Zionism and US Foreign Policy
From Hobson's Choice
Click images for info about these men
It is very widely believed that US foreign policy is heavily influenced by Zionism, and sometimes, more explicitly, it is alleged that US foreign policy is controlled by Jews per se. While Zionism refers to the ideology of a subset of Jews (and is embraced by many non-Jews), referring to it as a useful category of opinion poses certain logical problems. Likewise, the contention that Jews control US foreign policy poses not just logical problems, but many egregious conflicts with the historical record. This article proposes an alternative explanation for the intensive US support for Israel.
A large number of books have been published attempting to explain the calamity of our special relationship with Israel. Here are a few, without endorsements:
- The Passionate Attachment, George & Douglas Ball (1992)
- They Dare to Speak Out, Paul Findley (1985)
- The Zionist Connection, Alfred Lillienthal (1978)
I have not read Findley's book, so I shall not discuss it. I have read Ball's The Passionate Attachment and about half of Lilienthal's Zionist Connection. Unfortunately, it's been an extremely long time since I read Ball's book, it's not here with me, and my world view has changed dramatically since I did. In addition to these three books, there are many articles. "The Israel Lobby" (Mearsheimer and Walt) is one of the more famous of these, and I will discuss it in a bit.
The Zionist Control Hypothesis
There is a theory in circulation, to the effect that United States foreign policy towards the Middle East is shaped, or dictated, by a cabal of Jews. This theory argues that Jews living in the USA have acquired awesome power to make the US media and government do its bidding, all to the greater glory of Israel; I propose to call this the Zionist Control Hypothesis (ZCH). The theory has many different shades of "strength," with Mearsheimer & Walt's version actually constituting one of the "weaker" forms. Since the authors of "The Israel Lobby" are fairly prominent scholars, their article has attracted a great deal of attention.
The ZCH has several corollaries to its claim that Zionists control US foreign policy. One is that Zionists also control the US media, which in fact goes far beyond a "pro-Israel slant": one may as well say the US media presents an historical narrative that is almost completely divorced from reality. It goes far beyond "spin" into the realm of profound mendacity. Another is the corollary that opposition to the Zionist agenda is reliably and successfully tarred as "antisemitism," thereby putting the speaker beyond the pale of polite discussion. In some cases, the odium of "antisemitism" is proposed to explain the success of the Zionist agenda: people simply panic when they're accused of being antisemites, even if they happen to be Jewish themselves. Again, there is a lot of truth to this corollary; but its impact is, I believe, quite limited.
Norman Finkelstein is one of the more vehement critics of what he calls the "Holocaust Industry," by which he means the exploitation of the historical legacy of the Holocaust by a certain narrow subset of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Finkelstein has been accused of denying the Holocaust, evidently as pure character assassination. However, he does not appear to claim that US policy in the region is driven by the Holocaust Industry so much as defended by it.
Logical Dilemmas of the Theory
Part of the headache is the concept of defining what a Zionist is. Following my principle, we could say the designation "Zionist" is less meaningful than focusing on "Zionist-enabling behavior" or "Zionism." The reason is that people often identify themselves in incompatible ways; one person may self-identify as a "labor Zionist," and totally condemn everything about the State of Israel (on the grounds that it is, in fact, a "practical" or "revisionist Zionist"). This, in turn, has only limited influence on whether one actually "enables" Zionism in practice, or not. Often fierce critics of a particular nation are valuable workers and helpers in that same nation, to the point of ensuring its survival and well-being. A lot of the definition depends on where one lives, the nature of one's work, and the alternatives available to one.
Many, many supporters of the ZCH (like Lilienthal) have contradicted the association of Zionism with Jews. The American Council for Judaism (f.1942) was, until the 1970's, explicitly opposed to the creation of Israel; naturally, opposition to a fait-accompli gave way in the '80's to an assertion of the Jewish American's detachment from Israel. Early Zionist schemes were regarded by many Jewish authorities as heretical:
What became clear as Zionism proceeded was the fact that anti-Semites embraced it while most Jews rejected it. In an essay entitled "The Perils of Zion," the British Jewish leader Claude Montefiore harped on the theme that "those who have no love for the Jews, and those who are pronounced anti-Semites, all seem to welcome the Zionist proposals and aspirations. Why should this be, unless Zionism fits in with anti-Semitic presumptions and with anti-Semitic aims?" Writing in The New York Times, Henry Moskowitz, in an article entitled Zionism Is No Remedy, described the curse of nationalism which hung over the world as World War I raged, "in which the idea of domination has given certain nations a form of megalomania" and he had no wish for the Jews to join this game. The whole nature of Jewish nationalism was reactionary and an unsatisfactory philosophy of life, he argued.Mass "conversions" to Zionism came in the 1890's with the electoral successes of Karl Lueger (mayor of Vienna) on an antisemitic platform, and of course the Dreyfus Affair. According to my sources, US immigration to Palestine was negligable and usually temporary; US Zionists were likely to come from the dissident left, tended to be strongly critical of capitalism, and favored Labor Zionism. Most returned to the USA upon finding that they were regarded in Palestine as colonists.
[Brownfeld, "The Paradoxes of Zionism and Its Growing Irrelevance"]
In contrast, a large number of "Zionists" were simply Gentile Europeans who believed judeophobia was indefeasible, and perhaps partook of it themselves. They embraced the idea that the Jews ought to relocate en bloc to a single location far away from Europe, or far away from the part of Europe where that particular Gentile happened to be living. Similar thinking had espoused the settlement of freed slaves in Liberia (USA) or Sierra Leone (UK). Whether as a result of fatalism about racism, or actual racism, the proponents of colonization believed that Whites and Blacks/Gentiles and Jews could not live together harmoniously; in both the case of Sierra Leone/Liberia and the proposed Jewish State, the advocates proposed to accomplish two goals in a single stroke—conquer their domestic ethnic "problem" and use the expelled population as a vanguard of Western civilization in the 3rd world. After the creation of Israel, this attitude spread like wildfire in the USA, especially in areas where much of the economic and demographic expansion was occurring. In areas like the American Southwest, support for Israel sprung out of sympathy for the latter's "redemption" of underdeveloped land. It was analogous to the transformation of Arizona and s. California, the taming of the Colorado and Columbia Rivers, and so on. Israel was perceived as affirming the glories of man's power over the chaos of want.
Unfortunately for the ZCH, this perfectly reasonable expansion of the cohort of Zionist-enabling behavior to include Gentiles who admired the Israeli project of ecological redemption, essentially renders it meaningless. If Zionists are as Zionism does, so to speak, then the ZCH is a tautology. Zionists, by definition, control US policy because the creation of Israel and its military triumph over its enemies was mainly the outcome of US influence in the region. Proceeding back from this tautology to predictions becomes a fallacy of equivocation: if we expanded our definition of "Zionist" to include Gentiles who smiled upon the Israeli project, we cannot then claim that Jews or Israelis dominate US policy. They might, but to make that claim, further evidence is required.
Conversely, we could cling to the stronger form of the ZCH, supported by Jeffrey Blankfort, et al:
When Malaysian Prime Minister Mathahir Mohammed declared at an international Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur in mid-October, 2003 that "today the Jews rule the world by proxy [and] They get others to fight and die for them," the reactions in the U.S. and the West were predictable. It was "a speech that was taken right out of The Protocols of Zion," according to one Israeli commentator, and Mathahir would be accused of imitating Hitler and insuring that "Muslims around the world are similarly being fed a regular diet of classic big lies about Jewish power. Big lies? Given Israel's unchecked dominion over the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors over the past half century, supported in every way possible by the United States, one can assume that Muslims, not to mention intelligent non-Muslims, have no need for additional instruction as to the extent of Jewish power.Mr. Blankfort than "clarifies" that "Jewish power" is only the power of a minority of Jews. But this "clarification" contradicts his lede, that Western criticism of PM Mahathir was wildly unjust. So he seems to believe this is a negligible distinction, which, I submit, is fairly crucial to the strong form of the ZCH. You see, if Blankfort allows the definition of the "Israel Lobby" to creep outward, and consist for the most part of non-Jews, then his ZCH becomes tautological. But if it is only, or principally, Jews, then it has to be [really] most Jews. This is because if Jz is the population of Jews favoring Zionism, and J-z is the population that opposes Zionism or is indifferent to it, then some further explanation is required to explain why Jz is preferred to J-z. Such an explanation could be that J-z << Jz, i.e., there are vastly more Jews endorsing the scheme than not; that Jews opposed to the Israel Lobby are congenitally incapable of amassing wealth or connections, perhaps because of the self-perpetuating nature of the Israel Lobby Jews who have dominated a shadowy network of control and promotion within Jewish organizations, or what-have-you. A possible explanation why J-z is unsuccessful despite their presence in prestigious positions at Princeton and Columbia, is that a third [and therefore non-Jewish] party decides that Jz speaks for Jews generally. That explanation would, obviously, negate the ZCH by putting Gentiles at the top of the hierarchy.
Blankfort does spend a lot of ink describing AIPAC as the keystone in the vast edifice of Jewish organizations, but this merely leaves one wondering how Jews acquired a monopoly on free will or the ability to organize. His essay consists of a huge (13,000 words, or 45 pages) listing of Jewish functionaries and their ties to Israel, political prominence, or control of resources. Nowhere does he acknowledge the possibility of an alternative explanation of why the US government is supportive of Israel, although he is obviously aware of one: Noam Chomsky's.
Noam Chomsky was very restrained and cautious when he responded to the Mearsheimer & Walt article (Chomsky, 2006).
But recognizing that M-W took a courageous stand, which merits praise, we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion. I've reviewed elsewhere what the record (historical and documentary) seems to me to show about the main sources of US ME policy, in books and articles for the past 40 years, and can't try to repeat here. M-W make as good a case as one can, I suppose, for the power of the Lobby, but I don't think it provides any reason to modify what has always seemed to me a more plausible interpretation. Notice incidentally that what is at stake is a rather subtle matter: weighing the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby.Chomsky is a professional logician and exegete, and recognizing as he does the sensitivity of the subject, he is courteous and patient throughout the essay.
Part of the reason why I agree so strongly with Chomsky's essay and his style of reasoning in it, is that he does not lose sight of the fact that nations are not cohesive. The USA never does anything; it's a space in which power struggles occur, not a party to any of those struggles. Using the names of nations to stand for representative state institutions or preponderant interests in a particular matter, is a journalistic shorthand that all to often becomes confused by the dilettante with literal truth (rather like imagining the vast agglomeration of concrete, glass, and steel known as the Pentagon actually conspired to wage a secret war in Cambodia). Of course the US population as a whole suffers as a result of the special relationship with Israel's janissaries; the whole point of superpower hegemony is the construction of elites, whose interests triumph over those of the world or the majority in the hegemon country.
In passing, I will mention briefly that Blankfort "dealt with" Chomsky much as I would have expected: a personal attack. Why is Blankfort's "blame the Jews" position "the left"? Why is Chomsky's analysis of geopolitical concentrations of economic power "the right"? Is this an example of dealing with those with whom one disagrees as "morally deficient"? Please note Blankfort accuses Chomsky of refusing to engage his own critics (perhaps because they demonize him?). He brings up Chomsky's own "Zionism," which is a classic method of confusing those unfamiliar with the history of Zionism—specifically, the distinction between Labor Zionism (which was anarchistic) and Revisionist Zionism (which was what actually appeared in Israel). For someone outraged by the innuendo employed to slime Israel's critics, this is quite disturbing.
Additionally, Blankfort flatly refuses to understand the illogic of US citizens boycotting Israel. This is circular reasoning. If Chomsky already agreed with Blankfort about cause and effect, then he would agree that Israeli citizens deserved sanctions, and could be swayed by sanctions, and this would ease the hardships faced by Palestinians. Since that is precisely their point of disagreement, Blankfort needs to address that before objecting to Chomsky's view on sanctions. Instead, he declares that he's a closet Likhudnik.
Like most of Chomsky's soi-disant leftist attackers, Blankfort does indeed condemn him for failing to reach the same conclusions as Blankfort does. He then recites his own arguments, which amount to the classic Qui bono? case adored by conspiracy theorists. If US support for Israel is shortsighted and costly, then of course this must necessarily mean that Israel (a simply connected Hobbsian entity of morally reprehensible Jews) controls the USA (a puppet). The vision of nations as cohesive actors who consider their interests in an orderly fashion, rationally weighing costs and benefits, is Blankfort's albatross; he cannot abandon it long enough to see that Chomsky might conceivably have a point.
A converse effect of the Arab-Israeli polemics is that, while defenders of Israel's record and global role accuse even the most restrained and reasonable critics of "antisemitism," so the most vehement critics can respond in a similar way. Chomsky is famous for publicizing the atrocities perpetrated by the Israeli government, but he's no Pfefferkorn; Blankfort therefore doesn't merely argue with Chomsky, but attack him root and branch. Chomsky's ferocious and trenchant criticism of Israel is actually a red herring, according to Blankfort:
I was convinced that while, ironically, having provided perhaps the most extensive documentation of Israeli crimes, he had, at the same time immobilized, if not sabotaged, the development of any serious effort to halt those crimes and to build an effective movement in behalf of the Palestinian cause. An exaggeration? Hardly. A number of statements made by Chomsky have demonstrated his determination to keep Israel and Israelis from being punished or inconvenienced for the very monumental transgressions of decent human behavior that he himself has passionately documented over the years.In other words, he's pretending to criticize Israel so as to get out of criticizing his beloved Israel.
There are actually whole parts of the planet earth about which AIPAC would not have any conceivable interest, such as Taiwan, or the Republic of Vietnam, Indonesia, and Guatemala. The US government behaved or behaves in a similar way towards those countries also, without the intervention of AIPAC. There was a special relationship between the Mitterrand government and Saddam's Iraq, which defied Frances's prevailing interests; one might draw some strong parallels between the Paris-Baghdad relationship, and that between Washington and Jerusalem; or between Paris and Kigali, or Paris and Antanarivo. One could go even further, and invoke the ideological position of the Guardian (UK): the USA is a huge Israel, and we Britons ought to turn our backs on it and join the immense queue of people waiting to kick the Yanks in the balls. Yet somehow, this never happens.
Some readers will no doubt wonder about all the Jewish neoconservatives in Washington, the vast flows of aid to Israel, AIPAC, and so on. I have elsewhere discussed my own notion of the importance of Israel to the Trans-European Project; readers may find my arguments convincing, or perhaps not. Subsequently, I've explained how Israel's citizens were conscripted into the general Trans-European Project of ecological redemption. In the same space, I have explained why I believe Jewish influence as an explanation for major world events is unlikely.
Figures such as Mssrs Wolfowitz, Perle, Sharansky, and Abrams (and many more) derive their influence from possessing ideological analyses or aptitudes that make them useful to the TEP's network of planners and managers. They serve as links and brokers of ideology within a network of planning and control that gives the TEP its cohesion. The Israelis are stuck in an eternal war with their neighbors, internationally isolated, and reviled. People blame them for a situation that is so obviously out of their hands that they naturally develop a complex. Israelis have a huge fleet of F-16's because they have been stuck with being janissaries of the TEP. That was never a job they wanted, but it was required of them. One could take the example of this poor fellow, who was faced with destitution or re-enlistment in the military, and say he is a winner because he has access to an M-16A3. I suppose I could rattle off all manner of other cool stuff he gets, such as access to the VA system of health care ("The 2nd largest US department, by budget!") or a chance to ride around in an M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, or the opportunity to abuse Iraqis with impunity. But he doesn't see it that way, and neither do I.
(Incidentally, you might snort at my comparison of Israel with Juan the inductee. But if Juan were admitted and made a career in the Army, and if he survived long enough--all likely outcomes--then he would be eventually be living a comfortable middle class life, with his days in the shelter only a memory. And if you met him then, you would hold his service in the Army against him and dismiss his protests that he was desperate in 2006 when he re-enlisted. I would not.)
When one asks what other satellite (or colony) has so many supporters integrated into the highest echelons of the metropole, one is assuming that Israel has infiltrated the USA and thereby controls its policy; and that without this infiltration, the USA would behave differently (and presumably, more morally). This seems highly improbable There is a passionate emotional support for Israel among Gentile European Americans that is clearly transcends the influence of "Jewish propaganda"; it is real and sincere. It exists because many Gentile Americans saw the Israelis as engaged in the same sort of struggle for mastery over their environment, as they themselves were engaged in. In fact, I've found more skepticism about Israel and Zionism among Jewish Americans, than among white Protestants. In many communities of the USA, support for Israel coexists with a complete ignorance of Judaism. Hence, the Dominionist theology, which is highly patronizing to Jews; Israelis are imagined to be fulfilling a "manifest destiny," remaining on earth after the Christians have been whisked off to heaven. In the aftermath of the rapture, the Jews would realize their rejection of Jesus was in error and convert. This is not an ideology that is respectful of Jews.
Why would a leftist find it so hard to accept that the Jewish population of Israel is being exploited by opportunistic White Gentile Americans? That a small, politically invulnerable elite has managed to hijack the fears and vulnerabilities of an historically persecuted group, and throw them against a 3rd world population? Arm them to do the job, and make them even more dependent on the metropole? Why, on this one subject, must the left invariably switch polarities and absolve the West of responsibility?
And let's settle the matter of the oil: the oil flows, and has continued to flow, regardless of "relations" with the Arab world. The petrodollars flow into US banks, and did at the height of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The EU publicly condemns Israeli activities but sells them avionics and weapons control systems. It doesn't sell them Eurofighters, because that would be too politically damaging, but it does sell them electronics and spare parts. EU-based capital management firms own huge chunks of the US military industrial complex and invest in Israeli industry, always under the cloak of anonymity. Evidentally they don't take seriously their own rhetoric about restraining Israel.
The Israelis can be likened unto the slave armies of the 12th-16th century Middle East or East Asia: yes, those armies were well-equipped too, and sometimes they staged coups in the countries they controlled. But they remained slaves and soldiers; a peaceful, secure life was denied to them.
- ↑ This reflects my actual opinion of US media coverage of Israel, although I do not subscribe to the ZCH in any form.
- ↑ Alfred M. Lilienthal, "Semite and Anti-Semite: a Confusion Stifling American Freedom" (14 July 1986); Ran HaCohen, "Abusing 'Anti-Semitism'," hosted at Antiwar.com (29 Sept 2003)
- ↑ [Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Finkelstein Norman Finkelstein]
- ↑ "Interview with Prof. Finkelstein", Olokaustos (date unknown). In the interview, Finkelstein points out (unremarkably enough) that his own source of information on the Shoah itself is Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews, which of course explicitly spells out the policy of physical extermination of European Jews by the Third Reich. His attack on the Holocaust Industry therefore is about opportunism by a certain group of people who allegedly survived the Shoah and use it as a justification for abuses such as Israel's polices towards the Palestinian Arabs.
The smear campaign against Mr. Finkelstein is actually a useful case study in how to "convincingly" defame someone without meaningful evidence. The most reprehensible aspect was to distort his assertions (viz., that a group of people have exploited a true historical event by adding details that are not true) into something entirely incongruent with his actual opinions.
- ↑ The largest national contingent of immigration to Israel, that from Russia/USSR, came in two major phases: the first three aliyah (1882-1923), and in the immediate aftermath of the USSR's collapse. While the aliyah phase was obviously much smaller, it had the distinction of occurring before there was an Israel. Also, please note that Poland was part of the Russian Empire prior to 1917; its falangists launched major antisemitic pogroms on the grounds that Jews were the conspiracy behind the Bolshevik Revolution, and hence, natural enemies of independent Poland. Ukraine and Romania also had profoundly severe antisemitic pogroms, each ideologically related to rabid czarism.
Romania's cultural and political development was closely tied to Russia's for complex reasons; the Romanian right tended to act as a regional surrogate of the White Russian generals after White defeat in the Russian Civil War. The main targets of persecution under the Romanovs had been the Jews, so many Jews initially welcomed the socially liberal Bolsheviks and their repudiation of ethnic hatred or peculiarities; hence, a torrent of Jewish Europeans arrived in Palestine in the 1920's-1930's from countries where czarism had stimulated rampant antisemitism. This tidal wave of men and women hardened by spectacular cruelty was to form the backbone of Zionist strength in Palestine before '49
See Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, Laurence Hill, Westport, CT (1983)--Chapter 20
- Noam Chomsky, "The Israel Lobby?," ZNet (28 March 2006)
- Glenn Greenwald, "New poll reveals how unrepresentative neocon Jewish groups are" Salon (12 Dec 2007)
- Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, Laurence Hill, Westport, CT (1983)
James R MacLean (17:00, 1 October 2007 (PDT))