Jun 4, 2007

Do Zionists Run America?

An interesting review of the latest book by James Petras, The Power of Israel in the United States, this piece represents a cross-section of two themes that have surfaced recently on Three Way Fight: a concern with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, as highlighted in Michael Staudenmaier’s piece “Challenges to Capital, Challenges for the Left;” and an assessment of left-right populist cross-over, as articulated in Regina Cochrane’s essay ““They Aren’t Really Poor”: Ecofeminism, Global Justice, and “Culturally-Perceived Poverty.” For instance:

“While populism certainly has had its contradictory progressive and democratic edge, typified in our own period by anti-corporate demands of the Green party and other forces in the global justice struggle, populism has also had a reactionary side appealing to social groups bypassed and buffeted by economic forces beyond their control -- a nativist, xenophobic and racist side, a penchant for conspiratorial theory and a related quest to exorcize evil cabals, rid the country of outsiders and/or their domestic agents, and reclaim "the republic." This retrograde side of populism is evidenced above all today in ugly anti-immigrant racism.

“In some weird way, however, Petras seems to think that such instincts can be turned in a progressive direction if the "Zionist Lobby" is targeted as an alien force imposed from the outside on American society. The true and ugly reality of The Lobby -- fundamentally a home-grown outgrowth of U.S. imperialism, not a foreign body parasitic upon it -- is lost.”

Read more here.


Anonymous said...

Intersting article in the March 2007 Monthly Review (no, I don't ordinarily read it either, but happened to have it in front of me).

Israel in the U.S. Empire by Bashir Abu-Manneh (a professor at Barnard College).

"Since 1967, U.S. imperialism and Israeli colonialism have, I argue, worked in tandem in order to produce both Israeli and U.S. _nationalist_ outcomes. This is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from a closer look at U.S. history and the region... By analyzing the roots and causes of U.S. support for Israel, its dynamic, limitations, and major consequences, I aim to show how Washington's interests in the Middle East have become consistent with supporting the Jewish state and defending its colonialist objectives. My argument proceeds as follows: i first determine what those U.S. vital interests in the region have historically been, and how they have evolved over time. i then go on to utilize this structure of ongoing U.S. imperial interests in order to explain the substance of U.S. strategy during and after the Cold War, including our contemporary moment, and show how crucial Israel has been in the realization of U.S. empire in the Arab world. Before concluding with a brief description of the contemporary ramifications of U.S. empire in Israel-Palestine specifically, I trace the major impact that Israeli dependency on Washington's support has had on Israeli ideology and society."

I don't actually entirely follow Abu-Manneh's argument, and therefore find it not entirely convincing, sometimes it seems to leave out some neccesary connecting arguments. But I really _want_ to find it convincing, largely to respond to "the Jews run US foreign policy" stuff, which I, presumably like the authors of this blog, see as basically anti-semetic conspiracy theory.

Interestingly, the essay is situated as a response to a particular Israeli "post-Zionist" approach that looks at U.S.-Israeli effects on each other in primarily 'cultural' rather than political terms. The essay does not mention the "Jews run foreign policy" camp in the US, but does provide an argument that it's US (and global capitalist) geopolitical interests that drive the US to make Israel it's client state, not the political power of a particular minority in U.S. domestic politics.


Anonymous said...

Ha! Only now after writing my previous comment do I click on the link and see that the review you were reviewing was also in the Monthly Review. Interesting. Maybe I should read it more often. Apparently the Monthly Review has an anti-anti-semitic agenda here? Fine with me, so long as what they publish stays anti-imperialist in pursuing it.


Anonymous said...

hi there! just wanted to let y'all know I just did a long post on my own blog about 9/11 conspiracies and the right that draws a lot from the work y'all are doing here at 3-Way.

I don't think if I've taken the analysis anywhere new, but wanted to thank you for doing this work and putting the ideas out there to draw on.

Anonymous said...

Nil wrote: "Apparently the Monthly Review has an anti-anti-semitic agenda here? Fine with me, so long as what they publish stays anti-imperialist in pursuing it."

This seems an awkward statement at best, but deeply problematic at worst. Maybe it's just because you wrote it quickly that it comes off awkward. I give the benefit of the doubt here.

But for those of us who are actually endangered by the conspiracy theory about Jewish control of U.S. foreign policy, I would hope my comrades at three-way-fight would do more than "be fine with" (ie. tolerate) an anti-antisemitism "agenda" (a loaded word in its own right, particularly regarding the topic of antisemitism and jewish people's involvement in politics). It reads as if you're afraid that opposing antisemitism threatens a radical Left project. If you think fighting antisemitism is at odds with radical left politics, then there's a hell of a problem at hand. And it's difficult to imagine a similar paternalism being said about anti-racist or feminist struggles. But maybe I should give you the benefit of the doubt?

Matthew N Lyons said...

As a contributor to Three Way Fight (which Nil is not) as well as a Jew, I see combating antisemitism as integrally connected to Three Way Fight's mission. TWF argues that it's a dangerous oversimplification to see politics in terms of a binary struggle between global capitalism and a revolutionary left (actual or potential) -- we also need to confront right-wing revolutionary forces, which want to smash the left but also overthrow global capitalism in favor of some other kind of oppressive social order. Antisemitism has a key role in this mix, because scapegoating Jews, either explicitly or in coded language, is one of the main forms of twisted anti-elitism that revolutionary rightists have used to mobilize popular support. Unfortunately, sections of the left have repeatedly played into this dynamic, confusing anti-Jewish scapegoating with systemic, liberatory critiques of capitalism and imperialism. James Petras is the most recent prominent example. For more on antisemitism and the three way fight, see Challenges to Capital, Challenges for the Left and Critiquing neocons and scapegoating Jews.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything Matthew wrote in that comment. Indeed, I took the time to re-type a lengthy excerpt from that Monthly Review article precisely because I think it is crucially important to refute anti-Jewish conspiracy theories from the Left.

By which I mean conspiracy theories coming from the left, and refuting them _from the left_--from a committed anti-imperialist perspective.

I certainly do not thinking fighting anti-Jewish racism is at odds with a radical Left anti-imperialist project, but unfortunately some on the ostensible left apparently DO seem to think so, abandoning an anti-imperialist project for a neo-neo-conservativism.

I will admit that I do not find myself to be presently 'actually endangered' by anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, despite being a Jew myself in the U.S. They are nonetheless dangerous ideas in many ways Matthew and three way fight in general have identified.

And of course I am in no way associated with this blog or even acquainted with its authors, beyond reading it regularly and finding it very useful and occasionally commenting on the posts.


Anonymous said...

Matthew writes: "TWF argues that it's a dangerous oversimplification to see politics in terms of a binary struggle..."

Then why the binary of "imperialism/anti-imperialism," "zionism/anti-zionism," etc. Wouldn't a three-way fight then demand a more complicated conceptualization as well? And isn't it this binary that, in the end, three-way fight continues to rely on? And is it the reliance on this binary that explains why three-way fight, despite all attempts to be critical of Hezbollah (for example), in the end sees them as a "resistance" group (ie. stuck in the binary, and through deduction of a situation in which they are merely responding to one other single actor, they gain your support?)?

Matthew N Lyons said...

Nil - I agree with you that we should oppose both anti-Jewish scapegoating and imperialism from a leftist perspective, and it's unfortunate that some self-described leftists think we can’t do both.

Anonymous - if your point about "a more complicated conceptualization" is that there are radically different kinds of anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism, then we are in agreement. Three-way-fight politics argues that opponents of imperialism and Zionism can be found on both the left and the right, operating with radically different premises and goals. (And within both the left and the right, of course, there are also important subdivisions and conflicts.) As for Hezbollah, I've argued at some length that Hezbollah is a right-wing movement whose theocratic goals are fundamentally at odds with any leftist vision of human liberation, but that in its 2006 war with Israel it was Israel (acting both on its own and as U.S. regional proxy) that represented the vastly greater threat. See Defending my enemy’s enemy and the follow-up postings listed at the end of that essay.

Anonymous said...

Matthew writes:

“Antisemitism has a key role in this mix, because scapegoating Jews, either explicitly or in coded language, is one of the main forms of twisted anti-elitism that revolutionary rightists have used to mobilize popular support.”

Unfortunately, it’s also being used by the radical left today. As I mentioned in the “Challenges to Capital, Challenges for the Left” post.

Anonymous writes:

“I certainly do not thinking fighting anti-Jewish racism is at odds with a radical Left anti-imperialist project, but unfortunately some on the ostensible left apparently DO seem to think so, abandoning an anti-imperialist project for a neo-neo-conservativism.”

I hope you don’t assume everyone who has left the radical left is a neoconservative. Some of us are social democrats, others liberals, even a few centrists:


Anonymous said...

Nil wrote that "Apparently the Monthly Review has an anti-anti-semitic agenda here?"

Unfortunately this is not true.

First off, there is a difference between the online MRzine, which is edited independently by the Islamist cheerleader Yoshie Furuhashi, and MR the print publication.

MR has always concentrated on an economic analysis of imperialism which - although independent of Marxist parties and quite intellectually nimble - is ultimately a reductionist economic materialist analysis of the world.

For example, the very common analysis of Israel, which MR follows, is that it is simply 'colonialist imperialism' or 'an extension of the US'. While better than antisemitic conspiracy theories posing as neutral anti-zionism, these views are still crude economistic marxism that refuses to accept the role of culture as having anything to do social changes - which here, would mean accepting that the founding of Israel had something to do with cultural oppression. For example, you will never see printed in MR anything about the founding of Israel being initiated European AND African (Yemenite and Ethiopian) Jews who were fleeing oppression, a movement which started in the 1890s under dire warnings that a massacre was about to be underway in Europe. (The most extreme versions of these warnings, by the almost-fascist Jobotinsky and his 'Jewish Legion', paled in comparison to what actually happened).

Instead, the Left cannot see Israel as anything (least of all the result of one oppressed group pushing out another as it flees oppression) but the simple "superstructure" of an economic base (here, imperialism). We can problematize this even more in Marxist terms by referring to Olaf Kistenmacher's work, which shows that the German left, BEFORE Israel was established, used antisemitic metaphors to oppose zionism.

The most problematic of these metaphors - which is still used not just by MR but by all manner of leftists, even those who desire to oppose antisemitism in their political work - is that Zionism is somehow simply equatable to imperialism. Now, clearly there have always been many colonial and imperial aspects present in Zionism, and they can be found starting with Herzl. But when the Marxist Left conflates Zionism *in its totality* with imperialism, this view is directly based on antisemitism. (And here when I say "Marxist Left", I am referring to all radicals who base their understanding of the world on Marxist-derived theories.)

Here's why: following Lenin, imperialism is seen as a stage of capitalism - in fact, it IS capitalism itself.

Now, one of the main antisemitic theories is that Jews are not real flesh and blood humans, grounded in their national context to a discrete body of land. (In fact, in the still-widely accepted left-wing definition of a national minority, Jews are specifically excluded - and therefore denied the right to self-determination - because they have historically lacked this quality, and Israel does not count for reasons that will be clear shortly.) Rather, antisemites see Jews as nefarious air beings that are defined by abstraction, internationalism and money - especially finance capital, the ultimate abstraction. (As you already know, Jews run the banks, etc etc). To make it simple, Jews = international capitalism (ie Jews are the international bankers who run global finance capital).

Now Lenin claims that capitalism = imperialism. And the Left (starting as early as the 1920s, well before Israel was founded) declared that Zionism = imperialism. And Jews = capitalism. And for obvious reasons, Jews have been associated with Zionism. So we are left with the formula:

Jews = capitalism = imperialism = Zionism.

To sum up: MR opposes antisemitic conspiracy theories because their goal is to forward an systemic, but economistic, Marxist understanding of global economics. They oppose the idea that 'secret elites' run things. But in turn, this kind of purely economistic understanding of phenomena like Zionism is ultimately grounded on a series of assumptions which are based on antisemitism. And this is why neither MR, nor anyone else who claims to be antizionist while wholly equating Israel and imperialism, is seriously anti-antisemitic.

What would a real anti-zionism look like that was not based in antisemitic assumptions? I can't tell you, because it doesn't exist at present.

Matthew N Lyons said...

Anonymous, if you are having trouble finding Marxist anti-Zionists who take seriously the role of culture and cultural oppression, I suggest you check out The Non-Jewish Jew by Isaac Deutscher, The Other Israel by the Israeli group Matzpen, and any number of works by Maxime Rodinson, just to name a few. It's true that some Marxists have tended toward economic reductionism, but that cuts both ways. Ber Borochov, one of the main founders of socialist Zionism, was an economic reductionist of the first order.

Frankly, I don't know any Marxist who "conflates Zionism in its totality with Zionism," although I'm willing to believe that such vulgarians exist. Imperialism is a global system; Zionism is a specific movement and ideology. Certainly Zionism is largely a response to anti-Jewish oppression, but it's a dead-end, bankrupt response. Political Zionism has consistently said that building the Jewish state is more important than fighting antisemitism or saving Jewish lives, and to this end the state of Israel has repeatedly forged alliances with antisemites such as the U.S. Christian Right and the former Argentinian military junta. And while it's not equivalent to imperialism, political Zionism has always depended on imperialist patronage (first British, then U.S.) to build its little state. Today Israel isn't an extension of the U.S. -- it has an oppressive and aggressive agenda of its own -- but it is a frontline client state of U.S. imperialism whose position massively depends on U.S. military and economic subsidies.

Anonymous said...

On your recommendation I looked at the Matzen’s (actually edited by Arie Bober) ‘The Other Israel’ which has been sitting on my shelf. I read the first 100 pages, and it’s as embarrassing as an antizionist text gets. I’m a little surprised that a Three Way Fight editor is plugging a book that boldly states:

“The Palestinians in particular directly confront the Zionist state as their immediate colonial oppressor. They must fight it if they are to resist expulsion from their homeland, and every believer in democracy must conditionally support their right to conduct this struggle by any possible means. It would be utter hypocrisy for anyone, especially an Israeli Jew – a member of the oppressor nation – to say to the Palestinians: “This you may do; this you may not do,” in the conduct of that struggle.” (page 17 of the 1972 paperback)

Furthermore they don’t just accept, but they explain away the open anti-semitism of the Grand Mufti Haj Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, whose illustrious career included organizing Muslim SS units. In another statement they say:

“The religious and nationalist leaders of the Palestine Arabs, following the time-honored maxim ‘My enemy’s enemies are my allies,’ saw in fascist Germany a potentially powerful ally against British imperialism.” (page 42)

In fact, in this whole text is just the same old line: Israel is a function of imperialism, and Zionism is not actually a reaction to anti-semitism (in fact, in the short chapter “Zionism and Anti-Semitism”, anti-Semitism is condemned for being ‘used’ by Zionsim to promote itself; it is never taken seriously as an object of analysis in itself), and European Jews are never recognized as having a right to flee their oppression.

Just by saying a few lines like ‘Oh, yes, there was something related there about Zionsim and antisemitism’ and then doing your same-old-same-old Marxist-Leninist analysis of imperialism still constitutes ignoring the role of culture and oppression in political movements.

As far as your claim that - “Political Zionism has consistently said that building the Jewish state is more important than fighting antisemitism or saving Jewish lives” – I can only point to what seems to be the majority secular left Zionist view, in which the Jewish state EXISTS TO fight antisemitism and to be a place of refuge for Jews, since no one else in the world – not the liberals and not the left – historically have defended Jews. We are frequently baited to become defenders of Israel on the very basis of this.

Furthermore, you say that “political Zionism has always depended on imperialist patronage (first British, then U.S.) to build its little state.” Is there some reason you are leaving the crucial 1948 support of the Soviet Union off this list? For without their patronage there would never be the little state. Whether this was an intentional lapse on your part or not, it is omissions like this that are used to construct a picture of Israel and Zionism as having some intrinsic relationship to western capitalism (aka imperialism, the highest form of capitalism).

Furthermore your reply shows that you end up with the same misassumptions about those of us with a critique of left antisemitism (and the large influence this has on contemporary left anti-zionism): that this somehow ends up meaning we have some vested interest in propping up Israel or the Zionist movement. (Who cares if Borochov was a determinist?) It is YOU assuming that WE think that ‘out enemy’s enemy is our friend’, and I assure you we do not.

We propose to carry out a thoroughgoing analysis of anti-semitism, and in doing so we oppose critiques of Israel that are grounded in anti-semitic ideas and concepts. That does not mean we are pro-Zionist.

Imagine the Left took part in a campaign against Condoleezza Rice – and it involved open racists and the arguments against her were formulated on a basis of racist assumptions. Wouldn’t you step forward and say ‘Hey, it’s not that I support Rice, but your arguments are not acceptable and we oppose them on the basis of their racist assumptions”?!

I do believe that Three Way Fight has a honest concern about and desire to oppose anti-Semitism.

However, I don’t believe that Three Way Fight (or the related writers around) have ever bothered to try and understand anti-Semitism as a system with its own logic of oppression, or to apply this critique. I believe that you can’t do it, because for all of you, your a priori is that you are anti-zionist, and you are (rightly) afraid of examining the history of anti-zionism from the viewpoint of antisemtism. History - which, as the saying goes, “weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” - hides all kinds of ugly things, and the left sees it best to keep the family secrets in the closet.

As far as Deutscher goes.. well, that’s another funny person to quote. Of course he has his anti-zionist phases, but I think his 1967 statement is still quite profound. I’ll leave you with it:

“A man once jumped from the top floor of a burning house in which many members of his family had already perished. He managed to save his life; but as he was falling he hit a person standing down below and broke that person’s legs and arms. The jumping man had no choice; yet to the man with the broken limbs he was the cause of his misfortune. If both behaved rationally, they would not become enemies. The man who escaped from the blazing house, having recovered, would have tried to help and consol the other sufferer; and the latter might have realized that he was the victim of circumstances over which neither of them had control. But look what happens when these people behave irrationally. The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man’s revenge, insults him, kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished. The bitter enmity, so fortuitous at first, hardens and comes to overshadow the whole existence of both men and to poison their minds.”

Matthew N Lyons said...

Anonymous, thank you for your follow-up comment. While I disagree strongly with a number of your points, I'm impressed that you took the time to look at two of the works I cited. I don't have time to respond properly just now, but will do so as soon as I can.

Anonymous said...

Let me just add that there was an embarrassing misquotation in my last post, where I typed "every believer in democracy must conditionally support their right to conduct this struggle by any possible means."

The original text, of course, says "unconditionally".

Take your time in answering; the email style of immediate responses only degrades real, in-depth consideration of complex problems which require both study and reflection.

Anonymous said...

Happening to come back to this post to see if there are any new comments, I am still interested in seeing a reply from Matthew to the issues brought up by the Anonymous. I too disagree with a number of points, but agree with others, and am pleased to see a conversation with disagreement but still both serious thought on each side, and a basic level of comradeship displayed (ie, try to assume the best interpretation of the other's intent, not the worst).


Matthew N Lyons said...

Nil, thanks for checking back on this discussion, and thanks for putting in a plug for comradely debate. For reasons I won't go into, it took me much longer than I had hoped to put together a reply to Anonymous, but I finally did -- see "Is left anti-Zionism anti-Jewish?", posted on TWF today.