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Author Topic: The Importance of Israel to the Left: A Strategic View
Chris Borst
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posted 05 December 2004 07:11 AM      Profile for Chris Borst     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
First off, before saying anything of substance at all, having just read through some of what passes for discussion in this forum, I want to stress that this thread is not intended for people who want to exchange "fuck you"s. If you want to do that, do it somewhere else.

OK, on to some thought ...

Israel - its origins, development, prospects - is a question of importance to the Left, and not just because of its actions in the Occupied Territories.

Israel was, from the start, a predominantly Leftist project. The kibbutzim were perhaps the most extensive non-state-sponsored co-operative movement we have yet seen. The Histadrut is perhaps our best exemplar of what a One Big Union really can accomplish. But, most significantly, Israel – Zionism – was a particular strategy for how to respond to oppression. In the face of long-standing traditions of rampant anti-Semitic racism in the Eurocentric world, Zionism was conceived - on the model of European nationalism - as a project to separate Jews from their oppressors: to create a space of power, a safe space, a space within which "Jew" was a positive rather than a stigmatized identity.

For those of us whose Leftist vision is separatist/autonomist, co-operativist and syndicalist, and fundamentally shaped by movements of so-called "identity politics", this makes Israel a particularly important case study.

If we evaluate Israel as a project, one some 110 years old, it would seem difficult to evaluate it as anything other a failure - in its own terms. Giving it even its very best spin, it is a very limited, very ambiguous, very precarious success. Anti-Semitic racism in the Eurocentric states, after falling off sharply post-1945, is making a definite comeback. More, it is now commonplace in the Islamic states where (as I understand the history) it is actually counter-traditional. The kibbutzim are dying, while the Histadrut is a weak shadow of its former self. Israel has proven in no way a safe space. It has, certainly, demonstrated considerable power. Yet, despite its military victories, despite even its nuclear arsenal, it has proven unable to secure its space - and proven incapable of sustaining itself without the (increasingly exclusive, increasingly hysterical) financial, military and diplomatic aid of the global hegemon, now declining. Similarly, while "Jew" is clearly a privileged identity in Israel, it has not clearly become a positive identity. The institutional differentiation of grades of "Jew" on sectarian and ethno-racial grounds is part of that. But, more importantly, it seems that, even in Israel, Jewish identity is still bounded, shaped and defined (by negation) by Eurocentric anti-Semitic racism. It is still lived as a stigmatized rather than a positive identity.

Rather than a place of power, Israel seems to have proven more like a globalized version of the ghetto.

If we try to specify why things have turned out this way, three points seem relevant. First, and most important, is the question of territory. The fundamental limitation of the Zionist project is that the Jewish people were not even a minimally contiguous population, nor did they occupy any traditional territory. The territory they claimed by traditional right was occupied by another population entirely, one which was contiguous and could also claim the territory by traditional right. Accordingly, Zionism could only succeed by displacing - predictably, violently - and subjecting another population. Only by passing along the oppression could this particular anti-oppression strategy bear fruit. Second, and connected to the first, is the question of the state. Zionism did not simply propose a mass migration of Jews from Europe and concentration in a contiguous area, it presupposed the necessity of forming a state, a state within the hierarchical and competitive interstate system. This put it in opposition to some states, and at the disposal of others. But, more importantly, it also put it in opposition to the very co-operativist and syndicalist forces which initially carried its cause. Further, by forming a state, with its apparatus of citizenship, it created a split in the world's Jewish population - there are "Jews" and there are "Israelis". Third, is the question of hegemony. Israel came into being because the UK and US - the past and newly installed global hegemons - endorsed it. Obviously it had a mass base, and relied heavily on it. But, rather than succeeding from the "bottom up", as a movement of resistance, Israel was installed "top down", as an act of the ruling class. This has crucially shaped Israel's development. Within a hierarchical and competitive interstate system, Israel has been a client of the ruling power - sustained for the US' purposes, not Jews' (keeping in mind that the US has one of the strongest traditions of anti-Semitic racism), and a front for all those wanting to contest US hegemony.

Israel (Zionism) is, in short, subject to the same critique as the Soviet Union (Bolshevism) - from an anti-oppression movement, it turned into an oppressor and the tool of oppressors, undermining rather than furthering the cause it proclaimed - and for the same reasons: by accepting its place and role as a state in the hierarchical and competitive interstate system.

The struggle against anti-Semitic racism continues, the struggle for a world in which "Jew" is a positive identity. If this analysis is correct, that struggle - and the many similar struggles against oppression - cannot succeed by concentration and institutionalization. Anti-Semitism must be fought everywhere. And, it must be fought, in coalition, by everyone - which cannot happen when struggles against Eurocentric anti-Arab/Muslim racism are played as anti-Semitic racism. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union freed the Left to forcefully re-pose other, more radical and grass-roots, alternatives to capitalism, so might it prove to be the case that the collapse/restructuring of Israel could be the best prospect for progress against anti-Semitic racism.


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skdadl
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posted 05 December 2004 09:03 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Thanks for that thoughtful meditation, Chris.

Since your topic is as much the left as it is Israel, I will begin with a brief observation and then a question.

As an old New Leftist, I have been startled but interested to observe how generally anti-nationalist the new New Left is now. It's not that the Canadian New Left of the sixties or seventies lacked an analysis of the C19/C20 nation-state, but, given the context of rising opposition to the Viet Nam war, considerable nationalist feeling seemed to fit comfortably then with classic left anti-imperialism, and much of the Canadian left was openly nationalist.

It seems to me obvious that the first analysis the younger left now bring to the Middle East impasse is a generalized anti-nationalism, which much of the time they would also apply to any other nationalism, including Canadian (unless George Bush is coming to town).

I understand that stance but also think it is so far sort of clumsy and ill-defined. Perhaps one way of refining it is to think about your invocation of syndicalism, and so I get to my question.

For the sake of the general reader, can you expand on what you mean by your own syndicalist orientation, in this particular context and in any other (eg, Canada)?


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voice of the damned
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posted 05 December 2004 10:50 AM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Within a hierarchical and competitive interstate system, Israel has been a client of the ruling power - sustained for the US' purposes, not Jews' (keeping in mind that the US has one of the strongest traditions of anti-Semitic racism), and a front for all those wanting to contest US hegemony.

I think the zionist lobby has succeeded in convincing many Americans that Israel and the US share common interests, but I've never quite bought into that idea myself. What exactly has support for Israel gotten the US, except for even more antagonism from the arab/muslim countries than they would otherwise have? Whenever an American politician is asked to justify US support for Israel, he falls back on that old lame-o line about "the only democracy in the middle east", as if the political system of a few square miles of land in the middle east is of prime importance to US strategic interests. And I'm not sure how things like the Jonathan Pollard affair square with the idea that Israel exists to serve US interests. It's not really in keeping with the role of "American client state" to steal secrets from the yanks and turn them over to the Soviets.

quote:
it seems that, even in Israel, Jewish identity is still bounded, shaped and defined (by negation) by Eurocentric anti-Semitic racism. It is still lived as a stigmatized rather than a positive identity.

Rather than a place of power, Israel seems to have proven more like a globalized version of the ghetto.


Well, yes and no. Theoretically, I think zionism is in fact the mirror image of anti-semitism, so yes, Jews who go to live there are basically giving the European and American anti-semites what they want, ie. a Jew free Europe and USA. But to suggest that being Jewish in Israel somehow involves "stigma" or is comparable to living in a ghetto, well I dunno. To my knowledge, the ghetto in Warsaw(for example) didn't have a lot of backyard swimming pools siphoning drinking water from the neighbouring communtities. And any "stigma" that results from building your house on land stolen from another family a few years ago is well-deserved, I'd say. Overall, I think that Israel is about as much a "Jewish ghetto" as apartheid South Africa was a Boer one.

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]


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Macabee
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posted 05 December 2004 12:07 PM      Profile for Macabee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
And I'm not sure how things like the Jonathan Pollard affair square with the idea that Israel exists to serve US interests. It's not really in keeping with the role of "American client state" to steal secrets from the yanks and turn them over to the Soviets.

If you are going to use the Pollard affair then please get it right. Pollard was accused of turning the files over to Israel NOT the Soviet Union.

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voice of the damned
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posted 05 December 2004 12:29 PM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Maccabee:

First of all, what's this "accused" business? Pollard is a convicted spy.

Secondly: Yes, I'm aware that Pollard spied for the Israelis. I don't think I'd be mentioning him on a thread about Israel otherwise. My comments were in reference to the strong suspicion of many in the US intelligence community that those secrets were traded by the Israelis to the Soviets.

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]


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skdadl
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posted 05 December 2004 12:30 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Excuse me, Mac? Pollard was "accused"? Pollard was convicted.
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voice of the damned
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posted 05 December 2004 12:30 PM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/fr/576453/posts
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Agent 204
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posted 05 December 2004 12:51 PM      Profile for Agent 204   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by voice of the damned:
My comments were in reference to the strong suspicion of many in the US intelligence community that those secrets were traded by the Israelis to the Soviets.


Really?? That seems strange. I didn't think Israel and the USSR would want anything to do with one another.

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skdadl
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posted 05 December 2004 12:58 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
1. Could people read Seymour Hersh's article about Pollard if they want to comment any further on Pollard?

2. Chris started a serious discussion here that clearly deserves to be pursued thoughtfully, not derailed as usual into mulberry-bush recycling. Please ignore attempts to derail or drift, and think about Chris's opening post.


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Cueball
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posted 05 December 2004 01:14 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I don't know enough about the Pollard thing directly, but in point of fact the original Soviet position on Israel was supportive. Ideologically speaking Israel was a progressive state in conflict with backward Arab monarchies, installed by the "British Imperialists." It was only later as the Middle East became a primary conflict zone in the cold war, and the rise of Nasser that the USSR ended up backing the Arab countries against Israel.

As for Pollared, which was much later, there are plenty of reasons why Israel might leak information to the Soviets, for instance information might be supplied in exchange for concessions on issues in regard to emmigration of Soviet Jews, as an example. The world of espionage is strange place of weird and tangled political alliegiances that often don't conform to the overt ideological framework upon which the actions of the intelligence agencies are originally positted. Lack of fealty is even more likely when one intelligence agency is handling matters that might damage, not the state itself, but an allied state -- Mossad acts on behalf of Israel, not the State Department of the USA.

[Edited to Add:] As I thought, from the Hersch article:

quote:
A number of officials strongly suspect that the Israelis repackaged much of Pollard's material and provided it to the Soviet Union in exchange for continued Soviet permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel.

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: Cueball ]


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Macabee
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posted 05 December 2004 01:15 PM      Profile for Macabee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Interesting article by Hirsch. Yet this issue of Pollard's material getting into Soviet hands is at best conjecture and at worst innuendo and myth. No proof just a lot of accusation.
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Cueball
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posted 05 December 2004 01:21 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Would it really be so friggin bad? I mean, while it might not be entirely honest, such an action is at least understandable from the Israeli point of view?
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Cueball
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posted 05 December 2004 02:20 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
I have heard leftists complaing about the fact that the left ideas seem to have incredible difficulty taking hold in the Arab and muslim world. A case in point, of course is the assent, not of a left alliance during the Iranian revolution, but of the orthodox Shia muslim clergy. As well we note that forces opposed to western imperialism are not formulating themselves around the axis of secular socialist organizarions of the kind we know so well in Latin America, but are finding expression in what we see as a gamut of 'backward' religious organizations -- the case in point being A Sadr's rise to fame in Iraq and the activities of Zarkawis people there.

What is missed I think is that the experience of many Muslim peoples with the secular left has been more or less universally bad, (think: Soviet Afghan invasion,) or unsuccessful (think: The failure of the Arab-Soviet alliance to protect Arab interests against Israel.) Also, the Soviet Union, which is for all intents and purposes (no matter what people may think of its actual political character) is known throughout the world as the primary symbol of socialism in action, was created in Russia by supressing indiginous movements in the Muslim south of what became the USSR, and that those persons (Chechyns for instance) bore the heavy weight of soviet oppression for 70 years.

Bad, bad, bad.

Mistakes were made! That answer is simply not good enough.

Socialism, like 'democracy,' from the same western-modernist-humanist world, one that not only includes lots of good ideas, but also one that came with the 'mission statement' that also included more patarnalistic ideas about cultural superiority and a mandate for imposing 'our' world view, as universal world view on the whole world.

The white mans burden, applied equally to all, without prejudice, as it were.

What is forgotten is that these ideas are ones came to fruit after hundreds of years of evolution and revolution in a specifically European context and may not be ideas that appear obviously correct to all, at the first moment of exposure.

The Zionist-socialist expedition, complete with its "A people without a land, a land without a people," moto, is another example of paternalistic socialism imposing it "universally" applicable mandate upon local inhabitants, without even a shred sensitivity to local traditions, or even apparently a recognition that there were local traditions to be sensitive to as their were "no people in the land," to have traditions to be sensitive too.

I think that if these "mistakes" are to be corrected in the future, socialists must analyze the root ideas that are essential to its modernism, in particullar the idea that 'our' mission supercedes all other missions.

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: Cueball ]


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DrConway
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posted 05 December 2004 02:47 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Two quick notes:

One:

quote:
As spake by Macabee:
Interesting article by Hirsch. Yet this issue of Pollard's material getting into Soviet hands is at best conjecture and at worst innuendo and myth. No proof just a lot of accusation.

Sounds like something you're very familiar with.

Two:

The Afghan Constitution of 1976, implemented in 1977, recognizes Islam as the predominant religion in that country and imposes weak restrictions on the practice of other religions.

A rather odd thing for a left-wing prime minister to do, hmm?

It gets better. In 1987, the Communists in Afghanistan put through a new constitution.

quote:
ARTICLE TWO:

THE SACRED RELIGION OF ISLAM IS THE RELIGION OF AFGHANISTAN. IN THE REPUBLIC OF AFGHANISTAN NO LAW SHALL RUN COUNTER TO THE PRINCIPLES OF THE SACRED RELIGION OF ISLAM AND OTHER VALUES ENSHRINED IN THIS CONSTITUTION.


How about that, eh?

The Communists insisting on an official religion!

Kinda makes you think about how the non-Western interpretations of our ideologies take on strange (to us) forms. Clearly, the Communists in control of Afghanistan had no problem reconciling the notion of a religion with an avowedly "socialist" (as they always termed it) state.

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: DrConway ]


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Macabee
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posted 05 December 2004 06:48 PM      Profile for Macabee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by DrConway:
Sounds like something you're very familiar with.

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: DrConway ]


I learned much from you.

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Cueball
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posted 05 December 2004 07:47 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Its sad that it is not a two way relationship. Dr. C. don't you hate it when its all give and no take.

Nothing to say on the evolution of socialist politics in Israel and the mid-east Mac?


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Chris Borst
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posted 05 December 2004 10:33 PM      Profile for Chris Borst     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
First, a couple of clarifications:

voice of the damned said:

quote:
I think the zionist lobby has succeeded in convincing many Americans that Israel and the US share common interests, but I've never quite bought into that idea myself.

Actually, my claim is premised precisely on the fact that Jews and the US state have different interests, but both have an interest in an Israeli state, which is a contested site between them.

quote:
I'm not sure how things like the Jonathan Pollard affair square with the idea that Israel exists to serve US interests.

I did not, and would not, claim that "Israel exists to serve US interests". Rather, the US endorsed the creation of an Israeli state, and has lavished it with enormous quantities of aid, because doing so serves US interests. Whatever Israel "exists for", its continued existence does serve US interests.

That Israel is a contested site - a liberatory project (and at least two different such projects: liberatory for Jewish capital, liberatory for the Jewish people) and a hegemonic client - is more than sufficient to account for game-playing within the US-Israel relationship.

quote:
to suggest that being Jewish in Israel somehow involves "stigma" or is comparable to living in a ghetto, well I dunno.

You completely misread my claim. "Jew" is a stigmatized identity - everywhere. White supremacy is an essential structure of global rule, and "Jew" has been stigmatized in that context. It has nothing to do with swimming pools or where your house is built. Jewish stigma is not something restricted to Israel, nor is it a consequence of anything done there by anyone.

What is important to my claim, however, is that Israel was supposed to change that. Not necessarily amongst Europeans, but amongst Jews. It was supposed be a space where Jews could live freely, could define themselves, rather than be defined by negation - i.e., by their stigmatization under white supremacy. This does not appear to have happened.

Thus, Israel as a kind of globalized version of a ghetto: a concentration of the stigmatized, as stigmatized, at the disposal of different factions of their oppressors.

On, then, to skdadl's broader question:

quote:
As an old New Leftist, I have been startled but interested to observe how generally anti-nationalist the new New Left is now. ...
It seems to me obvious that the first analysis the younger left now bring to the Middle East impasse is a generalized anti-nationalism ...
For the sake of the general reader, can you expand on what you mean by your own syndicalist orientation, in this particular context and in any other (eg, Canada)?

Depending on what you mean by "nationalism", skdadl, I'm not at all sure I would call contemporary New Leftists "anti-nationalist". Certainly, if you have in mind the classical nationalist project - a rigidly bounded territory, containing (pretty much all members of) an ethno-culturally homogenous and distinct population, with an unambiguous traditional claim to that territory, and exercising their "sovereignty" via a nation-state - this is rejected. There simply are no such territories, populations, claims or states, so such projects can only function via co-optation and oppression. However, we have developed an ever more nuanced and differentiated "identitarian" politics, within which "national" identities can serve, contingently, as organizing poles of positivity and resistance at least as easily as other kinds of identity.

By "syndicalism", I have in mind non-state, non-capitalist organizations that play the roles/provide the services elsewhere provided by state and capitalist organizations to their members - more particularly, organizations conceived in the image of unions, i.e., on the basis of the (self-)organization of productive labour.

The Histadrut is perhaps the only case thus far of a union (central) that effectively played the role of "state" to its members, as well as operating a wide range of enterprises of the sort otherwise operated by capitalists. With the formation of the state of Israel, this role was, of course, given up, and the Histadrut's centrality to the life of Jews in Palestine/Israel would seem to have been in retreat since that time.

Interestingly, the Palestinians would seem to have some of the most extensive such organizations now - the PLO/Fatah, Hamas, etc. - a consequence of being a stateless people. But, these bodies are not organized as unions, or otherwise around the organization of productive labour.

There are a number of actions which something like the CLC, or its member unions, could take that would move in this direction - actions which I would heartily recommend. But those take us away from the ideas of this thread.

Finally, Cueball, while I agree with some of what you say - certainly that

quote:
socialists must analyze the root ideas that are essential to its modernism

- I'm inclined to think that an assessment of socialist currents in Arab and other Muslim states is worthy of its own thread.

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Cueball
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posted 05 December 2004 10:47 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
It seems to me you have just said that no one was on point. I'll look at it later. My head hurts.

But I don't think I see how you can have discussion about the importance of Israel to the left and "socialism stategically" without looking at the impact that Israel has had on socialist Arabs -- almost entirely divisive. Are not the Arab socialists part of the strategy?

It seems to me that one of the root problems with Zionim is its attempt to concieve of itself outside of context in which it was imposed -- that is the essential lesson which has been learned.

And I think you should read Zygmund Bauman's Modernity and the Holocaust... or perhaps it is that you have, given the direction you seem to be going.

[ 05 December 2004: Message edited by: Cueball ]


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voice of the damned
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posted 05 December 2004 11:35 PM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
voice of the damned said:


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I think the zionist lobby has succeeded in convincing many Americans that Israel and the US share common interests, but I've never quite bought into that idea myself.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Actually, my claim is premised precisely on the fact that Jews and the US state have different interests, but both have an interest in an Israeli state, which is a contested site between them.


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I'm not sure how things like the Jonathan Pollard affair square with the idea that Israel exists to serve US interests.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I did not, and would not, claim that "Israel exists to serve US interests". Rather, the US endorsed the creation of an Israeli state, and has lavished it with enormous quantities of aid, because doing so serves US interests. Whatever Israel "exists for", its continued existence does serve US interests.


Thnaks for the clarification. But I still don't think I could agree that Israel serves the US's interests, at least not in the big picture. Sure, the Americans might think they're getting some sort of benefit from having Israel in the middle east, and they might pick up the odd tactical advantage, here and there. But I'd be hard pressed to say what exactly Israel gives them that they wouldn't be able to get in a manner that doesn't alienate every single arab and/or muslim government in the world. A force for democratization in the middle east? Please. Even if the US cared one whit about democracy in the middle east, democracy is unlikely to come to the region by everyone suddenly deciding to follow the example of the most despised nation around.

Is Israel an ally against any potential muslim rival to America's regional interest? Perhaps, but then also consider that Israel's existence gives invaluable rhetorical and ideological ammunition to the most virulent sort of anti-American tendencies in those countries. What better excuse for any tinpot theocrat to develop nuclear weapons than the fact that the only "western" country in the region is already armed to the teeth with nukes, and with the blessing of the Great Satanic Sugar Daddy himself?

Nope, I just don't see how, from a purely amoral strategic perspective, support for Israel benefits the USA. But then this raises the question as to why exactly the US does support Israel. My own theory is that it has something to do with the power of the American zionist lobby, in which I would include the (generally) pro-zionist Jewish vote, heavily concentrated in several key electoral states, and to a lesser degree the pre-millenial fundamentalist Xtian crowd with their apocalyptic fantasies about the end times. But if anyone with a better handle on the situation than I have could explain why the US supports Israel, I'd certainly be willing to listen.


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voice of the damned
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posted 06 December 2004 12:23 AM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Chris:

Back to your original post.

quote:
Israel was, from the start, a predominantly Leftist project. The kibbutzim were perhaps the most extensive non-state-sponsored co-operative movement we have yet seen. The Histadrut is perhaps our best exemplar of what a One Big Union really can accomplish. But, most significantly, Israel – Zionism – was a particular strategy for how to respond to oppression. In the face of long-standing traditions of rampant anti-Semitic racism in the Eurocentric world, Zionism was conceived - on the model of European nationalism - as a project to separate Jews from their oppressors: to create a space of power, a safe space, a space within which "Jew" was a positive rather than a stigmatized identity.


I'm not sure if I can wholeheartedly endorse the idea that zionsim from the beginning was a leftist project. I guess if you mean "a project that was supported by leftists", then perhaps. But form the very beginning and continuing through to the present day, zionism has always sought aliances with, and even drawn intellectual succor from, the most atavisitic ideological tendencies.

Herzl basically thought(and pardon my paraphrasing)that anti-semitism was something that Jews shouldn't bother resisting, that it was basically "hard-wired" into the nature of the Jewish-gentile relationship. The lesson he drew from the Dreyfus affair was not that racism should be fought tooth and nail, but that Jews had no business living among Christian Europeans. He more-or-less ignored the strong pro-Dreyfusard support that was present among the French left, preferring to imagine that the entirety of Europe was aligned against the Jews. Basically, he was the Jewish Louis Farrakhan of his day, with suitably authoritarian and anti-democratic political ideas. My point here is that what you might call a negational "ghetto" ideology was present in zionsim at the moment of its inception.

And it got even worse as the years went by. True, you had the left/labour tendency within zionism(Ben Gurion et al) but then you also had the revisionist stream of Jabotinsky and the boys, most memorably manifested by the Irgun faction, who openly endorsed the pre-holocaust Nazi plans to remove Jews from Europe, and even sought Nazi assistance in establishing the zionist state, in exchange for siding with the Nazis in the war and running said zionst state along "folkish" and "totalitarian" lines. While more respectable zionists like Ben Gurion et al preferred to imagine that Irgun was a bizarre fringe, the fact remains that they played a significant role in the anti-British and anti-arab campaigns leading up to the founding of Israel, and several of their most notirious members went on to play leading roles in Israeli politics(Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir most notably).

But I think we're in basic agreement Chris, even if we have different ideas about when exactly zionsim took a reactionary turn(I argue that zionism, or at least a large part of it, was reactionary from the beginning). And I regret not saying this earlier, but I am in total agreement about what I understand to be your "lesson" that zionism holds for the left in relation to identity politics. I don't think Farrakhan(for example) will ever be powerful enough to pose as great a threat to human decency as did Begin and Shamir, and I despise the right-wing demonization of the Nation Of Islam(more often than not carried out by people who have no problem whatsoever with Begin and Shamir). But in its own way Farrakhan's nationalism is just as loopy and reactionary as zionism, as is any ideology which claims that the interests of the oppresor and the oppressed both dovetail in a policy of racial or cultural exclusion.

[ 06 December 2004: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]


From: Asia | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
voice of the damned
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posted 06 December 2004 12:30 AM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
By the way, the bit of zionist history I mentioned in that last post is discussed in many books, but the most succinct and accessable I can think of is this one by Lenni Brenner:

http://www.marxists.de/middleast/brenner/

For those distrustful of left-wing sources, The Controversy Of Zion, by Economist writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft, covers some of the same material.

Wheatcroft is not entirely unsympathetic to zionism, and I highly recommend his book to anyone on either side of this debate.

[ 06 December 2004: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]


From: Asia | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged
writer
editor emeritus
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posted 06 December 2004 12:42 AM      Profile for writer     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
voice of the damned, please fix your second URL.

Thanks!


From: tentative | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
Bubbles
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posted 06 December 2004 01:35 AM      Profile for Bubbles        Edit/Delete Post
It seems to me that we have moved from being actively participating in our community to having become spectators in a managed community. If you look at the developement in the Middle East in that context it will explane a lot. The Arabs are still an undermanaged community compared to the west. That is where the US and Israel come in. There is money in managing other peoples affairs.

And the left, one could see as a fundamentalist aproach to recapture the flavour of community. But unfortunately it tends to end up that one buys a ticket, find a comfortable seat and watch the procedings.

Just ranting.


From: somewhere | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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Babbler # 478

posted 06 December 2004 09:59 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
However, we have developed an ever more nuanced and differentiated "identitarian" politics, within which "national" identities can serve, contingently, as organizing poles of positivity and resistance at least as easily as other kinds of identity.

By "syndicalism", I have in mind non-state, non-capitalist organizations that play the roles/provide the services elsewhere provided by state and capitalist organizations to their members - more particularly, organizations conceived in the image of unions, i.e., on the basis of the (self-)organization of productive labour.


Chris, I must confess that I, anyway, am still at sea.

I see the good side of this sort of organization; I also see some potential dangers.

When you write this, are you thinking specifically of Israel/Palestine, or are you thinking of ... everywhere? anywhere?


From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
lagatta
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posted 06 December 2004 10:39 AM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Cueball, don't you think you are being a wee bit essentialist - as in a left-wing version of the "Clash of Civilisations"? I know a lot of Marxists, anarchists and other leftists of Arab and other Middle Eastern origins (mostly Iranians, a few Turks and Kurds) and they would strongly disagree with your assessment of the difficulty of class-conscious liberatory projects taking root in their societies. And they have a hard time taking root in the very western society just south of ours, non?

A lot of the problem stems from the Soviet Union's alliance with some forms of Arab nationalism and outright discouragement of the left independent of the nationalists - and supposedly "progressive" but actually repressive and oligarchical, corrupt regimes as in Algeria did a lot to discredit the left there. Moreover, as in Poland, places of worship were one place dissidents could more or less freely gather...

As for Zionism, thanks for a thoughtful initial post. I'm still mulling it over. Zionism was a movement of an oppressed people, but I certainly wouldn't describe it as a "left-wing" movement at its inception. Most leftist Jews were either in Socialist or Communist parties which were assimilationist (not necessarily denying Jews the right to be Jews, and certainly opposed to anti-semitism, but in general seeing religion and Jewihs identity as a private matter) or Bundists, who were a form of nationalists to be sure, but rejecting the idea of a separate Jewish homeland.

Nazism physically destroyed not only much of European Jewry, but also the very non-Jews who were allies of Jews in the fight against anti-semitism, including the entire workers' movement as well as liberal-humanist opponents of fascism. All those people as well were murdered, jailed or hounded into exile.


From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
BLAKE 3:16
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posted 06 December 2004 01:11 PM      Profile for BLAKE 3:16     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
Thanks, Chris, for an interesting discussion starter.

The person who recruited me to Marxism, very early in my politcization, made a comment on the parallels between the USSR and Israel and between Stalinism and Zionism. Both offered a utopian vision and a foreign or alternative nationalism.

Have you read Michael Lowy's Redemption and Utopia? It is an absolutely fascinating account of Central European early 20th cent. intellectuals influenced by both Messianic Judaism and Anarcho-Communism. Some, like Gershom Sholem and Martin Buber, eagerly embraced an anarcho-zionism. Some like Franz Kafka flirted with both, while others, like Georg Lukacs, embraced the Soviet system albeit as a dissident.

We do need to be careful about discounting the Middle Eastern Left. It has been hurt very badly, but it is dangerous to accept either the word of the fundamentalists on either side of the debate. There have been relatively strong parties to the left of big C Communism through out the region. Due to repression, many of their supporters are in diasporas. I think it would be wonderful if North American leftists did more to solidarize with these groups.

Here's a link to the Worker Communist Party of Iran and one to Pakistan Labour Party. It's worth looking at their politcal statements, analysis, and calls to action.


From: Babylon, Ontario | Registered: Aug 2002  |  IP: Logged
Cueball
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posted 06 December 2004 02:03 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by lagatta:
Cueball, don't you think you are being a wee bit essentialist - as in a left-wing version of the "Clash of Civilisations"? I know a lot of Marxists, anarchists and other leftists of Arab and other Middle Eastern origins (mostly Iranians, a few Turks and Kurds) and they would strongly disagree with your assessment of the difficulty of class-conscious liberatory projects taking root in their societies. And they have a hard time taking root in the very western society just south of ours, non?

A lot of the problem stems from the Soviet Union's alliance with some forms of Arab nationalism and outright discouragement of the left independent of the nationalists - and supposedly "progressive" but actually repressive and oligarchical, corrupt regimes as in Algeria did a lot to discredit the left there. Moreover, as in Poland, places of worship were one place dissidents could more or less freely gather...


In general I was looking at what is considered 'left' without judgement, as to whether or not we are talking about a 'real' left movement or not. This is why I added the caveat, "no matter what people may think of its actual political character" when describing the Soviet Union, I was talking about its generally accepted politcal persona, as percieved by most people, not whether it was "socialist" or not in fact. By extension I would also include its socialist Arab allies in this category,* without judging whether or not they actually represented truly socliaist ideas, but the fact is they did present themselves as doing so, to a large extent.

I was even being very much less specific than that. I was atually packaging the whole gamut of modernist european humanist ideas, of which I think Karl Marx, Danton, and George Washington are all a part, and not simply the those that are in one way or another linked to Karl Marx. It is the European 'humanist' tradition as a whole that I was talking about, so I am actually also including the US in what I am saying, as part of that 'humanist' tradition even though it never evolved as a branch of socialism.

I am saying there is a left wing version of the "clash of civilizations" idea and this can be seen in the way that some proponents of socialism (real or otherwise) have 'assumed' that they were "right," and that this "rightness" justified any number of violent atrocitites in the pursuit of the obejectives of that "rightness." I am directly likening that strain of socialism to the ideas about the "rightness" that the British imperialists had about Empire and Progress, and the ideas that the United States is presently espousing about "Democracy."

I am also saying that this is the likely cause of the repressive nature of the Soviet Unions "Socialist" Arab allies, which you have described so well. That is the kind of thing that happens when an anti-opression startegy is "installed," as opposed to grown indiginously from within.

It is because I agree with your analysis of the failure of the Arab socialist countries that I originally provided them as an example of the bad exmaples of socialism that make socialism seem suspect among Muslims and trying to establish the impact of that failure as a possible reasons behind the apparent inability of socialist movements to again become the focus of Arab anti-opression strategies, and the consequent rise of militant Islam as the focus of resitance to the impositions of the west, both socialist and capitalist.

I do not think that socialism can be imposed, just as I do not think that "democracy" can be imposed.

I certainly did not mean to suggest that Arab, Persians or any of the other cultures, which are encapsulated within what we call the Muslim world, as being incapable of grasping these 'western ideas' for some unspecified reason, rather I was saying that these ideas evolved in the manner that they did, and took the form that they did, in the context of European society, as a natural course of political and cultural evolution of what Chris calls 'anti-opression strategies' from within. Chris presents an another exmaple of this when he notes (I think correctly) that the Israeli movement did not succeed "from the 'bottom up', as a movement of resistance," but was "installed 'top down', as an act of the ruling class."

* I don't even think Soviet Social scientists identified them as such and included them in some third category, which identified them as allies but not as part of the Socialist tradition that the USSR thought that it was the leader.

[ 06 December 2004: Message edited by: Cueball ]


From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
Krago
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posted 06 December 2004 05:01 PM      Profile for Krago     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
quote:
Originally posted by Chris Borst:
... so might it prove to be the case that the collapse/restructuring of Israel could be the best prospect for progress against anti-Semitic racism.

What kind of collapse/restructuring did you have in mind?

As the Americans are proving in Iraq, the "collapse" is a lot easier to do than the "restructuring".


From: The Royal City | Registered: Sep 2002  |  IP: Logged
Cueball
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posted 07 December 2004 01:36 AM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post
One of the restructuring plans that has been floating around for a while is the unification of Israel with the WB and Gaza, and the creation of a unified secular democratic state.
From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged

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