Underpinning the Zionist Occupation

Abbie Bakan is a leading figure in the fight for social justice in Canada. On 22 November Ms. Bakan gave a most compelling and articulate presentation on the relevance of Marxism today.

Prior to the International Socialism workshop I spoke with Ms. Bakan. A mention of a squabble that occurred among the editorial collective of the progressive magazine Canadian Dimension (CD) arose. The outcome was that Ms. Bakan removed her enormous talents from the CD editorial collective. For Ms. Bakan and like-minded colleague, Joel Harden, it was a matter of principle.

In their Open Letter Mr. Harden and Ms. Bakan see the editorial collective’s new direction, in focusing on the Israeli lobby, as wrongheaded. They consider that it should be directed predominantly against imperialist forces. They feel that it is an “untenable position for a left, alternative news magazine in regard to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. This position had serious, and potentially highly divisive, implications for the anti-imperialist left in Canada.”

A revisitation of the articles in CD is in order. Ms. Bakan’s summation of the articles by James Petras and Edward Herman — “don’t blame U.S. imperialism; don’t blame the oil or arms industries; don’t look to U.S. geo-political or military interests; blame the Jews — especially the rich ones” — is not quite on the mark. It was surprising that she then would wield the slur of anti-Semitism against them. This is a term that has lost much of its sting because of the oleaginous ease with which it is used. Denouncing the policies of Zionism is not anti-Semitism.

This amounts to an ad hominem attack on these two men. This was no real refutation of their arguments. Therefore the article lost much of its effectiveness.

Ms. Bakan often restates the positions of Mr. Petras and Mr. Herman as if that were enough to discredit their arguments. E.g., she writes, “But for Petras, the Israeli resistance movement is politically insignificant. Instead he directs his wrath against ‘the general Israeli public’ and ‘the majority of the pro-Israeli diaspora.'” Seemingly the truth of these premises is accepted when Ms. Bakan argues tu quoque, “Every capitalist state minimizes the effect of domestic protest.” However, the Israeli lobby is not a marginalized dissident group and neither is it wholly domestic.

Ms. Bakan and Mr. Harden make two points clear:

1. At no point did we suggest that there were not powerful interests in the US that were closely aligned with Israeli foreign policy. This is a known fact; observing such a fact is hardly the most telling contribution of a radical critique of American politics today.

2. At no point did we suggest that CD should shy away in the slightest from the sharpest criticism of Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians, nor mince words in opposing Zionism and its hegemonic claim to represent Jewish interests internationally.

… What is key is whether or not there is a particular sector of ruling class interests which is able to assert its hegemony and therefore finds ideological reliance on any particular lobby useful or not to that end. The pro-Israel lobby in the US actually includes a collusion of interests among right wing Zionists and Christian fundamentalists.

In reading the replies of Mr. Petras and Mr. Herman, it is clear that both men do not deny the role of imperialism in foisting iniquities upon the Palestinians.

Yet Ms. Bakan finds, “The effect of the analyses by Petras and Herman is to shift the focus of the Left away the strategic interests of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and towards the Israel lobby and the American Jewish community.” This does not necessarily follow; to examine one aspect of the Zionist occupation does not presume a negation of other contributing factors. Nevertheless, a shift in CD’s editorial stance on Palestine is evident.

That Israel needs to be “understood in the wider context of the Middle East” is true. The holocaust was undoubtedly an insane outburst of inhumanity against communists, Jews, and Romany. The impact of the holocaust is undoubtedly important in considering Zionism. However, the truly great sadness is that one of the groups that suffered during the holocaust would then perpetuate their own slow-motion holocaust.

Ms. Bakan asks and answers a question: “Is Israel, and the Israeli people, the modern-day inheritor of the legacy of fascist Germany? No. The refuseniks would not be able openly to agitate for domestic and international support in a fascist state.” This belies the fact that some Germans openly agitated in Nazi Germany. Openness to dissent is but one criterion in determining fascism. Mr. Petras described several instances of Zionist acts that mimic those of Nazis.

Ms. Bakan argues, “Without massive military support from the U.S., (the barbarism of Israeli capitalism and its heavily armed state machinery) simply could not survive.” This would most likely be true. One could also argue that without the clout of the Zionist lobby and the support of the majority of Israeli citizens that the Zionist state would also collapse.

A recent article in CD evinces the editorial drift. Jeffrey Blankfort takes on the conventional wisdom as communicated by Noam Chomsky that Israel serves as a “offshore US military base.” He provides numerous examples to back his thesis of the powerful influence of the Zionist lobby. Mr. Blankfort downplays the role of imperialism in Occupied Palestine.

Mr. Blankforth identifies the fallout of the conventional wisdom:

The questions that beg asking are why his argument has been so eagerly accepted by the movement and why the contrary position put forth by people of considerable stature such as Edward Said, Ed Herman, Uri Avnery and, more recently, Alexander Cockburn, has been ignored. There appear to be several reasons.

The people who make up the movement, Jews and non-Jews alike, have embraced Chomsky’s position because it is the message they want to hear; not feeling obligated to “blame the Jews”is reassuring. The fear of either provoking anti-Semitism or being called an anti-Semite (or a self- hating Jew), has become so ingrained into our culture and body politic that no one, including Chomsky or [his colleague, Stephen] Zunes, is immune.

Mr. Blankforth examines the Syrian reluctance to help the Palestinians in 1970. The imperialist view attributed this relctance to an Israeli warning in its capacity as the US cop on the Middle East beat. Mr. Blankforth sees instead antipathy to the dictatorial ambitions of Hafez al-Assad as better explaining the Syrian response at that time. Nonetheless, the October Israeli aggressive foray into Damascus seems closer embodied in the imperialist theory. It was likely a US signal administered through Israel to seal off its border to the Arab resistance.

Mr. Blankforth cites former US Senator James Abourezk (D-South Dakota) who spoke before the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in June on “the state of American politics today”:

The Israeli lobby has put together so much money power that we are daily witnessing US senators and representatives bowing down low to Israel and its US lobby.

Make no mistake. The votes and bows have nothing to do with the legislators’ love for Israel. They have everything to do with the money that is fed into their campaigns by members of the Israeli lobby. My estimate is that at least $6 billion flows from the American Treasury to Israel each year. That money, plus the political support the US gives Israel at the United Nations, is what allows Israel to conduct criminal operations in Palestine with impunity.

Mr. Blankforth considers:

That is a reality that has been repeated many times in many forms by ex-members of Congress, usually speaking off the record. It is the reality that Chomsky and the left prefer to ignore. The problem is not so much that Chomsky has been wrong. He has, after all, been right on many other things, particularly in describing the ways in which the media manipulates the public consciousness to serve the interests of the state. However, by explaining US support for Israel simply as a component of those interests, and ignoring the influence of the Israel lobby in determining that component, he appears to have made a major error that has had measurable consequences. By accepting Chomsky’s analysis, the Palestinian solidarity movement has failed to take the only political step that might have weakened the hold of Israel on Congress and the American electorate, namely, by challenging the billions of dollars in aid and tax breaks that the US provides Israel on an annual basis. Their Open letter identifies attainment of the goal of peace in the Middle East through “the spread of the Intifada from the Palestinian street to the massive working classes in the Arab states.

Mr. Blankforth’s undercuts his own argument by his attack on the person of Mr. Chomsky. Indeed, Mr. Blankforth even insinuates that Mr. Chomsky is indirectly responsible for Palestinian failure to politically challenge the Zionist lobby.

Mr. Chomsky responded in the ZNet forum:

I’ve written in print extensively on why I think the thesis is much overblown (not mentioning him, however). I think it is based on a gross misunderstanding of US domestic society, in which ethnic lobbies have influence as swing factors but primarily when they line up with power interests or on issues unimportant to them. And the most important factor, in this respect, is probably the educated intellectuals (Jewish or not), who have had a real love affair with Israel after its smashing victory in 1967, and also saw pretended “support for Israel{” [sic] as a means to undermine hated activists of the left and their other political enemies, who they could subject to a chorus of defamation as “self-hating Jews,” “holocaust deniers,” or one of the other tricks in the bag. There has been a real industry about this since the late 60s. Have also written about this, as have others.

I’ve also reviewed in print how US-Israeli ties developed, closely conforming to the perception of the JCS in 1948 and the position articulated by Eisenhower and the NSC ten years later that a “logical corollary” of opposition to Arab nationalism is support for Israel as the only reliable US base in the region — and in later years, a reliable surrogate for US atrocities in Central America, Asia, South Africa, and elsewhere, when there was too much domestic opposition to carrying them out directly. You can read what’s in print and decide for yourself. There’s a recent (brief) review in a recent book Hegemony or Survival. And of course there’s plenty of other literature as well.

To consider the effect of the Zionist lobby is legitimate but for CD to play down the role of imperialism in the occupied of Palestine is regrettable. History demonstrates that for the Left to be successful, it must solidarize. The Open Letter states that:

[A]n effective left must be, in the tradition of the socialist movement internationally in the 1920s, the tribune of the oppressed – the voice of all the oppressed against any form of oppression. In such a tradition, the left does not pick and choose, or rank oppressions in some artificial hierarchy. Instead, we should remember the age old slogan of the workers’ movement – an injury to one, is an injury to all.

Imperialism and Zionism go hand-in-hand. To remove the obscenity perpetrated against the Palestinians it is incumbent that the underpinnings of Zionism be toppled. As such, Zionist support and imperialism are both legitimate targets of progressives. To shift the focus of the debate away from where of the brutal occupation is happening seems disingenuous

Mr. Harden and Ms. Bakan state, “What is key is whether or not there is a particular sector of ruling class interests which is able to assert its hegemony and therefore finds ideological reliance on any particular lobby useful or not to that end.”

Until now, the agendas of Zionist and Christian Right groups have facilitated the aims of imperialism.

Nevertheless to ignore the Israeli lobby would also be wrong. Scholar Norman Finkelstein states, “There have always been two competing interpretations of why the US supports Israel: strategic interest vs. the Jewish/Zionist/Israel lobby. I don’t think there is one definitive answer to this question. Sometimes the Lobby manages to trump US national interests, sometimes the US administration puts Israel in its place.”

Read the Open Letter by Mr. Harden and Ms. Bakan in its entirety!

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.