Thursday, June 28, 2007

Debunking left-wing conspiracy theories

Gabriel Ash attempts to explain the seemingly inexplicable love of European politicians for the worst ideas and plans of the Zionists:

“. . .  protecting profitable business falls short as an explanation. The strong support for Israel by leaders such as Blair and Sarkozy threatens Europe’s relations in the Middle East and perilously alienates its large immigrant communities. It is not driven by business as usual. On the contrary, it is led by an ideological kinship animated with revolutionary zeal and supported by the needs of financial capital to liberate itself from the chains of the welfare state. It is guided by a renewed desire to melt all that is solid into thin air. Israel’s great friends in Europe – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bernard Henri-Levy, Angela Merkel, Joschka Fisher, Lord Levy, and many more – are the shock troops of the neoliberal assault on European society, its workers and public services. What’s left of Palestinian land is on the breakfast menu. But dinner’s piéce de resistance will be served from the butchered European welfare state – education, high wages, job security, followed by healthcare and retirement.

Is this a ‘conspiracy?’ Not in the cinematic sense of a powerful cabal meeting in secret and issuing marching orders. But there are plenty of secret and public conversations taking place through which the different elements of financial and political elites – the institutions, the corporations, the media, the civil society pressure groups, etc. – hone their common interests and learn to align and ‘conspire’ – to speak in the same language and rally around common causes and strategies. Describing exactly how this alignment takes place is important and difficult. My purpose here is limited to the easy part – to sketch this ideological front and to identify its purpose by recognizing the historical patterns it repeats.”


“What then lies at the root of this quite natural alliance between Christian fundamentalists, market fundamentalists, billionaires, Zionists, islamophobes, and garden variety warmongers? Karl Schmitt, the Nazi philosopher of law who theorized the way to defend the Christian state from the twin evil of communism and liberalism, identified the essential basis of political authority in the power to name the enemy. For Schmitt, while leftists see the enemy across town, in the ruling class and the state, the problem with liberals is that they see no enemies. Communism must be opposed; but the liberal alternative is not up to the task, since, without enemies, politics degenerate. To defeat the liberal atrophy of politics as well as labor’s militant tendencies, Schmitt saw the necessity of having an existential enemy, one that the whole state can be fully mobilized against. The enemy creates the conditions for the exercise of decisive state power, free from the restraints imposed by law and the deadlocks of parliamentary politics. Although the debt is rarely acknowledged, that has been the guiding principle of right-wing reaction. One could read Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilization’ thesis as the globalization of Schmitt’s insight. While originally presented as descriptive, the ‘Clash of Civilization’ has been so influential because it is in practice a political program, one tailored to combat what Huntington himself called elsewhere ‘an excess of democracy.’ Does one needs to mention that Huntington also looks askance at unions? The raw Schmitt, however, is too clearly reactionary. The new Schmittianism of the Islamophobic front is a rightwing reaction veiled in the trappings of the traditional left.

Having an enemy across the border – alien, total, menacing – helps the right assert political power domestically, the power it now needs to liberate stock markets from the fetters of the welfare state. This is the revolution’s goal, and support for Israel is right at the center of it. Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis is manna from heaven for Israel because it places its fight against the Palestinians in a larger struggle that includes the whole West. This was always a conscious and important Zionist goal. Two examples of many: Max Nordau addressing the crème of British Imperialism at Albert Hall in 1920. ‘We know perfectly well what you require of us. We are to keep guard over the Suez Canal for you. We are to act as sentinel over your route to India and Asia …’ And a short century later here is former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu capitalizing on 9/11: ‘What is at stake today is nothing less than the survival of our civilization.’ And ‘The international terrorist network is thus based on regimes Iran, Iraq, Syria, Taliban Afghanistan, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and several other Arab regimes such as the Sudan … the Palestinian groups cooperate closely with Hezbollah, which in turn links them to Syria, Iran and Bin Laden.’ Of course, Hezbollah and Bin Laden’s affiliates are sworn enemies, and Arafat was connected to neither. The other thing worth noting about Netanyahu is his neoliberal zeal in cutting welfare, and the fact that during his tenure as Finance Minister the poverty rate in Israel rose 15%.

Radicalizing Europe’s Muslims therefore serves Israel’s purpose. But it is also, in line with Schmitt’s and Huntington’s ideas, a blessing for the neoliberal assault. Western support for Israel inflames Muslim public opinion and produces instances of fanaticism that in turn help inflame popular animus against Muslim immigrants. Practically all organized support for Israel is involved in demonizing Islam. The demonization of Islam strengthens the appeal of the most radical Islamists and increases the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Terrorism breeds fear and fear breeds obedience to authority and conformism. Divide and conquer. (Take, for example, Margaret Hodges recent foray into anti-immigrant xenophobia to cover up for New Labor’s policy of shafting its constituents) It works in the US. It works in Israel. Why shouldn’t it work in Europe? Needless to say, a state about to go smash labor and destroy public services needs all the obedience it can generate. It also needs vast police powers, and what better way to justify curtailing civil rights than a frenzy surrounding terrorism?

Furthermore, war and fear of terrorism require the transfer of funds from social services to defense and security. This is a bonanza for Israel since Israel specializes in selling security and defense wares. But spending on defense and security is also much better than spending on welfare from a neoliberal perspective. First, it is a way for the state to fund corporate profits directly, and therefore dear to the heart of financial capital. Second, the shift in priorities leads to dislocations that are in themselves useful for precipitating changes in the rules of work in favor of higher profits and lower wages. Third, social spending increases labor’s bargaining power. Defense spending doesn’t. It is pure waste, which is an advantage from the point of view of profits under current conditions. War, fear of terrorism, and immigrant bashing also bolster the legitimacy of the EU. Cross-border arrest warrants, mobile joint border policing, anti-terrorist task forces, are easier to justify than higher prices and lower wages.

Finally, in terms of talking left and walking right, Israel is indeed a ‘light onto the nations,’ and a successful controlled Schmittian experiment ensconced within a formal parliamentary democracy. Today, Israel is the second most unequal society in the developed world. The silver medal status, however, depends crucially on not counting Palestinians under occupation. Taken as a whole, Israel is in fact the industrial world’s indisputable leader in inequality. But even that doesn’t quite capture its unique achievement. Consider that this inequality is the result of a century of economic development during which, most of the time, Israel was under ‘socialistic’ leadership! Europe had to wait for the ’80s and ’90s to find socialist leaders whose real motto is ‘investors of the world unite!’ Israel already had such leaders in the ’20s. (See Zeev Sternhell, The Founding Myths of Israel) This ‘socialist’ and ‘democratic’ legacy of Zionism must offer an appealing roadmap for the Tony Blair left. Unlike most European countries, Israel developed as a capitalist country without going through the menace of a radical-left alternative. The nationalism of the historic labor party (Mapai) precluded it. The existential enemy authorized a secure zone for the unhindered development of capital”

Clever as this may be, trying to fit the Israeli-European relationship into the Procrustian bed of a traditional socialist analysis is very strained (it is even more strained to suggest, as Ash does, that supporting the boycott is a way to attack the general anti-welfare plans of the new European right).  It is curious that both political considerations, and economic considerations, together with the more humane attitude of Europeans towards human rights, all point to a European policy base that should lead to exactly the opposite of the current European slavish following of Bush Administration policies in the Middle East.  Thanks in large part to Hitler, most European countries don’t even have a Lobby to worry about!  So what gives in Europe?

Socialist reductionism misses the big role of other factors in the world other than control of the means of production.  Ash correctly identifies the corruption of Israeli politics through its overwhelming need to hate Arabs, which has led all major Israeli political parties to the extreme right (and, I might add, has correspondingly destroyed American ‘progressive’ politics, leaving the Americans with Noam).  In other words, Ash correctly identifies the basis of Israeli political thinking in factors other than class, but then tries to use class interests to completely explain the translation of Israeli ideas to the European forum (I suppose the socialists would just say that the Israeli empire building is the level at which we should do the class analysis, but this is just another level of reductionism, ignoring the more obvious factors that motivate human beings). 

Ash starts out well on the misuse of the Holocaust:

“The way Israel deliberately confounds the left-right distinction is also reflected in the internal politics of the West. While it is not difficult to discover the hands of wealth and reaction behind pro-Israel bodies, much of the Western left is congenitally paralyzed on the subject of Israel. The common attitude is silence or mealy mouthed half-criticism. The most significant agent of this debility is the cult of the Holocaust. Pre-war communists correctly saw Zionism as a colonial and racist enterprise. In the struggle against fascism, however, the left won the war but lost the peace. The apotheosis of the Holocaust and the enshrining of an idealistic, nostalgic anti-fascism was their sop. Israel sought and was accorded the guardianship of European guilt. Holocaust kitsch and the attendant sanctification of Israel is now the West’s alibi against all charges of continuing racism. In addition, Jewish community organs, captured by wealth, built their power on the cult of the Holocaust and now use it to de-legitimize criticism of Israel and drum up Islamophobia. Support for Israel is therefore a crucial element in preventing the articulation of a coherent social-democratic opposition to racism.”

The last line is too much of a stretch.  The general point – that Israel’s peculiar issues related to empire building led to the destruction of meaning to the left-right distinction, a destruction that has been jumped on by Euro right-wingers as the new model for welfare-state destruction, circumventing all the difficulties posed by class consciousness – goes too far.  It is also too far to say that the Zionist idea of Islamofascism is being used as the basis for the identified enemy to distract the victims of the new reconfigured Europe away from the real culprit.  This analysis is far too contrived, and somewhat typical of left-wing conspiracy theory. 

Right-wing politicians in Europe like Israeli politicians because they share a general political culture.  This culture is necessary in Israel in order to build the empire (you have to lack empathy in order to kill and displace Arabs).  The European politicians aren’t up to some Noamian conspiracy theory involving class interests.  Being overly specific about the plans of the conspirators isn’t necessary and makes the theory implausible.  The simple answer is better:  birds of a feather flock together.

The Western right-wing was in a horrible state in the 1970s, in full political and intellectual crisis.  At the same time that Israel was planning its historic tactical alliance with American Evangelicals, it was also planning how it was going to get away with all the human rights abuses that would be required to realize the Project.  If you line people up from most empathetic to least empathetic, the right-wingers will all be at one end of the line.  These are the people who don’t care about human rights, and thus would allow Israel to do what the Zionists felt they were going to need to do.  It was thus necessary to assist in jump-starting the return of the right.  Jeff Halper wrote:

“Although hardly a fan of Christians, Menachem Begin and his Likud colleagues appreciated their ideological similarities and the dovetailing of their political worldviews, especially since a militarily strong Israel able to use its Occupation for expansion was at the common center of their concerns. In order not only to strengthen the right-wing position at home but to influence policy towards Israel deriving from the US-led international community, Israel's right wing has worked diligently to insert itself into the global right alliance.

The Likud has long courted the Christian Right. In 1980, Falwell became the first non-Jew to be awarded the Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky medal for Zionist excellence by Begin. It was well known that Benjamin Netanyahu, when visiting Washington as Prime Minister, used to first meet with Falwell, and The National Unity Coalition for Israel, a gathering of more than 500 fundamentalist Christian leaders, then with the President and Congressional leaders. That continues: Pat Robertson received Israel's Freedom Award in 2004, and both Netanyahu and Benny Alon, the leader of the extreme right National Union Party, conduct extensive and ongoing contacts with them. It is a case of strange bed-fellows of great use to each other: Alon and other xenophobic orthodox rabbis who hold Christianity in contempt embracing dispensationalists who look forward to the End of Days and the end of the Jews. Yet each has its own interest in using Israel as a vehicle for its political program and of course the Jewish neo-cons lend a legitimacy to the relationship. All use the other.

Another interesting wrinkle is provided by another xenophobic and in principle anti-Christian community in Israel, the leaders of the Russian immigrants in Israel, such as Nathan Sharansky and Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's former office chief. United by their fierce anti-communism and similar neo-con views of the world (Sharansky, who has been called "Bush's guru," was instrumental in getting the US to isolate Arafat), the Russian immigrant leaders carry on an intimate relationship with Washington through both the neo-cons and the Christian Right, while ensuring through their mobilization of the one million-strong Russian community in Israel the continued rule of the Likud (even though they actually stand to the right of it).

Through their control of the organized Jewish community in the US and elsewhere, demonstrated most openly in the work of the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), the Likud and Russian elements in Israel have even succeeded in turning what was historically a liberal Jewish Establishment into another uncritical arm of Israeli policy, and thus of the extreme right.”

and (emphasis in red):

Just as it has benefited from the rise of the Right in the US and elsewhere in Europe, Israel under the Likud (though not exclusively under the Likud) has become a center for mobilizing right-wing ideological and political forces on a global scale. Most visible in this regard is the annual Jerusalem Summit (actually held in the Israeli city of Herzliya), where the neo-con tribe gathers and galvanizes its plans for world domination around their concern for Israel. We are not speaking of marginal ‘kooks,’ but of top right-wing political leaders from Israel, the US, Europe and other parts of the world, high military officers and leading academics. Its leading lights include: Baroness Caroline Cox, Deputy Speaker of the U.K. House of the Lords and the non-executive director of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation (I wonder what Sakharov, who spent his whole life upholding human rights, would think of that!); Sam Brownback, Republican U.S. Senator from Kansas; Prof. Moshe Kaveh, President of Bar-Ilan University; Prof. Daniel Pipes, Board Member, United States Institute of Peace; Director of the Middle East Forum; Initiator of CampusWatch; Dr. Yuri Shtern, Knesset Member, National Union; a leader of the Russian community and a member of the extreme right;

Their worldview and agenda is summed up in what is called the ‘Jerusalem Declaration.’ It covers a range of issues of concern to the global right: But it also brings Israel into the center of the global right-wing agenda, suffusing it with Israeli claims and terms. Thus, Israel and its exclusive ‘right’ to the entire Land of Israel is inserted into the very center of the neo-con agenda.”

The process of fostering and bolstering the ‘new Right’ was started by Israel in the late 1970s, at just about the same time it was starting its unlikely relationship with the American Christian Right, and for the same reasons.  It so happens that the ‘new Right’ politicians share qualities with the Israelis that lead them to have similar ‘values’ (if I can use that word).  It is not exactly a coincidence that these qualities lead to both Zionist Empire building and the destruction of social welfare programs in Europe, but it is not a conspiracy either.  The factors that really tie all these seemingly diverse people together are personal and cultural.  Of course socialist reductionists would say we are confused – our class consciousness is wonky – but we know better.