Bastion of Enlightenment… or Enforcer for Imperialism:

The Case of ISRAEL

Part One

Posted April 16, 2018 | Originally published October 10, 2010 | Revolution Newspaper |


The Case of Israel – Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?”

What is the history of the Israeli State?

What role does Israel play in today’s world?

What is the true history of the Palestinian people, and their dispossession from a land they had lived in for centuries?

What is the relationship between the U.S. and Israel?

In the past few weeks, courageous protests of Palestinian people in Gaza have been viciously suppressed by heavily armed Israeli forces. At least 30 people have been killed, and over 2,500 wounded. The protests continue, and are building towards May 15, the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel through the violent uprooting of three-fourths of the Palestinian population and the theft of their land. Palestinians mark May 15 as the Nakba – the “Catastrophe”.

In the context of these protests, Revolution begins a serialization of a special issue from 2010, “The Case of Israel – Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?” The questions it addresses are more important than ever.


The state of Israel is projected to the world as an outpost of democracy and tolerance in a sea of hostile, intolerant Islam bent on its destruction. To be considered a credible mainstream voice in U.S. politics, academia, or the media, one must present Israel as a front line of defense against Jihad, and a critical fortress defending "our way of life."

When Israel carries out acts that are simply indefensible under international law, such actions are defended by the U.S., rarely noted in the media, and allowable criticism in the U.S. is constrained to mildly taking issue with Israel's "disproportionate response" to what is always branded "terrorism."

To take just one recent example: In May of this year, the Israeli army violated international law by boarding the Mavi Marmara in international waters. This ship was part of a flotilla bringing relief supplies to Palestinians and challenging Israel's illegal and inhumane blockade of the Palestinian area of Gaza. Israeli military forces killed nine passengers in storming the ship.

An investigation of the deaths on the Mavi Marmara by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights determined: "The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution." The report found that two passengers, including a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, "were shot at near range while the victims were lying injured on the top deck." Four others "were shot on the bridge deck while not participating in activities that represented a threat to any Israeli soldier. In these instances and possibly other killings on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli forces carried out extralegal, arbitrary and summary executions prohibited by international human rights law, specifically article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

The 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted to endorse this report with a single "no" vote—cast by the United States. The report received extremely limited press coverage in the U.S. (See "UN Report finds Israel 'summarily executed' U.S. citizen on flotilla," by Glenn Greenwald, Salon, October 1, 2010.)

* * *

What is the essential nature of Israel? How does one understand what seems to some to be a paradox of a country founded to make up for a great crime itself committing great crimes? And what defines the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel?

Answering these questions is not about "competing narratives"—the question here is what is true... and what is just. To get into this, we will examine the history of Israel to understand the actual dynamics that led us to today's situation, and we will analyze the role Israel plays in today's world.

Zionism—A Colonial Project Seeking Powerful Sponsors

For many centuries most of the Jewish people in the world lived as an oppressed people in Eastern and Central Europe, spread out across a wide area stretching roughly from the modern-day countries of Russia through Poland and Lithuania to the eastern part of Germany. In 1900, about three fourths of the world's 11 million Jews lived in this region, with the bulk of the remainder living in the U.S. and Great Britain—countries to which there were large waves of Jewish immigration in the preceding two decades. Jewish people in much smaller numbers lived throughout western and southern Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia.1

Jews in Europe were constantly hounded and persecuted, severely discriminated against in almost every sphere. They were often deprived of the right to own land, segregated from society, and frequently were the targets of murderous pogroms. These pogroms were outbreaks of mob violence, usually sponsored and organized by the authorities, and in any case the product of prejudice and hostility promoted by the ruling royalty and feudal landowners. Those oppressive exploiting classes were served by the channeling of the anger of the oppressed towards the Jews.

As an oppressed people, the Jews of this part of Europe sought many solutions. For most this meant seeking integration into the larger society (often accompanied by immigration to Western Europe or the U.S.). For many it involved getting into projects for universal human emancipation—that is, seeking an end to the oppression of the Jewish people as part of seeking freedom for everyone. Many were attracted to the cause of socialist revolution. For a minority it meant the Zionist movement, focused on building a separate Jewish nation-state for all Jews.

The founders of Zionism, most notably Theodor Herzl, formulated the Zionist ideology in the late 1800s. This was a time when the European powers, along with the U.S. and Japan, were entering the age of imperialism. Within these countries, capitalism had become increasingly dominated by monopolies, and these monopolies merged with banking capital to form huge financial blocs. These powers increasingly exported capital itself to the oppressed nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America in the form of super-profitable investments in those countries. Going with that, they began a feverish competition to dominate these areas of the world. These capitalist-imperialist powers carried out terrible military aggression against these areas; for example, the U.S. waged war against the Philippines in the early 1900s and murdered hundreds of thousands of people. And these powers increasingly contended with one another.

Herzl overtly "marketed" a Jewish state to these rising colonial powers, especially to England, as a colonial outpost. "England with her possessions in Asia should be most interested in Zionism, for the shortest route to India is by way of Palestine. England's great politicians were the first to recognize the need for colonial expansion. That is why Great Britain's ensign flies on all the oceans. And so I must believe that here in England the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea, should be easily and quickly understood in its true and most modern form."2

The early Zionist movement continued to tailor its aims to the ambitions and perceived needs of various imperialist powers. At one point, for example, when the British were considering the advantages of a Zionist settler state in their east African colonies, a major world Zionist conference seriously considered a plan for a Jewish "homeland" in what is presently Uganda (that project was abandoned before it came to fruition). Also at the instigation of the British, Zionist leaders considered establishing a Jewish "homeland" in British-controlled South America. And discussions took place between Zionist leaders and the rulers of Germany over a possible Jewish "homeland" in German-dominated Madagascar.

Britain Backs a "Loyal Jewish Ulster3" in Palestine

The very dynamics that led Britain and other European powers to carve up and plunder Asia and Africa, brought them into sharp conflict with each other. In 1914 this contention erupted into World War 1. On one side were Britain, France, the U.S. and Russia. On the other stood Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman (Turkish) empires. Neither side was fighting for any greater cause than a bigger share of the plunder. Sixteen million people died as the armies of contending imperialists slaughtered each other, and civilians, to determine which imperialists would expand and which would be crushed. In the course of that war, empires crashed to the ground—most importantly the vast Russian empire, where a socialist revolution emerged victorious. In other parts of the world, the old order collapsed but the victorious imperialists raced in with new forms of domination.

One of the focal points of the post World War 1 contention between the victorious imperialists, particularly on the part of Britain and France, was the oil-rich and strategically located Middle East. This part of the world was pried loose from the defeated Turkish Ottoman Empire. France seized Syria and Lebanon. England established control over much of the rest of the region, including Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.

As noted, the leaders of the Zionist movement—starting with Herzl—had pitched a Jewish state in Palestine as a strategic beachhead for imperialism in the region. In the wake of World War 1, the British ruling class moved more decisively to seize on the prospect of a Zionist entity. The famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 declared, "His Majesty's Government view [sic] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

The Balfour Declaration stated that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." But Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British military governor of Jerusalem, was more candid about England's aims. He wrote that England's support for the Zionist "enterprise was one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took, by forming for England 'a little loyal Jewish Ulster' in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism."

The Palestinian People Were There First!

The mythology of the Zionist movement claims that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land." But the main obstacle to the establishment of this "little loyal Jewish Ulster" in the Middle East was the fact that Palestine was already inhabited by the Palestinian people!

When modern Zionism emerged in 1880, and began to attract the interest of imperialist powers, 24,000 Jews lived in Palestine among 450,000 Palestinians. Palestinians owned and farmed virtually all the land. The small Jewish population was composed of some whose roots in the area went back centuries and more. Others were orthodox Jews from Europe who had migrated to the city of Jerusalem for religious reasons. Altogether, Jewish people made up 5 percent  of the population of Palestine. By 1922, several decades of Zionist-sponsored Jewish immigration from Europe had only raised that percentage to about 11 percent, according to official British census figures.

In the period before and during World War 1, the Palestinian nation emerged out of people who had lived in that part of the world for centuries. A nascent national economy began to cohere among the Palestinians, with different social classes. Most Palestinians were Muslim, but a substantial minority—about 11 percent—were Christian. Palestinians shared a common culture and language (Palestinian people speak a dialect of Arabic), and a developing commercial infrastructure and authority, driven by the development of capitalist export agriculture and beginning industry (particularly olive oil production for the global market). This Palestinian nation was further forged in national resistance to the Ottoman Empire, and later in opposition to British colonial rule. As with all the emerging nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America in this period, the national development of Palestine was distorted and suppressed by the domination of the world by imperialism with its powerful monopolies, control of global commerce, and military force.

In the 1920s and 1930s, between the two World Wars, there was intense political polarization in Europe. There were growing revolutionary movements, along with the rise of vicious reactionary movements. In addition to Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, other fascist movements gained influence in Eastern Europe, with virulent anti-Semitism a leading edge. Under these circumstances, there was both pressure on Jewish people to emigrate out of Europe, as well as the "pull" to move to Palestine afforded by the Balfour Declaration. So there was increased Zionist emigration and both purchases and thievery of Palestinian lands. There were armed conflicts between the Zionists and Palestinians, and the emergence of a powerful Zionist paramilitary.

Further, the imperialist world was wracked by a huge economic crisis—the Great Depression—and this heightened both the political polarization within the imperialist powers and it exacerbated the conflicts between them. All this set the stage for what would be the decisive turning point: World War 2.


1. American Jewish Year Book Vol. 1 (1899-1900), p. 285, available at; Swatos, Jr., William H., Editor, Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, available at [back]

2. Theodor Herzl: The Complete Diaries, cited from Abdullah Schleifer, The Fall of Jerusalem (New York: 1972), p. 23 in Our Roots Are Still Alive, chapter 2. [back]

3. For centuries, England—now the United Kingdom (UK)—maintained bloody and overt colonial domination over Ireland. England built up sections of Northern Ireland, sometimes referred to as Ulster, as a more industrially developed region with a substantial section of people who identified with and fought for the interests of British colonialism. Following Irish independence in 1922, Northern Ireland (Ulster) continued to be occupied by the UK. [back]


Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.