Sunday, April 30, 2006

Why and How the Anti-War Movement Must Tackle the "Israel" Question

Why and How the Anti-War Movement Must Tackle the "Israel" Question

As this sample (see below) of recent remarks by President Bush and Senator McCain indicate, "defense of Israel" is being moved to front-and-center as the new excuse for escalating the U.S. attack on people in the Middle East, this time Iranians.

If the American anti-war movement expects to persuade the broad American public, it cannot stick its head in the sand when it comes to the question of Israel. The anti-war movement must confront the fundamental question of whether there should be a Jewish state in Palestine in the first place, because the answer people give to this question will, more than anything else, determine whether they think it is reasonable to defend Israel, and hence reasonable for the U.S. to wage war for that purpose. Bush understands this, and so should we.

The fact that many people in the Middle East don't think there should be a Jewish state in Palestine is increasingly apparent to the American public who lately have read about the recently elected Iranian President Ahmadinejad's supposed call for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and the recently elected Hamas's refusal to formally recognize the state of Israel.

Americans are being told that Israel, "the only democracy in the Middle East," is surrounded by anti-Semitic fanatics who, in Iran, are on the verge of getting nuclear weapons which they will use to kill all the Jews in Israel unless the U.S. comes to their rescue with whatever means are necessary. Ahmadinejad, like Saddam Hussein, is being likened to Hitler--this time on the basis that wanting to abolish the Jewish state is equivalent to wanting to kill all the Jews in it.

By this same illogic, people who worked to abolish the apartheid South African state were racist against whites. By this same illogical reasoning, Albert Einstein, Judah Magnes (the first president of Hebrew University in Jerusalem), and Hannah Arendt--all leading Jewish intellectuals who opposed the creation of a Jewish state and who opposed real anti-Semitism for the same reason, namely their belief in the universal values of equality and democracy--hated Jewish people in Palestine. Of course the American mass media won't inform the American public that there are excellent reasons for wanting to abolish a Jewish state in Palestine that have nothing to do with being hostile to ordinary Jewish people. The question is, will the anti-war movement inform them?

The anti-war movement must directly and persuasively refute the central lies of the American government's pro-war propaganda:

-- It must refute the lie that a Jewish state in Palestine is an appropriate and just response to anti-Semitism or the Holocaust. How? By explaining that the moral as well as practical response to racism is not more racism but rather a principled rejection of racism in all forms; by showing that a Jewish state in Palestine is a racist project based on ethnic cleansing and brutal apartheid suppression of non-Jews, and that the conflict is not between "two peoples for one land" but between most ordinary people--Jewish, Muslim, Christian or whatever--who want to live together peacefully and as equals, versus elite rulers or want-to-be-rulers--Jewish, Muslim, Christian or whatever--who want most (or all) of Palestine to be ruled by them under exclusively Jewish sovereignty or exclusively Islamic sovereignty or (as in the case of the PLO) under a nominal "secular democracy" that would in fact, just as in the other cases, be rule by the wealthy few.

-- It must refute the lie that the Palestine/Israel conflict is about Israel defending itself from anti-Semitic terrorism. How? By explaining that the fundamental injustice is Israel's having driven out 80% of the non-Jews in 1948 (and more in 1967) and Israel's refusing to let them return today; by affirming that violent resistance against such an injustice is justified but this does not include killing non-combatants; by not making excuses for those who, in the name of resistance, kill non-combatants; and by pointing out that a just cause, such as abolishing a Jewish state in Palestine, is not made less just simply because some people, in its name, commit unjustified violence against non-combatants, any more than slavery was ever justified by the fact that slaves on occasion killed the innocent children of slave-owners.

-- It must refute the lie that Israel is a democracy. How? By explaining that the Basic Law of Israel does not even allow parties to run candidates for parliament (Knesset) if they challenge Israel's ethnic cleansing to secure and maintain a large Jewish majority population, or if they advocate that Israel be a state of all its citizens, rather than a state of the Jewish people.

-- It must refute the lie that Israeli leaders are pro-Jewish! How? By explaining that Zionist leaders don't fight anti-Semitism but rather use it to strengthen their power over ordinary Jews; by revealing the true history of how Zionist leaders (including Israel's future prime ministers) betrayed ordinary European Jews during the Holocaust by opposing rescue efforts, on the grounds that sending Jews to safety anywhere other than Palestine would undermine the Zionist project of creating a Jewish state after the war, whereas if Jews died at the hands of the Nazis it would give Zionists a greater standing at post war negotiations on the future of Palestine; by revealing how Zionist leaders betrayed Russian Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in the 1990s by arranging for Russia and other nations to sharply restrict Jewish immigration to any nation other than Israel (most wanted to go to the U.S., not Israel); by revealing how the Zionist Israeli ruling class, using the same anti-working class methods (like privatization, strike breaking and the excuse of "national interest") that are used by the American corporate/government elite against American workers, has increased social/economic inequality among Jews in Israel to the point that it is now second, among western nations, only to the extreme inequality of the United States.

-- It must use the truth about the Israel/Palestine conflict to refute the lie that American rulers wage war to spread democracy and freedom. How? By showing that U.S. foreign policy is aimed at keeping ordinary people around the world (including Americans!) under the thumb of wealthy and powerful elites, for which purpose a key strategy is to foment ethnic, racial or nationalistic Orwellian wars to divide-and-rule, which is exactly what Israeli oppression of Palestinians does, to the advantage not only of Israeli rulers who control ordinary Israeli Jews by making them fearful of Palestinians, but also to the advantage of other anti-democratic rulers in the Middle East (like the Saudi Royals and the Iranian Mullahs) who control their own populations more easily by directing their anger at Israel, a nation which, thanks to U.S. military aid, is conveniently so militarily powerful that Middle East kings and dictators can attack it verbally while at the same time using its obvious military superiority as a perfect excuse in the eyes of "their own" people for not actually attacking it militarily.

As long as the anti-war movement avoids dealing with the question of Israel in an honest and forthright way, the movement will continue to be weak and ineffective. We will either win the American public to truly understand the Palestine/Israel conflict by making the kind of persuasive arguments outlined above, or the American ruling class will win the public's support for (or at least passive acceptance of) any war purporting to be in defense of Israel.

Welcome to the White HousePresidentNewsVice PresidentHistory & ToursFirst LadyMrs. Cheney Welcome to the White HouseGovernmentKids OnlyEspanolContactPrivacy PolicySiteMapSearch Welcome to the White House
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2006
President Discusses War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom
Renaissance Cleveland Hotel
Cleveland, Ohio

But now that I'm on Iran, the threat to Iran, of course -- (applause) -- the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace; it's a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel, and -- (applause.)

Boston Globe, April 30, 2006:

...Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said: "There is only one thing worse than military action, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran." McCain said the United States would not stand by and let Iran wipe out Israel, as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had called for in a recent speech.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

After Walt and Mearsheimer: Which Direction for the Anti-Zionist Movement?

After Walt and Mearsheimer: Which Direction for the Anti-Zionist Movement?

by John Spritzler

April 4, 2006


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When John J. Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government published their article--The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy--with copious footnotes online at the KSG and without the footnotes at the London Review of Books, they became the first academics with sterling credentials in the United States to advocate the previously taboo notion that the Israel Lobby controls U.S. Middle East foreign policy to the detriment of the American "national interest." Walt and Mearsheimer (W & M), it is important to note, never defined "national interest," because their audience is the class of powerful people in the United States who control the government and corporations and major universities and who have already defined "national interest," in practice, as their interests, not the very conflicting interests and values of ordinary working class people--Americans or otherwise.

Nonetheless, when W & M published, all hell broke loose. Pro-Zionists accused Walt and Mearsheimer of being everything from incompetent to anti-Semitic for daring to say anything negative about Israel and its famous Lobby.

Among anti-Zionists (of whom I count myself one), however, there has been a long-running debate about the W & M thesis: some agree with W & M that Israel is the dog that wags the U.S. tail, and others (myself included) say it is the other way around. Among anti-Zionists the question has been far from merely an academic exercise in sociology because the kind of political organizing one does depends in important ways on the view one holds on this question. As I have written previously, the "Israel is the dog" view is the basis for allying with "pro-American" elements of the American corporate/government elite against the Israel Lobby, whereas the contrary view is the basis for building a pro-working class movement against the entire American corporate/government elite.

The stark contrast between these two different kinds of anti-Zionist organizing, and the magnitude of what is at stake, have come into sharp relief recently with the publication of anti-Zionist defenses of W & M, in particular a recent article by Jim Petras, which I will examine here for this very reason.

Whether W & M are right or wrong, about whether Israel is the dog that wags the U.S. tail or vice versa, is less important than whether or not the anti-Zionist movement we seek to build is pro-working class and anti-capitalist.

Who among us, for example, wants to build a movement to protect the U.S. oil corporations, or the U.S. arms corporations, or any other segment of the American plutocracy from their enemies, Zionist or otherwise? Not I. Would the corporate elite who own General Motors and Delphi and Ford stop destroying the lives of American workers as they are now doing if only we could kick the Israel Lobby out? I don't think so. Would they stop using the World Bank and IMF to squeeze to death--economically and often literally--masses of people in Latin America and Africa if only the Israel Lobby were removed from the U.S.? Obviously not.

Is there any segment of the American plutocracy which shares our opposition to racism and oppression anywhere, be it Palestine, Indonesia, Bolivia...or the United States? Are the gentile billionaire families in the United States just waiting for us to get the Zionists off their backs so they can join us in fighting for a more equal and democratic world? Hardly.

But when I read the praise of W & M coming from anti-Zionist quarters I cringe when the arguments advanced adopt a framework in which the conflict is characterized predominantly as the Zionists versus the American corporate capitalist elite.

For example, there is a recent article by Jim Petras, called Noam Chomsky and the Pro-Israel Lobby: Fourteen Erroneous Theses. This article alarms me because it makes it harder rather than easier to organize a pro-working class and anti-capitalist movement against Zionism. It takes the form of a critique of Noam Chomsky's rebuttal of W & M. (Life gets a bit complicated here because I have many bones to pick with Chomsky also. Whether Chomsky is right or wrong about the dog/tail question, for sure he is wrong in failing to oppose the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. I also think his explanation of why Israel is the tail and not the dog misses the mark in important respects. And I thought he was wrong for going along with the Anybody But Bush line in 2004. But Chomsky is not the subject here. Petras and the kind of movement we are building is.)

Petras emphasizes the wrong things. He agrees with W & M that the Israel Lobby made the U.S. invade Iraq, and then he emphasizes the importance of understanding that American oil corporations and arms corporations were hurt by the Zionists because of this. "In fact," he says, "the US-Middle East wars prejudice the oil interests in several strategic senses." He paints a picture in which our oil and arms corporation executives are the good guy victims, telling us that "US oil companies have been much friendlier to peacefully resolving conflicts than Israel ...," that "the US sacrifices the vital interests of the oil companies in favor of Israel’s quest for Middle East hegemony," and that "top US Generals have frequently complained that Israeli armed forces receive new high tech military hardware before it has become operational in the US" and "US defense industries (some of whom have joint production contracts with Israeli military industries) have bitterly complained of Israel’s unfair competition, violation of trade agreements and the illegal sale of high tech weaponry to China." Americans, to their credit, have always been suspicious of the "arms merchants." Americans demonstrated against Dow Chemical and its napalm in the 60's. Today they are trying to stop military recruiting. I don't know anybody who supports the continued stockpiling of thousands of American nuclear weapons. The latest high tech military hardware is aimed against innocent people whether Israel or the U.S. military gets it first. I sure hope we don't turn around and start feeling sorry now for arms corporations like Dow and Northrop and our pro-capitalist generals because the Zionists supposedly are making life hard for them.

What about our government's notorious support for dictatorships? Petras complains that Israel is making our government incur the "animosity of former Arab allies" (all of which, he fails to point out, are anti-democratic oppressive regimes.) Is that the goal--to dump the Zionists so we can cozy up to the Saudi Royal family more easily? (As I argue elsewhere, in reality the Saudi royals benefit from U.S. support of Israel.)

Petras's point is that all Americans--pro-working class or anti-working class, pro-imperialist or anti-imperialist, it makes no difference--should unite against the fundamental problem in the United States, which is not corporate control or inequality or capitalism but Zionist control. "The pro-Israel policy," Petras tells us, "has severely undermined US military capacity to defend the empire..." and, he points out, "has led to a loss of prestige and discredited US claims to be a champion of freedom and democracy." As one who has spent the better part of my life trying to help Americans understand that our government is not really about defending democracy and freedom, this last complaint by Petras really must make one wonder what kind of a movement is he trying to build? Is he saying that U.S. imperialism from the Spanish American War to the present was all about spreading democracy and freedom and we should be angry at the Israel Lobby for making it harder for people to grasp this wonderful truth?

I am glad Petras is against Israel's ethnic cleansing and the U.S. vetoing of U.N. resolutions condemning it, but Good Grief!, look at his reasons for being against these things: "The end result is the weakening of international law and increased volatility in an area of great strategic importance." I can understand American imperialists worrying about "volatility" because that means mass popular movements that challenge the power of elite ruling classes. I was part of the "volatility" of the 1960's in the United States, however, and proud of it. The Vietnamese peasants' "volatility" kept LBJ awake at night worrying. Good for them, I say. Yes, ordinary people in Palestine and Egypt and Qatar and Saudi Arabia are indeed volatile. I'm glad. Petras, however, worries about it. (Petras is also strangely worried about the weakening of "international law." Despite those of us who try to cite never-enforced international laws like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to organize against Zionist racism, the fact is that international law IN PRACTICE is legalistic cover used to legitimize the attacks on working class people around the world by the World Trade Organization, U.N. military forces, the World Bank, the IMF etc. Can anybody who remembers the brutal killing of millions of Iraqis by UN sanctions still speak fondly of the UN and it's "law"?)

To conclude, I don't mind terribly that Petras disagrees with me about why George Bush supports Israel and invades Iraq. But I do mind if this disagreement leads him to try to shape the anti-Zionist movement into one that aims to unite with the American plutocracy around the idea of speaking out only against Zionism but keeping silent about (or downplaying--same thing) how that plutocracy attacks working people at home and abroad. That would be a disaster.

Other articles about Palestine/Israel by John Spritzler
Other articles by this author

John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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