Why is blaming the powerless so acceptable?

By Kent R. Kroeger (June 7, 2018)

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Razan al-Najjar, a Palestinian paramedic, was killed by an Israeli sniper at the Gaza border on June 1.

We are too often numb to these stories anymore. A young Palestinian woman, a paramedic, is killed by an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) sniper during protests along the Gaza-Israeli border. At nearly the same time, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is scolding UN Security Council diplomats for offering a resolution critical of Israel’s lethal response to Palestinian protests along the border.

Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, speaking at a UN Security Council Meeting on June 1

“The terrorist group, Hamas, bears primary responsibility for the awful living conditions in Gaza. It is Hamas that has served as the defacto government of Gaza for the last 11 years. It is Hamas that has consistently diverted humanitarian assistance into military infrastructure, building rockets instead of schools, producing terror tunnels instead of hospitals. It is Hamas that has attacked the very humanitarian access point into Gaza that are lifelines for the Palestinian people,” said Haley as she read her statement opposing the Security Council resolution regarding the Gaza border protests. “It is Hamas and its allies that fired rockets — at least 70 of them this week alone — indiscriminately into Israeli communities. It is Hamas that has incited violent acts at the boundary fence purposely infiltrating its terrorist fighters among civilians, deliberately using innocent people as human shields.”

On many points with respect to Hamas, Haley is correct. She is justified in calling out Hamas’ use of rockets along Israel’s southern border. The ’70 rockets’ launched into Israel recently were most likely Qassam rockets, with a range of up to 14 kilometers, but could have been the Katyusha and Grad multiple rocket launchers, with a range of about 30 kilometers. These weapons systems are not especially accurate or powerful, but killed 27 Israelis between 2004 and 2014. The introduction of Israeli’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has offered some protection to Israeli cities along the Gazan border, but the system is far from 100 percent effective. In 2014, U.S. analysts determined Iron Dome’s effective interception rate to be around 30 to 40 percent, but one MIT professor said the number was below 10 percent.

The point here is not quibble about whether the Hamas rocket attacks represent a genuine threat to Israel, which has a right to defend itself from such attacks. But it should be pointed out that only 38 percent of Palestinians in Gaza approve of Hamas’ use of rockets against Israel, according to a March 2013 survey by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Centre. A more recent 2017 survey by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in the Palestinian territories revealed that a majority of Palestinians want Hamas to accept the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and generally hold unfavorable views of Hamas violence and rhetoric directed towards Israelis.

Knowing the level of disaffection among Gazans towards some of Hamas’ methods, how does Haley’s UN speech move the ball forward in the pursuit of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?

It doesn’t, because the speech wasn’t meant to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Haley’s speech was a calculated attack on a powerless people designed to appeal to two electoral constituencies — war-hawk neocons and the Christian evangelical community — and to bolster the administration’s attractiveness in the U.S. Jewish community, which has long been a core constituency for the Democrats.

It is much easier to ostracize a stateless, oppressed people for political gain than it is to bring a compassionate and balanced understanding to the conflict.

Haley’s speech offered a blizzard of facts (most even true) on how Hamas has militarized Gaza, but gave no even-handed consideration of the powerlessness of Gazan civilians who are experiencing most of the conflict’s casualties. With every current fact, there are numerous facts that preceded it. Stating the first without sharing the relationship to the latter is an artful form of deception.

Haley openly cultivates a reputation as someone who gets her facts straight. But what purpose does that serve if you bring the wrong facts to the discussion?

Psychologists refer to this rhetorical technique as paltering — using truthful facts to otherwise deceive. When politicians lie, this is often how they do it.

What made Haley’s Security Council speech even more disheartening was how mean-spirited it was towards the almost 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, of which only around 17,000 belong to Hamas’ military wing. But Haley knows what she is doing — the people of Gaza are powerless and, therefore, an easy target to censure.

It is within this context that the Trump administration continuously threatens to cut off humanitarian aid to Palestinians, while at the same time, defends Israel’s lethal and disproportionate response to Gazan protests along the border fence.

What is the strategic or tactical justification for shooting a Palestinian paramedic, Razan al-Najjar, who was wearing a white coat and red head scarf when she was shot, clearly identifying herself as medical personnel?

What purpose is served in her being targeted by an IDF sniper?

The answer is, it has no productive purpose, apart from intimidating and humiliating a population already deeply hostile to Israel.

And, yet, apart from a three-minute segment in April by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on the Gazan border protest where he also detailed the dire living conditions in Gaza, the American news media has been mostly silent.

And where are the Democrats? Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders early on criticized the Israeli’s methods in the Gaza border protests. But what other Democrat has stood up in defense of the Palestinian civilians? What Democrat is questioning Israel’s disproportionate response to the protests? Schumer? Pelosi? Warner? Schiff? Waters? Warren?

The Democratic Party is AWOL when it comes to Palestinians.

Blaming down is the new political norm

It is not just Nikki Haley and the Trump administration sitting in their gilded perch shooting their blame-seeking arrows down into the crowd. It is a rhetorical strategy both parties freely use today.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama, while speaking at the 2018 United State of Women Summit on May 5th in Los Angeles, shared with an enthusiastic audience her take on the status of women in the wake of the 2016 election.

“We’re still at that stage when we’re trying to figure out what it means to be women and what we think of ourselves and what we think of each other,” Michelle lamented. “In the light of this last election, I’m concerned about us as women and how we think.”

Michelle says ‘we’ and ‘us’ but what she really means is ‘you,’ the average American woman.

Her words were a heavy-load wash cycle of touchy-feely gobbledygook meant to blame/shame/stain American women for not being smarter with their vote. Never mind that the candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket was a Wall Street-friendly, war-hawking centrist that lacked a compelling message.

No, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was YOU, says Michelle Obama. If only YOU would allow the intellectual aristocracy to re-program your head; then, maybe, we can avoid any future Donald Trumps.

Karl Marx arrogantly called it ‘false-consciousness.’ Michelle calls it her concern for ‘how we think.’ Both reduce relatively powerless people to the status of unenlightened, gullible helots.

And then there is Barack Obama himself, who recently offered an equally insular and tone-deaf comment, suggesting his presidency came 20 years too soon because most Americans weren’t ready for him.

Barack and Michelle are pretty much saying the same thing: the unwashed masses aren’t ready for enlightened leadership. The people are to blame for why the Obama administration’s grand vision didn’t become the law of the land— and has, in only one year, been wiped away by the new president.

And who is to blame for that failure? Perhaps the inability of Barack “elections have consequences” Obama to compromise with Republicans? Bill Clinton faced an equally hostile Republican-controlled Congress from 1995 to 2000 and passed significant pieces of legislation (most of it bad, like deregulating banks, but some of it good, like the Child Health Insurance Program).

But Obama chooses to blame average, working stiff people for his presidency’s problems. They just weren’t ready for him — too busy clinging to their guns and religion.

How do you lead vermin like that?

I guess that explains why Democrats are comfortable distinguishing between their ‘public’ and ‘private’ opinions. You know, the “facts” they tell the us so we will support them, and the “facts” they hide when it describes what they are really doing.

When you possess such a low image of the average person, keeping secrets from them must feel like your public duty. Our heads would hurt if we knew everything our government was doing.

So why is anyone surprised that evidence is now emerging that the Obama administration concealed from the pubic and Congress(!) the details of what our government was actually doing for the Iranian government as part of the Iran nuclear deal?

As reported by The Washington Post’s Marc Theissen: “The Obama administration: (1) told Congress it would not allow Iran access to U.S. financial institutions; (2) issued a special license allowing Iran to do exactly that; (3) unsuccessfully pressured U.S. banks to help Iran; (4) lied to Congress and the American people about what it had done; (5) admitted in internal emails that these efforts “exceeded” U.S. obligations under the nuclear deal; (6) sent officials, including bank regulators, around the world to urge foreign financial institutions to do business with Iran; and (7) promised that they would get nothing more than a slap on the wrist for violating U.S. sanctions.”

Lying is easier when you have no respect for the people to whom you are lying.

Looking down on powerless people is a condition infecting all political persuasions. Our president routinely misrepresents or attacks undocumented immigrants, civil rights protesters, the Transgender and, now, even Canadians.

But the Democrats are no better. They have their own ripe forms of bigotry, often directed towards less-educated, working-class people, or people of Christian faith.

Why is that OK?

“Democrats don’t need to appeal to Trump voters to win races,” wrote Lincoln Anthony Blade in December 2017 for TeenVogue. “The political key to future Democratic victories is not running away from racial reconciliation and equality but embracing it. They must realize that decent Americans of all colors are willing to politically stand up to intolerance, just as we’re doing in the streets every day.”

Nice sentiment, but Lincoln lost me at ‘decent Americans.’ Its the Obama syndrome all over again.

It is not that most Americans aren’t decent — they are — its that there is somebody arrogant enough to think they (and their political party) exclusively represents such decency.

That’s just..uh...dumb. I can only hope TeenVogue is not becoming the Democratic Party’s new intellectual center-of-gravity.

If the opposing political party was a static entity, the Democrats might get away with the “we don’t need Trump voters to win” logic. The reality is, Trump is temporary. The Republican Party is not. The GOP’s leadership is already crafting messages for attracting centrist Democrats (most of whom voted for Hillary Clinton). The Democrats may decide not to seek Trump voters, but the GOP is already seeking Clinton voters.

Democrats, you need to get off your high-horse.

Recognize those not getting recognized

How about we all do this instead…Take time to think about the powerless in our society and throughout the world. You may even include yourself in that category.

Like anyone, they deserve recognition. Once you “see” someone, they are much harder to ignore.

And its not about money, either giving it or raising it. Those on the wrong side of the power distribution need people to simply recognize their struggle and the barriers erected to limit their voice and potential.

They need representation.

This is not Kumbaya idealism or moralizing. This is basic economics. Lifting as many people as possible as fast as possible.

My thoughts return to the Palestinian paramedic, Razan al-Najjar. She was an educated woman in a highly patriarchal society. It could not have been easy for her to accomplish what she did in her productive but all too short life.

What is even more criminal about her death is that Razan is not a unique story. These tragedies are happening all the time in Gaza, and around the world, including right here in the U.S. It is easy to ignore these stories, as our mainstream news media does, which is why we can’t also ignore them.

I end this essay with a thought from U2’s Bono, who has consistently tried to be a non-partisan voice for the voiceless and less powerful.

Says Bono: “I am a rock star: my natural home is on the barricades with a handkerchief over my face — much hipper than putting on a suit and hanging out with politicians. But as The Edge as pointed out (with more than a little despair in his voice), I’d have lunch with the devil if I thought it would make a difference. Too many lives are being senselessly lost to let either ideology or partisan politics be the guardian of these issues.”

Bono was referring to his work on fighting AIDs in Africa. But it applies to Gaza, Syria, Congo, Myanmar, and any other place in the world where people suffer because politicians either blame them for their suffering or choose to ignore their suffering.

Written by

I am a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion (You can contact me at: kroeger98@yahoo.com)

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