- Written by Gilbert Schramm Gilbert Schramm
- Published: 04 June 2016 04 June 2016
- Hits: 1839 1839
As is typical in election years, a huge amount of nonsense dominates the airwaves and internet. From Trump’s latest Muslim baiting or immigrant bashing, to the GOP’s continued efforts to make big issues out of Benghazi and Hillary’s e-mail foul-ups, most of this is truly irrelevant. Among the issues almost never given the truly serious, sustained and coherent attention it deserves is our country’s Middle East policy.
If you pay attention to the odd corners of the media, you will see more and more articles about how the Democratic Party is abandoning its decades of kneejerk, unconditional support for Israel. In most places, this development is decried. In reality, it is the best thing that could happen to both Israel and the US.
The Zionist/AIPAC driven side of the argument desperately wants to spin this development as a result of week-kneed, misguided liberals reneging on a historic friendship—that is pure and rather ugly propaganda. The real issue for progressives, and hopefully for average Americans, is not whether to stand with Israel, but what kind of Israel to stand for. Those Zionists pleading for unconditional support are merely helping drive their country further into the grip of its rising fascist elements.
It appears that this issue may result in a serious platform fight in the Democratic Party this summer. If that is so, it is just another thank you that the party owes to Bernie Sanders. A levelheaded reassessment of our alliance with Israel is long overdue.
As someone who has devoted most of my of his adult life to studying, living in, working in and travelling in the Middle East, I have come to realize that America desperately needs a radically new approach to the region. Since at least 1945, we have been simply stumbling from bad to worse. It is truly time for a change.
Rethinking US Middle Eastern policy always provokes a discussion of Israel: for years we have been told that Israel is worthy of unconditional US support. It is called the region’s “only democracy,” “a trusted friend” and so on. Above all, it is said to be “our only ally” in the region. From right to left across our political spectrum, politicians regularly assert that “we must never waver in our support of Israel.” This is not strictly true. The US has many strong relationships with Arab regimes in the Middle East, yet it is a point worth examining in detail. If Israel is an ally, an ally we truly depend on, then a close examination of our relationship is surely important.
That said, the idea that we must never reassess or question or relationship with Israel is both silly and dangerous. It makes it into the kind of “entangling relationship” that our founding fathers warned against. The reason is obvious.
During WWII two of our greatest allies were Russia and China. Our great adversaries were Germany, Italy and Japan. Within two years of the war’s end, the situation was completely reversed—Russia and China became mortal foes, Germany, Italy and Japan became trusted friends.
The people of these countries didn’t change overnight—but there were changes in their governments and their policies. That is what we look at when we match our policy to our national interest. Worthwhile alliances are a matter of shared interest and values.
One could argue at length about whether US interest ever really squared with the Zionist project. Most Americans were certainly misled to believe they did. But times have changed.
What the pro-Israel politicians of the US have failed to recognize is that the Israel of early days is long gone—it is now a more and more fascist regime. This is not my opinion or mere name calling— it is the considered public opinion of a group of more than 200 Israeli military and intelligence officers who recently criticized the government for a lack of action in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The new ruling coalition in Israel, with Avigdor Lieberman’s hard right Yisrael Beiteinu party included, is the most right-wing party to ever rule Israel. Lieberman proposes a death penalty for Palestinians only—Jews would be exempt.
Calling this Israel a democracy is a farce. In the 1980, the US rightly labeled Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League a terrorist group. Kahane fled to Israel—and was elected to the Knesset. At that time he was ejected for his extreme views—but not before he inspired American Baruch Goldstein to massacre Muslims at prayer in Hebron. Ironically, most of the current cabinet in Israel today espouses views at least as extreme as Kahane’s. Why are we supporting these people?
Two things are especially noteworthy about the recent opposition statement.
1. It lays the blame for lack of serious peace negotiations squarely where it truly belongs—on rightwing Likud-led Israeli politicians. From Bill and Hillary, to Oregon’s Ron Wyden, to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the lie that Palestinians are to blame for lack of progress towards a peace settlement dominates US debates of the issue. Israelis have known that this is a lie since Ehud Barak walked away from Camp David in 2000. It is Palestine, not Israel, that can’t find a true partner for peace.
2. The statement was the strongest warning yet that Israel is in the grip of a rising tide of fascism. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon say the extreme far-right has taken over Israel. “What has happened is a hostile takeover of the Israeli government by dangerous elements,” Barak noted. “And it’s just the beginning.”
Actually, the march towards fascism in Israel had its beginnings long ago.
Simply do an internet search for names like Vladimir Jabotinsky, Avraham Stern, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and of course, today’s own Benjamin Netanyahu. You will find that Jabotinsky, the “father” of today’s Likud party, was a big fan of Mussolini. Stern wrote to Hitler, telling him they were both on the same page. Zionists cooperated with Berlin in the notorious “Transfer Agreement.” Begin and Shamir were both terrorists, guilty of atrocities against local Arabs, British officials and soldiers, and UN peacekeepers. Sharon was guilty of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon and many other such “incidents.” None of this is really in dispute.
Behind in the polls in his last election, Netanyahu finally said openly what all his followers already knew: he has no intention of allowing a Palestinian state—even though that has been an agreed on pillar of the joint US/Israeli position towards the Palestinian liberation movement since 1947. No one forced him to that decision: He had another choice—serious work towards a peace agreement that would result in real Palestinian autonomy—he chose instead to open the rift between the US and Israel. Not surprisingly, his choice was entirely in line with the Likud party charter—which has always been a maximalist document declaring the Zionist right to control ALL of historic Palestine and which has always opposed the creation of a Palestinian state. Why even talk about the Hamas charter? They don’t rule a country—look at the Likud Charter!
All of this brings us to the real point—the broad context in which the narrow, essentially racist Zionist policies of Likud play out. That is the wider Middle East and the US role in it.
The truth is, we cannot effectively fight ISIS, Al Quaeda, and other real terrorist groups in the Middle East unless and until we have a coherent policy for the entire region. We cannot have a coherent, affordable and effective strategy that promotes democracy, social justice, and stability as long as we continue AT THE SAME TIME to support occupation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid theocratic fascism in Israel and what remains of Palestinian territory.
There are no buyers for this level of hypocrisy. Even if Americans remain ignorant of the history, Arabs are not. Theirs is a culture where history matters.
The awful fact is that the whole concept of Zionism was based on 19th century racial moonshine, closely entangled in the same 19th century colonial imperialism and the primitive pseudo scientific premises that were a foundation for German National Socialism (Nazism). This is the same ugly soil in which Israel’s current ruling Party and its head—Benjamin Netanyahu—have their roots.
German anti-Semites believed 3 things: 1. Jews were fundamentally different from other people because of their “blood” (early code for genes or “race”). 2. Because of their “blood” they were incapable of assimilation (could never really become loyal citizens of other countries), so they needed to be isolated in a home of their own. 3. That home was Palestine—because the Bible said that is where they had come from. (And naturally the early anti-Semites who preached this creed didn’t care that lots of Arabs already lived there…that little fact was the least of their problems, and anyway, Arabs are Semites too… )
And even though the vast majority of European Jews of the 19th century aspired to become citizens of their countries of birth (German, English, French, etc.), the then embryonic Zionist movement preached exactly the same story as the Anti-Semites. Theodore Herzl even described anti-Semitism a disease that was carried by Jews—but triggered by their contact with non-Jews... Talk about self hating. That kind of nonsense takes the cake. The only twist for them was that Jews, not Aryans, were the chosen people. In his Zionist screed “Der Judenstatt,” Herzl also made one thing perfectly clear—the people who lived there at the time (Palestinians) would have to go.
It is this ugly ideology that rears its head again today in Israel.
All this has been said before. But there is one other point about Zionism that is seldom made. Zionism was the idea that only a state of their own would make world Jews safe from anti-Semitism. That was the whole point of Zionism. As a goal it was a laudable one. If it had any chance of working I would probably support it (if it didn’t deprive some other people of their land and rights to security.) But it doesn’t.
Zionism was born in the late 19th century. It was only a decade later that 50 years of sustained warfare and political unrest led to horrific violations of almost every national border in Europe, the collapse of three major empires (Russian, Austrian, and Ottoman) and the debacle of Nazi domination of Europe. Through all this the nascent Israeli homeland did not save the Jewish people. Nor can a disputed over-lordship over a thin slice of Palestine guarantee Israeli security even now. At its very core, Zionism is a dead idea.
Security for all people will come when there is an international order that truly values the rights of diverse people, regardless of religion or race.
The Middle East would be a great place to begin this project, but American power cannot be exerted to that end while it coddles an Israeli regime that is diametrically opposed to a just and peaceful outcome (that includes Palestinians).
In the absence of a credible US policy to address the gross injustices to which Palestinians are daily exposed, the BDS movement has increasingly gained ground. The movement is targeted at ending Israeli occupation. It encourages a boycott of companies that support the occupation. Participation in the BDS movement is a purely voluntary act of conscience. As such it is grassroots and democratic.
Pro-Zionists claim that BDS is anti-Semitic—mostly on the grounds that it “singles out” Israel—the only “Jewish state.” This is an absurd argument. BDS “singles out” Israel because it is the only government occupying Palestine. That’s the basic rule—if you want to stop a specific crime, you target the specific criminal who is perpetrating it—you don’t target their neighbors or some other crime instead. End of debate.
Likewise, to call a real fascist a fascist is just telling it like it is. The fact that the fascist in question happens to be Jewish, does not make the statement of fact an act of anti-Semitism.
Every day now the Lebanese national defense force known as Hezbollah pours resources into fighting America’s new nemesis, ISIS. Every day Israel helps ISIS by stabbing Hezbollah in the back. Every day, Hamas and the PLO try to ward off penetration by ISIS and other extremists—and every day Israel takes more Palestinian land—embarrassing the Palestinian leadership, the US and all other moderates in the region. And every day, while President Obama’s policies give new strength to Iranian reformists, Netanyahu’s Israel strives to undo that work with rhetoric and actions that strengthen Iranian extremists. Israel today isn’t a very laudable or useful ally.
There are many problems in the Middle East for which the US has no solution and on which it has little leverage. Israel is a rare case where US pressure can be decisive—in fact, where it is the only solution.
If we truly want to support democracy in Israel we must make the current misguided regime fully accountable for its ugly ways. That is the only thing that can clear the way for a more enlightened Israel to emerge.
Given the urgency and gravity of this issue, I urge all Americans, but especially democrats, to do some research and think about all this. I hope, having done so, they will join me in urging the Democratic Party in their area to make an issue of Israel in the coming democratic convention.
It would be good for our party, even better for our nation, to start reexamining this whole issue. I hope those who read this will forward it as widely as possible.