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Israel Lobby? Try again

Bradley Brooks writes in the AP, “Last year [Brazilian Arch­bishop Dadeus] Grings told a magazine, ‘More Catholics than Jews died in the Holocaust, but this isn’t known because the Jews control the world’s media.’”* Is the inference correct? Impos­si­ble to know. Modern communal Judaism sacral­izes Jewish suffering, to the point of creating an identity around it, a problem for us to work out. Many com­mu­ni­ties of suffering sacralize or elevate their own suffering. Most don’t do so in order to justify horrible atrocity. The American Jewish community does. None of this leads to the facile inference that because Jewish people control “the world’s media,” we don’t quite as commonly speak of non-Jewish deaths in the Holocaust. Anyway, Jews don’t control “the world’s media”; Jewish people are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented among media insti­tu­tions and amongst their ownership, as the Jewish demo­graphic dis­pro­por­tion­ately lands on the wealthy end of the spectrum.

There are two over­lap­ping groups. Cap­i­tal­ists and Jewish cap­i­tal­ists. Owners of media con­glom­er­ates and Jewish owners of media con­glom­er­ates. It’s common–at least on the left–to accept that cap­i­tal­ists have shared interests, that media con­glom­er­ates have shared interests, chiefly survival and the accu­mu­la­tion of power. Do those interests derive from their position in the class structure, due to ethnic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, or due to both? Consider that Jewish capital ownership is out-of-proportion to the world’s Jewish pop­u­la­tion, but at the same time, Jewish capital formation is far from a majority of overall capital formation. What this sort of non-sense asks us to do is to accept that a small portion of capital is bullying a larger portion of capital into doing what it wants. This is possible. Coali­tions of investors express their interests through fractious arguments over policy and through the instan­ti­ated arguments about policy that we call “elections.” But there’s something bizarre about it too. How small a portion of the global political economy is con­trolled by Jewish people? Why would Jews act in a way detri­men­tal to their class interest, and so uniformly? Why would the rest of American capital back them up in this refusal? The Answer, stip­u­lated rather than defended, is to defend Israel, either ide­o­log­i­cally, or mate­ri­ally (whatever that means), begging every single relevant question.

Anyway, I have been spo­rad­i­cally reading Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler’s seminal work, espe­cially the Global Political Economy of Israel. I need to read it more carefully. An excerpt from a review:

Returning to the notion of dominant capital, the authors identify what they term the weapondollar-petrodollar coalition as a key component of global dominant capital as a whole. They show an increas­ing inter­ac­tion between the major oil companies and arms man­u­fac­tur­ers and examine how the pursuit of dif­fer­en­tial accu­mu­la­tion by this coalition is linked with so-called energy conflicts in the Middle East.

In a remark­able series of graphs, the authors plot the rate of return of the major oil companies (dubbed the petro-core) in com­par­i­son with dominant capital as a whole. They then show that each sustained period of negative dif­fer­en­tial accu­mu­la­tion for this sector (i.e., where dominant capital has outpaced the petro-core in terms of dif­fer­en­tial profits) has been imme­di­ately followed by an “energy-conflict” such as the 1967 and 1973 wars, the Iran-Iraq war, and the 1990–1991 Gulf War.

Turning once more to an analysis of the concrete, the authors take each of these conflicts in turn and trace an increas­ing inter­ac­tion between arms exporters and the oil companies over time. Around the 1973 War, the arms business became more com­mer­cial­ized (expressed by the Nixon Doctrine) and in con­junc­tion with the petro-core began to exert a greater influence on U.S foreign policy.

The increas­ing con­flu­ence between the interests of the oil-arms coalition and foreign policy continued until just after the 1990–1991 Gulf War. At this point, the global regime of accu­mu­la­tion moved from depth back towards one of breadth. Dominant capital was able to take advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union, reduction of tariffs and dis­man­tling of barriers to capital mobility, and the opening up of “green-field” invest­ments in the South. This new stage of breadth marked the onset of glob­al­iza­tion, char­ac­ter­ized by the rise of a new section of dominant capital, the technodollar-mergerdollar coalition. This group sought dif­fer­en­tial accu­mu­la­tion through absorbing tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion through mergers and acqui­si­tions, expanding into new areas that became known as “emerging markets” and ben­e­fit­ing from the pri­va­ti­za­tion of government-owned enterprises.

It is this shift towards a breadth regime, according to Nitzan and Bichler, that explains the so-called peace process in the Middle East. Profits were to come from open markets in both goods and people instead of war and conflict. One of the con­se­quences of this process for Israel was the increas­ing transna­tional ownership of the Israeli economy—the key con­glom­er­ates that had dominated the economy under the shelter of the state were taken over by capital from the core, par­tic­u­larly the United States.

What’s the point? The point is that Israel’s rela­tion­ship to the United States, and its rela­tion­ship to the global cap­i­tal­ist system in which American capital is a major component, is embedded in a thick network of material links both sta­bi­lized and strength­ened by ideology: Zionism, or ethnic tribal atavism. Zionism rose to promi­nence in the United States at a specific his­tor­i­cal moment, within a specific community. It orig­i­nally emerged to stabilize a certain sort of arrange­ment of the global political economy. And now both American Zionism and Israeli Zionism have become partially unhinged, becoming partially inde­pen­dent variables: max­i­mal­ist land-grabbing, the Likudnik policy, doesn’t work for American cap­i­tal­ism, nor for many sectors of Israeli cap­i­tal­ism. As Nitzan and Bichler write,

During the 1990s, however, there emerged, perhaps for the first time, a major cleavage within the elite. On the one hand, there is the ‘reac­tionary’ Zionist faction which hopes to freeze the world of yesterday. On the other hand, there is an increas­ingly powerful, ‘pro­gres­sive’ faction, which seeks to ‘normalise’ the country, yet whose com­mit­ment to such nor­mal­i­sa­tion weakens as its invest­ment outside the country increases.

The Ban­tus­ti­za­tion that will be the real as opposed to ideal imple­men­ta­tion of the two-state solution does work for American cap­i­tal­ism, or works better, in the short-run. In the long-run it will promote desta­bi­liz­ing hate, hate that will end in Israeli self-immolation. (As cap­i­tal­ism will end in world immo­la­tion through anthro­pogenic climate change. But who talks about the cap­i­tal­ism lobby??). But even in the medium-run the hatred that a Bantustan solution will cultivate will be useful, useful for arms sales, useful for creating an excuse to prop up dic­ta­tor­ships that buy American weapons and that use their oil monies not for their pop­u­la­tion but for the enrich­ment of American and European elites.  Nitzan and Bichler again:

Although U.S. public officials swore alle­giance to the national interest, their actual policies toward the Middle East proved much more ambiva­lent. The ambiguity remained latent as long as the so-called national interest coincided with the dif­fer­en­tial interests of the Weapondollar–Petrodollar Coalition. But when the two collided, the policy stance almost invari­ably tilted in favour of the coalition. The result was that, during the 1970s and 1980s, the United States ended up promoting both insta­bil­ity and high oil prices, exactly the opposite of its openly pub­li­cised aims.

Note that the group that brought us to Iraq was precisely part of this coalition. Its intel­lec­tual salesmen were neo-con Zionist intel­lec­tu­als, sure. But mate­ri­al­ism matters.

And so over­com­ing Zionism and defeating Israeli policy doesn’t mean talking about this Zionist owner of a media con­glom­er­ate who doesn’t run articles crit­i­ciz­ing Israel, applaud­ing that one for sup­port­ing so strongly the two-state solution. It doesn’t mean defending American realists like Mearsheimer and Walt, now oddly taken to be our strategic rather than con­junc­tural allies. (They live in a fantasy world where there is a National Interest. Leave them to it, or use them, but smartly).  And above all, it doesn’t mean exulting about every mention of the Lobby, or calling those who either down-play the Lobby’s sig­nif­i­cance or situate it in mate­ri­al­ist terms crypto-Zionists or vulgar Marxists. It means taking arguments seriously. What that means is an awful lot of scut work: empirical research inves­ti­gat­ing the core insti­tu­tions of the global system. We must ask: do they benefit from this Zionist policy? Or all Zionist policies? How do we defeat them? How are they connected to the oil companies? To weapons companies? To global capital formation? To the petro-dollar complex? To hot capital flows? How is the Israeli economy braided into the global economic system? Could sectors of Israeli cap­i­tal­ism be tightly tied to the weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers and oil majors, so as to benefit from constant warfare? Yes, this is a bunch of boring crap to have to deal with no question. But the fact that some answers are (perhaps somewhat unfairly) judged unsat­is­fac­tory, maybe because they asked the wrong questions or didn’t look hard enough, is no reason to discard mate­ri­al­ism, to piss on Chomsky, or to make allies with right-wing populists, America Firsters, or anti-Semites. Let them come to us, and we’ll enfold them in our camp. Not the other way around.

*5.1 million Jews died in the Holocaust. The author of the article nor his editor bothered to correct this although it’s been known for years.

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14 comments to Israel Lobby? Try again

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mbfromhb, Max Ajl. Max Ajl said: New blog posting, Israel Lobby? Try again — […]

  • Yann

    Hi Max,
    Thanks for this great article. Does it mean you agree, more or less, with Chomsky’s view on BDS, please?
    Your opinion and your com­mit­ment are very valuable to me.
    I’ll continue to read you and who knows, maybe one day we’ll meet eachother.
    (Please, excuse my bad English.)

    • Yann,
      You are weclome. I do not agree with Chomsky on BDS. But, and this is fre­quently missed, Chomsky is not a cat­e­gor­i­cal opponent of BDS, at least when you look at its separate com­po­nents. He supports some sanctions. He supports divest­ment, e.g. Berkeley. What he doesn’t support is boycott, and that is because he is a free-speech abso­lutist, on the academic and, pre­sum­ably, cultural boycott, and because he doesn’t realize their ped­a­gog­i­cal potential, on the goods or economic boycott [I think]. So he doesn’t support the package, but he supports com­po­nents of it.

      That aside, I do not agree with Chomsky’s view, aside from the fact that I have not per­son­ally come to a sat­is­fac­tory con­clu­sion about the academic boycott. I am sym­pa­thetic to the free-speech issues and the abso­lutist argument in favor of free speech.

      BDS is a tactic, not a principle. To the extent that it can change Israeli policy, we should support it. Per­son­ally, I think by inflict­ing economic pain on Israel, accom­pa­nied by proper orga­ni­za­tional work amongst the lower-classes, we can maybe make BDS “work”: maybe even by bringing about a no-state solution. What needs to change is both American support for Israeli policy and European support for Israeli policy, but those are means to the end: changing Israel. And that must come about through externally-induced internal change. Sanctions espe­cially will produce a response from the Israeli cap­i­tal­ist class, whose goal is power; Zionism was long a means to that end, but I suspect many of them are more attracted to privilege than to Zionism. Of course, hopefully we can do better than that–overthrow Zionism and Israeli cap­i­tal­ism, too, and echo the South African tragedy. In that respect as in others, there are lessons to be learned.

      • Yann

        Thanks for your reply.
        [I think] Chomsky would prefer BDS against the empire (the first culprit) although he rec­og­nizes it would be much difficult. Indeed, BDS against only Israel may — at least — exonerate the empire from its respon­si­bil­ity on the occu­pa­tion of Palestine.

        • You’re right, there is also an element of his anarchist con­cep­tion of respon­si­bil­ity at work–that we should first change our insti­tu­tions. The thing is, insti­tu­tions in a glob­al­ized world never exist in a vacuum–they exist rela­tion­ally. An insti­tu­tion here must host an Israeli insti­tu­tion or its rep­re­sen­ta­tives; our economic system must choose to include or exclude Israeli products. But there’s a level of indirect effect going on. BDS campaigns according to the original call can be struc­tured as local groups wish, in part; so there’s no reason they can’t be struc­tured so as to target both the empire and Israel [with braided stock markets, anyway]. I under­stand the concern, and share it; but if properly struc­tured it seems superable.

  • tree

    “5.1 million Jews died in the camps.”

    This is a nitpick on my part, I suppose, but only around half of the Jewish Holocaust deaths happened in the camps. I think a singular focus on the camp deaths has led to the ghastly assump­tion by many Western (and Israeli) apol­o­gists that anything less than gassing people in camps is not worthy of the same kind of appro­ba­tion that gassing deserves. Open air killings and death by ghetto-ization and occu­pa­tion killed nearly as many Jews as did the camps, and many of the camp deaths were from disease and mal­nu­tri­tion, not just gassing.

    Taken from Raul Hilberg’s The Destruc­tion of the European Jews:

  • Hi max,
    In addition to every­thing you mentioned about the back­grounds of the Israeli-American rela­tion­ship, I believe there is another important factor that you ignored here, which is the religious factor.

    In one way or another, Israel and the Israel related prophe­cies became an essential part of the christian religion from the per­spec­tive of alot of American elite.

    According to their under­stand­ing the salvation will be achieved by Jesus coming to the jews in Palestine to fulfill his original unfin­ished task, to make jews believing in him. The problem here is that the native jews in Palestine are not jews anymore, since almost all of them converted during the last 2000 years into Chris­tian­ity or Islam. Two religions believing in Jesus. To overcome this problem, new jews without any proven relation with the land of Palestine have to be brought from allover the world to establish a jewish estate so that the prophecy would be possible. Under­stand­ing this back­ground will help us in under­stand­ing a lot of illogical things in the current israeli-american relationship.

    • Yes there’s a strong element of ide­o­log­i­cal support from Christian Zionists too. But I am not sure that this discourse is really powerful among the elite; I think it’s more prevalent amongst the Palin constituency.

  • Andrew Pollack

    Thanks very much Max for this insight­ful post. I agree whole­heart­edly at the need for a mate­ri­al­ist analysis looking at all the various economic incen­tives, and the complex way they are artic­u­lated by various political actors — including when they’re artic­u­lated incom­pe­tently from those own actors’ short, medium and/or long term interests!
    Andy Pollack

  • […] Israel Lobby? Try again Bradley Brooks writes in the AP, “Last year [Brazilian Archbishop… […]

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