Cease Fire!

On the last day of his grueling Congressional campaign, impassioned, his voice raising, his arms flailing, a chief supporter dancing around him, the candidate’s final plea was not to claim victory, to denounce his opponent, to advance an agenda, to call for a march but to say over and over “Cease fire!”

Cease fire? Surely in the annals of political combat Jamaal Bowman had issued one of the most subdued rallying cries to supporters, merely a pause in the furious Israeli attack on beleaguered Gaza. But it was in keeping with his campaign.  Given conditions and the forces arrayed against him, that was all he could ask for. Even so, he lost the Democratic primary election and his seat in the U. S. Congress.

His delivery had been more strident than his message. Dogged and determined, he never stood a chance and in frustration occasionally resorted to name calling and obscenities. He was also faulted for not reaching out to the sizable Jewish community in his Congressional district in which there were sure to be some division on Gaza. The Jewish voter cannot be stereotyped. He had no stronger supporter than U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who might complain that a backroom deal thwarted his own aspiration for the U.S. Presidency. “Israel had the right to defend itself against the terrorist attack,” he said. “But it does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people.”

In response Marshall Whittman replied with some satisfaction:” The outcome of the race once again shows that the pro-Israel position is good policy and good politics.” He’s the spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and its candidate, centrist George Latimer, handily won. The main reason, as in most political contests in the U.S. today, Is money. AIPAC has lots of it and spent 14 million on Latimer with other Jewish groups adding another four million, making it one of the most expensive primary elections in U.S. history. Bowman had a mere1.75 million. 

Flushed with success, AIPAC says it will unseat other office holders too supportive of Palestinians. That pledge must be taken seriously since political candidates are currently allowed to spend as much money as they please or their donors will give them, suggesting that today’s American democracy is not quite what it purports to be. Money rules. In the Bowman case Israeli power overcame the Black Power that had raised Borman to political prominence. Bowman is black, Latimer white, but race didn’t figure prominently in the campaign where the chief issue was Israel.

A bone of contention was Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu, who is responsible for Israeli policy toward Gaza.  He has been invited to address both houses of the U.S. Congress later in July where he is expected to be enthusiastically received. That’s a terrible mistake, says a group of American and Israeli leaders, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. They write in the New York Times that Netanyahu doesn’t speak for Israel or its citizens. He has no plan to end the war and avoids negotiations. His appearance at the U.S. Capitol will only embolden him and his supporters.

In the background to the Bowman campaign was an outbreak of vigorous pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Turning violent at times, it seemed to many a revival of antisemitism maybe embedded in the American character. But first things first. What enraged Americans were the photos of dead and dying Palestinians, many of them children, under Israel’s incessant, indiscriminate bombing. If that stopped, so no doubt would most manifestations of antisemitism.

Bowman’s defeat is also considered a setback for the so-called Squad. a group to the far left of the Democratic Party and considered a nuisance by centrists. But why should an aversion to war be considered far left or far right for that matter? The centrists seem to be too content with the warring status quo from which many profit. They seem all too complacent about conflicts in the Middle East so destructive of its people. That’s why we need, whatever his faults, a Bowman.

Behold the Houthis

The Houthis are little known and less liked, but they can hardly be ignored. Fighting their way to the top of the fractious tribes in Yemen, they withstood the onslaught of larger neighboring Saudi Arabia, backed by the U.S., in a decade long, pitiless war that led to a humanitarian catastrophe in  Yemen. Today as the largest power and effective government in Yemen, they are calling the shots in the latest war roiling the region.

And shots they are. They vow to continue shelling any ships carrying supplies to Israel on the Red Sea until there’s a ceasefire in the Israel–Hamas war. So far they have struck some fifty ships making the attempt, sinking one but to date without casualties. Most shipping now avoids the Red Sea route and takes a longer one at greater expense. Some stores and factories receiving the costlier goods have closed down, but in general buyers are coping. The question is how will they fare if the blockade continues, pushing up already mounting global inflation.

The U.S. navy has come to an attempted rescue. American destroyers in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are shooting back at the Houthis on the shore. They in turn face incoming drones and missiles that seem to be in everlasting supply with the determined and battle-hardened Houthis who are using them. So far none has been able to hit a U.S. ship, but luck can run out. “People don’t understand how serious it is and how dangerous it is for the ships,” a destroyer commander told a visiting Associated Press reporter. Some military observers say the navy hasn’t seen anything like it since World War Two. Chalk that up to the Houthis.

It’s unusual, perhaps verging on the unique, for a warring party to say it’s not fighting for more land, riches or revenge but for peace – a ceasefire. But it’s a rallying cry that resonates with the Arab world and beyond. Gaza has experienced a frightful pummeling.  The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimates that Israel has dropped 70 thousand tons of bombs on Gaza or more than the combined total of bombs that struck London, Hamburg and Dresden in World War Two. Gaza indeed has the obliterated look of post-war Dresden. More than 37 thousand people, almost all civilians of whom half are women and children, have been killed.

For all the firing back and forth, it would seem the various participants don’t want to get any closer to the Second World War. They go only so far and no farther. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is in search of a truce. It has been unable, despite considerable U.S. help, to subdue its combative neighbor.  It was especially alarmed by the Houthi demolition of Aramco energy facilities, causing the temporary shutdown of the country’s oil production. Coming to terms with the Houthis also means easing tensions with its regional antagonist Iran, currently supporting Yemen. That also means ignoring U.S. efforts to stall negotiations with the Houthis. Saudi Arabia is a critical component in maintaining an uneasy equipoise among volatile neighbors

The same cannot be said for the U.S. As the life support for Israel, it chooses not to demand a ceasefire. So the bloodletting continues unabated. The tendency today is to dismiss Houthis as thugs or terrorists when, if anything, they have proved their mettle in the conflict-ridden region. In effect, the U.S. has ceded the moral and political high ground to a ragged band of tribal warriors who seek peace while the U.S. continues to pursue war to what end? Nothing good that one can see.

Mexican Elections: The Drug Cartels Win

In the recent Mexican national elections Claudia Sheinbaum became the first woman to win the Presidency, a notable achievement. Otherwise, there was little to celebrate. It was a clear drug cartel victory employing their usual campaign tactics – threats, disappearances, kidnappings and the murder at last count of some forty candidates who had dared criticize ever so slightly cartel activities. Not to mention all those who chose not to participate for fearing a similar fate.

The living: President elected Claudia Sheinbaum

The mayor of the small coastal town Zipolite had been fatally shot in broad daylight in front of the municipal building. It was unreported, but the townspeople got the message. When Al Jazeera correspondent Belen Fernandez phoned a friend to see who would replace the mayor, he replied: “No one wants the job.”  She writes: “Multiply the case of Zipolite across the entire expanse of Mexico, and you get an idea of just how free the election was.”

President elect Sheinbaum is well aware of this and will proceed cautiously in office as she has as mayor of Mexico City. No serious talk about crime while she attended to other civic affairs. She is close to the President she succeeded, Lopez Obrador, who boasted of his policy of “Hugs, not Bullets,” meaning useful social programs, especially for the young, and not undue harshness toward the cartels. They happily responded not with hugs but with ever more bullets.

Women in politics are not immune to this violence. Shortly after Sheinbaum was elected, Yolanda Sanchez, mayor of the town of Cortija, was shot to death along with her bodyguard. As usual there have been no arrests. It’s estimated that ninety percent of all murders in Mexico are unsolved. Sanchez had been receiving death threats since taking office and a year ago she was confronted by a group of armed men who insisted that she put town security in the hands of state police officers in the pay of the cartels. Apparently, she did not comply.

The Deceased: Mayor Yolanda Sanchez

Running for mayor of Celaya, Bertha Gisela Gaytan said if elected, she would seek to control the ever mounting violence. Not a chance. On the first day of her campaign a hit squad lay in wait and opened fire at point-blank range, then sped off on motorcycles never to be apprehended. She was left lying on the street, blood flowing from her head as seen online.

With top officials under their control, the cartels are focusing on smaller targets around the country. Towns that have escaped visits are now getting regular calls to be of assistance by helping with drug routes, supplying recruits or providing local businesses for extortion. Taco producers are now a prime target, leading to a sixty per cent increase in the price of that favorite Mexican food.

The cartels are obviously not waging a class war for the poor who are all the more easily robbed. No bodyguards to get in the way. They also don’t discriminate politically in their victims. Liberal or conservative, left or right, are all suitable targets. In the city of Maravatio,  two mayoral candidates of opposing parties were killed almost at the same time. You are a cartel backed candidate or you ‘re in trouble.

Cartels look contemptuously northward at Washington. All this talk about human rights all over the globe but not next door in Mexico, leading to suspicions that the U.S. or an element of it may not be so keen on drug eradication after all, given the immense riches involved. Drugs slip across the open border so easily in great lethal quantities. American media continue to regard Mexico as just another standard nation with a nagging crime problem when in fact the criminals run the nation – a true narco state. Please don’t wake up, plead the cartels. We’ve never had it so good.