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Joel Kovel: Overcoming Impunity

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    Overcoming Impunity by: Joel Kovel January - March 2009 The Link - Volume 42, Issue 1 June 8, 1967. Israeli warplanes and boats attack the USS Liberty as it
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2009
      Overcoming Impunity
      by: Joel Kovel
      January - March 2009
      The Link - Volume 42, Issue 1

      June 8, 1967. Israeli warplanes and boats attack the USS Liberty as
      it sits in international waters off the coast of Gaza, killing 34
      seamen, wounding another 137, and leaving the high-tech surveillance
      vessel in ruins. President Lyndon B. Johnson calls off a rescue
      mission and issues orders that nothing further is to be said about
      the incident. To this day it is the only peacetime attack on a U.S.
      naval vessel that Congress refuses to investigate.

      That's impunity.

      March 16, 2003. A D-9 bulldozer, made by Caterpillar in the United
      States and bought by Israel with U.S. taxpayer money, crushes
      American citizen Rachel Corrie as she tries to prevent its demolition
      of a Palestinian home in Rafah, Gaza. Rachel is wearing an orange
      flak-jacket, and speaking into a bull-horn under a cloudless sky—yet
      the Israeli military claimed that its driver could not see her and
      that she slipped on debris roiled up by the bulldozer. No protest is
      launched from the U.S. State Department, nor is one generated from
      within Congress, which shortly afterwards passed yet another
      resolution pledging near-unanimous and unconditional support for the
      state of Israel. To this day, no action has been taken against
      Rachel's murderers.

      Israel lives and breathes impunity.

      • It clandestinely built a nuclear arsenal with full knowledge of the
      U. S. and in flagrant violation of America's stipulated goal of
      checking nuclear proliferation. Israel has refused to acknowledge its
      arsenal or to join any international covenants for the regulation and
      restriction of nuclear weapons. But while the U.S. government,
      politicians and mainstream media obsess over a future nuclear threat
      from Iran, the present menace of Israel's nuclear weapons goes

      • The candidates for the 2008 presidential election vied with one
      another over who is the better friend of Israel. In May 2008, Barack
      Obama went to Washington where he pandered to the American Israel
      Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), promising the Jewish state even
      more impunity, including undivided sovereignty over Jerusalem.
      Accompanying him on that trip was Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel,
      a fervid Zionist, who had volunteered to assist the Israel Defense
      Forces during the 1991 Gulf War, and whose father was a member of the
      Jewish terrorist group, the Irgun. Six months later, Rahm Emanuel
      became President-elect Obama's first political appointment as chief
      of staff.

      • Meanwhile, Israel has been shielded from censure by more than 40
      U.S. vetoes of U.N. resolutions and it continues to flout resolutions
      that variously demand the right of return of Palestinian refugees,
      the cessation of its occupation of Palestine after the 1967 war, or
      the taking down of the so-called "Separation Wall," a monstrosity
      whose ostensible purpose is checking Palestinian terror, and whose
      actual effect is to steal yet more Palestinian land, separate
      Palestinians from each other and their meager croplands, and keep
      them out of view of Israelis—in short, the Wall seals off the West
      Bank into a giant prison. Meanwhile Gaza has become the example par
      excellence of collective punishment, one of the gravest violations of
      human rights. Israel knows it can thumb its nose at international law—
      and the principle of law—because it can count on the backing of the
      U.S. superpower, even when that superpower itself is attacked by
      Israel, as happened in 1967.

      Impunity is license to do as one pleases, knowing that there will be
      neither restraint before nor punishment after the act. It is a
      conduit to nihilism, that is, a moral degeneration in which
      everything is permitted and nothing is true. It is the absolute
      corruption that comes with absolute, unchecked power. This is most
      pronounced in the occupation of Palestine, where impunity is so
      marked, the balance of forces so one-sided, and the conflict so
      prolonged. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a culture medium
      for atrocity, which occurs at the far side of silence. When those who
      should speak hold back, the perpetrator loses his way and falls into
      a moral abyss. The silence which permits this in the case of Israel
      is largely made, like D-9 bulldozers, in the United States, Israel's
      giant patron and protective shield.

      As a citizen of the United States and a Jew descended from Russian-
      Ukrainian immigrants, I perceived this wanton criminality as a
      betrayal of the moral identity of the Jewish people, whose wanderings
      across the globe were a veritable chronicle of the impunity of the
      powerful. The impunity of Israel, its complicity in the injustices
      wrought by the United States, all with collusion by great portions of
      its Jewish community, filled me with shame and provoked outrage. I
      came to reject the tribalized identity of the Jew as perpetual
      victim, but retained and tried to cultivate that portion of my
      heritage which stood for the universality of humankind.

      Although I spent a great portion of my adult life in movements
      against racism, war, U.S. imperialism, the corruptions of media and
      mass culture, and—with special emphasis in recent years—the
      ecological ravaging of the earth, I remained relatively quiet about
      Israel itself until the year 2000. This was not for lack of aversion
      to Israeli policies, nor did I fear the accusation of anti-semitism,
      the identification of which with criticism of Israel I had always
      regarded as tedious, albeit pernicious, nonsense. My reticence
      stemmed, rather, from certain family conflicts. When the individuals
      concerned in these—chiefly my mother—passed away, my political
      development in this sphere resumed and, as if to make up for lost
      time, gathered speed.

      The brutality of Israel's response to the Second Intifada, which
      began in late September 2000, pushed the process into the open. I
      resolved to be one who would speak out and not hold back, and began
      publishing articles critical of Israel. In 2003, infuriated by the
      murder of Rachel Corrie and encouraged by the support of people like
      Edward Said, I expanded the project into a book-length study. This
      became "Overcoming Zionism," published in 2007, about which more will
      be said later.

      In the course of my studies, the problem posed by Israel seemed less
      the particular offenses of the Occupation or of Israeli foreign
      policy than of Zionism itself, the defining logic of the Jewish state
      and its central dynamic. Having been a physician I was accustomed to
      think in terms of an underlying disease pattern as the generator of
      manifest symptomatology. Accordingly, Zionism is the world-historical
      disease of Jewry in the present epoch. It is the structural disorder
      that drives ethnocentric chauvinism, ethnic cleansing of indigenous
      people, structural racism—and also the peculiar moral logic that
      shapes the Zionist power structure in the United States and
      configures its impunity. There is a "bad conscience" to Zionism,
      which results as the ancient identity of the Jew as the ethically
      superior perpetual victim encounters the endless transgressions
      required to construct Zionism's dream of a Jewish state in historic
      Palestine. Played out within the circumstances of Israel's great
      patron, the United States, this becomes the manufacturer of Israel's

      The Architecture of Moral Silencing
      The relationship between the United States and Israel is surely one
      of the most peculiar in all history. A major aspect of this is that
      the United States has become a country in which serious criticism of
      another country, Israel, is largely forbidden. To say this is not to
      claim that criticism is impossible—after all, this essay is part of
      the United States political culture and is based on such criticism,
      as is the work of AMEU. But there is a kind of prevailing wind that
      marginalizes criticism, instills fear, and imposes penalties for
      speaking out. A certain toleration for criticism is allowed, as
      befits a liberal society. But this is set about with taboos, and
      signposts arise to warn the unwary: Do not call into question the
      right of Israel to exist. Do not commit the sin of anti-semitism. Do
      not go too far. Do not call Zionism itself into question.

      It has been widely observed that it is much easier to criticize
      Israel from within Israel than from within the United States. This
      should not be overstated—the great historian Ilan Pappe was
      essentially driven out of his native land because his epochal
      critique, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," went too far in
      demolishing the founding myths of the state; but the observation is
      real enough. Thus the ferocity of suppression of anti-Israel
      criticism in the United States greatly exceeds that in Israel itself.
      Indeed, the criticism America allows of itself is far greater than
      what it allows for Israel.

      This would not be so were it not for the extreme dependence of Israel
      on the United States, a support that requires billions of dollars and
      the most sophisticated military aid, along with the effective
      silencing of criticism as the precondition for aid. American support
      of Israel would be withdrawn or vastly reduced if key groups within
      this country or the population at large began to think ill of the
      Jewish state. The peculiar relationship, therefore, would collapse
      like the proverbial house of cards were criticism freely allowed. And
      once that went, the state of Israel would very likely become
      radically transformed. It follows that the impunity granted Israel by
      the machinations of Zionist suppression is essential to the health
      and vigor of its Jewish state.

      The suppression mechanism is usually ascribed to an influencing
      agent, or lobby, either called the "Israel Lobby" or, equivalently,
      the "Zionist Lobby," with its apex in AIPAC. Needless to say, a
      massive and richly funded institutional system of lobbies are a vital
      part of the process; indeed, one might call them the factories in
      which the manufacture of the final product is carried out. But the
      suppression of criticism is not made from whole cloth; there are also
      components and raw materials to be taken into account. So it is with
      the lobbies, the raw material for which entails a common belief
      system that circulates among elites and stems from deeply held
      assumptions that go back to the origins of our society.

      The lobbies as such are therefore powerful enforcers of a much more
      broadly based system. This develops within what is called civil
      society, the interconnected set of institutions that comprises the
      connective tissue of a nation, and includes churches and synagogues,
      schools, libraries, publishers, and a wide range of community
      organizations. Among this great mass certain Zionist organs of
      repression have crystallized in recent years—Campus Watch, CAMERA,
      the David Project, and so forth—and, in alliance with traditional
      Zionist groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist
      Organization of America, have acted as focal points of repression. I
      am sure that they communicate with each other, with AIPAC, and with
      other major Jewish organizations, as well.

      But while there are definitely lobbies among these networks, the
      overall network is no lobby. It would be better to call it, as
      sociologist James Petras has, a "Zionist Power Configuration," or
      perhaps we could say, a "Zionist Apparatus." What we call it is not
      especially important; what matters is that we understand that the
      loose and decentralized character of the network floats atop an
      attitudinal sea that supports the basic notions of Zionism, and
      functions to structure the Israeli cause in the collective mind.

      Though a great many repressive acts are initiated by one node of the
      network or another, a great many others are executed without any
      particular organizational focus. These fade off, as is the case with
      most discriminatory campaigns, into gestures and slights, shunnings
      and glances that never register on the meter as newsworthy. Thus
      numberless decisions are made by publishers to automatically reject
      books critical of Israel, at times without even an acknowledgement of
      receiving the manuscript; or literary agents will decline to
      represent the work; or if the book finally does get published library
      committees will decide not to purchase it, or editors of journals
      will more or less automatically decide not to review it.

      All of these mishaps, by the way, happened to me in the course of
      bringing forth "Overcoming Zionism." None of them, with an exception
      to be taken up below, required the intervention of Zionist watchdog
      institutions, or prior consultation with them. They were carried out
      under supervision of the Watchdog that lives in the head, signaling
      editors what to publish and what to review, signaling reviewers as to
      which way the wind is blowing, signaling authors where to pull their
      punches and how to couch their arguments, signaling politicians when
      to kowtow, and signaling the thought-police of the apparatus when and
      how to attack.

      The formidable matrix of pro-Israel feeling has its corollary in the
      neglect and disregard of the Palestinians, as though these were not
      fully formed human beings with equivalent natural rights. In the
      process, Islam, the lost cousin of the "Abrahamic" family, is
      considered an alien religion by the great majority of Americans. All
      of this is the result of an unexamined history that underlies and
      nourishes the apparatus. Channeling History

      Listen to Napoleon Bonaparte, writing in 1799:

      Bonaparte, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the French Republic in
      Africa and Asia, to the Rightful Heirs of Palestine. Israelites,
      unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and
      tyranny were able to deprive of the ancestral lands only, but not of
      name and national existence . . . She [France] offers to you at this
      very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel's patrimony . . .
      Rightful heirs of Palestine . . . hasten! Now is the moment which may
      not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of your
      rights among the population of the universe which had shamefully
      withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as
      a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to
      worship Yehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and in
      likelihood for ever . . . . .

      Napoleon's missive, the first instance so far as I know of European
      support for Zionist settlement, was a typically imperial ploy to use
      Jews as cat's paws to enter the Middle East for purposes of Western—
      in this case, French—domination. Needless to say, it fell flat, in
      good part because Jews at that time had no interest in restoring
      their glorious past. But this curious initiative reminds us that anti-
      semitism is only one aspect of the complex figure of Christendom's
      attitudes toward the Jewish people. Along with Judaeophobia—and at
      times shadowing it—there has laid another part of the complex: the
      notion of Jews as lost brethren, whose conversion was eagerly sought,
      and whose plight needed restitution. No narrative was more emphasized
      than that Jews had been forcibly exiled as a people and had,
      therefore, their "Right of Return." This became a divinely sanctioned
      mission to return to the Holy Land. It derived from the Exodus myth
      of the Egyptian captivity, and the later actual captivity by Babylon
      (King Nebuchadnezzar ca. 800 B.C.), and it received its definitive
      historical shape with the destruction of the Second Temple by Roman
      legions in 70 A.D., and the diaspora that allegedly followed.
      This powerful theme served to absolve Christianity from guilt over
      its own failings and persecutory misdeeds. But it also, in contrast
      with anti-semitism where the Jew is the eternal and diabolical
      stranger, granted a kind of fellow feeling to the "unique nation,"
      according to which the Jewish predicament as strangers within
      Christendom needed mending, and in which the restoration, and
      hopefully, conversion, of the Jews was the precondition for the
      return of Christ and redemption of Christians.

      In numerous instances, this extended to frank identification by
      Christians with the fate of Jews—even, often enough, when such
      attitudes were accompanied by Judaeophobic loathing. Thus the leading
      British proto-Zionist, the Earl of Shaftesbury, while advocating in
      1830 a Jewish homeland in Palestine, wrote that Jews, "though
      admittedly a stiff-necked, dark-hearted people, and sunk in moral
      degradation, obduracy, and ignorance of the Gospel . . . [are] not
      only worthy of salvation but also vital to Christianity's hope of

      The rub here is that appeals to Jewish settlement of the Holy Land
      have from the beginning been embedded within projects of Western
      expansionism. By identifying with Jewish restoration Europe could
      remain unconscious of its own aggression. This could also be
      projected onto the Jews, who can be considered capable of any crime
      according to the logic of anti-semitism. In any event, Shaftesbury,
      however sincere in his evocation of a proto-Zionism, was also seeking
      to get a leg up on the French, just as Napoleon, 30 years before, was
      seeking advantage over the British.

      Identification with Jews became particularly strong in outposts of
      the British empire, the colonial settlers of which fell naturally
      into the habit of thinking of themselves as covenantally chosen,
      morally exceptional, and deserving of salvation thanks to the
      hardships and persecution they had to endure. Nowhere was this
      attitude stronger than in the American settlements. Its effects have
      become foundational for our national life. They still reverberate
      today and enter into Jewish life in America, in the relationship
      between Israel and the United States, and in the power of the Zionist

      The utopianism which forms so substantial a portion of America's
      basic belief-system was largely an Old Testament legacy, elaborated
      by Puritan elites into a theocratic modeling according to the example
      of the ancient Israelites, whose Thirteenth Tribe the settlers often
      considered themselves. We find, for example, Cotton Mather, the
      leading intellectual of 17th century Puritanism, writing favorably
      about the Massachusetts colony becoming "a theocracy, as near as
      might be, to that which was the glory of Israel, the `peculiar
      people.'" Mather was extolling the example set by his forbearer, John
      Cotton, of whom the American historian Vernon Parrington has written:

      To found an Hebraic state in which political rights should be
      subordinated to religious conformity, in which magistrates should be
      chosen from a narrow group, with authority beyond the reach of the
      popular will, and with the ministers serving as court of last resort
      to interpret the divine law to the citizen-subjects of Jehovah—this
      was the great ambition of John Cotton; and the untiring zeal and
      learned scriptural authority which he dedicated to that ambition
      justify us in regarding him as the greatest of the New England

      By the 18th century, theocratic Puritanism had become layered over
      with the Jeffersonian belief system known as "Arminianism" whose
      relatively benign deistic impulses became enshrined in the liberal
      democracy set forth in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. But
      as recent history starkly reveals, the theocratic specter remains
      alive and well in the Christian Right, and became an essential
      component of the Republican coalition which has dominated American
      politics for the past quarter century, veering the Republic sharply
      in the direction of Cotton's "Hebraic state," and both savaging the
      Constitution and sharply increasing Zionist power in the process.
      It is impressive that two of the four presidents prior to Obama have
      been steeped in the ways of the Christian Right. George W. Bush was
      artfully manipulated by Ariel Sharon in this regard, as on a
      helicopter trip over the Holy Land in which, choking up with tears,
      Bush swore fealty to the Jewish state.

      However the President most thoroughly marinated in Christian Zionist
      ideology was the much revered Ronald Reagan. From boyhood, the 40th
      President was exposed to the premillennial-dispensational theology
      dominant in the Christian Right, in which signs from present events
      are interpreted according to biblical texts such as Ezekiel and the
      Book of Revelation. For example, when discussing with an evangelist
      preacher in 1976 about how "dramatic Bible prophecy" was being
      fulfilled with the "re-emergence of Israel as a nation," Reagan was
      asked what America should do if Israel was about to be destroyed by
      other nations. His reply was: "We have a pledge to Israel to the
      preservation of that nation . . . we have an obligation, a
      responsibility, and a destiny." Similar comments were observed during
      his presidency. In 1984, for example, speaking, notably enough, with
      Tom Dine, then director of AIPAC, Reagan averred:

      You know, I turn back to the ancient prophets in the Old Testament
      and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if—
      if we're the generation that is going to see that come about. I don't
      know if you've noted any of these prophecies lately, but believe me
      they certainly describe the times we're going through.

      To a person so disposed, an Israel strategically placed in respect to
      events of cosmic magnitude must be given impunity for crimes
      committed against mere Muslim heathen. With the Millennium at stake,
      hordes of terror-loving Arabs should not be allowed to stand in the
      Lord's way. When Menachem Begin followed suit and conferred Israeli
      honors upon Jerry Falwell, a profound realignment had been achieved.
      From being the odd man and pariah of Christendom, the Jew-as-Zionist
      now joined hands with the Christian West as partners for a new
      Crusade against the other Abrahamic faith.
      Most recently, this crusading impulse has seen the rise of a new kind
      of courtier, the neoconservative, who further embedded Zionism at the
      highest levels of American power. The neocon personifies Old
      Testament messianism in the service of United States imperialism. It
      was natural for a certain cadre of Jewish intellectuals to come
      aboard the project, men of radical temperament, some of them veterans
      of the eclipsed leftism that had once been part of Jewish identity,
      and all of them ready to serve the new crusade. Thus men like Paul
      Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Elliott Abrams surfaced on the right
      wing of the political spectrum and found their home. By no means are
      all neocons Jewish; however, it is certainly the case that to
      function as a neocon one must be ardently Zionist, whether of
      Christian or Jewish stripe.

      Beginning in the 1980s, then, U.S. foreign policy, which had been
      moderately pro-Israel since 1948 and vigorously tied with Israeli
      interests since 1967, now began to be strongly influenced from within
      by Zionists, whose messianism dovetailed nicely with the well-worn
      themes of Manifest Destiny and America's Covenantal obligation to
      bring democracy to the world, by force if necessary. There has
      developed, in short, a kind of Zionification of the American security
      apparatus, with a confluence of Christian and Jewish Zionist themes.
      This continued in a muted way through the Clinton administration and
      burst forth under the second Bush. The neocon-driven debacle in Iraq
      undoubtedly has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into this
      machine. Its fate under an Obama administration is, as of this
      writing, too uncertain for speculation.

      Zionism: Hard and Soft
      Jewish Zionism was at the same time a rejection of the West and an
      embrace of its colonial impulse, for which purpose it had to become
      the dependent instrument of a Great Power. The dual role leads to
      endless and profound contradictions, among them a permanent state of
      insecurity grounded in eternal ambivalence toward its patron. This
      may help explain the startling occurrences of hostility on the part
      of Israel toward its protector, shown for example, by the USS Liberty
      incident, or the turning over by Prime Minister Shamir of the
      espionage gathered by Jonathan Pollard to the Soviets, which resulted
      in the death of American agents and the demolition of the U.S.
      network in the Soviet Union. And it definitely contributes to the
      striking mixture of truculence and obsequiousness shown toward the
      United States and to Zionism's extreme sensitivity toward criticism.

      These contradictions are deeply rooted in the identity of American
      Jews. As Zionism proclaims that Israel is the state of all the Jewish
      people, everywhere, it also requires that a proper Jewish identity
      must include Zionism. In the United States, where the phenomenal
      success of the Jewish community has entailed both the falling away of
      traditional anti-semitism and the loss of the traditions that defined
      Jewish identity over the centuries, a more or less perpetual identity
      crisis (aggravated by rising rates of intermarriage) has made
      American Jews, and especially their better-off members, highly
      susceptible to the lure of Zionism, now perforce an ideology of the
      right wing despite its socialist origins. Criticism of Israel becomes
      an attack on who American Jews are.

      Jewish Zionists, however, are not homogeneous, and may be graded on a
      continuum between "hard" and "soft" tendencies. Research suggests
      that hard Zionists represent roughly 15-20% of the American Jewish
      population, and they are the ones in command of the main structures
      of the so-called Lobby. Their hardness consists of the capacity to
      override considerations of justice with claims of existential
      necessity. They live in a constant state of low-grade hysteria,
      evoking the canard that criticism of Israel is anti-semitic and
      summoning the allegedly omnipresent threat of another Holocaust; or
      they resort to extreme racist claims against Palestinian "terror;" or
      grandiose and messianic assertions of Israel's superior "democracy."
      They are ardent in going to the barricades for Israel, whether to
      squash dissenters or keep Congress and U.S. foreign policy in line.
      They exult in Israel's power, speak of the Jewish state as the
      restoration of Jewish greatness, and, even though they may have
      contempt for the peccadilloes of the Christian Zionists, have little
      difficulty in making tactical alliance with them.

      The soft Zionist cannot so easily override the moral contradictions
      that dog the Jewish state. He is therefore obliged to admit
      criticism. But he cannot allow criticism to reach the stage of
      calling Zionism itself into question. Therefore soft Zionism calls
      for "responsible" criticism and remains divided in its soul. This
      leads to a veritable frenzy of subterfuges, rationalizations and
      legal pettifogging. The soft Zionist, generally speaking, does not
      exult in Israel's power nor allow himself to dream of Jewish
      restoration. He will console himself, rather, with "realism" and call
      attention to the complexities and imperfections of this world. He
      will advance the (quite specious) notion that everyone is entitled to
      a national state; or ponder the great sufferings of the Jews and
      their entitlement, therefore, to a country of their own; or
      congratulate the Jewish state for allowing the Palestinians who live
      in Israel proper to vote, all the while chiding its improprieties.
      More generally, he will consider Israel to be a "normal" state; and
      when its massive impunity and lawlessness is pointed out—for example,
      that the country has flouted scores of U.N. resolutions, or that it
      lacks a constitution—he will rejoin that after all, England lacks a
      constitution, too, or that nobody is perfect, or that the Arabs are
      much worse. The technique of the soft Zionist, then, is to employ
      lines of reasoning that enable Palestinians and Jews to be compared
      on equal ground—for example, how much each side has suffered, or as
      perpetrators of equivalent violence. Thus the soft Zionist dwells on
      narratives—individualized lines of reasoning that foster the
      equivalence of both sides in a complex and imperfect world—rather
      than on basic structures of justice whose asymmetry reflects the
      actual history of Zionist conquest.

      Soft Zionists are more numerous than hard Zionists and are often
      successful in academia, the law, and politics. Being conflicted, they
      can go one way or the other, and thus on occasion will aid the cause
      of justice. An important example has arisen in context of the debacle
      of the neocon-driven 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. This has
      provoked a reaction from representatives of the so-called "realist"
      school of foreign policy. In the process, Israel itself has come
      under open criticism for the first time from within the elites, and
      this in turn provoked a harsh reaction from hard Zionists.

      The leading instance has been President Jimmy Carter's "Palestine—
      Peace Not Apartheid," published in 2006 and variously greeted by
      intellectual officialdom with neglect, scorn, and/or fantastic
      charges of anti-semitism. Two years later, hard Zionist vengeance
      remained in full swing at the 2008 Democratic presidential convention
      when Carter, the only president to have actually achieved something
      in the way of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, was
      confined to a silent, hasty walk across the stage.

      Carter is very much a Zionist, even, given his religious convictions,
      a kind of Christian Zionist whose views on Israel/Palestine were laid
      down by years of biblical study. Needless to say, he belongs to the
      soft end of the spectrum, able to criticize Israel yet careful to
      keep criticism from troubling the waters of Zionism
      itself. "Palestine – Peace Not Apartheid" has in this regard copious
      documentation of the relentless drive of the Israeli state to rid
      itself of Palestinians and seize their land.

      But Carter blocks the realization of what this means. For example, he
      asserts: "Continuing impediments [to peace] have been the desire of
      some Israelis for Palestinian land, the refusal of some Arabs to
      accept Israel as a neighbor . . ." In other words, individuals are at
      fault, not any structure. Further, the equivalence of Israeli and
      Arab miscreants denies the central dynamic of conquest. The reader
      gets a confusing message: we are shown a systematic, expulsionist
      logic to the Jewish state, but only unspecified individuals are at

      More, though the mere appearance of the word "Apartheid" in the
      book's title was enough to ignite an explosion of criticism, Carter
      actually says little about apartheid, and when he does, denies an
      essential comparison with South Africa: "The driving purpose for the
      forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa—
      not racism, but the acquisition of land." The distinction is
      pointless—for racism pervades Israel as much as it did South Africa,
      and in both instances does so for material reasons—to build a Jewish
      state and to ensure cheap black labor for South African mines and
      factories. The practical result is to force attention away from the
      logical conclusion that Israel, being equivalently racist to South
      Africa, should be treated in the same way, that is, be pressed to
      radically transform itself.

      Another important example is Stephen Walt (Harvard) and John
      Mearsheimer's (University of Chicago) "The Israel Lobby and United
      States Foreign Policy," which argues for a realist foreign policy as
      against the excesses of the second Bush administration. As if to ward
      off in advance charges of anti-semitism or, heaven forfend, hostility
      to Zionism, Walt and Mearsheimer weaken their argument with the claim
      that "We are not challenging Israel's right to exist or questioning
      the legitimacy of the Jewish state"—as if someone dared them to say
      this. Later they assert that they are "pro-Israel" and deny that
      AIPAC is more than an ordinary lobby (except for being bigger and
      fiercer), or that Jews who support the lobby can be other than
      patriotic, decent Americans: "Any notion that Jewish Americans are
      disloyal citizens is wrong." Indeed, Israel must be treated "as a
      normal and legitimate country."

      Such off-the-cuff statements remind us of obeisance routinely made by
      politicians before Zionist power. By asserting a priori the
      legitimacy of Israel, Walt and Mearsheimer forget that no state has
      an inherent right to exist, a principle established by Jefferson in
      our Declaration of Independence and a foundation stone of modern
      political theory. To take the question of legitimacy off the table in
      the face of massive structural evidence of human rights violations by
      Israel is to assert exceptional privilege for the Zionist state, and
      to join the chorus granting it impunity.

      Walt and Mearsheimer flatly assert that Jewish Americans cannot be
      disloyal. Yet they write of several who have either committed
      espionage on behalf of Israel or are being charged with the same. Are
      these loyal Americans? And how can AIPAC be a normal lobby when it
      has been shown to have circumvented the U.S. Department of Justice's
      Foreign Agents Registration Act? Though Walt and Mearsheimer
      effectively challenge the way the Israel lobby grants the Israeli
      state impunity, they undercut the power of their critique by giving
      the lobby itself impunity.

      Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer have made important advances against
      the Zionist apparatus. But their tepid and circumscribed criticism
      leaves untouched the main problem with Israel: that, driven by
      Zionism, it is compelled to commit human rights violations on an
      expanding scale. Plainly, we need a ruthless criticism of Israel, one
      that rejects taboos, goes to the heart of the matter, and refuses to
      grant Israel its impunity.

      Overcoming Zionism
      My 2007 book, "Overcoming Zionism," tried to address this need by
      arguing, first, that since no state has an inherent right to exist,
      the court of world opinion is obliged to examine such right in the
      case of Israel; second, that such an examination discloses human
      rights abuses similar in kind and at least as great in degree as
      those for which the apartheid state of South Africa was deemed in
      need of transformation; and third, that people of good will should
      work, nonviolently, for the transformation of Israel into a
      democratic and secular, i.e., non-racist, state. Through a critical
      rejection of Zionism, therefore, I was arguing for the "one-state"
      solution. Indeed, as the two-state option (aside from its manifold
      practical obstacles) demands the retention of Israel as a Jewish
      state, with all its malign implications, there is no other option
      than a single, democratic and secular state for those who place human
      rights and universal values in the foreground of their belief.

      I expected that this would not find favor with the establishment, and
      I was right. My book received the full deck of hostile neglect. It
      was rejected time and time again by publishers in the United States,
      often rudely and out of hand, as well as by literary agents. It was
      kept out of libraries (not one copy circulates throughout the vast
      system of the New York Public Libraries), and it has been shunned en
      masse by reviewers in mainstream print publications, including those
      on the left.

      Two instances deserve some elaboration. "Overcoming Zionism" was
      originally viewed with considerable interest by a senior editor at
      the University of California Press. However, about a month into the
      vetting process she wrote me in distress that she would have to
      withdraw her provisional offer as it was proving impossible to get
      the manuscript past the press's faculty board. She shared with me a
      letter of rejection, redacting the author's name but assuring me that
      he was a prominent critic of Israel and a person with "very
      progressive politics." The grounds for rejection had essentially
      nothing to do with intellectual or scholarly merit. Rather, it was

      I fear that this book would give intellectual credence to political
      forces that will retard, rather than advance, the chances of peace. I
      believe it will harden ideological divisions between defenders and
      critics of Israel. Rather than "offer[ing] a way for Jews to reclaim
      the universality buried beneath tribalism and exceptionalism" and
      thereby "help[ing] people break loose from this trap," [claims made
      in my description of the project] I fear the impact of this book will
      be just the opposite. It will just make things more difficult for
      progressive Zionists like Michael Lerner, who largely agree with
      Kovel regarding the horrendous policies of the Israeli government,
      but make a distinction between Zionism as a legitimate national
      liberation struggle and the racism of Israeli policies.

      In sum, the reviewer felt that I went too far in questioning the
      basic legitimacy of Zionism, and thereby made life difficult for soft
      Zionists. Thus "Overcoming Zionism" would have to be silenced so that
      soft Zionism could continue to have its moment in the sun.
      The "progressive," compelled as he twice says by fear, was arguing
      that a great university press could not afford to publish a radical
      critique. So much for the free play of ideas.
      I decided to turn abroad to the more open intellectual climate of the
      U.K., and soon found Pluto Press of London willing to
      publish "Overcoming Zionism." This meant that it needed a U.S.
      distributor, for which purpose Pluto had contracted some years before
      with another great university press, that of the University of
      Michigan. For a while all went as anticipated. "Overcoming Zionism"
      was greeted with the expectable blank silence from established
      sources. Meanwhile I did what I could to promote it through
      alternative channels—internet, speaking engagements at small venues
      and in solidarity networks, interviews on community radio stations,
      and the like.

      In July 2007, Pluto informed me that despite the blackout, sales were
      proceeding briskly; "Overcoming Zionism" was not about to wither away
      from malign neglect but was being nourished from below. The Zionist
      thought police must have concluded the same, and with alarm, because
      on August 13 an outlet near the University of Michigan,
      StandWithUs/Michigan (considered a branch of the Campus Watch
      movement, under the leadership of the well-known hard Zionist, Daniel
      Pipes), released in its newsletter a broadside against me and
      my "ruthless criticism" of Israel, as well as against Pluto Press.
      Among the charges:

      The book is a collection of anti-Israel propaganda, misquotes, and
      discredited news stories, and is carried forward throughout by
      declared contempt for Judaism and its adherents. . . . Overcoming
      Zionism is a wholly unscholarly propaganda text, a rambling negation
      of every aspect of Israeli society, and a near complete restatement
      of Israel's history. It is published by the radical left Pluto Press
      of London, England . . . and distributed in the United States
      exclusively by the University of Michigan Press (UMP).
      StandWithUs-Michigan contacted the office of UMP director Phil
      Pochoda last week, making repeated requests for a statement regarding
      the book and the reason for its distribution by UMP. To date no
      statement or response has been provided by the director.

      That was swiftly to change. Three days later, Pochoda, after
      promising me on the phone that UMP would resist this effort to
      suppress the right of free speech, wrote to say that he had caved
      in . . . Well, no, he wouldn't say that. He put it, rather,
      that "Overcoming Zionism" was so vile a work as to be unfit for human
      Because it is a distributed title for Pluto Press, no one at UMP had
      read Overcoming Zionism prior to the Stand/With/Us diatribe. I and
      others read it after that assault, and had fully expected to gear up
      for, at least, a free speech defense. Though I had no trouble with
      the one-state solution your book proposes nor with a Zionist
      critique, per se—we had, after all, proudly and successfully
      published Virginia Tilley—I (and faculty members I asked to read the
      book, as well) were apalled [sic] by your reckless, viscious [sic],
      and unmodulated attack on Zionism and all Zionists. For us, the issue
      raised by the book is not free speech but hate speech. Perhaps such
      vituperative and aggressive rhetoric works for the barricades, but it
      cannot be countenanced or underwritten by the university or the
      university press, even in this peripheral, distributed capacity.

      Even worse for me, as a result of your book, the university is in the
      process of reassessing our relation as a whole to Pluto (and that has
      been a four year relationship that I have cherished, both personally
      and professionally). While that review goes on (and I am only
      marginally involved), we have ceased shipping Overcoming Zionism.

      The rest of this story can be told briefly: an organization sprang up
      in September 2007 called the Committee for the Open Discussion of
      Zionism (see www.CODZ.org). Responding to the efforts of certain
      Zionist organizations in the U.S. to suppress criticism of Israel
      and/or Zionism, it defended the rights of "Overcoming Zionism" and
      Pluto Press. As a result, the book was restored to circulation, with
      grave reservations being expressed by the faculty board of UMP as to
      its worth. The attack then shifted to Pluto, whose contract with UMP
      was threatened. A massive letter-writing campaign ensued, protecting
      Pluto's rights for a while, but these were threatened again in
      November, when several regents of the university weighed in on the
      side of repression. UMP's formal ties with Pluto were broken in May,
      2008, when the contract was terminated as of the end of 2008 on the
      transparently hypocritical grounds that Pluto did not properly vet
      manuscripts. Some lessons:
      • "Overcoming Zionism" has continued to sell modestly yet steadily,
      and indeed was helped by the attention aroused by its banning, which
      substituted at one level for an actual review by stating in effect
      that the work was important enough to warrant suppression. At another
      level, the lack of such a review, at least in the mainstream press,
      meant that the charges hurled at the book (none quoting, by the way,
      any actual instances of what I wrote) could not be substantiated.
      Those charges—hate speech, vituperative and aggressive rhetoric, anti-
      Israel propaganda, misquotes, discredited news stories, declared
      contempt for Judaism, wholly unscholarly, etc., etc.—are mere mud-
      slinging, though it must be added that sometimes mud can have
      considerable weight.

      • UMP had indeed published a book highly critical of Israel and
      advocating its transformation, Virginia Tilley's "The One State
      Solution." This is an excellent work which I cite approvingly
      in "Overcoming Zionism." What distinguished the two cases is that my
      book was attacked by the Zionist apparatus and Tilley's, for reasons
      unknown, was not. The point is, that the director of UMP accepted the
      legitimacy of the Zionist inquisitor and revealed himself to be a
      soft Zionist for whom criticism of Israel is possible so long as it
      does not go "too far." But what is too far? Is it that which arouses
      an irrational and vindictive panic in certain liberals? And who is to
      determine "too far?" The liberal Zionists? The hard Zionists who
      launch the attacks? Surely these are not adequate criteria.

      • What we need is the realization that although all living beings
      have an inherent right to exist with dignity, ideas do not hold any
      such right. If an idea can be proven destructive to living beings
      then it should be combated and destroyed, as the idea of slavery and
      the innate inferiority of women have been destroyed. This is often
      not an easy matter to decide, whence we need to install the grounds
      for full and open inquiry, and honor and protect those ideas that run
      against the grain.

      At the practical level, both fear and the desire for revenge have to
      be overcome. This happens to the degree that we reach out and achieve
      a universal, as against a tribal or chauvinist, perspective. For the
      critique of Zionism—the case at hand and, it may be added, a very bad
      idea—it is necessary to reach out to comprehend how we have gone
      astray and make it part of our being. The unity of the Christian West
      and Zionist Israel is given in their common history of eliminating
      indigenous people and using lofty and pseudo-spiritual values to
      justify this. The failure to confront and overcome this history is
      shown in racism and the foundation myths of conquering societies.
      Once we reach out beyond these limits, we can recover what has been
      lost. There is nothing to fear then. No need for impunity—just the
      taking of responsibility for what we have done and who we have

      With this, we can begin to change. ■

      Joel Kovel, a retired medical doctor, is Professor of Social Studies
      at Bard College in Annandale, N.Y.



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