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Sharonism and the “Special Relationship.”


An email message comes to me from Karachi, Pakistan. The message reads, in part, as follows: “Chomsky says that US support of Israel is not because of the ‘Jewish Lobby’ and he gives reasons for that; for one it would be too simplistic to think that a single pressure group can control the establishment’s policies. He also gives instances where the establishment took a stand against the Lobby and in response the Lobby could hardly create a whimper.

This is all fine. But the question arises why then, does the US go to such great lengths to support Israel, (which even in Chomsky’s own words is special) when this level of support does not exist for any of the other US allies. After all, Saudi Arabia has been a US client since its creation and so was Iraq for all these years.

That the US supports Israel to ‘control the flow of petrodollars,’ as Chomsky says, hardly seems plausible because it could easily do that with the help of its despotic Arab allies. Why would it support Israel, when this support could in fact threaten its relationships with these countries?”

My friend (and his friends who are “avid Chomsky followers”) raises an important question that needs analysis in these vicious times.

Secretary of State Colin Powell returns from west Asia with nothing to offer. Bush’s statement (Powell has created “a path to peace”) has the blathering ring of that old Clintonism (“the bridge to the 21st century”).

When Bush adopted Sharonism to combat al-Qai’da, the United States revoked its right to indignation when Sharon behaves in his traditional manner. Caught in his Manichean bind, Bush’s spokesperson had to say (11 April), “Sharon is a man of peace” and, “Chairman Arafat has yet to earn the President’s trust.” Sharon is Good, Arafat is Evil.

Indeed, the US Senate supports this general position, despite the rally of ten thousand on behalf of Sharonism in Washington, DC. The liberalism of Lieberman led to the attempted resolution on behalf of the Israeli Defense Force invasion of the Occupied Territories (“I just think it’s a moment for Congress to speak out,” Lieberman said, just a few days after a large section of the ten thousand booed Bush’s biggest hawk and pro-nuke guy Wolfowitz who had the temerity to suggest that there may be some genuine grievances on the Palestinian side).

As Lieberman failed, Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell introduced the “Arafat Accountability Act” to let Yasser Arafat know, in McConnell’s words, “His leadership has been marked by repeated failures. Failure to forcefully denounce and terminate the spree of horrific homicide bombings, failure to serve as a credible and reliable partner in peace.”

But, as Lieberman backed down, McConnell and Feinstein told the press that they would not press for a vote. The gesture was sufficient.

The Congressional leadership welcomed the symbol, but hastened to add that they did not want a vote as this may undermine the US government’s role in the region. Senate leader Daschle said, “I’m not asking people to hold their tongues, but I do believe that it is important for us to be very sensitive to any misunderstanding which could come as a result of statements made or actions taken.”

So, the US Congress stands united behind Israel, and therefore US governmental policy in West Asia.

If this is the work of the “Jewish Lobby,” then it has achieved a remarkable feat: a totally bipartisan Congress with little dissension against its general goals. However, as most electoral and campaign dollar data shows, the “Jewish Lobby” tends to lean toward the Democratic Party [although this is not as strong as it used to be - see, Murray Friedman, "Are American Jews Moving to the Right?" Commentary, April 2000], so why do the Republicans come out so strong for Israel?

The oiligarchy, after all, is now in power and, in typically crude multi-racist fashion, its Energy Secretary is an Arab American, and many of the crucial elements in its cabinet have enduring ties with the petro-Sheikhs.

In 1990, Bush made almost a million dollars in a deal bankrolled by the emirate of Bahrain (Harken, a tiny Texas company that had Bush on its board, won a contract in Bahrain against the giant Amaco, mainly because of Bush’s contacts with his father, the then President).

On the board of Harken, beside Bush, was Talat Othman, recently fingered by the Justice Department for being an important figure in the Islamic charities it had raided. Othman, who offered the benediction at the Republican National Convention in Philly in 2000, joined up with Grover Norquist and Khaled Saffuri to create the Islamic Institute draw conservative Muslims to the Republican Party.

The Bush family and the Republican Party are knee deep in the mire of two kinds of fundamentalism: the market variety and that peddled by the mullahs and the priests.

Given this complex web of ties, why does the US government cherish its “special relationship” with Israel and put the rule of the petro-Sheikhs in jeopardy? The June 1967 Six Day War demonstrated the power and skill of the IDF as it shattered the armies of its neighbors. Among the many effects of this transformative war, two need to be pointed to for our purposes:

(1) The United States, which hitherto had been only a partial “friend” to Israel, became a firm ally after the war. In 1958, Eisenhower forged a deal with the Saudi regime so that the defense of the peninsula’s autocracy became part of the US’s national interest. The US government made a strategic alliance with the forces of militant Islam to undermine both Communism and Nasserism, mainly to protect the oil lands from the left (and the Soviet Union).

Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim’s coup in Baghdad in that same year demonstrated the instability of the US alliance with the monarchies (this would be repeated in Iran twenty years later). When Israel showed that it could be the gendarme of US imperialism, money and military equipment moved to shore it up. Sadat, the liaison between the Egyptian army and the right-wing Muslim Brotherhood, made a bargain with Israel at Camp David (1978) and became the second largest recipient of US aid.

The US support for Israel essentially brought this renegade Arab state in line, this after Egypt defeated Israel in the 1973 war. US support for Israel, then, is not just for the preservation of a Jewish State (if it is that at all); it is mainly as a wedge to discipline the petro-Sheikh allies.

Additionally, Israel offers US allies like the Sadatian regime in Egypt (now in Mubarak’s hands) the opportunity to pretend to be pro-Palestinian and yet, pro-American: the leadership can fulminate against Israel, tell the “street” that it is with the people (represented among the Arab masses by the Palestinians), just as it stands in line before the trough of US aid. US investment in Israel, therefore, is marked by a measure of pragmatism and racism.

Racism because of this widespread establishment idea that the Arab is not to be trusted; pragmatism because if you have one loyal ally in the region, then you can use it to ensure that the others (such as Saudi Arabia) stay in line.

(2) The IDF’s victory in 1967 transformed the Israeli establishment’s view of itself. Take Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan as an illustration. In June 1967, Dayan told the troops, “Soldiers of Israel, we have no goals of conquest. Our single purpose is to put to naught the Arab armies’ attempt to conquer our land.”

Then, three years later, he noted that from 1948 to 1967 the establishment had been content with the boundaries of Israel as defined by Gun Zionism, “we had fought to reach the summit; we were content with what we had achieved.”

With the new aggression of the IDF, “We thought we had reached the summit, but it became clear to us that we were still on the way up the mountain. The summit is higher up.” The “summit,” in sum, is the expulsion of the Palestinians from the vicinity.

From 1967 to 1977, under the Labor governments of Meir and Rabin, the Israeli state built ninety settlements on the West Bank (cost: $350 million) and rejected the idea of a Palestinian state (when we hear now about the PLO’s rejection of Israel, we should put it in this context). When Begin of Likud came to power in 1977, he was even more belligerent.

“What occupied territories,” he said, “If you mean Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, they are liberated territories, part of the land of Israel.”

Begin brought Ariel Sharon, already famous for his brutality against Arabs in the 1950s (such as with Unit 101 in Qibya, 1953: seventy innocents dead), in as his Minister of Agriculture, which was another way to say Minister of Colonization. In June 1979, Sharon offered a preview of his current tactics:

“In another year, settlement activity might be impossible. So we must act now – to settle vigorously, quickly. First of all to establish facts of foothold, and then to beautify the settlements, plan them, expand them” (New York Times, 16 June 1979). The State put funds toward the creation of the settlements, a policy that inevitably made the Oslo accords of 1993 a failure.

If imperialism can propose a symbolic Arafat Accountability Act, the Left should offer a Sharon Accountability Act that does not only detail his role in the massacres from Qibya to Sabra, but also his role in the creation of the settlements. Twenty-three survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres lodged a case against Sharon in Belgium on 18 June 2001, but the court there decided not to honor it.

The logic was that Sharon is as guilty of war crimes as Pinochet of Chile, Habre of Chad, Milosevic of Serbia (for more on this, see www.indictsharon.net). Sharon on trial would have meant that Sharonism would be on trial as well. For imperialism, however, Pinochet-Habre-Milosevic-Noreiga are disposable, whereas the gendarme of the oil lands remains a necessary ally.

US imperialism’s relationship with Israel goes far beyond the notion of a “Jewish Lobby,” an anti-Semitic feint that comes with all the implications of a cabal, a conspiracy, a sense of that the Elders of Zion are in league with the Knights of the New Crusade (Bush being Head Templar).

My friend from Karachi did not suggest any of this, but the implication sometimes does come up and it minimizes the structural way in which imperialism functions (everything is not about “being bought up” – it is not just because of campaign contributions that the Congress, for instance, is pro-corporate).

There are strong political, military and economic reasons for the alliance that go beyond the electoral compulsions of the US (for this reason, I believe that the Cubans in Miami don’t really “dictate” US policy on Cuba – but that’s for another commentary), that go beyond the power of any one Lobby.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Vijay Prashad Associate Professor and Director, International Studies Program 214 McCook, Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 06106. 860-297-2518.

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