Revolution #130, May 25, 2008

From A World to Win News Service:

Israel at 60: from bad to worse

May 12, 2008. A World to Win News Service.  As Israel marks its sixtieth birthday, the mood among many Israelis is more sour than celebratory.

There is a great malaise, or some people say, a crisis, in Israel, although there’s no question of threatened collapse. The patriotism of a privileged society, the amoral self-seeking of its members and mystical, murderous religious fervor all contend and combine in one seething, cynical—and often unhappy—morass.

Writing in the May issue of the U.S. magazine The Atlantic, in an article reporting a somber mood in Israel that has been widely discussed there, Jeffrey Goldberg tries to lay out why Israelis should be rejoicing, even if they aren’t.

"Their country is, by almost any measure, an astonishing success. It has a large, sophisticated, and growing economy (its gross domestic product last year was $150 billion); the finest universities and medical centres in the Middle East; and a main city, Tel Aviv, that is a center of art, fashion, cuisine, and high culture spread along a beautiful Mediterranean beach. Israel has shown itself, with notable exceptions, to be adept at self-defence, and capable (albeit imperfectly) of protecting civil liberties during wartime. It has become a worldwide centre of Jewish learning and self-expression; its strength has straightened the spines of Jews around the world; and, most consequentially, it has absorbed and enfranchised millions of previously impoverished and dispossessed Jews. Zionism may actually be the most successful national liberation movement of the 20th century."

This attempted glowing description leaves out two basic questions: How the Zionists invented Israel, and how it became an "astonishing success."

To take the last sentence first, Zionism was never a national liberation movement. The world’s Jews had not been a single people for almost two thousand years. They didn’t even have a common language used in daily life. Hebrew was somewhat similar for Jews as Latin to Catholics and Arabic to non-Arab Moslems. It was the language of the scriptures and religion. The imposition of this dead language represented the triumph of a self-consciously "European" racist and colonialist culture over the far more lively and diverse Yiddish, Arabic and Ladino-speaking cultures of many of the Jews who came there. (Yiddish and Ladino are related to German and Spanish, respectively.)

To create Israel, the Zionists drove out most of the land’s actual inhabitants. To keep Israel a Jewish state, the Israeli army today holds millions of the original people and their descendents locked up in the open-air prison of Gaza, and, in the West Bank, penned in by Jewish settlements and rabidly racist, violent settlers; encircled by militarily strategic, Jewish-only roads; with 562 Israeli army humiliation-checkpoints separating Palestinian communities; columns of tanks and marauding commando teams entering at will; and 254 kilometers of an apartheid wall.

Where is the liberation in any of this?

The "national" component in this is the standpoint of "my nation" first (whether real or artificially constructed). That is an outlook that every revolution that has to pass through national liberation as part of the world revolution needs to overcome.

As for the Zionist movement’s success in making Israel what it is today, the Israeli people have little to do with that. If someone else had not stepped in, Israel might be a much smaller and poorer agricultural country today—if it existed at all.

The hand that made Israel rich and powerful belongs to Uncle Sam, the U.S.A.

"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of U.S. Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel… Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the [American] foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.…

"Most recipients of aid given for military purposes are required to spend all of it in the U.S., but Israel is allowed to use roughly 25 per cent of its allocation to subsidise its own defence industry. It is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent.... Moreover, the U.S. has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems, and given it access to such top-drawer weaponry as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the U.S. gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its Nato allies and has turned a blind eye to Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

"Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the U.S. has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the IAEA’s agenda. The U.S. comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel’s side when negotiating peace… Finally, the Bush administration’s ambition to transform the Middle East is at least partly aimed at improving Israel’s strategic situation." (John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, "The Israel Lobby," London Review of Books, March 2006— The academic authors, who say they support both Israel and the U.S.’s real interests, have been persecuted for bringing out the relationship between the two countries so sharply.)

Yet, while Israelis have achieved a comfortable economic existence, as The Atlantic article and many other accounts concur, "the mood in Israel is worse than the situation."

It’s not just the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces indictment for accepting bribes from an American businessman, the fourth set of such charges he has confronted. Top Israeli politicians have long been corrupt, as in the case of Olmert’s illustrious predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Last year Israel’s president was also forced out of office by criminal charges, in that instance for raping women subordinates. The case shed light on the degree to which rape and sexual abuse, including of female soldiers by their Israeli army superiors, has become a part of the fabric of life.

It is widely recognized in Israel that the Zionist project of attracting the Jews of the whole world has failed. The inward migration has all but stopped and the number of young people leaving is a serious concern. The "idealist" veneer of early secular and social-democratic (pseudo-"socialist") Zionism of Israel’s early days now seems as distant as the now-dead kibbutzim (cooperatives) where Jews could supposedly live in harmony among themselves in the stolen homes of a conquered people. A great many Israelis are uneasy with the problem of how to reconcile what they think of themselves (enlightened humanists, etc.) and what they really are (the privileged citizens of a criminal enterprise).

Other trends in Israel seek to resolve this contradiction by becoming more forthright. Many people, including the man once considered a paradigm of Israeli progressive intellectuals, the historian Benny Morris whose research helped uncover the mechanisms of the violent "transfer" of the Palestinians out of Palestine that accompanied Israel’s birth, now explicitly and loudly call for the forcible "transfer" of Israel’s remaining Arab minority, in Morris’s case to "something like a cage." (The New Yorker, May 5, 2008) Palestinians with Israeli citizenship make up 20 percent of the population but have lost almost all of their land. Lately rabbis—who increasingly shape public life, such as demanding separate buses for men and women—have taken to issuing religious edicts forbidding Jews to rent homes to Arabs. A majority of Israelis now advocate the "transfer" of all the remaining Arabs out of Israel, a view considered extreme a decade ago. (International Herald Tribune, April 28, 2008)

There is also a growing genocidal mood among those Israelis most open-eyed about what it will take to save Zionism. This includes the extensive "national religious" masses and the settler movement (those eager to "settle" in the West Bank and shove out the Palestinians there). The equivalent of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards and Basijj religious fanatic militia, they now constitute a quarter of the Israeli officer corps, a big change from the days when the army was considered a bulwark of secularism. A high government official’s recent threat of "a bigger holocaust" (BBC, February 29, 2008) against Palestinians is one notorious indicator of this mood, especially given the profoundly religious subtext the word "holocaust" (shoah) carries in Hebrew—a burnt offering from the chosen people to their god.

The great debate in Israeli politics and public life today is "the demographic problem." With few Jews coming to Israel from abroad, the fear is that at some point, if Arabs are allowed to stay in Israel, Zionism may no longer be able to claim that it operates by majority rule, even within its present borders. The same argument is often made about all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, where Palestinians are already a big majority.

Prime Minister Olmert is quite honest about it: only a "two-state solution"—putting Palestinians somewhere other than Israel, and keeping them there—can save "Israeli democracy." This is the South African solution, an apartheid state reserved for Jews towering over crippled, carved up Palestinian "homelands." It is no solution at all for the Palestinians, as can be seen more clearly now than ever in the big prison that is Gaza, after Israel pulled out its settlers and army without giving up an inch of its domination.

The foundational rule in Israeli democracy is that Israel must be Jewish. Like any basic rule about the character of a society, this is an issue to be settled by force, not ballots. That is the parameter that has defined what is considered acceptable in Israeli society. Several decades ago, the historian Morris was denied a job in Israel until, when publicly put to the question, he stated that despite his critical research he supported Israel’s existence. Now, due as much to self-censorship as censorship, even that ability to entertain critical ideas and that narrow circle of tolerance is shrinking in the face of what is seen as an uncertain future.

Many observers have noted that the triumphalism that marked Israel’s fiftieth anniversary only a decade ago is gone today. The media debates the factors involved: the continuing inability of the Israeli army to make Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza do what they’re told, Israel’s 2006 failed invasion of Lebanon, the prospect that Israel may no longer be able to wage war with other Middle Eastern countries at little cost in Israeli lives—and the erosion of Israel’s claims to the high moral ground, even among its own people.

As distant as it may seem in today’s circumstances, what solution other than a single, secular multinational state—the end of Israel—could represent the interests of the vast majority of people? One thing that can be said for sure is that the present situation is not sustainable.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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