The plain facts will impart a strong bias against Israel in any simple, straightforwardly honest report of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Today it is a David and Goliath story, with the Palestinians in the David and Israel in the Goliath role. Whether measured by economic weight, by military strength, or by diplomatic clout the disproportion between the strengths of the David and the Goliath is simply enormous.
To translate the natural pro-Palestinian bias which the facts of the conflict suggest into ideas that there is a Jewish-Zionist conspiracy behind US, British and European Union failure to act to compel Israel to make peace by allowing the Palestinians to have their own state, you need something else again: you need to tap into History's very large and very septic tank of Jewish and Zionist conspiracy theory.
The Channel Four TV programme, Inside Britain's Israel Lobby (16 November), was a case in point.
There are many difficulties in the way of a settlement, and only a fool or someone mortally hostile to Israel would pretend otherwise.
The idea that these difficulties justify continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, the slow expansion of Israeli settlements, the gruesome winkling-out of Palestinians, and at the end the elimination of the Palestinians as a distinct people — that idea is compatible only with extreme Israeli chauvinism.
Justice demands that the Palestinians have their own state; so does any hope of general peace for generations to come. Two, three, four or more generations, most likely.
It is plainly in the interests of general peace in the Middle East that the Arab-Israeli antagonism be ended. The USA’s alliance with Israel does create difficulties for it with economically and strategically important Arab states in the region. It has been in the interests of the whole policy for the Middle East which the USA launched with the invasion of Iraq that there should be a settlement.
US President George W Bush went further, in words, than any of his predecessors, coming out explicitly for a two-states settlement and for the so-called “road map” of 2003.
But Bush did nothing to force Israel to agree. The fact that the USA’s invasion of Iraq was not the quick triumph Bush expected, and drew the USA into a long war there, was probably one factor in Bush’s inaction.
So why do the USA, Britain, and other powers not exert the severe pressure on Israel that is the only way to achieve even serious negotiations for a settlement? Why has President Obama retreated, in the face of Israeli opposition, even from the demand on Israel that it stop expanding its West Bank settlements?
Part of it is inertia. Israel is a solid and strong ally for the USA in the region. Some Arab states are US allies, but all have regimes which the USA distrusts. But is that sufficient explanation?
Thus the stage is set for an explanation of US and European policy by way of conspiracy theories — assertions that there is a vast and powerful Jewish-Zionist network that exercises something like controlling power in the USA, Britain, and other countries; and it is the behind-the-scenes working of the conspiracy that explain why Israel is not compelled by the USA and the European Union to reach a settlement.
Paranoid right-wingers in the USA even believe that the USA is ruled by a “Zionist Occupation Government”, “ZOG”.
Now, it is a matter of fact that there is a powerful pro-Israel lobby in the USA. In that pluto-democratic system, rich people and organised pressure groups buy elected representatives by providing money without which they can not effectively stand for election and win. Organised lobbies can thus put themselves in a commanding position vis-a-vis the legislature, and secure their own interests.
It is notorious that the tobacco industry, the oil industry, the arms industry, big media corporations, and many other “interests” have thus been able to avoid regulation that would serve the public better.
American politics is also in part structured in “national” blocs.
Second, third, fourth, etc. generation immigrants still call themselves “Greek”, “Italian”, “Irish”, etc. The Irish lobby was once immensely powerful. It got the US Congress to vote for Irish independence during Ireland’s war for independence from Britain.
There is an “Arab lobby” in the USA, mainly, it appears, of corporate bosses with economic ties to Arab countries. The Israeli lobby is part of the system, and a very powerful and intensely motivated part of it.
And it is not only a matter of a pro-Israel lobby sustained by Jews in the USA. One of the strangest things in modern America has been the conversion en masse of the old Christian anti-semitic “constituency” into fervent Zionists — of “the-Jews-killed-Christ” types who would in the past have blamed Jews for the operations of financial institutions, and once expressed their prejudices in such populist phrases as William Jennings Bryan’s refusal “to be crucified on a cross of gold”.
Today they argue that the Bible says that in the days before the end of the world, the Second Coming of Christ and the day of God’s final judgement on humankind, Israel will be reborn. Lo and behold, Israel is reborn, and all is right with the Bible prophecy.
Here the intellectual and spiritual barbarism in which so many Americans live is the basis of an unreasoning commitment to Israel by millions of Americans. In the USA, all candidates for high office, the presidency for example, have to publicly proclaim a strong religious faith if they are to have a chance of election. Intertwined with the USA’s wonders of technology are still the superstitions of the Dark Ages.
So the Israel lobby is strong. So are other lobbies. With the Israel lobby alone, we get in response a revival of old conspiracy theories.
The Israel lobby is translated from a problem of the normal workings of American plutocratic democracy, of the power in public life of any well-financed and highly-motivated lobby and of primitive Christian religion, into a problem of conspiracy. It is translated into a modern manifestation of the ages-old “Jewish conspiracy”, idioms and variations of which are threatened throughout Christian civilisation.
To make that translation you need to have a certain predilection towards it — or to find the idea, once formulated, powerful because, subconsciously or consciously, you tap into the vast septic reservoir of ideas about “the Jews” and “Jewish control” that is there for the tapping into.
Almost as strange as the conversion of the too-recently anti-semitic “Christian Zionists” of the USA has been the de facto conversion of much of the international left to a variant of Jewish conspiracy theory.
Channel Four's Inside Britain's Israel Lobby was part of that.
Though it insisted that its “exposé” of the lobby was not an allegation of a Jewish or Zionist conspiracy, in fact, the “exposé” character of the programme belied that insistence, and its upfront “demand” for “transparency” more or less proclaimed the behind-the-scenes existence of some sort of conspiracy now.
In the programme, a very great deal was made of not much. Things that are not secret and not sinister were made out to be both. Contributions to MPs by Zionist pressure groups, individuals, and political lobbyists were presented as if they are unique, or uniquely influential, and of course they are not.
Either the programme meant to say or imply that there is a sinister, hidden, Zionist-Jewish influence or controlling hand in British politics on policy towards Israel — though, if it exists, why would its influence and control stop at that? — or it said very little. It said little, but implied a great deal more.
The programme wobbled badly in its targets, for instance on what motivates the pro-Israel lobbyists at Westminster. Commitment to Israel, its interests, and its defence? Yes. But one of the lobbyists — “the 18th [sic] richest man in England”, so the programme told us — owns a shopping mall in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and thus, the programme said, has a personal interest. So behind the Zionist, pro-Israel ideologue they found and “exposed” the age-old image of the money-grubbing Jew.
The truth is that there are all sorts of organised lobbies at Westminster. The increasing Americanisation of British politics makes lobbying in Britain too a large “industry”. Britain, too, is now, and increasingly so, very much a pluto-democracy — the transformation of the old Labour Party into New Labour, has accelerated that greatly. Political campaigning by big companies and industries is now pretty much the norm.
And it is not all that new — the sugar industry waged a vigorous campaign during the 1945-51 Labour government against a proposal to nationalise it.
The pro-Israel lobby at Westminster is part of a whole system which is long-established and recently much inflated. To present is as something hidden and especially sinister is, whatever the programme-makers say, to foment belief in “Jewish conspiracy” — or to tap into a pool of anti-Jewish paranoia that exists in British political sub-culture too.
That is what the Channel Four programme did, without making any real “revelation” to justify its tabloid-journalism-style “exposé” format and self-promotion.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, spoke on camera of the exceptional number of protest letters which any criticism of Israel provokes. So — there is a sizeable and passionately active group of people who back Israel? A large number of Jews in Britain back the Israeli Right? That is news? It is surprising? There is something specially sinister about it? Only if you slot it into preconceptions about a Zionist or Jewish network or conspiracy. Given the history of the 20th century, there is nothing surprising or sinister in passionate diaspora-Jewish support for Israel.
The “rabbi emeritus” of the Reform Synagogue in London spoke on camera of Israel as like South African apartheid. How? There are two systems of law in operation, one for Israeli Jews and another one in the Occupied Territories. A serious point and one worth thinking about.
The widespread idea (especially on the left) that Israel is equivalent to South Africa usually implies that the Israeli Jews — a compact nation — should go the same way as the South African whites, a minority privileged caste. That idea was proclaimed openly from platforms of “anti war movement” protests against Israel’s Gaza war The rabbi emeritus agrees? Or he forgets the content in which his ruminations emerge?
And so on.
There really is a powerful and highly motivated pro-Israel lobby, in which many Jews are active. It exerts influence within the US and British pluto-democratic systems. That is fact. To go beyond that, to “exaggerate’; to postulate something more, a sinister Jewish conspiracy, is not harmless.
In recent times the financial segment of capitalism has justly come in for much criticism. Not enough, but good! But the whole of capitalism, not just the banks, is rotten.
And the traditional corollary of the viewpoint that financial capital is particularly bad is that the problem with capitalism is “Jewish capital”.
A powerful cultural reservoir of “Jewish conspiracy” ideas exists. The connection of the current criticism of financial capital with that reservoir is as easy as raging fire jumping across a small gap. Programmes like Inside Britain's Israel Lobby blaze a trail for such connections. Right wingers and fascists “on the ground” draw out the implications.
Anti-Semitism in Britain has risen alarmingly in recent times. Jewish conspiracy nonsense, even timid and half-hearted stuff such as Inside Britain's Israel Lobby cannot but feed it.
A Jew-hunt will not help the Palestinians.
Issues in the conflict
The Palestinians are a people under foreign — Israeli — occupation and control. They have been in that position for two generations, for more than two-thirds of the time that Israel has existed.
Yes, Israeli occupation is brutal, and it is predatory. Over decades Israeli settlers have inched slowly into colonisation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, relentlessly winkling out and displacing the original inhabitants. They are still advancing now.
Plainly it is the intention of the dominant forces in Israel to colonise and permanently annex as much as they can of Palestine.
Israel has strength, power, and overall control of relations with the Palestinians. It could now, probably, reach a modus vivendi with the surrounding Arab states and with the Palestinians on the basis of accepting a Palestinian state on the territory Israel occupied in 1967, or even that territory with some deductions. It wasn’t always so, but it is so now, and has been for a long time.
Israel chooses not to. It holds the Palestinian people as a spider holds a fly in its web, slowly devouring it. Any settlement that led to an independent Palestinian state would put a stop to that process. Israel does not want such a setttlement.
The consequence of long-continuing Israeli occupation may well be to make the emergence of an independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory impossible. The longer things go on without a political settlement, without the setting up of a Palestinian state, the more the very possibility of such a state, ever, recedes towards impossibility.
The placement of settlements and roads indicates that this is the Israeli aim.
We must back the Palestinians’ demand for a state of their own alongside Israel. There are difficulties on the road, and we must register them.
Israel had to fight for its very existence in 1948, against five invading Arab armies, one at least of which, the Egyptian, openly raised the slogan, “Drive the Jews into the sea”; and against a sudden Egyptian attack in 1973.
It is surrounded by fundamentally hostile states. To this day only two Arab states, Jordan and Egypt, recognise Israel.
The demands of both the Palestinians and the Arab states, on the basis of which the Arab League proposes to reach a settlement with Israel, include, as well as a Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel, the “return” of the “refugees” — of over five million people, all but a fraction of whom are not refugees but the descendants of the 750,000 Arabs who fled or were driven out of Israeli territory during the 1948 Arab invasions.
The existence of so many people classified as “Palestinian refugees” is the result of the deliberate denial to Palestinians of the right to work and citizenship in most of the Arab states surrounding Israel. The Arab states are as much responsible as Israel is for the present “refugee problem”.
The demand for the “return” of the refugees is the cutting edge, still, of a drive to destroy Israel, and is in contradiction to the Arab League’s declared willingness to reach a settlement with Israel in return for a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967.
It is the cutting edge, also, of the claim that all pre-1948 Palestine is “Islamic land” and must be reclaimed. It is another way of proposing the end of the Jewish state. No national state would peacefully accept such a proposition, or anything like it.
Without the abandonment of the “Right of Return” the Arab League offer of peace for land — a Palestinian state — is a sham. It indicates that they have no real intention of “normalising” relations with Israel.
The idea that the Arab League will be willing to transmute the demand for the “right of return” into reparations payments and maybe some token “returns” is untested.