American Nationalism, Israel and the Middle East

excerpted from the book

America Right or Wrong

An Anatomy of American Nationalism

by Anatol Lieven

Oxford University Press, 2005, paper


Since 9/11, U.S. relations with the Muslim world have become central to American strategy and American security. At the time of this writing, the United States actually is ruling one large Muslim country (Iraq) and playing a critical part in the government of a second (Afghanistan). Most important, through Sunni Islamist terrorism, Muslim societies are generating the only truly serious threat of a catastrophic attack on the American mainland. Success or failure in the struggle against this terrorism may be of existential importance for the survival of Western liberal and pluralist democracy: For given certain tendencies observable in the wake of 9/11, it is not difficult to imagine how even worse attacks in future, with or without weapons of mass destruction, could push Western political cultures in a much harsher, more chauvinist and authoritarian direction ...

... the U.S. Congress, and to a very considerable extent successive U.S. administrations, have pursued policies of largely unconditional support for Israel, irrespective of Israeli behavior in the Occupied Territories-behavior often completely incompatible with the ideals which the United States professes and the standards it demands elsewhere. The reasons for this almost unanimous stance by U.S. politicians in support of Israel are rooted partly in genuine identification with that country, as well as in some cases sympathy with Israeli ideologies. Thus the dominant elements of the Bush administration proved especially close to the Likud-led government of Ariel Sharon." There is also, however, a strong element of political calculation, opportunism and indeed fear related to the real or perceived strength of the Israel lobby.

In the words of M. J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum:
The fact is that both Democrats and Republicans are very adept at this game and sometimes the sheer effrontery of it is astonishing. Democrats attack a Republican for "selling out" Israel even though the policy advocated by the Republican is the same one they supported when a Democrat advanced it. And Republicans do the exact same thing. Is it any wonder that candidates seem to go to great lengths to avoid saying anything remotely substantive on the Middle East?... Knowing that any substantive statement could be used against them, candidates just play it safe. And segments of the pro-Israel community encourage them by criticizing constructive suggestions as anti-Israel, and by giving ovations to candidates who tell them what the candidates think they want to hear."

[Republican leaders]... argue that social and economic liberalism now runs a poor second to support for Israel and that they have for the first time outdone Democrats in cheering the Jewish state. There is no more unyielding supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies than House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the exemplar of muscular Republicanism.

This Republican strategy can be seen as a continuation of Reagan's strategy of the 1980s in trying to draw away the votes of "Reagan Democrats," comprising mainly "Southern [White] evangelicals, Northern 'blue collar' workers and pro-Zionist Jews. "6 This alignment was based on thoroughly Jacksonian principles of conservative populism at home and aggressive nationalism abroad (although under Reagan, as noted, this nationalism was to some degree more rhetorical than real).

That is not to say that this Republican strategy has necessarily been successful after Reagan left the scene. In general, voting patterns and surveys suggest that when it comes to elections, most Jewish Americans remain true to their liberal traditions, with 51 percent recorded in 2003 as Democrats to only 16 percent Republicans (with 31 percent independents). In the 2000 elections, 79 percent of Jewish Americans voted for Gore to only 19 percent for Bush." The alliance of Jewish American supporters of Israel with Christian fundamentalists often makes Jewish American liberals very uneasy; as the liberal Jewish American writer Roberta Feuerlicht has noted, "In Jewish history, when fundamentalists came, Cossacks were not far behind." No one can say for sure though how Jewish American voters would react to a Democratic administration which took a really tough line with Israel. They certainly punished Carter severely in 1980 for his moves toward dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

If Bush had wanted his administration to be taken seriously as a force for peace in the Middle East, he would have had to fire those of his own senior officials who during the 1990s had opposed the Oslo peace process and advised the Israeli government to abandon it." In their policy paper of 1996, "A Clean Break," Richard Perle (later chairman of the Defense Advisory Board in the Bush administration), Douglas Feith (later deputy under-secretary of defense in the Bush administration) and other members of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) advised the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon both the Oslo process and the whole idea of land for peace in favor of insistence on permanent control of the Occupied Territories: "Our claim to the land-to which we have clung for hope for 2000 years-is legitimate and noble .... Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, 'peace for peace,' is a solid basis for the future".

The paper makes clear that it rules out the "peace for land" idea on which the whole "two-state" solution is based, describing this as "cultural, economic, political, military and diplomatic retreat"; and what it means by "peace for peace" is to go on attacking Arab regimes until they accept Israeli rule over the whole of Palestine. The authors were thereby opposing, in the name of "our" claim to the whole of Palestine, not only the then current policy of the Clinton administration, but that of all previous U.S. administrations and that formally adopted later by the George W. Bush administration of which some of them were to be officials. Elliott Abrams, appointed by Bush in 2003 as chief official for the Middle East at the National Security Council, had also argued-before the collapse of talks in 2000 and the second Intifada-that Oslo should essentially be abandoned in favor of a new crackdown on the Palestinians .

It is true that U.S. policy and the U.S. public discourse concerning the Palestinians have improved greatly since the 1970s, when Washington essentially echoed Israel in declaring that no such separate people existed. A critical moment in this regard was the peace initiative of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in 1977, when for the first time an American poll showed more Americans approving of an Arab leader's policy than that of the Israeli government, by 57 to 34 percent.

Since the Iraq War, public figures such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and General Anthony Zinni have argued strongly that the new U.S. role in the Middle East demands a serious change of emphasis in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the other hand, the attacks of 9/11 and the link made between anti-American and anti-Israeli terrorism mean that much of the American political classes and public opinion have once again become strongly anti-Palestinian and are willing to see Israeli actions simply as part of the war on terrorism. As a result of this and the Israeli lobby's iron grip on the U.S. Congress, American support for Israel, including support for its occupation of the Palestinian territories, has continued unchanged with all that this means for the image of the United States in the Muslim world and for U.S. chances of success in the struggle against Islamist terrorism.

Israel and the American Antithesis

... in the American antithesis were admirably summarize in a speech to the U.S. Senate in March 2002 by Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) setting out seven reasons why "Israel alone is entitled to possess the Holy Land' including the Palestinian territories. These views are widely shared among other members of the Christian Right in Congress. As described earlier, members of the Christian Right make up a significant proportion of senators and congressmen and a very powerful proportion of the Republican Party. Their numbers include both of the last Republican leaders in the House, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, both of them very strong supporters of Israel. Thus in May 2002 Armey, then House Majority Leader, called during a television interview for the deportation of the Palestinians from the Occupied Territories . Tom DeLay has also expressed unconditional support for Israel, without reference to Palestinian rights."

John Wayne
"I don't feel that we did wrong in taking this great country away from the-m[the Indians] .... Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves."

Leo Strauss, one of the intellectual fathers of the neoconservatives, asserted that "theft of land" has been the basis for all states, while arguing that this unpleasant truth should be veiled from the masses.

Senator James Inhofe
"... The Bible says that Abram removed his tent and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built an altar there before the Lord. Hebron is in the West Bank. It is at this place where God appeared to Abram and said 'I am giving you this land'-the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether the word of God is true. "

As recorded by Donald Wagner, Grace Halsell, Gabriel Almond and other leading students of this tradition, especially sinister are the links between these forces in the United States and the powerful mixture of fundamentalist and ultra-nationalist forces on the Israeli radical Right. The latter share the moral absolutism of their American Christian counterparts without necessarily sharing their commitment to democracy. Such Israelis are of course represented especially strongly among the settlers on the West Bank.

Israeli radical fundamentalists and nationalists are implacably opposed to a state for the Palestinians and in many cases are committed to the most radical of all solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the ethnic cleansing ("Transfer") of the Palestinians from the Occupied Territories.

Jerry Falwell
"To stand against Israel is to stand against God."

Over the past four decades U.S. policy has become bogged down in a glaring contradiction between American public ideals and partially U.S.-financed Israeli behavior. On one hand, America preaches to Arabs contemporary civic ideals of democracy, modernity and the peaceful resolution of disputes. On the other, it subsidizes not only a brutal military occupation but the seizure of land from an established population on the basis of ethnoreligious claims which in any other circumstances would be regarded by U.S. governments and a majority of public opinion as utterly illegitimate.

The most truly tragic aspect of all this, as more and more Israelis and Jewish Americans have begun to argue, is that this kind of unconditional U.S. support, coupled with continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, is also proving disastrous for Israel itself and for the noble ideals which motivated the best elements in the Zionist enterprise. These critics include not just liberals, but senior retired military and security officials, such as the four former directors of the Shin Bet domestic security service who in November 2003 warned the Sharon government that if Israel does not withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel's very existence will ultimately be endangered. They also said that this withdrawal is necessary even if it leads to a clash with Jewish settlers. According to one of the four, Avraham Shalom, "We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully We have turned into a people of petty fighters using the wrong tools."

In the words of former Knesset Speaker Avraharn Burg
"The Zionist revolution has always rested on two pillars: a just path and an ethical leadership. Neither of these is operative any longer. The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice. As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state in the Middle East, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly...
We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the A same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew. We cannot keep the territories and preserve a Jewish majority in the world's only Jewish state-not by means that are humane and moral and Jewish...
Do you want the greater Land of Israel? No problem. Abandon democracy. Let's institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages. Qalqilya Ghetto and Gulag Jenin...

Do you want democracy? No problem. Either abandon the greater Land of Israel, to the last settlement and outpost, or give full citizenship and voting rights to everyone, including Arabs. The result, of course, will be that those who did not want a Palestinian state alongside us will have one in our midst, via the ballot box.

Israel's friends abroad-Jewish and non-Jewish alike, presidents and prime ministers, rabbis and lay people-should choose as well. They must reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map toward our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality."

The Israeli lobby in the United States is well aware that the settlements-which have been condemned in principle by successive U.S. administrations-are by far the weakest element in its entire argument. Determined attempts have been made to distract attention from this issue, described in one advisory paper as "our Achilles heel" in terms of wooing U.S. public support."

Because of the way in which America and Israel are entwined spiritually, politically and socially, and because so many people in the world treat the Israeli-U.S. relationship as a litmus test of U.S. behavior, the choices that Israel makes will have very grave implications not only for the security of the United States and its Western allies, such as Britain, and for America's role in the world, but also perhaps for the political culture of the United States itself."

From an American point of view, Israel cannot be compared with Russia, China, or other authoritarian states which have waged crueler wars against national secessionist movements. The Israeli lobby makes this comparison repeatedly in an effort to prove that demands for U.S. pressure on Israel are hypocritical and/or anti-Semitic, because the authors of these demands do not ask that the United States apply similar pressure to states like Russia or China.

This argument, however, fails in both ethical and realist terms. Most U.S. and European critics of the U.S. relationship with Israel are not asking that the United States impose trade sanctions against Israel or expel it from international bodies, but only that the United States use its aid and support as a powerful lever to influence Israeli behavior: For most other states do not receive massive subsidies, military support and diplomatic protection from the United States. Israel as of 2004 receives more than a quarter of the entire U.S. aid budget (excluding that for the ' reconstruction of Iraq).

The figure for U.S. aid to Israel in 2002 was around six times that to the entire. desperately impoverished continent of Africa and ten times the proposed U.S. share of aid for the reconstruction of liberated Afghanistan-the latter being both a U.S. moral imperative and supposedly a vital U.S. strategic interest" This radical imbalance clearly makes Israel a special case. It makes the United States morally complicit in Israel's crimes, not only in the eyes of the world but in reality...

The nature of [the U.S. alliance with Israel] is a matter of concern not only to the United States but to any U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. If one thing must be apparent to all but the most prejudiced observers, it is that this war cannot be won-cannot even be waged-without strong support from Muslims. Even if the United States succeeds somehow in extricating itself from Iraq, it is extremely doubtful that thereafter it could successfully occupy even one more Muslim country, let alone the entire Muslim world. The United States can, of course, try to retire behind protective walls. If, however, these walls become indefinitely higher and higher, sooner or later they will begin to undermine the U.S. and world economies and America's cultural and political prestige in the world, and therefore the vital underpinnings of U.S. hegemony. The impact of Israeli behavior on the sentiments of Muslim societies is therefore of critical importance not just to the war on terrorism but to American power and America's success as a civilizational empire.

In the context of either a realist or an ethical international tradition, there is nothing wrong in a U.S. commitment to Israel based on a sense of cultural and ethnic kinship, nor in U.S. willingness to make geopolitical sacrifices for the sake of defending Israel. This, after all, was the position of Britain vis-à-vis its former White colonies long after they had become politically independent, and even when some had ceased to be real strategic assets.

In the case of Israel's role in the U.S.-Israel alliance, alas, a darker historical parallel suggests itself. If anything, the alliance is beginning to take on some of the same mutually calamitous aspects as Russia's commitment to Serbia in 1914, a great power guarantee which encouraged parts of the Serbian leadership to behave with criminal irresponsibility in their encouragement of irredentist claims against Austria, leading to a war which was ruinous for Russia, Serbia and the world.

One might almost say that as a result of the way in which the terms of the Israeli-U.S. alliance have become set, Israel and the United States have changed places. The United States, which should feel protected both by the oceans and by matchless military superiority, is cast instead in the role of an endangered Middle Eastern state which is under severe threat from terrorism and which also believes itself to be in mortal danger from countries with a tiny fraction of its power. Meanwhile, thanks largely to support from the United States, Israel has become a kind of superpower, able to defy its entire region and Europe as well. This situation is bad not only for the United States; it is terribly bad for Israel itself ... For Israel is not a superpower. It is rich and powerful, but it is still a small Middle Eastern country which will have to seek accommodations with its neighbors if it is ever to live in peace. Blind and largely unconditional U.S. support has enabled Israeli governments to avoid facing this fact, with consequences which prove utterly disastrous for Israel itself in the long run.

As a result of a combination of Israel and oil, the United States finds itself I pinned to a conflict-ridden and bitterly anti-American region in a way without precedent in its history. In all other regions of the world, the United States has been able either to help stabilize regional situations in a way which broadly conforms to its interests (Europe, Northeast Asia, Central America), or, if regional hostility is too great and the security situation too intractable, to withdraw (as from Mexico in 1917 and Indochina in the early 1970s).

If the result of U.S. entanglement in the Middle East is also unprecedented embroilment in a series of conflicts, then this is likely to severely damage not only U.S. global leadership, but the character of U.S. nationalism and even perhaps of U.S. democracy. Prolonged war may bitterly divide American society and create severe problems for public order, as it did during the Vietnam War; and it also may help push the U.S. government in the direction of secretive, paranoid, authoritarian and illegal behavior.

it may well be the difficulty of defending their position within the scope of basic liberal principles that explains in part the hysteria among Israeli partisans which too often surrounds-and suppresses-attempts at frank discussion of these issues in America, and which is one of the most worrying aspects of the U.S. foreign policy scene. Of course, the principal reason for this atmosphere is the appalling crime and the terrible memory of the Holocaust, and the effects of this memory in deterring criticism of Israel and creating a belief in the legitimacy of Israeli demands for absolute security. The image of the Holocaust has been used deliberately by the Israeli lobby to consolidate support for Israel in the United States and elsewhere; but it also emerges quite naturally and spontaneously from Jewish and Jewish American consciousness, and indeed that of any civilized and honorable citizen of the West.

However, whatever the natural, legitimate and understandable roots of unconditional loyalty to Israel, its effects often resemble wider patterns of nationalism in the world. One of the saddest experiences of visits to countries undergoing national disputes and heightened moods of nationalism is to meet with highly intelligent, civilized and moderate individuals whose capacity for reason and moderation vanishes as soon as the conversation touches on conflicts involving their own nation or ethnicity. Otherwise universally accepted standards of behavior, argument and evidence are suspended; facts are conjured from thin air; critics are demonized; wild accusations are leveled; and rational argument becomes impossible.

The Western European elites and many U.S. liberal intellectuals essentially decided that the correct response to Nazism and to the hideous national conflicts which preceded, engendered and accompanied it was to seek to limit, transcend and overcome nationalism. Hence the creation of common European institutions leading to the European Union and the great respect paid in Europe, and by many liberal Americans, to the United Nations and to developing institutions of international law and cooperation. Given the strong past connections between chauvinist nationalism and anti-Semitism (even to a degree in the United States) and the role of nationalism in Fascism, most of the Jewish diaspora intelligentsia naturally also identified with these attempts to overcome nationalism around the world.

However, given the failure of the Western world (including the United States) in the 1930s and 1940s to prevent genocide, or even-shamefully--to offer refuge to Jews fleeing the Nazis, it is entirely natural that a great many Jews decided that guarantees from the international community were not remotely sufficient to protect them against further attempts at massacre. They felt that, in addition, a Jewish national state was required, backed by a strong Jewish nationalism. This nationalism embodied strong and genuine elements of national liberation and social progressivism, akin to those of other oppressed peoples in the world, and it was from this that Zionism drew its powerful elements of moral nobility, as represented by such figures as Ahad Ha'am, Martin Buber and Nahum Goldmann.

Israel also developed a central importance for Jewish diaspora communities because of the decline of religious belief and practice, of ethnic traditions and of the Yiddish language concurrent with the steep rise of intermarriage. Due to these friends, these communities fear that they themselves may be in the process of dissolution . Judaism had always been what the German Jewish nineteenth-century poet Heinrich Heine called "the portable Fatherland of the Jews"; its eclipse threatened a form of soft extinction, unless a substitute could be found."

Jacques Torczyner of the Zionist Organization of America declared during the Carter Administration that "whatever the administration will want to do... the Jews in America will fight for Israel. It is the only thing we have to sustain our Jewish identity." Or according to religious historian Martin Marty: "As other bases of Jewish identity continued to dwindle... Israel progressively became the spiritual center of the American Jewish experience."

But although the bases for this sacralization of the nation were specifically, and tragically, Jewish, the advancement of nationalism as a substitute for fading religion and the transmogrification of religious passions into nationalist ones also form part of a wider pattern in nationalist history, one which in the past has contributed to national and international catastrophes: "Our most blooming life for Thy most withered tree, Germany!"

Unlike most other national senses of martyrdom, the Jewish sense was truly justified-unlike that of France after 1871 or Germany after 1918. But that fact has not saved many Jews from the pernicious results of such a sense of martyrdom in terms of nationalist extremism and self-justification-any more than it has the Armenians, for example. It has produced an atmosphere which has shaded into and tolerated the religious-nationalist fundamentalism of Israeli extremist groups and of ideological settlers in the Occupied Territories, as well as crude hatred of Arabs and Muslims.

Furthermore, while Zionism of course originated in the late nineteenth century and is a classic example of the modern "construction" of a nation, the Jewish ethnoreligious basis on which it originated represents the oldest and deepest "primordial" national identity in the world. As demonstrated by a series of clashes within Israel over the definition of who is a Jew, who can become a Jew and who has the right to decide these questions, this identity is a basis for nationalism which if not necessarily completely antithetical to notions of civic nationalism based on the American Creed, certainly has a complex and uneasy relationship to them; and this too is perceived by Muslim peoples to whom the United States wishes to spread its version of civic nationalism.

An appeal to religious and quasi-religious nationalist justifications for rule over Palestine was also implicit in the entire Zionist enterprise. Given the large majority of Palestinian Arabs throughout Palestine-even at the moment of the declaration of Israeli statehood in 1948-the claim to create a Jewish state in Palestine could not easily be justified on grounds of national liberation alone. It needed also to be backed by appeals to ancient ethnic claims and religious scripts and by civilizational arguments of superiority to the backward Arabs and "making the desert bloom?' These appeals could not be readily assented to by other peoples around the world, and indeed they made even many Western liberals think uneasily of their own nationalist and imperialist pasts. °

Following one original strand of Zionism, great Zionist leaders and thinkers such as Nahum Goldmann originally dreamed that Israel, like other civilized states, would also be anchored in international institutions and might even form part of a multiethnic federation with the Arab states of the Middle East, thereby resolving the dilemma in which Jewish diaspora liberalism found itself."

Tragically, the circumstances in which Israel was created made any such resolution of the Jewish intellectual and moral dilemma exceptionally difficult, and would have done so for any group in this position. The intention here is not to condemn or vilify, simply to point out the nature of the dilemma and the sad and dangerous consequences that have stemmed from it.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that if the Palestinian Arabs in the 1930s and 1940s had agreed that a large part of Palestine-where they were still a large majority and had until recently been an overwhelming one-should be given up to form the state of Israel, they would have been acting in a way which, as far as I am aware, would have had no precedent in all of human history. It is not as if intelligent and objective observers did not point this fact out at the time. As Hannah Arendt wrote in 1945, three years before Israeli independence, the war with the Arabs and the expulsion of the Palestinians:

American Zionists from left to right adopted unanimously, at their last annual convention held in Atlantic City in October 1944, the demand for a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth... which] shall embrace the whole of Palestine, undivided and undiminished."

... however one might condemn the Palestinians and Arabs for their long delay in coming to terms with the reality of Israel, to blame them for initially resisting that reality is to engage in moral and historical idiocy. While condemning the Arabs as demons, it suggests that they should have acted as saints. The tragedy of 1948 is not only that of a clash of valid rights, but also that neither ('side in the conflict could have acted otherwise. Years later former Israeli Foreign ) Minister Abba Bean (1905-2002) said just as much: "The Palestine Arabs, were it ) not for the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate, could have counted on eventual independence either as a separate state or in an Arab context acceptable to them .... It was impossible for us to avoid struggling for Jewish statehood and equally impossible for them to grant us what we asked. If they had 7 submitted to Zionism with docility, they would have been the first people in history to have voluntarily renounced their majority status.

Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University
"The Arabs bore sufficient guilt for the Holocaust and for supporting the wrong side during World War II to justify their contribution, as part of the losing side, in the rearrangement of territory and demography that inevitably follows a cataclysmic world conflict."

Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion himself is reported (by Nahum Goldmann) to have asked in private
'Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We came from Israel, it's true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?

Together with the establishment of the Jewish state came the war of 1948 and the expulsion of most of the Arab population of Palestine from the territories of the new Jewish state. So intolerable to the liberal conscience was this action, and so deeply did it seem to call into question the legitimacy of the new state, that for two generations it had to be denied, with absurd arguments being advanced instead-in the face of logic and both Palestinian and Jewish testimony-that the Palestinians had somehow fled voluntarily on the orders of the Arab governments and their own leaders. Indeed, some leading Israeli partisans in the United States are in essence still arguing this.

For my own part, although I deeply regret the human suffering caused by the expulsions of 1948,1 have never been especially shocked by them-if only because the facts were largely available, from Israeli sources quoted in various books, long before Israeli revisionist historians "revealed" from the late 1980s on that the expulsion of the Palestinians was in large part a process deliberately planned by the Israeli leadership and accompanied by numerous atrocities.' And with regret - and without in anyway endorsing the infamous collective guilt argument advanced by Dershowitz and others-I must on the whole accept Benny Morris's recent arguments that this cruel process was necessary if the state of Israel was to be established and its Jewish population to avoid renewed extermination or exile: "Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist .... Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here .... There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the twenty-first century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide-the annihilation of your people-I prefer ethnic cleansing."

This was after all the 1940s. At the end of World War II, some 12 million Germans were expelled from eastern Germany when these lands were annexed to Poland and Russia, and 3 million from Czechoslovakia, amid immense suffering, atrocity and loss of life. Hungarians were deported from Czechoslovakia and Rumania. And allied peoples also suffered. As Poles moved westward into former German lands, so millions were deported by Stalin into Poland from the Soviet Union, to create more ethnically homogenous populations in Soviet Lithuania, Byelorussia, and Ukraine. In 1947, a year before the creation of Israel and the expulsion of the Palestinians, more than 10 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims had fled from their homes, amid horrendous bloodshed, as a result of the partition of the British Indian empire. A generation earlier Greece and Turkey had conducted a great exchange of populations after repeated national conflicts involving great atrocities on both sides.

Horrible though these events were, they did in some ways lay the groundwork for a future absence of war, which is difficult to imagine if these populations had remained mixed up together. Certainly it is difficult to imagine how a Jewish state could possibly have been established and consolidated with such a huge and understandably hostile Palestinian minority. Finally, Israel does have a legitimate case that the subsequent expulsion to Israel of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries created a kind of rough justice between Israel and the Arab world.

Today it should also be quite clear that if one of the absolute preconditions for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is Israeli abandonment of many settlements in the Occupied Territories, the other is Palestinian abandonment of the "right of return" for those Palestinians who were expelled in 1948. 14 Note by contrast that I strongly support the Jewish "right of return" to Israel within the borders of 1967, as an ultimate fallback line in the event of a real return of anti-Semitism elsewhere in the world.

But while the expulsions may have been necessary for Israel's survival, the lies which they have generated over the succeeding generations, and which continue to this day, have been extremely dangerous for both Israel and the United States. It would have been far better if Israel and its partisans in the United States had-as Ben-Gurion did in private-accepted the truth of what happened in 1948 and then used it as the basis for thinking seriously about compensation and laying the foundations for future peace. Instead, the pro-Israel camp committed itself to an interlocking set of moral and historical falsehoods. Over time, the intellectual consequences of these positions have spread like a forest of aquatic weeds until they have entangled and choked a significant part of the U.S. national debate concerning relations not only with the Muslim world, but with the outside world in general, and thereby have fed certain strains of American nationalism.

To the refusal to consider the Palestinian case before 1948 and to acknowledge the expulsions of that year was added for several decades a widespread refusal even to admit the existence of the Palestinians as a people, with consequent national rights. Such an attitude was summed up in Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's notorious statement (echoed by innumerable Israeli partisans in the United States) that "it was not as though there was a Palestinian people and in Palestine considering itself a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."

Thus in 1978 Hyman H. Bookbinder of the American Jewish Committee denounced the Carter administration for even using the words "homeland" or "legitimate rights" with reference to the Palestinians. This meant in turn that the real bases of Arab grievances against Israel could not be considered, and Arab hostility had to be explained away either by inveterate hatred and malignity ("antiSemitism") or by the sinister and cynical machinations of Arab regimes.

Of course, both these elements have been present among enemies of Israel. But the necessity of making them the only real explanations for Arab and Muslim hostility led inexorably to the demonization of Arab and Muslim societies and culture-and later, by extension, of sympathizers with the Palestinians in Europe and elsewhere. Such demonization was by no means always a deliberate strategy of Israeli partisans. In many cases, the sin was rather one of omission. By keeping silent on the subject of what had happened to the Palestinians and on the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts, intellectual supporters of Israel left irrational, cynical and implacable hostility as the only available explanations of Arab behavior. Or as the Palestinian scholar and polemicist Edward Said has written, "To criticize Zionism... is to criticize not so much an idea or a theory but rather a wall of denials."

The position of the pro-Israeli liberal intelligentsia in the United States toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came somewhat to resemble the position of many enlightened mid-nineteenth-century Americans toward the clash between slavery and the American Creed, as described one hundred years ago by Herbert Croly: "The thing to do was to shut your eyes to the inconsistency, denounce anyone who insisted on it as unpatriotic, and then hold on tight to both horns of the dilemma. Men of high intelligence, who really loved their country, persisted in this attitude."

One result of this uneasy moral situation has been a tendency to launch especially vituperative attacks on anyone who draws attention to the radical inconsistencies between the stances of many American liberals on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the attitudes of the same people to other such conflicts. Backed by the tremendous institutional power of the Israeli lobby, this has had the effect of severely limiting discussion of the conflict in the United States. Reporting of the conflict is generally fair enough, but unlike the U.S. coverage of the Chechen wars, for example, it tends to lack all historical context, thereby allowing Palestinians to be portrayed simply as terrorists with no explanation of why they are fighting. Much more serious however is the general bias of the editorial pages toward partisans of Israel. Unconditional, hard-line partisans of Israel such as William Safire are given regular space even in the New York Times which emerged as a moderate critic of Likud policies and Bush administration support for them. By contrast, hard-line critics of Israel never appear..."

... Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations has written of the Palestinian demographic threat, in words which remind us of the falsity of claims concerning continued existential threats to Israel within the borders of 1967:
Morris's account points to the sorry fact there is not much that distinguishes how Jews behaved in 1948 in their struggle to achieve statehood from Palestinian behavior today. At the very least, this sobering truth should lead to a shedding of the moral smugness of too many Israelis and to a reexamination of their demonization of the Palestinian national cause.
The implication of the above for the territorial issue is that it would be irrational for Palestinians not to believe that the goal of Sharon's fence is anything other than their confinement in a series of Bantustans, if not a prelude to a second transfer
Unless Israelis are willing to preserve their majority status by imposing a South African-style apartheid regime, or to complete the transfer begun in 1948 (as Morris believes they will - policies which one hopes a majority of Israelis will never accept) - it is only a matter of time before the emerging majority of Arabs in Greater Israel will reshape the country's national identity. That would be a tragedy of historic proportions for the Zionist enterprise and for the Jewish people.
What will make the tragedy doubly painful is that it will be happening a time when changes in the Arab world and beyond... are removing virtually every strategic threat that for so long endangered Israel's existence. That existence is now threatened by the greed of the settlers and the political blindness of Israel's leaders."

A belief in the necessity of developing and eventually democratizing the Middle East if terrorism and extremism are to be defeated there is both correct and laudable. I" The widespread inability to readdress the U.S. relationship with Israel as part of this effort not only gravely undermines it in Arab eyes, but also adds to the confusion of American thought concerning the necessary bases of modernization-of which nationalism is one of the most important.

Amid U.S. professions of a desire for democracy in the region, U.S. administrations and much of the U.S. political class and media have treated the opinions of the vast majority of Arabs concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict and U.S. strategy in the region with open contempt. It is suggested that these feelings are the product of cynical manipulation by cynical Arab elites; but when relatively free, modern and liberal Arab media outlets like Al Jazeera reflect the same opinions, they are equally condemned. And in the matter of attitudes to Israel, ordinary Arabs are treated as at best deluded and ignorant sheep, at worst as filled with primeval, irrational malignancy.

Yet these are the people to whom the Bush administration professes to want to bring democracy and also declares are ready for democracy. Meanwhile, all too many American op-eds, essays and books which call for the democratization of the Middle East skirt round the question of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, condemn this treatment briefly and formally while devoting incomparably more space to Arab anti-Semitism, ignore this issue altogether, or simply take Israel's side.

In a book of 214 pages on the ideology and roots of Islamist totalitarianism, in which he bitterly condemns a range of Muslim targets and sections of the European Left, the self-described liberal Paul Berman devotes precisely two lines to a suggestion that America should act against "the manias of the ultra-Right in Israel"-not, it should be noted, against the Israeli government or state as such. Elsewhere, Berman espouses without qualification the view that all blame for the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 2000-01 lies with the Palestinians.'

By behaving in this way, such writers discredit themselves in the eyes of Muslims and Europeans; but their effect is also much worse than that. By suggesting to Muslims and others that on this issue liberal intellectuals in the United States, the supposed role model of international democracy, are motivated not by genuine democratic idealism but by ethnic chauvinism, moral cowardice or both, they undermine not only American prestige in the world but the democratic model they are seeking to propagate.

... the absolutist nature of the American Creed, with its ideological faith in Democracy and Freedom, tends to produce etherized, contentless versions of both these concepts. This tendency is strongly evident in the rhetoric of the Bush administration, with its talk of the "freedom-loving" people of wherever, and so on. In turn, by making democracy look both so universally applicable and so easy, this approach feeds American messianism and militant interventionism.

Within the United States today, and even more if one looks at the history of the nation or of other democratic states, two things are obvious: Our contemporary version of democracy has emerged only after long struggle among different races, ethnicities and social groups; and this struggle was often bloody, and not at all democratic in form. As the American historian Eric Foner has recorded, the concept of freedom has meant radically different and even contradictory things to different groups of Americans, and at different times in American history. Second, even today, democratic institutions and even judicial systems remain forums for competition between different ethnic and other groups-not only for power, but for the fruits of power in terms of the distribution of state patronage.

Yet when it comes to the world outside the United States, "democracy" is all too often treated not as a procedure, but as an end; not as a way of posing a set of questions about the state and society, but as an answer to those questions-and as a quick answer, which, once achieved, will allow the United States to pull out of a country again, leaving behind a stable and reliable U.S. ally. It is in part due to this mind-set that large sections of U.S. public opinion were convinced to support the Iraq War by the argument that this would bring democracy to Iraq as a prelude to democratizing the Middle East as a whole. In this discourse, the inevitable embitterment of the disempowered Sunni minority, ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds, the persistence of Shia religious networks as the last civic institutions left by Ba'ath totalitarianism, and the rivalries between these networks-all these perceptions were simply obliterated by the simple mantras of "democracy" and "freedom?"

Most important of all in this context is the way in which too many commentators have forgotten the very frequent and important connection between nationalism and the birth both of mass politics and of successful socioeconomic development. This obliviousness stems in part from wider failings of analysis which are by no means restricted to the United States. It is in America, however, and especially with regard to the Middle East, that the failure to appreciate this link has achieved its most dangerous proportions.

This blank spot in much of U.S. thought stems in part from the etherealization of democracy mentioned above, in part from the difficulty that all nationalist countries have in appreciating other people's nationalisms, and in part from the U.S. inability to focus on the role of Israel both in fomenting Arab anger and in focusing wider Arab and Muslim frustrations and resentments on Israel and the United States: "The hidden [U.S.] agenda most commonly identified by Arab writers is the [alleged] United States' decision to allow Israel to control the region and to give Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carte blanche in dealing with the Palestinian territories and the Intifada."

As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues as a full-scale national struggle, Arab westernizers will go on being discredited as traitors, Arab nationalism will go on working against reform and all the worst elements of Arabic and Muslim political culture will continue to be fed and nurtured.

Unfortunately, strong elements in the Israeli lobby in the United States appear to be using the language of democratization precisely as a way of evading or even permanently blocking a just and stable Israeli-Palestinian peace. This fact emerges quite clearly from the already mentioned 1996 "A Clean Break" by several future Bush administration officials, which originated this approach in the Israeli lobby and the U.S. establishment. This paper combined its strategy of "democratizing" the Middle East with the fantastic proposal that a U.S. invasion of Iraq be used to restore the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq."'

In October 2003 Frank Gaffney (of the Center for Security Policy in Washington) declared:
Authoritarian and for that matter totalitarian regimes have a compelling need for external enemies. This is particularly true because in the absence of external justifications for their generally very repressive domestic behavior, there's no other way to justify the suffering that is entailed on their population, particularly the failure-the manifest failure-of their economic and social policies.

I believe, having said that, that even if there were no West, no United States, no Israel, you would have these same imperatives of external enemies for domestic consumption driving bloodletting in the Middle East and making our world a more dangerous place .... This ought to inform the policies we pursue, especially as we are told endlessly that if only we make Israel make territorial concessions to its Palestinian Arab neighbors, that will end the problem. It won't end the problem between Israel and the Palestinians, let alone transform this region into the sort of peaceful arena we hope it would be.'

The argument is entirely clear: that Israeli territorial concessions are irrelevant to Israeli- Palestinian peace and Arab attitudes to Israel and the United States, and that in any case no peace is possible until the Arab and Muslim worlds become

fully democratic-in other words, at some point so far in the future that it is not worth even discussing. Although Gaffney is a neoconservative radical, the same dynamic seems to be at work with some self-described liberals like Paul Berman, to judge by the complete lack of any balance in the attention they pay to Israeli and Arab policies.

The sincerity of some of these democratic advocates is also highly questionable when it comes to the promotion of democracy and freedom. In 2002 I attended a discussion at the State Department on this subject. Confronted with the evidence of strong opposition to U.S. policies toward Israel and Iraq on the part of ordinary Arabs, a leading U.S. partisan of Israel and critic of Arab tyranny replied that it did not matter, as the United States had more than enough force to crush any Arab opposition, whether from states or peoples: "Let them hate us, as long as they fear us' he declared. Oderint dum metuant: the motto of that distinguished humanitarian democratizer, the emperor Caligula.

In the articles for the New Yorker magazine that brought the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere into the open, Seymour Hersh attributes part of the philosophy behind the interrogation techniques to a book by an Israeli and American cultural anthropologist, Professor Raphael Patai, called The Arab Mind. This work is characterized by deep contempt for Arab culture and traditions, and was described by Hersh's official sources as "the bible of the neoconservatives on Arab behavior." From it, they said, members of the Bush administration drew beliefs that Arabs only understand force and that their greatest weakness is sexual shame. Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books also suggested that the methods used to "soften up" the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere reflected not just random sadism but an analysis of Arab culture.

The combination of these attitudes to Arabs on the part of the neoconservatives with their loudly professed belief in democratizing the Arab world is one for which terms such as "hypocrisy" and "cognitive dissonance" are quite inadequate. This is Orwellian doublethink, an offense against fundamental human standards of intellectual decency. That such an incoherent and morally repellent mixture could be taken seriously and exert influence on U.S. policy and the U.S. national debate reveals starkly the hideous muddle into which American thinking about the Muslim world has fallen.

In the Middle East, therefore, American policy at the start of the twenty-first century is an attempt to combine the promotion of values and behavior among Arabs based on the American Creed and American civic nationalism with support for an Israeli state whose policies are based on the American antithesis: strong and exclusive ethnoreligious nationalism, a dominant militarist ethic and rule over another people based on a mixture of claims none of which is related to universalist liberal values.

For all their faults, the American Creed and American civic nationalism, and the American democratic system which they sustain, are a great force for civilization in the world. Within the United States, they have up to now provided what might be called America's self-correcting mechanism, which has saved the nation from falling into authoritarian rule or a permanent state of militant chauvinism.

Periods of intense nationalism-such as the panic leading to the passage of the Aliens and Sedition Act in the 1790s, the Know-Nothings of the 1840s, the antiGerman hysteria of World War I, the anti-Japanese chauvinism of World War II and McCarthyism in the 1950s-have been followed by a return to a more tolerant and pluralist equilibrium. Chauvinist and bellicose nationalism, although always present, has not become the U.S. norm and has not led to democratic institutions being replaced by authoritarian ones. Moreover, imperialist tendencies in the United States have been restrained by the belief, stemming from the Creed, that America does not have and should not have an empire; as well as by isolationism and an unwillingness to make the sacrifices required to have an empire.

Given the power of the American Creed in American society, there are good grounds to hope that this self-correcting mechanism will continue to operate in future. Indeed, by the middle of 2004 the wilder ambitions of the Bush administration had already been considerably reduced as a result of public disquiet over the aftermath of the war in Iraq and of the fundamental rationality of the greater part of the American establishment.

However, there are also grounds for concern that in the future this self-correcting mechanism may fail, and America be drawn in a more and more chauvinist direction. The reasons for this can be summed up by saying that in the past, the United States went out to shape the world, while being itself protected from the world.

Militarily, it was protected by the oceans. Economically, it was protected by the immense strength and dominance of the American economy. Hence in no small part the unique American combination of power, omnipresence, idealism, innocence and ignorance vis-a-vis the rest of humanity. This happy situation is no longer the case. The first change is obviously that like most other countries in the twenty-first

... A monstrous terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland has now occurred. It whipped aspects of American nationalism to fury, and this fury was then directed by a U.S. administration against quite different targets. If attacks like 9/11 are repeated, / chauvinist nationalism may become a permanently dominant feature of the United States, with everything that this would mean for the country's international behavior, for the prestige of the American system in the world and indeed for the American system at home.

If, as seems all too likely, more such attacks do occur, the mood of the American population could become one of a permanent state of siege and atmosphere of war, with civil liberties restricted and chauvinist politicians fishing assiduously for opportunities in the stew. In this context, it should be remembered that vigilantism and racial justice on the U.S. Frontier ended only with the Frontier itself. The atmosphere of racial fear and a belief in potential conflict in the South also lasted for by far the greater part of American history and ended only when the Southern racist system was overthrown by intervention from the rest of the nation in the mid-twentieth century. September 11 knocked U.S. pluralist democracy off balance. Further terrorist attacks might increase the tilt and make it permanent. In the very worst of outcomes, such attacks could one day capsize the whole American democratic ship of state.

In the Middle East ... the United States appears hopelessly and permanently bound to an unstable, violent and hostile region by two immensely strong ties. The first is the defense of the American Way of Life as presently defined, insofar as this has come to be associated with the gas-consuming automobile. This requires continued American access to cheap and guaranteed supplies of oil, most of which for the foreseeable future will come from the Middle East. The second is the American attachment to Israel, which involves the United States in a national struggle with Arab nationalism and Muslim radicalism-also, so it would seem, for the foreseeable future.

... the fact that lower middle classes tend to vote according to culture and class self-image rather than class interest is a very well-established one historically. So too is the fact that this self-image has usually included nationalism, and that the more embattled the middle classes become, the more radical their nationalism tends to become.

Faced with the economic upheaval and misery of the early 1930s, America elected a great democratic reformer and defender of civilization, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and developed the New Deal. The responses of other countries were much darker and grimmer. Of course, the social effects of changes in the U.S. economy are much more ambiguous and above all very much slower than those of the Slump on various countries after 1929. Nonetheless, history has given us plenty of unpleasant examples of the effect on middle-class political behavior even of slow and partial decline.

If the middle classes continue to crumble, they may therefore take with them one of the essential pillars of American political stability and moderation. As in European countries in the past, such a development would create the perfect breeding ground for radical nationalist groups and for even wilder dreams of "taking back" America at home and restoring the old moral, cultural and possibly racial order. Such developments might lead to unrestrained strikes against America's enemies abroad, or they might lead to isolationism. Or, if past patterns are anything to go by, they might lead to first the one and then the other. This would be a dangerous scenario for America and for the world as can easily be imagined.

In the past, because America was so victorious, so isolated and so protected, even most American intellectuals never had to reflect on their own nationalism in the way that was forced on Europeans by the disasters of the twentieth century.

... American elites should have both more confidence in and more concern for the example their country sets to the world, through their institutions, their values and the visible well-being of ordinary Americans. This example forms the basis of America's "soft power" and makes possible a form of U.S. hegemony by consent. These institutions and values constitute America's civilizational empire, heir to that of Rome. Like the values of Rome, they will endure long after the American empire, and even the United States itself, has disappeared. The image of America as an economically successful pluralist democracy, open to all races and basically peaceful and nonaggressive, has been so powerful in the past because it has largely been true. Americans must make sure that it continues to be true.

America Right or Wrong

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