As the Israelis continue to pound
Gaza, killing Hamas cadre, traffic cops, and civilians
alike, Americans shake their heads and wonder: why can't they all just get along?
Why must we be involved?
The answer to both questions lies in understanding the peculiar nature of the
Israeli state and its "special
relationship" to the West, specifically the U.S.
Defenders of the Israeli government and its policies often complain that Israel
just wants to be treated as a "normal
country," like any other. They cavil
that the Jewish state is treated like an outsider, a pariah, and held up to
standards that don't apply anywhere else. The big problem for these complainants,
however, is that Israel is not a normal country, and never has been.
From the day of its birth, Israel has been a Western project, a unique creation
ideologues whose vision of a Jewish state was rooted in myth, custom, and
remembrance, rather than blood and soil. Israel owes its existence to theology
rather than geography, and in this it occupies a singular place in the history
of nations. The only other comparable state is, or was, the old Soviet Union,
which was founded as the receptacle for Leninist ideology, but even here the
analogy isn't quite exact, for the simple reason that Russia preexisted the
USSR by several centuries, and Russian nationalism soon came to dominate and
overwhelm the ostensibly "internationalist" Kremlin leadership.
As a settler colony rather than a rooted nation, Israel's always precarious
existence is made possible by an extensive international support system that
exists entirely outside the Middle East. In the beginning, it was the Zionist
movement itself that provided the outside material aid that nurtured and
grew this nascent nation. That, however, was not enough to provide the sustenance
Israel needed to come into existence and survive in a very rough neighborhood,
so it was the British empire that presided over its birth. The Balfour
Declaration provided the semi-legal basis for the existence of an independent
Jewish state in the area known as Palestine.
The British, however, had neither the resources nor the inclination to act
as Israel's permanent sponsor and protector, and this role eventually fell to
the United States. Without U.S. aid, including unconditional military and political
support, Israel could not exist for long. Over the years, it has evolved its
own characteristic means of survival, which is analogous to that of an epiphyte
– a plant that, rather than rooting in its own soil, grows on other plants.
Because Israel is almost entirely dependent on international support – and
especially American support – for its very survival, without U.S. public opinion
behind it the Jewish state would soon wither on the vine. What this means, in
practice, is that a constant stream of pro-Israel
propaganda must be directed at the American people in order to justify the
levels of financial and military aid that keep Israel afloat. What's more,
the Israelis must constantly generate the urgency
and immediacy of the need to support their country. They have succeeded in doing
this by projecting a sense of continuing crisis. The idea that Israel is in
danger, that unless we ship billions more in taxpayer dollars the Israeli state
will sink beneath the waves of an unrelenting Arab assault, is constantly being
pushed – and we wonder why the "peace process" is perpetually stalled.
Given the need for a constant crisis, all efforts to mediate a peaceful settlement
of the Palestinian question are doomed to utter failure. The Israelis simply
have no interest in peace, when war suits their purposes so well. Indeed, when
things get too peaceful, they have every interest in stirring things up. Once
more, Israel is supposedly fighting for its life – so please keep those aid
packages coming, to the tune of over $3
billion per year!
Another aspect of this epiphytic survival strategy involves the large-scale
theft of military and other classified secrets, mainly from the U.S., as illustrated
by the arrest of Jonathan Pollard, and,
more recently, his fellow spy Ben
Ami Kadish. U.S. intelligence agencies have long characterized Israel as
the most aggressive
procurer of illicit technology transfers, and the case of Kadish – who stole
nuclear secrets, missile defense technology, and other high-tech weapon designs
– underscores this sensitive yet largely ignored aspect of the "special
Yet it isn't just technological secrets that the Israelis are interested in
pilfering from their American big brothers: due to their dependence on the decisions
and actions of our policymakers, they also require an extensive knowledge of
the inner workings of the U.S. government. That's what the case of the AIPAC
defendants is all about.
While Kadish recently pled guilty to charges of espionage, the AIPAC defendants
– Steve Rosen, former
AIPAC lobbying director, and Keith Weissman,
who used to be AIPAC's Iran expert – are fighting the charges. They are accused
of pilfering not only military-related intelligence, but also U.S. government
documents revealing the internal policy debates within the administration, especially
U.S. policy toward Iran. Their defense
team argues that the Justice Department, in prosecuting their clients, is criminalizing
what ought to be considered legitimate lobbying and advocacy.
One has to wonder, however, what kind of "advocacy" requires the theft
[.pdf] of highly sensitive and classified materials and their transmission to
officials of a foreign government.
Yet, from the Israeli perspective, this is entirely legitimate, given their
peculiar national survival strategy. An epiphyte, after all, depends on its
host. The host, however, may have other ideas – and that's where the extensive
Israeli penetration of U.S. governmental and opinion-making institutions comes
in. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have done us all a service is providing
survey of this effort and its astounding success, and we are seeing this
play out in the political responses to the Gaza massacre, with both major political
parties, as well as the incoming
president and the bulk of the media, playing right along with the Israeli
Until and unless the peculiarities of the "special relationship"
are untangled and the cord cut, Israel will continue to rampage throughout the
Middle East. The most recent Gaza massacre is only the beginning.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
As the new year approaches, I want to take the
opportunity to thank all of our readers and supporters who gave so generously
to our winter fundraising campaign. Without you, we could not continue providing
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We just count on you, year after year, to keep us afloat. And year after year,
you've come through. For that, a gigantic thank you – and a happy New Year to
one and all.