I publish below the introduction by Gilad Atzmon to a review of his book The Wandering Who by Norton Mezvinsky, the highly respected Jewish anti-Zionist professor and co-author (with the late Israel Shahak, the celebrated Israeli fighter for Arab rights) of Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. The review is critical, and attempts to address various perceived problems with Atzmon’s work, all of which helps advance the cause of rational political debate on the questions Atzmon raises about world politics and the Middle East. Indeed it could be regarded in some ways, not as a demolition of Atzmon’s work by any means, but as a much more challenging criticism from a generally politically fraternal perspective than virtually any other progressive critique, including my own modest effort. Mezvinsky is not a Marxist, but on questions connected with Jews and Judaism he really knows of what he speaks. He is undoubtedly one of the most prominent authorities on this particular subject alive today
Category Archives: United States
Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat peer, has been driven out of the party for her outspoken defence of the Palestinians. She was effectively sacked after speaking at a meeting at Middlesex University, where she was quoted as saying the following:”Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form… Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”
She allegedly went on to say: “One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough.”
She was immediately denounced by Labour leader Ed Miliband in a tweet where he said: “No place in politics for people who question existence of state of Israel. Nick Clegg must condemn Jenny Tonge’s remark and demand apology”.
Clegg did just what Miliband demanded, but to her great credit she refused to apologise for her opinions. And so the Lib Dems, previously the least Zionist- influenced of the three main parties in British politics, ran up the white flag before the Zionist lobby by purging their most outspoken defender of Palestinian rights.
Arthur Balfour, Joseph Stalin, Richard Nixon – partners of Zionism
As a post-script to the discussion on the Jewish question earlier, I said that I would comment on the link Israel Shamir posted to his article ‘Prince Charming’, on the three major alliances that Zionists made with more powerful forces in the 20th Century, with British imperialism (which gave birth to the Balfour Declaration), with Stalinist Russia (which armed the Zionist forces in Israel’s 1948-9 War of Independence), and with US imperialism, the latter of course continuing to this day.
Israel Shamir’s understanding of the reason for all three of these alliances is fundamentally the same: that clever Jewish ideologues exploited the anti-semitic beliefs and paranoia about Jewish power that were widespread among ruling circles in all three states. Because of this fear of the Jews and their legendary power, they were compelled to comply with the wishes of the Zionists. Shamir therefore extends the reasoning of Israeli revisionist historian Tom Segev, in his very fine book One Palestine Complete, that the fundamental reason the British colonial power granted the Balfour declaration was a superstitious belief in the power of the Jews, and a desire to ingratiate. Apparently Stalin had similar motives in his own short-lived alliance with the Zionists during the later stages of WWII, and it also apparently explains the preponderant influence of the Israeli-Jewish lobby in the US today.
“This belief is the most common one in the US, as well. American politicians support Israel because they share the opinion of Lloyd George and Herzl. They also respect the condition demanded by heirs of Jacob Schiff and never, but never mention the dreadful words, “Jewish power”. In the world free of taboos, a new Henry Miller can’t shock his readers referring to sex, but to the Jews and their unseen might. Is it only a perception? Perhaps. But the American traditional elites pay for it a real double price: they send their folks to fight a third war within the last hundred years for somebody’s else perceived interests, and their positions at the top table disappear daily. This perception bleeds Iraq and Palestine, sends money to Israel, distorts the public discourse. Not in vain, Mark Twain used to say, a perception is almost as good as a real thing.”
There is a real problem with this ‘perception as reality’ thesis, though. It assumes astounding ignorance and a superstitious inability to count the true relation of forces by groups of people who had the ruthlessness to conquer and maintain great empires. They did so by ruthlessly evaluting the strengths, weaknesses, relative power and potential resistance of numerous peoples around the world, in order to subdue them. It always was a fact that the Jews were a tiny minority of the world’s population, and also a tiny minority of the populations of the advanced countries in Europe and the US.
It is simply a fact that the Jewish population world-wide is less than 20 million, in a world of approximately 7 billion people. That is, one Jew exists for every 350 non-Jews. Even before the Nazi genocide wiped out several million Jews in the second world war, the comparable populations were not that different. One assumes that the British colonial bourgeoisie, the Soviet bureaucracy of Stalin’s day, and the US bourgeoisie today, were acquainted with these figures and can do elementary maths. Then it is simply incredibly naive to believe that they can be conned by a mere perception of power of a very thin layer of the population into doing its bidding.
It is equally impossible to believe that such ruthless ruling classes or layers, all of which have records of the most barbaric treatment of entire civilian populations, from the British Empire’s crimes in Ireland and India, to Stalin’s deportation to labour camps of millions and exiling of the entire Chechen and Tatar peoples, to the US’ atrocities against populations ranging from Native Americans to blacks to Vietnamese, could be guilt-tripped into acting against their own interests by stories of past Jewish suffering. They really don’t give a damn about anyone’s suffering and never have. So why should they suddenly make an exception when Jews are involved? It does not make any sense; this too is a naive illusion (not particularly Shamir’s, but a variant on the same idea that others hold to).
No, the only explanation for the tolerance of the Israel-Jewish lobby in the US is that a majority of the ruling capitalist establishment considers them to be playing a useful role in American interests. A strategy that aims to change the mind of the US bourgeoisie in this regard could eventually succeed, for the simple reason that no configuration of forces lasts forever and nothing is more sacred to the bourgeoisie than the ‘national interest’. But only a major shift in world politics and world relations of forces would be likely to produce such a change of mind.
The British considered a Zionist outpost to be a useful possibility in the days of Balfour; as Ronald Storrs, the British Governor of Palestine, stated in the 1920s, they were looking for a ‘loyal little Jewish Ulster’ in the Middle East, modelled on the original one in the North of Ireland. On this they were naive, their naivety undoubtedly a product of their greed however, not realising that as the Zionist movement grew in influence and numbers in Palestine it would rapidly outgrow the ‘Ulster’ role the British ruling class had marked out for it and come into conflict with the British themselves.
Stalin’s alliance with the Zionists was a classic Stalinist zig-zag, of the type his regime became renowned for in the 1930s as it went from the Stalin-Laval pact (France) of 1934 to the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939-41 to the ‘Big Three’ (Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin) alliance of 1941-45. With the hostile turn of the British and Americans to the USSR signalled with Churchill’s Fulton, Missouri speech in 1946 (“an Iron Curtain has descended over Europe”), Stalin desperately cast around for possible allies to put pressure on the allies to be more reasonable. The Zionists, with their sometime ‘socialist’ rhetoric seemed a reasonable bet to the Stalinists at that point, as did many other nationalists before and since. No one ever accused Stalin of being strategically far-sighted!
And as to the US, they were originally quite suspicious of Israel precisely because of its Soviet connections. That began to change in 1956, with the Suez war when Israel allied itself with Britain and France in an act of armed aggression against Egypt that the US regarded as an outrageous act of the old colonial British and French against US hegemony. Israel got itself noticed in 1956 and showed both its military power and that it had broken from its initial Soviet support, as the US and USSR united to denounce the three-power attack in the UN. This gave birth to a period of friendly, but cautious relations between the US and Israel, as the two prospective strategic partners sounded each other out for reliability and the sustainability of an allliance.
The strategic alliance between the US and Israel was not fully sealed until after Israel ‘proved itself’ in 1967, humiliating Arab states that were by then sufficiently acting as Soviet-armed ‘client states’ for the war to be seen by the US ruling class as a kind of proxy war with the USSR, which Israel won hands down. In 1967 Israel’s weaponry was mainly French, acquired during the previous period, but after 1967 it got everything it wanted and more from the United States. The Nixon administration from 1968 onwards was the prime architect of this new alliance.
It is that seminal event that sealed an alliance between Israel and the US that is just as important to the US bourgeoisie as its alliance with its NATO partners in Europe. Israel is seen as dependable, militarily reliable, and ultimately in a world war scenario among its most reliable allies. It is an advanced capitalist country, the only one in its region, albeit one that because of its geographical position needs a large subsidy.
It also by its very existence on stolen land acts as a lightning rod for Arab discontent and helps keep the Arabs divided and therefore helps in an indirect way in maintaining US domination over the oil-rich Arab regions. True, in some intra-regional conflicts its peculiarities make it less than useful because of Arab antipathy to its military forces when some finesse is needed, but that is seen by the US as a necessary price to pay for its other advantages.
Ultimately if US interests came to involve the need to blow up the Middle East to stop other forces getting their hands on it to the detriment of US interests, Israel would be willing to do it for Uncle Sam. Israel alone could be trusted to do it even if it mean sacrificing itself in a thermonuclear Masada. Fundamentally this is an alliance at the level of world war, which is why Israel has hundreds of nukes and the blessing of Uncle Sam for that.
That strategic imperative is what is behind the US/Israel relationship, which gives Israel a degree of power and its supporters in the US a great deal of latitude in dealing with Israel’s opponents and critics. Israel Shamir’s idea that it is in some way a result of bourgeois belief in myths or ‘perceptions’ about the power of Jews in the world is child-like and naive. The capitalists are not stupid enough to believe nonsense like that, that is only for the masses to believe along with the bogeyman and the tooth-fairy!