Bibi Tells It Like It Is (Not)

 

(The five statements in this piece come from Dale Sprusansky, “Netanyahu’s AIPAC Speech: 5 Lies,” Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, May 2014, pp. 36-37.)

 

On March 4 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu gave a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel’s powerful lobbying organization. One certainly does not expect an Israeli politician speaking to AIPAC to present a completely objective view, but Bibi’s total disregard for facts is breathtaking. The sad fact of course is how many members of the US Congress believe the Prime Minister’s words, which he himself clearly knows to be lies.

 
In the Middle East bludgeoned by butchery and barbarism, Israel is humane; Israel is compassionate. Israel is a force for good.”

 

"Please like me."

“Please like me.”

Bibi gives the salute to the Volksgenossen

Bibi gives the salute to the Volksgenossen

No one can deny that the Middle East is indeed awash with “butchery and barbarism,” and Syria’s Bashir Assad is setting the bar to new heights. But for any sane person to honestly describe Israel as “humane” is absolutely absurd. Can the treatment of Palestinians, especially in the vast open air prison of Gaza, be considered humane and compassionate? Her actions in operations like Cast Lead in Gaza would be described as “barbarism” by most civilized people, and the constant violation of international covenants, particularly the colonization of the West Bank, is in my opinion barbaric according to the established norms of the post-WW II world. “Butchery” is certainly not a term that can be generally associated with Israel, but the slaughter in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982, enabled and supported by the Israeli army, is aptly described by the word. And if Israel is anyway a force for good, it is only in contrast to the despicable regimes that inhabit the region.

 
“(Israel has) values that move us to treat sick Palestinians, thousands of them from Gaza. They come to our hospitals. We treat them despite the fact that terrorists from Gaza hurl thousands of rockets at our cities.”

 
Israelis may have such values, but the state of Israel manifestly does not. Some Palestinians have found help in Israeli hospitals, but because of the extreme difficulties involved in crossing into Israel, far more sick and desperate people are denied any such succor. For Netanyahu to mention “values” in the same sentence as “Gaza” is a sick joke. The world – excepting of course the US – recognizes Gaza as little more than a huge prison camp, sealed off from the world and regularly assaulted by one of the strongest militaries on the planet. Because of the Israeli blockade, people are actually suffering severe malnutrition, and Palestinian public facilities that patently have nothing to do with any ability to attack Israel are regularly destroyed. For Hamas or whoever to shoot missiles into Israel is barbaric, but consider the whole picture. In the last seven years Palestinians in Gaza have fired some 9000 usually ineffective rockets at Israel; in two years, 2005-2006, Israel fired 15,000 very effective shells into Gaza. And there are the ever wildly unequal casualties: in the period since 2008 30 Israeli civilians have been killed, as opposed to 1867 Palestinians in Gaza.

 
“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed.”

 
Even if Israel did not openly discriminate against non-Jewish citizens, this would still be a ludicrous statement. How is it possible for a state, 20% of whose citizens are not Jewish, to be both a “Jewish state” and a democracy? If the term is not completely meaningless, there must be discrimination: if it is a Jewish state, then the implication is that Jewish citizens are somehow more suitable than non-Jewish, that this is their state. And the fact is that Arab citizens are indeed discriminated against, both unofficially – and now with increasing violence – and officially. How could it not be? Israel is in a virtual state of war with the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank and seizing more and more Palestinian land. How are the Palestinians of Israel, most of whom have relatives in the occupied territories, supposed to respond to these actions of “their” government? Meanwhile, Arab ghettos have become a prominent feature of the Israeli landscape. I have personally witnessed this, and that was twenty years ago.

 
There are perhaps a hundred “unregistered” Arab villages in Israel, recognized as illegal, though they have been there for centuries. The inhabitants cannot get public services or building permits, which means any repairs to a home invites the arrival of the government bulldozers. Meanwhile, their ancestral lands are being appropriated by Jewish communities, some of which openly declare “Jews only,” apparently missing the incredible irony. The legal Center for Arab Minority Rights identifies some 50 or more laws that openly discriminate against Palestinian citizens. Most damning, however, 93% of the land in Israel is owned by the state or quasi-state entities, and non-Jews cannot legally buy or lease that land. It is after all a Jewish state.

 
Consider Avigdor Lieberman, the thug who is currently Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has proposed a two state plan that would not only incorporate West Bank Jewish settlements as part of Israel, but also assign some Israeli Arab areas to the Palestinian state. So much for being a citizen. He believes that Arab members of the Knesset who even speak to Hamas are terrorists and should be executed. He would also like all Israeli citizens to swear an oath of loyalty or lose their citizenship, demonstrating, I suppose, that he is an equal opportunity fascist.

Reichsminister Lieberman

Reichsminister Lieberman

“Israel, the one country in the Middle East that protects Christians and protects the right of worship for everyone.”

 
Well, the Turks might disagree with this proposition, and the Syrian Christian community has enjoyed the protection of the Assad government, though certainly not because of any humanitarian concerns. The Palestinian Christian community, meanwhile, has been steadily declining, and it is clear that the Israeli occupation is at least partly responsible. Access to the holy sites in Jerusalem is apparently not part of Netanyahu’s definition of “right of worship,” since it is extremely difficult for non-Israeli Palestinians to obtain a permit to visit the holy city. It is also indisputable that Israeli Jews are steadily taking over the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, and there seems little concern for the religious concerns of non-Jews. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, in pursuance of 1967 law for the protection of holy sites, has designated 135 Jewish sites and not a single one for other religions. See also Ironies from Israel #1: Archeological Hypocrisy.

Welcome to Bethlehem

Welcome to Bethlehem

“(Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon) would open up a Pandora’s box of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and around the world.”

 
This is not so much a lie as an incredible exercise in hypocrisy. Leaving aside the consideration that it is not entirely clear that Iran is dead set on obtaining a weapon, the fact is that aside from Pakistan the only nuclear power in the Middle East is Israel. Everyone knows this, but the US and Israel play a stupid game of never mentioning it – or that Israel had actually cooperated with apartheid South Africa in weapons development. And while Washington is badgering everyone in the Middle East to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has, no American politician dares even bring up the subject in the case of Israel. Given Israel’s history of doing whatever she pleases, regardless of international law, it might be considered understandable if places like Iran were a bit paranoid. Admittedly there is some truth concerning proliferation: a Shiite bomb in Iran could easily drive the Sunni Gulf autocracies to start shopping around, as if the ruling elites in Teheran could possibly be stupid enough to start threatening a nuclear strike. Given the strength of its military and the unqualified support of the US, it is certainly questionable that Israel requires a nuclear arsenal, and a first step in dealing with Iran might be simply admitting that Israel actually possesses such weapons. But given the attitude of Washington, that will never happen.

 
Sprusansky ends his article with “The time is coming when lies no longer will suffice.” Given the growing detachment of the American Congress from reality, that time is likely to be very far off indeed.

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American Exceptionalism #2: College Athletics

Other countries of course have intercollegiate athletics, but nowhere are they as popular, important and corrupting as in the United States.  It is not at all clear how athletics became so ensconced in the American university, but certainly a major factor is the fact that American schools are essentially businesses.  Even state institutions, which receive part of their funding from the state government, are dependent upon tuition and donations, and there is a belief that a high profile sports program will attract more students and contributions.  That the average student is moved by this is very questionable, but alumni donors are clearly influenced by athletic success.  In fact, to many in the community the university is nothing more than its football and basketball teams.  Further, because of television revenues, successful football and basketball programs can earn huge amounts of money, particularly in the post-season.  In 2013 March Madness, the college basketball playoffs, earned $1.15 billion in ad revenue, and $200 million was divided up among the participating schools.  And the general economic impact is mind boggling: it is estimated that the 2014 March Madness generated $13 billion in revenues.

 

 

The National Football League and the National Basketball Association are also driving forces, since it is the universities that feed new players into the professional teams.  The other major American sport, baseball, also draws players, but college level baseball is virtually a minor sport compared to football and basketball, and professional baseball has a system of minor league teams as a feeder system.  For the NFL and the NBA American universities are the minor leagues, the farm clubs, and they cost the professional teams nothing.  They cost the schools a lot.

The real face of the American university

The real face of the American university

Basketball and especially football programs are expensive.  Equipment, travel and facility costs are huge, and because of their popularity, even in the case of low profile and losing teams, there is constant pressure to upgrade those facilities.  Then there are the coaches, who are becoming more and more expensive, often regardless of success.   Consider the state schools.  Last year the highest paid state employee in 47 of the 50 states was with either a football or a basketball coach.  At my former institution, the University of New Mexico, a low quality school in a very poor state, the 2014 base salary (not including bonuses and perks) of the basketball coach, Craig Neal, is roughly $750,000.  The football coach for 2009 and 2010, Mike Locksley, also earned $750,000 a year and won exactly two games.  He was fired early in the 2011 season, despite the huge buyouts that are typically part of coaching contracts.  Coincidentally, as a successful faculty member for thirty-one years, I earned a grand total of approximately $750,000.

 

 

Very few schools, even in the high-profile conferences, earn a profit from athletics, and those that do pump it back into their athletic programs.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of college football and basketball programs do not earn enough revenue to even support themselves, and since the money spent on minor sports – and to a degree women’s sports – is miniscule, those dollars must come from the general fund of the university.  This is one part of the corrupting influence.  Resources that would have been used in support of what one might suppose is the essential mission of the university, education, are drained off by football and basketball.  And this is ultimately to the benefit the multi-billion dollar NFL and NBA, who contribute absolutely nothing.  Incidentally, while the thirty-two teams in the NFL are taxpaying businesses, the NFL itself is a non-profit tax exempt organization, yet one that paid commissioner Roger Goodell $44.2 million.

 

 

Because American schools require students to pay tuition and sundry fees, promising “student” athletes can be paid with scholarships, which represent considerable sums, given the skyrocketing cost to attend an American university, especially the private institutions.  Adding equipment, travel and other expenses dramatically raises the cost to the school.  Consider these expenditures in the six most important football conferences: the cost per student is $10,000 to $20,000; the cost per athlete is $42,000 to $164,000.  And insult is added to injury inasmuch as most of the “student” athletes are students in name only, only going through the motions of attending classes and supported by teams of personal tutors.  Football and basketball stars also get preferential treatment, often engaging in behaviors that would get actual students thrown out of the institution.  One frequently hears coaches explaining such things as shoplifting and drunken driving with phrases such as “blowing off steam,” as if outright criminality was normal for a twenty year old.

 

 

Then there are the athletes themselves, who are exploited by the universities to a degree not seen since the early days of the industrial revolution.  They do get a free ride at increasingly expensive schools, but inasmuch as very few acquire a real education (the graduation rate for football and basketball players is inevitably well below that of students and frequently below 50%) this is a benefit of questionable value.  Meanwhile, they are spending huge amounts of their time earning money for their institutions, most particularly to pay the generally fat salaries of athletic personnel, especially coaches, who may be making in one year more money than most of them will see in a lifetime.  Playing for an NFL or NBA team of course means earning millions, but only a tiny percentage of college players will be drafted into the professional ranks.  It is estimated that the average market value of top level college football and basketball players is well over $100,000, which means the schools are getting an incredible deal.  Further, with the merchandising of such things as jerseys a university can make huge amounts of money off an individual player, who is barred from receiving any of it.

 

 

The universities are obviously quite pleased with the system and have resisted all attempts to provide actual compensation to their athletes, insisting that they are not workers but students.  In fact they are workers, employed in programs that can generate millions in revenues and are every bit as professional as the teams they aspire to join.  The University of Alabama football team, for example, is considered to have a market value greater than any of the teams in the National Hockey League.  And the National Collegiate Athletic Association is losing its grip, especially in football, as schools are acting on their own to rearrange conferences in order generate more money.

Alabama - the most important school in America

Alabama – the most important school in America

 

 

The whole sham edifice of college athletics is beginning to crumble, however.  Last month the National Labor Relations Board agreed with football players at Northwestern University that they are indeed employees and entitled to engage in collective bargaining.  This decision applies only to private schools, but state schools are almost certain to follow, particularly since the major football powers are state institutions, and the issue may well go to the Supreme Court.  But while this development may clear away the obvious nonsense of amateur athletics and student athletes, it is likely to only further injure the American university.  Football and basketball will become an even more important facet of the university and suck up even more resources, as schools compete for good players by offering them more money.

 

 

College sports may have once had some vague relationship to higher education – sportsmanship and all that – but that is gone forever.  In an institution that is already a business, unlike higher education in the rest of the industrial democracies, sports have become another and growing aspect of that business, one that has absolutely nothing to do with education.  The American university is already pricing itself beyond the reach of most young Americans, supporting ever larger and more expensive administrative structures, and football and basketball are another growing and irrelevant drain on resources.  On the other hand, the American public school system is failing so dramatically that perhaps we no longer need higher education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff from Way Back #28: Hey, Buddy, Can You Spare a Myth?

The early parts of the Biblical book of Genesis involve a great deal of water, which might seem odd in the mythic tradition of a society that emerged and evolved in the relatively arid environs of Palestine. There is of course the Mediterranean Sea, but the land itself is very dry, depending for the most part on rainfall for agriculture. The local rivers are mere rivulets compared to the Tigris and Euphrates and the Nile, which river systems witnessed the birth of the first urban civilizations, Sumer and Old Kingdom Egypt. Yet the creation story in Genesis begins with a watery chaos, and later the first human society is destroyed in a world-wide flood, a somewhat unlikely proposition in a land that experienced only the very ephemeral flash floods common to desert regions. Such stories would make much more sense in the hydraulic societies of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

 

And indeed in the creation myths of these areas the emergence of the familiar universe involved aquatic beginnings. For the Egyptians the process was peaceful, reflecting the confidence of a culture whose world-view was shaped by an isolated, secure, bountiful and essentially unchanging environment. The primeval hill arose from the waters, and there Atum (or Ptah), a self-created god, generated other deities by spitting out or ejaculating them or in a later more sophisticated account simply speaking their names. They in turn produced more gods and ultimately men in an ordered world without end.

Atum

Atum

The Sumerians, on the other hand, lived in a far less hospitable environment: the Tigris and the Euphrates, unlike the Nile, were wild unpredictable rivers, there were extremes of weather and life was very insecure because of the constant warfare among the city-states and the periodic incursions of barbarians. Consequently, in their view (and that of subsequent societies in the region) creation was a struggle, and the forces of order under Enlil (later Marduk) had to wage an epic battle against Tiamat, the chaotic salt waters. Further, creation was not necessarily permanent and could collapse back into chaos, just as the Sumero-Babylonian societies were continually threatened with natural and man-made catastrophe.

Water world

Sumer

 

Enlil

Enlil

The Sumero-Babylonian tradition also features a global flood, a tale so ubiquitous that some actually hold the utterly nonsensical idea that there was indeed a planetary deluge. Southern Iraq, the location of Sumer, was frequently flooded by the Tigris and Euphrates overflowing their banks and the sea driven in by storms, natural disasters that early on gave rise to the tradition of a universal flood. Significantly, the Egyptians did not produce such a story, since while the Nile did flood, it did so on a regular annual basis, rejuvenating the farmland rather than creating havoc. Sumer was a land of natural and human conflict; Egypt was not.

 

Here then is the source of all that Biblical water. With the rise of empires, such as the Babylonian and Assyrian, communications between the Land of the Two Rivers and Syria and Palestine on the Mediterranean coast were greatly enhanced, and along with goods and people ideas and tales traveled eat and west. The story of Abraham coming from Ur, the most important of the Sumerian cities, is a reflection of this. As the Yahwists, the future Hebrews, absorbed Canaanite groups, many of the local traditions of these peoples were woven into the evolving tapestry of early Hebrew history. Very probably a group that had come from the east preserved a memory of its origins, and the birthplace of Abraham, himself a local cult figure from Hebron, was transferred to Ur. Thus the watery story from the Sumero-Babylonian creation epic, Enuma elish, traveled west to become, with many alterations, part of the mythic tradition of a distinctly non-watery people.

 

So also did the flood story make its way to the Hebrews. The tale is most fully recounted in the epic of Gilgamesh, the tablets of which date from the reign of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in the seventh century BC, but there is a Sumerian version from about 1700 BC, and it undoubtedly draws upon even earlier accounts. Long ago the gods sent a flood to destroy mankind, but the god Ea (Enki) took pity and warned Utnapishtim (Ziusudra in the Sumerian version) of Shuruppak to build a huge boat. He did so, and when the flood came, he boarded with his family and clan and “the beasts and the birds.” But the gods relented and the deluge ended, and the ark came to rest on Mt. Nimush. Utnapishtim released a “watch-bird,” which returned, then a swallow, which also returned, and finally a raven, which did not. Humanity was saved, and Utnapishtim was given the gift of eternal life.

 

Utnapishtim

Utnapishtim

Ea/Enki

Ea/Enki

And so a group of people in Palestine, who would never have seen any real flood, came to accept a universal deluge as part of their mythic history. That oral tradition was ultimately recorded and became part of the Hebrew testament, later accepted as valid by Christianity and Islam. As a result for almost two millennia half the population of the planet believed in the literal truth of a story created by a “pagan” people they had never heard of and would despise as unbelievers if they had. Even today there are those who ignore the overwhelming and obvious evidence of science, Biblical analysis and common sense and insist on the historicity of a flood, diligently searching the mountainous interior of Anatolia for traces of the ark of Ziusudra/Utnapishtim/Noah.

Rare photo of Noah

Rare photo of Noah

A sucker born every minute

A sucker born every minute