Israel and the Middle East in Perspective

From a talk by Harvey Jackins at the Jewish Leaders’ Conference in Israel, September 29–October 4, 1996

Question: What are the forces that oppose Jewish liberation?

Harvey: Those forces are anybody who is making a living, or a better living, or a profit, out of the policy of extreme hostility between the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as the large section of the Israeli population that was won over to that policy after the Six Day War. There has been a great deal of money made out of having the armed conflict continue.

You here in Israel have next door to you a captive population of Palestinian Arabs who have no opportunity to work except under a sort of armed guard, who are permitted into Israel only to work, and who can be cut off from their jobs at any time as a disciplinary measure. This raises the standard of living of a huge portion of Israelis at the cost of becoming intense exploiters of the captive Arabs.

The Israeli peace movement has achieved some victories over a long period of time; but to offer real justice to the Palestinians would cost a great deal of money to people who are doing very well indeed in the present situation. The great capitalist influence among the Jews in England and the United States has them also supporting the continued hostility, with small differences between various groups of them here and there. A real solution, one which would not continue the extreme exploitation of the Palestinians, would immediately greatly reduce the income of a large section of the population of Israel.

I think that people here in this group are sitting timidly most of the time, waiting to be reassured instead of getting out and effectively organizing to change this situation—a situation which is not worthy of Jews.

The functioning of classism simply means that once you can divide people into classes, some can be made to work, and often starve, while they produce value which does not come to them but goes to another class. There was a good deal of anti-classist sentiment among the early settlers in Israel. People came and tried to build a socialist experiment in which they would all work together and share the value they produced. (This would have been a pleasant departure from the conditions from which most of the settlers came.) But there were powerful forces lined up to insist that Israel become a classist country if it was to be allowed to exist at all.

There is a long tradition in the diaspora, which was invented very early in the common era and which has been played out repeatedly, of the Jews, with their tradition of literacy and education, being borrowed by oppressive rulers and used by them as their agents. Jews were invited by the rulers to come into a country and were promised safety for their people if they would serve as agents of the rulers, often becoming premiers or prime ministers, but certainly becoming the tax collectors and the bureaucrats that made the unenlightened country run.

Over and over, when the resentment of the main population of the particular country built up against the rulers, this resentment was diverted against the Jews, who had fronted for the rulers, and the Jews were attacked and murdered and expelled from the country. There are lots of examples in the last fifteen hundred years, but the recent examples in Eastern Europe come freshly to mind because everybody has heard of the pogroms, and the Cossacks storming Jewish villages, and so on. This tradition was carried out right up to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but the Nazi persecution was so extreme that in general we do not relate it to what had gone on before.

The tradition of using the Jews as agents of reactionary rulers was played out again, in a slightly different form, in the early history of the State of Israel. When Israel was finally established (over the opposition of the Western powers), its existence was still threatened. A deal was made that if Israel as a nation would serve as the agent of the Western powers in keeping down Arab nationalism, it would be promised safety (but, of course, kept under continued threat). Israel, furnished arms by the West, would keep the Arab nations under armed guard and so keep effective enough control of the huge stocks of oil in Arab countries that the superprofits of the U.S. and British and French oil companies would not be endangered, at least not for a long time.

The Western powers made their greatest profits in the post-war period through the domination of the Arab countries, where very large supplies of cheap oil were readily available. If feudal rulers could be kept in control of the Arab countries, this would guarantee the Western oil companies’ profits. However, the feudal rulers of the oil-producing Arab countries were under threat. There were great democratic movements beginning to rise in these countries. The inevitable emergence of more democratic economies and politics could be choked off only if the Arab countries’ populations’ resistance to their feudal rulers could be diverted and the power of the feudal rulers shored up. The deal was made. Who could argue with offering arms, training, and all the rest to a country fighting for its existence?

Israel was forced into a thoroughly imperialist role. This was very understandable. It had nowhere else to go. (My own country, the “democratic” United States, had closed its borders to Jewish immigration, with various excuses that were accepted and tolerated by the U.S. population.)

The imperialist tradition was, of course, well established in the movement of Europeans to North America. I am old enough that I can remember when people in their ordinary speech said that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” The Natives of North America were betrayed and killed, and their lands taken from them and occupied by Europeans.

So Israel, with great bravery and effort, carved out a homeland for itself. And everybody’s excited attention was on the conflict between the “invading Jews,” who became known as Israelis, and the long-settled Palestinians, who as rapidly as possible were made known in the U.S. as “dirty, murdering Arabs.” In the background, the welling-up revolution of the Arabs against their corrupt rulers was, with great skill, diverted into hatred of the Jews, hatred of Israel. It seemed logical to a Palestinian or to a sympathetic Arab that Israel was the enemy. The whole plot worked.

The Arab revolution was completely diverted into hatred of Israel. Arms were supplied to both sides with great glee. There is no quicker source of huge profits than the supplying of arms. There was a series of wars, tremendous heroism on the part of Israeli soldiers, and tremendous desperate resistance (and much heroism!) on the part of the Palestinians. When a little slack occurred, Israel could always claim to have behaved much better toward the Palestinians than the invading Europeans had behaved toward the Native North Americans. Most of the people of the world, with a little propaganda to help, came to the conclusion that Israel must survive because it was time that there was a “homeland” for the Jewish people.

Changes took place in Israel. Victories were won, more security was achieved, crops got planted. People didn’t have to work as hard as they did before. And the oil companies’ manipulation of the conflict between the reactionary Arab regimes and the Israeli government continued.

A situation developed in which a captive force of Palestinians had no place to work except in Israel. They came to work whenever they were allowed, and worked for whatever pay was given. Classism took the form of one power exploiting the people of another power, with no safeguards. What happened to the idealists who had wanted to live in Israel and make a living from the soil? They became very effective imperialists. Israel became prosperous (never prosperous enough, of course; no one ever gets “enough”), and a large number of people became owning-class. Even larger numbers of people became middle-class.

Classism also operated on a semi-racist basis. The Ashkenazi middle class had the opportunity to have a good education. The Mizrachim could be put down because many of them grew up speaking Arabic as their first language and were accustomed to having good, close relations with Arabs in their original countries. They could be scorned as being Arabs, or “just like Arabs.”

Reiteration: You here in Israel have a working class which includes some Ashkenazi. You have a huge working class, which became the majority of the country, made up of Mizrachim, whose different cultural backgrounds and different languages divided them into many groups. They did not feel very united with each other and could be put down easily because they were “just like Arabs.” But that was not enough support for the infrastructure, so you have a fairly substantial number of Palestinians who were allowed to stay in Israel and with great effort recovered their living to some extent. They were given some of the trappings of democratic participation. And then you have this huge working class that lives outside of Israel, to be let in only under armed guard.

Israel, represented by the owning class and the middle class that supported the owning class, flourished. And the benefits trickled down to almost everybody. Typically this is the force behind the continuation of a warlike state. But you also have the United States and Great Britain, who have rewritten their histories with regard to Israel, portraying themselves as chief sponsors and supporters. These are the forces that cannot stand to have peace.

And what do these forces do when people begin to move toward ending some of the unfairness (because, of course, the real interest of all the people is peace)? They encourage the activity of extreme reactionary groups. There are all kinds of provocations, such as religious or national sentiment, and pretty soon some “nut”1 in a right-wing group commits a murder and knocks off2 the leader who is moving toward peace. It is easy to keep the armed conflict going. If it didn’t go on, there would be no market for arms, there would be no security for oil. Peace would begin to spread. The children of Abraham would begin to look at each other with friendly eyes.

Why don’t we take some initiative and clean up this whole thing? In my opinion, RCers are going to have to make the move. Only people who understand as well as we do are going to be smart enough to make the start. We are smart and we are getting smarter. We know that human beings are naturally courageous. We have gotten stuck temporarily in these areas, but we know how to discharge even our own cowardice. We need to give up the posture that somebody else ought to handle this mess. It is just possible that we can take the risk of being completely bold and change all of it.

Reprinted from Present Time No. 115, April 1999.  

Last modified: 2014-09-18 17:15:41+00