Back in Toronto – and a piece from the Pakistan media

I am back in Toronto. Also, I managed to get an op-ed into the Pakistan News, in the hopes of changing some common misconceptions about the nature of the US-Israel relationship. I’m reproducing it below.

US-Israel relationship misconceptions
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Justin Podur

I am back in Toronto. Also, I managed to get an op-ed into the Pakistan News, in the hopes of changing some common misconceptions about the nature of the US-Israel relationship. I’m reproducing it below.

US-Israel relationship misconceptions
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Justin Podur

After one of the public lectures I gave in Islamabad earlier this month at the Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue, where I and Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas discussed the economic, ecological, and cultural ‘crises of the empire’, an audience member came up to me and said: “Basically the conflict is between Muslims and Jews.” At another panel we were on, about Globalization and Democracy, PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussein said that “US even-handedness stops with Israel.” At yet another public lecture, a questioner asked, why does the US, a champion of peace, support Israel’s violence against the Palestinians?

These statements all reveal serious – and dangerous – misconceptions about the real relationship between the US and Israel.

First, the notion of a Muslim-Jewish conflict is historically inaccurate: the historical relationship between Muslims, Jews, and Christians was always much more complex, and included co-operation, exchange, and mutual learning as well as fighting, crusades, and inquisitions. Boundaries hardened in recent centuries, due to colonialism and imperialism and reactions to these.

Second, the US is no champion of peace and is not even-handed on any issue – Israel is no exception in this sense. To take some examples where the victims are from the non-Muslim world: The US destroyed Vietnam, killing 2-4 million people. It sponsored Indonesia’s genocidal massacres of the East Timorese. It sponsored the destruction of Central American countries by dictatorships in the 1980s, in which hundreds of thousands died. It was not even-handed with Nicaragua when it ignored the World Court ruling, nor with Venezuela or Cuba or Haiti: it supports violent reactionaries and wealthy parties in all these places. There is no question about where US even-handedness ends, because it has nowhere to begin.

But the biggest problem with these misconceptions is not their inaccuracy, but the strategic implication. Behind these statements is the idea that US foreign policy is orchestrated by a pro-Israel lobby. It is certainly true that Israel has a well-organized, well-funded infrastructure to lobby Congress and to build popular support for Israel in the media and on campuses. But the key problem is that this infrastructure cannot be countered by equivalent lobbying by Muslim countries. Why can’t they do the same thing? Muslim countries have plenty of money. Do they merely lack organizational or communication skill?

In fact the lobby is only part of the story, and it is the success of the lobby that needs to be understood. To say that the US supports Israel because of the lobby is to beg the question. Furthermore, the idea that US policy is orchestrated by a small group of Jews is basically an anti-Semitic fantasy, worthy of medieval Europe during the Inquisition, but unworthy for decent and serious people.

The actual reasons the US supports Israel are much deeper. First, there is complete economic, intelligence, and military integration of the countries. The military industry is a key component of both countries’ economies, and their industries are integrated. Free trade agreements exist between US allies (Canada, Australia, etc.) and Israel.

Second, Israel is a ‘strategic asset’ in ways that other countries in the region cannot be. While the US has exercised control by sponsoring military dictatorships, these are always at risk of being overthrown by revolt, as occurred in Iran in 1979 and could occur in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. When the US tries to exercise control by promoting democracy, on the other hand, the results may not be to their liking, as occurred in Palestine and could occur in Iraq. Israel, however, is dependent for its existence on US diplomatic, economic, and military support – there is no tension between the rulers and the ruled on this question, the way there would be in other countries.

Third, and perhaps most important, Israel is seen as part of the west. In a global order still structured by a kind of colonialism and racism, this is an impossible factor to ignore. For all the struggles for dignity, economic development, and freedom for the formerly colonized world, the peoples of Asia, Africa, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas are not viewed as equals by the west. Individual westerners need not subscribe to this view of the world, and many do not, but it still tells. Just as the west still pays more attention to the 60,000 Americans who died in Vietnam than the 2-4 million Vietnamese, or the 19 American soldiers who died in Somalia’s ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident than the 7-10,000 Somalis who died, Israeli lives are seen as worth more than Palestinian or Lebanese lives.

Simply put, this means that the US will never be ‘even-handed’ on Israel because Israel is part of the west and the Muslim countries are not. There is no way to counter the baleful acts of Israel by convincing the empire to be fair. The only way is to stop collaborating with the empire itself, by opposing US policy and reject military and economic collaborations with it. Every appeal made to the empire strengthens it – and Israel too. The Muslim world would do better to stop appealing to the US and start building its own world, in partnership with others that have been harmed by the empire and want a better world, in Africa, the rest of Asia, and South America, and anti-empire westerners, including Jews.

The writer was a fellow of the Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue at the International Islamic University-Islamabad from June 24-July 17, where he taught a course on critical thinking. He is based in Toronto and his blog is

Author: Justin Podur

Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

3 thoughts on “Back in Toronto – and a piece from the Pakistan media”

  1. your piece in The News, Pakistan
    One of the most refreshing and insightful pieces of journalism I’ve read in quite a long time. I hope the message gets across to people who make big decisions, if not now than in days and years to come and we can stop pleading to the Empire and start building our own world, which I hope would not be hijacked by another empire.

  2. US-Israel relationship misconceptions.
    I read your subject article in The News of 09 Aug 08 with great interest. It has adressed many of my questions which I had in this regard. However,it does not mean that I fully agree with what you have said in this article. Your article has certainly given me a food for thought and I am going to further delibrate on this issue in the light of what you have said on this subject.
    In the mean time could you please let me know how far it is true that Jews have strong hold over US economy and media. I am told that most of the big news papers and TV channels are owned by the Jews. Indeed there is a strong Jewish or shall I say Israel lobby in Washington. What I am interested to know is how much influence US Jews have on American election process and its outcome by virtue of their control of US economy and media.

    1. reply from justin
      There are no statistics kept on Jewish ownership of capital, nor should there be, and nor is it very meaningful. Owners of the media act as owners, and are conscious of their corporate interests as owners, whether they happen to be Jewish or WASP or some other ethnicity. Looking at Jewish ownership of the media or of corporations is therefore not a useful way of thinking about media or economic issues – on the contrary, it leads down useless and also racist directions. Having said that, there are many wealthy supporters of Israel in North America who are Jewish and whose ideological affiliation with Israel is related to their Jewish nationalist and Zionist affiliation. But again, think about the strategic implications. Should supporters of peace and an end to apartheid in Israel/Palestine therefore work on trying to reduce Jewish influence or wealth in North America, or should they campaign on the basis of international law, rights, and equality, knowing that there are Jews and others, wealthy and not, on both sides of that divide, and that once there are sufficient numbers of committed anti-apartheid people in North America, even the wealthy and committed “supporters of Israel” won’t be able to stop change? The former course leads to sloppy thinking and worse, bigotry against Jews. The second course has the potential to divide “supporters of Israel” as well as provide space for people of conscience regardless of background or communal affiliation.

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