The current situation has again raised the issue of Israel’s legitimacy and the power of its American lobby. Here are some thoughts in response to some of those issues. And again, they are thoughts not meant as a full analysis.
The Israeli lobby obviously exists. AIPAC and the ADL being the most prominent examples. They have huge resources and influence. You cross them in bourgeois politics at your peril. However, and I think this is so often overlooked as to make me wonder why, the power that the lobby holds stems not simply from its money and the influence that brings, and certainly it doesn’t stem from any supposed “great love of the Jewish people” on the part the good citizens of the United States. It has the influence it does because its aims, more or less, are the aims of US imperialism. Even when the aims momentarily diverge, the logic doesn’t. That their actions often undermine their aims is only testimony to the illegitimacy of their aims.
If the lobby decided tomorrow that, instead of Palestine they demand the US sponsor the reestablishment, support and defense of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of the former USSR does anyone think that they would get support, let alone an ear to listen? Most of the pro-Israel sentiment, including the crazy pro-Israel sentiment, reflected in the power of the lobby stems from entirely US phenomenon; that particular brand of Christian millennialism that crosses more denominations than I can name combined with a racist, War of Civilization mentality born of empire and our own history of genocide and slavery. The Soviet Union formerly fit the profile as civilization’s enemy, now Muslims do, but the profile is only a projection of the besiegement empires, and the imperial populace, always fear. When you have made enemies around the world, the world is full of enemies. When an AIPAC lobbyist engages in a conversation with John McCain over Iran, he doesn’t have to raise the Holocaust to get the old geezer’s blood up over the danger to “our way of life” threatening from East, I assure you.
During the Presidency of Bush I, those like Jim Baker were urging that the US build on the break in the Arab consensus developed around the first Gulf War shifting US support more decisively to the Saudis (the Bushes and the Saudis go way back) and even trying to bring Syria on board. Loan guarantees were frozen to Israel when they refused to stop settlement activity. Arguably the toughest measure ever taken by a US government against Israel. But the New World Order would not come to be. The Clinton administration returned to Israel right or wrong (the Dems have almost always been Israel’s staunchest supporters) and then 9/11 happened.
Though – and this underlines my point I hope – Saudi Arabia (a bête noire only a spot below Iran in Israeli eyes) remains as key to US interests in the region as Israel (though in different ways). The close ties to the Wahabi monarchy, a bulwark of civilization, go back much further than those with the Zionist state, they preceded it in fact. The US supports Israel (in part) to defend it against….its other most important ally in the region. But on the grounds of public opinion the Saudis don’t even bother to try (except in the financial press) to exert their influence….and yet they retain it fully. That most of the participants in the attacks of 9/11 were Saudi, curiously, didn’t lead to a single Tomahawk or drone attack.
Many of the folks, outside of liberal allies and a segment of the Jewish community, AIPAC et. al. rely on for their support are those who would be, in almost any other circumstance, classified as flirting with if not engaging in REAL anti-semitism (I fully recognize the problem with the phrase, but it is used so generally). The bedrock of public support in the United States for Israel are not Jews, or liberals cowed by the ghosts of Auschwitz, but reactionary Christian fundamentalists.
Go after the lobby, of course, but the ideology at the heart of support the majority of Americans (and it is a majority) have for Israel has next to nothing to do with whatever Abe Foxman or Howard Kohr might do or say. Can we really imagine, given the history of US imperialism, that if it weren’t for the lobby the US would be embracing the Arabs as equals in a brotherly hug? Hardly a “Jewish lobby”, the Israeli lobby appeals to folks whose only interest in Israel is that she might usher in a Biblical Armageddon (which unfortunately, Jews, being unsaved, would not survive). With friends like these…..
The lobby, by the way, makes every effort to foster this relationship, officially sponsoring Holy Land Tours for the faithful (some of whom insist the Jews killed Jesus). In lobbying liberal supporters the religious references are replaced by appeals to “rights”, “civilization” and, most disgustingly, to a fake feminism. There is no doubt that the lobby uses the Holocaust to beat up with and blackmail politicians and powers, but how many white Christian fundamentalists (Israel’s most fervent supporters) feel any guilt whatsoever for the Holocaust? For most of Israel’s US supporters saying “Poor Little Israel” is just another way of saying “Those Dirty Filthy Arabs.” As Israel’s political gravity moves to the right, so does the makeup of its supporters. Increasingly fascist organizations, not known for shedding many tears over past Jewish suffering, have taken up the cause of the Jewish State. If I were a Zionist, even a rabid one, that would give me pause. And yet they carry on.
If Israel is a mill around the neck of US foreign policy (in its own terms), than isn’t also its own “War on Terror”? Its own occupations? The US defends Israel as vehemently as it does, not because it is blindly following Israel, but because it is blindly leading the imperialist world order. While I share the outrage, as must be obvious, over Israel’s crimes and wish fervently for the end of the racist Zionist project, I must take up the issue of legitimacy. Is the racist colonial, settler state of the United States more legitimate than Israel? Or for that matter “republican” France or “multi-national and democratic” Belgium. Weren’t all of these built on a rapine that make the worst of Israel’s crimes pale by comparison? Don’t they all continue to uphold the bloody imperialist world, one made in their own image?
And what of Turkey, whose government is now so praised for standing up to Israel? Turkey, that denies Kurdish aspirations with the same zeal as the Israelis deny those of the Palestinians? The same Turkish regime that houses hundreds of leftist, Kurdish and human rights campaigners in its prisons? Turkey, who even in the midst of this crisis, ensures a military deal with Israeli for those insidious drones to suppress Kurdish resistance? The Turkish government, who violently denies the rights of its own citizens a protector of Palestinian rights? The Turkish government is not an ally of the oppressed. That they have reacted as they have is an indication that it is the oppressed of Turkey, the working class men and women, whose rage and solidarity have forced the Turkish government into its present position that are the real allies of the Palestinian people. Demand, yes. Rely on, not a chance.
Any state that enshrines and defends private property and capitalist power, that most spurious of powers, is entirely illegitimate in my eyes. Those states have led the word to untold disasters in defense of profit, in pursuit of accumulation. Give me a current state and I’ll recite you a radix Mali. Why is Israel the state that is not legitimate? The United States currently occupies several countries and has bases in well over a hundred. It has spilled oceans of blood to protect its “civilization” and “values”. The list of its crimes would fill the shelves of every library in Tel Aviv and then some. And yet Israel is attacked, quite rightly, while the US is asked to intervene? We want Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton to intervene in the conflict in the Middle East? They are intervening! The point should be that they stop intervening. Israel would be forced to make peace tomorrow if the US closed her accounts.
Most of the demos currently raging around the world are demanding that their governments break or modify ties with Israel. Quite right, but we need to break ties with our governments if we are ever to create new legitimacies. No government is an “honest broker” or even, by design, possible of neutrality (the response to the economic crisis by these “neutral” states– bail out the rich, screw everyone else– is only the latest, egregious as it is, example belying that claim). New legitimacies are urgently needed. Ones based on justice, on solidarity and on the interests of workers: that vast majority of humanity, that only force capable of truly uniting peoples. Otherwise we’ll forever be trapped in making demands on those who do not share our interests. On occasion we may be able to force them to accede, but they accede, in part, to relegitimize their illegitimacy in the eyes of those making demands.
I write this not at all to deflect or criticize the current mobilizations now happening, nor the campaign to isolate and punish Israel for its crimes. That folks are gathering to make demands on their governments while at the same time taking action into their own hands means that an alternative foreign policy, a genuine “international community” built in opposition to imperialism, is not just possible, but happening. Will it be co-opted, like so many before? Or will it generalize from the experiences of the last, horrible, days and see the power inherent in, not relying on the governments of those who do not share our interests, but ourselves and our own actions?