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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