Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Existentialism and Israel

Most serious commentators - whatever their political sympathies - seem to agree that Israel has "lost" the war against Hizbullah -at least for now. The Israelis may not have "lost" in the conventional military sense, but they lost because they did not win; they lost in terms of moral authority and military cudos. They also lost because their brutal indifference to Lebanese civilian lives has made the Hizbullah "resistance" heroes throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds , and because Israel's perceived role as ice-testers for a putative US offensive against Iran and/or Syria, has alienated European opinion, which was never very sympathetic to Israel in the first place.

Moshe Arens, in 'Haaretz', the liberal-left Israeli newspaper, commented (14th August 2006):

"...The long-term implications of an Israeli agreement to a UN brokered cease-fire at this time are obvious. Israel's enemies, and they are many, will conclude that Israel does not have the stamina for an extended encounter with terrorism. You do not need tanks and aircraft to defeat Israel - a few thousand rockets are enough. Katyushas today and Qassams tomorrow. Don't let Olmart, Peretz and Livni fool you: these rockets will keep coming after Israel is seen as not only punished but also defeated in this month-long war".

All of which brings me to the point that I have been pondering for many years: the perception amongst Israeli Jews, that they they are under what is often called "existential threat": the perception that they (the Jews) are fighting for their very existance against forces (surrounding Arab states and also Islamist forces like Hizbullah and Hammas), who want to drive / sweep all Jews "into the sea" (a quote that comes from Azzam Pasha, secretary of the Arab League, set up with British sponsorship in 1945); Pasha went on to describe (approvingly) the 1948 war by all the surrounding Arab states (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and a task force from Saudi Arabia and Yemen), as "a war of extermination and a momentous massacre", that would "sweep the Jews into the sea". The undeniable fact that the surrounding Arab nations have, inthe main, been pleged to the destruction of Israel has tended to be dismissed by informed commentators, on the grounds that Israel is clearly the military giant of the region, and inder no immediate or forseeable threat. Hizbullah's "victory" may not have changed the "facts on the ground2, but is will have changed perceptions (on both sides) about the possibility of a military defeat of Isreal...and therefore, about the poissibility of wiping out the "Zionist Entity".

The fact that the Israeli Jews (armed by Czechoslovakia and backed by Stalin's USSR) defeated the British-backed Arab attack in 1948, is rarely mentioned and comes as a real surprise to those brought up on the idea that Israel was "created" by "Western imperialism" in order to "hegemonise" the region against the Arabs (a theory put forward Martin Jacques in the 'Guardian' of 15/08/06). So does the fact that the US and Britain operated an arms embargo against Israel in 1948, forcing the new-born stae to turn to the Soviet empire of Stalin for support.

Isreal was under attack from its very birth in 1948. It was also attacked by Arab forces in 1967 (OK: I know that Isreal shot the first bullet, but it was a pre-emptive strike in the face of a very obvious coming attack from Egypt), and 1973.

The fact that Israel has been under "existental" threat from the bourgois leaders of Arab states, ever since its foundation in 1948, is a matter of record. The fact that the Palestinians have been cynically used by those bourgois arab leaders, in order to pursue their campaign for the destruction of israel, also seems to me to be beyond doubt.

But most people on the British "left" deny and refute the argument that Israel is under "existential" threat. They (the British lefties) say that Israel's massive military superiority (thanks to weaponry from the US), means that the idea that Israel is under any kind of "existential" threat is, simply, nonsense.

The same people will very go on to explain how, in their opinion, Israel has no right to exist, and ... how "Zionists" are responsible for all the world's wars, up to and including Iraq.

The argument that Israel is so strong militarily, that the "existential" threat from Arab states is of no consequence, is now much weaker. Even before Israel's "defeat" in Lebanon, people like the loathsome former Stalinist "Agent of influence" Richard Gott were looking forward to the destruction of Israel sometime in the present century; in a racially hate-filled statement worthy of the BNP, Gott says ( UK 'Guardian', July 22nd, 2006):

"Like the medieval crusaders, whose ruined castles dominate the landscape of the eastern Mediterranean, they will be lucky if their state lasts more than a century... many will surely abandon ship in despair".

A similar argumant was raised by another ex-Stalinist, also in the (UK) Guardian (15 August 2006), Martin Jacques;

"Whatever the rights and wrongs of the creation of the state of Israel, the reality today is that it is - by the manner of its creation, self-image and attitude towards its neighbours, and how it is regarded by the west - a western transplant sustained by an american life-support machine. Under such circumstances, the very idea that peacein the Middle east in any meaningful sense possible is illusiory. Israel has been the primary means by which the US has exercised its hegemony over te region"...

But you do not have to be filled full of Stalinist anti - semitism like Gott, or anti-Israeli false history like Jacques to be aware of the very serious trouble that the state of Israel is now in:

Lindsey Hilsum -no hater of Israel, she - writes in the present issue of the New Statesman (14 August 2006):

"Israel fell into an elephant trap when it hit Lebanon with disproportionate force after Hizbullah's capture of two Isaeli soldiers...Maybe Hizbullah simply struck lucky, or maybe Iran had managed to provoke the Israelis into fighting...on Monday, in a speech to the nation and to worldwide Jewry, a solomn-faced israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said the war in Lebanon is about Isreal's existance. It's the old cry - they hate us for what we are, not what we do.

" But this time, he could be right. Even if the Palestinians got their country, with Jerusalem
as its capital, and refugees were allowed to return home, many across the Muslim world would still want to fight the Jewish stae and its US backers. The summer of 2006 may be just the start of it".

So all the more reason to campaign now for: Justice for the Palestinians; Isreal Out of Lebanon; Two States for two Peoples; foe a Palestinian State alongside israel and with equal rights to Israel!.


Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Israel fell right into a trap. Hezbollah has Israel positioned for a land war. Can Israel afford to lose 40 soldiers a day.

I believe in one state, with equal rights for Hebrew and Arabic speakers. It has to secular, and ultimately socialist. Under capitalism, questions as water rights, can't be fairly negotiated.

Israel has the weaponry to take on anybody, not the industial base, for a prolonged war.

Bush planned for Lebanon, to be the crown jewel, of Middle East democracy. Instead he united the country against Israel.

11:42 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...


That doesn't really answer the question as to how it's under "existential" threat. It's surrounded with states that don't like it, yes, but most of them have no intention at all of taking any actual military action against it, and even those groups that might consider it, would never get anywhere. The will isn't there in most cases, and even where it is, the means aren't.

Furthermore, it's precisely the mentality of "constant existential threat" that the Israeli right rely upon in order to maintain the militarised state of Israeli public opinion and society at large.

2:22 AM  
Blogger Jim Denham said...

renegade; As I think I've said to you before, I don't disagree, in principle, with your version of the "one state solution"...except how do we get there? How do we undo sixty years of hatred, mutual antagonism and violence/ The "two state solution" seems to me to be - not a "solution" but a necessary stage in reconciliation. And it is, therefore, essential that Arab states, Iran and islamist forces recognise Isreal's right to exist - and that they give up their anti-semitic rhetoric about wiping Isreal off the map. Unfortunately, the Lebanon outrages make this less likely.

Priest: I am *not* arguing that the destruction of Israel is, in reality, under threat: I'm arguing that the rhetoric of "death to Israel" and other ant-semitic slogans so beloved of Islamists, (some) Arab leaders and the likes of Ahmadinejad of Iran, merely perpetuates what you call "the mentality of 'constant existential threat'that the Israeli right wing rely upon". And its a disgrace that so many on the British "revolutionary" left (not so much the European "revolutionary" left, interestingly) parrot this anti-semistism.
Finally, may I recommend a refreshingly sane and humanitarian take on the whole ME question? Visit www.opendemocracy.net/globalization/arendt_deutscher_3813.jsp

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Azzam Tamimi.
Galloways mate


2:28 PM  

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