Does the tail wag the dog?

Israel and imperialism

by Pete Brown


. Does the tail wag the dog? This is the issue posed by a variety of bourgeois opponents of Israel who claim that support for Israel is supposedly bad for American imperialism. They assert that Israel, the little tail attached to the great USA dog, actually controls and manipulates the dog. They especially blame Israel for the war against Iraq, asserting that the Israeli zionists used American dupes to do their fighting for them. Different people are giving this view, and it has some influence in the anti-war movement and among activists, distracting from an anti-imperialist critique of Israel. This view gets sustenance from an unspoken anti-Semitism promoted by anti-progressive right-wing trends, and it promotes allegiance to US imperialism as the supposedly "good" alternative to Israeli aggression in the Middle East.

. In Palestine the last two and a half years have seen a new intifada, an uprising of the Palestinian people against the Israeli occupiers. This has stimulated new manifestations of solidarity with the Palestinian cause among people in the US, Europe and elsewhere. This new movement has taken up the cause of trying to isolate Israel internationally and organizing various kinds of boycotts against it. This is all to the good. Israeli expansionism and denial of the rights of the Palestinian people are major issues in the Mideast, and exposing them and isolating Israel are worthy goals of progressive forces. But one thing that could only help strengthen this movement is to bring out the strong connections between Israeli aggression and US imperialism. Israel pursues its own expansionist, aggressive policies in the Mideast, but these are closely tied to and coordinated with the dominating drive of US imperialism.

. Support for Israel has widespread bipartisan support among bourgeois politicians. The "wag the dog" thesis is by no means the dominant trend in US politics. But it does show up in ruling class circles, even in the halls of Congress. For example supporters of former Congressman Paul Findley (Republican of Illinois) have been leafletting anti-war events with an anti-Israel diatribe of his entitled "Liberate America!" That's right -- liberate America from the clutches of Israel! In this leaflet Findley says "Congress behaves as if it were a subcommittee of the Israeli parliament. " Speaking of the Israel lobby in the US, Findley tries to frighten patriotic American imperialists: "The lobby's intimidation remains pervasive. It seems to reach into every government center and even houses of worship and revered institutions of higher learning. "

. Findley makes some correct criticisms of Israel yet combines these with support for USimperialism. For example he complains that "Israel is a scofflaw nation .  .  . " [that is, Israel owes money to the US] ".  .  . and should be treated as such" [apparently the US should send some tough corporate bill collectors to Tel Aviv]. Findley complains that "U. S. policy in the Middle East is made in Israel, not in Washington" and says this is the reason for the war against Iraq.

. Findley gives facts about how President Bush has supported Israel in its oppression of the Palestinians. Nonetheless Findley has not lost faith in imperialism and says it can all be turned around if Bush will just cut off all US aid to Israel, concluding with this statement: "If Bush suspends U.S. aid, he will liberate all Americans from long years of bondage to Israel's misdeeds. " As if imperialism would disappear with just a stroke of Bush's pen!

. A different version of this theme was provided by Congressman James Moran (Democrat of Virginia). At a March 3 anti-war forum Moran, responding to a question from the audience, blamed Jewish religious leaders for the war, saying "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. " Later, under criticism for the anti-Semitic tone of this remark, Moran apologized and retracted it. But it is useful to go into this further because his remark does reflect the view of many people, and it needs to be refuted.

. There's nothing wrong with asserting that Israel and US imperialism have a close coincidence of interests. This is very true, especially now during the administrations of Bush Jr. and Ariel Sharon. Some of Bush's top advisers, such as Richard Perle, also serve as advisers to Sharon, writing position papers for Israeli think tanks just as they do for conservative American think tanks. Perle and other neo-conservative thinkers who are pushing for US imperialism to "seize the day" and eliminate any potential rivals to US dominance are advocating the same thing for Israel, that it use the present opportunity to expand and consolidate its power.

. It's also true that American policies in the Mideast prop up Israel. Indeed it's hard to imagine Israel surviving without American financial and military aid. In that sense it's certainly true that Israel uses the US.

. But Moran's comment veered into anti-Semitism when he singled out Jewish religious leaders as the source of US imperialist aggression. The real cause of the attack on Iraq is the campaign of the entire American bourgeoisie for its imperialist interests. Even if the Jewish community were completely united behind the war, this by itself would not determine major US foreign policy. And as a matter of fact, the Jewish community was sharply divided about the war, just as Americans in general were. There are Jews, and Jewish organizations, who are rabid supporters of Israel and big supporters of Bush's war against Iraq. But there are also Jews who are active in the anti-war movement and generally oppose Israeli aggression. Public opinion polls showed just about identical numbers supporting the war among both Americans as a whole and Jewish Americans.

. The Jewish community is also split over the issue of support for Israel, although most influential Jewish lobbying groups are solid supporters of Israel. Even among Jews in Israel there is an active and vocal peace movement that opposed the war against Iraq and opposes Israeli expansionism. This movement is not the dominant trend in Israeli politics any more than it is in American politics. But its existence shows there is a basis for eventually overcoming the division of the Jewish and Arab working people and establishing a single democratic and secular state -- neither Jewish, nor Islamic, nor Christian -- for all the people of the present Israel/Palestine.

The Israel lobby

. One of the major complaints of Findley and other anti-Israel imperialists is the strength of the Israel lobby in the US. It's true that the pro-Israel lobby has money and clout to help influence elections and votes in Congress about maintaining aid to Israel. But it should also be borne in mind that the pro-Israel lobby is not just a matter of "influential Jews". The ruling imperialist bourgeoisie generally supports Israel, and among them there are special interests that particularly favor the massive financial and military aid that goes to Israel. First of all the arms manufacturers, who love Israel as a major buyer and importer of the latest in weaponry. Also the Pentagon generals, who look at Israel as a place where weapons get a ready tryout. American banks also make a lot of profit off of arms deals by arranging the financing. Some fundamentalist Christian groups, part of the Republican Party right-wing voting bloc, are big supporters of Israel through a mixture of pro-imperialist politics and Biblical mumbo-jumbo. And of course most of the bourgeois politicians themselves, Republican and Democrat alike, compete in elections over who is the best friend and supporter of "our staunchest ally, Israel. "

Bourgeois Arab nationalism

. The Arab bourgeoisie and governments put forward a bourgeois nationalist view of the struggle against Israeli oppression. They may denounce Israel sharply and present this as anti-imperialist, but they are concerned to continue to curry favor with imperialism. They want the US to lean away from Israel and support them. Thus they cover over US imperialist aggression in the Mideast and excuse it as caused by Israeli "control" of the US. Supposedly the US has no interest in attacking Iraq, it is simply being "used" by the Israelis. Unfortunately this view has some influence among activists in the anti-war and pro-Palestinian movements. Many of these activists are anti-U. S. imperialist, but some are influenced by this bourgeois nationalist view.

. Pinning the crimes of US imperialism solely onto Israel and "the Jewish lobby" has an anti-Semitic tenor to it, and the spokesmen for Arab bourgeois nationalism are sometimes charged with this. But they haughtily deny the charge by claiming "It's impossible for me, an Arab, to be anti-Semitic; I'm Semitic myself!" Ridiculous word-chopping like this does not really answer the charge.

. This does not mean that everyone charged with harboring anti-Jewish prejudices by the zionists and their supporters actually does. Pro-zionist groups make a habit of trying to tar any critic of Israel with the anti-Semitic brush to try and deflect criticism of Israel. They know that, especially since the Nazi Holocaust, this is a very sensitive subject. But it's certainly possible to condemn the oppressive behavior of the state of Israel without promoting hatred for the Jewish people as an ethnic/religious group.

Racial politics

. An actual case of racist anti-Israel politics posing as anti-imperialism is provided by Pat Buchanan, the long-time racist and far-right zealot (and former Republican presidential candidate). Buchanan opposed the war against Iraq because he thought it wasn't in US interests. In the March 24 issue of his magazine, The American Conservative, Buchanan wrote: "We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interests. .  .  . What these neo-conservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel. "

. Despite his anti-imperialist pretense, Buchanan's "America First" ideology actually supports longstanding US imperialist activity in the Mideast and elsewhere. And his accusations of a pro-Israel "cabal" amount to old-fashioned, right-wing, racist anti-Semitism. Buchanan later expanded his remarks by charging that Richard Perle was "an agent of influence of a foreign power [Israel]. " According to Buchanan, Perle and other "agents" have somehow managed to hijack the resources of US imperialism, so that America is suddenly acting suicidally in the Mideast. As if US imperialism had not been working to dominate the Mideast for decades through wars, CIA coups, financial manipulations and political/cultural penetration! If Bush and his ruling circle have now turned to the neo-conservatives for advice on how to pursue a more aggressive military policy, Buchanan still doesn't explain why -- why now? Paul Wolfowitz, the notorious neo-conservative author of Bush's more aggressive strategy, was holed up in the Pentagon for years with no one paying much attention to him. Bush turned to the neo-cons for details on a new, more aggressive strategy a couple years ago, but it wasn't because they were pro-Israel or that some of them were Jewish.

U. S. policy in the Mideast

. Generally speaking, the US tries to balance its support for Israel with its support for pro-Western, pro-capitalist Arab governments in the region, just as Britain tried to strike such a balance during its imperialist heyday. The state of Israel grew up with and was fostered by Western imperialist interests, and so is a most reliable and trusted ally in the region. Israel is a ready-made war machine against threats to Western imperialist interests in the region. It was useful for that during the Cold War against the Soviet Union and revisionist "communism", and it remains useful for that in the present-day "war against terrorism. " Thus it's sort of turning reality upside down to say that the US is fighting wars for Israel.

. The main motive for war against Iraq could not have been to protect Israel. More likely prospects for US protection were the pro-U. S. , oil-rich, reactionary emirates of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrein, etc. as well as Saudi Arabia, from possible takeover by Saddam Hussein. And at the same time the US was protecting these regimes, it was also using Iraq as an example of what happens when you don't toe the line for U. S. imperialism. The "protection" was also a threat against the regimes and the people in these countries to stay away from radical Islamism, radical Arab nationalism, or any anti-imperialist political trends.

. The main motive for the war was for the US to remain the overall superpower, the arbiter between all of the conflicting interests in the Mideast. Saddam Hussein aspired to take over this place in the Persian Gulf region, but the US crushed his regime, and so the US remains the major imperialist power broker, a position it took over from Britain following World War II. <>

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Last modified: May 25, 2003.