Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday 28 December 2007

Who pays the piper

Much quicker off the mark than me, within a day of the 11 December release of the latest AJC Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion (conducted 6-25 November 2007), Glenn Greenwald was writing in Salon on ‘How Unrepresentative Neocon Jewish Groups Are’, concluding,

One of the defining traits of war-loving neoconservatives is that their unrelenting and exclusive fixation on the Middle East...often casts the appearance that they are some sort of spokespeople for the “pro-Israel” agenda or the Jewish viewpoint.

Manifestly, they are nothing of the sort. Even among American Jews, they comprise only a small minority, and their generally discredited militarism is widely rejected by most Jews as well. It is always worth underscoring these points, which are so frequently (and deliberately) obscured, and this comprehensive poll provides potent — actually quite conclusive — evidence for doing so.

The same day, Yoshie, citing Greenwald, concurred on his own Critical montages blog, as well as in a guest post on Lenin’s tomb ‘that neo-conservatives are a tiny minority at odds with a great majority of Jewish Americans they claim to represent’, observing further that ‘after all these years, Jewish Americans still largely lean to the Left’.

Eric Alterman remarks in the Nation that

it's news only if you haven't been paying attention. An examination of past AJC surveys as well as a number of other polls of American Jews demonstrates that Jews have remained remarkably faithful to the values of liberal humanism. These views, however, have been obscured in our political discourse by an unholy alliance between conservative-dominated professional Jewish organizations and neoconservative Jewish pundits, aided by pliant and frequently clueless mainstream media that empower these right-wingers to speak for a people with values diametrically opposed to theirs.

These observers are quite emphatic – ‘It is beyond dispute that American Jews overwhelmingly oppose core neoconservative foreign policy principles’, ‘values diametrically opposed’, ‘at odds with a great majority’.

To be sure, only minorities claim to adhere to some of the positions of the Zionist organisations. For example, while the AJC itself appears to be on a campaign to discredit the NIE and keep Americans in fear of the Iranian nukes imminently raining onto Israel, or worse, only 35% of American Jews said that they ‘support the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons’, the same as last year, and before release of the new NIE asserting that Iran had a nuclear weapons program but discontinued it in 2003.

When I say, ‘the same as last year’, it is important to bear in mind that in a small sample like this, the ‘margin of error’ is three percentage points. So last year’s estimate of 35% could in fact be anywhere between 32% and 38%, as could this year’s. In other words, the same estimate could conceal either a rise or a fall of up to six percentage points, or more.

It might be worth reiterating that three percentage points is not the same as 3%. If, for example, we had an estimate of 50% of American Jews who claim to be members of synagogues, a margin of error of three points gives us a range of 47% to 53%. If the margin of error were 3%, 3% of 50% is 1.5%, so the range would be 48.5% to 51.5%. Quite a different kettle of fish. Furthermore, you would calculate the latter difference on the basis of the original absolute estimates, although in this case, it shouldn’t matter. The reason that these estimates may be off by more than 3 points either way is that there is a certain level of confidence that that is the margin of error, unstated in this case. It is definitely less than 100% for obvious reasons, and is probably about 85%.

In a 17 December article, ‘American Jews on War and Peace: What Do the Polls Tell Us and Not Tell Us?’, James Petras sets out to answer

How is it that a majority of US Jews who, according to the AJC poll (and several others going back over two decades) differ with the principal American Jewish organizations, have not or do not challenge the position of the dominant Jewish organization, have virtually no impact on the US Congress, the Executive and the mass media in comparison to the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations?

And I think Richard Silverstein has come up with a more plausible explanation than Petras’s.

Petras has a grasp of the organized Jewish community but no grasp at all of unaffiliated Jews, who constitute just under half of the population. The AJC survey includes ALL Jews whether affiliated or unaffiliated. Unaffiliated Jews are much more likely to have views to the left of the "dominant Jewish organizations." The reason that unaffiliated Jews do not challenge the prevailing wisdom in the mainstream community is that doing so does not interest them. That's why they're unaffiliated. It's a vicious circle really. So to blame those who have essentially opted out of the program for the perpetuation of noxious attitudes among those who are still with the program misses the point entirely.

Blaming Jewish peace groups for not moving the Jewish agenda toward the left is wrong-headed. These groups attempt to work with both affiliated and unaffiliated Jews to move the prevailing consensus in a leftward direction. There are many reasons why they have not had more success (lack of funds and powerful leaders, lack of strategic vision, strength of their opponents). And I think that most members and staff of these organizations realize they need to do more. But to denounce them for this lack of success and blame the troubling AJC results on them is mean-spirited and just flat out wrong.

While admitting that ‘it is surprising, and disturbing, that the result is as close as it is’, Silverstein finds comfort in the 46% plurality saying they ‘favor the establishment of a Palesitnian state’, in comparison to the 43% opposed. As it happens, the AJC have asked the same question every year since 2000, and this year’s 46% support is the lowest it’s stood over that period, significantly falling by eight points from last year’s 54%. Similarly, the proportion opposing a Palestinian state has increased from 38% last year and the year before to 43% in 2007, the second highest level recorded over the eight year period. (It was 47% in 2002.) As the margins of error overlap, this may or may not be significant, but the stability of many of the estimates over time suggests that a five point increase could be.

What’s interesting about the question, however, is not the numbers, but the wording, ‘In the current situation, do you favor or oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state?’ Without additional information, the answers to such a question don’t tell us very much. Some respondents may favour establishment of a Palestinian state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Others may favour a series of disconnected bantustans whose borders, airspace, port, communications infrastructure, etc. are under Israeli control. Some of those opposed may prefer a single democratic secular state throughout historic Palestine, or the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza to Israel and the expulsion of the remaining non Jewish population. So it is not at all obvious that favouring establishment of a Palestinian state is necessarily a progressive view, or that opposing it is not. In fact, even if it were safe to assume that all respondents understood the question the same way, as something like the Geneva initiative, with a return to more or less the Green Line and a ‘symbolic’ gesture towards justice for the refugees, that is a long way from progressive. As I’ve discussed before, it entails accepting that ethnic cleansing and terrorism are acceptable nation building strategies, that territory can legitimately be acquired by force of arms, that refugees deserve permanent exile and statelessness, that it’s ok to privilege one group over another on the basis of religion or ethnicity, and other positions that are prima facie anti progressive.

To understand what the opinions about the establishment of a Palestinian state mean, I would have liked to see answers to questions about the refugee issue, about Israel’s status as a Jewish state, whether a Jewish state can be democratic, the status of the Israeli Arabs, ‘targetted assassinations’, checkpoints, the boycott of Hamas and the siege of Gaza, the bypass roads, the future of the ‘large settlement blocs’, (In 2005, the last time they asked the question, 36% opposed dismantling any West Bank settlements, the highest ever and up seven points from 29% in 2004.), the construction and route of the wall (In 2006, 73% supported ‘the Israeli government's decision to build the security fence separating Israelis and Palestinians?’, up from 69% the previous year.), among other things. In particular, I’m interested in the proportion of US Jews who subscribe to views that I would define as Zionist, that is, who believe that a state that privileges Jews is acceptable. But I wasn’t really expecting them to ask that. I think it is clear from the phrasing of other questions, the ‘destruction of Israel’ question in particular, that those framing these questions simply assumed that it went without saying that all respondents do hold such views. It would be frightening, but not really surprising, if they are right.

A couple of questions touch on my concerns, if tangentially. When asked,

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? "Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew."

69% agreed, 28% disagreed, and 3% weren’t sure. Now you can spin this question so that I could honestly agree. Indeed, caring about what Israel purports to do in my name is the most important part of my being a Jew. But in all likelihood, none of the respondents interpreted it that way. If not, then it may be of interest that the proportion agreeing is the lowest in the eight years for which data are available on the AJC site, falling five points from 74% last year.

The other,

How close do you feel to Israel?

is the nearest thing they ask to a measure of Zionist sentiment, as I define it. Still, without knowing respondents’ motivations – without asking why – we don’t know whether those who feel ‘very distant’ from Israel oppose any discussion of dismantling settlements and favour immediate forcible transfer of all Palestinians from ‘Eretz Yisra’el’, or object to the existence of a Jewish ethnocracy. I think we can, however, interpret those 70% who say they do feel close to Israel as among those who unequivocally do feel comfortable with a state that privileges Jews. It is mildly encouraging that the proportion who said they felt ‘slightly close’ or ‘very close’ has fallen six percentage points since 2006 to it’s lowest recorded level.

Returning to the issue of the Palestinian state, what we do know from the survey is how respondents answered

In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?

Like most of the questions in the AJC survey, there are problems with the wording. To begin with, it rests on the assumption that ‘a permanent peace with the Palestinians’ is conceivable without a capital of the Palestinian state, whatever its configuration, in al Quds. And that already betrays further assumptions – that ‘the Palestinians’ means the PA; that anyone purporting to represent ‘the Palestinians’ could negotiate sovereignty over Jerusalem, that ‘peace’ means simply the end of all resistance. Furthermore, the question assumes that it would be a compromise for Israel to relinquish sovereignty, when not even the US recognises Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. Anyway, the answers to this question do shed a little light on the Palestinian state question.

A majority of 58% said that Israel should not be willing to make this compromise. On the face of it, therefore, that would mean that at least 4% of the sample favour a Palestinian state with no sovereignty over Jerusalem. It could be, and probably is, much higher than that, but that is the extent of the overlap between the two proportions, so it’s all we can be sure of. Taking the three point margin of error into consideration, however, it is possible that the populations would not overlap at all, if both estimates were high, that is, if, say, the proportion that favoured the Palestinian state was actually as low as 43% and only 55% wanted Israel to keep Jerusalem.

At one level, it would be nice to have access to the raw data and run some cross tabulations. Then we could have estimates of the proportion, for example, who both favour a Palestinian state and think Israel should compromise over Jerusalem, in other words, the population close to a standard two state position. But that type of analysis effectively looks at smaller sub populations, so the sampling error would be much higher and the estimates less reliable. That said, the AJC itself has announced that 70% of those identifying as Democrats support Hillary Clinton. It’s a large enough proportion that it is probably meaningful, but the margin of error would be much higher than three points. Somewhat more suspect is Rebecca Spence’s report in this week’s Forward that

According to the AJCommittee survey for 2007, 42% of Orthodox respondents identified themselves as Democrats, while 30% identified as Republicans.

Since only 8% of the AJC sample identified as Orthodox, that is, between 75 and 84 of the 1000 respondents, the margin of error would be very high, or what amounts to the same thing, the confidence that the margin of error is three percentage points would be much lower than 85%, or whatever it is for proportions of the entire sample. The figures do, however, appear to coincide with those asserted by the Orthodox Union, however they were collected.

Notwithstanding the small consolation Silverstein finds in the possible plurality favouring a Palestinian state,

The remaining answers are flat out unnerving and make me realize how much work remains to be done if there is ever to be a realistic understanding of the IP conflict among American Jews. As a group we have swallowed hook, line and sinker some of the worst prejudices and ignorant attitudes toward Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole.

Most of the questions that concern him resemble the ‘How close’ question in that an affirmative response is more meaningful than a negative. For example,

Do you think that negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can or cannot lead to peace in the foreseeable future?

The 55% who answered ‘Cannot’ may comprise those who don’t think there will ever be peace under any circumstances; those who think there will be peace, but not in the foreseeable future; those who think there will be peace in the foreseeable future, but not as a result of the negotiations; those who don’t agree that those two parties are negotiating; etc. Those who said, ‘Can’, on the other hand probably all share at least a desire to appear optimistic, and may actually believe that Olmert and abu Mazen both enjoy sufficient credibility among their purported constituencies and with each other to be able to negotiate in good faith, that their common objective is peace in the foreseeable future, and the other profoundly implausible assumptions that would make sense of an affirimative response.

What is rather alarming is the 82% majority agreeing

...with the following statement? "The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel."

What this question does above all else is invite the respondent to buy into racism. By refusing to specify whether ‘the Arabs’ are ‘the moderate Arab states’, the PA, the Palestinians in general, Arabs in general, or whatever, the question’s framers force the respondent to accept the racist presupposition that ‘the Arabs’ are of one mind. They are duplicitous in pretending to demand the return of the territories occupied in 1967, but in reality, they are bent on Israel’s destruction, a second Holocaust. Again, we can’t really tell much about those who disagreed without knowing why they did so. But it’s pretty clear that those who agreed were prepared to accept those assumptions.

Several of those writing about the poll have made much of the high proportion of American Jews identifying as ‘liberal’ and Democrat. On this, Petras is spot on.

Progressive analysts who cite overwhelming Jewish support for the Democratic Party, its top three Presidential candidates and their preference for the liberal label as differentiating them from the leaders of the major organizations, commit an elementary logical and substantive fallacy. Liberals, like the Clintons, supported the wars against Iraq and are among the driving forces promoting a military attack on Iran. The Democratic majority in Congress has backed every military appropriation demanded by the Republicans and the White House. Being Democrat and ‘liberal’ is no indicator of being ‘progressive’ using any foreign policy indicator, from the Middle East wars to destabilizations efforts in Venezuela.

The question asked is,

I’m going to read you a list of political views that people might hold. They are arranged from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. Where would you place yourself on this scale?

Extremely liberal


Slightly liberal

Moderate, middle of the road

Slightly conservative


Extremely conservative

Not sure

When designing a question like this with a number of response categories among which the respondent must select just one, it is imperative to ensure that the response categories exhaust all the possible responses. This is easily accomplished by incorporating a residual ‘Other’ response, or, if you’re really interested, ‘Other, please specify’. In the US context, of course, liberal can only mean ‘small ‘l’ liberal’, vaguely progressive, perhaps, or ‘left of centre’. I would guess that ‘Extremely liberal’ corresponds to something along the lines of social democrat. It’s hard to imagine anyone to the left of that identifying as any kind of liberal, even in America. Another problem with this question, apart from omitting a category to accommodate revolutionary Marxists, is that the inclusion of a ‘Moderate’ category is likely to contaminate everything. After all, the only thing this question is testing is the rather unreliable measure of political self perception, and many people prefer to perceive themselves as moderate. ‘Moderation in all things’... Mhden agan ‘Nothing in excess’ – the Oracle’s wisdom.

Some of the other questions may shed some light on just how liberal American Jews really are. This year, 43% claimed to be either ‘Extremely liberal’(4%), ‘Liberal’(23%), or ‘Slightly liberal’ (16%), a little above the average for 2000-2008.

It’s true that 57% opposed ‘...the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons?’, so clearly at least some of the Moderates and/or Conservatives must have been among those opposed, suggesting that it’s not necessarily such a progressive position. In 2006, 54% were opposed, and only 46% the year before. Interestingly, however, when asked last year, with 42% saying they were liberal, 57% supported, ‘...Israel taking military action against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons’. Also in 2006, 55% approved ‘...of the way the Israeli government has handled the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon’, and 53% of how the United States government handled it.

‘Looking back,’ 67% said they thought the U.S. ‘should have have stayed out’ of Iraq. But since we don’t know why they think that, or what they think the US should do now, it is ambiguous whether they answered as they did because they oppose US imperialism, because they supported Hussein’s Ba’ath regime in Baghdad, because they were disappointed that US troops weren’t greeted with candy and flowers, or any one or more of numerous other reasons. In a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted a couple of weeks after the AJC poll, only 54% said they thought the U.S. ‘should have have stayed out’ of Iraq. So insofar as this question is an indicator of progressive attitudes on US foreign policy issues, it would appear that the proportion of Jews with such attitudes is significantly higher than the proportion in the population at large.

This year, 59% said they were ‘very concerned’, and another 33% ‘somewhat concerned’, ‘about the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons’. So even while they reject some neocon positions, at least some self identified liberals are prepared to accept their propaganda. One of the more interesting findings of the poll is that even if everyone who was not concerned about Iranian nukes opposed a US attack, there is still a significant proportion who opposed the attack even though they were concerned.

In 2002, when 37% said they were liberal – not necessarily different from this year’s 43%, taking the margin of error into account – 57% approved ‘...of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try and remove Saddam Hussein from power?’

In 2001, with 42% claiming to be liberal, 91% favoured ‘...the United States taking direct military action in Afghanistan?’. Even if every one of the 58% of moderates and conservatives favoured attacking Afghanistan, that still leaves 33 of the 42% who were claimed to be liberal, that is, nearly four fifths of them, also supporting Bush’s imperialist rampage. And 85% approved ‘of the way President George W. Bush is handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism’. It is mildly encouraging that this proportion has fallen quite significantly, with only 31% approving ‘...of the way the United States government is handling the war against terrorism’ (the successor question asked since 2004). But to answer the question at all requires acceptance of the presupposition that the US is in fact engaged in a ‘war/campaign against terrorism’.

On domestic issues, I agree with Petras that identification with the Democratic Party is not an indicator of liberalism. But a couple of questions may touch on the matter. When asked how serious a problem illegal immigration was, 79% said it was ‘somewhat serious’ or ‘very serious’, a probably insignificant one point higher than in 2006; 95% said it was a problem both years. In answer to the question about policy, 15% said they should all be deported, one point more than last year, and 67% said they should be allowed to stay if they meet certain unspecified requirements. None of the response categories seems to accommodate the population who prefer open borders and the free movement of labour.

On the whole, the AJC Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion is a disappointment. Professional survey development involves study of focus group responses to the questions and runs pilot tests to determine whether the questions collect the intended concepts. I would like to give Synovate the benefit of the doubt, but it’s frankly hard to imagine that questions as conceputally suspect as these would have survived rigorous testing. Through carelessness or cynicism, Synovate (formerly Market Facts), ‘a leading survey-research organization’, has framed questions that beg other questions and delivered results that are in many cases ambiguous.

Assuming that neither Synovate nor the AJC has actually tampered with the results – and I do assume that, what they seem to indicate is that a plurality of American Jews like to think of themselves as liberal. On the question of whether the US should have invaded Iraq, whatever it may mean, more of them seem skeptical than the population at large. Large proportions are susceptible to panic at propaganda about a terrorist threat or a rogue state, but this appears to dissipate over a couple of years. On a range of foreign policy issues, significant minorities or even majorities – up to 67% in the case of the Iraq war – depart from positions advocated by AIPAC and other neocon organisations. When it comes to Israel, however, larger proportions take such positions. More than four out of every five American Jews were prepared to buy into the anti Arab racism measured by the ‘destruction of Israel’ question.

Alterman nails the reason for the apparent disconnect between mainstream Jewish opinion and the organisations that purport to speak for American Jewry.

In large part the trouble lies with the antidemocratic structures of these organizations and the apathy of most Jews with regard to organized Jewish life. Major Jewish groups respond to the demands of their top funders and best-organized constituencies. Most American Jews, however, have little or nothing to do with these groups. [my emphasis]

In other words, who pays the piper calls the tune. AIPAC and the other principal pro Israel lobby groups articulate the positions that suit their constituency – those with money to spare to make significant contributions to organisations to prosecute their interests, not as Jews, but as capitalists. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that it is in their current financial interests for Israel to carry out the policies it does with impunity.

Saturday 15 December 2007

The greatest beneficiary

Pakistan’s new civilian president, retired General Pervez Musharraf has announced a parcel of measures to lift the state of emergency he decreed on 3 November, just in time to ensure that next month’s general election will be seen as ‘free and fair’. The five presidential orders, according to Dawn’s Nasir Iqbal, are:

Revocation of Proclamation of Emergency Order 2007, Repeal of Provisional Constitution Order, Revival of Constitutional Order, Establishment of Islamabad High Court and grant of pension benefits to judges who had either refused or had not been invited by the government to take the oath under the PCO.

Talking to media personnel at the Supreme Court, he [Musharraf] said that with the lifting of the emergency and the repeal of the PCO, all fundamental rights would stand restored and the media would be the greatest beneficiary.

What Musharraf doesn’t mention is that, as Keith Jones reports on WSWS,

On Tuesday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) issued a warning to the country’s private television stations, most of which only recently resumed broadcasting, threatening them with heavy fines and their personnel, including journalists, with jail sentences of up to three years if they violate a ban on live broadcasts or violate new regulations imposed during the emergency that forbid airing “anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state.”…The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists called the Pemra order “an attempt to silence the free media” and emasculate coverage of the election campaign.

With a Damoclean sword dangling precariously above them like that, Pakistani journalists will doutless derive great benefit from the sense of responsibility it imparts.

Although ‘deposed judges, including Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, would be granted pension benefits’,

“All judges of the superior courts who were not invited by the government to take oath under the PCO, or those who had declined to do so, will not be restored at all,” the attorney general said.

So there is no further danger of unruly activist judges finding that Musharraf was in fact not eligible to stand for election while in the employ of the state as the constitution provides. Under the circumstances, you can understand why

Pakistanis also do not accept Musharraf’s stated rationale for the state of emergency declaration. When given a choice between two options, 25 percent said that they thought Musharraf declared the emergency in order to better fight terrorists, while 66 percent said that it was to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning his re-election to another term as president.

Those figures come from a survey of ‘3,520 adult men and women from 223 rural and 127 urban locations in 51 districts in all four provinces of Pakistan’ conducted 19-28 November by the International Republican Institute (IRI), ‘A nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide’. In reality, the IRI is the Republican Party’s branch of the US National Endowment for Democracy, funded by the US government to advance its global war on democracy. Ordinarily, I am sceptical of surveys that don’t publish the questions asked and the other metadata that make the numbers intelligible. But in this case, the report of results seems fairly explicit and more importantly, the IRI favours the Musharraf regime, so I would expect any bias they might introduce to minimise opposition to Musharraf. And yet, they also found

When asked if they supported the recent re-election of Musharraf to another term as president, voters were overwhelmingly opposed; 26 percent said they supported his reelection and 72 percent said that they did not; 61 percent said that they strongly opposed Musharraf’s re-election.

A majority of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign from office, with 67 percent wanting his resignation and 25 percent opposed.

To recap, the reason Musharraf could be elected with 72% opposed is that in Pakistan, it is not the electorate at large, but the National and Provincial Assemblies, who elect the president. Since Musharraf scheduled the presidential election before the parliamentary elections, and since the opposition boycotted the election and Benazir Bhutto’s PPP abstained, it was his tame legislators who voted for him.

Just to make sure that everything is aboveboard, Attorney-General

Mr [Mohammad] Qayyum said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif stood disqualified for the January 8 election. Shahbaz Sharif, he added, had not appealed against the rejection of his candidature during the stipulated time, so he also stood disqualified.

Furthermore, ‘The constitutional bar on a person to become prime minister for the third time would stay, he said.’ If correct, that means that in the unlikely case that the PPP should win enough seats to form government, Benazir will not be eligible to be PM. True to form, she and Nawaz have decided not to boycott the parliamentary election, even though

74 percent of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, voters said they would support the boycott, as did the same percentage of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) voters, the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

So, while six weeks of martial law may not have succeeded in eradicating terrorism in Pakistan, it has certainly served Musharraf’s interests very well indeed. Maybe two thirds of Pakistanis were right about that.

Tuesday 4 December 2007


As a confidence building measure, Israel has released 429 Palestinian political prisoners...and is incarcerating up to 42 new ones daily.
[Hat tip to Sol Salbe]

Sunday 25 November 2007

Ding dong

Eleven long, dark years of Liberal (read Thatcherite) rule have come to an end. Today we can look forward to a bright new dawn of Australian Labor Party (read Thatcherite) government. Triumphant ALP leader, Kevin Rudd, has, after all, proclaimed himself an ‘economic conservative’. In his victory speech, Rudd asserted ‘I will be a prime minister for all Australians’. And there’s no mystery about what he means by that – his government will work for the ‘national interest’ - profitabilty of Australian business – ‘it’s the economy, stupid’, a rising tide lifts all boats, prosperity trickles down…

[AFP photo]

For the past six weeks, the Liberal Party has bombarded us with adverts proclaiming that 70% of the Rudd front bench will comprise ‘anti business’ former union officials. You’d expect the Labor Party to have countered by pointing out that 100% of the Liberal front bench comprises people not with historical links to the labour movement, but with current, active, real, material vested interests in businesses. I surmise the reason this never happened was that those union thugs themselves have business interests of their own.

When Bob Hawke led the ALP to victory in 1983, the received wisdom was that because of the links between the ALP and the union movement, organised labour would tolerate attacks by an ALP government that we would never have tolerated from the Liberals. That turned out to be correct. It was the ALP that over the following 13 years proceeded to tame the union movement through its Prices and Incomes Accord, offering the union officials the seat at the bargaining table they’d always coveted. Rank and file union activity came to a virtual standstill, while the government smashed the militant Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, privatised Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank, and many other publicly owned services. It was the Hawke and Keating Labor governments that introduced ‘enterprise bargaining’, which precluded workers organising on an industry wide basis and forced us to reach agreements from a position of weakness on a workplace by workplace basis. This smashed down the door and strew rose petals in the path of Howard’s ‘Workplace Relations’ agenda that eviscerated minimum award pay and conditions, marginalised unions, and forced many to work under inferior non union ‘certified agreements’ and individual contracts.

Almost everybody associates the atrocity of detaining refugees in remote concentration camps with the Howard government. In reality, it was ALP left winger, Gerry Hand, who as Minister of Immigration in the Keating government introduced mandatory detention in 1992.

The union officials have been running a campaign under the slogan, ‘Your rights at work – worth fighting and voting for!’ It goes without saying that the bit about fighting is just empty rhetoric. All industrial issues have been unceremoniously relegated to the back burner while they devoted their efforts to the electoral campaign. Now that the election is over, there is little cause for optimism either that a Rudd government will implement radical changes to industrial relations or that the unions will mount the kind of fight that can win such changes. With union membership at an all time low of about 20% and Australian working class militancy a dim memory, it’s still going to be up to us to act in our own interests and win back our rights at work.

But all is not gloom and doom. The silver lining is that the incumbent PM, the execrable John Howard, W’s ‘deputy sherriff’ in the Pacific, appears to have made history as the first sittiing Prime Minister to lose his own seat since Stanley Bruce in the 1929 Federal election. The latest results, with one booth left to count, show former ABC journalist Maxine McKew, held a lead of 51.84% on a two party preferred basis. The Liberal pundits on tv last night warned against writing Howard off too soon, projecting that uncounted postal votes could deliver an extra percentage point to Howard, but McKew’s lead is big enough to accommodate that, even if it eventuates.

May he enjoy a very uncomfortable retirement.,

Saturday 24 November 2007


A few days ago, my son sent me a link to this remarkable video on Youtube. I was so impressed that I wanted to share it. I found it gripping and suspenseful and it also illustrates some important political points. Kudos to Jason Schlosberg and David Budzinski, who had the presence of mind to capture it on video and make it available to everyone. As it's copyright, I hope you can find eight minutes to click on the link and watch it.

Monday 19 November 2007

Hippocrates wept

In the last few weeks, a spate of reports has emerged about Shin Bet’s refusal to admit Palestinian patients from Gaza to enter Israel for treatment of their life threatening conditions. Dr. Danny Filk, chairman of Physicians for Human Rights, wrote on Ynet last week,

The 47-year-old Palestinian known as H. apparently suffers from a liver tumor and urgently needs to undergo a biopsy that would enable treatment. Meanwhile, C. is a Palestinian who requires urgent surgery, A. is a 20-year-old Palestinian woman who suffers from cancer and needs to urgently visit a hospital, 16-year-old girl T. suffers from a heart defect and urgently requires catheterization or surgery, 20-year-old L. has cancer and needs radiation and chemotherapy, and 27-year-old A. has a brain tumor and requires urgent treatment.

All these cases were examined by senior Israeli oncologists and cardiologists who ruled that treatment is urgently needed and postponing it endangers the lives of the patients. The State of Israel rejected the requests, arguing that the six are prevented from entering Israel for security reasons. However, after repeated inquires by the Physicians for Human Rights organization, the interference of Knesset members, and petitions by human right groups abroad, the six patients were granted a permit to leave the Strip.

You never know what desperate acts a dying person may carry out, so you can’t be too careful. That’s why a permit to leave the strip isn’t good enough. As Amira Hass writes, for example,

Mahmoud Abu Taha was diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine in August 2007. Treatment in Gaza was unsuccessful, and he lost a third of his body weight.

The Shin Bet is refusing to allow a 21-year-old Rafiah man who is sick with cancer and in need of immediate medical care to come to Israel, even though he obtained permission from the Israeli Defense Forces' Coordination and Liaison Administration.

The Shin Bet also arrested the patient's father, who accompanied him to the hospital.

Not content to deprive Gazans of treatment in Israel, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports, the occupation authorities are now detaining doctors, as well.

…on Tuesday, 6 November 2007, IOF detained Dr. Nabih Abu Sha’ban (52), a neurosurgeon from Gaza City, at Erez checkpoint. Abu Sha’ban was accompanying his son, suffering from kidney problems, to Jordan for medical treatment. Abu Sha’ban was detained despite having permission from IOF to pass through. Medical reports indicate that Dr. Abu Sha’ban is suffering from several illnesses. He previously underwent heart surgery. In addition, he suffers from diabetes and high-blood pressure that require medication on a regular basis.

The Center’s lawyer visited Dr. Abu Sha’ban in El-Majdal prison on Monday, 12 November 2007. He informed the lawyer that he is being questioned about patients he treated in Gaza!

While Israel’s High Court of Justice waits for prosecutors ‘to look into the matter further’, writes Yuval Azoulay in today’s Ha’aretz,

Nail al-Kurdi, a 20-year-old Gaza resident, died over the weekend from cancer while awaiting approval to enter Israel for medical treatment.

Despite numerous requests by Physicians for Human Rights, the Shin Bet security service denied his entrance due to security reasons.

The rights group said Sunday that they have been submitting requests to allow his entrance into Israel since July, but each appeal was rejected. In light of the state's refusal, the group petitioned the High Court of Justice for the right to bring al-Kurdi in for treatment.

"The court decided to give the state time to examine its policy on the matter, despite the numerous medical opinions presented to them which warned that if al-Kurdi would not receive medical treatment immediately, he would die," a statement by the organization said.

But what of those fortunate enough not only to secure a permit, but actually to enter the Jewish state for treatment? Esti Aharonovitz, writing in Friday’s Ha’aretz, reports,

This week, [the deputy head of the orthopedic oncology department at Ichilov Hospital, Dr. Yehuda] Kollender recalled: "A little girl came to me with an advanced and neglected tumor, and when her father told me that the girl was getting radiation at Assuta, my hair stood on end. Every expert in oncology, actually every specialist in oncology or orthopedics, knows that the standard treatment all over the world for such a case is chemotherapy, followed by limb-preserving surgery, and then another round of chemotherapy…”

In January 2005, Farah [Harma], then 10 years old, was diagnosed with bone cancer. The tumor was discovered in her right knee after a biopsy at Rafidiya Hospital in Nablus. From there she was referred to Al-Watani Hospital in Nablus, and from there to Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv for radiation treatment.

Prof. Natalio Walach, an oncologist who heads the chemotherapy unit at Assaf Harofeh Hospital and also served as director of radiotherapy at Assuta, sent Farah for radiation treatment without examining any medical information and without conducting any further examination to determine the exact type of the girl's cancer…during the brief meeting with the doctor, Farah and her escort were not asked a single question and did not receive any explanation about the method of treatment. There was no physical examination. This week, Walach said: "I don't remember the case that well."

[Michael] Sfard, the attorney for Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights, says…"… It seems that at Assuta there's a separate medical channel for Palestinians, and they are given inferior care. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Someone's making money from this. And we're talking about cancer-stricken children here."

"As far as is known," says Sfard, "the standard method of radiation treatment is with a linear accelerator. As a matter of fact, Assuta Hospital is the only medical institution that still administers radiation with a Cobalt 60, and it does not do so to Israelis. The only use made of this machine at Assuta is for the treatments the hospital gives Palestinians as part of the agreement with the PA."

…Assuta's medical director, Dr. Orna Ophir…admitted that the Cobalt 60 machine did not meet the accepted standard in Israel and that the use made of it at Assuta was solely to meet the needs of the Palestinian Authority.

Ophir further confirmed that ‘Assuta had found a way to make money from a service it couldn't sell to Israelis’, concluding, "Farah's parents had given up on her before they came to us. They have fourth-rate doctors, and they want me to give them first-rate treatment."

Azam Abu-Qabatya, from Yata near Hebron, also lost his daughter to Prof Walach’s special treatment.

…even though the referral from Al-Husseini Hospital proposed three further tests to diagnose the exact form of cancer, Walach did not perform any further examinations…As in the case of Farah Harma, he looked at her leg and drew with a marker to designate the area meant to receive radiation.

…Further examination found that the cancer had spread into the girl's abdominal cavity and lungs...Hayah Abu-Qabatya died at home in the village of Yata, on Thursday, October 13, 2005. She was just 12 years old.

[Hat tip to Mark Marshall and Dorothy Naor.]

Thursday 15 November 2007

Choose better relatives

Dr Mohammed Haneef was arrested on bogus terrorism charges in July. When the government couldn’t prove its case, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews withdrew his visa. He was released into immigration detention and later returned to India. Now,

Lawyers for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews are appealing against Justice Jeffery Spender's decision to quash the cancellation of Dr Haneef's visa.

Justice Spender ruled Mr Andrews was wrong to use Dr Haneef's association with his second cousins and UK terrorism suspects Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed.

The court heard the easiest way to view the changes was whether the Minister believed a person was mates with people who are not of good character.

You just can’t be too careful who your relatives are.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Fairytales crush folklore

Two years down the track, San Francisco State University has finally permitted the unveiling of a mural on the Cesar Chavez Student Center in honour of Edward Said. But not before consulting with the sensitive San Francisco Jewish community, who insisted that the depiction of Handala, the caricature of a refugee child, holding a key, was erased. And even that was not enough for David Horowitz’s Campus Watch bigots, who believe that the mural evidences a cult of Edward Said.

Zionists and Zionist organisations have enjoyed remarkable success in suppressing any form of expression that even hints that Israel has ever committed any injustice. At their behest, Brandeis University retracted its invitation to Jimmy Carter, whose explicitly proZionist book’s title included the word apartheid. The New York Theatre Workshop’s scheduled performance of My name is Rachel Corrie had to be cancelled lest it serve as a reminder that purity of arms did not preclude bulldozing an unarmed protester into the ground.

And now, they have prevented a performance by Al-Ghad Folklore Dancing Troupe of Beit Sahour at schools in the Old Saybrook, Connecticut district because it ‘was offensive to Jews and Israel’.

…the Rev. David W. Good, senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, where the troupe performed this past weekend…said many of the dances performed were simply traditional, but he acknowledged one was particularly upsetting to a male student in the audience. That more modern dance "certainly expressed the frustration of detention by Israeli soldiers" and dealt with curfews, checkpoints and the realities of detention, Good said.

The reason we know the student was upset was that he stalked and harassed the performers. But he wasn’t the only one who was upset. Retired Old Saybrook teacher,

Ginger Horton said she felt compelled to complain to school officials after her two grandchildren told her they were offended by the troupe's performance at the high school Monday.

"[My] grandchildren came home very frightened," Horton said Thursday…her grandson, 15, and granddaughter, 14, told her the high school performance depicted Israeli soldiers beating and torturing Palestinians.

Horton said it was inappropriate for the public school system to host what she called a hateful, politically charged event.

"My concern was that it would be stopped, and we stopped it," said Horton.

While the actual treatment of Palestinians offends nobody, depicting such a thing is so provocative that Americans must sacrifice their cherished freedom of expression lest it incite them to…who knows what?

Jewish Voice for Peace’s Mitchell Plitnick underscores the hypocrisy.

One must also wonder, if the roles had been reversed and a Palestinian was upset by the portrayal of her people as suicide bombers, would the same sensitivity have been shown?

The point of course is that while everybody fears accusations of anti-Semitism, anti Arab attitudes are downright respectable.

The story actually raises some interesting issues. Ordinarily, when people dislike a performance, the reaction is to walk out, or publish a scathing review. On this occasion, however, when one disturbed adolescent displays sociopathic behaviour, it’s enough to motivate cancellation. It’s not actually clear from the article in the Courant whether it was that incident or Ginger Horton’s complaint that instigated scrapping the performance in Old Saybrook schools. Or whether School Superintendent Joseph Onofrio, who hadn’t seen it, stopped the shows on the grounds that he had learned that ‘several parents questioned whether the performance was appropriate for their children’. Presumably, the parents hadn’t previewed the dance, either. Ominously, though, Horton

…also contacted the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut.

Bob Fishman, executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, said Old Saybrook public schools should not host groups with a perceived political agenda. He lauded upset local students and family members who "stepped up."

"It was a very disturbing report [Horton] got from her grandchildren," Fishman said. "I advised her that it's not appropriate for a sponsor to say it's cultural when it's primarily political."

Fishman said his organization plans to discuss the performances with state legislators and top state education officials.

So it’s just possible that explicit pressure from the ‘leaders of the Jewish community’ may have played a role.

The Zionists have been so effective that people who otherwise in all probability have no time for political correctness are prepared to go to great lengths to dissociate themselves even from describing what Israel does. Indeed, they are prepared to lay themselves wide open to accusations of hypocrisy to avoid the wrath of the fearsome Israel lobby.

But perhaps there’s a silver lining. When it gets to the point that even acknowledging that Palestinians experience some suffering, as enacted in a dance, or to trying to stop Desmond Tutu from speaking, it seems to evidence a level of defensiveness that borders on the hysterical. Perhaps the Hasbarists fear their fairytales are wearing thin. It certainly looks like they’re worried.

Monday 12 November 2007

Promises, promises

Reporting from Iowa City, Paul Street writes,

“Listen,” Hillary Clinton told a stunned collection of reporters yesterday in Des Moines, Iowa. “…We’re Marxist-Lenninists, and we always have been. Deal with it.”

Eschewing the “limited goal” of “socialism in one country,” Obama proclaimed his determination to link the “new American revolution” with “revolutionary proletarian forces and cadres around the planet” to “overthrow the world capitalist system within the next 20 years.”

“I’m a realist,” Obama said. “Let’s get real about solving poverty, inequality, and environmental collapse and putting meaning back into democracy at home and abroad. Let’s admit a basic truth: none of these problems are going to be fixed – none of these things are going to happen under capitalism.”

Edwards quoted Marx and Engels with approval: “You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already abolished for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths.”

“And that’s exactly what we see in the United States today. Enough is enough,” Edwards said. America needs a president who will tell the truth and show a little backbone. It’s time to expropriate the expropriators!”

Those guys will say just about anything for a few votes.

Sunday 11 November 2007

Hostile territory

This week’s Forward editorializes,

At press time, Turkey was perilously close to responding with an invasion of Iraq’s Kurdish region. The invasion, if it comes, could prove devastating to America’s hopes for pacifying Iraq and to Israel’s hopes for successful negotiations with its Arab neighbors.

They don’t mention what kind of success Israel might hope for in these ‘negotiations with its Arab neighbors’ – that would be that irksome neighbour, the mighty nation of Palestine, among others. But I’ll stick my neck way out and intimate my suspicion that successful negotiations would comprise, among other things, Israeli control over the borders, airspace, and sea access of the Palestinian state located on the political horizon, somewhere over the rainbow – what is it about the Peace Process that always brings The Wizard of Oz to mind? – that the wall will demarcate the principal outlines of Palestine, that Israel retain sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, that no, or very few, refugees will enjoy the right of return. If there is any compensation for the other refugees, Israel will expect The International Community to come to the party. If Palestine should get any territory in ‘Israel proper’ in exchange for the land annexed for the settlements, it will be barren, or come complete with a concentration of erstwhile Israeli Arabs, or both…

That’s why,

The implications for Israel are sobering. Jerusalem has long known that sooner or later it would have to begin a painful, dangerous negotiating process with the Palestinians and the Arab League. It assumed it could count on the support of its friends in the West and the Muslim world.


If Turkey’s relations with the West enter a crisis period just as those Israeli-Arab negotiations begin, Israel will enter the talks more vulnerable and alone than it anticipated, thanks to the work of its good friends in the White House.

Israel is so friendless. The International Community said such cruel things about their bombing of Lebanon last year and made them stop after killing only 1100 or 1200 Lebanese. And now, if Turkey is estranged because of an adventure in Iraq, there will be nobody to support the modest demands they will bring to the negotiating table. And if the conference in Annapolis ever actually takes place, it will be on such hostile territory.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Dog wags tail

Not a terribly exciting headline. And yet, for all the credence offered to Profs Mearsheimer and Walt's dog wagging hypothesis these days, you'd think it really was news.
Writing on Counterpunch last week about the role of the Israel lobby in propelling the US towards war with Iran, Ray McGovern quotes US Vice President Dick Cheney.
"Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."
Does this not sound like the so-called "Cheney plan" being widely discussed in the media today? An Israeli attack; Iranian retaliation; the United States springing to the defense of its "ally" Israel?
What the Cheney Plan appears to evidence more than anything else is that the US foreign policy elite regard Israel as a proxy force to be deployed at their pleasure, in this case, effectively as bait – hardly the kind of attitude you’d expect when all American politicians are in thrall to the Israel Lobby.
Last year’s vicious attack on Lebanon provided some commentators with conclusive proof that the US did the Israel lobby’s bidding and others with proof that Israel was a tool of US foreign policy. I thought it was ambiguous who was wagging what, as it seemed to me that both Israel and the US believed they had a common interest in eliminating what they perceived as a potential threat from Hizb’allah, which they identify as an instrument of Iranian foreign policy, in the event of an attack on Iran.
This is not to say that there is no Israel lobby, or that its influence is trivial. Among them, the organisations that comprise the lobby appear to be able to exert quite a strong influence on flows of campaign funds to, and away from, candidates. And this has been very effective in muzzling any politician inclined to voice criticism of Israel. But, as Mearsheimer and Walt acknowledge, the lobby does not always get its own way. For example, the lobby had been articulating the urgent need for regime change in Iraq at least since 1992 when then Defense Department Deputy Undersecretary for Policy Planning in the first Bush regime, Zalmay Khalilzad, drafted the Defense Planning Guidance, which leaked to the NY Times. If the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was at the Lobby’s behest, as Walt and Mearsheimer imply, the dog seems reluctant to respond to instructions from the tail.
It is of course a testament to the lobby’s power that it has been so effective in stifling rational discussion of Israel and Zionism. But at the same time, the stridency with which critics are attacked and the carelessness of the argumentation their spokespersons bring to their rhetoric betoken desperation. I would like to think that this evidences a decline, or at least a well founded fear of decline, in the lobby’s influence. But for the time being, I think I’ll err on the side of caution and assume the worst.
When I first read Mearsheimer and Walt’s article in the London review of books last year, I just couldn't help noticing that they had gobbled up the myth of 'national interest' hook, line, and sinker. I don't think this is so unusual for international relations academics, some of whom also share their penchant for anthropomorphising nation states. But by the same token, it doesn't manifest the kind of rigorous and dispassionate observation and analysis typically expected of, or at least attributed to, academic enquiry.
On the strength of their article, I never had any intention of squandering more of my life reading their book, now released to great acclaim - it currently ranks #256 on Amazon and 75% of reviews there give it four or five stars. But I did come across an excerpt on Alternet.
They begin with the curious assertion that in the US presidential campaign, 'The candidates will inevitably differ on various domestic issues – health care, abortion, gay marriage, taxes, education, immigration – and spirited debates are certain to erupt on a host of foreign policy questions as well'.
What course of action should the United States pursue in Iraq? What is the best response to the crisis in Darfur, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Russia's hostility to NATO, and China's rising power? How should the United States address global warming, combat terrorism, and reverse the erosion of its international image? On these and many other issues, we can confidently expect lively disagreements among the various candidates.
Doubtless there will be lively disagreements, but they will confine themselves to comparatively trivial matters. None of the candidates actually considered in the running disagrees that ‘we’ must win in Iraq, whatever that may mean, that even if the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a ‘mistake’, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is justified, that ‘all options are on the table’ regarding Iran’s ‘nuclear ambitions’, that the US is entitled to exercise military force wherever it likes in pursuit of the perceived ‘national interest’, that health care remain a private profit making industry, and many other basic issues, not to mention the more fundamental assumptions they share about the essential beneficence and inevitability of production of goods and services for private profit.
Where they differ is on tactical matters – what level of troops ‘we’ should maintain in Iraq, which militias to support, perhaps on the colour of the carpets in their spectacular Emerald City embassy… A quick perusal of the ‘Issues’ pages on the Clinton, Obama, and Giuliani websites shows that Israel is not a high priority for them, as it doesn’t seem to rate a mention. None of the sites has a search facility. Their positions on ‘the conflict in the Middle East’ may be in there somewhere, but clearly do not merit emphasis. I’m prepared to speculate, however, that they agree on the fundamentals – that Israel has a ‘right to exist’ as a Jewish state, that there should be a viable Palestinian state, as if that were ever a realistic possibility, that Hamas must be ostracized, that quisling PA president Abu Mazen, not the elected PA legislature, represents the Palestinians, including the refugees, that the refugees’ right to return ‘to their homes’ in ‘Israel proper’ is not feasible, etc. There are probably differences over where the border should be drawn, the level of control Israel ought to be permitted over border crossing, airspace, etc., whether Abu Mazen is an effective quisling, whether to support Dahlan, treatment of ‘illegal outposts’, the number of checkpoints... Walt and Mearsheimer are certainly right to think the candidates are unanimous in their unwavering support for Israel, but disagreement over the details is probably as lively within this broad consensus as it is over the other areas of agreement.
So Mearsheimer and Walt exaggerate the level of concord among candidates on Israel and the level of disagreement over other foreign and domestic policy issues. But there is something to explain: the US government’s munificent, no strings material and moral support for Israel and the reluctance of US politicians to criticise Israel. These two matters are clearly related, but are not the same thing. Walt and Mearsheimer seem to me to conflate them.
What explains this behavior? Why is there so little disagreement among these presidential hopefuls regarding Israel, when there are profound disagreements among them on almost every other important issue facing the United States and when it is apparent that America's Middle East policy has gone badly awry? Why does Israel get a free pass from presidential candidates, when its own citizens are often deeply critical of its present policies and when these same presidential candidates are all too willing to criticize many of the things that other countries do? Why does Israel, and no other country in the world, receive such consistent deference from America's leading politicians?
Leaving aside the hyperbole about ‘profound disagreements’, it may not be apparent to all Washington decisionmakers that their policy has gone badly awry. They may believe, for example, that the occupation of Iraq may be messy and costly, but the prize is worth it. Israel’s struggle for her very survival against Palestinian terrorism places her in the front line of the war on terror – our staunchest ally.
There are indeed things that other countries do that politicians feel free to criticise. Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, for example, or Venezuela’s refusal to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas TV. But Israel is not the only country to get a free pass. I haven’t heard any of the candidates condemning the slaughter of unionists in Colombia, for example, or Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua.
Mearsheimer and Walt are cavalier in dismissing the two explanations they consider.
Some might say that it is because Israel is a vital strategic asset for the United States. Indeed, it is said to be an indispensable partner in the "war on terror." Others will answer that there is a powerful moral case for providing Israel with unqualified support, because it is the only country in the region that "shares our values." But neither of these arguments stands up to fair-minded scrutiny. Washington's close relationship with Jerusalem makes it harder, not easier, to defeat the terrorists who are now targeting the United States, and it simultaneously undermines America's standing with important allies around the world. Now that the Cold War is over, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. Yet no aspiring politician is going to say so in public, or even raise the possibility.
There is also no compelling moral rationale for America's uncritical and uncompromising relationship with Israel. There is a strong moral case for Israel's existence and there are good reasons for the United States to be committed to helping Israel if its survival is in jeopardy. But given Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, moral considerations might suggest that the United States pursue a more evenhanded policy toward the two sides, and maybe even lean toward the Palestinians. Yet we are unlikely to hear that sentiment expressed by anyone who wants to be president, or anyone who would like to occupy a position in Congress.
They don’t set out what informs the moral judgements so prominent in these two paragraphs, but I will not belabour the point. They probably do so in later chapters or a footnote omitted from the excerpt.
The more serious question is whether the arguments withstand fair minded scrutiny. In my view an assessment of these propositions presupposes an analysis of the function of the state, presumably explicit elsewhere in the book. My own analysis is that the principal function of the state is to defend and advance the interests of the ruling class. In capitalist states, therefore, the state acts on behalf of capital. To this end, it regulates currency levels, interest rates, some relations among businesses; it offers subsidies and bailouts to businesses; it provides communication, transportation, and other important infrastructure; it educates each cohort of workers in the skill sets thought to suit business requirements; it may provide a level of health care to keep employees in working order or even a level of subsistence to ensure the survival of the reserve army of labour. Perhaps above all, it guarantees the availability of a workforce prepared to place a significant proportion of their lives at the disposal of an employer. But what’s important in this connection is that the state secures foreign markets and sources of raw materials. If you have not considered an analysis like this before, I think you will find it has a great deal of explanatory power. The alternative analysis, which assumes that the state mediates between the interests of the classes, or what amounts to the same thing, that it rules on behalf of all its citizens, is so transparently useless that it often leaves its adherents bewildered at how it can act so consistently contrary to its ascribed role. For example, from this perspective, it would be difficult to explain the vast influence corporations, which don’t even wield the power of the ballot, can exercise over government policies. Unfortunately, Walt and Mearsheimer’s first chapter evidences their embrace of just such an analysis.
In my analysis, candidates say what they do to demonstrate their commitment to advancing the interests of capital. Those seen to deviate from the straight and narrow can be dispensed with, by hook (e.g. Gough Whitlam) or by crook (e.g. Salvador Allende). So it’s important to understand that the positions they adopt need to reflect what the ruling class sees as in its interests, whether or not it is actually in their interests. Where differences exist among the ruling class, candidates may appeal to one or another faction. But on many issues nowadays, the US ruling class appears to have reached consensus.
Their attempted refutation of the strategic asset argument relies in part on the presuppositions that terrorists are now targeting the United States and that the most appropriate response is to defeat them. (Everybody knows what they mean by terrorism, of course, even though none of the usual definitions succeeds in capturing that meaning – basically, the use or threat of violence in pursuit of political objectives by a ‘non state actor’ we don’t like.) If that were the case, then it still remains debatable whether ‘Washington's close relationship with Jerusalem [sic!]’ hinders or promotes the defeat of the terrorists. It is certainly arguable that the US gets good value from Israel even if only by sharing in Israel’s decades of experience in fighting terrorists. As I wrote recently, those who can afford the best prefer Israeli antiterrorism experts for their own security. It is also worth pointing out that terrorism is not really a strategic threat either to the US or to Israel. Terrorist incidents kill about as many people as bee stings or lightning strikes. Furthermore, in the absence of a communist threat, a terrorist threat has great appeal to the US and Israeli governments, as it does to the Indonesian, Russian, Turkish…governments, for its utility in keeping citizens frightened and compliant. So it doesn’t go without saying that the US wants to defeat the terrorists. If it were really the case that US support for Israel makes it harder, perhaps that’s deliberate. If so, it would certainly not make Israel a strategic liability.
I think they are right that US support for Israel ‘undermines America's standing with important allies around the world’, but this is a small part of a much bigger picture. The US has quite explicitly articulated its aim to achieve ‘full spectrum dominance’, which probably doesn’t endear it either to its allies or its enemies. The transparent object of the occupation of Iraq – to control the flow of energy to its economic rivals, Europe, Japan, and China – probably is not such a good look. Clearly, the US government is not out to win any popularity contests. So I am inclined to doubt that this is widely regarded as a strategic liability among those who matter, either.
One thing that the close relation does do is provide an additional pretext for violence against US targets. Curiously, Walt and Mearsheimer only mention this in passing.
Yet despite the lobby's efforts, a considerable number of Americans -- almost 40 percent -- recognize that U.S. support for Israel is one of the main causes of anti-Americanism around the world. Among elites, the number is substantially higher…In a 2006 survey of international relations scholars in the United States, 66 percent of the respondents said that they agreed with the statement "the Israel lobby has too much influence over U.S. foreign policy." While the American people are generally sympathetic to Israel, many of them are critical of particular Israeli policies and would be willing to withhold American aid if Israel's actions are seen to be contrary to U.S. interests.
Doubtless these surveys are footnoted, and the assertion that ‘many’ Americans would withhold aid quantified, in the book. Assuming that the surveys are credible, all it shows is that the lobby’s efforts are not as effective as they might hope. Nor is it clear that the views of the American public are evidence of the factuality of what they believe. After all, in a Harris Poll conducted in mid July last year, 50% thought Iraq had possessed WMD at the time of the invasion in 2003 and 64% thought Saddam had ties to al Qa’ida. It’s worth pointing out that the authors assert that Americans ‘recognise’ support for Israel as a cause of anti Americanism. Recognise is what is known as a ‘factive verb’ – it presupposes the truth of whatever is in the following that clause. They are using a rhetorical trick to elicit confidence in their assertions. In any event, while these numbers are impressive, they still only represent a minority position. Little could be more obvious than that US foreign policy is not sensitive to public opinion as expressed in opinion polls.
As for the international relations scholars, if they reason as rigorously as Walt and Mearsheimer, their views are hardly relevant. In any case, the wording of the question, where too much demands a value judgement on the respondent’s part, is not the kind of question a scholar can answer in that capacity. The question as worded can only elicit their personal opinion, not their scholarly assessment.
The ‘moral’ case also has much more to recommend it than Mearsheimer and Walt credit it with. Certainly many hold moral principles that would be scandalised by ‘Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories’, not to mention those with Israeli citizenship and in the diaspora. But that is not the position they said they were arguing against. The assertion is that the ‘powerful moral case for providing Israel with unqualified support’ is ‘because it is the only country in the region that "shares our values."’ Israel’s actions in the occupied territories may not meet the professors’ high moral standards, but they demonstrably evidence shared values. Like Israel, the US is not above acquiring territory by force of arms. The US has occupied and annexed its colonies in Puerto Rico, Guam, and Samoa for over a century, and there are others, like Hawai’i, whose status some may deem more ambiguous. The US and Israel are cast in the same mold when it comes to justifying torture – but only for ‘ticking bombs’, of course, besieging populous cities like Falluja, use of airpower and ‘intelligent’ weapons to target individuals in populated areas, collective punishment… Birds of a feather, if you asked me.
It’s hard to take authors seriously when they fail to engage the argument they state, instead setting up a straw man to knock over. But some of Mearsheimer and Walt’s explicit assumptions also suggest that they haven’t really though things through with much care. For example,
We are not challenging Israel's right to exist or questioning the legitimacy of the Jewish state. There are those who maintain that Israel should never have been created, or who want to see Israel transformed from a Jewish state into a bi-national democracy. We do not. On the contrary, we believe the history of the Jewish people and the norm of national self-determination provide ample justification for a Jewish state.
No doubt in later chapters they elucidate the grounds on which they base this curious belief that millennia of oppression in Europe and the right to self determination somehow justify the permanent dispossession of millions of Palestinians, denial of their right to self determination, and the establishment of an exclusivist, militarised ethnocracy. It’s interesting that they don’t challenge ‘Israel’s right to exist’. As international relations professors, they would be aware that Israel is the only state to claim this right. Certainly, states like Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and finally Serbia and Montenegro, didn’t enjoy such a right, nor did the USSR, South Vietnam, and others. But what’s significant here is that they are admitting that their argument proceeds from a particular, tendentious position on ‘the legitimacy of the Jewish state’ that itself rests on contentious assumptions about rights, history, etc.
To underscore their commitment to the welfare of the Jewish state, they continue,
We think the United States should stand willing to come to Israel's assistance if its survival were in jeopardy. And though our primary focus is on the Israel lobby's negative impact on U.S. foreign policy, we are also convinced that its influence has become harmful to Israel as well. In our view, both effects are regrettable.
If anyone believed that the Israel lobby was as influential as Walt and Mearsheimer assert, they might think their protestation of concern for Israel’s interests, and their failure to challenge its right to exist or question its legitimacy, were evidence of the Lobby’s ubiquitous pressure!
US foreign policy has displayed remarkable consistency over the past century and a half or so, going back to at least the Mexican War, which ended with the annexation of about half of Mexico’s territory, although you could with justice trace a consistently proprietary attitude to any area where the US asserted ‘vital national interests’ back to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. The Middle East is certainly no exception. Those who determine US foreign policy decided it was advantageous to their control over the region’s energy supplies for a heavily armed and belligerent client state to perch on its western edge. It’s not as if there was a great deal of choice after the fall of their favourite shah in 1979. Zionism’s founding father, Theodore Herzl, envisaged just such a role – ‘a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism’. Israel had groomed itself for it from its inception and had proven itself capable of defeating uppity Arabs.
For all the opprobrium Mearsheimer and Walt have copped for raising the lobby as a topic for discussion, they are not very critical in the excerpted chapter.
…The Israel lobby is not a cabal or conspiracy or anything of the sort. It is engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie. Pro-Israel groups in the United States are engaged in the same enterprise as other interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the AARP, or professional associations like the American Petroleum Institute, all of which also work hard to influence congressional legislation and presidential priorities, and which, for the most part, operate in the open.
With a few exceptions, to be discussed in subsequent chapters, the lobby's actions are thoroughly American and legitimate.
We do not believe the lobby is all-powerful, or that it controls important institutions in the United States.
So the fearsome Lobby is firmly in the tradition of good old American (US slang for ‘good’) interest group politics. They operate in the open and both their existence and their actions are as legitimate as the pensioners’ lobby (American Association of Retired People – AARP). Under the circumstances, it seems that what irks them is that they don’t agree with certain aspects of US foreign policy and they prefer to blame the lobby rather than the government.
Considering what we know about the US’s history of military adventures in pursuit of the economic and strategic interests of US capital, how different would US foreign policy be if the Israel lobby absolutely determined it? Some say, the US would have invaded Iran before Iraq. US taxpayers would spend even more supporting the Israeli military. The pace of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians might accelerate. On the other hand, what if the lobby had no influence at all? At best, Israel might receive less aid. The gradual transfer of Palestinians might proceed with a little less overt brutality. But I don’t think it is in doubt that US bombs and troops would still be deployed to ensure US control of crucial energy supplies. It is inconceivable that a Palestinian state in all or any part of the West Bank and Gaza could ever have been economically and politically viable anyway. Or that the US would countenance anything threatening Israel’s ‘Jewish character’.
What is in no doubt whatsoever is that the elites who make and influence US foreign policy act on behalf of the ruling class. The ordinary people who make everything and do everything are hardly likely to benefit whether it is US capital or Israeli capital, which are closely integrated anyway, that calls the shots. We only factor into their machinations insofar as our labour is the source of their profits and we need to be kept docile. And in this respect, the myth of a band of plucky Jews, surrounded by hordes of implacable Islamofascists brandishing scimitars, and braving a harsh environment to make the desert bloom, is very serviceable to both. This myth is central to the narrative about terrorists, motivated by an irrational hatred of everything Western and everything good rather than by what US foreign policy has done to them, besieging ‘us’ on all sides. Now that they can’t frighten us with the Communists anymore, the terrorists will have to do. And they have proven an excellent substitute, allowing the US government (not to mention the British and Australian governments) to carry out attacks on its own workers that might provoke resistance if it were not all done to protect them. The hysterical rantings about anti-Semitism have so far succeeded in marginalising the kind of serious scrutiny of Israel that could lead people to question the whole terrorism discourse that serves as such an effective instrument of social control.
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy probably does a competent job of exposing the links among the various organisations comprising the lobby and their modus operandi. But all in all, the kind of reasoning displayed in the excerpts offers little incentive to rush out and read the rest of the book. The real question that arises is whether a snarling Doberman straining at the leash still meets the needs of US capital, or ever did. What Walt and Mearsheimer seem to show above all is that a rift is opening between factions of the warring brothers over this question.