illegal by the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and virtually the entire international community. However, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), whom the Democrats put in charge of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, insisted during last Wednesday’s debate, that “Israel has shown time and again that it is ready” to make peace and that Palestinians’ objections to Israelis colonizing their land were “overwrought.”

To help put pressure on Israel and the United States to move the peace process forward, the Palestine Authority has been soliciting international recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. During the past couple of weeks, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Norway have done just that. This is what prompted the House resolution, introduced by House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), who serves as the House Democrats’ chief foreign policy spokesman.

The Democratic leadership in the House has long argued that Israel’s attacks on civilian population centers in Gaza Strip and elsewhere are legitimate self-defense and that it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are making peace impossible. Pelosi, for example, has insisted that the conflict is about “the fundamental right of Israel to exist” and that it is “absolute nonsense” to claim it has anything do to with the Israeli occupation. One would think, then, that this Palestinian effort to achieve recognition for a state which explicitly defines the borders as exclusively those occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war and not any part of Israel itself would be welcomed. But, to the Democrats, Palestinians asking for even just 22% of Palestine is too much. Rising in support of last Wednesday’s resolution, Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) called it “preposterous” that a Palestinian state should be created based on the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which from Presidents Lyndon Johnson through George H.W. Bush had been recognized as the basis of Middle East peace, which called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for security guarantees. Similarly, Rep. Berman threatened the Palestine Authority by saying, “If they persist in pursuing a unilateralist path . . . there will be consequences.”

Congress has correctly condemned violence by extremist Palestinian groups like Hamas, yet when the Palestine Authority tries to advance their freedom through nonviolent means, such as these diplomatic initiatives, the Democrats are just as quick to condemn them as well. Indeed, earlier in their careers, Berman, Ackerman, Engel, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders were on record opposing any kind of Palestinian statehood, changing their view reluctantly only years later. However, they insist that whatever kind of Palestinian “state” may emerge can only be on what the Israeli occupiers are willing to allow them to have, even if all that is left is a series of small non-contiguous cantons surrounded by annexed Israeli settlement blocs. Taking any initiative to advance their independence separate from what the rightist Israeli government can agree to, according to the Democratic leadership, is completely unacceptable.

One can only think of how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” noted that the greatest obstacle to advancing the cause of justice is one who “paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.”

Recognizing that most ordinary Democrats oppose the Israeli occupation and would likely put pressure on their representatives to vote against the resolution, Berman and Pelosi put the vote on last Wednesday’s agenda before the text was even made available to other House members.

This made it impossible to have any hearings, give any time for constituents to express their opposition, or even allow the Obama administration to offer an opinion. Also fearing opposition from Democratic House members who might be concerned at rousing the anger of their liberal constituents, Berman and Pelosi refused to have roll call vote and instead brought it up under a procedure known as “suspension of the rules,” a procedure normally used for non-controversial measure like honoring a recently-deceased eminent figure. Doing it this way not only limits debate and makes it impossible to attach amendments, it allows a resolution to pass by a non-recorded voice vote and to automatically be recorded as “unanimous.” Only ten representatives were on the floor when the resolution was passed by “unanimous consent.”

This kind of cynical maneuvering by the Democratic Party leadership is unfortunately quite typical of how they have handled resolutions dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during their four years in the majority. It raises the question as to whether the Republicans can do any worse.

Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. While a growing minority of Democratic House members are finally listening to their liberal constituents’ concerns about U.S. backing for Israeli occupation, colonization and repression, the Republicans — outside of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and a few others of a more libertarian orientation — are solidly aligned with the rightist Israeli government. We can only expect more such resolutions in the coming Congress.

Richard Holbrooke Represented the Worst Side of the Foreign Policy Establishment

The many accolades coming out following the sudden death on Monday of veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke and his death bed conversion in opposing the Iraq war have overshadowed his rather sordid history of supporting dictators, war criminals and military solutions to complex political problems.

Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. This ambitious joint civilian-military effort not only included horrific human rights abuses, but also proved to be a notorious failure in curbing the insurgency against the US-backed regime in Saigon. This was an inauspicious start in the career of someone Obama appointed as his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan to help curb the insurgency against those US-backed governments.

In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counterinsurgency campaign responsible for up to a quarter-million civilian deaths. Having successfully pushed for a dramatic increase in US military aid to the Suharto dictatorship, he then engaged in a cover-up of the Indonesian atrocities. He testified before Congress in 1979 that the mass starvation wasn’t the fault of the scorched-earth campaign by Indonesian forces in the island nation’s richest agricultural areas, but simply a legacy of Portuguese colonial neglect.

Later, in reference to his friend Paul Wolfowitz, then the US ambassador to Indonesia, Holbrooke described how “Paul and I have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.”

In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under US command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju. Holbrooke was among the Carter administration officials who reportedly gave the O.K. to Gen. Chun Doo-Hwan, who had recently seized control of the South Korean government in a military coup to wipe out the pro-democracy rebels. Hundreds were killed.

He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

In the late 1990s, as the US ambassador to the United Nations, Holbrooke criticized the UN for taking leadership in conflict resolution efforts involving US allies, particularly in the area of human rights. For example, in October 2000 he insisted that a UN Security Council resolution criticizing the excessive use of force by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian demonstrators revealed an unacceptable bias that put the UN “out of the running” in terms of any contributions to the peace process.

As special representative to Cyprus in 1997, Holbrooke unsuccessfully pushed the European Union to admit Turkey, despite its imprisonment of journalists, its ongoing use of the death penalty, its widespread killing of civilians in the course of its bloody counterinsurgency war in its Kurdish region, and other human rights abuses.

Holbrooke is perhaps best known for his leadership in putting together the 1995 Dayton Accords, which formally ended the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Though widely praised in some circles for his efforts, Holbrooke remains quite controversial for his role. For instance, the agreement allowed Bosnian Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict. Indeed, rather than accept the secular concept of national citizenship that has held sway in Europe for generations, Holbrooke helped impose sectarian divisions that have made the country – unlike most of its gradually liberalizing Balkan neighbors – unstable, fractious and dominated by illiberal ultra-nationalists.

As with previous US officials regarding their relations with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Holbrooke epitomizes the failed US policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. For example, during the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia, Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back Milosevic, in recognition of his role in the successful peace deal over Bosnia, and not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. Milosevic initially crushed the movement. He also failed to back the nonviolent resistance campaign for independence in Kosovo, then led by the moderate Ibrahim Rugova.

In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 US-led bombing campaign, leading to victory of the hard-line KLA in Kosovo. Meanwhile, in Serbia, the bombing creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy in Serbia movement once again. The pro-democracy movement finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, following Milosevic’s attempt to steal the parliamentary elections in October 2000, but the young leaders of that movement remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.

Scott Ritter, the former chief UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspector, who correctly assessed the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and predicted a disastrous outcome for the US invasion, observed, “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter added: “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”

Ironically, back in 2002-2003, when the United States had temporarily succeeded in marginalizing Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, Holbrooke was a strong supporter of redirecting American military and intelligence assets away from the region in order to invade and occupy Iraq. Obama and many other Democrats presciently criticized this reallocation of resources at that time as likely to lead to the deterioration of the security situation in the country and the resurgence of these extremist groups, but Holbrooke instead sided with the Bush administration in supporting the disastrous invasion and occupation.

It was unclear, then, why Obama chose someone like Holbrooke for such a sensitive post. Indeed, as the past two years have shown, Holbrooke’s efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan appear to have little show for them. Perhaps more than any other appointment, Holbrooke epitomized the tragedy of Obama’s foreign policy: instead of bringing hope and change, he brought in some of the most notorious figures of the foreign policy establishment to continue to pursue failed and immoral policies.

WikiLeaks Cables on Western Sahara Show Role of Ideology in State Department

Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released by WikiLeaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period — when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power — the WikiLeaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.

However, those of us who have actually read such cables over the years find nothing in them particularly unusual or surprising. Indeed, the only people who would be surprised or shocked by what has been released in the recent dump of diplomatic cables are those who have a naïve view that the U.S. foreign policy is not about empire, but about freedom, democracy, international law, and mutually-respectful relationships between sovereign nations. There is little indication that the foreign governments in question are particularly surprised at any of the content in these cables either.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume the interpretations of events by State Department personnel contained in these documents are accurate reflections of reality. While many career Foreign Service officers are sincere and dedicated people, the nature of their role forces them to see the world from inside the prism of a hegemonic power. They cannot expect to have a more enlightened view of developments within a Middle Eastern state than, for example, a representative of the British Foreign Office would have had a century earlier.

For my doctoral dissertation on what motivated U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Middle East during the 1950s, I spent many hours reviewing cables sent to and from U.S. embassies in Guatemala and Iran in the months prior to the U.S.-backed coups in those countries. I read frantic messages sent by senior diplomats in the U.S. embassy and top officials in the State Department and the White House regarding what they feared to be imminent Communist takeovers of those countries. Neither of these fears was based on reality, of course, but it was widely believed to be true.

By contrast, there is absolutely nothing in the hundreds of cables I reviewed in the lead-up to the coups indicating that the desire to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossedegh was based primarily on his nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company or that the plans to overthrow Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz was based upon his nationalization of some lands owned by the United Fruit Company. It was based on a sincere, if grossly exaggerated, fear that there was a real threat that these countries would become dominated by pro-Soviet Communists. This certainly does not rule out the likelihood that powerful corporate interests which had a stake in ousting these nationalist leaders helped create the climate that led to such paranoid speculation. However, as far as those who made the key decisions were concerned, it appears to have been based primarily on this fear of Communist takeovers.

There is a tendency among critics of U.S. foreign policy to assume a level of rationality in decision-making that has led to the emergence of many popular conspiracy theories. Yes, there have certainly been conspiracies. Yes, in the final analysis, powerful corporate interests do play an important role in U.S. foreign policy. Yet what is often overlooked is the role of ideology, of the way that those embedded in U.S. embassies are willing to take the prevailing line simply because that it what they are pre-disposed to believe and they didn’t have the opportunity or the willingness to figure things out otherwise. This is why, absent of corroborating evidence, I’m skeptical about leaked documents regarding large-scale Iranian support of Iraqi insurgents and other claims which appear to legitimate U.S. militarism.

Our man in Rabat

One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon of allowing ideology to interfere with honest reporting comes in a recently-released cable from the U.S. charge d’affairs in the U.S. embassy in Morocco, Robert P. Jackson.

In his lengthy analysis regarding the conflict over Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, he makes the preposterous assertion that the independence struggle is essentially an Algerian creation, ignoring decades of popular resistance and longstanding Sahrawi nationalism which pre-dated Algeria’s support for the nationalist Polisario Front. He bases this claim on the fact that because the Polisario has failed to claim Sahrawi-populated parts of southern Morocco as part of the Western Sahara state, this somehow proves that the struggle is “less nationalist than geopolitical, linked to the much older dispute between Algeria and Morocco, and hardly boosts the case for an independent state.”

In reality, the reasons for this distinction between the two Sahrawi-populated regions is that the Polisario — unlike Morocco and its supporters — understands international law: The Sahrawi-populated Tefaya region is universally-recognized as part of Morocco whereas Sahrawi-populated Western Sahara is recognized as a non-self-governing territory under foreign belligerent occupation and therefore has the right to self-determination, including the option of independence. If Morocco would allow the Tefaya region to become part of an independent Western Sahara, there certainly would be no objections by the Polisario, but they simply understand that they have a much stronger case regarding Western Sahara itself. Instead, this U.S. diplomat implies that this willingness to recognize this important legal distinction somehow delegitimizes the nationalist struggle.

Jackson goes on to criticize the United Nations for recognizing the Polisario, along with Morocco, as the two principal parties in the conflict, insisting that the Algerians — who have no claim to Western Sahara — are the key to peace because of their support for the Polisario. Rather than pressure Morocco to abide by a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark decision by the International Court of Justice to allow for an act of self-determination, he calls on UN special envoy Christopher Ross, a veteran U.S. diplomat, to “budge [Algerian] President Bouteflika and his government” to allow Morocco to consolidate their conquest.

This cable is very reminiscent of the longstanding effort by State Department officials during the Cold War to delegitimize national liberation struggles by claiming they were simply the creation of Cuba, the Soviet Union, or some other nation-state challenging U.S. hegemony. Indeed, in a throwback to Cold War rhetoric, Jackson insists that the Polisario Front, which has been recognized as the legitimate government of Western Sahara by over 80 governments, is “Cuba-like.” In the cable, Jackson calls for U.S. support for Moroccan calls for a census and audit of international programs in Polisario-led refugee camps, but not support for the international call for human rights monitors in the occupied territory. In addition, rather than recognizing the right of Sahrawi refugees to return under international law, he unrealistically suggests that the Sahrawi refugees all be resettled in Spain.

Contradicting findings by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other observers which provide evidence to the contrary, he insists that “respect for human rights in the territory has greatly improved” and “once common beatings and arbitrary imprisonment have also essentially ceased.” Despite an unprecedented level of popular resistance against the occupation, he insists “support for independence is waning.” He praises Morocco’s development efforts in the occupied territory, even claiming that Al Aioun, the occupied Western Sahara capital, is “without any Shantytowns,” which is news to those of us who have actually been there and seen them.

In a rare moment of candor, Jackson acknowledges that Morocco’s “hard-line stance may have been bolstered by what was perceived in the Palace as uncritical support from Washington.” However, he falsely claims that most governments in the UN Security Council support Morocco’s “autonomy” plan for Western Sahara, which not only promises a very circumscribed level of self-governance but prohibits the people of Western Sahara from voting on the option of independence as required under international law.

Not long after this cable was written, Jackson was promoted by President Obama to his first post as full ambassador, to the U.S.-backed dictatorship in the Republic of Cameroon. This serves as yet another example that a willingness to tow the official line rather than critically examining the evidence is the key to advancement in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Fraudulent Egyptian Election

The November 28 Egyptian parliamentary elections were a farce. The vast majority of Egyptians boycotted the charade. But even those who did try to vote witnessed massive ballot-stuffing, vote-buying, intimidation, multiple voting in pro-government precincts, interminable delays in pro-opposition precincts, and mass arrests of opposition supporters.

When the Mubarak regime forbade any international monitors to watch the polls, opposition parties and civil society activists organized a large network of poll watchers in order to catch anticipated government efforts at rigging the election. They had fielded thousands of monitors for the last parliamentary elections as well for as recent municipal elections, documenting massive fraud. However, the government banned even Egyptians from monitoring this most recent election, thereby allowing officials to engage in widespread ballot-stuffing and other irregularities.

When some modest political liberalization led to an upsurge in protests over the past year, the government decided to engage in a major crackdown on dissent. In the lead-up to last month’s elections, the regime shut down nearly 20 satellite television channels, outlawed media coverage of court cases, dismissed the most prominent critical newspaper columnists, restricted NGO activities, monitored text messages, and arrested nearly 2,000 opposition activists. Said fired columnist Ibrahim Eissa, “The Egyptian government seems to have gotten the green light from the Obama administration to go back to the way they were before.”

Opposition leader Mohammed El-Baradei, winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, called for a boycott of what were clearly going to be fraudulent elections. However, a combination of threats and inducements led a number of opposition parties to participate anyway. Notably, more than three-quarters of Egyptian voters boycotted the polls. In what some opposition activists interpreted as a rebuke of the boycott, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Mike Hammer remarked that “the United States commends those Egyptians who participated in the parliamentary elections on Sunday.”

Hammer did note, however, that the United States was “disappointed with the conduct during and leading up to Egypt’s November 28 legislative elections.” He stressed, “We look forward to continuing to work with the Egyptian Government and Egypt’s vibrant civil society to help Egypt achieve its political, social, and economic aspirations consistent with international standards.” The administration’s willingness to acknowledge Egypt’s burgeoning civil society is encouraging and constitutes a positive shift from the previous administration. However, it is naïve to assume that the current Egyptian regime has any desire to live up to international standards of democracy and transparency.

Republic of Fear

For the entirety of his nearly 30 years in power, Mubarak has ruled under an “Emergency” Law restricting freedom of speech and other civil liberties. It makes gatherings of more than five people illegal, bans participation in elections by any political party not approved by the government, and removes security services from judicial oversight. The token opposition inside the legislature previously was unable to change any laws; their influence will be even less now with their numbers substantially reduced in the stolen election. Prominent Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour, who came in second in the rigged presidential election of 2005, was sentenced to five years in jail. His party’s headquarters was burned down a year ago.

Scores of prominent bloggers have been arrested and given long jail terms on dubious charges in recent months. Last June, security forces beat to death a young businessman and prominent pro-democracy blogger after dragging him out of an Internet café. Massive nationwide protests ensued.

Although the State Department acknowledges that the regime suppresses freedom of the press, association, and religion, the U.S. government – under both Republican and Democratic administrations –annually rewards Mubarak with billions of dollars worth of military and economic assistance. Early into his presidency, Obama dispatched Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Cairo to affirm continued unconditional aid. Similarly, Secretary of State Clinton declared that there would be no human rights “conditionality” in the close relationship between the United States and Egypt, regarding foreign aid or anything else.

This unconditional aid to the increasingly repressive Mubarak regime was awarded by a Democratic administration with a large Democratic majority in Congress. Chances of getting tough on Egypt’s dictatorship will likely decrease with a Republican majority back in the House.

As senators, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Clinton attempted to justify their support for the illegal and disastrous Iraq War on the grounds that “it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” Yet their professed support for democracy in Iraq was as phony as their claim that Iraq at that time had “weapons of mass destruction.” If they really cared about advancing democracy in the Middle East, they would not need to advocate a costly invasion, occupation, and bloody counter-insurgency war. They would simply insist on conditioning U.S. aid to Egypt and other Arab regimes to free multiparty elections.

This raises the serious question of whether the United States even wants free multiparty elections, in Egypt or any place else, that would replace a pro-American regime with one more independent-minded. Police states such as Mubarak’s can even be useful, as when the Bush administration outsourced captured Islamist radicals to be tortured in Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit publicly acknowledged that State Department pronouncements, critical of Egyptian government’s renewal of the state of emergency last spring, were aimed at “calming U.S. human rights groups and media” and that relations between Egypt and the United States would be “unaffected.” Unfortunately, he appears to have been right.

“Nobody gives a damn of what’s going on in Egypt,” says pro-democracy blogger Wael Abbas, summarizing U.S. policy as “Mubarak is a friend, and he’s allowing McDonald’s and Hardees’s and Pizza Hut. To hell with the Egyptian people. If they want democracy, we don’t care.”

Similarly Pakistani-American human rights lawyer Wajahat Ali, writing about Egypt, noted that “the US seems more committed to supporting reliable despots who toe the line than to dealing with democratic parties representative of the people’s desires and values.”

The only time the United States put conditions on aid to Egypt was in 2008, but not over human rights or democracy. Democratic Representatives Nita Lowey (NY), David Obey (WI), and the late Tom Lantos (CA) successfully threatened to withhold $100 million of the $1.7 billion package unless Mubarak more strictly enforced the siege on the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian regime complied, even to the point of beating and detaining international human rights activists, including Americans, who attempted to bring food and medicine to Palestinian civilians in the besieged territory in January 2010.

Prior to becoming president, Barack Obama criticized U.S. support for Mubarak and other Arab dictatorships, declaring “Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.” Unfortunately, as president, he has increased U.S. support for these dictatorships.

ElBaradei warns that U.S. policy toward Egypt risks creating a new generation of Islamist extremists, noting, “Only if you empower the liberals, if you empower the moderate socialists, if you empower all factions of society, only then will extremists be marginalized.” Even the Washington Post has recognized that “Mubarak’s successors will need to acquire political legitimacy; if they cannot do so through democracy they probably will resort to nationalism and anti-Americanism.” Support for repression only breeds anti-Americanism, including Islamist extremists. It is not surprising that the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Muhammed Atta, was an Egyptian radicalized by the repression and corruption of his U.S.-backed government.

Democracy Assistance

The United States had provided a limited amount of aid to civil society organizations addressing women’s issues, working conditions, human rights, and other pro-democracy efforts. An audit by the U.S. Agency for International Development concluded that economic assistance to these independent civil society organizations was far more effective than aid to government-controlled aid recipients.

On coming to office, however, Obama slashed such funding by 75 percent while maintaining the $1.3 billion in military assistance. Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, observed that, “Members of the administration have made it clear that they did not want economic assistance to irritate the Egyptian government.” Funding now goes into an endowment, which can only allocate to groups approved by the Mubarak regime. According to Safwat Girgis, leader of the Egyptian Centre for Human Rights, Obama’s decision “is in the best interest of the Egyptian government, not the people nor civil society organizations.”

Such “pro-democracy” funding from the U.S. government-backed agencies has been controversial among some opposition groups for fear that dependency on such assistance could make them susceptible to a U.S. political agenda. In addition, providing pro-democracy assistance to civil society groups while providing security assistance to a regime suppressing those very organizations is not unlike the old practice of the U.S. government paying for anti-smoking campaigns while subsidizing the tobacco industry. Still, a number of pro-democracy groups feel abandoned by Obama.

Indeed, U.S. support for Egypt’s armed forces, paramilitary units, and secret police – altogether numbering nearly one million – remains at over $1.3 billion annually. Egypt receives more than any other country, except Israel. The military hardware provided by the United States not only directly contributes to the dictatorship’s ability to crush dissent and remain in power, but costs the Egyptian people billions of dollars in personnel, training, spare parts, and upkeep which could go into badly needed domestic programs.

Economic Injustice

In addition to growing demands for political freedom, protests for economic justice are also on the rise.

Egypt’s minimum wage of $6 a day hasn’t gone up in more than a quarter century, even though the cost of living has quadrupled. Even by the World’s Bank modest measurements, nearly half of all Egyptians live below the poverty level. Per capita income is barely $1,000 a year. More than 40 percent of young Egyptians cannot afford to rent or purchase an apartment, or even marry. Meanwhile, it’s become increasingly difficult for Egypt to feed its growing population, due in part to U.S. pressure on the country to pursue an export-oriented model of development. More than half of Egypt’s food is imported, much in the form of subsidized U.S. wheat, further escalating dependence on Washington.

For decades, the Egyptian regime has been reversing the socialist initiatives of the popular president Gamal Abdul-Nasser, who ruled from the 1952 revolution until his death in 1970. The result has been increased inequality, with a tiny wealthy elite controlling the majority of the economy and political power with little interest in opening up the political process to the masses.

Mubarak’s U.S.-backed neo-liberal economic agenda has accelerated since the 1990s, privatizing more than half of all public enterprises. This has resulted in weakened job security, fewer benefits, and longer hours. The official government union does little to defend the workers. As a result, workers have taken things into their own hands. More than two million have participated in more than 3,300 strikes, demonstrations, factory occupations, and other mass actions since 1998. A 2007 sit-in by 3,000 municipal workers at the finance ministry ultimately won them higher salaries and the right to form an independent union.

Last spring, thousands of workers staged rotating sit-ins in front of the parliament building despite efforts by police to disperse them by force. Prominent pro-Mubarak parliamentarian Nashaat alQasas called on the government to go beyond the use of water cannons and “shoot them” instead. In response, hundreds of defiant protesters marched carrying placards with targets shouting “shoot us!” As protests grew, the government announced a freeze on further privatization and gave in on a number of other economic demands.

People Power

The vast majority of Egyptians are under 30 years of age. They are fed up with the repressive and corrupt U.S.-backed regime that has provided so little promise for their future. While most are observant Muslims, there is not much enthusiasm for the traditional conservative Muslim Brotherhood and its aging leadership, which has dominated the organized opposition. There is virtually no support for Islamist extremists, either. Many of these young Egyptians seem dedicated to making change on their own terms. Smart phones and the Internet are leading to unprecedented access to alternative media and are forming the basis for a growing wave of pro-democracy organizing.

A conference held earlier this year in New York, on the future of democracy in Egypt, concluded that a possible explosion in popular protest could occur in the near future in response to repression and economic injustice. Crushing poverty, increasing human rights abuses, rampant inflation, institutionalized corruption, a deteriorating educational system, and high unemployment have spawned the largest social movement in the country in more than 50 years. Many thousands have protested in Cairo, Alexandria, and other major cities despite brutal police attacks on demonstrators, widespread torture of detainees, and other repressive measures. Indeed, Egypt could very well be where the next unarmed popular pro-democracy insurrection takes place of the kind that brought down Marcos in the Philippines, Milosevic in Serbia, and scores of other autocratic regimes in recent decades.

The Obama administration acknowledges that, despite the repression, Egypt has developed “a vibrant civil society.” Unfortunately, says ElBaradei, U.S. policy toward the Middle East “has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society and empowering people, but rather it’s been based on supporting authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping.” The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate also observed, “If you bet on individuals, instead of the people, you are going to fail. And western policy so far has been to bet on individuals, individuals who are not supported by their people and who are being discredited every day.”

Journalist Eissa noted that “Obama is not pressuring Mubarak at all” to end the repression nor is Obama “realizing that society is going to implode on itself and destroy those regimes.” Similarly, Daniel Clingaert of Freedom House observed how the elections now “pose a clear-cut choice for the Obama administration—whether to side with the Egyptian government or with the Egyptian people.”

Egypt is a critically important country. There are 82 million Egyptians, the equivalent of seven times the population of Israel and Palestine combined. Given the level of repression and the long-standing U.S. support of the Mubarak regime, it is disappointing that more Americans haven’t challenged our Egypt policy. Historically, U.S. support for authoritarian regimes does not end until the U.S. public demands it. It is high time, then, to demand that Obama end U.S. support for Mubarak and give the people of Egypt a chance to determine their own future.