The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of
the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of
international pressure--in particular the divestment movement of the
1980s. Over the past six months a similar movement has taken shape, this
time aiming at an end to the Israeli occupation.
Divestment from apartheid South Africa was fought by ordinary people at
the grassroots. Faith-based leaders informed their followers, union
members pressured their companies' stockholders and consumers questioned
their store owners. Students played an especially important role by
compelling universities to change their portfolios. Eventually,
institutions pulled the financial plug, and the South African government
thought twice about its policies.
Similar moral and financial pressures on Israel are being mustered one
person at a time. Students on more than forty US campuses are demanding
a review of university investments in Israeli companies as well as in
firms doing major business in Israel. From Berkeley to Ann Arbor, city
councils have debated municipal divestment measures.
These tactics are not the only parallels to the struggle against
apartheid. Yesterday's South African township dwellers can tell you
about today's life in the occupied territories. To travel only blocks in
his own homeland, a grandfather waits on the whim of a teenage soldier.
More than an emergency is needed to get to a hospital; less than a crime
earns a trip to jail. The lucky ones have a permit to leave their
squalor to work in Israel's cities, but their luck runs out when
security closes all checkpoints, paralyzing an entire people. The
indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar.
Many South Africans are beginning to recognize the parallels to what we
went through. Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, two Jewish heroes of the
antiapartheid struggle, recently published a letter titled "Not in My
Name." Signed by several hundred other prominent Jewish South Africans,
the letter drew an explicit analogy between apartheid and current
Israeli policies. Mark Mathabane and Nelson Mandela have also pointed
out the relevance of the South African experience.
To criticize the occupation is not to overlook Israel's unique
strengths, just as protesting the Vietnam War did not imply ignoring the
distinct freedoms and humanitarian accomplishments of the United States.
In a region where repressive governments and unjust policies are the
norm, Israel is certainly more democratic than its neighbors. This does
not make dismantling the settlements any less a priority. Divestment
from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified because
there was repression elsewhere on the African continent. Aggression is
no more palatable in the hands of a democratic power. Territorial
ambition is equally illegal whether it occurs in slow motion, as with
the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories, or in blitzkrieg
fashion, as with the Iraqi tanks in Kuwait. The United States has a
distinct responsibility to intervene in atrocities committed by its
client states, and since Israel is the single largest recipient of US
arms and foreign aid, an end to the occupation should be a top concern
of all Americans.
Almost instinctively, the Jewish people have always been on the side of
the voiceless. In their history, there is painful memory of massive
roundups, house demolitions and collective punishment. In their
scripture, there is acute empathy for the disfranchised. The occupation
represents a dangerous and selective amnesia of the persecution from
which these traditions were born.
Not everyone has forgotten, including some within the military. The
growing Israeli refusenik movement evokes the small anticonscription
drive that helped turn the tide in apartheid South Africa. Several
hundred decorated Israeli officers have refused to perform military
service in the occupied territories. Those not already in prison have
taken their message on the road to US synagogues and campuses, rightly
arguing that Israel needs security, but that it will never have it as an
occupying power. More than thirty-five new settlements have been
constructed in the past year. Each one is a step away from the safety
deserved by the Israelis, and two steps away from the justice owed to
If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and
international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current
divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary
move in that direction.
So far this year, US diplomats have secured the removal of Mary
Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights; José Bustani, head
of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and Robert
Watson, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They were
ousted because they weren't doing what Washington told them to do.
In the line of fire now are UNRWA, the agency that for more than fifty
years has fed and educated Palestinian refugees, and its head, Peter
Hansen; and Secretary General Kofi Annan, once lauded by US Jewish
organizations for opening doors for Israel. Both cases are egregious
examples of blaming the victim.
At the time of Israel's takeover of Jenin, Hansen condemned the refusal
of the Israel Defense Forces to allow ambulances and relief workers into
the camp. He also protested the Israeli use of UNRWA schools as military
posts and interrogation centers and the destruction of the agency's
clinics. Around the same time, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres invited
Kofi Annan to send in investigators. This suggestion was
enthusiastically moved in the Security Council by US ambassador John
Negroponte. Israel promptly announced that it would not accept Robinson,
Hansen and UN Special Representative for the peace process Terje Roed
Larsen as investigators. Then it made it clear that it would not
cooperate with anyone sent by the Secretary General.
By then, Annan himself was under fire. Within a month of becoming
president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations, Mort Zuckerman was assailing him and Hansen and declaring
that "UNRWA is the godfather to all terrorist training schools, notably
in Jenin." AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, joined in with a press release
headed "Camps of Terror," alleging that "as the sole agency mandated to
manage the Palestinian refugee camps, UNRWA has effectively turned a
blind eye toward terror activities within the camps.... Inside the
camps, where 99 percent of UNRWA's staff is comprised of locally
recruited Palestinian refugees, food storage facilities and warehouses
have become depots for ammunition and explosives to be used in terror
attacks against Israelis."
That led to a joint call by Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the House
International Relations Committee, and Tom DeLay, the GOP whip, for
Congressional hearings on UNRWA, with a suggestion of ending US funding,
which pays for a third of UNRWA operations. Jumping on the bandwagon,
Republican Eric Cantor of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism
repeated the allegations.
Hansen has pointed out that the agency's sole responsibility is
education, health and feeding the refugees: It has never administered
the camps or maintained any police force. He added that from 1967 on,
"We have not received from the Government of Israel any complaint
related to the misuse of any of our installations in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip.... Since October 2000 to-date, and even though hundreds of
UNRWA staff have been detained and subsequently released, the Israeli
authorities have never provided any information or lodged any complaint
with UNRWA concerning the official or private activities of any UNRWA
There is a very real fear that Lantos & Co. will soon demand
Hansen's head as the price for continued UNRWA funding. He was recently
reappointed to another term, but so was Bustani just before he got the
boot. Also in his first year of a second term is Kofi Annan, who is
about to produce a report on Jenin mandated by the General Assembly.
Even Israeli government lawyers admit that the IDF breached
international humanitarian law in Jenin, which was why Israel changed
its mind about allowing the inquiry. People close to the Secretary
General are beginning to worry that he will come under increasing attack
in the same spirit of vilifying the messenger, and that the Likud-tinged
alliance with the Christian and conservative right will revive the old
attacks on the UN.
So far, the State Department has been defending UNRWA on Capitol Hill,
and Colin Powell has a close rapport with Annan. But it remains to be
seen how long this outpost of lucidity can hold against the faith-based
foreign policy follies of the rest of the Administration and many
members of Congress.
If the Bush Administration has its way, Iraq will be the first test of its new doctrine of pre-emption. To adopt such a destabilizing strategy is profoundly contrary to our interests and endangers our security.
On Friday, September 15, four days after the terrorist attacks, an
18-year-old Moroccan boy received an unusual request from his school
guidance counselor: Come see me as soon as you can and bring your
passport. On Monday, well before his 8 am class, the boy climbed the
steps to James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and
handed over papers showing that his visa had expired. A half-hour later
he was waiting anxiously in the school security office. He didn't know
the police were going to handcuff him and take him down to the station.
"I was upset I had already missed the first period, Virginia
Government," said the young man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity
in a phone call with his lawyer listening in.
Officer Jim Shelhorse, public information officer for the Fredericksburg
police, said the police never suspected the boy of terrorist activity.
And the boy's lawyer says that he had a pending application to extend
his visa, which meant that he was free to be here. But such distinctions
were lost on the police and school. And by the time his visa did expire
on December 4, the boy was already imprisoned in an Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) detention center in Arlington, Virginia. "I
am treated like a criminal," he said in a phone interview from the
detention center this winter. "I am with drug dealers and gun dealers.
They are not mistreating me but I am not comfortable."
The way the school guidance counselor turned in this student is just one
example of how, post-9/11, ordinary citizens have become watchdogs
policing the gateways to this country. Whereas the INS used to be solely
responsible for enforcement, others now eagerly participate in that
task. In fact, this activity has been encouraged: Weeks after the
terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration asked people to report
suspicious activity at the same time that it announced plans to use
immigration laws to fight terrorism, giving the impression that
immigration is everyone's business. Then, in December, a month after the
Justice Department asked police around the country to track down and
interview some 5,000 Middle Eastern men, the INS announced it was
placing 314,000 immigrants wanted for deportation on an FBI database
used by nearly all police agencies to check criminal charges. Now even a
local police officer writing a traffic ticket can determine that a
violator is subject to a deportation order and presumably make an
arrest. And on January 31 President Bush announced the creation of a
national volunteer agency called Citizen Corps to engage "ordinary
Americans" in reporting suspicious activity to the authorities. The
government will also expand the "Neighborhood Watch" program, in which
people report their neighbors' suspected terrorist connections.
As critics point out, when ordinary citizens or the police and FBI do
the INS's work, they don't know what they are doing. The result is both
inefficiency and discrimination. "It discourages immigrants from
providing information when they are the victims," said Lucas Guttentag,
director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "And it creates this
population that is exploited, denied protections of the law to the
detriment of society as a whole." The problem isn't new. In 1997 the
police in Chandler, Arizona, conducted a sweep of illegal immigrants as
part of an effort to "beautify" the rumpled agricultural town. Working
with the Border Patrol, police approached people on the street based on
the "lack of personal hygiene" and "strong body odor common to illegal
aliens," according to police reports leaked to the press. Police then
asked to see ID and immigration papers. Among the 432 people caught in
the "Operation Restoration" dragnet were scores of US-born Hispanics who
sued the city for discrimination.
Federal immigration officers undergo a seventeen-week residential
program that includes instruction on how to legally arrest someone on
grounds like fraudulent document production. Lacking such training,
police in Chandler often wrongly concluded documents were fakes and
arrested people anyway. "There has to be a reasonable, particularized
suspicion of wrongdoing," said Stephen Montoya, a civil rights lawyer
who represented the Chandler plaintiffs. "It can't just be because you
speak Spanish." In the case of the high school boy, the school guidance
counselor had little reason to ask for papers besides his national
identity. The boy's lawyers have argued that the school had no
jurisdiction to ask for immigration documents, and that a high school
student can't be denied basic education because he is an undocumented
immigrant. But the immigration judge rejected those arguments. (School
officials declined to comment.)
Legally, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act makes it easier for law enforcement to collaborate
with the INS and request information from the government. And though the
law doesn't require schools to report immigration violations, "drawing
the line is very difficult for individual citizens," says Peter Schuck,
a Yale Law School professor. In the past, however, courts have struck
down laws encouraging citizens to become INS snitches. California's
Proposition 187, which attempted to recruit social workers and
government bureaucrats to report immigration violators so they would be
denied access to public services, was declared unconstitutional by
Ironically, some of the post-9/11 policies actually obstruct
antiterrorism efforts by discouraging people from cooperating with
authorities. When the Justice Department asked 5,000 Arab-American men
to come forward, it was unclear whether the men were putting themselves
at risk of being turned in to the INS. "That's not a good law
enforcement strategy," said Ben Johnson, associate director of advocacy
at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Perhaps even more disturbing, alerting the government because someone
appears swarthy or wears a turban is now considered acceptable behavior.
"What is wrong with calling the FBI?" said Father James Mueller, a
priest in Queens, New York, when I asked if he had any regrets about
making a report on Rafiq Butt, a 55-year-old Pakistani, after neighbors
saw six Middle Easterners go to an apartment he shared with three other
Pakistani men. Butt died in detention of a heart attack. In another
case, on November 13, FBI agents wearing biohazard gear swooped into the
home of two Pakistani men; their neighbors reportedly suspected them of
manufacturing anthrax after they saw them dumping a cloudy liquid (soapy
water from a clogged sink) and handing over a silver canister (a food
dish for a friend) outside their home. The men said they understood.
The Virginia high school student was similarly charitable. He came to
this country by himself last year trying to escape what he would only
describe as discrimination based on his sexual orientation. A Queens
mosque helped him with a place to stay and he eventually met a friend
who offered him his country house in Fredericksburg while he completed high school. He had only attended the school for three days when
he was arrested. "This happened because of one person," he said. "The
majority of people treated me very good. The students were nice. They
showed me the whole school. They were helpful. The math teacher liked
me. It was Algebra II. I had it when I was in eighth grade. I did the
exercises very fast." At press time he was out on bond, living with a
foster family in Washington, working on getting his GED and waiting for
a July asylum hearing. His future plans are to attend college and major
in finance, perhaps in Canada.
Osmín, a Cuban trucker, is living in Florida legally--but that
didn't matter to the department of motor vehicles. When he was stopped
on May 2 by a policeman who wanted to see the permit for a job he was
working on, as well as his license, he handed over all the necessary
papers. Although they were in order, he was sent to the driver's-license
office because the document granting his temporary stay will expire
later this month. When dutifully checking in at the DMV the next day, he
explained that his application for permanent residency is pending,
allowing him legal stay until it is resolved. But the clerk, guided by
the governor's new antiterror restrictions, didn't understand the
intricacies of his immigration status. He confiscated Osmín's
license--good until 2007--and sent him home, unable to drive and unable
to work. "I feel very bad," said Osmín (who didn't want to have
his last name used out of fear it might harm his residency application)
the following workday, stuck inside. "I have to pay my bills, I've lost
a complete day of work and I don't know when I'll get my license back."
Spurred on by post-September 11 fears, more than a dozen states, from
Colorado to Delaware, have passed or are considering restrictions on
issuing driver's licenses to noncitizens. Some, like Georgia, Minnesota
and New York, may tie license expiration dates to the expiration of
immigration papers, as Florida, New Jersey and Kentucky do now.
Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles now sends
records of all its transactions to the FBI every night. A Michigan bill
would authorize DMV staff to contact federal authorities if there is
"reasonable cause" to believe an applicant is an illegal alien. Even
legal refugees from Bosnia or El Salvador can get tripped up in the new
red tape. "If you make it difficult for people to get a driver's
license, you're going to get a lot more people driving without a
license, and we might have more uninsured drivers on the road," says Ben
Johnson, associate director of the American Immigration Lawyers
Association. "Getting tough on driver's-license law isn't going to make
the country any safer."
Declaring his state's enlistment in a "war against illegal immigration,"
South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon introduced legislation to
have local cops enforce federal immigration laws. Florida is working
with the Immigration and Naturalization Service on a groundbreaking plan
to deputize police officers as INS agents. "This gives police another
legal hook to justify their profiling and will prevent illegal
immigrants from reporting crimes against them," says Dan Kesselbrenner,
director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers
Heightening surveillance of foreign students, bills pending in
California, Minnesota and Georgia, and a new Virginia law, would require
colleges to report noncitizens to the INS if they repeatedly miss class
or withdraw. An Oklahoma measure would prevent noncitizens from
enrolling in flight school. "While everybody's in the patriotic mood,
people's tolerance level is a little bit lower," says Lena Lee, a
research assistant for South Carolina's House of Representatives,
describing a bill to restrict university enrollment of students who come
from a "state sponsor of international terrorism" as determined by the
US Secretary of State. "The rush is on to get the legislation out.
People are kind of blindly doing it--with good intent."
Oklahoma's Joint Homeland Security Task Force even brought up blocking
foreign students from certain courses. Representative Bill Paulk, a task
force member, said legislators are particularly worried about nuclear
design and computer classes. "Obviously," he said, "there are some
courses you would not want foreigners to take."
For more than a century, a recognizable pattern existed among those
migrating to New York City: They came first either through Ellis Island
or up from the American South, and more recently via JFK. As the
newcomers quickly helped build larger communities, they began to occupy
distinct places in the mental and physical geography of the city.
Yet the fastest-growing migration of the past few decades into the city
severely complicates the demographic pattern to which most New Yorkers
are accustomed. Mexican migrants, whose (counted) ranks nearly tripled
to 275,000 between 1990 and 2000, are indeed coming in significant
numbers, but they are staying for quite varying amounts of time and
inhabiting quite varying parts of the city. Spatially, there is no
Mexican equivalent of the Puerto Rican neighborhoods of the Bronx, or
the Dominican enclave in Washington Heights. That the vast majority of
those who come across the Rio Grande are undocumented also suggests that
it may be a while before the Mexican community will have a direct voice,
either politically or via organized labor, in city affairs.
Enter Jimmy Breslin. Yes, the same pugnacious figure familiar to New
Yorkers for his four decades as a muckraking columnist, and to national
audiences most recently for his intro to Spike Lee's Summer of
Sam. Could there be a better guide to the new pattern of immigration
than Breslin? From a scholarly standpoint, the answer would obviously be
yes--the recent work of Arlene Dávila and Agustín
Laó-Montes, Nancy Foner and others is a good place to start. Such
scholarship shows that the current wave of immigration fits no one mold,
with some groups, particularly Mexicans, establishing a transnational
pattern of going back and forth to their home countries, thus making it
impossible even to identify a single unified process of Latino
immigration. But from the perspective of gritty, everyday, street-level
New York, or at least that fast-disappearing world of tough talk and
no-nonsense reporting, Breslin has no match as a firsthand observer of
the newcomers' place in the city's social hierarchy. Ultimately, the way
Breslin, an older, working-class Irish-American, grapples with the new
migration tells us more than a little bit about the changing meaning of
the American dream.
Breslin's new book, his eighth nonfiction work, tells of The Short
Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez. Gutiérrez, an undocumented Mexican
laborer, died in a 1999 construction accident in the Hasidic
neighborhood of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. For Breslin,
Gutiérrez's story not only typifies the hardships that Mexican
migrants face in coming north but shows how harsh the working conditions
are when they arrive. Gutiérrez, in other words, hardly lived the
life of a latter-day Horatio Alger. Instead of fortune, the city
provided only loneliness and a gruesome but entirely preventable death
in a cement foundation.
Gutiérrez's tragic demise sets Breslin on course to discover the
origins of what would otherwise have been yet another mostly forgotten
existence. Breslin goes to central Mexico, to the small town of San
Matias (near Puebla), to recapture Eduardo's life and surroundings
there, and then follows his tortuous journey north across the border,
before arriving in Brooklyn. In the process, Breslin accomplishes twin
goals: to show how Mexican migrants are increasingly making their way
well beyond the Southwest, steadily transforming the demographics of
Midwestern and Northeastern cities; and, more dramatically, he
illustrates how that migration probably has more in common with the
Middle Passage than with any of the heroism now accorded to the
immigrant journey through Ellis Island.
Breslin opens with a series of outsider's observations of life in
impoverished San Matias. Ninety percent of Mexican children will never
go to school beyond the sixth grade, and instead go to work, which in
places like San Matias is sporadic and pays almost nothing. Thus, as a
result of stories told by relatives and others within their community,
the young of San Matias live their lives with pictures of American money
in their heads. And "such poor, dark-skinned children," Breslin
observes, soon become the young adults who are migrating along with
counterparts from India, China and elsewhere to become New York City's
new majority, by which he essentially means people of color.
Getting here from San Matias is no mean feat. After hearing from his
girlfriend Silvia's brother-in-law of construction work in Brooklyn that
paid $6 or $7 an hour (to undocumented Mexicans), less than one-third of
what unionized American workers receive, Eduardo was tempted to go
north. After Silvia, only 15, told him that she was headed for Texas,
Eduardo, four years older, had even less reason to stay home. Breslin
then vividly re-creates both journeys, supplementing the two stories
with documentation of parallel dangers that Mexican migrants experience
every day: dangerous coyotes (smugglers), rattlesnakes, heat exhaustion,
drowning in the Rio Grande, suffocation in a tunnel leading to Tijuana,
getting hit by a train in Texas or a car in San Diego, local police,
airport security and, above all, the Border Patrol. Thus harrowed, both
Silvia and Eduardo nevertheless do land safely: the former in Bryan-College Station, Texas, where she works at both the Olive Garden and a
barbecue joint; and the latter initially at JFK, only after being
delivered COD by a coyote on a flight from Los Angeles.
Sympathetic as the author is to the courage and struggles of those who
endure such hardship in coming north, there are still some troubling
dimensions to Breslin's account, particularly in his somewhat simplistic
choice of terms to describe the process. He so often uses "the Mexicans"
as the subject of his sentences that one begins to fear Buchananesque
calls for big walls along the border (fortunately, they are not there).
Breslin also far too simplistically refers on many occasions to how
Mexican migrants are lured by The Job, and at one point riffs: "They
come across the riverbanks and the dry border, those people who want to
work, who want to scrub floors and clean pots, or mow lawns." Yet as his
own telling of Silvia's double shifts in El Paso and of Eduardo's later
job-hopping in New York suggests, the specific work matters much less
than the simple fact of a paycheck. Migrants seeking wages who will
accept the least-desirable work is surely more accurate than talk of
Mexicans who want "The Job," but then again, drama is Breslin's primary
Once away from the airport, Eduardo enters a frighteningly impersonal
city, and here Breslin emphasizes the changing meaning of the
contemporary immigrant experience: "Once, they came in dreadful old
ships, from Magilligan in Northern Ireland, from Cobh in southern
Ireland, from Liverpool and Naples and Palermo and Odessa.... Those able
to stand always scoured the horizon for the first look at a city where
the streets were decorated, if not paved, with gold." The numbers of
subsequent nonwhite migrations, particularly those of Puerto Ricans and
Dominicans, are missing from Breslin's litany, which illustrates the
degree to which the traditional mythology of immigration into New York
City needs to be rewritten continually. But here as elsewhere, Breslin
should be indulged, for the experience of Mexican immigrants in New York
is skewing more than a few familiar demographic patterns.
Eduardo's experiences in Brooklyn illustrate some of the unique features
of contemporary Mexican migration. He settles with a handful of others
from San Matias in Brighton Beach, an area whose Eastern European Jewish
identity grew rapidly with the influx of Russian and Ukrainian
immigrants in the early 1990s. On a few occasions, he and a friend would
go to Sunset Park, an increasingly Latino neighborhood and one of the
few areas of the city with a visible Mexican presence. Indeed, as the
ongoing research of John Mollenkopf and others demonstrates, even though
their ranks are growing rapidly, Mexican migrants are tending to favor
heterogeneous ethnic neighborhoods rather than grouping together.
Breslin's re-creation of Eduardo's life in the city may help explain one
of the reasons this is so. As Eduardo and his roommates drink a few
beers after a long day's work, they reminisce of home and discuss plans
to go back. That so many do go back and forth, perhaps, diminishes the
necessity for those who stay to form distinct neighborhoods of their
Those working here as undocumented laborers also face conditions hardly
conducive to sticking around. Despite repeated building-code violations
elsewhere in the neighborhood, a slumlord named Eugene Ostreicher was
able to continue building in South Williamsburg, using undocumented
Mexican laborers like Eduardo. While working for Ostreicher in November
of 1999, Eduardo poured cement on the third and top floor, which was
supported by only three flimsy, improperly fastened beams; the structure
soon collapsed, and Eduardo drowned in cement three floors below.
Breslin thus takes aim at a variety of targets: Ostreicher, who was slow
to face punishment, and whose cozy relationship to City Hall (via Bruce
Teitelbaum, ex-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's liaison to the Hasidic
community) had allowed him to keep building despite past violations; the
city's Department of Buildings, a bastion of frightening corruption and
inefficiency; and, to a lesser extent, the construction unions, which
allow the use of nonunion labor. Some of Breslin's examples do seem
tangential, like his discussion of a phony Pell Grant scheme run by
Ostreicher's Hasidic neighbors, or of Mayor Giuliani's war on sex shops.
But there is no doubting Breslin's crusading spirit, and he's always
good for a memorable barb or two--as when he reminds us that pre-9/11,
Giuliani did "virtually nothing each day except get into the papers or
to meet girlfriends."
As the book closes, with Eduardo dead and Ostreicher facing minimal
punishment at best, the meaning of the former's sweet dream is
uncertain. He came to New York with a desire only to make enough money
to go home, perhaps with Silvia. But now he is sent home in a casket
paid for by the Red Cross and the Central Labor Trades Council, the
latter doing so to "get into the newspapers." Though by no means the
first group to come to America with the primary goal of making money in
order to take it back home, Mexican migrants find a labor market that is
increasingly transient, unregulated and brutal. Still, despite the
hardships, they are helping to create a new, transnational version of
the American dream. It is a story that we all need to consider, and
Jimmy Breslin has successfully helped open the door.
The recently announced plans for an international conference on the
Middle East confront the Bush Administration with a major test of its
capacity for international leadership. The question is whether it will
establish an agenda for the conference that will bring peace and justice
to the region or whether it will allow American and world policy again
to be dictated by Ariel Sharon's government. The atrocious suicide
bombing near Tel Aviv, which coincided with the Bush-Sharon meeting,
must not be allowed to derail international efforts to achieve a
political settlement--one that guarantees a viable Palestinian state,
which will give Palestinians a stake in peace and in the renunciation of
Given this Administration's track record, the prospects of its standing
up to Sharon are not encouraging. Recall the shameful way it allowed him
to ignore UN resolutions calling for withdrawal from the West Bank and
to stop a fact-finding mission to investigate the destruction of Jenin,
despite a Human Rights Watch report adducing evidence that the Israeli
forces had committed war crimes--using Palestinians as human shields and
wreaking disproportionate destruction on civilian habitations.
Adding to the congenital White House tilt were the one-sided House and
Senate resolutions of support for Israel adopted on the eve of Sharon's
arrival in Washington. The one in the House, steered through by whip Tom
DeLay, echoed the Sharon line that Yasir Arafat isn't a "viable partner
for peace." An idea of where DeLay is coming from was provided by his
soulmate, GOP majority leader Dick Armey, who told Hardball host
Chris Matthews that the Palestinians should be expelled from the West
Bank and Gaza. The endorsement of ethnic cleansing by leading
conservatives went almost unnoticed by the mainstream media. As Peter
DeFazio, one of fifty House members who opposed the resolution, said,
DeLay put Congress on record "somewhere to the right of the Likud."
In fact, all of Washington is caught in the iron grip of pro-Likud
sentiment, which prevents the United States from acting in the world's
interest, let alone its own. As Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment
recently put it, "To call this a case of the tail wagging the dog would
be inadequate--it is more a case of the tail dragging the dog around the
room and banging its head on the wall."
That is why an international conference is so crucial. The concept
recognizes the importance of inserting other critical players in the
international community into Middle East diplomacy. The purpose of the
conference should not be to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It
should be to win adherence to a US-European-Russian-UN plan for the
implementation of a settlement as provided for in UN Security Council
resolutions and by the recent Arab League resolution calling for the
recognition of Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from the occupied
This plan is one that nearly all sane people have come to recognize as
the basis for peace in the Middle East: two states living side by side;
dismantlement of the Israeli settlements; Palestinian sovereignty over
East Jerusalem; and recognition of the right of return of Palestinian
refugees while limiting their numbers. But it is one the parties
themselves have not been able to agree to, and in the current
circumstances cannot be expected to negotiate seriously.
A reasonable interim stage could involve placing the occupied
territories, including Israeli settlements, under international control
pending the establishment of a Palestinian state and stationing
international forces drawn largely from NATO countries to maintain order
and security during the transition. The purpose of this agenda would be
to take the peace process out of the hands of an Israeli government that
may not want peace and to internationalize responsibility for security
in the West Bank and Gaza. It is not Israel's prerogative to determine
whether a Palestinian state should exist; that is a matter for the
international community to decide. Only the international community--in
particular, the US in cooperation with the EU, Russia and the UN--can
forge a settlement that will bring peace at last to both Palestinians
Resentment against immigrants, even those seeking asylum, is at the boil.
Immigrant workers fuel the ecomony, but still they're treated with suspicion.
On April 3, a high-octane collection of thirty-three conservatives sent George W. Bush a letter urging him to lend Washington's "full support to Israel as it seeks to root out the [Palestinian] terrorist network." These hawks--including William Kristol, William Bennett, Rich Lowry, Martin Peretz and Richard Perle--called on Bush not to force Israel to negotiate with Yasir Arafat and to "accelerate plans for removing Saddam Hussein." They wanted Bush to adopt Israel's offensive as part of his war on terrorism and let Ariel Sharon roll. The next day, Bush replied, sort of, by declaring that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank. He slammed Arafat, but his aides noted that negotiations should resume, perhaps before a complete cease-fire has been achieved.
The hawks were not pleased. Bush's actions were "a show of weakness," says Marshall Wittmann, a signatory to the crush-them-now letter. Other parts of the hard-line pro-Israel coalition were disheartened. The Anti-Defamation League complained, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee protested, "It is no more appropriate to place a time limit on Israel's acts of self-defense than on America's acts in its own defense." Christian right supporters of Israel--many of whom believe that God granted Israel to the Jews and that Jewish control of Israel is a prelude to the Second Coming--had reason to be disappointed. The Rev. Jerry Falwell stated, "I believe Israel must aggressively defend its borders." Americans for Peace Now, however, praised Bush's new stance.
So Bush frustrated key elements of his support base and won huzzahs from peaceniks (even as he winked at Sharon's continuing operations). How did this come to pass? It was not because of domestic pressure. Democrats criticized Bush for not addressing the crisis, but that didn't mean they wanted Bush to lean on Israel. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, for example, said, "I don't know that the Israeli government has any choice but to be as aggressive as they are." Senator Joe Lieberman remarked, "I believe strongly we should not ask Israelis to stop their war against terrorists until they have achieved greater homeland security." As Bush was pondering what to do, I contacted the Progressive Caucus of the House--no Bush friends there--and asked a spokeswoman if the group was responding to the crisis. "No," she said. Why not? "I don't know." Few if any Democrats were deviating from an Israel-first line. Before heading to the Middle East, Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked that he cared as much about Palestinian rights as Israel's security--a sentiment not echoed by lawmakers, Democratic or Republican.
"All the political pressure is on the side of the pro-Israel lobby," says Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. A staffer to a Congressman who occasionally voices concern for Palestinians notes, "There are not many of us in Congress." In fact, there are almost none, hardly enough for Bush to worry about. Kristol and neocon writer Robert Kagan claim that Bush caved because he "could not withstand a few days of heckling from the European Union and the New York Times." But once pressure from home and abroad forced a reluctant Bush into action, it could well be that he saw little choice but to press for Israeli restraint and negotiations, for the other option was to back Sharon's offensive. That would have risked rifts between Washington and its allies in Europe and the Middle East, undermining Bush's war on terrorism (and his designs on Saddam Hussein).
Hawkish backers of Israel are nervously watching how far Bush will go to rein in Sharon and restart negotiations. They vividly recall that Bush I opposed $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel in an effort to force Israel to halt settlements in the West Bank. "There is a division within my camp," says Wittmann. "One school wants to cut the President slack for now, and the other believes Bush is already down the road of policy incoherence." Wittmann is hoping Bush's current stance is "ad-hocism, that his actions come from a desire to impose order upon chaos and out of a fear of destabilization in the Arab world. I'm not divining a long-term foreign policy message out of his handling of the current crisis--not yet."
Bush has not threatened to reconsider the fundamentals of US-Israel relations--such as $3 billion in annual assistance to Israel. The various groups that lobby for the Israeli hard-core retain influence in and out of the Administration. "There will be more Congressional involvement in the Middle East in the coming weeks," says the House staffer. That means further opportunity for pro-Israel hawks to shape the debate and Bush's decisions. Still, against the odds--and campaign donations and political clout--Bush spurned the Israel-all-the-way forces this round. A significant shift or a short-term plan? Bush himself probably doesn't know.