It is one of the standard clichés of the U.S. political establishment that our policy toward Israel and the Palestinians is dominated by our desire to “protect Israel’s security.”
But while the word has the ring of virtue that regularly paralyses any establishment opposition, it is economic and political power that dominates in clearing the ground for the investment in the “protection of security,” whether of this country or Israel. Here, the power of the military-industrial-complex and its close allies in the political, financial, media and academic communities have normalized gigantic and growing budgets and continuous warfare. In the case of Israel, the power of the pro-Israel Lobby; the inter-penetration of U.S. and Israeli business, finance, weapons development, and military and strategic planning; and the cultivation of and pressure on the media and politicians, have given Israeli leaders extraordinary power over U.S. policies that bear on their interests. They are a tail that can wag the big (and “security”-bloated) dog, although a flea jumping from the tail onto the dog’s body and giving it a nip might cause it to bark angrily and scratch.
One hugely underrated feature of the drumbeat of U.S. political leaders, and those of the EU, in stressing the urgency of protecting Israel’s security, is its blatant racism. U.S. officials repeat day-after-day that our “solidarity” with Israel is an “unshakeable bond,” that there is no “space” between us and Israel on the issues, and that we have an “absolute commitment to Israel’s security” (Hillary Clinton). A large fraction of congress and the Senate appear regularly at AIPAC annual meetings to virtually pledge allegiance to the State of Israel, and Vice President Joseph Biden has publicly declared himself “a Zionist,” with Israel “the center of my work as a United States Senator and now as vice president of the United States.”
Following the recent tiff between Obama and Netanyahu, AIPAC got over three-quarters of the U.S. congress to sign a letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel and a “reinforcement” of the alliance based on “common values,” etc., the wording of the letter closely following one sent out by AIPAC. Is a Zionist and Israel-centered commitment, the deference to AIPAC, and the various pledges of allegiance to Israel consistent with the oath of office to the United States taken by these political leaders? General David Petraeus has recently and embarrassingly claimed that the commitment to Israel has damaged U.S. national security interests: “This conflict foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of U.S. favoritism to Israel.” This would imply possible prosecutable behavior on the part of Biden and the other pledgees to Israeli interests, although needless to say this is not likely to materialize in legal action.
But the racist element in the pledges is also notorious. Palestinian “security” is unmentioned by these Israel-solidarity pledgees and activists, although the Israelis have long been brutalizing the Palestinians, taking their land and water by force, and although it is crystal clear that it is the Palestinians who need security protection here and now, as they have for decades. Palestinians are implicitly an unpeople, an untermenschen, who can be mistreated virtually without limit or penalty to the victimizers. Visiting South Africans have for years been claiming that the Israelis’apartheid system imposed on the Palestinians is worse than that under the departed apartheid regime in South Africa, and a number of Israelis have said the same thing. But this has made no impression on the West, whose leaders continue to claim their devotion to Israeli security in a manner they could not display openly in dealing with the old South Africa--there the Western establishment, while quietly protecting the apartheid state, had to do this without claiming a dedication to protecting the apartheid state’s “security.” Their racism was revealed mainly in their policies and political alignments, such as supporting South Africa in Angola and Namibia, cooperating with it in intelligence and “counter-terror” programs, and protecting it as much as possible against sanctions and condemnation.
With Israel, the West is actively engaged in supporting a state that violates the Fourth Geneva Convention on a daily and multiyear basis, ignores International Court (and international community) opinion on matters like the wall, continuously takes land and water from Palestinians and gives it to Jewish settlers, and freely attacks across borders in wars and assassination programs. In the recent exchanges over the Israeli government’s announcement of the planned construction of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem, the attention in the Western mainstream media was on the insult to the visiting Joseph Biden (and President Obama), and the possible resultant setback to “proximity talks.” There was little or no mention of the fact that all of these units were for Jews---that while the ouster of Palestinians in East Jerusalem has been a long-standing process, as Gideon Levy points out, “we must not forget that this huge building project in Jerusalem is for Jews only; not one Palestinian neighborhood has been built in 43 years of occupation. Should that not be called apartheid?”
Levy adds, “Even the new magic and foolish solution of the greatest master of words, President Shimon Peres, has persuaded no one: Israel, the president now tells his guests from abroad, has the right to build in ‘Jewish neighborhoods.’ And how, Mr. President, did they become Jewish, all of them on Palestinian land, if not by massive, illegal settlement, just like in Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, which are now within the ‘consensus’ we invented for ourselves? Consensus? Only in Israel. And to a great extent this consensus, too, has been fabricated.” (“Netanyahu did one thing right in the Jerusalem debacle,” Haaretz, March 21, 20l0).
The racist premise of Israeli policy is normalized in the enlightened West, helped along by claims about a “peace process,” “proximity talks,” and “negotiations” that have to be restarted with the aid of the “honest broker.” This is all straight out of Orwell, or perhaps Kafka. There is no real peace process, or negotiations, because Israeli leaders do not want a settlement or borders, which would interfere with their steady displacement of the untermenschen and colonization of the West Bank. This has been obvious to anyone who doesn’t wear self-imposed blinders, in the continuous Israeli stalling and alleged inability to find a partner, and it is clear from Israeli self-interest in stealing and dispossessing, which is much easier in occupied lands than it would be with settled borders. It is also sometimes even acknowledged by Israeli leaders, as in the statement by Sharon adviser Dov Weisglas: “The significance of Sharon’s [Gaza evacuation] plan is the freezing of the peace process…The Disengagement Plan actually supplies the formaldehyde into which all other [peace] plans can be put” (Ari Shavit, “The Big Freeze,” Haaretz, October 8, 2004).
Thomas Friedman says that peace for Israelis has recently become a “hobby” rather than a “necessity.” They find they can live happily without peace, and they are disillusioned by “The collapse of the Oslo peace process combined with the unilateral Israeli pullouts from Lebanon and Gaza—which were followed not by peace but by rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel—decimating Israel’s peace camp and the political parties aligned with it” (“Hobby Or Necessity?,” NYT, March 28, 2010). For Friedman Israel had a right to be in Lebanon and Gaza—it had aggression and occupation rights—so its exits were generous and peace-minded; not, in the former case based on non-viability and the latter a “formaldehye” to “freeze” the peace process. That the continued Israeli raids, killings, imprisonments, dispossession process and blockade of Gaza might have produced rockets is not admissible. That peace-making was formerly a necessity for Israel, but somehow not obtainable, presumably because of Palestinian intransigence and “terrorism,” is ethnic cleansing apologetics at the level of sick-comedy.
There is also no “honest broker” in this fraudulent “peace process”--honest brokering is inconsistent with complete “solidarity” and a “central commitment” to one side. Given the imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine, a settlement would require the exercise of U.S. power contrary to the desires of the Israeli leadership, incompatible with a close alliance and the absence of any “space” between Israel and the United States. In fact, solidarity is displayed by the pretence that a peace process is meaningful without serious pressure on the more powerful party—this pretence, along with arms supply and diplomatic protection of anything Israel does, is a critical feature of what must be regarded as a joint Israeli-U.S. program of long-term dispossession of the Palestinians.
This racist process is also normalized by distorting history. One important line of historical misrepresentation is the alleged dominance of Palestinian terrorism and violence and Israel as merely responding to this terrorism.. In reality, the primary violence is Israeli dispossession, which has taken Palestinian land and water for decades, under U.S. and other enlightened states’ protection. Over the years the Palestinians have resisted, mainly peaceably, sometimes by violence, but with very much higher casualty rates suffered by the poorly armed Palestinians (over 20-1 prior to the second intifada, when the rate dropped to 3 or 4 to 1—rising to 100 to 1 in the Gaza war). The Israelis have needed a certain level of Palestinian violence to justify their continuous encroachments on Palestinian land, and the kindly enlightened West has allowed these encroachments and dispossession as part of a response to “terrorism.” The Israelis have also needed to fend off any negotiated settlement of borders with a hypothetical Palestinian state, so that a “peace process” has never been allowed to result in peace. But once again the generous enlightened states have played the peace process game, without putting the slightest pressure on Israel to actually settle, thus giving it the cover for continued dispossession and ethnic cleansing.
So this is applied racism by Israel and the West. It turns on its head the newly claimed Western devotion to both “humanitarian intervention” and “right to protect.” Its interventions steadily support Israeli state violence against a civilian population that the West struggles to further disarm, but who desperately need protection. This is also a beautiful case of ethnic cleansing, being carried out systematically and openly. One may recall Western indignation at ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, where this invidious notion could be applied--with great bias and fact-bending--to a Western target (the Serbs), and where it was used to justify a violent international (mainly U.S.) response to protect the victims. But in the case of Israeli ethnic cleansing, in an open and very clear case, carried out by the fifth largest army in the world against a virtually unarmed different ethnic group, the West continues to support the cleansing process, even gives it active aid.
This also means that protecting Israel’s “security” is a first class propaganda lie—the United States and West are protecting Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations. Insofar as Israel has any security threat at all, this is a result of its refusal to stop its ethnic cleansing and make peace with the Palestinians and its other neighbors. It is well-known that the Arab states have offered Israel a comprehensive settlement and peace plan that entailed Israel’s giving up its post-1967 land seizures in exchange for full recognition and a peace settlement. The Israelis have rejected this and continue their ethnic cleansing march. Will the new turns in the U.S.-Israeli relationship marked by the Netanyahu slap in Biden’s face during the Biden visit to Israel, the Petreaus suggestion that Israel’s policies damage U.S. interests, the allegedly unfriendly exchange between Netanyahu and Obama, and new U.S. demands on Israel, alter the long-standing U.S. support of the ethnic cleansing process? This writer is doubtful: the structural conditions are unchanged; the power of the Lobby is still great; the Israeli polity is further to the right and settler interests and power are strong; and the room for maneuver in producing negotiations that would yield a viable Palestinian state is small.
The U.S. and Israeli political establishment both agree that Iran is a huge menace. The recent Hoyer-Cantor-AIPAC-based letter calling for more ethnic cleansing solidarity stresses that “Above all, we must remain focused on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear weapons program to Middle East peace and stability.” With Obama, Clinton, Hoyer and Cantor all agreeing on the seriousness of the Iran threat, and looking for a means of resolving the tiff, and Israelis possibly seeing this as a moment to “Leverage the Crisis” (Steven Goldberg, in Y Net, April 1, 2010), could it be that a determined Obama can achieve another success by getting Israel to agree to freeze settlements and negotiate with its favored Palestinians in exchange for a war against Iran? ... First published in Z Magazine, October 2010
First published in Z Magazine, May 2010
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and has written extensively on economics, political economy and the media. Among his books are The Real Terror Network, Triumph of the Market, and Manufacturing Consent(with Noam Chomsky).
Back to Political Articles