“Inconvenient Truths” & Zionism

From Inconvenient Truths About ‘Real Existing’ Zionism by Jacques Hersh at Monthly Review:

Coping with the Jewish question in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular has been and still is a dilemma for progressive opinion in the West. While it is acknowledged that Arab politics and political culture were affected by the intrusion of a Jewish state in the area and its alliance with the United States, the same consideration was not given to the transformation of Jewish political culture, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, as a result of the creation of the Zionist state and its patron-client relationship to the United States. Pro-Israel Jews of all political stripes have been duped by the ideological discourse of Zionism, which has hailed the existence of the Jewish state as the guarantor of the security of Jews everywhere.

Having captured the “commanding heights” of morality by usurping the mantle of the victimhood of European Jewry, the Zionist state, in a seldom-seen example of chutzpah, transformed the Holocaust experience into political capital. In this context it is interesting to note that the Holocaust did not become a universal point of reference in the Western worldview until after the decade of the 1960s. The reason for the time lag is related to the convergence of strategic and ideological currents in the postwar period. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the antifascist coalition gave way to the Cold War between East and West. The German question played a central role in the establishment of the Western alliance system under the leadership of the United States. Under these conditions there was little interest on the part of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and indeed the U.S. government to alienate Germany by dwelling on the Nazi responsibility for the extermination of European Jews. In addition, looking closely at the Holocaust would have revealed the profiteering of U.S. industrialists in the arming of Hitler’s war machine. As far as the American Jewish elite is concerned, it acquiesced to the public silence on this monstrous crime and accepted the U.S. policy of rearming a barely de-Nazified Germany. Motivated perhaps by the concern of not reactivating American anti-Semitism and putting their improved situation in jeopardy, U.S. Jewry followed an opportunistic strategy.33

In the case of Israel, the Shoah question reflected the complex relationship of Zionist ideology toward non-Israeli Jews. The extermination of European Jews legitimized the cause of Zionism, to the extent that the Holocaust confirmed that Jews could not survive and prosper in the Diaspora and that integration and assimilation in these nations was an illusion. At the same time, there was a widespread feeling among Israelis following the Second World War that European Jews had themselves to blame for their fate, because they had not resorted to armed resistance. In contrast, Israelis saw themselves as rejecting the past and creating a new kind of Jew, capable of defending his or her people and the Jewish state.34 As the focus on the Holocaust evolved, it came to be seen as related to the transformation of the struggle for a secure Israel into one of an expanding and conquering state. The Shoah-paradigm became useful in reminding public opinion of the justification for the creation of the Jewish state and for the deflecting of criticism of Israeli policies, especially in the occupied territories of Palestine.

The Holocaust discourse, however, was more important in the Diaspora than in Israel itself and it introduced an element of confusion within the ranks of progressive politics. The sixties had been a decade of youth activism in the West that had included some leading Jewish participants. Many active anti-imperialist Jews in the Diaspora were caught off-balance by the realization that Israel, as the embodiment of the victimhood of the Jewish people, could be capable of victimizing another people and of following a pro-U.S. imperialism foreign policy. In Churchill’s terminology, the “bad Jews” (internationalist and anti-imperialist) had to be turned into the “good Jews” (pro-Zionist and well established in the West). Some of them became figureheads of neoconservatism!

The desperation with which the Holocaust paradigm is projected by modern Zionism and Western (especially U.S.) political establishments is not kosher. The attempt to pre-empt criticism of Israeli and U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East will hardly be feasible in the longer run. Besides the dissidence toward the dominating ideology in Israel, the success of Zionism in the establishment of a modern Jewish capitalist state contains the seeds of its own societal “post-Zionism.” From an initial projection of pioneering social-nationalism, Israeli society in recent years seems to be affected by an identity and material crisis accentuated by the implementation of neoliberalism. From having been originally one of the most egalitarian Western societies, Israeli society has since the 1980s become one of the most unequal. The poverty rate in Israel is one of the highest of advanced capitalist countries with approximately 22 percent of the population living below the poverty line.35 The socio-economic prospects are bleak for a sizable number of Israelis and this seeping crisis translates into a crisis of identity for the Israeli-born generation who does not relate to Jewishness. “It is ideologically indifferent, secular, petit bourgeois in lifestyle and outlook, apathetic to world Jewry, and concerned with self-fulfillment only.”36

The Israeli dissident politician, Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, fears that the Zionist experiment will lead to a tragedy for the Jewish state. Without having become anti-Zionist, he nevertheless feels that the original principles of Zionism and the values of the declaration of independence have been betrayed and that Israel has been transformed into a colonial state led by a corrupt clique of outlaws. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot in 2003, he foresees a bleak future for the entire project of Zionism: “The end of Zionism is at our door…it is possible that a Jewish state will survive, but it will be another kind of state, ugly because of being foreign to our values.”37

Israel & Gaza

Avi Shlaim at The Guardian:

… Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion’s share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

Read the whole thing here

Since the US has never challenged Israel on its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, it wasn’ t hard to predict that they wouldn’t support Gaza now.  And so, they focus on Hamas’ pathetic rocket strikes on Sderot in Israel as the reason for Israel’s aggression.  The “long view” requires considerably more moral courage.

Canada at War

Canada has allowed itself to be lured into an American war – I just don’t believe our inestimable leaders didn’t know what they were doing because if I did, I’d have to believe they’re heads are full of rocks and I don’t believe that:

Some government policy decisions are so profound in their impact that they can actually change the nature of the country. Medicare was one such policy decision and so was the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

It could be argued that the decision to take on an explicitly war-fighting role in Afghanistan will turn out to be another watershed decision, this one at odds with Canadian values and Canadians’ convictions about the military’s role in the world and society.

It also is having the effect of transforming both our foreign policy and our foreign aid policy. Our role in the war is dominating our international reputation and integrating us into the U.S. and its imperial designs on Middle East oil. In order to justify this colonial occupation, Canada now spends so much of its (paltry) aid budget on Afghanistan (much of it finding its way into the pockets of corrupt officials) that there is barely any financing left over for other developing countries’ needs.

Meanwhile, the conflict and its “war on terror” rationale are being used to justify massive increases in military spending, completely distorting the role of government and the spending priorities of Canadians.

Lastly, the military’s role in Canadian politics and culture is being rapidly Americanized. Canadian military spokespersons now openly promote their war-fighting role and take part in cultural events, and the media (most notably the CBC) promotes this new expansive role.

Read the rest here

If we end up with a Fall election in this country, I hope we can get the subject of our war on Afghanistan onto the agenda in more emphatic form than our American cousins have managed thus far.

Colonial Afghanistan

Doug Saunders’ special report from Naray, Afghanistan on what the US military is up to:

I was greeted in a swirl of dust by Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Kolenda, a clean-cut, steel-eyed officer in the 173rd Airborne, who dragged me into a large tent filled with other officers. They promptly began one of the key battlefield tactics of the new American military – the two-hour PowerPoint presentation.

“The heart of the matter here, as we see it, is a socio-economic dislocation,” Col. Kolenda told me, before quoting at length from Kaffirs of the Hindu Kush (Sir George Scott Robertson, 1900) and explaining in detail the anthropology and tribal politics of this region, including some new research he had commissioned from the U.S. government’s elite squad of battlefield anthropologists, better known as Human Terrain Specialists.

“There’s been an atomization of society here – the elders lost control over their people, and a new elite of fighters came in to fill the vacuum, so what we need to do out here is to re-empower the traditional leadership structures,” he continued.

“As you can see here,” he said at one point, “as you approach the possibility of self-sufficient development, then you reach what I’ll call the developmental asymptote, which is the point we’re striving to reach.”

This, I pointed out, was not the sort of talk I had expected from the 173rd Airborne, an infantry brigade known for its battlefield ruthlessness. Here at the headwaters of the river, I felt I had encountered some latter-day Colonel Kurtzes, losing themselves in Cartesian twists of logic amid all the mud and dust.

“This is all really new,” acknowledged Major Erik Berdy, who had been reading Queen Victoria’s Little Wars (Byron Farwell, 1972). “Before, it was totally high-intensity conflict, that was all we discussed. The mental dynamics we have needed to readjust our mentality have been quite dramatic – before, it was ‘find, fix and finish,’ and the change required to go from there to asymmetric development-focused counterinsurgency has been quite a mind shift.”

It certainly is quite a mind shift, one that may have occurred five years too late. When fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations such as Canada are told about plans to “re-Americanize” the Afghanistan war, this new thinking is central to the plan.

The Petraeus doctrine

Within the U.S. military, this is known as population-centric counterinsurgency, an approach that has a cultish following among some officers. It was attempted and then dropped in the Vietnam War (the infamous “strategic hamlets” were at its centre) and there are still officers who believe that Vietnam would have been won if counterinsurgency had been practised to the end.

One of its strongest advocates happens to be General David Petraeus, who has just become the head of the U.S. Central Command, making him responsible for both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.

In practice, I found, it looks and sounds a lot more like old-fashioned colonialism. In the tents of Naray, I had the distinct feeling that I had strolled into Uttar Pradesh at some point after 1858, in the early days of the British Raj.

The Globe and Mail

And see “What the US Wants in Afghanistan” by Eric Ruder

If you look more closely at what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan and plans to do in the future, it’s clear that the rhetoric about upholding democracy and making the world safer is-as in Iraq-a smokescreen to justify pursuing imperial ambitions…

via wood s lot

Indigenous People Protect Their Land

From Judy Rebick and Judy Finlay:

Today, Indigenous people will gather from across Ontario, including the remote North, on the lawns of Queen’s Park to insist that governments and industry recognize their right to say no to mining and forestry on their lands. Travelling by bus and even by foot, they are coming to participate in four days of sacred ceremonies, teach-ins, drumming, music, readings and a mass rally that they are calling a Gathering of Mother Earth Protectors.

In a sign of what is to come, Indigenous people are not only standing up for their rights, they are defending the environment against unbridled industrial development. Across the Americas, from Brazil to Bolivia to the Boreal Forest in Northwestern Ontario, Indigenous people are leading the way to a more sustainable future and a more democratic political system that roots out the vestiges of colonialism.

more at rabble

The “Stuffed” and the “Starved”

I’m posting great gobs of a Q & A with Raj Patel, author of “Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System”, because I think what he says is so f*#%g important and also, critically different and “more than” what folks like Michael Pollan have to say:

Free markets in food and certainly global markets in food are a very new thing. They are barely 200 years old and their origins have everything to do with colonialism. The world’s first free market in grain was the market in wheat in the 1880s. This market was forged in imperialism and conquest, particularly by the British over the grain baskets of South Asia.

The social safety nets that existed in India under feudal society had been knocked away by the British. If people couldn’t afford food, they didn’t get to eat and if they couldn’t buy food, they starved. As a result of the imposition of markets in food, 13 million people across the world died in the 19th century. They died in the golden age of liberal capitalism. Those are the origins of markets in food.

[…]

The middleman will buy at 14 cents per kilo and sell at 19 cents. The mill will buy at 19 cents and sell at 24. Then it is bought by Nestle in West London where it will cost $1.64 per kilo and then it gets turned into instant coffee. By the time it comes out, it costs $26 per kilo — more than 200 times the cost of what it was in Uganda. That transformation suggests that whenever there’s a price spike the benefits of that tend to accumulate in the parts of the food system where the most power is concentrated.

[…]

I don’t think people realize quite how much food culture and body image really matter.

The example that comes to mind is Fiji. Anorexia and bulimia were virtually non-existent before 1995 when television was beamed in. Within three years of predominately U.S. television, 12 percent of teenage Fijian girls were bulimic. That’s batshit crazy yet I think we are so inured to all the advertising and food culture that is around us that it feels normal. There’s nothing normal about it.

[…]

The message that is so much harder to explain to Americans is that politics is necessary. People do need to get their hands dirty by getting involved in social change. There is a particularly American fantasy that we can together create a better world by shopping. It’s absolutely a case of thinking we can go to Whole Foods, choose the right thing, shop here, pay for this and all of a sudden we will lift the righteous above the impure.

[…]

It’s interesting to me that when the Italian Communist Slow Food movement gets talked about in America, the first bit gets dropped off. But they are communist and they have this very radical question: Why is it that only rich people get to have pleasure? Why is pleasure not the birthright of everyone? The rich and radical moment is when you take this idea that pleasure should be the right of everyone and you go do something about it The slow food movement was responsible for helping to drive up agricultural wages and instrumental in creating a two hour lunch break. They did this, not through individual shopping choices, but through concerted political action and working with people, organizing, being democratic, and then taking on power.

[…]

I think too often our guilt rather than our anger takes over and the guilt points us to look at the right kinds of labels. But I don’t think we should feel guilty; we should feel angry. That’s definitely what I’m trying to get across in the book.

at Alternet

A Feminist Reflects on 1968

Feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham reflects on the liberation movements of 1968:

Already in the 1960s marginalised groups such as single mothers, the homeless, people with disabilities had been asserting their right to define their own problems and devise solutions. In America the civil rights movement and black power had been symbolically challenging segregated space and racial stereotyping. In 1968, these new political insights converged into a vision of human liberation that resisted cultural containment. In this utopian moment, it appeared possible to conceive new ways of relating, qualitatively different forms of living, even the transformed perceptions pursued by artists and mystics. 

With hindsight, it is evident that these revelatory glimpses did not simply derive from the movements of rebellion. The structure of capitalist society was beginning to shift in a manner barely evident at the time. How could we have known that empowerment would be the adman’s dream ticket or that the market would zoom in so thoroughly on personal identity. Impossible to know how liberation’s potential would be muffled in contorted debates about competing claims of oppression and esoteric discussions about cultural representation that eclipsed basic recognitions of inequality and injustice. 

Upping the Anti

And Vinay Bahl reflects on her own reading of Rowbotham’s work, especially this bit –

Movements develop in the process of communicating themselves…. We have not even words for ourselves. Thinking is difficult when the words are not your own. Borrowed concepts are like passed down clothes, they fit badly and do not confidence…. We walk and talk and think in living contradiction.

 and how these words are useful for explaining her dilemma as a “Third World” woman using Western feminist concepts and categories:

It is in this historical context (and while reading Sheila Rowbotham) that I found myself thinking of building bridges among women, rather than promoting the idea of “differences” according to the prevailing fashion of academic and political discourse. But I am also aware that I shall be misunderstood if I claim to agree with Sheila without examining the relevance of the fact that she is a white British feminist and I am an Indian (problematic concept) “colored” woman. This threshold dilemma arises because postmodernism in the academy does not allow me any other voice except standing against the West as “different.” Indeed, I have generally found it very difficult to communicate with Western feminists (with a few exceptions of course) because when not feeling guilty for not “understanding” me, their predominant mode has been that of condescension. These experiences made me aware that I am supposed to remain comfortably “different” and alien in U.S. society or find support from the Indian community (which has its own oppressive mechanism to control their women, that I reject) for the rest of my life.

I cannot accept this imposed reality because if I have to constantly define myself in opposition to the constructs of “otherness” thrust on me, then that would be the surest way to “othering” myself I am well aware that the moment one allows oneself to be subsumed within categories of “otherness” one automatically empowers what one is set against. What I seek instead is the creation of voices of dissent, of multiple points of attack and defense, sharply individuated yet linked.

Any theory, if it is to be of some practical use in the material world, must be capable not only of explaining material reality but also of providing a tool to act upon that reality. All of us know that today no country is formally a colony, but this does not mean that we are living in a postcolonial era. It only means that relations between First and Third World now take a more concealed form. We are well aware of the debt-dependency of Third World economies, of the no longer subtle means of control exercised by the World Bank and the IMF. It is in this wider context that the link between the micro-politics of the academy and the macro-politics of imperialism exists. Therefore, it becomes imperative that scholars both from First and Third Worlds should be aware of the ways in which their investigative and interpretive studies promote or serve the designs of imperialism. As scholars our concern should be to find the lived truth of specific human relationships in specific historical circumstances and not the theories of inevitable incomprehension, of convenient relativism, that now flourish in the Anglo-Saxon academy.

Therefore, in order to understand the issue of “differences” as promoted in the United States, and searching for ways to live with respect, independence, and human dignity, I started asking the following question of myself: Why should I always see myself as “different” in U.S. society when I have become a typical part of the historical process of this country? Moreover, my arrival in the United States is not simply a personal decision on my part but also a product of a complex historical process of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism in which the histories of Britain, the United States, and India are intertwined. With this understanding of the historical process of the world capitalist system, I do not see myself as “different” from Western women. Even when I dress differently, when I have a different cadence or accent in speech, or different aesthetic tastes and food habits, it does not make me more “different” in the United States than in India because both countries have a vast variety of people with a vast variety of tastes and languages. I know that I am not different as a human being from other human beings because we all need the same human rights, the same human care and same basic things in life, and the same clean environment. That is why I refuse to he treated as “different.”

II

Today, all of us (Third and First Worlds alike) experience the pressure of unrestrained global capitalism. In this perspective and context it seems illogical and unrealistic to interpret and analyze the experiences of people and societies as only a process of internal (therefore, different) conditions. Instead, we should try to understand the contemporary hegemonic powers and forces, their ideological and other mechanisms of control, and explore how they interact with different societies and how they shape peoples’ views and consciousness. International feminist scholarship has begun the task of understanding the connections between First and Third World economies and their effect on the lives of women in all countries. This work is essential if links are to be forged between women’s political struggles all over the world. The idea of creating bridges has caught up many women in the world in recent years, and Sheila’s writings have been a contribution to that healthy trend.

The article is at Monthly Review