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Code Pink: Women for Peace
An interview with Medea Benjamin
Christopher Brown (christo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-20 07:06 (KST)   
It would be a mistake to take Medea Benjamin for granted. She has been on the frontlines of the movement to stop the war in Iraq and bring the troops home. She has spoken out on Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, and been vilified by the Zionists as a self-hating Jew. She has been arrested numerous times for speaking out about the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies. During President George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005, Benjamin was in the crowd and called out Bush on his broken and now clearly unpopular war policy.

Yes, taking Benjamin for granted is not a wise move on anyone's part. That is why I pursued the chance to speak with this globetrotting, peace waging and Code Pink co-founding rabble-rouser. This interview took place by phone on Nov. 15.

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Believe me. I'm glad I'm not on her bad side.

Medea Benjamin, the Democrats took over both houses of Congress in this past midterm election. Nancy Pelosi has said that impeachment of President Bush is "off the table." Should it be?

I don't think it should be off the table. I can see why she might have wanted to, as a strategy for the elections, downplay the issue of impeachment in order not to rile up the base of the conservatives. But I don't think it's her position to say that anything is off the table. I think that when investigations start going forward, as I hope they will even if they're not going forward in the judiciary committee -- but in other committees, things [will] start emerging about how the Constitution has been subverted by George Bush -- that this will lead to a groundswell of support for impeachment.

With overwhelming dissent about the current situation, and the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the people of America cast a "No" vote on the war in Iraq. Do you feel we will see a fundamental change in policy regarding this conflict?

Medea Benjamin.
©2006 Code Pink
I think there is going to have to be a change in policy. I think the election was a mandate for change. There's still going to be a lot of division within the Democratic Party as well as between the Democratic Party and the Bush administration as to what change means. The Baker-Hamilton Commission is going to be giving one set of advice that is much more "stay the course" type actions, with little changes along the fringe that might include things like getting neighboring Syria and Iran involved -- issues like different tactics for getting the militias to disarm -- but its not going to be in the framework of a prompt withdrawal and a fixed date for and end to the occupation; whereas, you have others like George McGovern putting forth a plan to get the troops out by the end of June.

So, the job of the peace movement is going to be not [to] put down its guard, to really be forcing the Congress to carry out what is a mandate for radical change, and the radical change is to bring the troops home, to stop allocating money for this war and to have no permanent bases in Iraq. And I think the issue of more money for the war will come up very soon in January when the new Congress reconvenes because they are going to be asked for over a hundred billion dollars more for this war.

And while Nancy Pelosi has said impeachment is off the table, she also said she will continue to vote more money for the war. And that means she won't put more pressure on anyone else in the party to cut off funding for the war.

It's one thing to say we want a swift end to the occupation; it's another thing to say we will only give money to the redeployment of those troops out of Iraq. And at this point, I think we're going too see a big fight on our hands for trying to get more Congress people to vote against another massive allocation for war and I think we'll lose this battle.

With this new Congress, the leaders of both houses have reiterated to Israel that policy toward them will not change when the Democrats take over. How can those who are against the occupation make their voices heard with this new Congress if it is nothing more than a photocopy of the previous one?

I think the ties between Nancy Pelosi and AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] are very well known and very close. I think the other Democrats in positions in the Congress have been, and will continue to be, very close to Israel.

I think that will put the brakes on some fundamental policy toward the Middle East. And as much as we might have some allies that really want to end the occupation and see that as a way of lessening the violence in the Middle East and lessening the treat against us, as long as we continue to have this unilateral support for Israel and the massive support we're giving to the Israeli military while it carries out human rights abuses on a regular basis, we're not going to see peace in the Middle East or a lessening of the threat against us here at home.

So I think, when it comes to Israel, that is the crux of the problem in terms of the new Congress, and it'll be easier in a sense to be pushing for a change in policy for Iraq than it will be to push for a change in policy towards Israel.

Over the past week there have been over 20 people killed in Gaza as a result of an Israeli incursion into the town of Beit Hanoun in the north. In fact, 18 members of the same family were killed by Israeli tank fire while they slept in their beds, yet Israel says this was just a "mistake," and the world sits by and allows this to go on. Why is the media remaining silent over this?

Well, we saw how the media remained not just silent but totally complicit with the administration in the lead-up to the war in Iraq.

It is a corporate media.

It is a media that is not just embedded with our military, but embedded with our politicians, maybe a little bit more so with the Republicans than the Democrats, but not that much. There are direct links between the moguls of the media and people who are in elected office. Money flows from those people who own the corporate media to the politicians. The politicians in turn enact legislation or policies through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other means that return favors to the media, and that takes away the peoples rights to own the airwaves or to have a press that educates, informs and stimulates debate, which we don't have in this country.

I think we see [this], probably, to a tremendous extent in the case of Israel, and we see the lack of a free press when it comes to issues related to national security. So, the corporate media in this country is definitely part of the problem. Until we break the stranglehold that the media has on the airwaves, the print media, we're not going to have an informed population, we're not going to have spirited debate.

And it will be all that much harder for those of us in human rights and international law to see our vision reflected in the media and through elected officials in this country.

Fatah and Hamas are in talks to form a unity government. As a result of Hamas' victory in a democratic election back in January, the U.S., EU and Israel cut off all essential aid to the Palestinians since March for holding fair elections. However, no action is taken when Israel appoints Avigdor Lieberman as deputy prime minister, a man who openly advocates the expulsion of all Arabs from the territories and has proposed that any Knesset members who have spoken with Hamas officials be executed. Is this not a double standard on the part of the U.S. and EU that they do not openly criticize the actions of the deputy prime minister?

The Bush administration and its allies, not just the ones in the Republican Party, but the ones who think alike in the Democratic Party, have divided the World into this neat little division between good and evil, and Israel is part of the good. And so Israel does things, whether its blatant racist statements about obliterating Arabs or real on the ground policies of killing innocent people, that are either ignored or treated as misfiring or misspeaking.

When the same thing is done by a government official in Iran, we see the U.S. running to the United Nations to try and impose sanctions, and see the threats of military retaliation.

Just look at anytime the international community has tried to sanction Israel for its blatant violations; the United States has always blocked those sanctions, and just did it, most recently, in the case of Israeli actions in Gaza.

So, why dose it happen? We can point to the ties that bind. We not only have the ties of AIPAC, which has done an extraordinary job [trading] money for political clout, but have also made alliances with the religious right in this country, which gives it more political clout.

It has been pretty appalling to see how the U.S. continues to give such massive aid to Israel, a country that does not need the aid financially because it's a middle-income country. And yet you see starvation around the world, all over Africa, where the U.S. is not giving any kind of aid.

Previously we spoke about the new Congress and its business as usual approach with Israel. However, with the election of Keith Ellison (D-MN), an African-American Muslim, is there a chance that folks might begin to view, at least, Islam in a different light, rather than the one that is constantly shown on television?

I think it's very positive that Keith Ellison was elected. I think it's an historic event in this country given all the backlash against Muslims; and I think there are going to have to be other changes in the way that the U.S. looks toward Muslim countries to help get us out of the quagmire in Iraq.

It's very interesting that you have these conservatives who are now trying to get serious help to deal with the violence in Iraq. I think the U.S. is going to have to go to the Arab League, basically on its knees, and ask for help with the situation in Iraq. And that will, hopefully, give some greater standing to diplomats in the Arab World when we do go to them to try and bail us out of the mess that George bush has gotten us into.

There are going to have to be changes on the international scene about the way we deal with the Arab World. I think it's great that John Bolton will not be confirmed as ambassador to the U.N., even though it will be the Bush administration that puts forward the next name for nomination for ambassador, because they know it will have to be confirmed by the Democrats. I think we will get someone who is much more into international diplomacy and multilateralism than John Bolton has been.

There's two sides of the issue: how we deal with the racism against Muslims and Arabs in this country -- and Keith Ellison's election is a positive thing in that regard -- [and how we] continue to fight against the crimes in this country. There was recently a killing of a mother of four in Fremont, California, who was wearing a hijab (veil). We don't know if it was a hate crime but we certainly know there was no reason for her to be killed.

There is also the issue of illegal detention of people who can be named enemy combatants by this government and what that means for people in the Arab and Muslim community.

We have the continuing issue of blight on our reputation internationally by having the over four hundred prisoners being held in Guantanamo without their basic human rights, and we have the Military Commissions Act, which was recently passed, which takes away the basic right of Habeas Corpus.

These are things that are so important to the Muslim and Arab community that have been targeted since 9/11. And while we hail the election of the first Muslim congressperson, while we fight against hate crimes in our communities, we [are] also going to push the new Congress to restore the right of Habeas Corpus, and basic rights that have been used, particularly, against the Arab and Muslim community.

How can people find out more about the work of Code Pink and how can they get involved in the organization?

Well, Code Pink has been involved before the war began and during this entire period in trying to get the troops home from Iraq. We also have a very important role to play in trying to get the U.S. to fulfill its obligation financially to help in rebuilding Iraq. We have close ties to people in Iraq; we've been there many times since before the invasion and afterwards. We know how devastated the Iraq lives have been through this occupation, and especially the lives of women in Iraq.

When we are successful in bringing the troops home, we also want to keep forcing our government to pay financially for the rebuilding of Iraq, and we're going to need all the support we can get for that.

People can find us at the Web site at www.codepinkalert.org. And we've grown spontaneously in the last couple of years without thinking about local groups. We now have about 250 of them around the country.

So, people thinking about getting involved can look up the local section on the Web site to see if there is a Code Pink local, and join one. And if there isn't, create one.
Christopher Brown is an independent grassroots journalist living in San Francisco. He has a blog on Palestine at www.cbgonzo.blogspot.com. This article will appear on www.electronicintifada.net.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Christopher Brown

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