Max Blumenthal wrote here earlier that
The suicide rate has been particularly high among Ethiopian members of the Israeli army. By 1997, six years after an airlift brought the second wave of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, Ethiopian soldiers accounted for 10 percent of army suicides — but comprised only four tenths of a percent of the army. Racism was a key factor in the epidemic. One soldier’s suicide note read: “Every morning when I get to the base, six soldiers are waiting for me who clap their hands and yell, `The kushi [black] is here.’”
Such visceral racism is shocking, like something out of the American South circa 1935. It may also be shocking to some that Zionist ideology leads to racism even against Jewish blacks. But it does – from its genesis Zionism was an outgrowth of European race-thinking, and developed as a white supremacist ideology. It is useful to bring these facts to the attention of an American Jewish community in deep denial about what is going on and has been going on in Israel. But there is a sense in which this kind of thing is low-hanging fruit, although still well-worth picking.
That is because parading this racism to provoke, rightfully, revulsion, slides by the question of what Zionism does in Israeli society. And that question leads to another important question: how does Zionism function in American society, and where might cracks appear in the solid block of organized American Jewish support for Zionist practice and Israeli militarism?
After all, in both America and Israel, people hate for different reasons, and some might be convinced to let go of their hate easier than others. Some people profit off their hate, while others die for it.
There is a difference between the Mizrahi hatred of the Palestinian who reminds him of his ancestry and who is just below him on the Israeli income-status ladder, and the Ashkenazi casual hatred which finds it easier to simply pretend Palestinians don’t exist, votes en bloc in favor of liberal “peace-camp” Israeli politicians who mysteriously are never able to offer genuine peace, and only when Palestinians start making a ruckus, as in the barrage of rockets out of Gaza when the people there were dying and besieged, notes their presence. Having noticed the natives, and perturbed at their rattling of the bars of their cage, these same Ashkenazis that speak piously of peace, vote for Meretz, and mourn for Rabin shrug when white phosphorus fills the Gazan sky.
In Israel, Zionism is the social glue holding together a society in which the Ashkenazi over-class composes just 25 percent of the population and even within Israel is ruling over a majority that it covertly or overtly despises or that its forefathers sprayed with pesticide, as the Ashkenazi founders did to the Iraqi immigrants when they arrived in Israel. Never mind the population of the West Bank and Gaza, or the camps of the Levant, who they bomb, starve, and torture under the banner of superiority and to justify their theft of the land. Nearly all Jewish Israelis believe in Zionism.
But most of the land has now been stolen, and Zionism now does different things for different people. Israel is the 2nd most unequal industrialized economy in the world, and racism keeps the rabble focused on the foreign enemy and not on the domestic one keeping them poor.
This phenomenon is similar to how American Islamophobia keeps working and middle-class Americans focused on the external enemy, The Arab – not coincidentally the one Israel is destroying and oppressing – and not focused on the fact that the new robber-barons of Wall Street are destroying the fabric of American society while Madison Avenue bank accounts grow fatter and fatter and working class Americans die and die again in the wars that keep the arms companies plush with contracts.
Of course, not everything is the same. For one thing, Israel needs Zionism more than America needs Islamophobia. The problems there are vaster, the racist disparities more glaring, the situation of Israel more perilous.
For example, the Israeli economy is doing even worse than the American one, at least, if we use measures like Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Israeli GDP per capita as a percentage of American GDP per capita peaked at 62 percent in 1975 and has been declining since then, and will doubtless continue to decline due to Israel’s devotion to an accumulation model based on military Keynesnianism and capital-intense investment – although the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange continues to do fine, and that is what the people running Israeli society pay attention to, not the rising poverty and striking stratification afflicting Israeli society, nor the ongoing suffering of the people the Israeli elite profit from torturing.
That Israel is both an industrialized economy as well as a society barely teetering on the edge of being a developed country is an odd phenomenon, and I don’t know if it should be discouraging or encouraging to people like Dan Senor, who has lately been touting the wonders of the Israeli economy, or to the America Firsters who, nooses just recently stowed in the attic, staff the online battalions of the Palestine electronic solidarity movement and rage over America’s 3 billion dollars of “money” sent to Israel, which has “plenty” of money.
They should rage, and that military aid should be cut off, but we should know what it is we want to cut off and why it is sent in the first place. It matters why we rage.
For one thing, money is not really what is sent.
What are ultimately sent are American arms alongside a 750 million dollar bundle of cash that Israel spends buying weapons from weapons manufacturers many, of which are owned by American capital anyway – most of the biggest Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ and are mostly owned by American investors, which is why from 2001 to 2006 92 percent of the movements in the TASE (Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange) were “explained” by movements in the NASDAQ. As Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler explain, “since the two asset classes share similar owners, have similar sources of earnings, and float in similar pools of liquidity, there is really no reason why they shouldn’t move together.”
As long as the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ continue to do fine, Israel will keep on making rich Americans richer and poor Americans poorer. In the meantime, Palestinians will struggle and suffer under savage siege and occupation, and Ethiopian immigrants will get treated like human filth, even while American Zionist organizations, staffed with the deliberately ignorant, plaster their pamphlets with pictures of Israel’s multiracial society as though they were Benetton ads, incidentally diversity-talk that Senor, whom I recently saw lecture, also likes quite a lot.
One thing that Senor said that struck me was that there are people from more than 70 countries involved in oppressing Palestinians. This was supposed to be a point of pride, hearing from the horse’s mouth that there is a world-wide Jewish conspiracy to oppress the Palestinians. Don’t tell Senor, but the notion of a world-wide Jewish people is a Zionist invention, and it won’t last.
Aware that American Zionism, always a temporary weave, could be starting to fray at the edges, Peter Beinart, working the home-front, is anxious that some American Jews once were not part of that conspiracy, and is worried that American Jewish support for Israel, which cements the economic links I just described above – Zionism functions in not totally different ways in both the American and Israeli contexts – is fleeting.
In a somewhat coded way of expressing these anxieties, he has written a column headed off like this:
Stowed away in the attic of American Jewish life lies this uncomfortable truth: Well into the 20th century, many American Jews opposed the creation of a Jewish state. Many Reform Jews were anti-Zionist because they feared a Jewish state would raise questions about Jewish loyalty to the U.S. Many Socialist Jews were anti-Zionist because they believed the proletariat should unite across religious and ethnic lines. Many Orthodox Jews were anti-Zionist because they believed that returning Jews to the land of Israel was God’s job, not man’s. Even when Jews began arriving in Palestine in large numbers, prominent Jewish intellectuals like Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Henrietta Szold, the founder of the American Jewish women’s organization, Hadassah, and Judah Magnes, the American-born founder of Hebrew University, argued for the creation of a secular state in which neither Jews nor Arabs would have pride of place.
Put aside his mis-understandings of Buber and Magnes. Are we supposed to consider the devolution of the American Jewish community into open support for a militarized regime founded on ethnic cleansing and carrying out a sustained military occupation a good thing? Why should it be an “uncomfortable truth” that once the American Jewish community did not support Israel?
Beinart goes on to write of how Israel’s ethnocratic character “inevitably privileges its Jewish citizens over its non-Jewish ones.” Yet, all is A-OK: “Israel was created not merely to be a Jewish democracy, but to be a Jewish refuge.” So the Jewish insurance-patch of land in cis-Jordan justified the creation of differentiated citizenship, ongoing occupation, and originary ethnic cleansing?
Beinart should be aware that Jewish identitarian support for Israel is a fact that was created historically and it will be un-created historically. The fact that one time Jews were not a power elite, fully integrated into the American over-class with political inclinations to match, and were once worried about persecution, concerned about social justice, and took their religious ideals and beliefs seriously is not history which should be shamefully stowed in the attic. It’s something of which to be proud. It suggests that Zionism is not coded into the Jewish DNA.
Does Beinart believe otherwise?
And is Beinart embarrassed that his ancestors were working-class shtetl dwellers who were the victims and refugees from pogroms? And if so, why? Why would Beinart be embarrassed that there was a time in American history when Jews were not oppressors? And what’s wrong with trying to return to that time, if this time with hands bloodied? If there are Jews who insist on retaining their identity as oppressors, perhaps we should leave them to it and work with others to break apart the bonds linking American Jewish identity to Israeli militarism and Israeli militarism to American power in the Middle East? After all, do lower-class or middle-class American Jews – that is, most American Jews – want to be part of a “people” whose identity was forged with Palestinian blood?