Keep Your Promises, Mr. President

By George Polley – Japan

Dear President Obama,

I am deeply concerned about your administration’s recent agreement with the Netanyahu government supposedly aimed at resuming peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. According to media reports, this agreement involves the sale of $3 billion worth of US military aircraft, a veto of any UN Security Council resolution deemed unfavorable to Israel, the removal of East Jerusalem from peace process discussions, and a written promise that this will be the last time you ask the Israelis to halt settlement construction in Occupied Palestine. I shouldn’t need to remind you that establishing settlements in occupied territory is against international law, to say nothing about it being a violation of human rights.

I look at this Mr. President, and I cannot believe it. In your books, when you were running for President, and when you came into office you represented hope for so many people. I, and so many others, expected a fresh approach to the Palestinian situation. What we have received is more of the same. I feel disappointed, violated and lied to. And I do not like it.

Your response to Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in late December 2008 and early January 2009, and the 2010 attack on the flotilla bringing humanitarian supplies to the people of Gaza were so tepid that they implied approval on two incidents that worldwide opinion sees as terroristic attacks against defenseless people by a rogue state that routinely violates international law, and doesn’t give a dried fig for anyone’s opinion on the matter but their own.

As if that wasn’t enough, you blocked the UN’s acceptance of the investigation of Operation Cast Lead by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict headed by eminent South African jurist Richard Goldstone. Having read his report, I am shocked and appalled by your action. The evidence on the ground showed a clear pattern of indiscriminate violence on the part of the IDF. It also showed that, in spite of repeated requests, Israel refused to cooperate with Mr. Goldstone and his investigators, going so far as to refuse them entry into Gaza. They finally entered Gaza by way of the Egyptian border, courtesy of the Egyptian government.

When the report was filed, Israel condemned both it and Mr. Goldstone, which they continue to do to this very day backed, need I say, by you and your administration. As a legal scholar, you should know better; as a bright, well-educated and compassionate man, you should have sufficient on-the-ground knowledge of the plight of the Palestinian people both within Israel and in Palestine. But your actions indicate that you do not have this information, you believe them to be lies, or you are so in thrall to the AIPAC, the ADL and other powerful groups that your administration is hostage to them and you are powerless to act. Realpolitik should play no part in this situation; legal, moral and ethical considerations should, but, as the record shows, do not, and this is deplorable and unacceptable.

Your administration certainly is not alone in this sad charade. Every US administration since Truman’s has cheered the Israeli’s on as they marched across “their” territory engaging in acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide and excusing their behavior on the grounds that they needed to defend themselves against “terrorists,” a convenient label for people who were only defending their homes, villages and farms against a vicious foreign invader. In Truman’s day this may have been understandable, as the US was an apartheid state at that time. Today it is not understandable at all. Were Martin still alive he would have toasted your ears about this issue, and done it more than once. It is an embarrassing and shameful position to find oneself in, yet you are in it.

In 1963 I attended a conference of Baptist ministers (I was one then) in a Chicago suburb at which Clarence Jordan spoke. You may have heard of him. A Southern Baptist, New Testament Scholar and founder of Koinonia Farms near Americus, Georgia, he spoke to us about the response of southern white churches to the civil rights movement. It was very uncomfortable in that room as he spoke in his quiet, red-clay Georgia drawl describing what happened every time a black person tried to attend a service in one of these white churches. As you no doubt know, they were turned away, and not always in a friendly fashion.

During the lunch break, Dr. Jordan was asked by the conference leaders to apologize to attendees for casting these churches in such a “negative” light. It was, they said, embarrassing to indict these churches for what they did and did not do. When he stood to speak, he told us so and in his soft-spoken way, proceeded to deliver his apology. It was polite, eloquent, brilliant, and withering. As he spoke we could see the red creeping up the necks of each of those righteous Baptist leaders until their faces shone bright red. They were embarrassed, and they deserved to be. You never in your life, Mr. President, want to receive an apology like it.

Ten years earlier my best friend told me in his quiet way what it was like growing up black in my home town, Seattle. In a few well-chosen words, he explained that Africans would be insulted if I misidentified them as ‘American Negroes’. It took my breath away. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could do that to someone based on the color of his skin. The experience left me a changed young man. To me the only thing that matters is the quality of a person’s life. The state of Israel violates this principle in every action towards Palestine’s non-Jewish residents, and has from the beginning. It is unconscionable that we continue to support Israel’s behavior by rewarding its government with money and materiel to continue its abusive behavior.

So you see, Mr. President, I cannot remain silent while you and your administration continue to support Israel in its land thefts, acts of genocide and the cleansing of Palestine of everyone who is not Jewish. By any standard of morality, this is wrong, and deeply so.

I will end with two questions. First, had the Israeli’s treated Palestine’s non-Jewish residents with friendliness and respect and offered to partner with them in this new state called Israel, do you think they would have needed to be concerned about their security? I think the answer is no. Israel would have had little to no need for a security apparatus had they treated Palestine’s non-Jewish people with dignity and respect. They have not and do not, and we continue to support them in this regard.

My second question is this: Will AIPAC, the ADL and others complain if you call out Israel for its unconscionable behavior and refuse to support it? Again, I think the answer is obvious, in this case yes. They will scream like scalded cats and accuse you, among other things, of being an anti-Semite and a traitor to Israel. That’s the price we sometimes pay for telling the truth.

In closing, Mr. President, let me say what is probably obvious by now: I am honoring a request that you have repeatedly made that we call people out for their mistakes and misdeeds. I am calling you out on this issue. It is way past time for the US to cease supporting Israel’s apartheid regime and let Israel and the world know that you do not and will not any longer support them until they change their behavior.

Might that have a negative effect on your final two years in office? Undoubtedly. Might it have a negative effect on you? Again undoubtedly, at least for the short run; in the long run it will have a positive one, both for you, for Israel and most importantly, for the Palestinian people and for human rights.

Thank you for your time,

– George Polley is a Japan-based author. He contributed this article to

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