The death of the "Israel lobby?"

The death of the "Israel lobby?"

Will the news that the US vetoed Israeli plans to strike Iran's nuclear infrastructure put to bed the myth of the "Israel lobby"? I'd like to think so, but I doubt the comfort provided to some by such a view of the world will cease its appeal.

The news that president Bush vetoed Israeli plans to attack Iranian nuclear facilities whilst visiting the country in May should, with some luck, permanently put to bed the belief shared by conservatives, liberals and leftists alike in the “Israel Lobby”, and its grip on US interests.

The myth goes something like this: US interests are manipulated by a powerful cabal of pro-Israeli forces in the United States which can effectively distort the policies of the superpower in the interests of the Jewish State. They will , for instance, point to the fact that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee can often get 9 out of 10 Senators signing its statements, or that the Sentate regularly passes resolutions recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal Capital, that Jews in the US are the ethnic group most likely to vote and are concentrated in key states, that there are many prominent Jewish financial donors, or in the particularly obnoxious case of “radical” liberal magazine Adbusters, because of the “Jewishness” of neocons. They ask “whose interests were they protecting in pushing for war in Iraq?” The answer is rhetorical: not those of the non – Jewish “American people”.

Things are slightly more complex. Noam Chomsky has argued (whilst trashing the idea of the lobby), that the most influential pro-Israel bloc after liberal intellectuals is the culturally nationalist evangelical Christian movement, whose support for Israel is based on their anti-semitism: they want Jews in Israel in order to fulfil Biblical prophecy on the rapture – they must be there after the apocalypse to become Christians or go to hell. These bigots, however, usually feature lower down the list of those “distorting” US policy.

The belief is based on a fallacy – that the US ruling class is capable of doing anything contrary to the dynamics of Imperialism. Even genuinely radical commentary on Israel often falters when it comes up against its own crude conception of Imperialism. In their book Afflicted Powers, released to much intellectual fanfare in 2005, the US based Retort group argue that the “counterproductive” nature of the US-Israel relationship is down to its “spectacular” nature. Whilst making valid and interesting arguments about the effects of spectacular society and spectacular time on politics and the great performance that is bourgeois politics, its great discovery is that US Imperialism “seeks to impose military presences in crucial regions even without knowing exactly what or how well capital will do in the particular site of intervention”, and the discussion of Israel is couched in similar terms: “Israel has been a play of motifs and appearances that for a period seemed capable of projecting a seductive image of capital onto the screen of the postwar world ... in this two-faced role – as an exemplar of a society in which total militarisation and spectacular modernity were fully compatible – Israel has mirrored and mesmorised the American state for nearly four decades.” In their view, there is a fundamental tension in the spectacular relationship between the US and Israel and Israel’s current status as “an extreme liability” to US interests. They discuss an “unqualified US support for Israel” which is in fact a “geo-political trap” – “even Tony Blair is capable of recognising this”.

But what they, Tony Blair and critics of the Israel lobby share is a lack of solid engagement with what Imperialism has meant in developed capitalism. The need for bourgeois states to encircle and combat each other regularly runs against the immediate interests of capital accumulation. If the Iraq war had been about profit, rather than strategic control of a resource-rich region (the lack of control over dense population centres is secondary), it would have served the interests of capital to cut a deal with Saddam and leave him in power. Israel is the most longstanding strategic beachhead in the Middle East, and the more geopolitical zones integrated into the military empire of the United States the better – they are denied to its rivals. We see this tension in the Caucasus, where the conflict between Imperial blocs has destroyed the regularly touted bourgeois fantasy that capitalist democracies cannot go to war with each other. In this case, there was a strategic asset – an energy route from the Caucasus basin, which provided a particularly prominent hill to play king of. But Russia stood little chance of holding it in any significant sense, and in such escalating conflicts the dangerous logic of imperialism is demonstrated.

What demolishes the Israeli lobby argument more than anything else is the fact that whenever Israel attempts to undertake actions which further its own interests, to the detriment of those of the US, it is reigned in. In the case of the proposed strike, the action would have damaged the US by extending the Iraq war across the Iranian border. Though in a total war situation the US could obliterate Iran, a massive conflict throughout the region involving Iran’s large and sophisticated military and ranging across the highlands of that country is not an option, and would involve massive losses for the US. The project of controlling Iraq’s strategic resources would be at stake. There are other examples, well catalogued by the likes of Chomsky: for instance Israel’s attempts at the sale of high technology, central to its economy, to one of the largest potential customers in the world – China. Cultivating a trade relationship would further the interests of Israel to the detriment of US ‘. For these reasons the US has blocked Israeli attempts to develop this relationship. In 2000 Israel was forced to cancel a sale of its Phalcon early warning system. In 2005 sales of technology for anti-aircraft missiles to China led to the Pentagon boycotting Israeli officials, and demanding that Israel cancel the sales and apologise to the US. Israel capitulated, not the US.

Where liberal commentators will celebrate the US supposedly turning away from its agenda of confrontation, and "hawks" that the US is selling out its partner in the face of Iranian aggression, events are simply following their established pattern. One would hope that such a powerful demonstration of this would have an effect on the worldview of the proponents of the "lobby" argument, but I'm making no bets.

Posted By

Django
Sep 29 2008 20:32

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Black Badger
Aug 2 2014 22:49

That's the great thing about chants (and slogans, especially the ones on bumperstickers): they accept any and all meanings that the chanter brings to them. I would bet a ton of whatever you find valuable that if you had a one-on-one with some pro-Palestinian folks who wave flags and march with banners and hand out flyers that show a 1947-era map of the area (the entire land of Free Palestine, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, from Lebanon to Egypt), that you would find many (as I have) whose position is that all Jews who arrived since the Nakba have no legal right to reside within the borders of that Palestine. This was part of the PLO Charter (don't know if it still is or not).

Where you find irony in the inverted moral outrage of equating Israelis/Zionists (and will you admit that there have been times when those terms were equated with Jews? And really, what state does not in some way compare with the Third Reich?) with Nazis, there are some who find it maximally and deliberately hurtful to equate the actions and policies of the Jewish state with those of the oppressors and murderers of their ancestors. Regardless of whatever irony exists in such a deliberately murky equation, invoking nazis is meant to represent the most extreme example of human evil. It's never an invitation for actual comparisons and analogies; it's meant to shut down all discussion, and bring full vindication to whoever makes it. Usually we call that demagoguery.

teh
Aug 2 2014 22:50
Caiman del Barrio wrote:

A far better comparison, I've heard of couple of intelligent people say, might be with the treatment of American Indians by the pioneers during the manifest destiny.

How is that different from Nazi Germany comparisons? The Germans were also looking for their manifest destiny in Eastern Europe. American Indians is an amalgamation of various countries that existed in North America, most of which don't exist even as identities anymore-- and they didn't think of themselves as "the Indians" until much later in the history of colonization. Is it because WWII was more recent or the killings took place in a concentrated timespan? If the latter many Indians disappeared from history just as quickly (and in terms of the size of population killed, the worlds population was much smaller in, say, the 17th century). Why would today's Indians not find comparisons with Gaza offensive (as with, you argue, Israeli state and Nazi Germany)? I remember many were offended when the operation to kill Bin Laden was named after Geronimo- and the attack on Gaza is also a war on terror thing.

freemind
Aug 2 2014 23:07

The onslaught of Fundamentalist Zionist Nationalism is not Ironic but consistent with the racist oppression of the Nazis.Fascism is neither German nor dead.This is butchery and a mass racist attack.Zionism is Fascism and it won't be happy until the Palestinians are at the level of the Red Indians .

Caiman del Barrio
Aug 3 2014 13:16
teh wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:

A far better comparison, I've heard of couple of intelligent people say, might be with the treatment of American Indians by the pioneers during the manifest destiny.

How is that different from Nazi Germany comparisons? The Germans were also looking for their manifest destiny in Eastern Europe. American Indians is an amalgamation of various countries that existed in North America, most of which don't exist even as identities anymore-- and they didn't think of themselves as "the Indians" until much later in the history of colonization. Is it because WWII was more recent or the killings took place in a concentrated timespan? If the latter many Indians disappeared from history just as quickly (and in terms of the size of population killed, the worlds population was much smaller in, say, the 17th century). Why would today's Indians not find comparisons with Gaza offensive (as with, you argue, Israeli state and Nazi Germany)? I remember many were offended when the operation to kill Bin Laden was named after Geronimo- and the attack on Gaza is also a war on terror thing.

Maybe they would be offended, but the context is different: the analogy between the Israeli state and Nazi Germany is specifically invoked because Jews were one of the principal victims of Nazism, and then THEY (sic) went onto replicate the same social relations, as oppressors, in Palestine. Note how Israeli nationality (or in fact, culpability for the actions of the Israeli state) is conflated with Judaism here (that alone should set alarm bells ringing). For the two situations to be directly analogous, an American Indian (yes, it is a generic term for a subaltern, I realise this) state would have to be persecuting some other ethnic group in a manner apparently identical to their experience of manifest destiny.

As for Tyrion's contribution, I don't think that offers much of a defence. I think you need to consider the full ramifications of the apparent 'irony' of the Nazi comparisons, and whether they're conducive to unifying the working class against war, or propagating internecine ethnic conflict within the class. The tragic thing is although we all experience the ongoing conflict as little more than a distressing series of spectacular, mediatised images, it does have domestic repercussions and serves to entrench ethnic/communalist identities. One need only look at the troubling clashes between the Ligue de Defense des Juifs and the left/Arabs/pro-Palestine types in Paris to see how the rhetoric and sloganeering around this conflict is locally inflammatory and hateful.

Tyrion
Aug 3 2014 15:00

I'm not offering any defense of the Nazi comparisons. Like I wrote, I don't think there's anything very useful or especially accurate about them. But speaking from my own experiences, I think there's reasons that some make these comparisons that are unconnected with any latent anti-Semitism. That certainly doesn't make it any less pointlessly inflammatory.

simiangene
Aug 4 2014 05:23

I just saw this poster saying they should have put Israel in the Arizona desert equidistant between Washington and Hollywood! Problem solved!

Caiman del Barrio
Aug 5 2014 11:57

No it isn't, and I find that notion extremely problematic. Why is the left so intent on replacing one attempt at ethnic cleansing with another, one wall with another, one racist state with another? Where are our principles of internationalism, against the state, etc? What kinda Palestinian state do you think would emerge from the ashes of the forced expulsion of all the Jews?

I recently saw a prominent UK leftist on Facebook 'celebrating' the capture of the IDF soldier by Hamas. I honestly wish the UK left would finally self-destruct with its rampant misanthropy, misogyny and bloodlust.

jolasmo
Aug 5 2014 16:14

Yeah its pretty bad. Though in fairness it goes the other way as well. A German mate of mine was arguing the other day with a friend of his from back home, who was saying that the left should get behind the IDF's stated goal of "demilitarising Gaza" (on the grounds that Hama's is antisemitic so they deserve what they get). Statists gonna state.

~J.

ocelot
Aug 7 2014 16:49
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
the analogy between the Israeli state and Nazi Germany is specifically invoked because Jews were one of the principal victims of Nazism, and then THEY (sic) went onto replicate the same social relations, as oppressors, in Palestine.

In that vein, I found this passage from Howard Jacobson's Independent piece around the time of the last-massacre-but-one in Gaza, hit a mark. (Even if I don't agree with much of the rest of that same piece, or it's overall intention)

Quote:
In the early 1940s some 100,000 Jews and Romanis died of engineered starvation and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto, another quarter of a million were transported to the death camps, and when the Ghetto rose up it was liquidated, the last 50,000 residents being either shot on the spot or sent to be murdered more hygienically in Treblinka. Don’t mistake me: every Palestinian killed in Gaza is a Palestinian too many, but there is not the remotest similarity, either in intention or in deed – even in the most grossly mis-reported deed – between Gaza and Warsaw.

Given the number of besieged and battered cities there have been in however many thousands of years of pitiless warfare there is only one explanation for this invocation of Warsaw before any of those – it is to wound Jews in their recent and most anguished history and to punish them with their own grief. Its aim is a sort of retrospective retribution, cancelling out all debts of guilt and sorrow. It is as though, by a reversal of the usual laws of cause and effect, Jewish actions of today prove that Jews had it coming to them yesterday.

Berating Jews with their own history, disinheriting them of pity, as though pity is negotiable or has a sell-by date, is the latest species of Holocaust denial, infinitely more subtle than the David Irving version with its clunking body counts and quibbles over gas-chamber capability and chimney sizes. Instead of saying the Holocaust didn’t happen, the modern sophisticated denier accepts the event in all its terrible enormity, only to accuse the Jews of trying to profit from it, either in the form of moral blackmail or downright territorial theft. According to this thinking, the Jews have betrayed the Holocaust and become unworthy of it, the true heirs to their suffering being the Palestinians. Thus, here and there throughout the world this year, Holocaust day was temporarily annulled or boycotted on account of Gaza, dead Jews being found guilty of the sins of live ones.

Now I don't entirely hold with the sentence that follows those I bolded above, or the argument he develops from it - that comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is a form of holocaust denial. And he certainly doesn't give enough attention to the role that the Israeli Right's use of the holocaust as a political weapon against critics and opponents has contributed to this process. Nonetheless I would support the view that appalling efforts like the most recent cover of our local (crapper) version of Private Eye, the Phoenix, are racist.

Tyrion
Aug 9 2014 00:22

There's a fairly interesting piece on this subject in the French context recently published in Jacobin Magazine.