Breaking the Silence: On Venezuela and on Palestine

January 28th, 2019 - by admin

In These Times & The New York Times & Gulf News – 2019-01-28 21:41:45

Where Are Democratic 2020 Hopefuls on
The Trump-Backed Coup Attempt in Venezuela?

Marco Cartolano / In These Times

(January 24, 2019) — Update: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), widely expected to seek the Democratic nomination, released the following statement Thursday:

The Maduro government in Venezuela has been waging a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election that many observers said was fraudulent. Further, the economy is a disaster and millions are migrating.

The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. However, we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups — as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again.

Update: Presidential candidate and congresswoman from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, declared Thursday on Twitter, “The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders — so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”

Earlier: Every major Democrat or progressive who has declared — or is expected to declare — his or her candidacy for US president has been silent in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement that President Donald Trump will recognize Venezuela’s National Assembly president Juan Guaido as the interim president.

In These Times requested comment from Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — but received no response. An email sent to Beto O’Rourke, a former Representative of Texas, bounced. Not a single top 2020 presidential hopeful on the Democrat side has released a statement — or even tweeted — about the development.

Trump called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government “illegitimate” two weeks after Maduro’s inauguration for a second term. The declaration came after Guaido swore himself in as president with the support of several right-wing governments in Latin America.

The Lima Group, a coalition of mostly conservative-led Latin American countries, along with Canada, released a statement on January 4 denying the legitimacy of Venezuela’s May 2018 presidential election while recognizing the National Assembly as “a democratically elected constitutional body.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has participated in meetings with representatives of the Lima Group through video conference at least since last May. The developments, which are moving rapidly, are being denounced by some as a coup attempt.

Brazil, one of the group’s member nations, has ramped up its opposition to Maduro after far-right President Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated at the start of January. Bolsonaro met with exiled Venezuelan opposition leaders and threatened Maduro that he would do “everything for democracy to be re-established.”

In spite of the Assembly’s support from right-wing governments, several Democratic legislators joined Trump in denouncing Maduro’s presidency. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) released a statement praising Trump for “appropriately” recognizing Guaido, and several House Democrats announced in a video that they will introduce legislation to “support the people of Venezuela and hold the illegitimate President accountable for the crisis he created.” On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called recognizing Guaido, “an appropriate step.”

So far, Representatives Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have expressed opposition to Trump’s declaration. On Wednesday, Khanna accused the Trump administration of hypocrisy for attacking Maduro while continuing their support for the Saudi Arabian government. While Khanna criticized Maduro’s policies, he also warned that, “crippling sanctions or pushing for regime change will only make the situation worse.”

Omar shared Khanna’s tweet on Wednesday from her official congressional account and called for the universal application of human rights, “not just when it’s politically convenient.”

On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez retweeted a response to Durbin from Khanna that reiterated his opposition to both his regime change and Trump’s sanctions while supporting “Uruguay, Mexico, & (sic.) the Vatican’s efforts for a negotiated settlement.”

The silence of potential challengers to Trump is especially noteworthy since the president has the authority to commit troops on the ground as commander in chief. It remains unclear if any of the candidates are willing to challenge Trump’s move or oppose a series of economic sanctions against Venezuela that cut off Venezuela from most international financial markets.

The Trump administration’s move follows bipartisan US efforts to oppose Venezuela’s government since it was first elected in 1998 ago by the Bolivarian socialist movement. The Obama administration funded some groups critical of the Venezuelan government, issued a 2015 executive order declaring Venezuelan crackdowns on protestors an “extraordinary threat” to US national security, and implemented sanctions against seven Venezuelan government officials.

Trump built on Obama’s sanctions to further block Venezuelan involvement in financial markets in 2017, despite warnings this would worsenthe food and medicine supply in Venezuela — and prevent the country from achieving economic recovery.

Democratic 2020 hopefuls’ silence on Venezuela contrasts with their willingness to discuss other interventions: Senator Bernie Sanders has criticized US military spendingand led the Senate’s push to end US support for the war in Yemen, and some have called for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria.

Time to Break the Silence on Palestine
Martin Luther King Jr. courageously
spoke out about the Vietnam War.
We must do the same when it comes
to this grave injustice of our time

Michelle Alexander / The New York Times [Excerpt]

(January 27, 2019) — On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped up to the lectern at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. The United States had been in active combat in Vietnam for two years and tens of thousands of people had been killed, including some 10,000 American troops. The political establishment — from left to right — backed the war, and more than 400,000 American service members were in Vietnam, their lives on the line.

Many of King’s strongest allies urged him to remain silent about the war or at least to soft-pedal any criticism. They knew that if he told the whole truth about the unjust and disastrous war he would be falsely labeled a Communist, suffer retaliation and severe backlash, alienate supporters and threaten the fragile progress of the civil rights movement.

King rejected all the well-meaning advice and said, “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice.” Quoting a statement by the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, he said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal” and added, “that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” . . .

Michelle Alexander Has Opened a Door on Palestine
Her column is a breathtaking indictment
of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights

James J. Zogby / Special to Gulf News

(January 27, 2019) — This past Sunday, the New York Times featured on the front page of its Week in Review section a major column by Michelle Alexander – “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine.” It was, by any measure, an important article because of who wrote it, where it appeared, and its breathtaking indictment of both Israel’s history of violations of Palestinian rights and the silence of US policymakers to address these outrageous behaviours.

As a renowned civil rights attorney and author of the best-selling The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander’s voice matters. While in the past the Times has run a few opinion pieces critical of Israel, the placement and promotion given to this article guaranteed that it would gain national attention. And it did. Millions read it, tens of thousands commented on it, and scores of others wrote columns favourably reviewing Alexander’s observations.

The reaction in Israel and among the American Jewish establishment was immediate and predictably hysterical. A former Israeli Ambassador to the US said that Alexander’s article “dangerously delegitimises us. It is a strategic threat . . .” The Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith, and the American Jewish Committee in tweets and statements called the article: “dangerously flawed”; “anti-Semitic”; an “anti-Israel rant . . . filled with errors”; “a shameful appropriation” of the memory of Martin Luther King.

This panicked reaction to Alexander was unsurprising because it represents just one more indication that hard-line Israeli propagandists are losing their ability to shape political discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As Alexander notes in her article, in recent years we have seen: major US churches divesting from Israel, the growing support of young African American activists with the cause of justice for Palestinian; the backlash over the firing of a CNN commentator over his pro-Palestinian positions; and the election of pro-Palestinian Members of Congress.

Voices Have Been Silenced
Because these developments only scratch the surface of the change that is underway, the nervousness demonstrated by the Jewish establishment was to be expected. Polling shows that Israel has lost significant support among the young, the educated, and minority communities (African American, Latino, and Asian American — who together comprise about a third of the US population).

As a consequence, there is a debate on Israel/Palestine underway on campuses, among major Protestant churches, in the Black community, and in the Democratic Party. And, in this debate, arguments demanding justice for Palestinians are being heard and winning.

In challenging this drift, pro-Israel propagandists have drawn all their weapons. Pro-Palestinian activists and commentators have been smeared, intimidated, and threatened with dire repercussions. While some voices have been silenced, the movement away from accepting the Israeli line continues to grow.

If I were to identify two main reasons for this erosion of support for Israel and increased support for Palestinians, I would point to the role that alternative media has played in making it possible for the reality of what is happening in the occupied territories to be better known and the role played by the virtual marriage of US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

My brother, John Zogby, observed in his important study of the changing attitudes of American demographic groups that as a direct result of the internet, young people and minority communities have developed a global consciousness — they are less tied to narrow parochial concerns. They have access to more sources of information and are more questioning of the “accepted dogma” of political elites.

As Israel continues its rightward drift, with ultra-nationalists in control now and for the foreseeable future, and as the Christian right-wing and nativists continue to dominate the Republican Party, it is to be expected that alliances would be formed in opposition to this bonding of US and Israeli hardline ideologues.

As I noted, this change has been brewing for some time now, but it was the Michelle Alexander article in the New York Times that has helped bring it to the surface. As important as this moment may be, I must admit that my delight was tempered by the feelings of regret that all of this change has come too late for so many.

I thought of the Nakba and the uprooting and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and how for decades they have been denied the right to return.

I thought of the horrors of the now 70-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem — the theft of their land, the economic strangulation to which they’ve been subjected, the demolition of their homes, the brutal unreported acts of collective punishment, the torture, the prolonged imprisonment of thousands without charges, and the daily humiliation they have endured at the hands of soldiers and colonists.

And I thought of the courageous intellectuals and activists, Arabs and Jews, here in the US and in Israel and Palestine, who over the decades paid a dear price for their efforts to elevate Palestinian rights in a less welcoming time.

And then I thought of the brilliant Palestinian Fayez Sayegh, who decades ago gave us hope that one day change would come — that the tide would turn when we didn’t expect it and we would discover that despite the power of our opponents, change was afoot and we would see a way forward.

Here it is — the moment he predicted. A door has opened, but knowing that our opponents will be working hard to slam it shut, we must redouble our efforts to build the movement that challenges Israel’s history of oppression.

We owe this much to those victims of the past and to those who are still suffering from dispossession and occupation. Alexander has shown us an open door. We have to have the courage and commitment to continue to keep it open.

Dr James J. Zogby is the president of Arab American Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan national leadership organisation.

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