[Marxism] "We're all Israelis Now"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 8 13:35:33 MST 2004

Friday, November 05, 2004

Levine Guest Editorial: "We're all Israelis Now."

We’re all Israelis Now

By Mark LeVine, History, University of California, Irvine
Author of Why they Don't Hate Us: Globalization in a Post-9/11 World.

     Three years ago, as the pungent odor of what was left of the World 
Trade Center slowly pervaded my neighborhood, I wrote a piece called 
“We’re all Israelis Now.” I didn’t invent the idea; in the hours since 
the attacks I had heard several commentators say essentially the same 
thing, although our meanings were in fact diametrically opposed. For 
them, the September 11 attacks had constituted a tragic wake up call to 
America about the mortal threat posed by Muslim terrorism, which Israel 
had been living through for decades and whose methods the US would now 
have to copy if it wanted to “win the war on terror.”

     For me, however, the attacks suggested a more troubling scenario: 
That like Israelis, Americans would never face the causes of the extreme 
violence perpetrated against us by those whose oppression we have 
supported and even enforced, and engage in the honest introspection of 
what our role has been in generating the kind of hatred that turns 
commuter jets into cruise missiles. Instead, my gut told me that we’d 
acquiesce to President Bush’s use of the war to realize the long-held 
imperial, even apocalyptic visions of the neoliberal Right, ones that 
find great sympathy with its Israeli counterpart.

     As I watch George W. Bush celebrate his reelection I realize I 
never could have imagined just how much like Israelis we would become. 
Think about it: in Israel, the majority of Jewish citizens support the 
policies of Ariel Sharon despite the large-scale, systematic (and 
according to international law, criminal) violence his government 
deploys against Palestinian society, despite the worsening economic 
situation for the lower middle class religious voters who constitute his 
main base of support, despite rising international opprobrium and 
isolation. Sound familiar?

     As for the country’s “liberal” opposition, it’s in a shambles, 
politically and morally bankrupt because in fact it was a willing 
participant in creating and preserving the system that is now eating 
away at the heart of Israeli society. Aside from occasional plaintive 
oped pieces by members of its progressive wing, the Labor Party can and 
will do nothing fundamentally to challenge Sharon’s policies. Why? 
Because they reflect an impulse, nurtured by the Labor movement during 
its decades in power, that is buried deep in the heart of Zionism: to 
build an exclusively Jewish society on as much of the ancient homeland 
as possible, with little regard for the fate of the country’s native 

     As any native American will remind us, America was built on a 
similar holy quest. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the parallels 
between Israel’s mini-empire and America’s Iraq adventure are striking.

     It’s not just that America’s occupation is faring as terribly as 
Israel’s. In the last week--with more than enough time to influence the 
election--doctors from America’s leading research hospitals published a 
study demonstrating that US forces have killed upwards of 100,000 
Iraqis, the majority of them women and children killed by American 
bombs. Yet before November 2 Americans could at least say they weren’t 
directly responsible for the disaster that has unfolded there in Iraq, 
since an unelected President had taken the country to war under false 
pretenses. No more. As of today, American society has declared its 
support for the invasion, and as such is morally and politically 
culpable for every single one of those 100,000 dead, and every single 
one of the tens of thousands of deaths that are sure to follow.

     To put it bluntly, Americans have chosen to return a man to the 
White House who has supervised the killing of more civilians than 
Slobodan Milosevic. We have signed onto a President who sanctions 
torture, who wantonly rejects any international treaty--Kyoto, the ABM 
and the International Criminal Court--that doesn’t suit his messianic 
agenda. Who truly believes “God Almighty” is on his side.

     America, in short, has become a criminal nation, and it must be 
stopped. (Yes, there are many other criminal nations, but aside from 
Israel how many even have the pretense of democracy? Russia? The Sudan? 
China? India is perhaps one; and given its sordid occupation of Kashmir 
it shouldn’t surprise that a US-India-Israel axis of occupation and 
Islamophobia is one of the most prominent features of the world’s 
geo-strategic post-9/11 landscape.)

     In Israel most citizens know full well the realities of their 
occupation; even right-wing newspapers routinely publish articles that 
describe its details with enough clarity to make any ignorance willful. 
This dynamic is in fact why Israelis have responded to the civil war 
with Palestinians by increasing the dehumanization of the occupation, 
accompanied by a fervent practice of getting on with life no matter 
what’s happening ten or fifteen miles away in “the Territories.” The 
alternative, actually working to stop the insanity of the occupation, 
would lead to much more hatred and violence within Israel and between 
Jews than Palestinians could ever hope to inflict on Israeli society 
from the outside.

     The situation is almost identical vis-à-vis the American 
perspective on Iraq. Abu Ghraib? Mass civilian casualties caused by a 
war launched on demonstrably false pretenses? The erosion of civil 
liberties? The transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payer 
money (not to mention Iraqi resources and capital) by the US government 
to its corporate allies? To more than 70% of America’s eligible 
votes--that is, the approximately thirty percent that voted for Bush and 
the forty percent that didn’t feel this situation was compelling enough 
to warrant their taking the time to vote--none of it really matters. 
America is great and strong and can do what it wants, and to hell with 
anyone who gets in our way, especially if they fight back.

     The numbing acceptance of large scale and systematic violence 
perpetrated by the state as a normal part of its exercise of power and 
the willingness of a plurality of the electorate to support parties and 
policies which are manifestly against their economic and social 
interests (as demonstrated by the increase in poverty and economic 
insecurity across the board in Israel and the US produced by the last 
two decades of neoliberalism) sadly characterize both societies today. 
This is why I never shared the optimism friends who thought this 
situation would help elect Kerry. Like Israel’s Barak or Peres, in the 
context of a post-9/11 militant globalization, John Kerry offered 
Americans little more than Bush lite on the most crucial issue of the 
day. In America’s increasingly obese culture, is there any wonder we 
chose SuperSize over Nutrasweet?

     So here we are, three years after the tragic day of 9/11. The smell 
of charred metal, fuel and flesh no longer pervades the five boroughs of 
New York; instead it wafts across the major cities of Iraq (where most 
Americans don’t have to smell it, but I can attest from personal 
experience that the odor in Baghdad is as pungent as in Queens). The 
Bush Administration is free to proceed with a violently imperialist 
foreign policy with little fear of repercussion or political cost at 
home--who cares about abroad?--the Left is stupefied at its own 
political and moral incompetence, and the people at large are 
increasingly split between a fundamentalist religious-nationalist camp, 
and a yuppie-liberal camp that has no real legs to stand on and has 
little hope of engaging the millions of poor and working class who have 
moved to the right because of “social issues.” Indeed, it is clear that 
they don’t care if the rich are getting richer and the environment is 
going to Hell, as long as they’re on the road to Heaven--or at least the 
Second Coming.

     This situation reveals something dark, even frightening about 
America’s collective character. Making the situation worse are the 
reasons why people voted for President Bush: the belief that he better 
represents America’s “moral values,” along with the faith that he, not 
Kerry, will fight a “better and more efficient war on terror.” What kind 
of moral values the occupation of Iraq represents no one dares say. What 
kind of terror the US military has wrought in Iraq most American don’t 
want to know.

     Better to “stay the course” and pray for the safe return of the 
troops. Leave the troubling moral lessons of Iraq to be exorcised by 
Hollywood’s or Nintendo’s latest version of Rambo, helicoptering across 
the sands of Iraq blasting away yet more hapless Iraqi soldiers (as if 
enough weren’t killed in the real war) and rescuing whatever is left of 
America’s honor once the reality of a determined anti-colonial 
resistance drives America out of Iraq--the common fate of occupying 
powers across history.

     Until such time, however, unimagined damage will likely be done to 
the world and America’s standing in it. What are progressives to do 
about it? Whether in Israel or the US the liberal opposition--the Labor 
Party in Israel, the Democrats in the US--have proven themselves to be 
politically and morally bankrupt. They are dying parties and should be 
abandoned as quickly as possible in favor of the hard work of slowly 
building truly populist progressive parties that can reach out to, 
engage and challenge their more conservative and often religions 
compatriots who today look Right, not Left, to address their most basic 

     In the meantime, the international community, especially the EU, 
most assert a defiant tone against US and Israeli militarism and perform 
the novel but fundamental role acting as a counterweight and alternative 
to America’s imperial vision (at the same time, however, they must move 
beyond a narrow anti-American and anti-Zionist anti-imperialism to a 
broader critique of the larger system of Middle Eastern autocracy and 
violence, whose victims are no less deserving of our concern than 
Palestinians or Iraqis). But this will not happen on its own; it’s up to 
citizens across the continent to ensure that their governments don’t 
take the easy road of adopting a pragmatic approach of supporting the 
status quo and “working” with the Bush administration, while waiting for 
America to bleed itself dry in Iraq and other imperial adventures.

     One thing is for sure. Bush and his millenarian policies can’t be 
defeated by the kind of violence and hatred that guides his worldview. 
As Antonio Gramsci warned us seventy years ago, a “war of maneuver” or 
frontal assault on an advanced capitalist state by the Left cannot be 
won. Instead we need to dust off our copies of Gramsci’s Prison 
Notebooks and buy a copy of Subcomandante Marcos’s dispatches from the 
Lacondan jungle. Then perhaps we can find clues on how to fight a better 
and more efficient “war of position” against the terrifying prospect of 
four more years of George W. Bush.

     While the Left has often turned to Gramsci for guidance, most 
commentators have ignored one of his most important insights: that 
however negative a role religion played in Italian society, it 
constituted the most important social force in the struggle against 
capitalism and fascism, without which the Left could never hope to 
achieve social hegemony against the bourgeoisie. This is because 
religion contains the kernel of “common sense” of the masses whose 
natural instinct is to rebel against the domination of the capitalist 
elite. But because it is largely unformed or articulated, it is easily 
manipulated by that elite--as Thomas Frank has so eloquently shown in 
his recent What’s the Matter with Kansas--and needs to be joined to the 
“good sense” of radically progressive intellectuals in order to shape 
the kind of ideology and political program that could attract the 
majority of the poor and middle class. But in this dialog the secular 
intellectuals would be transformed as much as the religious masses, 
creating the kind of organic unity that helped propel the religious 
Right from the margins of their party to the center of power.

     It’s sad but telling that a sickly political prisoner in fascist 
Italy writing from memory on scraps of paper could anticipate the 
struggle facing America today better than most contemporary leaders of 
the so-called Left. But never fear, if John Ashcroft has his way many of 
us will soon have a similar opportunity to learn the benefits of 
solitary confinement for producing innovative social theory. In the 
meantime if progressives don’t figure out how to reach working class 
conservative Christians, before to long we will all be living through 
Bush’s dreams of apocalypse.

Mark Levine
Associate Professor of History
Department of History
Murray Krieger Hall
Irvine, CA 92697-3275

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