This paper was written in response to certain persons whose strict “Marxist” interpretation of the world – seeing imperialism as caused solely by capitalist economic interests – can prevent them from fully recognizing important ideological factors of political causality.
Marx said that philosophers had only interpreted the world, but the point was to change it.
“Interpreting the world” in strictly Marxist scholastic terms can be an obstacle to trying to change it. This may be why Marx said he was not a “Marxist”. The political effort to change the world requires more than theory. It calls for readiness to grasp facts and mass psychological factors that offer handles to educating the public (or “raising class consciousness”, as Marxists prefer to say), in order to exploit points of political vulnerability in ruling class projects.
The case of the “pro-Israel lobby” illustrates this.
In Marx’s time there was no Israel and no “pro-Israel lobby”, and so neither Marx nor Hegel nor even Lenin could have analyzed the phenomenon. But Marx was a journalist as well as a theoretician, and it is not far fetched to say that were Marx alive and active today, he would not ignore the political effects of the pro-Israel lobby.
To use Marxist terms, today the ideological superstructure projected by capitalist relations of production is also very different from what it was a century and a half ago. Religious repression has been replaced by hedonistic distraction. Moral authorities have been replaced by the ubiquitous mass media and entertainment industry, projecting images of an alternative reality clearly designed to influence both the self-images of subservient classes and their vision of a dangerous outside world, in order to prevent massive opposition to social injustice at home and aggressive military enforcement of American global hegemony.
The imperialist project is fundamentally contrary to the interests not only of the working class, but increasingly of the middle class as well, including sectors of small business and capitalist enterprises targeting the domestic market, whether in goods or services. But people are often more influenced by their emotions and their moral sense than by their economic self-interest. The ruling class propaganda machine exploits emotions and moral sensibility, with tales of murderous “dictators” and appeals to defend “human rights” and “democracy” in unfamiliar countries.
The notion that the inherent contradictions in capitalist production will cause the system to collapse had not been confirmed by reality, especially since capitalism thrives on the creative aspect of contradictions. Waiting for these contradictions to destroy capitalism is a very long wait. However, political action can thrive on spotting and exploiting contradictions in the imperialist propaganda narrative. And this is essential for building popular opposition to the U.S.-led global hegemonic project whose endless wars appear increasingly to be leading toward nuclear apocalypse.
One of these contradictions which is a potential weak point in the ideological superstructure justifying wars is the pro-Israel influence on foreign policy in the United States, and also in European NATO countries.
The Role of the Israel Lobby
In the United States, there is no problem using the term “lobby”, since lobbyists constitute a considerable portion of the Washington social scene. Legitimately, lobbyists are there to plead for a cause, but increasingly, they add “campaign contributions” to their arguments, to such an extent that almost the entire Congress is working not for just one lobby but for several.
Hillary Clinton speaking to the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference.
The two most notorious lobbies in terms of financial contributions are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The influence of the NRA is both financial and ideological. Its lawyers have managed to persuade the courts of an absurd interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which reads:
“A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
To any sensible person with a minimum understanding of history, it is obvious that the purpose of this amendment was to protect an organized right to bear arms, and not the right of every individual, sane or insane, to wander the streets and school grounds brandishing automatic weapons. The idea back in 1791 was to prevent the Federal Government from imposing military rule on the States, and to nullify a traditional aristocratic privilege. Thanks to the propagandistic work of the lobby and its supporters, “the right to bear arms” as an individual right has become practically a dogma in the United States, which far from protecting individuals from tyranny, allows themselves to kill each other in record numbers and to be gunned down all the more readily by police who “feel threatened” by the slightest gesture of a “suspect” – even for a minor traffic violation. Economically, the NRA lobby benefits the arms manufacturers, but has long been tolerated by the public because of its ideological justification in terms of “individual liberties” – an ideological superstructure that is currently being challenged by a movement of high school students fed up with being massacred in their classrooms.
In the United States, both the financial and ideological influence of the Israel lobby is enormous, but on foreign rather than domestic policy. The evidence of this is blatantly obvious and massively documented, and can be illustrated by the repeated standing ovations by the U.S. Congress to Benjamin Netanyahu precisely at a time when he was in open opposition to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
The military industrial complex dominates the U.S. economy. Its very survival demands wars to justify its existence.
U.S. imperial wars require pretexts. This is where Israel comes in.
Many observers have pointed to resemblances between the historic and religious myths of Israel and the United States: settler nations “chosen by God” with the divine right to drive out the indigenous peoples, and with an infinite sense of being morally superior to their neighbors: “the only democracy in the Middle East”, or the “exceptional shining city on the hill”.
Intellectual advocates of Greater Israel, many of them with double American-Israeli nationality, usually designated as “neo-conservatives”, have vigorously and successfully exploited these mythical points of resemblance in order to construct an ideology of “exceptionalism” which provides the superstructure of American globalizing capitalism at its most aggressive. The main vehicle of this influence has been the “think tanks”, the privately funded research centers in Washington that create the propaganda echoed by mainstream media and politicians. Take the example of the Brookings Institution, which until about twenty years ago, was considered relatively “liberal” in the American sense, potentially critical of military expansion. But then Brookings accepted a record donation of thirteen million dollars from Israeli-American billionaire HaimSaban and in 2002 responded by establishing the Saban Center for Middle East Studies, which of course promotes the pro-Israel line in Congress and the media. Note that Saban was the primary donor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, while another Israeli billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, successful bet on Trump. Their influence is undeniable all the more since both of them boast about it.
All of this is as far from a “plot” or a “conspiracy” as you can get, since it is all perfectly open. Israeli leaders do not hesitate to brag about their influence on U.S. policy.
The political point is not that Israel “created U.S. imperialism”, which of course has its roots in the 19th century wars to wrest control of former Spanish colonies, both in Central America and in the Philippines, all in the name of a glorious “manifest destiny”.
The political point about the Israel lobby is that it is potentially a particularly vulnerable element in the propaganda narrative, a point that, if denounced, could contribute to building popular opposition to U.S. imperialism.
Most Americans are no longer pioneers, and their religious convictions are weakening. This development is hidden by the apparent growth in influence of Evangelical Christian sects. This is due primarily to a Republican Party strategy to win over Southern states by catering to the religious views of poorly educated sectors of the populations in the region. The Evangelical narrative of “the Rapture” is certainly considered nonsense by U.S. ruling classes and has absolutely no influence on their policy-making, although it may be exploited to gain support. What does have an influence is the prospect of a big United States and a little Israel hand in hand dictating the world’s political and economic order.
But just as the excess of school massacres is producing a popular movement against NRA policies, the obvious influence of the Israel lobby is beginning to encounter open opposition. And the U.S. imperialist narrative is so tied to Israel that if support for Israel collapsed, it would deal a serious blow to the “superstructure” or propaganda narrative used to sell militarism and war to the American people.
On the eve of massive joint U.S. Israeli military maneuvers this month, U.S. Third Air Force commander Lt.Gen. Richard Clark (image on the right) reassured the Jerusalem Post that U.S. ground troops would be ready to risk their lives for Israel.
“We are ready to commit to the defense of Israel and anytime we get involved in a kinetic fight there is always the risk that there will be casualties. But we accept that, as in every conflict we train for and enter, there is always that possibility,” Clark told the Post.
Dying for Israel is unlikely to be a wildly popular prospect among Americans, who might wonder why heavily armed, U.S.-subsidized, nuclear-power Israel can’t defend itself.
In short, a political campaign denouncing the Israel lobby, which is directly responsible for unanimous pro-Israel votes in Congress, for billions of dollars appropriated to Israel every year, and for dragging the U.S. into Middle East “wars for Israel”, would have the best chance of building serious political opposition to a military buildup that threatens to lead to a major clash with Russia. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.
But what obstructs such a campaign, which certainly can’t be mounted by mainstream media, but must come from the grass roots?
The left. Or large sectors of a very weakened left.
On the one hand, there are those (self-styled Trotskyists in particular) who like to fancy that every uprising anywhere, for whatever reason, must be the start of a “revolution”, and who confound Islamic fanatics with Spanish Republicans and are ready to support all measures taken against “dictators” (who in the Middle East turn out to be exclusively Israel’s chosen enemies). And there are also those who cry that one absolutely must not denounce the Israel lobby because anything that sounds like “the Jewish lobby” can only be a revival of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s which led to the Holocaust.
Finally, the role of the lobby is hotly denied by certain more or less dogmatic Marxists, who maintain that imperialism can only be the product of economic interests, such as oil pipelines, and who dismiss ideological factors as trivial.
It is clear that the Israeli lobby is able to exert an extraordinary influence on the quality and direction of U.S. imperialism precisely because, for over a generation, the mere hint of “anti-Semitism” is enough to destroy a person’s reputation, career and even friendships. Jews and Zionists are not the same thing, but it is in the interest of Israel to insist that they are, which is a way of shielding Israel – and its lobby – from effective criticism. All that is needed to shut people up is to insist that mentioning the “lobby” is a step toward reopening Auschwitz.
This attitude is not only mistaken, it is precisely what is fostering anti-Jewish feeling.
Denunciation of the Israel lobby has nothing in common with the attacks on the alleged “Judeo-Masonic lobby” and its alleged “plots” back in the 1930s.
In those days, a large number of Jews were engaged in progressive causes, defending the Spanish Republic, fighting for equal rights for African-Americans, playing an important role in labor unions. The 1930s attacks on “Judeo-Bolshevism” or “the Judeo-Masonic plot” came from a reactionary rightthat attacked Jews precisely because they were a key element of the left.
Today, there is nothing progressive about Zionism, with its ethnic claims of Jewish privilege, or about Israel as it wages its endless war of attrition against the Palestinian inhabitants of the land its has arrogated to itself.
Jews themselves are sharply divided. It is true that many have been wooed away from progressive causes by the Zionist illusion. But many remain active as a positive force for equality, social justice and peace.
Israel has no right to speak for “all Jews” or to claim that criticism of Israel is “anti-Semitic”. That claim is a form of hostage taking – Zionists hide behind the Jewish martyrs to Nazism.
So long as the left, with its somewhat contrived bad conscience, refuses to insist on that distinction, the identification of Jews with Zionism – originating with the Zionists – is being taken up by two wings of the emerging right – emerging precisely because the left is declining as a result of its lack of intellectual rigor and political courage.
On the one hand, part of the far right, which sees clearly that Israel is a reactionary, racist state, are hastening to proclaim their support for Netanyahu and his policies.
On the other hand, a tour of the Internet shows that a growing number of bloggers accept the identification of Jews with Israel, considering its obvious strong political influence in Congress and the media, as evidence that “Jews rule the world”. This idea grows precisely because it is taboo and cannot be debated publicly.
Especially in Europe, for obvious reasons, fear of being labeled “anti-Semitic” is particularly strong, and stands in the way of recognizing the existence of an Israeli “lobby”. The very word is taboo because of its irrelevant historic connotations. The United States could not pursue aggressive military policy in the Middle East and against Russia without the existence of NATO and the support of Europeans leaders. This fear in Europe of being identified with past persecution of Jews is an element that preserves NATO and leads the world into catastrophic war.
We are not living in the time of Marx, nor in the 1930s, nor in the 1940s. The manifestations of imperialism have altered considerably and offer their own ideological weak points. The Israel lobby is one of these. It is a serious error to shy away from this attack, either on the grounds that “the lobby” is not a sufficient cause of imperialism, or from fear of being falsely stigmatized as complicit with the crimes of an earlier generation.
To change the world, one must live in the present.