UNITED States General David Petraeus's report 13 September to Congress was greeted on the streets of Washington by a 100,00 strong demonstration led by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Two-hundred were arrested, including the iconic Cindy Sheehan, in a Political climate change is heating up American minds, observes Eric Walberg

20/9/7 -- As the presidential primaries began to dominate the headlines in 2007, it started to look like 1968, when the dark horse Democrat, Senator Eugene McCarthy, stunned political analysts by leaping ahead of the pack with his promise to pull the troops out of Vietnam immediately. Interestingly this time round, the good news was in the Republican camp, where McCarthy's unlikely clone is the libertarian Ron Paul.

In May he faced off with Rudy Giuliani, who called his view that US foreign policy contributed to anti-Americanism in the Middle East "absurd" and said he'd never heard such a thing before.

Paul did not wither under this McCarthyite (the other McCarthy) attack; on the contrary, he held a press conference with the ex-CIA analyst and author of Imperial Hubris Michael Scheuer to explain the concept of blowback. Paul has "won" several primary candidate polls now, with 28 per cent approval in Maryland, and 33 per cent in New Hampshire, arguing that there should be a new foreign policy "to mind our own business", to thunderous applause. Taking the Iraq attack to a new level, Scheuer countered the accusation that Paul was following marching orders from Al-Qaeda, by saying: "it is all of the Democrats and the Republicans, except perhaps for Mr Paul and Mr Kucinich, who are marching to Osama Bin Laden's drum."

Whether Paul can put together a credible programme (the libertarian platform calls for doing away with income tax, dismantling most of the federal government and other unrealistic if interesting ideas) is another matter. But Paul represents a breath of fresh air in American intellectual life even as the "war on terror" continues to eat away at civil liberties.

As an instance of the latter Arctic blast, take the 15 September ANSWER demonstration. Organisers were fined $30,000 for purportedly using the wrong glue on their posters. A press conference in Washington to expose this as a lie was trashed by police and Tina Richards, the mother of a marine who did two tours of duty in Iraq, the leader of IVAW Adam Kokesh and ANSWER lawyer Ian Thompson were arrested.

Or DePaul University Professor Norman Finkelstein, a child of Holocaust survivors and author of The Holocaust Industry and Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, an attack on Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel. Dershowitz carried on a vicious campaign across the country to prevent the publication of Beyond Chutzpah, appealing to California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger and comparing the critique to the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He also worked to undermine Finkelstein's tenure appointment, even pursuing him in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Finkelstein finally managed to publish the scathing critique but was denied tenure and fired from DePaul.

Last year, Juan Cole, a prominent figure in Middle Eastern studies who teaches at the University of Michigan, lost his bid for a position at Yale University. This came after much criticism on op-ed pages and in letters to Yale officials. In "AIPAC's overt and covert ops" at antiwar.com, he wrote that AIPAC and other lobbyists have succeeded in passing legislation in Congress requiring "balance" in Middle East programmes at universities, which is used to silence academics throughout the US.

At this very moment, another hate campaign is being waged to deny tenure to Palestinian-American anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj at Bernard College, targeting her prize-winning Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-fashioning in Israeli Society (2001) which exposes well- documented Israeli bulldozing of archaeological sites which don't support their agenda of looking for evidence supporting claims of ancient Jewish presence.

Then there's the campaign of slander against former president Jimmy Carter's analysis of Israel Peace Not Apartheid published last year, which was subject to withering attacks and even removed from the UN bookstore, despite his Nobel Prize and very pro-Israeli track record.

The list is endless, but what is interesting is that these rays of light are not necessarily being extinguished, as in the past. The demonstration went ahead, the professors aren't cowed, the de rigueur anti-El-Haj petition provoked a pro-El-Haj petition, and Carter's book remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 15 weeks. Finally 9/11 and the neo-con nightmare we have been living through is bearing its fruit -- sweet or bitter, depending on your taste.

In what could well prove to be the culmination of this battle for the hearts and minds of Americans, there's the vicious attack on Stephen Walton and John Mearsheimer for their brave critique of the Israeli lobby last year in the London Review of Books. As tenured professors at top universities, the authors don't have to worry about job security; however, both were subjected to intense pressure to recant. Instead, they went on to write a book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, just published this month. Attempts to prevent them publicising it are being exposed daily, including several universities banning them and the decision of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to cancel a scheduled lecture. The Israeli lobby, which has outsize influence over US media and academia, is effectively orchestrating a boycott, a nice ironic touch. And of course they are calling it anti-Semitic and a worthy follow-up to the Protocols.

They call for a realistic Middle East policy that would treat Israel dispassionately, and point out that most of the time the two countries' interests are opposed, not the same, as Americans are led to believe because of the Israel lobby. Working closely with members of Congress, public policy organisations and media, well-financed groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Committee, along with dozens of political-action committees, it perpetuates the myth of Israel as an isolated, beleaguered state in need of America's unstinting financial and military support.

On the contrary, they describe a rogue state, empowered by American wealth and might, that blocks peace at every turn, threatens its neighbours with impunity, crushes the national aspirations of the Palestinians and, whenever the opportunity arises, bites the hand that feeds it. Working tirelessly in the background to blur the picture is the Israel lobby "playing Iago to America's Othello", as William Grimes writes sarcastically in the NYT, leading president after president down ever more dangerous paths. They effectively call for the United States to cut Israel loose, to return more or less to American policy before the 1967 War, when the United States tried to occupy a middle ground between Israel and its Arab neighbours. "It is time for the United States to treat Israel not as a special case but as a normal state, and to deal with it much as it deals with any other country," they conclude. "But it's not. And America won't. That's realism," harrumphs Grimes.

American analyst Philip Weiss calls their book a great work of American muckraking in the tradition of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (on the meatpacking industry), Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (on pesticides), and Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed (on cars). As with these illustrious precursors, people will ask someday what all the fuss was about. Were politicians really blacklisted for criticising the settlements? You will tell them yes. "Ending the [Palestinian/Israeli] conflict should be seen as a national security priority for the United States. But this will not happen as long as the lobby makes it impossible for American leaders to use the leverage at their disposal to pressure Israel into ending the occupation and creating a viable Palestinian state."

Was there a turning point that allowed this seminal work to find a place in the media spotlight, despite "the Lobby"? Was it perhaps the January 2006 conviction of Lawrence Franklin as an Israeli spy who passed secrets to two AIPAC officials now indicted and awaiting trial? There are an estimated half a million dual US- Israeli citizens -- any American Jew can get immediate Israeli citizenship if s/he so desires, Israel is constantly encouraging American Jews to emigrate, and many non-American Israelis emigrate to America. Considering the impossibility to control this process, we can be sure that this is the tip of the espionage iceberg. Speaking of ice, perhaps the new Cold War will not be so much with Russian, but with America's cherished Jewish ally.

Or perhaps the turning point was the radicalisation of the remarkable Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, now running for Congress. She captured the nation's imagination when, in her grief and despair, she trudged to President George W Bush's Texas ranch in the summer of 2005, where he was enjoying a five-week holiday, and set up Camp Casey, in honour of her son, demanding to get an explanation from Bush about the "noble cause" her son supposedly died for. Bush refused to meet with her, but her action gained her the sympathy of the nation.

She recently turned her fire on NYT journalist and neo-con William Kristol, who denounced the 15 September demonstration's proposed die-in. "The vets, unlike the chicken- hawk neo-cons, have actually served in war, particularly the one that Kristol imagines is such a success," she wrote. "I will proudly, yet sorrowfully, be lying down for my son that day. Many of the march/rally participants will be "dying" to represent the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed for Mr Kristol's deceptions. Mr Kristol calls on the honourable members of the anti-war movement to denounce the die-in. Do not ever claim that we families, or the Iraq vets are dishonouring our sons and daughters killed by the lies of The Weekly Standard, Fox News, BushCo., et al."


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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html