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July 28, 2010

Petras on Zionist influence

Reuel S. Amdur

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A book review. War Crimes in Gaza and the Zionist Fifth Column in America, James Petras, Atlanta, Clear Day Books, 2010.

I guess I was beaten to the punch.  I compared the behavior of North American “official” Zionists and their relationship to Israel to that of Communist parties around the world to the old Soviet Union.  No criticism, no deviation.  Well, Petras was there first.

Petras refers to the Communist parties’ behavior during the 1930's, during the Soviet   show trials.  However, the analogy holds good for much longer. 

The cracks in world Communist solidarity only began to appear with China’s break with the Soviet Union, widening slightly with the Tito split, and then widening more broadly with Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin and with the Hungarian uprising. 

It is hard to predict what upheavals might cause “official” Zionist support for Israel to fracture.

He discusses extensively the impact of Zionist power and influence on media and on American politicians, power and influence exercised with considerable success on behalf of Israel and its policies and behavior. 

This is a story that needs telling. 

However, he overestimates their ability to get Israel’s will implemented.  Important as their impact is, they have not, for example, managed to spring Jonathan Pollard from his cell in a federal penitentiary, where he continues to receive rent-free accommodation as a result of his spying for Israel. 

Unfortunately, Petras paints with far too wide a brush. 

He explains Zionism’s attractiveness to prejudice on the part of Jews–Jews as a chosen people. 

While Jews may see themselves as special, so do all kinds of other people, Americans in particular, for example. 

The appeal of Zionism for Jews has a much  sadder explanation.

Zionism, prior to World War II, was a minority movement among Jews.  In Poland, for example, Jews voted for the anti-Zionist Bund, a socialist party whose nationalism was non-territorial. 

It was the Holocaust that gave Zionism its wings, not Jewish hubris. 

Petras does not appear to be a man for subtleties.  He mentions anti-Zionist Jews as a challenge to the “official” Zionist organizations, but they see the anti-Zionists as a pin prick. 

What simply drives them and Israel into apoplexy are groups such as J Street and their European counterpart.  These Zionists do not toe the party line and threaten unity. 

Petras begins his volume with the executive summary of the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.  Goldstone is a Zionist.

While Petras is certainly right to be critical of the Obama administration’s support of Israel, he fails to appreciate the difference between the Obama support and that of the Bush White House. 

Obama’s pro-Israel tilt is clearly less extreme, and he has pressured Israel to make concessions, that Bush never would have. 

He has also increased efforts to reach out to Palestine and to Muslims generally.

Hilary Clinton’s declaration against settlement expansion hardly ranks her as, in Petras’ words, an “uber-Zionist.” 

Petras suspects that Rahm Emmanuel has “ties to Mossad,” but when Emmanuel took his son to Israel for his bar mitzvah the hostile reaction he faced prevented the ceremony being held at the Wailing Wall.  He was seen, rightly, as trying to put the brakes on Israeli expansionism.  It is precisely J Street’s support for the more moderate position of the Obama administration and its officials that drives the “official” Zionists up the wall.

And is the war in Iraq “Israel’s war,” as Petras claims? 

George W. Bush and his cronies wanted that war from the get-go.  They were not out to get Saddam to please Israel.  Rather, it was part of a plot to strengthen American hegemony in the Middle East.  While a strong Israel and the elimination or weakening of Israel’s enemies were part of the plan, it is a gross exaggeration to call the illegal invasion of Iraq “Israel’s war.”

Uri Avnery is quoted about the publicly declared decision to expand Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem made during the visit of Vice-President Joseph Biden. 

Israel, he said, “spat in the face of the President.”  Petras makes it sound as if the announcement was a deliberate insult by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.  In fact, on the contrary, it was the action of officials even more extreme than Netanyahu, as much a spit in Netanyahu’s face. 

However, to mix metaphors, once the horse was out of the barn Netanyahu was forced to ride it.  He would have much preferred to wait a few weeks till after Biden had left to make his move.  He did not choose to insult Biden.  Netanyahu may be vicious but he is not a total fool.

Petras is wrong as well in labeling all the West Bank Jews as “fanatical paramilitary settlers.”  Indeed, some are.  However, the Israeli government enticed Jewish settlement by providing handsome incentives in the form of subsidized, inexpensive housing.  Many Jews in the West Bank are simply taking advantage of a good deal, albeit at the expense of the Palestinians. 

So then we come to Petras’ solution.

A militant American working class must be mobilized to defeat Zionism.  The precipitous decline in the union movement in the United States might give pause to such a recipe.  On top of that, it is far-fetched to suppose that any working class movement could be mobilized simply on the basis of opposition to Zionism.

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