Israel Veers Even Further Right

Hillary Clinton says she wants to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” even as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing regime plumbs new depths of extremism, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

There already shouldn’t have been any doubt about the orientation of the current Israeli government and the associated obduracy of that government in blocking any path toward resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is firmly rightist, dominated by those opposed to the relinquishing of occupied territory or the creation of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu, who comes across as one of the more moderate members of his own coalition, has paid more lip service than some other members of that coalition to the idea of an eventual Palestinian state, but he has made clear with other words and actions that he has no intention of any such thing coming into being on his watch, or of taking any meaningful steps toward such a state coming into being.

Now come reports that Netanyahu is offering the Defense Ministry to former Moldovan nightclub bouncer (and resident of a West Bank settlement) Avigdor Lieberman. This will bring into the ruling coalition Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, which even within the Israeli context is usually described as “hard right.”

Bringing Lieberman into the government is indicative not only of the overall orientation of that government but also of some larger disturbing trends in Israeli attitudes that the government has fomented more than it has discouraged.

If Lieberman is made defense minister he would replace Moshe Ya’alon, who in recent days has backed the Israeli military in prosecuting (though only for manslaughter, not the murder that occurred) an Israeli soldier who was caught on videotape shooting in the head, at close range, a Palestinian man who was wounded and lying on the ground, already subdued and obviously not a threat. Lieberman has joined other hardliners in expressing support for the soldier. (Netanyahu has visited the soldier’s family to express sympathy.)

Netanyahu had been trying to recruit another coalition partner to increase his government’s thin majority in the Knesset. Talks with centrist leader Isaac Herzog fell through; the government evidently had more in common with the crude hard right tendencies of Lieberman. Perhaps the timing of this latest political move was a natural outcome of this sequence of negotiations.

Or maybe it was at least as much another example of Netanyahu’s proclivity for poking a stick in the eye of foreign leaders who look like they might be getting on his case about the Palestinian conflict — such as timing an announcement of more settlement expansion to coincide with a visit of Vice President Biden. This time the stickee is the French government, which is organizing an international conference for later this year on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

All honest outside observers should use the report about Lieberman coming into the Israeli government as an occasion to remind themselves that this tragic and long-running conflict continues to run because one side refuses to end it. The gross asymmetry between the two sides is all-important.

One side, the occupying power — the side with the firepower — has the ability to end the occupation and resolve the conflict if it decided to do so. The other side has no such power. That other side, the Palestinian side, has tried to use violent resistance but has subsequently and correctly drawn the conclusion that such violence is not the answer; the violence, unsurprisingly, only stokes legitimate fears among Israelis about their security.

Violence has been continuing in the unplanned, spontaneous, and frustration-driven form of young people grabbing knives and stabbing the first Israelis they can find. The Palestinian leadership has turned to multilateral diplomacy, which, besides popular boycotts, is about the only tool it has left. And the Israeli government does everything it can to impede and to foil such diplomacy, as it is trying to do now with the French initiative.

A common urge to sound impartial leads to the common refrain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists because neither side has the political will to settle it. Nonsense. The overwhelming majority of Palestinians do not want to continue to live under Israeli occupation. They have the will but not the power to settle.

There certainly are divisions and political weakness on the Palestinian side — of which the Israeli government has striven to prevent any repair, such as in “punishing” the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority through withholding tax revenue whenever it has moved toward reconciliation with Hamas — but there is no significant pro-occupation party among Palestinians.

The hardliners who control Israel policy have the power but — as ample evidence, even without Avigdor Lieberman, has shown — not the will, as long as third parties do not make them suffer any meaningful consequences. They do want the occupation to continue.

The Netanyahu government’s repeated claim that it wants to negotiate with the Palestinians should be described as the charade that it is. It is understandable that Palestinian leaders have no desire to engage in talks that have no prospect of leading to anything, when such engagement would just mean participating in the charade while the occupation continues and more facts are built on the occupied ground.

The insincerity is all the more obvious when Netanyahu speaks of talks with “no preconditions” while at the same time insisting that the Palestinians pronounce Israel to be a “Jewish state” — a precondition that implicitly limits how the issue of Palestinian refugees and right of return can be resolved, and also would mean the Palestinian leadership formally signing on to a declaration that non-Jewish Israelis are second-class citizens. Those are the only things such a pronouncement would mean.

The Palestinian leadership long ago recognized, formally and unequivocally, the state of Israel. As Palestinian leaders have noted, that state is free to describe itself any way it wants.

With the American political system still wearing its usual straitjacket on this issue, the main hope right now for taking any steps out of this tragic situation lies with the French initiative. If the United States is to do anything helpful any time in the foreseeable future, it probably will have to come in the remaining eight months of the Obama administration.

One of the two presumptive presidential nominees speaks of taking U.S.-Israeli relations “to the next level” — and it is safe to assume she doesn’t mean that the next level will consist of imposing consequences for the continued occupation.

The other presumptive presidential nominee caused nervous moments in the Israel lobby when he talked about being impartial, but the nerves were soothed with a speech to AIPAC that said all the “right” things. And now he has Sheldon Adelson and Adelson’s heavyweight bankroll on his side, with everything that implies for this nominee’s future posture on Israel-related issues if he were to be elected.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




The Widening Cracks in Zionism

Zionism has imposed an ideological orthodoxy that seeks to lock Jews – and Western politicians – into unquestioning support for whatever Israel does, but more people are breaking ranks, observes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Ideological movements, be they religious or secular, are demanding and Procrustean movements. By ideological movements I mean those that demand of their adherents resolute belief in some “deep set of truths” posited by a deity, by supposed immutable historical laws, or by some other equally unchallengeable source. Their followers, once initiated, or even just born into the fold, are expected to stay there and, as the saying goes, “keep the faith.”

However, in cultural, political and religious terms, there are no eternal deep truths. History has an abrasive quality that erodes our beliefs in this god and that law. Though the process might take a longer or shorter time to manifest itself, yesterday’s faith will at some point start to ring less true. At some point followers start to fall away.

What happens when ideologically driven leaders start to lose their following? Well, they get very upset because those who are supposed to affirm everything the movement stands for are now having doubts. Such doubters are dangerous to the supposed true faith and so are usually dealt with in one of two ways: (1) the ideologues in charge attempt to marginalize the disaffected by denigrating them and then casting them out of the fold or (2) if we are dealing with totalitarian types, they send the dissenters off to a gulag, or worse.

This sort of unraveling – the loss of growing numbers of traditional followers of an ideological movement – seems to be going on within the Zionist community, particularly among American Jews.

Zionism is an ideological movement that preaches the God-given Jewish right to control and settle all of historical Palestine. Since the founding of Israel in 1948 the Zionists have also claimed that the “Jewish State” represents all of world Jewry, thus self-aware Jews owe allegiance to both Israel and its prevailing Zionist philosophy.

However, in the last decade or so, that allegiance has been breaking down. In the U.S. a growing “disconnect” has been noted between the outlook and actions of the ideologically rigid leaders of major U.S. Jewish organizations (who remain uncritically supportive of Israel) and the increasingly alienated Jewish-American rank-and-file whom, at least up until recently, the leaders claimed to represent. This gap has been repeatedly documented by several sources ranging from, Pew Research Center surveys, to the Jewish Forward newspaper, and the organization of Reform Judaism.

As characterized by the Jewish Forward the situation is that ordinary American Jews are “far more critical of Israel than the Jewish establishment.” Almost half of the American Jews surveyed by a Pew study in 2013 did not think the Israeli government was making a “sincere effort” to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Almost as many saw Israel’s expanding colonization of the West Bank as counterproductive.

Thus, this disconnect is not a sudden or new situation. The numbers of questioning American Jews have continued to grow, and things have only gotten worse for the Zionist leadership. Indeed, just as many young American Jews may be joining pro-peace activist groups as are cheering on AIPAC at its conventions.

Leadership Reactions in the U.S.

Following the two-option scheme described above, the main reaction of the leadership of American Jewish organizations is to try to marginalize these questioning Jews – to dismiss them as “uninformed, unengaged, or wrong.”  To that end American Jewish officials are now conveniently asking if they really need to represent “the disorganized, unaffiliated Jewish community … the 50% of Jews who, in a calendar year, do not step into a synagogue, do not belong to a JCC [Jewish Community Center], and are Jews in name only.”

This sort of marginalizing of all but the true believers was articulated by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. He told the Jewish Forward, “you know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care.”

Here Foxman was engaging in a bit of circular thinking: the important constituency is those represented by the establishment. How do we know? They are the ones who still “care” about Israel. How do we define caring? Caring means continuing to believe what the Jewish establishment and the Israeli government tell them.

Eventually Foxman goes even further, concluding that Jewish leaders aren’t beholden to the opinions of any aspect of the Jewish public. “I don’t sit and poll my constituency,” Foxman said. “Part of Jewish leadership is leadership. We lead.” It would appear that, over time, he is leading diminishing numbers.

Reaction out of Israel to reports of the growing alienation of American Jews has been aggressively negative. After all, Israel is the centerpiece of Zionist ideology – its grand achievement. Being the subject of criticism by growing numbers of Jews, in the U.S. or elsewhere, is utterly unacceptable to those now in charge of Israel’s ruling institutions.

These leaders, both secular and religious, have begun to write off critical and skeptical Jews as apostates, even to the point of denying that they are Jews at all.

Seymour Reich, who is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (such folks always wait until they retire to speak out critically), has recently described Israel’s current leadership as alarmingly anti-democratic. He writes of “the Israeli government’s assault on democratic values” and its use of “legislation and incitement to strike down dissent,” be it expressed through “speech, press, religion [or] academic freedoms.”

He goes on to quote the Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay. “Speaking about Reform and Conservative Jews,” who happen to make up the majority of Jews in the U.S., are often of liberal persuasion, and increasingly alienated by the ultraorthodox policies of Israel’s religious establishment, Azoulay said, “I cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew,” and, “We cannot allow these groups to get near the Torah of Israel.”

Things appear potentially even worse when we hear Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz calling for the “targeted killing” of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) leaders. In the U.S., many of these leaders are Jewish.

Such official Israeli attitudes make a mockery of the claims of American politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, that Israel “is built on principles of equality, tolerance and pluralism. … And we marvel that such a bastion of liberty exists in a region so plagued by intolerance.” It should be noted that in January 2016 the Israeli Knesset rejected a bill that would have secured in law equality for all the country’s citizens.

In truth, Zionism and the state it created have always been ideologically rigid. Every effort at modifying the movement’s basic demand for a state exclusive to one people, from early concepts of “cultural Zionism” to more recent notions of “liberal Zionism,” has failed.

The occasional bit of propagandistic dissimulation notwithstanding, Zionist leaders from Ben Gurion to Netanyahu have been dedicated to (a) territorial expansion based on the principle of Eretz Israel (greater Israel) and (b) the principle of inequality – none of them have ever seriously considered equal social and economic, much less political, treatment for non-Jews. That means that the present, obnoxiously rigid hardliners both in the U.S. and Israel are pushing persistent racist and colonialist themes.

It is the persistence of these Zionist themes that has led to increasing skepticism among U.S. Jews, most of whom take the ideals of democracy seriously. And it is the ideologically rigid refusal to reach a just peace with the Palestinians, who 67 years after the triumph of Zionism are still being ethnically cleansed, that has pushed many otherwise passive Jews into open opposition.

It has taken us several generations to get to this point, but our arrival has been predictable all along. That is because the ideology of Zionism brooks no compromises and admits to no sins – even as Israeli behavior grows evermore barbaric.

Thus, the number of dissenters and critics grow and the ideologues start to become anxious and vengeful – a display of aggression that only alienates more Jews. Thus it is that Zionism has begun to unravel.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents

From the Archive: A century ago, the British-French Sykes-Picot deal carved up the Mideast, setting in motion conflicts made more complicated when Israel emerged and mastered American politics, as Morgan Strong described in 2010.

By Morgan Strong (Originally published May 31, 2010)

At the end of a news conference on April 13, 2010, President Barack Obama made the seemingly obvious point that the continuing Middle East conflict pitting Israel against its Arab neighbors will end up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

Obama’s remark followed a similar statement in congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus on March 16, linking the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the challenges that U.S. troops face in the region.

“The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus said in prepared testimony. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

[Petraeus later tried to back away from this implicit criticism of Israel, fearing that it would hurt his political standing with his neoconservative allies. He began insisting that the analysis was only part of his written testimony, not his oral remarks.]

Yet, the truth behind the assessments from Obama and Petraeus is self-evident to anyone who has spent time observing the Middle East for the past six decades. Even the staunchly pro-Israeli Bush administration made similar observations.

In 2007 in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice termed the Israeli/Palestinian peace process of “strategic interest” to the United States and expressed empathy for the beleaguered Palestinian people. “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people,” Rice said, referring to acts of Palestinian violence.

But the statements by Obama and Petraeus aroused alarm among some Israeli supporters who reject any suggestion that Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians might be a factor in the anti-Americanism surging through the Islamic world.

After Petraeus’s comment, the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League said linking the Palestinian plight and Muslim anger was “dangerous and counterproductive.”

“Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel,” ADL national director Abraham Foxman said.

However, the U.S. government’s widespread (though often unstated) recognition of the truth behind the assessment in Petraeus’s testimony has colored how the Obama administration has reacted to the intransigence of Israel’s Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S. government realizes how much it has done on Israel’s behalf, even to the extent of making Americans the targets of Islamic terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks (as the 9/11 Commission discovered but played down) and sacrificing the lives of thousands of U.S. troops fighting in Middle East conflicts.

That was the backdrop in March 2009 for President Obama’s outrage over the decision of the Netanyahu government to continue building Jewish housing in Arab East Jerusalem despite the fact that the move complicated U.S. peace initiatives and was announced as Vice President Joe Biden arrived to reaffirm American support for Israel.

However, another little-acknowledged truth about the U.S.-Israeli relationship is that Israeli leaders have frequently manipulated and misled American presidents out of a confidence that U.S. politicians deeply fear the political fallout from any public battle with Israel.

Given that history, few analysts who have followed the arc of U.S.-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding in 1948 believe that the Israeli government is likely to retreat very much in its confrontation with President Obama. [Now, nearly seven years into Obama’s presidency after Netanyahu’s persistent obstruction of Palestinian peace talks and his steady expansion of Jewish settlements that assessment has proved out.]

Manipulating Eisenhower

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower was a strong supporter of the fledgling Jewish state and had supplied Israel with advanced U.S. weaponry. Yet, despite Eisenhower’s generosity and good intentions, Israel sided with the British and French in 1956 in a conspiracy against him. Israeli leaders joined a secret arrangement that involved Israel invading Egypt’s Sinai, which then allowed France and Great Britain to introduce their own forces and reclaim control of the Suez Canal.

In reaction to the invasion, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on the side of Egypt by sending ground troops. With Cold War tensions already stretched thin by the crises in Hungary and elsewhere, Eisenhower faced the possibility of a showdown between nuclear-armed adversaries. Eisenhower demanded that the Israeli-spearheaded invasion of the Sinai be stopped, and he brought financial and political pressures to bear on Great Britain and France.

A ceasefire soon was declared, and the British and French departed, but the Israelis dragged their heels. Eisenhower finally presented Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with an ultimatum, a threat to cut off all U.S. aid. Finally, in March 1957, the Israelis withdrew. [For details, see Eisenhower and Israel by Isaac Alteras.]

Even as it backed down in the Sinai, Israel was involved in another monumental deception, a plan for building its own nuclear arsenal. In 1956, Israel had concluded an agreement with France to build a nuclear reactor in the Negev desert. Israel also signed a secret agreement with France to build an adjacent plutonium reprocessing plant.

Israel began constructing its nuclear plant in 1958. However, French President Charles de Gaulle was worried about nuclear weapons destabilizing the Middle East and insisted that Israel not develop a nuclear bomb from the plutonium processing plant. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion assured de Gaulle that the processing plant was for peaceful purposes only.

After John F. Kennedy became President, he also wrote to Ben-Gurion explicitly calling on Israel not to join the nuclear-weapons club, drawing another pledge from Ben-Gurion that Israel had no such intention. Nevertheless, Kennedy continued to press, forcing the Israelis to let U.S. scientists inspect the nuclear reactor at Dimona. But the Israelis first built a fake control room while bricking up and otherwise disguising parts of the building that housed the plutonium processing plant.

In return for allowing inspectors into Dimona, Ben-Gurion also demanded that the United States sell Hawk surface-to-air missiles to the Israeli military. Kennedy agreed to the sale as a show of good faith. Subsequently, however, the CIA got wind of the Dimona deception and leaked to the press that Israel was secretly building a nuclear bomb.

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson also grew concerned over Israel’s acquiring nuclear weapons. He asked then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Eshkol assured Johnson that Israel was studying the matter and would sign the treaty in due course. However, Israel has never signed the treaty and never has admitted that it developed nuclear weapons. [For details, see Israel and The Bomb by Avner Cohen.]

Trapping Johnson

As Israel grew more sophisticated and more confident in its dealings with U.S. presidents, it also sought to secure U.S. military assistance by exaggerating its vulnerability to Arab attacks. One such case occurred after the Egyptians closed off the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel in May 1967, denying the country its only access to the Red Sea. Israel threatened military action against Egypt if it did not re-open the Gulf.

Israel then asked President Johnson for military assistance in the event war broke out against the Egyptians. Johnson directed Richard Helms, the newly appointed head of the CIA to evaluate Israel’s military capability in the event of war against the surrounding Arab states.

On May 26, 1967, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban met with Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and Helms. Eban presented a Mossad estimate of the capability of the Arab armies, claiming that Israel was seriously outgunned by the Arab armies which had been supplied with advanced Soviet weaponry. Israel believed that, owing to its special relationship with the United States, the Mossad intelligence assessment would be taken at face value.

However, Helms was asked to present the CIA estimate of the Arabs’ military capabilities versus the Israeli army. The CIA’s analysts concluded that Israel could “defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting a successful major offensive on the fourth.” [See “C.I.A. Analysis of the 1967 Arab Israeli War,” Center for the Study of Intelligence.]

“We do not believe that the Israeli appreciation was a serious estimate of the sort they would submit to their own high officials,” the CIA report said. “It is probably a gambit intended to influence the U.S. to provide military supplies, make more public commitments to Israel, to approve Israeli military initiatives, and put more pressure on Egyptian President Nasser.” [See A Look Over My Shoulder by Richard Helms.]

The CIA report stated further that the Soviet Union would probably not interfere militarily on behalf of the Arab states and that Israel would defeat the combined Arab armies in a matter of days. As a consequence, Johnson refused to airlift special military supplies to Israel, or to promise public support for Israel if Israel went to war.

The Six-Day Success

Despite Johnson’s resistance, Israel launched an attack on its Arab neighbors on June 5, 1967, claiming that the conflict was provoked when Egyptian forces opened fire. (The CIA later concluded that it was Israel that had first fired upon Egyptian forces.)

On June 8, at the height of the conflict, which would become known as the Six-Day War, Israeli fighter/bombers attacked the USS Liberty, a lightly armed communications vessel sent on a mission to relay information on the course of the war to U.S. naval intelligence.

The attack killed 34 Americans sailors, and wounded 171 others. Israeli leaders have always claimed that they had mistaken the U.S. vessel for an enemy ship, but a number of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, believed the attack was deliberate, possibly to prevent the United States from learning about Israel’s war plans. [See As I Saw It by Dean Rusk.]

However, in deference to Israel, the U.S. government did not aggressively pursue the matter of the Liberty attack and even issued misleading accounts in medal citations to crew members, leaving out the identity of the attackers.

Meanwhile, on land and in the air, Israel’s powerful military advanced, shredding the Arab defenses. Soon, the conflict escalated into another potential showdown between nuclear-armed superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. On June 10, President Johnson received a “Hot Line” message from Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin. The Kremlin warned of grave consequences if Israel continued its military campaign against Syria by entering and/or occupying that country.

Johnson dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, in a move to convince the Soviets of American resolve. But a ceasefire was declared later the same day, with Israel ending up in control of Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai, and Palestinian lands including Gaza and East Jerusalem.

But a wider war was averted. Johnson’s suspicions about Israel’s expansionist intent had kept the United States from making an even bigger commitment that might have led to the Soviets countering with an escalation of their own.

Nixon and Yom Kippur

Israeli occupation of those additional Arab lands set the stage for a resumption of hostilities six years later, on Oct. 6, 1973, with the Yom Kippur War, which began with a surprise attack by Egypt against Israeli forces in the Sinai.

The offensive caught Israel off guard and Arab forces were close to overrunning Israel’s outer defenses and entering the country. According to later accounts based primarily on Israeli leaks, Prime Minister Golda Meir and her “kitchen cabinet” ordered the arming of 13 nuclear weapons, which were aimed at Egyptian and Syrian targets.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Simha Dintz warned President Richard Nixon that very serious repercussions would occur if the United States did not immediately begin an airlift of military equipment and personnel to Israel. Fearing that the Soviet Union might intervene and that nuclear war was possible, the U.S. military raised its alert level to DEFCON-3. U.S. Airborne units in Italy were put on full alert, and military aid was rushed to Israel.

Faced with a well-supplied Israeli counteroffensive and possible nuclear annihilation, the Arab forces fell back. The war ended on Oct. 26, 1973, but the United States had again been pushed to the brink of a possible superpower confrontation due to the unresolved Israeli-Arab conflict.

Nuclear ‘Ambiguity’

On Sept. 22, 1979, after some clouds unexpectedly broke over the South Indian Ocean, a U.S. intelligence satellite detected two bright flashes of light that were quickly interpreted as evidence of a nuclear test. The explosion was apparently one of several nuclear tests that Israel had undertaken in collaboration with the white-supremacist government of South Africa. But President Jimmy Carter at the start of his reelection bid didn’t want a showdown with Israel, especially on a point as sensitive as its secret nuclear work with the pariah government in Pretoria.

So, after news of the nuclear test leaked a month later, the Carter administration followed Israel’s longstanding policy of “ambiguity” about the existence of its nuclear arsenal, a charade dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidency with the United States pretending not to know for sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.

The Carter administration quickly claimed that there was “no confirmation” of a nuclear test, and a panel was set up to conclude that the flashes were “probably not from a nuclear explosion.” However, as investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and various nuclear experts later concluded, the flashes were most certainly an explosion of a low-yield nuclear weapon. [For details, see Hersh’s Samson Option.]

Getting Carter

Despite Carter’s helpful cover-up of the Israeli-South African nuclear test, he was still viewed with disdain by Israel’s hard-line Likud leadership. Indeed, he arguably was the target of Israel’s most audacious intervention in U.S. politics.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious at Carter over the 1978 Camp David accords in which the U.S. President pushed the Israelis into returning the Sinai to the Egyptians in exchange for a peace agreement. The next year, Carter failed to protect the Shah of Iran, an important Israeli regional ally who was forced from power by Islamic militants. Then, when Carter acceded to demands from the Shah’s supporters to admit him to New York for cancer treatment, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage.

In 1980, as Carter focused on his reelection campaign, Begin saw both dangers and opportunities. High-ranking Israeli diplomat/spy David Kimche described Begin’s thinking in the 1991 book, The Last Option, recounting how Begin feared that Carter might force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and accept a Palestinian state if he won a second term.

“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington,” Kimche wrote. “They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Begin’s alarm was driven by the prospect of Carter being freed from the pressure of having to face another election, according to Kimche.

“Unbeknownst to the Israeli negotiators, the Egyptians held an ace up their sleeves, and they were waiting to play it,” Kimche wrote. “The card was President Carter’s tacit agreement that after the American presidential elections in November 1980, when Carter expected to be re-elected for a second term, he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”

So, by spring 1980, Begin had privately sided with Carter’s Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, a reality that Carter soon realized. Questioned by congressional investigators in 1992 regarding allegations about Israel conspiring with Republicans in 1980 to help unseat him, Carter said he knew by April 1980 that “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House task force that looked into the so-called October Surprise case.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.” [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Doing What Was Necessary

Begin was an Israeli leader committed to do whatever he felt necessary to advance Israeli security interests and the dream of a Greater Israel with Jews controlling the ancient Biblical lands. Before Israel’s independence in 1948, he had led a Zionist terrorist group, and he founded the right-wing Likud Party in 1973 with the goal of “changing the facts on the ground” by placing Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Begin’s anger over the Sinai deal and his fear of Carter’s reelection set the stage for secret collaboration between Begin and the Republicans, according to another former Israeli intelligence official, Ari Ben-Menashe.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote in his 1992 memoir, Profits of War. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Jew who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager, became part of a secret Israeli program to reestablish its Iranian intelligence network that had been decimated by the Islamic revolution. Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some military spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979 and continued them despite Iran’s seizure of the U.S. hostages in November 1979.

Extensive evidence also exists that Begin’s preference for Reagan led the Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter’s back, interfering with the President’s efforts to free the 52 American hostages before the November 1980 elections.

That evidence includes statements from senior Iranian officials, international arms dealers, intelligence operatives (including Ben-Menashe), and Middle East political figures (including a cryptic confirmation from Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir). But the truth about the October Surprise case remains in dispute to this day. [For the latest details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

It is clear that after Reagan defeated Carter, and the U.S. hostages were released immediately upon Reagan being sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, Israeli-brokered weapons shipments flowed to Iran with the secret blessing of the new Republican administration.

Dealing with Reagan

The Israel Lobby had grown exponentially since its start in the Eisenhower years. Israel’s influential supporters were now positioned to use every political device imaginable to lobby Congress and to get the White House to acquiesce to whatever Israel felt it needed.

President Reagan also credentialed into the Executive Branch a new group of pro-Israeli American officials the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen and Jeane Kirkpatrick who became known as the neocons.

Yet, despite Reagan’s pro-Israel policies, the new U.S. President wasn’t immune from more Israeli deceptions and additional pressures. Indeed, whether because of the alleged collusion with Reagan during the 1980 campaign or because Israel sensed its greater clout within his administration, Begin demonstrated a new level of audacity.

In 1981, Israel recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American Navy intelligence analyst, as a spy to acquire American intelligence satellite photos. Eventually, Pollard purloined massive amounts of intelligence information, some of which was reportedly turned over to Soviet intelligence by Israel to win favors from Moscow.

Prime Minister Begin sensed, too, that the time was ripe to gain the upper hand on other Arab enemies. He turned his attention to Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization was based. When U.S. intelligence warned Reagan that Israel was massing troops along the border with Lebanon, Reagan sent a cable to Begin urging him not to invade. But Begin ignored Reagan’s plea and invaded Lebanon the following day, on June 6, 1982. [See Time, Aug. 16, 1982.]

As the offensive progressed, Reagan sought a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the PLO, but Israel was intent on killing as many PLO fighters as possible. Periodic U.S.-brokered ceasefires failed as Israel used the slightest provocation to resume fighting, supposedly in self-defense.

“When PLO sniper fire is followed by fourteen hours of Israeli bombardment that is stretching the definition of defensive action too far,” complained Reagan, who kept the picture of a horribly burned Lebanese child on his desk in the Oval Office as a reminder of the tragedy of Lebanon.

The American public nightly witnessed the Israeli bombardment of Beirut on television news broadcasts. The pictures of dead, mutilated children caught in the Israeli artillery barrages, were particularly wrenching. Repulsed by the carnage, the U.S. public decidedly favored forcing Israel to stop.

When Reagan warned Israel of possible sanctions if its forces continued to indiscriminately attack Beirut, Israel launched a major offensive against West Beirut the next day. In the United States, Israeli supporters demanded a meeting with Reagan to press Israel’s case. Though Reagan declined the meeting, one was set up for 40 leaders of various Jewish organizations with Vice President George H.W. Bush, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz.

Reagan wrote once again to Begin, reminding him that Israel was allowed to use American weapons only for defensive purposes. He appealed to Begin’s humanitarianism to stop the bombardment.

The next day, in a meeting with Israeli supporters from the United States, Begin fumed that he would not be instructed by an American president or any other U.S. official. “Nobody is going to bring Israel to her knees. You must have forgotten that Jews do not kneel but to God,” Begin said. “Nobody is going to preach to us humanitarianism.”

More Tragedy

Begin’s government also used the tragedy in Lebanon as an opportunity to provide special favors for its American backers.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Freidman wrote that the Israeli Army conducted tours of the battlefront for influential U.S. donors. On one occasion, women from Hadassah were taken to the hills surrounding Beirut and were invited to look down on the city as Israeli artillery put on a display for them. The artillery began an enormous barrage, with shells landing throughout the densely populated city. The shells struck and destroyed apartments, shops, homes and shacks in the squalid refugee camps of the Palestinians.

A ceasefire was finally agreed upon by Israel and the PLO, requiring Yasser Arafat and all PLO fighters to leave Lebanon. The Palestinians were assured, as part of the agreement brokered by the United States, that their wives and children living in Lebanese refugee camps would be safe from harm. The PLO then left Lebanon by ship in August 1982, moving the PLO headquarters to Tunisia.

On Sept. 16, Israel’s Christian militia allies, with Israeli military support, entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and conducted a three-day campaign of rape and murder. Most of the dead with estimates varying from Israel’s count of 400 to a Palestinian estimate of nearly 1,000 were women and children.

American Marines, who had been dispatched to Lebanon as peacekeepers to oversee the PLO evacuation but then had departed, hastily returned after the Sabra and Shatila massacres. They were housed in a large warehouse complex near Beirut’s airport.

Over the next year, American forces found themselves drawn into the worsening Lebanese civil war. A key moment occurred on Sept. 18, 1983, when Reagan’s national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who was considered a staunch supporter of Israel, ordered U.S. warships to bombard Muslim targets inside Lebanon.

As Gen. Colin Powell, then a top aide to Defense Secretary Weinberger, wrote in his memoir, “When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides.” [See Powell’s My American Journey.]

Muslim attacks on the Marines in Beirut soon escalated. On Oct. 23, 1983, two Shiite Muslims drove explosives-laden trucks into two buildings in Beirut, one housing French forces and the other the Marines. The blasts killed 241 Americans and 58 French.

Over the ensuing weeks, American forces continued to suffer losses in skirmishes with Muslim militiamen near the Beirut airport and American civilians also became targets for execution and hostage-taking. On Feb. 7, 1984, Reagan announced that the Marines would be redeployed from Lebanon. Within a couple of weeks, the last of the Marines had departed Lebanon, having suffered a total of 268 killed.

However, the hostage-taking of Americans continued, ironically creating an opportunity for Israel to intercede again through its contacts in Iran to seek the help of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime in getting the Lebanese Shiite militants to release captured Americans.

Israeli arms dealers and neocon Americans, such as Michael Ledeen, were used as middlemen for the secret arms-for-hostages deals, which Reagan approved and McFarlane oversaw. However, the arms deliveries via Israel failed to reduce the overall number of Americans held hostage in Lebanon and were eventually exposed in November 1986, becoming Reagan’s worst scandal, the Iran-Contra Affair.

Noriega and Harari

Though Israel’s government had created some headaches for Reagan, it also provided some help, allowing its arms dealers and intelligence operatives to assist some of Reagan’s favorite covert operations, particularly in Central America where the U.S. Congress had objected to military assistance going to human rights violators, like the Guatemalan military, and to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

As Vice President, George H.W. Bush met with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga and considered him a compliant partner. Noriega subsequently funneled financial and other help to Reagan’s beloved Contras and once even volunteered to arrange the assassinations of leaders of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

One of Noriega’s top operatives was Michael Harari, who had led Israeli assassination teams and who had served as the Israeli Mossad station chief in Mexico. In Panama, Harari became a key intermediary for Israeli contributions to the Contras, supplying them with arms and training, while Noriega handed over cash.

But Noriega and Harari were conducting other business in the region, allegedly working as middlemen and money launderers for the lucrative smuggling of cocaine into the United States. When that information surfaced in the U.S. news media and Noriega became notorious as an unstable thug George H.W. Bush as President found himself under enormous political pressure in 1989 to remove Noriega from power.

So, Bush prepared to invade Panama in December 1989. However, the Israeli government was concerned about the possible capture of Harari, whom U.S. prosecutors regarded as Noriega’s top co-conspirator but who also was someone possessing sensitive information about Israeli clandestine activities.

Six hours before U.S. troops were to invade Panama, Harari was warned of the impending attack, an alert that enabled him to flee and may have compromised the safety of American paratroopers and Special Forces units preparing to begin the assault, units that took surprisingly heavy casualties.

Tipped off by Israeli intelligence agents, Harari was whisked away by an Israeli embassy car, flying a diplomatic flag, with diplomatic license plates to ensure he would not be stopped and held, according to an interview that I had in January 1990 with Col. Edward Herrera Hassen, commander of Panama Defense Forces.

Harari soon was on his way back to Israel, where the government has since rebuffed U.S. requests that Harari be extradited to the United States to stand trial in connection with the Noriega case. For his part, Noriega was captured and brought to the United States where he was convicted of eight drug and racketeering charges. [Hariri died on Sept. 21, 2014, in Tel Aviv at the age of 87.]

The Lobby

The one constant in Israel’s endless maneuverings both with and against the U.S. government has been the effectiveness of the Israel Lobby and its many allies to fend off sustained criticism of Israel, sometimes by smearing critics as anti-Semitic or by mounting aggressive cover-ups when investigations threatened to expose ugly secrets.

Given this long record of success, U.S. presidents and other politicians have demonstrated a declining capacity to press Israel into making concessions, the way Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter tried to do. For instance, when President Bill Clinton first met with Netanyahu in 1996, Clinton was surprised to find himself getting a lecture from Israel’s Likud prime minister. “Who the f**k does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?” a peeved Clinton was quoted as saying. [See The Much Too Promised Land, by Aaron Miller, an aide to Clinton.]

Joe Lockhart, then White House spokesman, told Clayton Swisher, author of The Truth About Camp David, that Netanyahu was “one of the most obnoxious individuals you’re going to come into just a liar and a cheat. He could open his mouth and you could have no confidence that anything that came out of it was the truth.”

Faced with these difficulties and fending off Republican attempts to drive him from office Clinton put off any serious push for a Middle East peace accord until the last part of his presidency. Clinton negotiated the Wye River memorandum with Netanyahu and Arafat on Sept. 23, 1999, calling for reciprocal undertakings by both sides. The agreement called for the freezing of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, but Netanyahu failed to stop the settlement activity. Demolition of Palestinian homes, restrictions on movement by Palestinians, and settlement building continued.

Ultimately, Clinton failed to achieve any breakthrough as his final efforts collapsed amid finger-pointing and distrust between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Handling Bush

Israel’s hopes were buoyed further when George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001. Unlike his father who looked on the Israelis with suspicion and felt some kinship with the Arab oil states, the younger Bush was unabashedly pro-Israel.

Though Reagan had credentialed many young neocons in the 1980s, he had kept them mostly away from Middle East policy, which usually fell to less ideological operatives such as Philip Habib and James Baker. However, George W. Bush installed the neocons in key jobs for Mideast policy, with the likes of Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, and Lewis Libby inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

The neocons arrived with a plan to transform the Middle East based on a scheme prepared by a group of American neocons, including Perle and Feith, for Netanyahu in 1996. Called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” the idea was to bring to heel all the antagonistic states confronting Israel.

The “clean break” was to abandon the idea of achieving peace in the region through mutual understanding and compromise. Instead, there would be “peace through strength,” including violent removal of leaders who were viewed as hostile to Israel’s interests.

The plan sought the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, which was called “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” After Hussein’s ouster, the plan envisioned destabilizing the Assad dynasty in Syria with hopes of replacing it with regime more favorable to Israel. That, in turn, would push Lebanon into Israel’s arms and contribute to the destruction of Hezbollah, Israel’s tenacious foe in South Lebanon.

The removal of Hezbollah in Lebanon would, in turn, weaken Iran’s influence, both in Lebanon and in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, where Hamas and other Palestinian militants would find themselves cornered.

But what the “clean break” needed was the military might of the United States, since some of the targets like Iraq were too far away and too powerful to be overwhelmed even by Israel’s highly efficient military. The cost in Israeli lives and to Israel’s economy from such overreach would have been staggering.

The only way to implement the strategy was to enlist a U.S. president, his administration and the Congress to join Israel in this audacious undertaking. That opportunity presented itself when Bush ascended to the White House and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, created a receptive political climate in the United States.

Turning to Iraq

After a quick strike against al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan, the Bush administration turned its attention to conquering Iraq. However, even after the 9/11 attacks, the neocons and President Bush had to come up with rationales that were sellable to the American people, while playing down any suggestion that the coming conflicts were partially designed to advance Israel’s interests.

So, the Bush administration put together tales about Iraqi stockpiles of WMD, its “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program, and its alleged ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorists determined to strike at the United States. The PR operation worked like a charm. Bush rallied Congress and much of the American public behind an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which began on March 19, 2003, and drove Saddam Hussein’s government from power three weeks later.

At the time, the joke circulating among neocons was where to go next, Syria or Iran, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”

Meanwhile, Israel continued collecting as much intelligence as possible from the United States about the next desired target, Iran. On Aug. 27, 2004, CBS News broke a story about an FBI investigation into a possible spy working for Israel as a policy analyst for Under Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz. The official was identified as Lawrence Franklin.

Franklin pled guilty to passing a classified Presidential Directive and other sensitive documents pertaining to U.S. foreign policy regarding Iran to the powerful Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which shared the information with Israel.

According to FBI surveillance tapes, Franklin relayed top secret information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s policy director, and Keith Weissman, a senior policy analyst with AIPAC.  On Aug. 30, 2004, Israeli officials admitted that Franklin had met repeatedly with Naor Gilon, head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a specialist on Iran’s nuclear programs.

Franklin was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for passing classified information to a pro-Israel lobby group and an Israeli diplomat. No charges were brought against the AIPAC executives or the Israeli diplomat.

Bloody Chaos

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, it turned out that occupying Iraq was more difficult than the Bush administration had anticipated. Ultimately, more than 4,400 American soldiers died in the conflict along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The bloody chaos in Iraq also meant that the neocon “real men” couldn’t go either to Syria or Iran, at least not right away. They were forced into a waiting game, counting on the short memories of the American people before revving up the fear machine again to justify moving to the next phase.

When the U.S. death toll finally began to decline in Iraq, the neocons stepped up their alarms about Iran becoming a danger to the world by developing nuclear weapons (although Iran has disavowed any desire to have nukes and U.S. intelligence expressed confidence in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a warhead four years earlier).

Still, while trying to keep the focus away from its own nuclear arsenal, Israel has pushed the international community to bring pressure on Iran, in part by threatening to mount its own military attack on Iran if the U.S. government and other leading powers don’t act aggressively.

The neocon anti-Iran plans were complicated by the victory of Barack Obama, who promised to reach out in a more respectful way to the Muslim world. Inside Israel and in U.S. neocon circles, complaints quickly spread about Obama’s coziness with Muslims (even claims that he was a secret Muslim or anti-Semitic). Obama further antagonized the neocons and Israeli hardliners by suggesting a linkage between the festering Palestinian problem and dangers to U.S. national security, including violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East.

Netanyahu, who again had assumed the post of prime minister, and the neocons wanted U.S. policy refocused on Iran, with little attention on Israel as it continued its longstanding policy of building more and more Jewish settlements on what was once Palestinian land.

In reaction to Netanyahu’s unwillingness to curb those settlements and with the announcement of more housing units during Biden’s visit Obama retaliated by subjecting Netanyahu to several slights, including refusing to have photographs taken of the two of them meeting at the White House.

Obama walked out of one meeting with Netanyahu after failing to get his written promise for a concession on halting further settlement construction. Obama went to dinner alone, a very pointed insult to Netanyahu. As Obama left the meeting, he said, “Let me know if there is anything new,” according to a member of Congress who was present.

Secret Pacts

For his part, Netanyahu has claimed that secret agreements with the Bush administration allow for the continued building of settlements. However, Obama said on National Public Radio that he does not consider himself bound by secret oral agreements that may have been made by President Bush.

Instead, Obama claims Israel is bound by the 2003 “Road Map” agreement which prohibits building more settlements. “I’ve said clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of these obligations,” Obama said.

Still, Obama has shied away from publicly challenging Israel on some of its most sensitive issues, such as its undeclared nuclear-weapons arsenal. Like presidents back to Nixon, Obama has participated in the charade of “ambiguity.” Even as he demanded “transparency” from other countries, Obama continued to dance around questions regarding whether Israel has nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu and Israel surely have vulnerabilities. Without America’s military, diplomatic and economic support, Israel could not exist in its present form. One-quarter of Israeli wage incomes are derived from American aid money, German reparations and various charities. Without that outside assistance, Israel’s standard of living would sink dramatically.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Israel receives $2.4 billion a year in U.S. government grants, military assistance, loan guarantees, and sundry other sources. The United States also pays Egypt another $2 billion to keep the peace with Israel. The combined assistance to both countries comprises nearly one half of all U.S. foreign aid assistance worldwide.

In a sense, Israel can’t be blamed for standing up for itself, especially given the long history of brutality and oppression directed against Jews. However, Israeli leaders have used this tragic history to justify their own harsh treatment of others, especially the Palestinians, many of whom were uprooted from their ancestral homes.

Over the past six decades, Israeli leaders also have refined their strategies for taking advantage of their staunchest ally, the United States. Today, with many powerful friends inside the United States and with Obama facing intense political pressure over his domestic and national security policies the Israeli government has plenty of reasons to believe that it can out-fox and outlast the current U.S. president as it did many of his predecessors.

Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern history, and was an advisor to CBS News “60 Minutes” on the Middle East. He is author of ebook, The Israeli Lobby and Me, Bush Family History, and Hoodwinking American Presidents.




The Battle for Palestine

From the Archive: On the centennial of the British-French Sykes-Picot deal to carve up the Mideast, it’s worth recalling other ways Europe worsened the region’s problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian mess, ex-JFK adviser William R. Polk recalled in 2014.

By William R. Polk (Originally published on Aug. 11, 2014)

What we call the “Palestine Problem” is really a European Problem. No European society treated Jews as full members, and most have ugly records of anti-Semitism. Even relatively benign Western governments exploited, segregated or banished Jews (and such other minorities as Gypsies, Muslims and deviant Christians).  Less benign governments practiced pogroms, massacres and expulsions. European history reveals a pervasive, powerful and perpetual record of intolerance to all forms of ethnic, cultural and religious difference.

Jewish reaction to the various forms of repression was usually passivity but occasionally flight interspersed with attempts to join the dominant community.

When Jews were attacked by Christian mobs during the Crusades, they suffered and tried to hide; when they were thrown out of such medieval cities as Cambridge, they fled to new refuges; when they and the Muslim Arabs were forced out of Spain in 1492, most found refuge in Muslim countries which were far more tolerant of minorities than contemporary Christian societies; when Eastern (Ashkenazi) and “Oriental,” mainly Spanish,  (Sephardic) Jews in small numbers began to reach Germany, Austria, France and England in the Eighteenth Century, many converted to Catholicism; finally, most of the European and American Jewish communities assimilated culturally and by generous public actions sought to prove their social value to their adopted nations.

Generally speaking, they were successful in their efforts in America, England and Italy but failed in France, Germany and Austria. Even when they faced existential threats, there is no record of a serious attempt by European Jews to defend themselves.

In the latter years of the Nineteenth Century, the reaction of the Jewish communities residing in Europe began to change. In part this was because, like other European peoples, Jews began to think of themselves as a nation. This transformation of attitude led to a change from the desire for escape to a temporary haven (Nachtaysl) to permanent establishment in what Theodor Herzl called a Judenstaat, the creation of a separate, faith-based nation-state which was viewed as the permanent solution to anti-Semitism. This was the essential aim and justification for Zionism.

Nineteenth Century Europeans understood and approved of the concept of nation-states but only for themselves; in France, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Balkans, Europe was reforming itself along national lines. However, no European nation-state was willing to tolerate a resident rival nationalism. So Herzl’s call for Jewish nationhood was generally regarded as subversive by non-Jews and was feared by the more established Jewish communities and the religious establishment as a probable cause of an anti-Jewish reaction. These attitudes would remain in contention down to our times.

Keen for Imperialism

Even before the Europeans were imbibing the ideas of nationalism, their ruling classes were thrusting into the Americas, Africa and Asia to create empires. Spain dominated the Americas and was insistent that the ethnic-religious problems of the Old World not be transmitted there so it sought ethnic “purity” of its colonizers; neither Jews nor suspect conversos were allowed. England effectively ruled India beginning in the last years of the Eighteenth Century, and the nature of its colonial government, drawn from the middle class, generally precluded Jewish involvement.

On the contrary, when France invaded Algeria from 1830, it opened its doors to fairly large-scale Jewish immigration from Malta and elsewhere. Germany briefly tried to create an empire in Africa but was stopped by the First World War.

Russia meanwhile was consolidating its Asian empire and in parts of it created Jewish zones in some of which people of non-Semitic backgrounds were absorbed into Jewish culture, but, in the western heart of the Russian empire, anti-Semitism was pervasive and violent. By the Nineteenth Century, Russian Jews were leaving in vast number for Western Europe and the United States. In the last decade of the Nineteenth Century almost 200,000 arrived in America alone.

Despite the differences, we can see that while nationalism was the ideology of choice domestically, imperialism captured the imagination of Europeans in foreign affairs. So how did these two ideologies impact upon what most Europeans regarded as “the Jewish problem?”

In England, we see most clearly what some leading politicians thought might be the answer: encouraging the emigration of Jews from Europe to the colonies. One of the early proponents of this, essentially anti-Semitic, policy was Sir Laurence Oliphant. As he proposed, getting rid of the Jews as neighbors — that is, in England — and thus solving the “Jewish Problem” would foster British trade and help Britain consolidate its empire if they established themselves as colonies in Africa or Asia.

Added to the benefit imperialists identified was the vague but attractive idea held by many fervent Christians that if the Jews returned to the Holy Land, they would become Christian. Thus, support for Zionism seemed to many Europeans to be a win-win policy.

Colonial Neglect

Europeans knew little about the peoples they were conquering in Africa and Asia and did not regard their well-being as of much importance. Americans, let us admit, were even more brutal in dealing with native Americans. So were the Australians with the Aboriginals and the South African Boers with the Bantu. Rich, Western societies generally regarded the poor of the world, and especially other races, colors and creeds,  as subhuman, without claims on freedom or even sustenance.

This was the attitude taken up by the early Zionists toward the Arabs. Even their existence was often denied. The Zionist leader, Israel Zangwill, described Palestine and Zionist aspirations for it as being “a country without a people for a people without a land.”

Zangwill’s was a powerful slogan. Unfortunately, it masked a different reality. Given the technology of the times, Palestine was actually densely populated. The overwhelming numbers of the inhabitants were villagers who farmed such land as they could water. Water, never plentiful, was the limiting factor.

Nomads lived on the edges but they were always few in number, never as much as 15 percent of the natives. They too used sparse resources in the only way they could be used, by moving their animals from one temporary source of grazing to another as rain made possible.

Until massive amounts of money and new technologies became available from the 1930s, population and land were in balance but, of course, in balance on a lower level than in wetter, richer climates where societies had more advanced technologies.

Oliphant, his successors in the British government and others in the French government were not concerned about what their policies did to native peoples.  The British were keen to take the lands of African blacks and to plunder the Indians of India while the French engaged in policies approaching genocide in Algeria. As focused on Palestine, the British sought to solve the problem of what to do with the Jews at the expense of peoples who could not defend themselves — and to benefit from the work of the Jews rather like medieval kings did — rather than to reform their own attitudes toward Jews.

Thus, as Claude Montefiore, the president of the Anglo-Jewish Association, declared on Nov. 30, 1917, “The Zionist movement was caused by anti-Semitism.”

The Deep Cause of War

The two World Wars set the parameters of the “middle term” causes of the struggle for Palestine. Briefly,  we can sketch them under four headings:  first, the desperate struggle of the British to avoid defeat in the First World War by courting Jewish support; second, the struggle of the British both to defeat the still powerful Ottoman empire and to avoid the danger of mutiny of Muslims in their Indian empire; third, the British attempts to “square” of the triangle of promises made during the war to Arabs, Jews and their French allies; and, fourth, the management of a viable “mandate,” as they renamed their League of Nations-awarded colonies.

Taken together, these acts form the “middle term” of the causes of war in our times. They are:

First, in the final period of the First World War, the Russians were convulsed by revolution and sought a separate peace with Germany (the 1917-1918 negotiations that led to the Brest-Litovsk treaty). The Germans’ incentive for the treaty was that it allowed them to shift their powerful military formations from the Eastern front to the Western front. They hoped that in one huge push they could overwhelm the already depleted and exhausted Anglo-French armies before America could effectively intervene.

The Allied High Command thought this was likely. Slaughter of the Allied forces had been catastrophic. At the same time, England faced bankruptcy. It had drawn down its own reserves and exhausted its overseas credit. It was desperate.

So what options did the British have? Let us be clear: whether their assessment was right or wrong is irrelevant because they acted on what they thought they knew. They believed that support for Zionist aspirations would, or at least might, change their fortunes because they thought that:

–The Bolsheviks who had become the Russian government were overwhelmingly Jewish and seeing British support for what was presumably their aspiration for a national home, they would rescind or not implement the contentious and unpopular Brest-Litovsk treaty and so keep the German army from redeploying on the Western front;

–A large part of the officer corps of the German army was Jewish and seeing British support for what was presumably their aspiration for a national home and also being disillusioned by the losses in the war and the way they were discriminated against by the Prussian high command they would either defect or at least fight less hard; and

–The American financial world (“Wall Street”) was controlled by Jews who, seeing British support for what was presumably their aspiration for a national home, would open their purses to relieve the desperate need of Britain for money to buy food and arms. (Again, these British perceptions may have been far off the mark but they were their perceptions.)

This appreciation was the justification for the Balfour Declaration of Nov. 2, 1917. As then-British Prime Minister David Lloyd George later declared, “The Zionist leaders gave us a definite promise that, if the Allies committed themselves to give facilities for the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause.”

British Maneuvering

Second, the Balfour Declaration was not a “stand alone” document: Britain had already sought the support of the predominant Arab Muslim leader. Since the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph had declared support for the Central Powers, Sharif  [“noble descendant of the Prophet”] Husain, who was then the governor of Mecca, was the most venerated Muslim the British could hope to use to accomplish their two urgent objectives: the first was defeating the Ottoman army  (which had just captured a whole British division and was threatening the Suez Canal) and the second was  preventing what their jittery security service was always predicting, another Indian “mutiny”  and/or the defection of the largely Muslim Indian army as a result of the declaration of a jihad by the Sultan-Caliph.

To accomplish these twin aims, the British encouraged the Sharif of Mecca to proclaim his support for the Allied cause and to organize a “Revolt in the Desert.” In return, the British offered to recognize Arab independence under his rule in most of the Middle East.

The British offer was spelled out by the senior British official in the Middle East, Sir Henry McMahon, in a series of official letters of which the first was dated July 14, 1915. The area to be assigned to Husain was essentially “Syria” or what is today divided into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, part of Arabia and Palestine/Israel. This initial offer was subsequently reconfirmed and extended to Iraq by a series of separate declarations and acts.

Although the British government had committed itself to support Arab claims for this area, it also began the following year negotiating with France and the Russian empire for this and other parts of the Middle East. An Anglo-French accord was reached in 1916 by Sir Mark Sykes with M. Georges Picot. Their agreement allocated to France much of what had been promised to the Arabs and designated as an international zone the then Ottoman coastal areas from the Sinai frontier with Egypt including Gaza up to and including the now Lebanese city of Tyre (Arabic: Sour) except for a small British enclave at Acre.

Third, as the war ended and the negotiations began in Paris for a Treaty of Peace, the British had to try to explain, hide or revise these three wartime agreements. They were embarrassed when the new Bolshevik government published the hitherto secret Sykes-Picot agreement, but they managed for years to keep the Husain-McMahon correspondence secret. What they could not hide was the Balfour Declaration. However, they began a process of “definition” of their policy that ran completely counter to what the Zionists had expected.

Zionist Goals

The Zionists, from the beginning, were determined to turn Palestine into a Jewish nation-state (Herzl’s Judenstaat), but, being sensitive to British politics, their leaders denied “the allegation that Jews [aimed] to constitute a separate political nationality.” The word the Zionists proposed for what they intended to create in Palestine, coined by Max Nordau as a subterfuge “to deceive by its mildness,” was heimstatte (something less than a state, roughly a “homeland”) to be employed “until there was no reason (soto dissimulate) our real aim.”

Predictably, the deception fooled no one. As Lord Kitchener had remarked when the Balfour Declaration was being debated in the English Cabinet, he was sure that the half million Palestinians would “not be content  [with an Old Testament role as a suppressed minority to be] hewers of wood and drawers of water.” He was right, but few people cared. Certainly not then.

The native Palestinians were not mentioned in any of the three agreements: the agreement with Sharif Husain dealt broadly with most of the Arab Middle East while the Sykes-Picot agreement shunted them, unnamed, aside into a rather vague international zone and the Balfour Declaration used the curious circumlocution for them as “the existing non-Jewish communities.” (However, while focusing on Jewish aspirations and avoiding naming the Palestinians, it specified that nothing should be done that would “prejudice” their “civil and religious rights.”)

It was not until 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, that an attempt was made to find out what the Palestinians wanted. No one in Paris knew; so, strongly opposed by both Britain and France, President Woodrow Wilson sent a mission of inquiry, the King-Crane Commission, out to the Levant to find out. Wilson, already desperately ill and having turned over leadership  of the American delegation to my cousin Frank Polk, probably never saw their report, but what the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians  told the American Commissioners was essentially that they wanted to be left alone and if that was not feasible they would accept American (but not British) supervision. The British were annoyed by the American inquiry; they did not care what the natives wanted.

The British were also increasingly disturbed that heimstatte was being taken to mean more than they had intended. So, when Winston Churchill became Colonial Secretary and as such was responsible for Palestine, he publicly rebuked the Zionists for trying to force Britain’s hand and emphasized that in the Balfour Declaration the British government had promised only to support establishment in Palestine of a Jewish homeland. It did not commit Britain to make Palestine as a whole the Jewish homeland.

Echoes of these statements would be heard, because shouted back and forth over the following 30 years, time after time. Ultimately the shouts would become shots.

Irreconcilable Differences

British attempts over the years to reconcile their promises to the Arabs, the French and the Zionist movement occupies shelves of books, filled a number of major government studies and was taken up in several international conferences. The promises were, of course, irreconcilable.

One must admire the candor of Lord Balfour, the titular author of the Balfour Declaration, who, in a remarkable statement to his fellow Cabinet ministers on Aug. 11, 1919, admitted that “so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers [Britain and France] have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which at least in letter, they have not always intended to violate.”

Fourth, having driven out the Ottoman Turkish forces, the British set up military governments. Knowing about these double- or triple-deals, efforts at concealment, post-facto interpretations,  lawyer-like quibbles, linguistic arguments and Biblical allusions, the British commander, General (later Field Marshal, Lord) Edmond Allenby, refused to be drawn into the fundamental issue of policy, declaring that such measures as were being taken were “purely provisional,” but the military government quickly morphed into a British colony, defined by the new League of Nations as a “mandate” in which the imperial power was obligated to “uplift” the natives and prepare them for self-rule.

Practical decisions were to be set by the civil High Commissioner. The first such official was an English Zionist, Sir Herbert Samuel, who came into office to begin large-scale immigration of Jews into Palestine, to recognize de facto a Jewish government (the “Jewish Agency”) and to give Jewish immigrants permission to acquire and irrevocably hold land that was being farmed by Palestinian villagers. I turn now to the transformation of Palestine under British rule.

The Deep Cause of War

The Palestine, which the British had conquered and around which they drew a frontier, had a surface area of 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers) and had been divided among three sanjaqs (subdivisions of a province) of the Ottoman villayet (province) of Beirut. The British had expelled its governors and their civil, police and military officers, who were Ottoman officials, and had established a colonial government.

The population of 752,000 was divided mainly between 600,000 Arabic-speaking Muslims and roughly 80,000 Christians and the same number of Jews. Each group had its own schools, hospitals and other public programs staffed by religiously educated men. The Jews were mostly pilgrims or merchants and lived mainly in Jerusalem, Haifa and the larger towns. Christians, similarly, had their own churches and schools, but unlike the Muslims and Jews they were divided among a variety of sects.

A British study in 1931 found them to include adherents of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek Uniate (Melkite), Anglican, Armenian (Gregorian), Armenian Uniate, Jacobite, Syrian Catholic, Coptic, Abyssinian, Abyssinian Uniate, Maronite, Chaldean, Lutheran and other churches. Whatever else the land of Palestine produced, it was certainly luxuriant in religion.

The Palestine that emerged at the end of the First World War was also an heir to the Ottoman Empire because the British had decided that Ottoman laws were still in effect. What these laws mandated would play a major role in Palestinian-Zionist affairs so they must be noted. The key point is that in its later years, the Ottoman empire had attempted various reforms that were primarily aimed at increasing its ability to draw tax revenue from the population.

The most important of these changes was the imposition of quasi-private ownership on the traditional system of land ownership. From roughly 1880 onward, wealthy urban or even foreign merchants, money lenders and officials were able to acquire title to lands by agreeing to pay the taxes.  Similar systems and similar transfer of “ownership” occurred in many areas of Asia and Africa. “Modernization” often came at the price of legal dispossession. So important was this was a concept and a process in future events that it must be understood.

Land in Palestine (and adjoining Lebanon as in Egypt, India and much of Africa and Asia) was an extension to a village. Like the houses, the plots mirrored the kinship structure. If a family tree were superimposed on a map, it would show that adjoining parcels were owned by close relatives; the further away the land, the more distant the kin relationship. One could read into the land ownership pattern the history of births, deaths, marriages, family disputes and the waxing and fading of lineages.

Despite  the Ottoman changes, villagers continued to plow and harvest according to their system. In fact, they did everything they could to avoid contact with the government. They did so because the collection of taxes resembled a military campaign in which their grain might be confiscated, their cattle driven away, their sons kidnapped for military service and other indignities imposed.

In Palestine as in Syria, Iran and the Punjab where the process has been carefully studied, peasants often agreed to have their lands registered as the possession of rich and influential merchants and officials who would promise to protect them. In short, the new system promoted a sort of mafia.

That was the legal system the British found when they set up their government in Palestine. Ottoman tax records specified that large blocs of villages and their lands “belonged” not to village crop farmers but to the influential “tax farmers.”

One example was the Lebanese merchant family, the Sursuks. In 1872, the Sursuks had acquired a kind of ownership (known in Ottoman law as miri) from the Ottoman government for a whole district in the Vale of Esdraelon near Haifa. The 50,000 acres the Sursuks acquired was apportioned among some 22 villages. In return for the title to the land, they agreed to pay the yearly tax which they extracted from the villagers in their multiple roles as tax collector, purchaser of shared crops and money lender. They apparently made at least 100 percent profit yearly on their purchase; the land was one of the most fertile areas in the country.

As an English traveler, Lawrence Oliphant, wrote in 1883, this land “looks today like a huge green lake of waving wheat, with its village-crowned mounds rising from it like islands, and it presents one of the most striking pictures of luxuriant fertility which it is possible to imagine.”

While the law was Ottoman, it corresponded to English practice dating from the Seventeenth Century “enclosures” of commons. The British imposed it on Ireland and enforced it on the Punjab, Kenya and other parts of their empire.

Selling the Land

The Sursuks had purchased the land, according to the records, for an initial £ 20,000. Under the Land Transfer Ordinance of 1920, they were allowed to sell it. So in 1921, the Zionist purchasing agency bought the land and villages for £726,000. The Sursuks became rich; the Zionists were delighted; the losers were the villagers.  Some 8,000 of them were evicted.

Moreover, for the most laudable of reasons — the Zionist regulation that forbade exploitation of natives — the dispossessed villagers could not even work as landless laborers on their former lands. Nor could the land ever be repurchased from the Jewish National Fund which provided that the land was inalienable.

Both anger and greed gripped the Palestinian upper class: some sold their lands for what appeared then astronomical prices, but about 80 percent of all purchases were from absentee owners, like the Sursuks.

In less than a decade, tensions between the two communities reached a flash point. The flash point was then, and continued to the present time to be, the place where the Wailing Wall abutted the principal Islamic religious site, al-Aqsa mosque. For the first time, on Aug. 15, 1929, a mob of several hundred Jewish youths paraded with the Zionist flag and sang the Zionist anthem.

Immediately, a mob of Arab youths attacked them. Riots spread across the country and for the first but far from the last time, Britain had to rush in troops. Within two weeks, 472 Jews and at least 268 Arabs had been killed. It was a harbinger of things to come

The British were deeply disturbed. Riots were expensive; a civil war would be ruinous. So the Home government decided to seek advice on what it should do. It turned to a man with great experience. Sir John Hope-Simpson had been a senior officer in the elite (British) Indian Civil Service, had helped to solve serious problems in Greece and in China and had been elected to Parliament as a Liberal. He was commissioned to find a solution.

Not surprisingly, he concluded that the issues were land and immigration because “the result of the purchase of land in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund has been that the land … ceased to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or at any time in the future. Not only can he never hope to lease or to cultivate it, but, by the stringent provisions of the lease of the Jewish National Fund, he is deprived for ever from employment on that land. Nor can anyone help him by purchasing the land and restoring it to common use. The land is mortmain and inalienable. It is for this reason that Arabs discount the professions of friendship and goodwill on the part of Zionists.”

Hope-Simpson pointed out that Palestine was a small territory, only 10,000 square miles of which more than three quarters was “uncultivable” by normal economic criteria; with 16 percent of the good land owned by Jews or the Jewish National Fund.  He thought that the remainder was insufficient for the existing Arab community. Further sales, he was sure, would provoke further Arab resistance and violence. Thus, he recommended a temporary halt to immigration.

Zionist Protests

Infuriated by his report, the Zionists immediately organized a protest movement in and around the government in London and in the English press. Under unprecedented pressure, the Labour Party government repudiated Hope-Simpson’s report and refused to consider his recommendation. From the episode, the Zionist leaders learned that they could change government policy at its source by applying money, propaganda and political organization. Dealing with the ultimate authorities first in England and then in America would become a persistent Zionist tactic down to the present time. Palestinians never developed such a capacity.

The Zionist aim was, naturally, to bring to Palestine as many immigrants as possible and to bring them as quickly as possible. Between 1919 and 1933, 150,000 Jewish men, women and children came to Palestine. In the four years from 1933 to 1936 the Jewish population quadrupled. In 1935, as many arrived as in the first five years of the Mandate, 61,854.

Seeing that the British government had spurned even its own officials and that it would not or could not control either the land or population issues, the Palestinians became increasingly furious. They concluded that their chance of protecting their position by peaceful means was almost nil.

In 1936, a general strike, something unheard of before, turned into a siege; terrorists blew up trains and bridges and armed bands, which also for the first time included volunteers from Syria and Iraq,  roamed throughout Palestine and, most sobering of all, the Arab elite which had worked closely with the British as judges and officials registered their “loyal opposition”:

According to senior Arab officials in the Palestinian government, “the Arab population of all classes, creeds and occupations is animated by a profound sense of injustice. … They feel that insufficient regard has been paid in the past to their legitimate grievances, even though these grievances had been inquired into by qualified and impartial investigators, and to a large extent vindicated by those inquiries. As a result, the Arabs have been driven into a state verging on despair; and the present unrest is no more than an expression of that despair.”

Annoyed but not deterred, the British Colonial Office decided, as it was then also doing in India, to crack down hard on the “troublemakers.” It put Palestine under martial law and brought in 20,000 regular soldiers to be quartered on rebel villages, blew up houses of suspected insurgents and imprisoned Palestinian notables. Over 1,000 Palestinians were killed. But it was clear to the government in London that these were measures could be only temporarily and that more durable (and affordable) policies must be found and implemented. The British appointed a Royal Commission to find a solution.

Seeking a Solution

Echoing what previous investigators had found and recommending much of what they had suggested, the Royal Commission report has a modern ring. It concluded that:

“An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. … There is no common ground between them. The Arab community is predominantly Asiatic in character, the Jewish community predominantly European. They differ in religion and in language. Their cultural and social life, their ways of thought and conduct, are as incompatible as their national aspirations. … In the Arab picture the Jews could only occupy the place they occupied in Arab Egypt or Arab Spain. The Arabs would be as much outside the Jewish picture as the Canaanites in the old land of Israel. … This conflict was inherent in the situation from the outset. … The conflict will go on, the gulf between Arabs and Jews will widen.  (emphasis added)

Agreeing that repression “leads nowhere,” the Royal Commission suggested the first of a number of plans to partition the land.

Partition sounded sensible (at least to the English), but in 1936 there were too many Palestinians and too few Jews to carve out a viable Jewish state. Small as it was to be, the Jewish state would have 225,000 Arabs or only 28,000 less than the 258,000 Jews, but it would contain most of the better agricultural land. (The land expert of the Jewish Agency reported that the proposed Jewish state would contain 500,000 acres “upon which as many people could live as in the whole of the remainder of the country.”)

Partition was immediately rejected by Vladimir Jabotinsky who was the intellectual father of the Israeli terrorist groups, the Stern Gang (Lohamei Herut Yisrael) and the Irgun (Irgun Zva’i Leumi), and the sequence of Israeli leaders,  Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.

He warned the British that “We cannot accept cantonisation, because it will be suggested by many, even among you, that even the whole of Palestine may prove too small for that humanitarian purpose we need. A corner of Palestine, a ‘canton,’ how can we promise to be satisfied with it. We cannot. We never can. Should we swear to you we should be satisfied, it would be a lie.”

The Zionist Congress refused the Royal Commission plan, and patterning themselves on Gandhi’s passive resistance movement, the Palestinians set up a “National Committee” which demanded that the British allow the formation of a democratic government (in which, the Arab majority would have prevailed) and that the sale of land to the Zionists be stopped until the “economic absorptive capacity” could be established.

And they offered an alternative to partition: essentially what today we call a “one state solution”:  Palestine would not be divided, but the current ratio of Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants would be maintained.

The Royal Commission proposal got nowhere: because the Zionists thought they could get more while Palestinian leaders could not negotiate since they had been rounded up and put in a concentration camp.

Blocked from peaceful and non-violent action, the Palestinian leaders  and their followers began a violent campaign against the British and the Zionists. To protect themselves, the British created, trained and armed a Jewish paramilitary force of some 5,000 men. Violence grew apace. In 1938, the Mandate government reported 5,708 “incidents of violence” and announced that it had killed at least 1,000 Palestinian insurgents and imprisoned 2,500.

Neither the British, nor the Zionists, nor the Palestinians could afford to give up. In the middle of the Great Depression, the British could not afford to rule a hostile country from which they expected no return (unlike Iraq, Palestine had no oil); the Zionists, faced with the existential challenge of Nazism and having gone far toward statehood, could not agree to the terms proposed by the Palestinians; and the Palestinians saw in every shipload of immigrants a threat to their hopes for self rule.

So, eight years after the Hope-Simpson report, two years after the Royal Commission another British Government commission (the “Palestine Partition Commission”) was sent to try to redraw the map in some fashion that would create a larger Jewish state.

A Single State

The best deal the partition commissioners could get for the Jewish state was an area of about 1,200 square miles with a population of roughly 600,000 of whom nearly half were Palestinians; to increase the Jewish ratio to Palestinians, the proposed Jewish state would have had to be drastically reduced in size.

A rumor that the British had decided to recognize Palestinian independence had the expected effect: throughout Palestine, Arab groups danced with joy in the streets and Zionist militants bombed Arab targets.

Actually, the British did decide to implement much of the new proposal:  the Government favored a plan to stop Jewish immigration and to restrict land sales after five years and after ten years to make Palestine a single state under representative government. The policy was approved by Parliament on May 23, 1939.

The Zionist reaction was furious: Jewish hit squads burned or sacked government officers, stoned policemen and on Aug. 26 murdered two senior British officers. Five days later, the Second World War began.

While attention was otherwise directed in the midst of the war, partition was formally rejected by the Zionist organization in the so-called Biltmore program proclaimed in America in May 1942, and the solution to the dilemma of Jewish-Palestinian population ratios would be found in 1948 when most of the Palestinian population fled or was driven out of Palestine.

During the 1930s, while most of the world was plunged in a stultifying depression, the Jewish community, the Yishuv, profited from a material and cultural expansion. Money poured in from Europe and America. While the amounts were small by today’s standards, Jewish donations enabled land to be bought, equipment purchased, factories opened, systems of transport set up and housing to be built.

Jerusalem was built in stone by Arab labor and Zionist money, and Tel Aviv began to look like Miami. The Yishu became a quasi state with its own schools, hospitals and other civic institutions, and enlivened by the influx of Europeans, it pulled increasingly away from both the Palestinian community and from the surrounding Arab societies. That has remained the persistent aspect of “the Palestine Problem”: while physically located in the Middle East, the Judenstaat was and is a European rather than a Middle Eastern society.

Palestinian Evolution

The Palestinians slowly began to evolve from a colonial, peasant-farmer, village-centered society. Their agriculture spread in extent and began to focus on such specialized crops as Jaffa oranges, but villagers continued their traditional habit of isolating themselves from (now British) government and did not develop, as did the Zionists, their own governmental and administrative institutions.

The growing but still tiny urban middle class of Christians and Muslims worked with the British administration and enrolled their children in British-run,  Arabic-language, secular schools. That is, they accommodated. Meanwhile, the traditional urban elite contested power not so much with the Zionists as with one another; whereas the Arab leaders spoke of national causes, they acted in and asserted leadership over mutually hostile groups.

Overall,  the Palestinians never approached Israeli determination, skill and financial capacity; they remained divided, weak and poor. That is, they remained over all a colonial society. What constituted their national cause was not so much a shared quest for independence as a reactive sense of having been wronged.

So, year-by-year as more immigrants arrived and as more land was acquired by the Jewish National Fund, opposition increased but never coalesced. Whereas anti-Semitism created Zionism, fear of Zionism fostered a Palestinian reaction. But, until another generation had passed that reaction remained only a seedbed of nationalism, not a national movement.  To understand this, we must look back to the previous century.

The idea of nationalism came to the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria) and Egypt nearly a century after it had become dominant in Europe, and it came only to a small and at first mainly Christian elite. One’s identity came not from a nation-state, as in Europe, but either from membership in an ethnic/religious “nation” (known in Ottoman law as a millet) — for example, the Catholic “nation” — or, more narrowly, membership in a family, a clan or a village. The Arabic word watan catches exactly the sense of the French word pays: both “village” and “nation.”

Arabs, like Europeans, welcomed nationalism, wataniyah, as a means to overcome the evident and weakening effects of division not only among the religious communities, particularly the division between Muslims and Christians, but also among the families, clans and villages.

In Palestine, nationalism by the end of the British mandate had still not coalesced into an ideology; to the extent the concept of a watan had been extended beyond the village and had become popular, it was a visceral reaction to the thrust of Zionism. Anger over loss of land and the intrusion of Europeans was general, but the intellectual underpinning of nationalism was slow to be formulated in a way that attracted much of the population. It still had not attracted general support until long after the end of the British mandate. In part, it became possible in large part because of the destruction of the village communities and the fusing of their former residents in refugee camps: simply put, the watan had to die before wataniyah could be born.

A More Powerful Drive

Jewish nationalism, Zionism, drew on different sources and embodied more powerful thrusts. The Jewish community as a whole benefitted from two experiences: the first was that for centuries in what they call their diaspora virtually all Jewish men had meticulously studied their religious texts. While intellectually narrow, such study inculcated a mental exactitude that could be, and was, transferred to new, secular, broader fields when the opportunity presented itself in the late Eighteenth Century in Austria, Germany and France.

Thus, with remarkable speed, Polish and Russian Jews emerged in the West as mathematicians, scientists, physicians, musicians and philosophers, roles that were not part of the religious tradition. While the British had certainly been wrong to believe that Jews dominated the Bolshevik movement in Russia, Jews also certainly played a major political and intellectual role both there and in Western Europe.

The second experience that increasing numbers of Jews shared was the sense of exclusion but increasingly the reality of participation. During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, while often disliked and occasionally maltreated, Jews were generally able to take part in Western European society.

Thus, they were able to expand their horizons and to develop new skills. Many thought that they had arrived at a satisfactory accommodation with non-Jewish Europe. It was the shock of finding this not to be true that motivated Theodor Herzl and his colleagues to begin the quest for a separate Jewish nation-state, a Judenstaat, outside of Europe, and it was the conservatism of religious Judaism that forced the Zionist movement to reject offers of lands in various parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia and to insist on the location of that nation-state in Palestine.

Jews, of course, had to focus more on Europe than on Palestine. The Zionist movement was located in Europe and its leaders and members were all European. From the end of the First World War, secular, “modern” Jews began to migrate to Palestine and soon outnumbered and overshadowed the traditional Jewish pilgrims.

Then, from the election of Hitler in 1932 and the collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933, pressure on the German Jewish community moved through increasingly ugly incidents like the 1938 kristallnacht toward a crescendo of anti-Semitism. Desperate, increasing numbers of Jews sought to flee from Germany. Most went to other countries — particularly America, England and France — but they were often not welcomed and in some cases were actually prevented from entering. (America implemented restrictions and accepted only about 21,000 Jewish refugees up to the eve of the Second World War.)

So, in increasing numbers, mainly secular, educated, Westernized Jews went to Palestine. The numbers were important but more important was that the individuals and groups  coalesced to create a new community. It was this “nation-state-in-formation,” the Yishuv, that set the trend toward the future.

Shaping Palestine

Nothing like these impulses were felt by the Palestinians. They had never experienced pogroms but lived with neighbors of different faiths in a carefully structured and religiously sanctioned form of mutual “tolerancem” and, despite the Ottoman Empire’s moves toward modernization/westernization/fiscal control, they lived in an acceptable balance with their environment. Few had an enlivening contact with European thought, industry or commerce. To the English, they were just another colonial people, like the Indians or the Egyptians.

That is how the British officials in Palestine treated the Palestinians. As I read Indian history of the same period, I find striking parallels: colonial officials in India were equally dismissive of even the richest and most powerful Hindu and Muslim Indians. As “natives” they had to be kept in their place, punished when they got out of order and rewarded when they were submissive. Generally, the poorer natives could be treated with a sort of amused tolerance.

But the Jews didn’t fit in the colonial pattern and could not be treated as “natives.” After all, they were Europeans. So the British colonial officials never felt comfortable dealing with them. Should they “belong to white men’s clubs” or not? With the natives one knew where he stood. With the Jews, relations were at best uncertain. Worse, they were adept at going over the heads of the colonial officials direct to London. This minor but important aspect of the Palestine problem was never resolved.

Then, suddenly, as Germany invaded Poland, the world slipped into war.

The War Years

Both Palestinians and Zionists enlisted in large numbers — 21,000 Jews and 8,000 Palestinians — to help the British in their hour of need. But both kept their long-term objectives firmly in mind:  both continued to regard British imperialism as the long-term enemy of freedom. And, like the Hindu Parliamentarian Subhas Chandra Bose, the Muslim Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husaini actively flirted with the Axis. Bose led a Japanese-supplied and -sponsored army into India. (Bose’s Palestinian counterpart, Hajj Amin had no such army. He fled the country.)

What Bose had tried to do fighting the British in India, Jewish terrorists, inspired by Vladimir Jabotinsky, began to do in Palestine. By 1944, Jewish attacks on British troops and police, raids on British arms and supply depots and bombings of British installations had become common, and military training camps were set up in various kibbutzim to train an army to fight the British.

In response, the British commander-in-chief in the Middle East issued a statement condemning the “active and passive sympathisers [of the terrorists who] are directly… assisting the enemy.”

On Aug. 8, 1944, a Jewish attempt was made to assassinate the High Commissioner and on Nov. 6, 1944, members of the Stern Gang murdered Prime Minister Churchill’s personal representative in the Middle East, the British Minister of State Lord Moyne. Churchill was furious and told Parliament that “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labours for its future are to produce a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past. If there is to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism these wicked activities must cease and those responsible for them must be destroyed, root and branch.”

In the last months of the war, the tempo of attacks increased. Carefully planned raids were made on supply dumps, banks and communications facilities. With Germany going down in defeat, Britain had become the Zionist Enemy Number One.

The Holocaust

But for a time, Zionist action focused on Europe. As the war ended, the enormity of the Nazi crimes against the European Jews came to public attention, and demands to “do something” for the survivors moved to the forefront of British and American politics. The British asked the U.S. government to join it in enforcing a solution no matter what that solution might be.

In America, there was a sense of collective guilt: anti-Semitism, like anti-black prejudice, while still common was beginning to be equated to Nazism and Fascism. But only beginning. America had actually turned back Jews trying to flee Nazi persecution. So when President Harry Truman announced in December 1945 that the U.S. would begin to facilitate Jewish immigration, there was little public or Congressional support. (Only 4,767 Jews were actually admitted.)

Meanwhile, various schemes were bandied about to do something for Europe’s Jews. One, never really seriously considered, was to give a part of defeated Germany to the Holocaust victims as their heimstatte. It died aborning when moves toward the Cold War argued for the reconstruction of Germany as a barrier to the Soviet Union.

No one, to my knowledge, suggested that Americans cede a part of the United States as an alternative Israel. Americans quickly adopted the European program for having the “Jewish Problem” solved at the expense of someone else.

Zionists, quite reasonably, were not prepared to bet their future on Western benevolence. They were determined to act, and they did so in four interconnected programs: first getting the survivors of the Holocaust to Palestine; second, lobbying the American government to support their cause; third, attacking any and all who stood in their way; and, fourth, making staying in Palestine too expensive for Britain.

Building a Jewish Presence

First, the Zionists understood and were informed by the British studies that if they were to succeed in taking over Palestine, they would need far more Jewish immigrants than the British were likely to allow. So already in 1934, shortly after the Hope-Simpson report, they organized the first ship, a Greek tramp steamer, to take “illegals” to Palestine. The little SS Velos would be the first in what became a virtual fleet, and the 300 passengers it carried would be followed by many thousands in the years to come. British attempts to limit the flow — to try to keep the peace in Palestine — were generally ineffective and were, in part nullified by the anti-Semitism of the European states and particularly by the Nazis.

The Nazi involvement in the Palestine issue and the Zionist relationship to the Nazis form its most bizarre aspect. By 1938, not only the Nazis but also the Polish, Czech and other Eastern European governments were determined to get rid of their Jewish citizens. The Zionist leaders saw this as a major opportunity.  So they sent an emissary to meet with the Nazis, and even with the Gestapo and the SS, to propose to help them speed the Jews away: they proposed that if the Nazis would allow the Zionists scope, they would set up training camps for selected young people to be shipped to Palestine.

Hitler had not yet made up his mind on “the final solution” but he was keen to promote a Jewish exodus.  So the German officials, including Adolf Eichmann, made a deal with the Zionists that enabled them to select would-be emigrants. The choice of who was to go was purely pragmatic: it was not on humanitarian needs but on physical and mental capacity of the candidates to join the incipient Zionist army, the Haganah and its various offshoots.

By the end of 1938, the first batch of about a thousand Jews was being organized and trained by the “Committee for Illegal Immigration” (Mossad le Aliyah Bet), and roughly that many started their journey each month.*

As the Nazis moved to implement “the Final Solution,” they lost interest in the relatively small-scale Zionist emigration operation and began their horrible liquidation program in which millions of Jews, Gypsies and others died at Auschwitz, Treblinka and other concentration camps. With Europe closed to them, the Zionists turned to encouraging and facilitating the migration of Jewish communities from the Arab countries. To take over Palestine, they needed Jews from anywhere and so they actively recruited them from Iraq to Morocco. Then, as the war reached its final stages, the Zionists turned back to Europe.

Their first move was to take over — literally to buy — the virtually defunct Red Cross headquarters in Romania. The newly arrived Soviet army was otherwise occupied so under the “Red Cross” emblem, the Zionist organization was able to restart the program of shipping Jews to Palestine. What the Zionist agents found was that the condition of the hundreds of thousands of remaining Romanian Jews was desperate; they were willing to go anywhere to get out Romania. Allegedly 150,000 signed up to go to Palestine, but the problem remained, how to get them there.

The answer was found in Italy. Stationed there was the small Jewish logistical support formation enlisted by the British in Palestine. Its main piece of equipment was exactly what the Zionist organizers most needed, the truck, and they were also decked out in British army uniforms and armed with British army documents.

Under Zionist orders and literally under British noses, they ranged throughout Italy, gathering displaced persons in their trucks and delivering them to ships that had been hired by the Zionists to smuggle them into Palestine.

Then disaster struck:  along with other formations, the Jewish unit was redeployed. So the Zionists made what was by far their boldest move: in one of the most remarkable ventures of the Second World War, they created a fictitious British army.

A Fake Army

In the chaos of the last months at the end of the Second World War, Allied military units and supply dumps were scattered throughout Western Europe. Most troops were in the process of being redeployed or sent home. Command-and-control structures were falling apart. Dumps were often unguarded or even forgotten.

So, into this chaos, the Zionists ventured. Almost overnight, they “became” a separate British army formation with their own faked documents, phony unit designation and looted equipment.  They drew petrol for their trucks and fuel for the ships with which they could rendezvous on the coast. With forged requisition papers they seized a building right in the center of Milan to use as their headquarters and others to create staging areas in various areas of Italy.

Second, they were utterly ruthless in achieving their objectives. As Jon and David Kimche have written in The Secret Roads, the European Jews “hated the Germans who had destroyed their corporate life; they hated the Poles and Czechs, the Hungarians and Rumanians, the Austrians and the Balts who had helped the Germans; they hated the British and the Americans, the Russians and the Christians who had left them, so it seemed to them, to their fate. They hated Europe, they held its precious laws in contempt, they owed nothing to its peoples. They wanted to get out. … Thus, anti-goyism, that malignant growth in Jewish life, received a new lease of life.  Linked with Zionism, it now galvanised the Jewish camps in Europe.”

Their Zionist guides stimulated this hatred among the Displaced Persons (DPs) because, as the Kimches wrote, “they had to be uplifted; they had to be galvanised; they had to be given a stronger pride than their cynicism, and a stronger emotion than their demoralised if understandable self-seeking.  The only thing that could do it, as they had seen during the Hitler era, was propaganda — hate propaganda for preference.”

Jews who attempted to go back to their former homes found their ways barred; others had taken over their houses and shops so their attempted return stimulated vicious riots, particularly in Poland, that convinced most Jews that they could not restart their old lives. If they needed further convincing, the Polish government closed the frontier and threatened to shoot returnees. And where the displaced persons were in temporary camps, their hosts were anxious to speed them on their ways.

By All Means Necessary

So, the Zionists felt justified in slandering, boycotting or even destroying those who thwarted or threatened to reveal their actions. When the head of the United Nations program charged with giving aid to the displaced persons in Germany, General Sir Frederick Morgan, reported that some “unknown Jewish organization” was running a program to transfer European Jews to Palestine — exactly what they were doing —  he was pilloried as an anti-Semite.

That charge came easily. It was a charge, not unlike the McCarthyite charge of being a Communist, that all those who dealt with or wrote about the Palestine problem would learn to fear. It was used often, usually effectively and was always bitterly resented by those so attacked. It is a tactic that Zionists and their supporters often employed and is still employ frequently today.

Third, back in Palestine, the Zionist organization was doing all it could to make staying in Palestine too expensive for Britain. The Zionist army, the Haganah, its elite military force, the Palmach and the two terrorist organizations (in British eyes)/freedom fighters (to the Zionists), the Stern Gang and the Irgun, were attacking government buildings, blowing up bridges and taking hostage or shooting British soldiers.

When I first went to Palestine in 1946, the streets of every city were rivers of barbed wire, with frequent barriers and checkpoints manned by heavily armed British soldiers. The calm of evenings was frequently shattered by the sounds of machinegun fire and by night exploding bombs could be heard nearby. Everyone, including the soldiers of Britain’s crack parachute division, was constantly on edge. Calm was feared as a prelude to the storm. Danger was everywhere, even when not intended.

On Christmas Eve 1946 at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem I sat in the midst of a congregation armed with the unreliable but lethal sten gun, expecting at any minute one might be dropped and go off. A few days later, I was nearly shot, in the midst of Jerusalem by a very nervous soldier. Everyone was suspect in the eyes of everyone else.

Denying Responsibility

When the Zionist civil authorities tried to stand aloof, pretending that they knew nothing of the use of terror, the British published intercepted documents showing that they were orchestrating the attacks and were involved in collecting and passing out arms to the insurgents. For the first time against the Zionists the British cracked down as they had done against the Palestinians, and as they had been doing and were still doing against the Indians in their independence movement,  putting hundreds of Jews into what amounted to a concentration camp.

In riposte, Jewish terrorists/freedom fighters blew up the headquarters of the British government in Jerusalem, the King David Hotel, killing 91 people and wounding about 46. To the English Parliament, press and public, the bombing was taken as an act of war. The Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee denounced it as a “brutal and murderous crime … an insane act of terrorism.”

But the “brutal and murderous crime … an insane act of terrorism” accomplished its purpose.  Almost everyone — except of course the Palestinians — had concluded that the attempt by the British to establish an acceptable level of security had failed.

Fourth, the American government had long since decided to throw its support to the Zionists. Already at its presidential convention in 1944, the Democratic Party issued a statement stating that “We favor the opening of Palestine to unrestricted Jewish immigration and colonization and such a policy as to result in the establishment there of a free and democratic Jewish Commonwealth.”

Shortly before his death, President Franklin Roosevelt affirmed that declaration and promised to do what was necessary to effect it. (But he, like the British in the First World War, also made a conflicting promise to the Arabs:  just as the British had promised the Sharif of Mecca so Roosevelt promised King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, that he “would take no action which … might prove hostile to the Arab people.” Then he immediately reversed himself, reaffirming his unrestricted support for Zionism.)

When he came into office, President Harry Truman called in August 1945 for the immediate admission to Palestine of 100,000 European Jews. Not to be outdone, Truman’s Republican opponent, Gov. Thomas Dewey, called for the admission of “several hundreds of thousands.” The rush to win Jewish money, influence in the press and votes was on. It has grown stronger year by year.

Caught in the Middle

Feeling increasing isolated and desperate to turn to the host of problems it faced — both domestically and throughout the other parts of its increasingly fragile empire — the British government urged that America join in what was hoped to be a final commission, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, which was to focus not primarily on Palestine but, for the first time, on the plight of the European Jewish community.

It was in the emotional vortex of the hideous German concentration camps that the Commission began its work; its work would be continued in the context of American partisan politics. Its result was shaped both by the  sight of the misery of the surviving Jews in Europe and driven by the political winds in America. It paid virtually no attention to the Palestinians.

The end of the mandate was in sight. The British decided to withdraw  on May 15, 1948, eight months to the day after they had withdrawn from India. The results were similar: they had inadvertently “let slip the dogs of war.” Millions of Indians and Pakistanis and nearly a million Palestinians would pay a terrible price.

India was, perhaps, a more complex story, but the sole justification for the British rule of Palestine was the British obligation specified in the preamble to the Mandate instrument to “be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might 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.”

Britain had failed. Indeed, three months before its forces withdrew, Britain warned the UN Security Council that it would require foreign troops to effect the UN decision to divide the country. In reply, the U.S. Government ducked. On Feb. 24, it informed the UN that it would consider the use of its troops to restore peace but not to implement the partition resolution. On March 19, it went further, suggesting that action on partition be suspended and that a trusteeship over all Palestine be established to delay final settlement. Britain refused.

UN Division

The United Nations decision was to divide Palestine into three zones: a Jewish state, a Palestinian state and a UN administered enclave around the city of Jerusalem.

While Britain and America argued at the United Nations, Palestine slid into war. Over 5,000 people had been killed since the end of the Mandate had been announced: trains were blown up, banks robbed, government offices were attacked, and mobs, gangs and paramilitary troops looted, burned and clashed.

Then on April 10, about five weeks before the final British withdrawal, came the event that would establish the precondition of the Palestinian refugee tragedy — the Deir Yasin massacre. The regular Zionist army, Haganah, had tried to take the village, known to be peaceful and,  insofar as anyone then was, neutral,  and ordered the terrorist group, the Irgun, which was under its command, to help.

Together the two forces captured the village. The Irgun, possibly acting alone, then massacred the entire village population — men, women and children — and called a press conference to announce its deed and to proclaim that this was the beginning of the conquest of Palestine and Trans-Jordan. Horror and fear spread throughout Palestine. The precondition for the flight of the entire Palestinian community had been established. Much worse was to follow.

William R. Polk was a member of the Policy Planning Council, responsible for North Africa, the Middle East and West Asia, for four years under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, He was a member of the three-men Crisis Management Committee during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  During those years he wrote two proposed peace treaties for the American government and negotiated one major ceasefire between Israel and Egypt. Later he was Professor of History at the University of Chicago, founding director of the Middle Eastern Studies Center and President of the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs. He is the author of some 17 books on world affairs, including The United States and the Arab World; The Elusive Peace, the Middle East in the Twentieth Century; Understanding Iraq; Understanding Iran; Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency and Terrorism; Neighbors and Strangers: The Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs and numerous articles in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, Harpers, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and Le Monde Diplomatique . He has lectured at many universities and at the Council on Foreign Relations, Chatham House, Sciences Po, the Soviet Academy of Sciences and has appeared frequently on NPR, the BBC, CBS and other networks. His most recent books, both available on Amazon, are Humpty Dumpty: The Fate of Regime Change and Blind Man’s Buff, a Novel.




Inciting Iran’s ‘Bad Behavior’

Washington’s neocon foreign policy establishment follows the Israeli-Saudi line on Iran, denouncing its every move, an approach that brings out the worst in the Iranians and raises the risk of war, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Psychologists have observed that most of us favor a self-serving way of explaining the good and bad conduct of others with whom we interact. While we are quite comfortable with attributing some of the good to our own benign influence, we attribute all of the bad to the other person’s character and refuse to accept that our own conduct may have influenced what the other person is doing.

This phenomenon arises frequently in foreign affairs. It is common with, for example, American perceptions of anti-U.S. international terrorism. The dominant popular concept is that terrorists do what they do because of their own malign nature. To the extent that terrorists focus on the United States, we like to think this is because, as former President George W. Bush put it, they hate our democratic values.

This view refuses to accept that what the United States does overseas has anything to do with motivating the terrorism — even though countless interrogations of captured terrorists, statements by groups, and other evidence strongly indicate that U.S. actions abroad have indeed had much to do with such motivations.

A variation on this pattern that also arises in international relations involves logical inconsistency not only between attributions of desirable and undesirable conduct but also between explanations of the conduct of states we consider friends and the conduct of those we consider foes. This variation was visible in a panel discussion last week organized by the Middle East Institute and in which I participated.

The subject of the event was policy toward Iran, and much of the discussion concerned intra-regional rivalries involving Iran, of which the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is the most prominent. Those who favor taking the side of the Saudis in this rivalry need to deal with the reality that the interests of the participants in this contest are different from U.S. interests, and there is no good reason for the United States to take sides in such a local quarrel.

Moreover, if what we are worried about is destructive and destabilizing behavior in the region, Saudi Arabia has been doing more of that lately than Iran, most conspicuously with its highly destructive military intervention in Yemen. Those who nonetheless want the United States to tilt even more in favor of the Saudis and against Iran than it already is thus need to be creative in contriving their arguments.

Ross’s Misguided Analysis

An argument that Dennis Ross has constructed is that “the Saudis acted in Yemen in no small part because they feared the United States would impose no limits on Iranian expansion in the area, and they felt the need to draw their own lines.”

Even setting side how far divorced from reality is a perception that the United States is imposing “no limits on Iranian expansion” and how much more such a perception would say about Saudi paranoia than about U.S. policy, the argument is implausible — especially in view of the entire history of the Saudi perspective toward, and handling of, Yemeni affairs.

The Saudis have long had much angst, for reasons that don’t necessarily have anything to do with Iran, about its poorer and more densely populated neighbor to the south. Back in the 1960s they got involved in an earlier civil war in Yemen, when the other major external protagonist was Egypt. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Yemen as Vietnam or Afghanistan.”]

The Houthi rebels who are engaged in the current civil war have received some Iranian aid but they certainly are not Iranian proxies; they even reportedly rejected Iranian advice not to move into the capital Sana.

The biggest changes pertinent to the more aggressive Saudi conduct in the past couple of years have been the accession of King Salman, with a determination to throw Saudi weight around the region more assertively than under his predecessor, and the accumulation of power by his young son Mohammed bin Salman, for whom the Yemeni war has been one of the biggest ways of making his mark.

If there have been any Saudi thoughts about U.S. limit-drawing, they haven’t had to do with Yemen, where the United States has very much taken sides and supported the Saudi military offensive.

Note what Ross’s argument, implausible though it is, says about the presumed relationship between U.S. policy or action and a regional state’s conduct. The presumption is that the state is hypersensitive to what the United States does and that U.S. policy is a big influence on the other state’s conduct, even if the only variation in U.S. policy that is in question is between slightly greater or lesser degrees of favoritism in what already is a substantial U.S. tilt in that same state’s favor.

Such a view is greatly different from the view, propounded by many of the same people, of how U.S. words and actions do or do not influence the conduct if Iran. With Iran, the presumption is instead that the sources of undesirable Iranian conduct are to be found in Iran itself.

Generating Bad Behavior

It is the psychologist’s classic example of attributing bad behavior entirely to bad character on the part of the other party. Iran gets routinely described as led by hateful religious fanatics who don’t think like ourselves or like other statesmen, who are out to destroy other countries, and who are so incorrigible in their bad traits that moderation over time is not to be expected.

Some of this view was heard at last week’s panel, with bills of particulars about Iranian conduct (the relevance of which rests on that implicit assumption about how the Islamic Republic of Iran will never change significantly) stretching back many years.

Missing from this view is recognition of how Iranian conduct or comments that we do not like may be at least partly in response to our own conduct or comments that Iranians not only do not like but have good reason to perceive as threatening. Certainly the United States has given the Iranians plenty of material of this sort to which to react — and this goes well beyond the most salient historical episodes such as the 1953 coup and the 1988 shooting down of a civilian airliner (accidental, but still perceived as intentional by probably most Iranians).

There have been all the many references to a possible military attack on Iran as if that would be just another policy option, the forward deployments of U.S. military forces, the continued economic warfare against Iran and threats to wage still more of it, the cyberwarfare, the torrent of rhetoric filled with enmity, and all the other continuing indications of hostility.

Obviously there is gross inconsistency here in interpretations of the conduct of states in the Persian Gulf region. The interpretation applied to a state on one side of the Gulf assumes hypersensitivity to what the U.S. says and does, with even just some disappointment in the amount of gusto with which the United States takes that state’s side supposedly being enough to stimulate that country to bomb the heck out of some other neighboring country.

The interpretation applied to the state on the other side of the Gulf is vastly different, giving no role to the influence of what the United States says or does, even when most of what the United States says and some of what it does is patently hostile.

To the extent that the effect of U.S. policy on the actions of others really does vary, between the responses of states commonly labeled as friends and those of states commonly labeled as foes, the difference is more likely in the opposite direction from the set of inconsistent interpretations described above.

With regard to those perceived as friends, the kind of unquestioned side-taking the Saudis would like to see from the United States is as likely to excuse and enable destructive behavior as it is to prevent it. The U.S. support for the Saudi offensive in Yemen has been as clear an example of this as anything.

Enabling Israel

Another, more long-running, example in the Middle East has been how the unquestioned U.S. financial and diplomatic support for Israel has enabled the destructive (and self-destructive) Israeli policies regarding occupation of the Palestinian territories.

With regard to foes, hostile words and actions engage mechanisms that amplify the hostility of the response. There is, for example, a tendency in such relationships to make worst-case assumptions about the other side’s intentions. That is involved in what political scientists call a security dilemma, in which even measures that are taking for purely defensive reasons are interpreted by the other side as offensive and threatening.

There also are other ways in which, as psychologists would explain, threats and fear lead to destructive striking back. This phenomenon is not even unique to our species; it is shared by some normally docile herbivorous creatures that become aggressive and dangerous when they feel threatened.

Moreover, some conduct we consider undesirable on the part of states that are ostracized and punished is almost forced on them by the ostracism and punishment. A state is naturally going to resort to irregular and asymmetric tactics if it has been denied more regular means of pursuing its interests.

In the panel discussion last week there was disapproving reference made to money laundering and other irregularities involving Iranian banks, but as a member of the audience correctly noted, we should not be surprised to see this kind of thing when Iran is denied full access to the regular global banking system.

Similar phenomena have arisen with other countries besides Iran. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote about how “if you shape policy to what you regard as a predestined result, chances are that you will get the result you predestine.” Using a example from the 1980s, Schlesinger noted, “Having decided a priori that the Nicaraguan revolution was a Soviet-Cuban conspiracy, Washington gave the Sandinistas no alternative but the Cubans and Russians.”

None of this is to deny the genuinely bad traits and tendencies that are present in some of the entities involved, regardless of the policies of others toward those entities. There are some valid reasons to consider leaders of the Sandinistas as bad dudes, and there certainly have been bad dudes, and still are, with significant influence inside the Iranian regime.

But good statesmanship involves not just taking broader badness as predestined, but instead using one’s own policies to encourage what is desirable and to discourage what is undesirable in the policies of others.

It would be nice if the kind of uber-empathetic approach toward the Saudis that is embodied in Ross’s assertion about Saudi policy toward Yemen would lead to applying even a fraction of such how-others-see-us awareness to how the Iranians see and respond to U.S. policies, rhetoric, and actions.

But unfortunately much American debate about Iran reflects a determination based on other reasons to take sides and to keep Iran ostracized forever, no matter the logical inconsistencies.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Neocons and Neolibs: How Dead Ideas Kill

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton wants the American voters to be very afraid of Donald Trump, but there is reason to fear as well what a neoconservative/neoliberal Clinton presidency would mean for the world, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

For centuries hereditary monarchy was the dominant way to select national leaders, evolving into an intricate system that sustained itself through power and propaganda even as its ideological roots shriveled amid the Age of Reason. Yet, as monarchy became a dead idea, it still killed millions in its death throes.

Today, the dangerous “dead ideas” are neoconservatism and its close ally, neoliberalism. These are concepts that have organized American foreign policy and economics, respectively, over the past several decades – and they have failed miserably, at least from the perspective of average Americans and people of the nations on the receiving end of these ideologies.

Neither approach has benefited mankind; both have led to untold death and destruction; yet the twin “neos” have built such a powerful propaganda and political apparatus, especially in Official Washington, that they will surely continue to wreak havoc for years to come. They are zombie ideas and they kill.

Yet, the Democratic Party is poised to nominate an adherent to both “neos” in the person of Hillary Clinton. Rather than move forward from President Barack Obama’s unease with what he calls the Washington “playbook,” the Democrats are retreating into its perceived safety.

After all, the Washington Establishment remains enthralled to both “neos,” favoring the “regime change” interventionism of neoconservatism and the “free trade” globalism of neoliberalism. So, Clinton has emerged as the clear favorite of the elites, at least since the field of alternatives has narrowed to populist billionaire Donald Trump and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.

Democratic Party insiders appear to be counting on the mainstream news media and prominent opinion-leaders to marginalize Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, and to finish off Sanders, who faces long odds against Clinton’s delegate lead for the Democratic nomination, especially among the party regulars known as “super-delegates.”

But the Democratic hierarchy is placing this bet on Clinton in a year when much of the American electorate has risen up against the twin “neos,” exhausted by the perpetual wars demanded by the neoconservatives and impoverished by the export of decent-paying manufacturing jobs driven by the neoliberals.

Though much of the popular resistance to the “neos” remains poorly defined in the minds of rebellious voters, the common denominator of the contrasting appeals of Trump and Sanders is that millions of Americans are rejecting the “neos” and repudiating the establishment institutions that insist on sustaining these ideologies.

The Pressing Question

Thus, the pressing question for Campaign 2016 is whether America will escape from the zombies of the twin “neos” or spend the next four years surrounded by these undead ideas as the world lurches closer to an existential crisis.

The main thing that the zombie “neos” have going for them is that the vast majority of Very Important People in Official Washington have embraced these concepts and have achieved money and fame as a result. These VIPs are no more likely to renounce their fat salaries and overblown influence than the favored courtiers of a King or Queen would side with the unwashed rabble.

The “neo” adherents are also very skilled at framing issues to their benefit, made easier by the fact that they face almost no opposition or resistance from the mainstream media or the major think tanks.

The neoconservatives have become Washington’s foreign policy establishment, driving the old-time “realists” who favored more judicious use of American power to the sidelines.

Meanwhile, the neoliberals dominate economic policy debates, treating the “markets” as some new-age god and “privatization” of public assets as scripture. They have pushed aside the old New Dealers who called for a robust government role to protect the people from the excesses of capitalism and to build public infrastructure to benefit the nation as a whole.

The absence of any strong resistance to the now dominant “neo” ideologies is why we saw the catastrophic “group think” over Iraq’s WMD in 2003 and why for many years no one of great significance dared question the benefits of “free trade.”

After all, both strategies benefited the elites. Neoconservative warmongering diverted trillions of dollars into the Military-Industrial Complex and neoliberal job outsourcing has made billions of dollars for individual corporate executives and stock investors on Wall Street.

Those interests have, in turn, kicked back a share of the proceeds to fund Washington think tanks, to finance news outlets, and to lavish campaign donations and speaking fees on friendly politicians. So, for the insiders, this game has been a case of win-win.

The Losers

Not so much for the “losers,” those average citizens who have seen the Great American Middle Class hollowed out over the past few decades, watched America’s public infrastructure decay, and worried about their sons and daughters being sent off to fight unnecessary, perpetual and futile wars.

But inundated with clever propaganda – and scrambling to make ends meet – most Americans see the reality as if through a glass darkly. Many of them, as Barack Obama indelicately said during the 2008 campaign, “cling to guns or religion.” They have little else – and many are killing themselves with opiates that dull their pain or with those guns that they see as their last link to “freedom.”

What is clear, however, is that large numbers don’t trust – and don’t want – Hillary Clinton, who had a net 24-point unfavorable rating in one recent poll. It turns out that another indelicate Obama comment from Campaign 2008 may not have been true, when he vouched that “you’re likable enough, Hillary.” For many Americans, that’s not the case (although Trump trumped Clinton with a 41-point net negative).

If the Democrats do nominate Hillary Clinton, they will be hoping that the neocon/neolib establishment can so demonize Donald Trump that a plurality of Americans will vote for the former Secretary of State out of abject fear over what crazy things the narcissistic billionaire might do in the White House.

Trump’s policy prescriptions have been all over the place – and it is hard to know what reflects his actual thinking (or his genuine ignorance) as opposed to what constitutes his skillful showmanship that made him the “survivor” in the real-life reality TV competition for the Republican nomination.

Does Trump really believe that global warming is a hoax or is he just pandering to the know-nothing element of the Republican Party? Does he actually consider Obama’s Iran nuclear deal to be a disaster or is he just playing to the hate-Obama crowd on the Right?

Opposing the ‘Neos’

But Trump is not a fan of the “neos.” He forthrightly takes on the neocons over the Iraq War and excoriates ex-Secretary of State Clinton for her key role in another “regime change” disaster in Libya. Further, Trump calls for cooperation with Russia and China rather than the neocon-preferred escalation of tensions.

In his April 27 foreign policy speech, Trump called for “a new foreign policy direction for our country – one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace. …It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold. …

“My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”

Such comments – suggesting that “new voices” are needed and that “ideology” should be cast aside – were fighting words for the neocons, since it is their voices that have drowned out all others and their ideology that has dominated U.S. foreign policy in recent years.

To make matters worse, Trump outlined an “America First” strategy in contrast to neocon demands that the U.S. military be dispatched abroad to advance the interests of Israel and other “allies.” Trump is not interested in staging “regime changes” to eliminate leaders who are deemed troublesome to Israel.

The real estate tycoon also has made criticism of “free trade” deals a centerpiece of his campaign, arguing that those agreements have sold out American workers by forcing them to compete with foreign workers receiving a fraction of the pay.

Sen. Sanders has struck similar themes in his insurgent Democratic campaign, criticizing Hillary Clinton’s longtime support for “free trade” and her enthusiasm for “regime change” wars, such as those in Iraq and Libya.

Examining her long record in public life, there can be little doubt that Clinton is a neocon on foreign policy and a neolib on economic strategies. She stands firmly with the consensus of Official Washington’s establishment, which is why she has enjoyed its warm embrace.

She has followed Wall Street’s beloved neoliberal attitude toward “free trade,” which has been very good for multinational corporations as they shipped millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries. (She has only cooled her ardor for trade deals to stanch the flow of Democratic voters to Bernie Sanders.)

Wars and More Wars

On foreign policy, Clinton has consistently supported neoconservative wars, although she might shy from the neocon label per se, preferring its less noxious synonym “liberal interventionist.”

But as arch-neocon Robert Kagan, who has recast himself as a “liberal interventionist,” told The New York Times in 2014, “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy. If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

Summing up the feeling of thinkers like Kagan, the Times reported that Clinton “remains the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes.”

In February 2016, distraught over the rise of Trump, Kagan, whose Project for the New American Century wrote the blueprint for George W. Bush’s Iraq War, openly threw his support to Clinton, announcing his decision in a Washington Post op-ed.

And Kagan is not mistaken when he views Hillary Clinton as a fellow-traveler. She has often marched in lock step with the neocons as they have implemented their aggressive “regime change” schemes against governments and political movements that don’t toe Washington’s line or that deviate from Israel’s goals in the Middle East.

She has backed coups, such as in Honduras (2009) and Ukraine (2014); invasions, such as Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011); and subversions such as Syria (from 2011 to the present) all with various degrees of disastrous results. [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon” and “Would a Clinton Win Mean More Wars?”]

Seeking ‘Coercion’

A glimpse of what a Clinton-45 presidency might do could be seen in a recent Politico commentary by Dennis Ross, a former special adviser to Secretary of State Clinton now working at the staunchly pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In the article, Ross painted a surreal world in which the problems of the Middle East have been caused by President Obama’s hesitancy to engage militarily more aggressively across the region, not by the neocon-driven decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and the similar schemes to overthrow secular governments in Libya and Syria in 2011, leaving those two countries in ruin.

Channeling the desires of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ross called for the United States to yoke itself to the regional interests of Israel, Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in their rivalry against Shiite-led Iran.

Ross wrote: “Obama believes in the use of force only in circumstances where our security and homeland might be directly threatened. His mindset justifies pre-emptive action against terrorists and doing more to fight the Islamic State. But it frames U.S. interests and the use of force to support them in very narrow terms. …

“The Saudis acted in [invading] Yemen in no small part because they feared the United States would impose no limits on Iranian expansion in the area, and they felt the need to draw their own lines.”

To counter Obama’s hesitancy to apply military force, Ross calls for a reassertion of a muscular U.S. policy in the Middle East, much along the lines that the neocon establishment and Hillary Clinton also favor, including:

–Threatening Iran with “blunt, explicit language on employing force, not sanctions” if Iran deviates from the Obama-negotiated agreement to constrain its nuclear program (the bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran zombie lives!);

–“Contingency planning with GCC states and Israel … to generate specific options for countering Iran’s growing use of Shiite militias to undermine regimes in the region”;

–A readiness to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq if Iraq’s prime minister doesn’t;

–Establish “safe havens with no-fly zones” inside Syria if Russian President Vladimir Putin does not force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Employing the classic tough talk of the neocons, Ross concludes, “Putin and Middle Eastern leaders understand the logic of coercion. It is time for us to reapply it.”

One might note the many logical inconsistencies of Ross’s arguments, including his failure to note that much of Iran’s supposed meddling in the Middle East has involved aiding the Syrian and Iraqi governments in their battle against the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Or that Russia’s intervention in Syria also has been to support the internationally recognized government in its fight against Sunni extremists and terrorists.

But the significance of Ross’s prescription to “reapply” U.S. “coercion” across the region is that he is outlining what the world can expect from a Clinton-45 presidency.

Clinton made many of the same points in her speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and in debates with Bernie Sanders. If she stays on that track as president, there would be at least a partial U.S. military invasion of Syria, a very strong likelihood of war with Iran, and an escalation of tensions (and possible war) with nuclear-armed Russia.

The logic of how all that is supposed to improve matters is lost amid the classic neocon growling about showing toughness or reapplying “coercion.”

So, the Democratic Party seems to be betting that Hillary Clinton’s flood of ugly TV ads against Trump can frighten the American people enough to give the neocons and the neolibs one more lease on the White House – and four more years to wreak their zombie havoc on the world.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

 




Unfair Attack on UK’s Labour Party

The British Labour Party is under attack for “anti-Semitism” because a few of its members have made remarks critical of Israel and Zionism, but this assault is an abuse of a very serious accusation, says Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

How do you misuse a racial prejudice? At first glance this ought to appear to be an absurd question. Racial prejudices already constitute the distortion of perception and emotion. Nevertheless, when a particular prejudice has a distinct pedigree and an age-old definition, and then is purposely exploited (particularly by those purporting to represent its victims) solely for political gain, the issue of misuse becomes anything but absurd.

The racial prejudice in question is anti-Semitism, one of the most devastating of bigotries and responsible for untold misery. It has always been defined as hatred of Jews as Jews. This hatred is underpinned by a vast number of historical myths and fantastic conspiracy theories, but at its core, what we have here is close to pure racism – a Jew is bad not because of what he or she has done, but because of some racial taint.

 

Now here is the complicated part. This age-old definition has been reformulated by an ideologically driven sub-set of Jewry – Zionists – for political purposes. The Zionists have declared that there is no difference between the State of Israel and the worldwide community of Jews and therefore, if you are opposed to Israel you are anti-Semitic.

This identification of Israel and the Jews en masse is historically, demographically and certainly religiously false. But no matter, the Zionists shout this redefinition loudly and endlessly. And, by backing their claim with political pressure and a lot of money, they have managed to get it accepted in some Western political circles. This, then, is what constitutes the misuse for political purposes of a dangerous racial prejudice.

 

Having laid this foundation, the Zionists are now using this bastardized concept of anti-Semitism as a weapon against those critical of not the Jews as a group, but the political state of Israel, its policies and behaviors, which are, themselves, racist and barbaric. Indeed, it is Israeli behavior, specifically toward the Palestinians, that has encouraged a revival of anti-Semitism after more than a half a century of quiescence – thus the very striking irony of the Zionist insistence that opposition to Israeli racist policies is itself a racial prejudice.

Attack on the British Labour Party

There are many examples of this Zionist perversion, but the latest one is a full-blown attack on those members of the British Labour Party who are critical of Israel yet not of Jews as such. Charley Allan, a columnist for the British paper Morning Star, has described the resulting atmosphere as a “witch hunt.” Below are two examples of isolated statements made by Labour Party members which have caused a purposefully exaggerated brouhaha over the issue of anti-Semitism.

In late April, it was revealed that Naseem Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, had posted on her Facebook account a map that showed Israel transferred to within the borders of the U.S. She labeled it as “a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Shah’s posting, which she sourced from the website of the Jewish-American scholar Norman Finkelstein, was made at the height of Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza and pre-dated her election to Parliament.

While the suggestion of the wholesale transference of Israel to the U.S. is but a fantasy, associating the U.S. and Israel certainly has an underlying logic. The United States is Israel’s major protector and financier. The U.S. Congress treats Israel as a privileged 51st state. And, most of those who emigrate from Israel go to the U.S.

Accusations that Shah’s post was an anti-Semitic attack on Jewry were belatedly raised, leading to her suspension from the Labour Party pending an investigation. She subsequently, and rather abjectly, apologized.

Nonetheless, the fact is that Ms. Shah’s display of the map was not anti-Semitic at all. It was not an attack on Jews as such, and there is no evidence that it was motivated by a hatred of Jews. What is really objectionable is the Zionist effort to perversely manipulate the post as if it really was anti-Semitism, in order to attack those opposed to their own racist political ideology.

The second example concerns the veteran Labour Party leader Ken Livingstone, who is also a former mayor of London. In late April, Livingstone stated on a British radio program that “Hitler was a Zionist” whose policy was that “the Jews should be moved to Israel.” Now this is certainly not a true statement.

What is true is that Hitler wanted the Jews out of Germany. Up until 1938 they could leave that country (albeit without any possessions) if they could find another country that would let them in (which wasn’t easy). During this time Hitler did not particularly care where the German Jews went, and most who did have the foresight to leave did not go to Palestine.

Though historically inaccurate, Livingstone’s statement was not anti-Semitic. Its principal subject was Hitler and the Zionist movement, and, again, there is no evidence that it was motivated by hatred of Jews. Nonetheless, for making his statement Livingstone has been accused of being anti-Semitic, and he too has been suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation.

It would seem that the present Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is running scared, tossing out members like Shah and Livingstone, rather than counterattacking against Zionist offensive with the truth – that the charge of anti-Semitism is being improperly exploited for political purposes.

Corbyn himself, who is of the left wing of the party, and has repeatedly expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, is probably among the real targets of this campaign of intimidation. It seems that the right wing of the party has joined up with the British Zionists to run Corbyn out of office using, or rather misusing, the charge of anti-Semitism.

Despite what amounts to ever-present paranoia in some circles, there are no signs of a future Holocaust in the making. That does not mean that history holds no important lessons for the Jews. It certainly does.

The primary lesson is that the Jews, like other minority groups, need to protect their collective interests by maintaining strong support for universal civil and human rights, as well as the rule of law both domestically and internationally. However, there is another lesson the past, and specifically the Holocaust, ought to have taught us: that it is dangerously counterproductive to engage in a defense of group interests that involves the persecution of others.

To the extent that they have followed this path, the Zionists have failed to learn from history.

Therefore, it is not the Jews as a people who are remiss. It is only those who have abandoned the protections of civil and human rights and now flout international law in favor of a cruel nationalist policy. The Zionist claim that they have pursue this path to protect the Jewish people is highly suspect for, since its founding, Israel has always been the most dangerous place a Jew can reside.

We are led to the conclusion expressed by Professor Stephen Bronner in a deeply insightful work entitled The Bigot. “Disentangling genuine prejudice from a legitimate critique of Israeli territorial ambitions should be the aim of all progressive inquiry into the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry.”

That critique of Israel’s behavior is not only legitimate, but central to future peace in the Middle East.

Zionism is an ideology gone seriously astray. And the use of the charge of anti-Semitism as a weapon against its critics is a dangerous exploitation of that age-old bigotry as well as a betrayal of the lessons of history.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Israel Wants More from US

The Obama administration and Israel are locked in a curious negotiation over how many billions of dollars the U.S. will send to Tel Aviv, a demonstration of Israel’s political clout, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

With most stalemated international negotiations, the reasons for both the impasse and the continuation of talks are easy to understand. A range of possible agreed outcomes exists, with some more favorable to one party and some more favorable to the other, and with each side naturally trying to get as good a deal as it can. For each party, there is at least some possible agreement that would be better than no agreement at all.

The parties keep bargaining because each would lose something if they failed to reach an agreement. If that were not the case, then one or the other of the parties would have no reason to bargain in the first place and there would be no negotiation at all.

It thus is hard to explain, or rather to justify, what is described as a negotiating impasse between the United States and Israel over the size of a new package of U.S. aid to Israel. The situation is reported as if this were one more example of a typical stalemated international negotiation, but it is not.

This is not a situation in which each country would have something to lose if no agreement is reached. Instead it is entirely a one-sided arrangement: a gift of money from the United States to Israel. There is nothing in any such aid package that carries a benefit for the United States and that the United States would not be getting in the absence of an agreement.

It is not as if the absence of an agreement about an aid package would entail some consequence in the Middle East detrimental to U.S. interests as well as Israeli interests, such as giving rise to a destabilizing military threat by some other state in the region against Israel.

This is not the case first of all because of Israel’s overwhelming military superiority in the region, which still would be overwhelming even without any further U.S.-funded enhancements. It also is not the case because even if enhancements were required to maintain the superiority, Israel — which is among the richest 15 percent of countries in the world as measured by GDP per capita — is quite capable of paying for them itself.

A U.S. Subsidy

The U.S. aid is a subsidy for Israeli taxpayers, paid for by American taxpayers. American taxpayers have been very generous in this regard (or made to be so by American politicians), with the annual aid package to Israel exceeding $3 billion in each of the last several years and with total U.S. aid to Israel, even by the most conservative tallies, topping $120 billion. With the Israeli government budget at around $75 billion, the annual gift from American taxpayers is equivalent to about a four percent rebate to Israeli taxpayers.

Or one can look at equivalence in terms of the spending end rather than the revenue end. The gifted funds involve that much less money available for programs benefiting Americans and that much more money for the Israeli government to spend on whatever it wants to spend it on.

Shekels, like dollars, being fungible, what the money gets spent on need not have anything to do with the defense or security of Israel. The money that is no longer available for repair of America’s crumbling roads and bridges, for example, can get spent by Israel on other roads and bridges — including the roads in the West Bank that are used only by Israelis and especially settlers and that the Palestinians who live in the West Bank are prohibited from using, or even crossing except on foot.

Of course, we all know what goes through the minds of American politicians when they are dealing with a subject involving Israel and why this question of the aid package is being treated as if it really were like other international negotiations in which each side has something to lose. The feared loss is the domestic political consequence of being targeted as someone whose love for Israel is less fervent than that of a political opponent and of being outspent by, and losing to, that opponent in the next election.

In the case of President Barack Obama, the New York Times article on this subject describes his objective as being “to burnish his legacy” with “the largest package of military aid ever provided by the United States to another nation” and to “cement his claim to have done more than any other president to support Israel’s security.”

Political Consequences

Let us at least be honest about the objectives if those objectives involve individual politicians’ re-election prospects or the legacies of politicians not running for re-election. Such objectives are quite different from the interests of the United States or of American taxpayers. They are even different from the security and well-being of Israel.

A larger aid package for Israel certainly is not in order as “compensation” for concluding the multilateral agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program. An agreement that has curtailed that program and moved Iran farther away from any prospect of having a nuclear weapon is, as many former senior Israeli national security officials have recognized, an improvement in, rather than a detriment to, the security of Israel.

The Netanyahu government’s actual reasons for not wanting anyone to have any dealings with Iran are not reasons to be encouraged, from the standpoint of either Israeli or U.S. interests. Any “compensation” would only be in the North Korean sense of a regime engaging in troublesome behavior (which in the Netanyahu government’s case has involved its blatant interference in the U.S. political process to try to kill the Iran agreement) and then expecting a payoff in return for not engaging, for a while, in more such behavior.

The only possible justification for increased largesse to Israel at this point would be as preparation for a serious effort in the remaining months of the Obama administration to get the Israeli government to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians involving a genuine two-state solution. To be seen bending over even farther backwards than before as a supporter of Israel could be a necessary part of any such effort, given political realities in both Israel and the United States. But whether the Obama administration will make such an effort remains to be seen.

In the meantime, those members of the U.S. Senate who signed a letter urging the administration to conclude quickly a memorandum of understanding with Israel about a new aid package ought to be explaining to their taxpaying constituents what such aid really means in fiscal terms as described above.

The administration itself might take some advice from Donald Trump — even though Trump himself might not always apply his own advice to dealings with Israel — in a speech on foreign policy that, while studded with inconsistencies and falsehoods, included a pointer from this self-proclaimed expert on deal-making.

“In negotiation you must be willing to walk,” said Trump. “When the other side knows you’re not going to walk, it becomes absolutely impossible to win.”

Walking away from a negotiation can entail substantial risk, in the form of losing benefits that can only be gained from an agreement. Such risks are much more common in international relations than in the business dealings Trump is familiar with, in which there is always some other property owner, or some other hotel or golf course, to which one can turn for an alternative deal. But as far as U.S. gift-giving to Israel is concerned, there is no risk at all to U.S. interests from walking.

The situation at hand is the equivalent of a nephew complaining about the amount of birthday gift money he got from an uncle and wanting uncle to agree to give more. Negotiation is not the appropriate response for uncle. Either walking or saying “take it or leave it” would be more appropriate, as would a stern reminder to the nephew about who in this relationship is the giver and who is the taker.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

 




Egypt’s Dangerous Turn

Egypt’s military regime is suppressing political opposition even more ferociously than the longtime Mubarak dictatorship while also collaborating in the strangulation of Gaza, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

With U.S. attention toward the Middle East being recently focused on such matters as warfare in Syria and Iraq and on the relationship with Saudi Arabia, little attention span is left over for the relationship with the most populous Arab nation.

But developments in Egypt have, in multiple respects, significant capacity for creating attention-grabbing problems for Washington in addition to problems to which Egypt already is contributing in significant though less salient ways.

The regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has become increasingly harsh, illiberal, and downright brutal—much more so than the last previous Egyptian general-turned-president, Hosni Mubarak.

The State Department’s official human rights report on Egypt says that the most significant human rights problems there have been “excessive use of force by security forces, deficiencies in due process, and the suppression of civil liberties. Excessive use of force included unlawful killings and torture. Due process problems included the excessive use of preventative custody and pretrial detention, the use of military courts to try civilians, and trials involving hundreds of defendants in which authorities did not present evidence on an individual basis. Civil liberties problems included societal and government restrictions on freedoms of expression and the press, as well as on the freedoms of assembly and association.”

Nongovernmental human rights organizations have used even stronger language to describe the situation in Egypt.

The most worrisome consequence of the regime’s harsh policy has been the boost it gives to extremism, including violent extremism in the form of international terrorism. This is an unsurprising result of denying people peaceful channels for expressing opposition and dissent. It also is a direct product of anger over the harsh practices themselves.

And it is not as if the Sisi regime has been any better able than its predecessors to pull off an economic miracle that would keep Egyptians content. Unemployment among young males in particular provides a receptive audience for extremist messages.

Much of the regime’s crackdown has been aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi’s regime came to power in a coup that deposed the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, who was a member of the Brotherhood. Under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood constituted a peaceful opposition that was formally banned but informally tolerated.

Now that the Sisi regime has instead tried to smash the Brotherhood, some of its members have been led to conclude that peaceful opposition does not work and that violence is the only path with a chance of bringing results. Such members have been among the recruits to terrorist groups.

A substantial escalation of terrorist violence in Egypt has been taking place since Sisi took power. This has included, but is not limited to, an armed uprising in the Sinai by a group that has declared its allegiance to ISIS. Given what would be natural responses to the regime’s policies, this is not a surprise.

The U.S. government considers Egypt a partner in counterterrorism, which was a topic for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, in a recent visit to Egypt. Certainly the two government share objectives in countering and degrading Islamist groups such as ISIS and its self-declared affiliate in the Sinai.

But the net effect of all of the Sisi regime’s policies almost certainly has been an increase rather than a decrease in the number of terrorists in action. The regime probably hopes and expects that it can quell violent Islamist groups through police and military measures the way the Mubarak regime was able to do in the 1990s.

But even if it could — and given the current regime’s other policies, this is doubtful — this would be less a matter of eliminating the terrorism than of exporting it, making it at least as much of a problem for the United States. The head of one of those Egyptian groups from the 1990s, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is now the head of Al Qaeda.

Most recently there have been indications of broader, and active even if nonviolent, opposition to the Sisi regime. Earlier this month Cairo saw the largest protest demonstration in Egypt in at least two years. The immediate issue was the handing over of two Red Sea islands as part of a deal with Saudi Arabia, but the discontent being exhibited against the Sisi regime ran much deeper than that.

The regime is not on the verge of being toppled, but at least in the short term such open defiance is likely to trigger still more crackdowns by the regime, with more of the resulting anger and radicalization. Over the longer term, one cannot be confident about how in Egypt, the site of the high emotions of Tahrir Square five years ago, events may get ahead of the current general-turned-president as they did with the last one.

Even before matters come to that point, the United States faces the problem of being closely associated with a regime that is increasingly on the wrong side of popular sentiment.

The benefits said to flow to the United States from that close association usually center on two things.

One is some matters of military access that include privileged passage through the Suez Canal for U.S. Navy ships. That undoubtedly is a benefit of a relationship that is something more than just normal and businesslike, but there is no common currency for evaluating whether that benefit is worth enough to the United States to offset the negative aspects of the relationship.

The other topic usually cited is Egypt’s continued adherence to the peace treaty with Israel signed in 1979. The voluminous U.S. aid relationship with Egypt, which is second in size only to U.S. aid to Israel itself, dates directly from that peace agreement, with the aid being in effect part of the price that the United States paid for Anwar Sadat’s signature on the treaty. It certainly is beneficial that, with all the things the United States is worrying about in the Middle East, it does not have to worry about a new war between Israel and neighboring Arab states.

But the main reason that is not a worry is not so much any warm feelings about peace with Israel (such feelings being hard to find in Egypt) but the fact that Egypt’s war-fighting ability, despite all that U.S. military aid, has atrophied from where it was in the 1970s while Israel’s has grown.

In other words, everyone realizes that any new Egyptian-Israeli war would be a rout and an easy victory for an Israel whose military superiority over everyone else in the Middle East is as great as it has ever been.

An undesirable aspect of the Egyptian-Israeli relationship since Sisi has been in power has been Egypt’s collusion with Israel in strangling the Gaza Strip. The connection of Hamas with the Muslim Brotherhood is the Egyptian regime’s main motivation in this regard.

By playing a part in maintaining Gaza as an open-air prison, the Egyptian regime is contributing further to a major human rights problem as well as to more radicalization, with Hamas being not nearly radical enough in the eyes of some desperate Palestinians in the Strip.

So there are reasons to believe that Egypt, even if not in the headlines much today, may return to the headlines in the not too distant future. We should hope there is some careful policy planning going on in Washington for the day when it does.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




No Reward for Sanders’s Israel Stance

Exclusive: Sen. Sanders showed guts when he broke from the political lock-step of unrestrained praise for Israel, but his loss in the New York primary shows there’s little reward for such courage, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

So much for political bravery! Sen. Bernie Sanders had the audacity to say that the Palestinians are human beings, that there are two sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “not right all of the time” – and lost the New York primary by more than 15 percentage points.

Obviously, there were many other factors, including the tightly closed rules for the New York primaries, requiring voters to have declared their party affiliation by last October or be barred from participating.

But still New York Democrats did not appear to reward Sanders for breaking with Official Washington’s orthodoxy on Israel, which holds that the only permissible political stance is total obeisance to Netanyahu and his government. Whether Sanders’s stance hurt him may be debatable but the election result could resonate nonetheless with future candidates who might be more chary about taking a more even-handed position on Israel-Palestine.

In one of the sharper exchanges from last Thursday’s Democratic debate, Sanders, who is Jewish and once worked on an Israeli kibbutz, chided his rival, Hillary Clinton, for appearing before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last month and giving a speech that “barely mentioned the Palestinians.”

While political insiders gasped at his heresy, Sanders plunged on, “All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue. … There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”

By contrast, former Secretary of State Clinton and the three remaining Republican candidates, including front-runner Donald Trump, went politically prostrate before AIPAC, competing to see who could out-pander the others.

Clinton Prevails

Despite serious efforts by Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Clinton appeared to come out on top in the pander-off, perhaps partly because she is more experienced at telling Israel’s right-wing government what it wants to hear. She depicted Israel as an innocent victim in the Mideast conflicts facing unconscionable challenges from Iran, the Palestinians and global activists seeking to put pressure on Israel through a program of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

“As we gather here, three evolving threats — Iran’s continued aggression, a rising tide of extremism across a wide arc of instability, and the growing effort to de-legitimize Israel on the world stage — are converging to make the U.S.-Israel alliance more indispensable than ever,” she declared.

“The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever and more determined than ever to prevail against our common adversaries and to advance our shared values. … This is especially true at a time when Israel faces brutal terrorist stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks at home. Parents worry about letting their children walk down the street. Families live in fear.”

Clinton promised to put her future administration at the service of the Israeli government. “One of the first things I’ll do in office is invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House. And I will send a delegation from the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs to Israel for early consultations. Let’s also expand our collaboration beyond security,” Clinton said, adding:.

“The first choice is this: are we prepared to take the U.S./Israel alliance to the next level?”

Clinton’s one-sided presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fit with her longstanding approach to the Middle East, where she has either actively supported or quietly accepted Israel meting out military retribution on the region’s Arabs, even when justified by clear-cut bigotry.

For instance, in summer 2006, as a Senator from New York, Clinton shared a stage with Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman while Israeli warplanes pounded southern Lebanon, killing more than 1,000 Lebanese. Gillerman was a well-known Muslim-basher who had once quipped, “While it may be true and probably is that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim.”

At a pro-Israel rally with Clinton in New York on July 17, 2006, Gillerman proudly defended Israel’s massive violence against targets in Lebanon. “Let us finish the job,” Gillerman told the crowd. “We will excise the cancer in Lebanon” and “cut off the fingers” of Hezbollah.

Responding to international concerns that Israel was using “disproportionate” force in bombing Lebanon and killing hundreds of civilians, Gillerman said, “You’re damn right we are.” [NYT, July 18, 2006]

Clinton did not protest Gillerman’s remarks, since doing so would presumably have offended an important pro-Israel constituency.

Clinton has learned those lessons well. They may have helped her trounce Sanders in the crucial New York primary, pulling her close to clinching the Democratic nomination. By contrast, Sanders might have won scattered praise for political courage but his bravery clearly did not turn around the New York race.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).