News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Two Views on What's Wrong with Israel, with an Addendum on Pawns in an Imperial Game

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Two Views on What's Wrong with Israel, with an Addendum on Pawns in an Imperial Game

Two recent reports provide some historical background to Israel's military operations since its founding by invasion of Palestine over 60 years ago. This history is highly contested and debated, and those who present an alternative interpretation of the official Israeli origin myth are either derided as anti-Semites if you're not Jewish or self-hating Jews if you are Jewish. ...

The reports come from two academics. Yale professor Immanuel Wallerstein writes from a perspective of 60 years of Israeli rationale for going to war with its neighbors. The oft-repeated refrain, Wallerstein notes, is survival, yet every action undertaken on the diplomatic front has been to promote threats to its survival from its Arab and Moslem neighbors.

Wallerstein writes:

It is only after that moment that the United States moved into its present total support of Israel. One major element in this turn-around was the Israeli military victory in the Six Days War in 1967. In this war, Israel conquered all the territories of the old British Mandate of Palestine, as well as more. It proved its ability to be a strong military presence in the region. It transformed the attitude of world Jewry from one in which only about 50% really approved of the creation of Israel into one which had the support of the large majority of world Jewry, for whom Israel had now become a source of pride. This is the moment when the Holocaust became a major ideological justification for Israel and its policies.

After 1967, the Israeli governments never felt they had to negotiate anything with the Palestinians or with the Arab world. They offered one-sided settlements but these were always on Israeli terms. Israel wouldn't negotiate with Nasser. Then it wouldn't negotiate with Arafat. And now it won't negotiate with so-called terrorists. Instead, it has relied on successive shows of military strength.
For Wallerstein, it is this hubris and arrogance that stands in the way of Israel's attaining that elusive security and insurance of security that it supposedly so much craves. Yet it is this over-reliance on its military and the rather arrogant view that a militaristic attitude brings with it that will spell ultimate failure for Israel in its search for peace in the region, says Wallerstein:
Achieving a stable peace settlement will be extremely difficult. But the pillars of Israel's present strategy - its own military strength and the unconditional support of the United States - constitute a very thin reed. Its military advantage is diminishing and will diminish steadily in the years to come. And in the post-Iraqi years, the United States may well drop Israel in the same way that France did in the 1960s.

Israel's only real guarantee will be that of the Palestinians. And to get this guarantee, Israel will need to rethink fundamentally its strategy for survival.
For Wallerstein, Israelis must discard the militaristic posturings and belligerent talk and realize that they need those they seem now to hate most: Hamas and Hizbullah. Until Israelis decide on how to confront their hatred of Palestinians and Arabs.

Former Anthropology professor Kenneth Brown presents a darker picture of Israeli militarism in the Mideast. According to Brown:
Israel invariably portrays itself as having no choice, as having been attacked and responding accordingly. Shimon Peres, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is quoted on arriving in Southern Lebanon today as saying “It’s us or the Hizbollah”. The enemy, now Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank or the Hizbollah, has to be crippled or destroyed in order to keep Israel safe, invulnerable, invincible. In 1982 the bombing and invasion of Lebanon was intended to eradicate Palestinian ‘terrorism’ once and for all and to put in place a Lebanese government to finish the job. Israel’s political strategy towards its neighbors comes from the barrels of its guns: to maintain and even increase its own military superiority by all possible means, while undermining the state’s implacable enemies.
For Brown, a long history of militarism has been undertaken in the well-worn names of "‘defense’ and ‘security’, with words like ‘inevitability’, ‘justice’ and ‘survival’ thrown in for good measure."

Brown quotes former Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion in order to establish that the militaristic stance of the present Israeli state has its origins not in concepts relating to defense but rather in a consistent effort to maintain an environment of instability with its Arab neighbor states. According to Brown:
Ben Gurion long ago argued that Israel had to keep its enemies at bay by hitting them regularly. “Peace is not our principal interest”, he said. He never believed that Israel could live at peace with the Arabs. His successors have remained faithful to this view. “We are a European nation: we have no affinity with the Arabs”, was how Barak put it.
Brown believes that the Israelis have bought into their militarism at the price of believing they are invincible and the clich├ęd belief that might makes right. Believing in this way, Israelis cannot understand that Palestinians haven't given up their fight for independence. Many Israelis, Brown says, believe that the Palestinians should have given up long ago.

For Brown:
For all its military strength, Israel hasn’t been able to make the Palestinians give up. The mutual recognition and historical reconciliation implied by the Oslo accords (on the separation of Palestine and Israel) perpetuated the occupation rather than ending it. Palestinian lives became worse off as a result and their aspirations for statehood were frustrated. War was continued by the usual means with scarcely a pause.

Where to go from here? There is nowhere to go -- unless some hitherto unrevealed constellation of interests within civil society, inside and outside Israel, is able to displace the country’s warmongers from power.
There are some on the other side of this debate, however, who believe that the Palestinians and Lebanese are simply pawns in a much larger game whose shadow master is Iran. For them, the Palestinians and Lebanese are to be sacrificed in this game, as Iran plays out its aspirations for regional dominance.

For example, the writer Spengler whose column appears regularly at, wrote at his forum:
The problem with being a small people, CL and Hakeem, is that you end up on a leash snarling on behalf of a Great Power. The Shi'ites are having their Serbian moment. In fact, the closest parallel to their situation is that of the Orthodox Christian Serbs after centuries of Turkish oppression. Through heroic efforts they wrested their country from Turkey and fought to keep Bosnia and Herzogovina from Austria. They counted on Russian support. Their reward was the highest casualty rate of any country during World War I. The Lebanese Shi'ites are sacrificial pawns in Iran's imperial game, and their way of live will be ruined when Iran goes down under American cruise missiles. This has less to do with Israel-Palestinian issues than with a millennium of Shi'ite oppression; that is why the Saudis denounced Hizbollah at the outset and Egypt and Jordan will be happy to see Iran fall.
If this view of the situation is to believed, Israel, in the role of US proxy is eventually confronting and Iran in its aggression in Lebanon. In shirking responsibility for the atrocities they commit, no doubt, this will serve as good a rationalization as any other.

Yet, as Brown and Wallerstein's reports show, Israel's own actions and their militaristic character have gone some way in creating conditions that not only have put Lebanese civilians their fledgling democracy at risk of demise but have also provided a situation in which Iran might have no other alternative but to respond--out of allegiance to some pan-Islamic ideal or even out of a more idealistic sense of confronting the bully beating up on the defenseless.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you, Cynic Librarian! At last, a librarian who posts the truth!

the cynic librarian said...

Anon, You are so welcome. Thanks for dropping by!