Why and How the Anti-War Movement Must Tackle the "Israel" Question

by John Spritzler
May 8, 2006



As this sample (see below) of recent remarks by President Bush and Senator McCain indicate, "defense of Israel" is being moved to front-and-center as the new excuse for escalating the U.S. attack on people in the Middle East, this time Iranians.
If the American anti-war movement expects to persuade the broad American public, it cannot stick its head in the sand when it comes to the question of Israel. The anti-war movement must confront the fundamental question of whether there should be a Jewish state in Palestine in the first place, because the answer people give to this question will, more than anything else, determine whether they think it is reasonable to defend Israel, and hence reasonable for the U.S. to wage war for that purpose. Bush understands this, and so should we.
The fact that many people in the Middle East don't think there should be a Jewish state in Palestine is increasingly apparent to the American public who lately have read about the recently elected Iranian President Ahmadinejad's supposed call for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and the recently elected Hamas's refusal to formally recognize the state of Israel.
Americans are being told that Israel, "the only democracy in the Middle East," is surrounded by anti-Semitic fanatics who, in Iran, are on the verge of getting nuclear weapons which they will use to kill all the Jews in Israel unless the U.S. comes to their rescue with whatever means are necessary. Ahmadinejad, like Saddam Hussein, is being likened to Hitler--this time on the basis that wanting to abolish the Jewish state is equivalent to wanting to kill all the Jews in it.
By this same illogical reasoning, Albert Einstein, Judah Magnes (the first president of Hebrew University in Jerusalem), and Hannah Arendt--all leading Jewish intellectuals who opposed the creation of a Jewish state and who opposed real anti-Semitism for the same reason, namely their belief in the universal values of equality and democracy--hated Jewish people in Palestine. By this same illogic, people who worked to abolish the apartheid South African state were racist against whites. Of course the American mass media won't inform the American public that there are excellent reasons for wanting to abolish a Jewish state in Palestine that have nothing to do with being hostile to ordinary Jewish people. The question is, will the anti-war movement inform them?
The anti-war movement must directly and persuasively refute the central lies of the American government's pro-war propaganda:
-- It must refute the lie that a Jewish state in Palestine is an appropriate and just response to anti-Semitism or the Holocaust. How? By explaining that the moral as well as practical response to racism is not more racism but rather a principled rejection of racism in all forms; by showing that a Jewish state in Palestine is a racist project based on ethnic cleansing and brutal apartheid suppression of non-Jews, and that the conflict is not between "two peoples for one land" but between most ordinary people--Jewish, Muslim, Christian or whatever--who want to live together peacefully and as equals, versus elite rulers or want-to-be-rulers--Jewish, Muslim, Christian or whatever--who want most (or all) of Palestine to be ruled by them under exclusively Jewish sovereignty or exclusively Islamic sovereignty or (as in the case of the PLO) under a nominal "secular democracy" that would in fact, just as in the other cases, be rule by the wealthy few.
-- It must refute the lie that the Palestine/Israel conflict is about Israel defending itself from anti-Semitic terrorism. How? By explaining that the fundamental injustice is Israel's having driven out 80% of the non-Jews in 1948 (and more in 1967) and Israel's refusing to let them return today; by affirming that violent resistance against such an injustice is justified but this does not include killing non-combatants; by not making excuses for those who, in the name of resistance, kill non-combatants; and by pointing out that a just cause, such as abolishing a Jewish state in Palestine, is not made less just simply because some people, in its name, commit unjustified violence against non-combatants, any more than slavery was ever justified by the fact that slaves on occasion killed the innocent children of slave-owners.
-- It must refute the lie that Israel is a democracy. How? By explaining that the Basic Law of Israel does not even allow parties to run candidates for parliament (Knesset) if they challenge Israel's ethnic cleansing to secure and maintain a large Jewish majority population, or if they advocate that Israel be a state of all its citizens, rather than a state of the Jewish people.

-- It must refute the lie that Israeli leaders are pro-Jewish! How? By explaining that Zionist leaders don't fight anti-Semitism but rather use it to strengthen their power over ordinary Jews; by revealing the true history of how Zionist leaders (including Israel's future prime ministers) betrayed ordinary European Jews during the Holocaust by opposing rescue efforts, on the grounds that sending Jews to safety anywhere other than Palestine would undermine the Zionist project of creating a Jewish state after the war, whereas if Jews died at the hands of the Nazis it would give Zionists a greater standing at post war negotiations on the future of Palestine; by revealing how Zionist leaders betrayed Russian Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in the 1990s by arranging for Russia and other nations to sharply restrict Jewish immigration to any nation other than Israel (most wanted to go to the U.S., not Israel); by revealing how the Zionist Israeli ruling class, using the same anti-working class methods (like privatization, strike breaking and the excuse of "national interest") that are used by the American corporate/government elite against American workers, has increased social/economic inequality among Jews in Israel to the point that it is now second, among western nations, only to the extreme inequality of the United States.
-- It must use the truth about the Israel/Palestine conflict to refute the lie that American rulers wage war to spread democracy and freedom. How? By showing that U.S. foreign policy is aimed at keeping ordinary people around the world (including Americans!) under the thumb of wealthy and powerful elites, for which purpose a key strategy is to foment ethnic, racial or nationalistic Orwellian wars to divide-and-rule, which is exactly what Israeli oppression of Palestinians does, to the advantage not only of Israeli rulers who control ordinary Israeli Jews by making them fearful of Palestinians, but also to the advantage of other anti-democratic rulers in the Middle East (like the Saudi Royals and the Iranian Mullahs) who control their own populations more easily by directing their anger at Israel, a nation which, thanks to U.S. military aid, is conveniently so militarily powerful that Middle East kings and dictators can attack it verbally while at the same time using its obvious military superiority as a perfect excuse in the eyes of "their own" people for not actually attacking it militarily.
As long as the anti-war movement avoids dealing with the question of Israel in an honest and forthright way, the movement will continue to be weak and ineffective. We will either win the American public to truly understand the Palestine/Israel conflict by making the kind of persuasive arguments outlined above, or the American ruling class will win the public's support for (or at least passive acceptance of) any war purporting to be in defense of Israel.
Welcome to the White HousePresidentNewsVice PresidentHistory & ToursFirst LadyMrs. Cheney Welcome to the White HouseGovernmentKids OnlyEspanolContactPrivacy PolicySiteMapSearch Welcome to the White House
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2006
President Discusses War on Terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom
Renaissance Cleveland Hotel
Cleveland, Ohio

But now that I'm on Iran, the threat to Iran, of course -- (applause) -- the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace; it's a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel, and -- (applause.)

Boston Globe, April 30, 2006:

...Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said: "There is only one thing worse than military action, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran." McCain said the United States would not stand by and let Iran wipe out Israel, as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had called for in a recent speech.



John Spritzler is a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in WWII and co-author with David Stratman of On the Public Agenda: Essays for Change.


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