By Richard Edmondson
The Iraq war was based upon lies. Not many people dispute that any longer. The question is no longer that lies were told; the question now is why they were told, and who stood to gain the most from an invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Was it all for oil, as some have maintained? Did George W. Bush, perhaps one of the most dimwitted presidents in the history of America, initiate the war all on his own? Or was he pushed into it by a powerful lobby or pressure group?
In the video below, Alison Weir, director of If Americans Knew, discusses how a group of neocons in the US, in collusion with Israeli politicians, including Benjamin Netanyahu, became a powerful force maneuvering the US into war. But Weir says she was not allowed to present this information–even though she had initially been invited–at a “tribunal” held in Washington and dubbed “the People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War.”
The Iraq Tribunal, held December 1-2, was aimed at bringing “the lies that created the war into public awareness,” and also at pushing for “truth and accountability”–that’s according to Code Pink, the activist group which organized the event.
“After 14 years of costly war based on lies, it’s time for truth and accountability,” said Code Pink. The statement goes on to add:
The People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War will unify the global anti-war/peace movements with other justice movements by uplifting testimonies of the costs of this war—and war itself. The Tribunal will bring the lies that created the war on Iraq into public awareness, while demanding Obama act on them. It will build and inspire the anti-war movement that we will need after the inauguration of the next administration in 2017. It will be a tool that all groups can use to build, inspire, and enliven their organizations and communities.
If “truth and accountability” are so important, one wonders why Weir was excluded from the event. I don’t know the answer to that. You’d have to ask Medea Benjamin, one of the founders of Code Pink. You can find her contact information here, should you be so inclined.
The first day of the tribunal was promoted as offering an in-depth look at the lies told to justify the war, while the second day was devoted to the costs, human and otherwise, of the war and subsequent occupation. Reportedly more than 100 people gave “testimonies” on one aspect or another, and my purpose here is certainly not to disparage or criticize their work. But I can’t help feeling that the event would have been enriched had Weir been allowed to participate.
In 2015, Weir was attacked by Jewish Voice for Peace for giving interviews to media outlets the JVP deemed anti-Semitic. Did this have something to do with why she was disinvited from speaking at the Tribunal? Or was it the content and substance of her talk? She does, after all, name some prominent Jewish neocons who “marketed” the Iraq war.
By contrast, you can go here to watch a six-hour video of the first day of the tribunal and which includes Medea Benjamin’s comments, or her official “testimony,” starting at about 1:12:00 in. In the segment, Benjamin talks about lies told by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, and also about the “complicity of the US mainstream media” and other factors leading up to the war–but makes no mention of Israel or its lobby. The onus is laid pretty much on the Bush administration:
The Bush administration dismissed the inspectors’ findings because their conclusions contradicted those of the US government. The next day, George Bush went on the radio to address the American people, arguing the inspections team did not need any more time because Saddam Hussein was still refusing to disarm, and the rest is history. Iraq posed absolutely no threat to the United States, but the American people, traumatized by the 9/11 attack, were easily duped by the Bush administration’s propaganda.
Benjamin and Weir obviously have strikingly different perspectives on who was principally at fault for getting the US into this disastrous war. Weir, after listing a number of neocons and neocon think tanks, including the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, whose advocacy of military intervention was discussed at least in the Israeli press, if not in the American, goes on to cite the supplemental input to the war fever served up by Israeli leaders:
Israeli leaders worked to sell the war to Americans. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former prime ministers Netanyahu, Peres, and Barak, all told Americans that it was urgent that Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction program be stopped. And Israeli intelligence agencies fed the US reports supposedly documenting these.
Weir doesn’t say so, but it’s worth recalling as well that Saddam Hussein was granting sums of money to the families of Palestinian martyrs who died in attacks against Israel, and that he had begun doing this at least as far back as the early 1990s–which is probably one of the chief reasons the leaders of Israel wanted him killed or at least overthrown. In some cases the payouts were as high as $25,000.
In her talk, Weir cites an article in which former US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is described as “over the top crazy when it comes to Israel.” Is it hard to imagine such a man might have had a homicidal urge to take out Saddam Hussein?
At any rate, it seems very much as if the neocons, working in coordination with Israeli leaders, pushed to have Saddam Hussein removed but to have US military forces do the job for them. Some people simply can’t get their minds around this. Others don’t want to try. Still others, the more fearful types, believe it’s best just to not even talk about it.
Weir’s video was posted on Monday by Greg Bacon, who, alluding to some of the Jewish supporters of Israel referenced by Weir, comments, “what a nice bunch of homicidal maniacs.” Yet Code Pink, despite its avowed purpose of seeking “truth and accountability” on the Iraq war, apparently preferred to keep the tribunal’s attention focused elsewhere for the most part.
It seems this may be somewhat–although not entirely–out of character for the group. Back in 2011, Code Pink organized a protest in response to AIPAC’s annual convention in Washington that year. It has held similar events in other years as well, but the 2011 affair in particular is discussed in an article at Counterpunch by Harry Clark, who notes that the event included a protest as well as an indoor program of speeches and workshops. And ironically Weir was one of the participants, although she and others of her mindset were “relegated to a workshop in the basement,” as Clark puts it (emphasis added):
Alison Weir and other writer-activists, including Jeff Blankfort, photographer (12) and journalist, (13) Janet McMahon of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (14) and Grant Smith of Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (15) were relegated to a workshop in the basement, which was very well attended. Code Pink repeated the event in 2012, and the Israel Lobby critics were allowed only to hold an event in the hall afterward, with the hall stripped of all Code Pink identifying material, and the audience invited to further events scheduled else- where at the same time. One hundred twenty-five remained in the hall to hear the Lobby critics. In 2013, the critics were banned from the program altogether.
Why does Code Pink, a leftist organization which presumably places a high value on free speech and the First Amendment, seem so intent on censoring critics of the Israeli lobby? Why would people who have been critical of Israel in the past, as Code Pink has, want to stymie efforts to exposed the true extent of the lobby’s power? One almost gets the impression that such people are afraid of something.
Fear, Loathing, and Jewish Tribalism
Recently journalist/blogger Richard Silverstein published an interesting article on Israeli whistle-blower Shamai Leibowitz, who in 2009, while living in the US, leaked documents to Silverstein exposing Israel’s strategy of trying to provoke a war between the US and Iran. What you’re about to read might seem a bit off topic at first, but please bear with me.
“In 2009, Shamai Leibowitz was working secretly for the FBI, translating wiretapped conversations among Israeli diplomats in this country,” writes Silverstein. “He passed some transcripts of these conversations to me, which described an Israeli diplomatic campaign in this country to create a hostile environment for relations with Iran.”
Leibowitz told Silverstein that the Israeli Foreign Ministry, along with its diplomats posted in America, were waging a “perception management campaign” against Iran. The two talked over how to go about making the information public and finally agreed that Silverstein would publish it on his blog but would do so in such a manner as to try to conceal Leibowitz’s identity. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out. The Israelis “became aware that their security was breached,” and Leibowitz was prosecuted by a compliant US Justice Department apparently eager to keep Israeli secrets hidden. Leibowitz ended up going to prison for 20 months and being stripped of his right to practice law. He has also been shunned by his community and fired from jobs he has tried to hold.
So intense apparently were the repercussions that Leibowitz, after the going got rough, made a 180 degree turn by publicly denouncing Silverstein and claiming that in leaking documents he had in reality been trying to expose wrongdoing–not by the Israeli government, but by the FBI (this, keep in mind, while still living in America). As Silverstein puts it:
Though I didn’t know it at the time he first contacted me in 2009, Shamai Leibowitz was a psychologically unstable person. Not to mention that the relationship with me which he initiated caused him to pay a very heavy price. By leaking secret documents in order to expose Israel’s strategy of provoking a war against Iran, he lost his job, accrued enormous legal debt, and was sent to federal prison for 20 months. In order to retain the loyalty of his family and the Orthodox Jewish community which supported him, he renounced his journalistic relationship with me and its original purpose. After his release he published fraudulent (at least to my mind) accounts of his motives and activities, which claimed he had intended to expose wrongdoing within the FBI. If that was the case, Shamai never mentioned any such matters to me. He was wholly dedicated to the notion that Israel had created a campaign within the U.S. to exploit our media, and political leadership to go to war against Iran. That is the reason he and I worked together.
Silverstein also sheds light on the ostracization the whistle-blower suffered within the Jewish community, adding that Leibowitz…
…was known in his religious community as a fine Torah reader who beautifully chanted the Torah portion at his Orthodox synagogue. However, when a well-connected member discovered Leibowitz’ “past,” they told the rabbi that he must take this great communal honor from him or they would leave the congregation. Such shunning is, unfortunately, all too common in the Jewish community (remember Spinoza?) for those holding unpopular views of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Luckily, Leibowitz discovered a conservative synagogue whose rabbi embraced him despite his “baggage.” Throughout his subsequent trials and tribulations, this rabbi and community have stood behind Leibowitz and his family.
One wonders how the story might have turned out differently had the whistle-blower not found the lone synagogue willing to “embrace” him. If Leibowitz’s story is any illustration, it would seem that if you are Jewish and you take any action deemed as threatening or disloyal to Israel, the consequences can be quite severe. Some criticism, to be sure, is allowed, but apparently there is a point or a line that you don’t cross–or at least that’s my take on it anyway.
How these threats of social reprobation play into the thinking of Jews, and to what extent it cows or intimidates them from saying anything too critical about Israel or Jewish power, is not something I have a great deal of insight into–although perhaps it’s worth mentioning here that Medea Benjamin is Jewish. Below is a picture of her holding a sign avowing her membership in Jewish Voice for Peace–the very group which launched an attack against Weir in 2015.
JVP, in a statement published online, charged Weir with being “a repeat guest of white supremacist Clay Douglas on his hate radio show.” Her transgressions also include giving interviews to Pastor Mark Dankof–branded by JVP as “anti-gay, anti-Jewish”–and the American Free Press, labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, according to the statement. Weir’s line-by-line rebuttal to their charges can be found here, and you can also access commentaries on the matter, here and here, by Gilad Atzmon, who defends Weir, calls the attack on her “guilt by association,” and who points out additionally that JVP would not have had the same reaction had Weir appeared on Israeli TV–which Atzmon describes as “suffused with Jewish supremacy and racism.”
As for Benjamin, clearly she has supported many worthwhile causes over the years, both in terms of her work with Code Pink as well as with Global Exchange, an organization she helped start up in 1988. Her hard work was acknowledged by writer David Swanson, who gave her a glowing introduction on day one of the tribunal
“Medea Benjamin, born Susan Benjamin, is an American political activist–I assume everyone knows that,” Swanson said. He went on to add:
Best known for co-founding Code Pink, and along with activist and author Kevin Danaher the fair trade advocacy group Global Exchange. Benjamin was also the Green Party candidate in California in 2000 for the US Senate. She currently contributes to Op-Ed News and the Huffington Post. In 2003, the Los Angeles Times described her as, quote, one of the high profile leaders, end-quote, of the peace movement. I would describe her as one of the best leaders of the peace movement. Medea Benjamin…
However, one of course must wonder what ground-changing victories can ultimately hope to be be achieved by any movement–whether it be for peace, social equality, justice for Palestine, or any other noble such goal–when the leaders of those movements, rather than confronting hard truths, are instead ducking and running from them.