Leviathan and Goliath — Detroit and Jerusalem
Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan argues that in a state of nature human nature is to be such that life is nasty, brutish, and short and that the corporate state (the Leviathan and Hobbes included the famous picture on the frontispiece of his book) is the implied social contract that provides protection and establishes civilization. For Hobbes, there was not alternative to the absolute ruler. Fortunately for us, Hobbes, kicked off a debate that still goes on as the the “natural” (today we would likely say “sustainable”) elements of government.
Goliath is the giant Philistine warrior in the the Biblical Old Testament Book of Samuel (1 Samuel 17), killed by the youth and future king David by as stone launched from a slingshot that one version of modern critical analysis asserts caught in Goliath’s gr eaves, causing him to stumble and allowing David to behead him. The structure of the story is such to provide the impression that the Philistines had let their main weapon go far ahead of the ranks of troops in order to make short shrift of the romantic war-crazed youth. Regardless of the historical detail, the traditional reading is one of the action of Yahweh.
Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is the name of Max Blumenthal’s recent book. In in it, he cites the many cases in which the State of Israel’s representatives argue that there is no alternative to their imperfect (they concede) solution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine.
Detroit and Jerusalem are both cities that have experience multi-decade ethnic cleansing through laws and money beyond their borders and corrupt politicians in public office.
In reading Blumenthal’s Goliath one feels the resonance between the various factions of Israel’s rapidly deteriorating democracy under the trump-card notion of “national security” and the condition of US democracy. After all Israeli security and prison experts are training special units of US police forces. Israeli defense contractors test the next generation of “non-lethal” protest suppression technology on nonviolent Palestinian protesters so that it can be marked “field tested.” And US super max prison facilities increasingly resemble the prisons of Israel that warehouse thousands of young Palestinian men just as American prisons warehouse thousands of young American men of color. Shin Bet operates with the arrogance and unaccountability that has become familiar to US citizens as the trademark response of the US intelligence community to members of Congress and to public inquiry in the aftermath of the Snow den exposures and the as-yet unreleased Senate Intelligence Committee report on the US intelligence community involvement in torture. “National security” as the “shut up and sit down” command of government applies in the US as well.
Maybe I should back up and say that in my opinion Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is the most important political and investigative journalist book of 2013. Required reading for the next six months. If I could capture Joe Lieberman and do to him what he wanted to to us progressives it would be to force him to read this book; his emulation of Israel in the design of the Department of Homeland Security set us on a path to disaster.
That said, the insights into the Israel-Palestine conflict that Blumenthal’s book provides are only the first part of its value. To the extent that it gets a wide reading in the US, in this respect it is the opposite bookend to the sabra triumphalism epic, Leon Uris’s Exodus (1958) and the accompanying movie (1960) with its memorable musical theme.
Andy Williams, The Exodus Song (This Land Is Mine)
The Wikipedia reference has this note about the origin of the plot for the book:
Arthur Stevens relates that the idea for Uris’s book came about when Edward Gottlieb, an American Public Relations man seeking to improve Israel’s image in the US, decided to commission a novel about Israel’s origin that showed Israel in a good light and hired Uris to write it. According to Stevens, ‘Uris’ novel solidified America’s impressions of Israelis as heroes, of Arabs as villains; it did more to popularize Israel with the American public than any other single presentation through the media.’
Of course, the hasbara (from SAIS no less) denies this story.
That’s the left-hand book-end. Blumenthal’s Goliath closes the shelf marked, “From Kibbutz to Kafka.”
In Goliath one of the major event recorded is the Mount Carmel forest fire of 2010, a accidental blaze (although I see from the Wikipedia article there is still an attempt connect it with arson and with the Druze) that destroyed non-native forest that had been planted in the heroic settler years. The State of Israel was unprepared to fight the blaze and lost a bus load of prison cadets who were brought in to help evacuate a nearby prison. It turned to foreign countries and to the Palestinian authority for help and both the Palestinian Authority and nearby Lebanon responded by sending firefighting units. A subsequent inquiry into the blaze found that the Interior Ministry’s determination to accelerate the establishment of settlements meant that basic infrastructure had not been put in place to handle emergencies like the Mount Carmel forest fire. Despite heavy political lobbying, the inquiry found the fire not to have been started by Palestinian terrorists. Instead it seemed to be an consequence of striping infrastructure to finance the Zionist dream.
So what is the reality of the Jewish State 117 years after Theodor Herzl’s Der Judgmental (1896), 96 years after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and 66 years after the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommended partition and the UN general assembly approved UN General Assembly Resolution 181? (Leave aside for now any historical analysis of why the resolution was not obeyed in a straight-forward manner.)
As already planned, what results is a country completely walled in from its neighbors with 36-foot high concrete walls. Within that there is a complete urban region enclosed in walls with octopus tentacles of blast-walled expressways joining suburban settlements on the heights and partitioning Palestinian populations from each other. Fans of US urban renewal (“Negro removal”) will recognize the political principles that went into the highway design. Fans of Detroit expressways will recognize the roofless tunnels. And all of this from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River overseen by the Israeli security state and an increasingly reactionary state-sponsored rabbinate. A new loyalty oath law requires everyone, Jew or non-Jew within the Green Line (1947 border) swear an loyalty oath to the Jewish state. Israeli society has distinctive castes: Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, European non-Jews, non-European non-Jews, sub-Saharan Africans, Palestinian Israelis, Palestinians and their channeled career paths. Life for Jews is that of living in a total garrison state; every Jew is trained from toddler age onward in military virtues and military skills; conscripted service is universal (except for sects of Orthodox Jews). The military is the most respected institution of society. “National security” is the magical words that suspend all laws, judgments, and rationality and turns into government by arbitrary rules. Shin Bet invasion of privacy is nearly total. The sense of Goliath is that without the constant invocation the Palestinian as threat and the occasional kicking the hornets nest the regime would implode from rampant corruption and petty personal grievances among the politicians, ushering in direct military control. And one of the things that is striking to Blumenthal about the current situation is the silence of those who formerly advocated for human rights and a two-state solution. The word “demoralized” takes on multiple meanings as a description of Israeli society.
In reading about how the Zionist Stern Gang and Palmach militia units of Hagana displaced the Palestinian residents of village after village after 1945, I am thinking about the desolate burned out landscape I saw in 2012 in Chicago’s South Side and West Side and the more desolate landscape of near-downtown Detroit, the historic Motown and then about Jerusalem. I am thinking about how a slow process manipulating the law can have the same effects as artillery shelling. East Jerusalem, that bone of contention at several Camp David summits is rapidly becoming what Israeli diplomats call “a fact on the ground.” The military forced expulsion of Israeli settlers from the Sinai in compliance with the Camp David Accords provided Israel with a political backstop any further reversing of facts on the ground–the threat of mutiny of the Israel Defense Force. The coming theft of art from the Detroit Institute of Art, just like abandonment of real estate in Detroit over two generations, have created facts on the ground that permit ethnic cleansing there too. Redlining, like Jewish-only settlements are manipulations of law by segregationists or, in more academic terms so as not offend anyone, isolationist monoculturalists.
In the struggle between principle and practicality that constitutes the unintended consequences of hypocrisy, none is so striking than that of the United Nations General Assembly resolution establishing the State of Israel. The institution, newly created to prevent another war and of a form proposed first by the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, creates the conditions for a 65-year-and-going religious war that holds the majority of people who are descendants of those there at the time of the Balfour Declaration in ever decreasing and ever-more-separated enclaves. Within those enclaves, people are routinely denied those things that the Enlightenment asserted were the fundamental rights of humans by the very fact of their humanity. Around the same time as UN General Assembly Resolution 181, the UN General Assembly approved the grandly named Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a culmination of the debate about the rights of human beings initiated by the Enlightenment and and given first form in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and in the first ten amendments of the US Constitution.
Deftly and briefly, Blumethal sketches in Goliath how those unintended consequences unfolded with hints of the key moments in which Israel-Palestine was in the international spotlight. And it was not all done by shadows and mirrors.
It is difficult even for people who lived the entire period to realize what a profound effect the civil rights, anti-war, and anti-apartheid movements have had on common-sense understandings of what is outrageous or the practical ramifications of the anti-colonial movement that transformed the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific and might yet reach to Scotland, Wales, and Catalunya. The world in 1948 did not yet have the language to be able to say that Israel was the last colonial planting. And then there was the post-war mood of revenge that is often lost in the golden misty haze of “The Good War”. Palestinian leaders, resenting the Balfour Declaration and seeking liberation from British colonialism, were minor allies of the Axis Powers. By 1948, the British had lost control of of the Zionist Hagana militia units, if they ever had control. Germany was occupied. Japan was occupied. Italy was occupied. Austria was occupied. If the British could not occupied a minor ally of the Axis, why not let Hagana do it on the UN’s leash. Also, there was after World War II in the US a religious revival trying to get women back into the home and the family to church. It is not coincidental that large numbers of Sunday school classrooms had a map of “The Holy Land”, that the Bible talked about “Hebrews” and “Jews”, and everyone had heard of Philistines and Palestine but not Palestinians. Last of all, a segregated United States had no hesitation about bringing another apartheid state into the community of nations. A country that had its own guerrilla war with the British Empire, massively displaced indigenous populations and was still a half century away from having the light bulb go on about Christopher Columbus was not yet moralizing about ethnic cleansing. There was major national identification from the start with the sabra pioneering Israel in their frontier kibbutzim. There is no surprise as to why Leon Uris’s Exodus became the default narrative for the origin of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Another fascinating thread in Goliath is how right-wing and religious parties isolated and reduced the mainly Ashkenazi and educated founding Labor Party through constant invocation of the two pillars of Labor’s 1948 argument to the UN — “Jewish state” and “Holocaust”. The argument was that after the Holocaust it was clear to Jews that only the presence of a Jewish state as a place of refuge could guarantee the continued existence of the Jewish people. To understand Israel, you have to understand the existential anxiety that was the post-traumatic syndrome of the Holocaust–that the continue presence of antisemitism as a convenient political tool meant that outside their own state Jews were not safe no matter what the legal guarantees in the law books. The Zionist movement, conceived in response to the Dreyfuss affair took on new urgency after the Holocaust. That was the argument made at the UN. And the twin pillars of Israeli argument today are “Jewish state” and “Holocaust” and they are deployed today as tactics to get others to STFU. Meanwhile bigotry of all kinds (not just anti-Antisemitism) has experienced a resurgence in the past 30 years. And the castes within Israel show that Israel itself is not without its own bigotries, even setting aside feelings and prejudices about Palestinians and Arabs. All of which makes the purposes to which the right-wing and religious parties use the twin pillars of Jewish state and Holocaust all that more disturbing.
Blumenthal describes how street actions and political campaigns allow the outspoken and outrageous to win elections, how they allow candidates to appear from nowhere with parties that can gain seats, and how a coalition of these parties can quickly slam through institution-changing legislation that was a hidden agenda all along and that strengthen the inability of the opposition to remove them from power. The fact that US campaign consultant Frank Luntz consults with the Likud leadership is not an insignificant one nor the 30-year alliance that Likud has had with the Falwell-Robertson religious right in the US nor the alliance of the National-Front-like Strong Israel Party with US Christian Zionists.
As for Strong Israel, Blumenthal describes one of their street actions in which they attack non-Jew African merchants in a neighborhood of Tel Aviv and Blumenthal labels “the night of broken glass”. Young hooligans full of their own privilege slowly edging toward the art of the pogroms their ancestors (or even their parents) came to Israel to escape.
One part of the settler movement takes its tactics from the philosophy of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook.
Kook told his disciples that they represented the modern incarnation of the Jewish Messiah. In order to bring about the ‘final redemption’ he instructed them to exploit the achievements of of the secular Zionists, who had performed all of the necessary work of colonizing ‘Israel proper’ in 1948 and conquering the West Bank in 1967. Just as the Messiah appeared riding an ass in Biblical prophecy, Kook presented the public as an ass that the religious nationalists could ride all the way to dominion.
Just think about that in the context of politicians hyping the crazy to get attention and stir up people.
As Israel consolidates its apartheid state with $3 billion of US subsidies a year and no telling how much SodaStream sales promoted by US progressive talk show hosts, it also eases from democracy into theocracy. The rabbinate and the military hold the power of the state and the Knesset becomes the legitimizing rubber stamp. The durability of Iranian theocracy would argue that a Jewish theocracy would be equally durable but for the “enemy within” — the descendants of the people who under normal circumstances would hold claim to the land and claim to citizenship.
As Rabbi Kook understood in 1967, given the choice between a Jewish state and a democratic state — but not both — the public would choose a Jewish state. Especially after the cleansing of the democracy-lovers through shouting down, ostracism, and the heavy hand of Shin Bet. Religious states in crisis tend toward “cleansing” or the non-religious or differently-religious (no matter how minor that difference might be), and “cleansing” is a euphemism for mass deportation or genocide. At the moment, Rabbi Kook’s followers while riding the ass are not yet in control of the Israeli state.
Israel is both an ethnically-defined state and a religiously defined state, the ideological mixture bound up in the word “Jewish”. The United States is an ethnically undefined state and a religiously undefined state. Why are there so many similarities (besides a large number of immigrant Jews from America) between the politics and society of the Israel that Blluemethal describes and American politics and society?
In its major cities and most small towns, the United States remains a de facto apartheid state with customary evasions and violations of equal opportunity laws and a compliance Supreme Court holding many forms of discrimination in being. The United States has a loud minority and many organizations of clergy who promote the idea of its being de facto a Christian nation, by which they mean a Christo-idolatrous nation that worships the symbols of Christianity. The United States, an imperial state attack in one city on its homeland, is like Israel (though Joe Lieberman the US’s model) a security state. The United States still has the institutionalized discrimination at the heart of its law enforcement and criminal justice system.
Part of the the “enlightenment” of the enlightenment was the awareness that religion that becomes political ideology leads to wars of extermination when those ideologies are are either exclusive, universal, or identified with the state. The practical experience and 5 million deaths of Europeans in religious wars in the period from Martin Luther’s Theses (1517) to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) convinced Enlightenment thinker that the identity of religion and society was a mistake. They sought non-religious “natural” foundations for government and society under law and coined and brought into discourse ideas like “social contract”, “consent of the governed”, “rights of man (human rights”, “representative republic” that they deemed rested on the justification of self-evidency (if one were to sacrifice one’s “prejudices”). These ideas were in search for the natural basis of justice, law, and peace.
Today, Israel is allied with those domestic groups that seek racial and gender discrimination, with groups that promote homophobia, and with groups that promote the idea of Christian government dominion. Today, the primary apologist for Israeli policy (and attack dog) is a lawyer whose book after 9/11 legitimized torture as US policy. Today, one of the most popular writers for Israelis is Jonah Goldberg, who claim to fame is a book entitled Liberal Fascism.
American policy towards Israel will very much affect US politics domestically. Allowing Israel to shove around the US Congress is not in the interest of US progressives. Nor is allowing further ethnic cleansing of our own cities through Congressional inaction on dealing with the economy. What is happening in Chicago under a Democratic mayor, in Detroit under a Republican governor, and is creeping forward in Philadelphia under a black Democratic mayor needs not to be the trend for the future. The international is the local writ with a longer supply chain. In a lot of ways Detroit is Jerusalem.
Note: The other book that informed this diary was Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters.