The refugee turned celebrity-dissident, Natan Sharansky, and re-reading the Exodus novel

Natan Sharansky, right wing Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident, was awarded the 2020 Genesis prize in Israel. A prestigious award, it is given to prominent personalities for their promotion of human rights. Sharansky, born in what is now the Ukraine, gained international fame and recognition as a courageous human rights and democracy advocate in the 1970s and 80s. A famed prisoner of conscience, his ostensible lifelong advocacy of human rights does not extend to the Palestinians.

Let’s unpack this subject.

Sharansky, a maths whizz and chess prodigy, became known as a refusenik – a description given to Soviet Jews denied permission to emigrate to Israel. Imprisoned by the Soviet authorities in the early 1970s, Sharansky’s cause for freedom was taken up by numerous conservative heavyweight politicians in the United States, West Germany and other nations. Spending time in solitary confinement, Sharansky was released in 1986 as part of a prisoner exchange.

He became a celebrity dissident, writing books and giving lectures about the triumph of individual liberty over government tyranny. The Sharansky cause célèbre seemed to achieve vindication in the late 1980s, when former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev permitted Soviet Jews to emigrate. Sharansky’s status as a hero of our times seemed assured.

Sharansky’s career as a political operator in Israel since the 1990s undermines his portrayal as a human rights hero. His politics is that of the ultranationalist and religious chauvinist Right, based on the large Russian Jewish constituency. Quashing any kind of compromise with the Palestinians, Sharansky has promoted the cause of ultra-rightist nationalism in Israel, and has encouraged annexationist policies in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

Sharansky, and his staunch ally Avigdor Lieberman (a similarly former Soviet Jew) have voiced hateful sentiments about the Palestinians and Arabs in general, have protested any moves by Israeli governments to withdraw from Palestinian territories, and have advocated near-genocidal policies with regard to neighbouring Arab states. For instance, Lieberman, a former settler and defence minister, suggested that Israel bomb the Aswan dam to force concessions from their Egyptian counterparts.

Sharansky has consistently and enthusiastically supported the Israeli government’s hostile and discriminatory policies towards African Jewish refugees. While Tel Aviv has presented itself as a friendly homeland for the Jewish communities in the diaspora, its mistreatment of Ethiopian and African refugees indicates otherwise. African asylum seekers, Sharansky stated, were not welcome in Israeli society, were unassimilable in his opinion, and constitute an unnecessary drain on precious financial resources.

Every person has the right to express themselves without fear of persecution, including Sharansky. If he wishes to write books and give lectures – good luck to him. During the Cold War, anti-Soviet dissidents were glorified, even though many of them had ultra-rightist and racist views.

When a person is elevated to a status of a human rights icon, upheld as a courageous advocate for democracy, we have the right to expose and denounce their hypocrisy. If Sharansky’s politics make him a solid ally of the American neoconservative Right – the politicians who advocated for war against Arab-majority nations – then Sharansky deserves condemnation for his pro-war views.

Sharansky’s contemptuous view of, and racialised hostility towards, Arabs and Palestinians in particular is not uncommon in the wider Israeli society. In fact, the heroic view of Jewish immigration to Palestine – framed as the Aliyah – has served to disguise the colonising project of Zionist ideology. That template of Jewish return to Palestine has also defined Anglo-American (and Australian) attitudes to the Palestinian question.

Leon Uris, the late Zionist writer, set the tone for Western audiences with his best-selling 1958 novel, Exodus. The latter was made into an award-winning movie in 1960. The novel sets out a fictionalised version of escaping Jewish refugees, who fight official British intransigence and indifference, to make their way to Palestine. Upheld as heroic settler-pioneers, the novel and subsequent movie have formed the basic framework through which audiences have interpreted the Israeli settler state.

It has been an exceptional work of propaganda, and it is its depiction of Arabs that most concerns us here. While the Israeli settlers are portrayed as valiant, dedicated fighters for the cause of liberation, the Arabs (if they rate a mention) are portrayed as dirty, uneducated, irrational savages. The Israelis of Uris’ imagination – generally white-skinned and blond – are resourceful in developing the land. The Arabs in contrast, are stuck in medieval ways, live in unsanitary conditions and are motivated only by an obsessive and fanatical anti-Semitism.

When the colonised people are dehumanised – the word ‘Arab’ is consistently prefaced with the adjectives ‘dirty’ or ‘smelly’ – their humanity as a people is denied. There is an abundance of Palestinian writing – novels, short stories, poetry, academic books – that articulate the experiences of dispossession and exile. Their suffering is ignored or minimised, and their works do not receive corporate or government largesse available to Sharansky.

While the Palestinians have appealed for international support from antiracist groups, such as Black Lives Matter, Sharansky has shown where his sympathies lie – with the Hong Kong ultranationalist protesters. The latter have consciously allied with far right American politicians, as well as the Trump administration, who advocate the suppression of BLM and the antiracism protests.

A commitment to human rights cannot exclude the demand for Palestinian self-determination. The hypocrisy of at the heart of Sharansky’s perspective stands exposed.

From the anti-Vietnam war movement to Black Lives Matter – the recycled myth of the badly-behaved protesters

Since the anti-Vietnam war protests, including the civil rights movement, right down to today’s Black Lives Matter rallies, there has been a common theme advocated by the conservative Right – the disrespectful, badly behaved protester. The latter stereotype has been deployed not only to counter the protest movements, but to delegitimise the ideas and actions of the protesters, reinforce a conservative reaction, and distract popular outrage into unnecessary channels.

Let’s examine all of this more closely.

Civil rights protesters, and the anti-Vietnam war movement, faced the lawless violence of the police and state authorities. African Americans breaking the segregation laws were met not with polite requests to cease and desist, but with unrestrained racist violence by police, often accompanied by white vigilantes – the latter normally under the protection of the authorities. Dr King was always a nonviolent protester – and he was shot dead.

Racist militia groups, motivated by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, committed pogroms and atrocities against the black American community. They were the auxiliary arm of the US authorities as they tried to clamp down civil rights protesters. Ismail Muhammad, writing in The New Republic, explains that:

The Civil Rights movement made outright, avowed beliefs in white supremacy socially unacceptable. But racist mob violence has a long and robust history in the U.S., both before the 1960s and after. It forms a part of America’s political sediment, a foundation upon which our contemporary politics are built. 

The civil rights protests of the 1950s and 60s were dismissed by their opponents as paid dupes of a shadowy (sometimes Communist) presence – the Jews. The claim that Jews – in the shape of a vast, financially powerful, veiled malevolence – was circulated by white nationalist and racist organisations to discredit the real issues of racism and segregation raised by the civil rights protesters.

While American Jews participated strongly in civil rights actions, the falsehood that Jews manipulated or controlled the protest movement serves to undermine the agency of black Americans to organise themselves around important sociopolitical issues.

Portraying the African Americans as naive pawns of a vast Jewish conspiracy has its echoes today. The claim that billionaire George Soros is funding today’s Black Lives Matter protesters is a recycled, slanderously false rendition of the old ‘Jewish conspiracy’ trope. Soros, of Jewish origin, has long been a target of conspiracist falsehoods promoted by extreme right wing and racist organisations.

Today’s BLM protests are dismissed by the conservative punditocracy as a cunning manipulated tactic of the (usually foreign) Jewish billionaire. Soros has been demonised as a destabilising and malign influence, responsible for ‘paying protesters’ on multiple occasions. Attacking Soros as an underhanded influencer of the malignant kind is the perfect gateway to anti-Semitic vitriol. The Soros-funded protester is the latest incarnation of the historic anti-Semitic shadow – the international Jew.

US President Donald Trump has done his level-best to attack BLM as a product of ‘dark forces’ and professional agitators, but he is hardly alone, and certainly not the first to do so. Blaming social unrest on outsiders, or regarding them as the dupes of malevolent and underhanded figures, has a long anti-Semitic pedigree. Instead of having a national conversation about the difficult economic and political issues of our times, we are taken down a well-worn path of bigotry.

The myth of the disrespectful protester gained new currency in the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam war. Defeated by the Vietnamese, the US authorities were looking for reasons to explain their defeat. From the 1980s, and in particular from the 1991 Gulf War, the story of the disrespected Vietnam veteran began circulating as a conservative response to the mass social movements of the 60s and 70s.

One of the most famous claims from the anti-Vietnam war era is the myth of the ‘spitting protester‘. Driven by disrespect, throngs of hippie-antiwar activists allegedly gathered at airports to confront returning Vietnam veterans with gobs of saliva-spit and insults of ‘baby killers’. The pathos of these stories is undeniable – but there is not a single piece of corroborating evidence to verify these stories.

Jerry Lembkce, a Vietnam veteran and sociology professor, undertook an extensive investigation into these stories of badly behaved, disrespectful antiwar protesters and found no evidence that back up the claims. However, the mythology of the war-at-home-after-the-war Vietnam veteran has achieved a cultural norm status. In fact, the antiwar protests included, among others, numerous Vietnam veterans.

Returning soldiers were welcomed by antiwar groups, and participated in organising activities. Vietnam veterans formed their own antiwar associations as well. However, none of this stopped Hollywood from churning out movies depicting the badly mistreated veteran, where patriotism became synonymous with pro-war. This claim gained national prominence in the ensuing years.

Today, cynical concerns about COVID-19 clusters are being perversely used to deny anti-racism protests – even though not a single COVID-19 case has been traced to any BLM or anti-racism rallies. The concerns for a potential surge in coronavirus cases were not used to stop the reopening of businesses, workplaces, shopping centres and other areas of close social contact.

Before we deploy the tired old cliche of badly behaved (or paid) protesters, let’s actually have a discussion about the economic and racial disparities that generate social upheaval.

When Hindu supremacy meets white nationalism – the intersection of transnational bigotry

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built up a solid friendship with US President Donald Trump since the latter took office. It may seem strange that a South Asian head of state would find common ground with an avowed white supremacist.

Scratch beneath the surface, and we will find a political correspondence based on mutually-reinforcing bigotry; white nationalism on Trump’s part, and ultranationalist Hindu supremacism from Modi. In fact, the ideology advocated by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is directly based on its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The latter is longest continuously-existing fascist movement in the world, and seeks to establish India as Hindutva, a Hindu supremacist state excluding ethnic minorities.

Narendra Modi is a longtime activist and missionary for the fascistic RSS. The latter, founded in 1925, is the wellspring of Hindu nationalist ideology. Its acolytes promote an exclusionary and Hindu communalist vision of India – a vision that Modi and the BJP have faithfully implemented since coming to power in 2014. The RSS, the National Volunteer Organisation, does not directly participate in party politics. However, its fanatical devotees have numerous offspring groups which control the streets and levers of power, such as the ruling BJP.

The RSS and its affiliates throughout society have organised mass pogroms and violence against India’s minority communities. In the name of purging India of non-Hindu elements, the RSS militants have carried out attacks, demolished mosques and imposed a strictly conservative Hindu nationalist political agenda. Its version of history regards the Muslim community, and Islam in general, to be a threat to the Hindutva state. Islamophobia is a common, uniting feature of the Indian and American far right.

One of the main leaders and ideologues of the RSS was Veer Savarkar, an anti colonial activist and scholar. Writing in his seminal 1923 text, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, Savarkar elaborated a strictly religious foundation and boundary for the Indian state. Hinduism, he claimed, would be the sole organising principle of the entire society. Viewing Islam and Christianity as ‘foreign religions’, he expressed his admiration for Mussolini’s fascist regime. In the 1930s, Savarkar voiced his support for Hitler and the Nazi party.

Savarkar, and RSS partisans today, express their open admiration for Zionism and the colonial policies of the Israeli settler state. In the 1920s and 30s, Savarkar and his co-thinkers, were influenced by the Zionist model of building an exclusionary ethnonationalist state, reflected in the concept of muscular Hindutva. Current Indian PM Modi has built up a working alliance with the Israeli government of PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

There was a time when independent India denounced Zionism as an exclusionary ideology and a form of racism. That is no longer the case with PM Modi and his Hindutva ideology. Indeed, the BJP government is using the Zionist example as a template for its own actions.

When the UN in 1947, decided to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, Savarkar was particularly disappointed. Since the 1920s, the RSS has voiced its support for the settler-colonial philosophy of Zionism. Savarkar stated that the realisation of the Zionist project would gladden him as much as the Jewish settlers. Supporting an ethnonationalist Jewish state did not stop Savarkar from admiring Nazi Germany. He elaborated the view that India’s Muslims should be treated in the same way that Hitler treated Germany’s Jewish communities.

Hindutva is not only a religious exclusionary concept, but easily crosses over into a racialist one as well. The white nationalists in the United States want to construct a whites-only racially unified state – a goal that finds parallels in the Hindutva project in India. The Nazi party did not only borrow the hooked cross – the swastika – from Hindu India.

The pseudoscientific notion of an Aryan super-race of a long-lost ancient civilisation is not Germanic in origin, but derives from Hindu-Vedic mythology. Recovering the ancient glories of a mythic ‘great race’ motivates not only the Hindu nationalist community, but also the pan-Germanic anti-Semitism which fed into Nazi ideology.

The Sanskrit civilisation of early India, called Indo-European or Aryan, was transformed into a political project by 19th century pan-German nationalists. In the pseudo archaeological imagination of European white supremacy, Aryan was transmogrified into ‘whiteness’, and thus began a crisscrossing of racist pseudohistory.

The admiration for, and appropriation of, Hindu-Vedic mythology, continued with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Himmler and Nazi leaders read the Hindu texts, the Bhagavad Gita, respected the hierarchical structure of the Indian caste system, and regarded themselves as reviving the racial purity of the original Aryan civilisation.

Himmler, as head of the SS, viewed his organisation as a modern application of the Kshatriyakaste, the old warrior caste from the Hindu-Vedic social structure. Racial killings, for the Nazi party, were not crimes, but service for the revival of an Aryan new order based on a mythical glorious past. Imperial nostalgia based on pseudoarchaeology makes for a toxic combination.

While Trump and American white nationalists deserve vocal condemnation, we can not afford to ignore the rise of religious ethnonationalist supremacy closer to home. The rise of Hindutva, in the form of the governing party of India, the BJP, is its own form of toxic bigotry. The fight against the far right must necessarily have a global perspective.

The Russian bounties fabrication is intended to keep the Afghanistan war going

In late June this year, the New York Times published a sensational exposé; Russian military intelligence, the GRU, paid bounties to Taliban guerrillas so the latter would kill American troops in Afghanistan. This startling revelation began a spiralling process of questioning and counter accusations between the US military and the various intelligence services.

After two weeks, the NY Times published a crucial admission: there is no factual basis for this allegation. Why was this uncorroborated claim published without any critical examination or skepticism, which created a media frenzy and public outrage? Why was no evidence for this claim produced, or any witnesses brought forward, in any of the articles published by the mainstream media?

Perhaps there is a level of incompetence in the corporate media. That explanation, while plausible, is unconvincing. Why? Back in November 2019, the NY Times was fully aware of the systematic and unrelenting deception practiced by the US authorities regarding the Afghanistan war. Dubbed the Afghanistan Papers, documents obtained by the Washington Post detail a scandalous pattern of lying on the part of the Pentagon and associated American authorities.

The US government, worried about the stalemated nature of its Afghan invasion, routinely misrepresented the situation on the ground, waging a concerted misinformation campaign spanning the 18-year (soon to be 19-year) US invasion of that nation. Framing the conflict as one of ‘progress’, the American government deliberately misled the public regarding the ongoing suffering and misery inflicted on the Afghan people.

The US authorities consciously lied about the Afghanistan war, denying that ground was being lost to the Taliban. The Afghan government, propped up by force of American arms, is a near-perfect example of a kleptocracy, impelled by corruption and avarice. Millions of US dollars, earmarked for the purported development of the nation, has disappeared into the pockets of Afghan ministers and officials.

The US war on Afghanistan, launched in 2001 on the purported rationale of responding to the 9/11 terrorist attack, has not brought the lofty ideals of democratic government or human rights to that nation. Extensive investigations by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has revealed that atrocities and war crimes have been perpetrated by the elite Australian SAS soldiers.

Afghan civilians have been murdered with impunity by the SAS troops, and a culture of coverup has allowed the perpetrators of such crimes to continue operating without any consequences or accountability. Major-General Adam Findlay, special forces commander, admitted that Australian troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Australian military forces are operating as allies of the United States.

Human Rights Watch has documented the atrocities and abuses by Afghan soldiers, backed by CIA-supported death squads, killing civilians under the guise of conducting the so-called war on terror. Counterinsurgency is a broad concept, and under that term, CIA-backed paramilitaries working for the Kabul government have committed numerous mass killings. These are not isolated or atypical events, but rather part of a systematic campaign to terrorise the civilian population.

It would be delusional to think that American intervention in Afghanistan only began in 2001 with the commencement of the ostensible and misnamed ‘war on terror’. The United States, under successive administrations, has been intervening in Afghanistan since the late 1970s, when the Democrat President Jimmy Carter, sponsored various Islamist parties and militias to wage a mujahideen anti-Communist insurgency against the socialist regime in Kabul.

Paying Islamist guerrillas to fight in Afghanistan, the United States intended to restore the old landlord class, wealthy mullahs and reverse the social gains of the Kabul socialist regime. After repeated requests, Moscow decided to intervene, and thus began the long-running Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. Withdrawing in 1989, the Soviets were implementing their part in an agreement with the US to de-escalate the conflict.

The US reneged on the arrangement, and continued supplying and paying the numerous Islamist militias to fight the Kabul regime. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia, a solid ally of the United States, strongly supported the Afghan Islamist forces throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s, the various mujahideen factions, having occupied Kabul, then turned on each other, reducing the country to ruins. The Taliban emerged as a ‘purer’, untainted Islamist militia, and took control in 1996.

The purpose of revisiting this relevant historical background is not to elicit reactions of boredom. It is to understand that manufactured outrage about the killing of ‘our troops’ is poisonous venom in the mainstream media. The conduct of the American authorities reeks of hypocrisy. The United States has a long and disturbing history of covertly sponsoring and supporting extremist Islamist groups, using them as a counterweight to secular, socialist and nationalist forces in the Middle East.

The Russian bounties story is yet another attempt to foment pro-war sentiment among the American population, perversely disguised as ‘concern’ for the lives and wellbeing of American soldiers. Rather than a cynical exercise in fabricating ‘outrage’ about the conduct of others, it would be more productive to rethink the trillion-dollar cost of the ‘war on terror’, the latter being the origin rationale for the Afghanistan ordeal.

How many schools, hospitals, medical equipment, public infrastructure could have been built with the trillions of dollars spent on the global war on terror? Our outrage should fuel condemnation of US imperial wars, and the scandalous conduct of that nation’s institutions.

We see history more clearly after tearing down statues of racist colonisers

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, criticised the Black Lives Matter (BLM), stating we should not import their issues and causes into the Australian context. Perhaps he is unaware of modern history, but white nationalism is a global ideology, and its advocates derive supporters and inspiration from its application across the globe.

The most successful exporter of white nationalist ideology, and the most efficient practitioner of that ideology, was the capitalist British empire. Employing ruthless means, the British ruling class expanded its operating frontiers, not only to increase its economic wealth. White supremacy was the ideological glue that cemented connections between the empire’s colonies and English centre. The empire was held together by overwhelming coercion, racism and economic exploitation of its nonwhite peoples.

One of the major results of exporting English imperial capitalism was the eventual emergence of the nation of Australia. Founded on the dispossession of the indigenous nations, the newly constructed Australian capitalist class used, among other methods, slave labour to enrich itself – blackbirding, as it is known in Australia. The kidnapping and forcible exploitation of Melanesian labourers on the cotton fields and pearling industries of the new nation have been amply documented.

What is not so well-known is the warm reception granted by Australia to a class of fleeing merchants from another colonial-settler nation – slave owners and traders from Louisiana, in the United States. As the American civil war began, the viability of continued cotton plantations – resting as they did on slave labour – was being undermined. The plantation owners who fled that state found an opportunity for a fresh start, in Queensland, Australia.

Louisiana planters, finding their cotton production grinding to a halt, found a receptive commercial environment in Queensland. Given a business-friendly economic setup, they continued their use of slave labourers, albeit from a different source – the Pacific Islands. Queensland became the replacement cotton industry for those slave owners and traders whose businesses were disrupted in the United States. It is indicative that the Queensland colony’s authorities – ultimately responsible to Britain – were quite comfortable with providing asylum to their fellow white supremacists from the northern hemisphere.

When protesters pull down statues of Columbus in the US, or slave traders like Edward Colston in Britain, the reflexive cry of ‘just get over it’ can be heard in the shrill conservative punditocracy. This claim is intended to dampen any debate about our collective history, and provide a rationale for continued historical amnesia regarding the black presence in white majoritarian nations. Indeed, such a cry undermines an extensive examination of how our societies became white majority states in the first place.

In this context, it is instructive to note that the white nationalist view of history extends beyond national boundaries, and engages in historical revisionism of its own. Dylann Roof, the white nationalist American who gunned down several African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, was wearing the flag of the long-dead white supremacist state of Rhodesia on his person, among other racist symbols. Rhodesia-nostalgia has become a bedrock of white nationalist propaganda.

As John Ismay, writing in The New York Times, explains it:

Nostalgia for Rhodesia has since grown into a subtle and profitable form of racist messaging, with its own line of terminology, hashtags and merchandise, peddled to military-history fans and firearms enthusiasts by a stew of far-right provocateurs.

Reclaiming the long-gone white supremacist nationalism of Rhodesia has long and disturbing echoes. In fact, the decision by the-then Rhodesian government to declare independence was based precisely on a tribalist refusal to accede to majority-rule in the former British colony. American (and Australian) white nationalism extends its cross-border solidarity to the historic whites-only statelet, to indicate their desire to configure their own societies on the same organising principle as that of Rhodesia.

The appeal to Rhodesia nostalgia is not a mere hobby-like exercise in historical appreciation. It plays the same, albeit updated role, that the myth of the “Lost Cause” of the slave-owning Confederacy plays within the circles of white nationalist retroactive victimhood. Preying upon the real socioeconomic anxieties of poor white workers, Rhodesia nostalgia channels those social concerns into an anti-immigrant direction, mythologising a supposedly lost ‘golden age’ of a white exclusionary tribalism.

While current US President Donald Trump has recycled old white nationalist tropes in his current capacity, it would be delusional to think that white nationalism began with him. In the last stages of World War 2, as the regime faced certain defeat in 1945, the United States provided a secretive yet crucial refuge for white supremacists fleeing Europe. Operation Paperclip was a secret American initiative to recruit Nazi scientists, engineers and technical experts, and seamlessly assimilate them into the burgeoning US military-industrial complex.

The Soviets also nabbed German scientists, in 1946, as well. This measure is routinely interpreted as evidence of an ideological correspondence between two ‘totalitarianisms’. Let us for the moment accept that rationale. What excuse does the United States have for initiating such a programme? I think there is a little-examined yet striking ideological continuity between the ostensibly democratic United States and Nazi Germany – mutual dedication to white supremacy.

Prior to World War 2, when Nazi party ideologues and leaders were looking for a successful example of a racially-stratified society, they found inspiration and legally-significant examples to emulate in the United States. The goal of a whites-only homeland found common currency on both sides of the Atlantic. Adolf Hitler’s opposition to race-mixing was well within mainstream thinking about race in the United States.

Tearing down statues of racist conquistadors, rather than erasing history, provides a necessary starting-point for illuminating the darkest corners of imperial colonisation. We would do well to consider whom we uphold as venerable figures for our children.

The Korean War Memorial in Sydney, toppling statues and understanding what we memorialise

In Sydney’s picturesque Moore Park, there is a memorial to those Australians who served in the Korean War. Located at the northernmost tip of the park, it is always a pleasurable experience to visit the memorial. Moore Park is close to the large and cultivated Centennial Parklands, a popular destination for walkers, cyclists, joggers and tourists. This past June 25th marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

A small service was held to mark the occasion, attended by Australian defence force personnel and members of the Korea War Veterans association. The memorial honours those Australians who perished in that conflict, and is a welcome addition to the beautiful surrounds of Moore Park. In the immediate aftermath of the global movement in toppling statues, the primary designer of the memorial was asked for her thoughts.

Jane Cavanough, the designer, stated that she welcomed the debates and histories that have found expression and wider audiences in the context of questioning historical landmarks. To that end, let’s make a contribution to the question of the Korean War, and what we are memorialising. There is no disputing that Australians suffered during that conflict. But let us not allow our own nationalism to blind us to the horrendous suffering endured by the Korean people.

What most Australians do not realise – just like most Americans – is that the United States, during the Korean conflict, demolished the North Korean side in its entirety. Between 1950 and 1953, North Korea was subjected to intensive aerial bombardment by the US Air Force, in which every city and town in North Korea was destroyed.

Under the direction of General Curtis LeMay, the US proceeded to drop more bomb tonnage on North Korea than during the American campaign in the Pacific in World War 2. When all the buildings, hospitals, roads and schools were bombarded, the US proceeded to bomb rice fields, dams, and other civilian infrastructure, bringing North Korea’s population to the brink of starvation. Aid from China and the Soviet Union averted a wider catastrophe.

Napalm, incendiary bombs, and fragmentation weapons were used to kill and vaporise hundreds of thousands, possibly millions. The North Korean countryside was left scorched and poisoned – but yet, after the war’s conclusion, North Korea rebuilt its society house by house, street by street, brick by brick. After World War 2 concluded, the major powers declared that industrialised mass killing would be outlawed and never occur again.

In the early stages of the world, General Douglas MacArthur, renowned American commander in the Pacific during World War 2, requested 34 atomic bombs to be used to create a radioactive belt in northern China to prevent any land invasion of Korea. Planning an aggressive war to achieve predatory war aims was something for which Nazi and Imperial Japanese generals had been convicted.

Surely South Korea is a democracy, a capitalist economic miracle and ally protected by the US and its friends, such as Australia? There is an element of truth to this description, but not in the way that the majority of Americans (and Australians) realise. The South Korean regime, based in Seoul and installed by the US in 1945, has spent most of its life as various military dictatorships. Syngman Rhee, the fanatical Christian and conservative supported by American arms, ruled South Korea with an iron fist, establishing a police-terror state. Thousands of suspected leftists and regime opponents were tortured and killed by 1950.

If South Korea currently implements democratic practices, it is not because of the regime. It is because South Korean people have periodically risen up and ousted widely-despised military dictators. Syngman Rhee, the longtime strongman, was deposed by the 1960 April revolution. He fled to Hawaii. In 1980, the little-known Gwangju uprising overthrew yet another set of military rulers. The Gwangju revolt was not without its casualties; highly trained elite special forces were deployed to suppress the rebellion.

It is very true that South Korea emerged as an economic tiger in the Asia Pacific. In the 1950s and 60s, Seoul pursued a series of policies that boosted its economy and lifted people out of poverty. But let us be clear on the reasons for their success. Contrary to today’s quasi-religious ideology of free-market fundamentalism, it was the state-driven capitalism that accounted for the stunning growth of South Korea’s GDP and export-intensive economy.

Setting out five-year plans, the Korean state elaborated ambitious targets to be achieved in cooperation with the private sector. General Park Chung-hee, the main architect of this government-driven, centrally-planned economic recovery, learned from his experience as an officer in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, and corralled the state’s resources to attain spectacular economic growth. Following Japanese models of state-corporatism, General Park created a resurgent South Korean capitalist class.

The South Korean chaebol, which literally means ‘money clan’, is a corporate-dynastic structure, which involves concentrating wealth in the hands of a few ruling family-dynasties. Samsung, Hyundai, LG – now famous international companies, have their origins in a dynastic clannish structure. The alliance between the authoritarian state and the dynastic chaebols contributed to the stunning success of South Korea’s tiger economy. The chaebols are the cornerstones of the economic and political landscape of that nation.

Should the Korean War memorial in Sydney be demolished? No, it should not. Am I suggesting that an enormous statue of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un be constructed in Sydney and worshipped? No, I am not. We need to have a long-overdue national conversation about what we memorialise whenever we commemorate US imperial wars, and what the Asian nations have to say about those wars.

Commemorative memorials do not compensate for serious historical amnesia.

Toppling statues, Black Lives Matter, and Zionism

Across the world, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against racism and police brutality have compelled countries in Europe (and Australia for that matter) to reconsider their own racist histories. For instance, protesters in Belgium removed the statue of King Leopold II, who was responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial adventures in that continent. Statues of Confederate generals are being torn down in the United States.

However, not everyone is supportive of BLM.

Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organisation of America and enthusiastic Israel-supporter, denounced the BLM movement in the following words on Twitter:

BLM is a Jew-hating, white-hating, Israel-hating, conservative Black-hating, violence-promoting, dangerous Soros-funded extremist group of haters

Let’s take a look at this stinging attack on BLM, and why prominent Zionist groups find the anti-racism of BLM a strategic threat.

Klein is not alone – numerous Zionist organisations have denounced BLM in similarly vitriolic terms. Israel’s leaders and their supporters have attacked BLM as an anti-Semitic movement, conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The latter is a frequently deployed tactic to smear critics of the Israeli state as being motivated by irrational prejudice.

Ali Abunimah, cofounder and editor of Electronic Intifada, noted that it is interesting to see Klein incorporate an anti-Semitic trope, the ‘George Soros puppet-master funding protests’, as a legitimate critique. In fact, a number of advisors close to current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recycled this right-wing conspiracy theory. The ‘globalist Jew’ funding revolutionary causes is an old, outdated anti-Semitic slander deployed to discredit social movements as just dupes or pawns in the hands of the ultimate puppeteer, the Jews.

Why is a Zionist circulating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory? Zionism at its core, is a political ideology that accepts the logic – if one can call it that – of the anti-Semite. Jews, according to the ideologues of Zionism, constitute a distinct, unassimilable, fixed entity no matter where they are born and raised. The proponents of Zionism offer a resolution of the Jewish question – building an exclusively Jewish state in their ‘old-new’ ancestral home of Palestine. Zionism has always been a racialist philosophy.

The BLM movement openly supports and cooperates with the Palestinians, not for any anti-Semitic reasons, but precisely because of Zionism’s racist conception of Palestinians and Arabs. The founders of Zionism made no secret of their colonialist and racist attitudes towards the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, and offered their services to various colonial powers – such as Britain – to construct an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. BLM offers its anti-racist solidarity to the Palestinians.

It is no secret that anti-Semitic and far-right parties across the world look to Israel as an example to follow. They in turn provide political support for the objectives of Zionism. Ultranationalist and racist European parties have expressed their admiration for Zionism and Israel, and a number have visited that nation in a show of political solidarity. Netanyahu has been quick to reciprocate.

The United Nations, in 2017, issued a damning report comparing the practices of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians with the policies of the apartheid government in South Africa. The process of ghettoisation and partition of the occupied Palestinian Territories bear striking similarities to those implemented by the white Afrikaners towards the black South African population.

Ronnie Kasrils, a formerly leading activist the African National Congress (ANC) and subsequent government minister, wrote that as a Jewish South African, he saw the fundamental similarities between apartheid in South Africa and the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians. The Afrikaners who settled in South Africa founded states for themselves – Transvaal, Orange Free State – which became the union of South Africa. They were founded on the exclusion of the indigenous Africans. Zionism has produced a similar and parallel outcome in the land of Palestine.

Recognising the colonial-settler project of Zionism is not a product of irrational and fanatical anti-Semitism, but a recognition of the dispossession and exclusion of the Palestinians upon which Zionism is predicated. Indeed, Zionist leaders from the 1920s and 30s admitted that Palestinian resistance to Zionism was based on opposition to the colonising project, and not on any anti-Semitic hatred.

Tearing down statues of racist slave-traders, such as Edward Colston in Bristol, or conquistadors such as Christopher Columbus, is not an exercise in erasing history – far from it. The United States and Britain have been compelled to recognise and understand their histories of slavery and imperialism only because of the collective struggle of non-white peoples. Erecting statues to slavers, or Confederate generals, is an exercise in reasserting white supremacy, and constructing a white nationalist view of history.

The global protests in support of BLM are not motivated by hatred of white people, anymore than anti-Semitic prejudice. Indeed, African Americans and Jews have a long history of cooperation on the issue of civil rights in the United States. Political struggles always involve asking questions that make us uncomfortable about ourselves. Ran Greenstein, writing in 972 magazine, states that anti-Zionism is not a platform for anti-Semitism but rather an opportunity to correct historical wrongs inflicted on the Palestinians.

Black Lives Matter and Palestine form a historic alliance, opposed to all forms of racism. A necessary step towards decolonisation is the removal of historic monuments to the colonisers.

Trump’s racism is part and parcel of everyday mainstream white nationalism

White nationalism remains a flammable poison in the midst of US society.

Any notion that the United States is a post-racial society, or that racism was no longer an important issue, was dispelled by the eruption of anger at the spate of racist police killings in that country. Protesters demanding accountability of the police officers involved have taken to the streets. The mobilisations have been multiracial, reflecting opposition to racism from across the ethnic spectrum of society.

While I will not focus exclusively on this latest upsurge of protest, it is instructive to learn from a related incident just how deeply white supremacy infects every level of American society. The killing of George Floyd was not an aberration, but the latest chapter in a long, painful experience of black America with white supremacy.

Last month, US President Donald Trump, when touring a Ford factory plant in Michigan, made a remark which indicated the depth of his white nationalist outlook. He was at the motor company factory to praise Ford’s cooperation with General Electric, to produce ventilators and face masks. Departing from the prepared script, he declared that the Ford company’s director had ‘good bloodlines‘.

Henry Ford, the historic founder of the company and automaker, was a vicious anti-Semite and racist who used his financial power to promote racist literature and pro-Nazi views in American society. Trump’s remarks were not the first instance of his reference to good genes as evidence of superior intellect and achievement. He has spoken, for instance, of possessing ‘good German blood’ in explaining the reasons for his ostensible success in life.

Such sentiments correspondent to the worldview advocated by the late Henry Ford.

Trump’s words of praise were racist, but not unusual in the context of American white supremacy. In fact, it would be delusional in the extreme to place the entirety of blame for white racism on Trump’s shoulders. His white nationalist views did not arise out of nowhere, but constitute a continuation of white supremacist ideology deep in American society.

Since the end of the American civil war, white supremacist ideology, backed by significant sections of the ruling class, has fought a revanchist war of revenge, seeking to dispossess African Americans through various alternative economic and political measures. Racialised violence has periodically exploded to maintain and extend a functioning capitalist system.

The systemic racial vengefulness of the American capitalist system has manifested itself since the end of the civil war through poverty, degradation and legalised exclusion of the black American community. A neo-Confederate history of white racial terror provides the backdrop for police violence against people of colour. Police and state troopers provided the vector by which the virus of white supremacy spread.

Nostalgia for the Confederacy is not just a harmless, academic exercise in sustaining historical memory. The flag, statues of Confederate generals and soldiers, the symbolism and myths of ‘kindly Southern gentlemen‘, are all part of a campaign to rehabilitate and update white nationalism for modern purposes. The New York Times editorial board stated it plainly – when the US military names its bases after Confederate generals, they are honouring racist traitors.

There is still a statue in honour of Confederate general and racist traitor Robert E Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Earlier this year, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves declared April to be Confederate history month. Mississippi was one of the first slave owning states to secede and join the white supremacist Confederacy. Dylann Roof, the white racist killer who shot dead nine black American people in Charleston, South Carolina, was wearing the Confederate flag.

Prior to World War 2, the United States was a world leader in one crucial area, which provided inspiration for European white supremacists – the implementation of race laws. The Nazi party, while objecting to what they perceived as America’s weaknesses, were nevertheless inspired by the system of legalised racial segregation.

Adam Serwer, scholar and expert of race relations, wrote in a thoughtful article that:

The seed of Nazism’s ultimate objective—the preservation of a pure white race, uncontaminated by foreign blood—was in fact sown with striking success in the United States. What is judged extremist today was once the consensus of a powerful cadre of the American elite, well-connected men who eagerly seized on a false doctrine of “race suicide” during the immigration scare of the early 20th century. They included wealthy patricians, intellectuals, lawmakers, even several presidents. 

Black deaths at the hands of the police are not flaws or mistakes, they are the logical end product of racialised white supremacist capitalism. That is the conclusion of an article by Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. Whether it is access to education, employment or housing, or the higher rates of COVID-19 deaths among African Americans, racism is the underlying condition of capitalist America.

The civil rights movement, the election of a black President, and the symbol of Dr King, have been turned into a kind of false finish line under the problem of racism in the United States. The recent spate of racially motivated killings must help us readdress what we do not want to acknowledge – that racism is the norm in American society, not the exception.

The Zhivago affair, literature and propaganda

Literature is certainly a separate and distinct field from politics. Political power should never be used to pressure writers into towing a party line. But literature can never be indifferent to, or isolated from, the political climate.

Literature, in this case Doctor Zhivago, was turned into an instrument of Cold War propaganda – by the United States. Despite strenuous denials from Washington, the promotion of the novel by Boris Pasternak, and the latter’s award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was part of a concerted ‘soft power’ campaign to promote literature as a political weapon. This effort was orchestrated at the highest levels of the US government, and involved the CIA and British intelligence.

Let’s unpack this issue, and explore what it means for us today.

The Zhivago novel, and the cultural and political firestorm surrounding its publication, is the subject of The Zhivago Affair: the Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, published in 2014. The authors describe how the US ruling institutions recognised the political value of secretly publishing novels the Soviet government had banned.

Pasternak’s novel, published in 1957, gained an international audience, and earned its author a Nobel prize, due to its promotion by powerful forces in the capitalist West. In fact, it is no exaggeration to state that Pasternak’s pathway to the Nobel prize was paved for him by the CIA.

The novel itself, partly autobiographical and part historical drama, revolves around the life of Dr Yuri Zhivago in the wake of the 1917 Russian revolution and subsequent developments. The author, Boris Pasternak, while not anti-Soviet, basically remained indifferent to the socialist revolution. Pasternak achieved great fame as a novelist in the Soviet Union, gaining prestige as a national treasure. Previously honoured as a great writer, the Kremlin decided to ban his novel as a work contrary to the ideals and goals of the Soviet government.

The CIA and British intelligence sensed an opportunity. Secret copies of the book were smuggled out of the USSR, to be published and circulated in the capitalist nations. The book was illegally circulated through underground channels inside the Eastern bloc, with the express goal of exerting ideological pressure and encouraging Soviet citizens to question their state.

Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, though he was forced to reject it by the Soviet authorities. Made into a movie in the early 1960s, Pasternak became a symbol of artistic and literacy defiance in the face of authoritarianism. It is interesting to note that the US and British governments, while claiming to defend artists and writers from political persecution, used novels and literature as political weapons in their efforts to combat socialist culture and ideas.

For decades, the role of the US and Britain, and its covert political motivations, remained hidden behind a mask of promoting artistic and literary freedom. Writers and artists, we were told during the Cold War, should be free from politics and government interference. The Soviet premier at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, admitted in his memoirs, written years after the Zhivago affair, that he had been wrong in banning the novel.

The Nobel committee, in mending fences with the Soviet authorities, awarded the literature prize in 1965 to prominent Soviet novelist Mikhail Sholokhov, in particular for his epic, historical four-volume novel, And Quiet Flows the Don, which examines the Soviet government’s sweeping economic and cultural changes in the with the revolution, civil war and collectivisation on the Don Cossacks.

The book itself, average in tone and unremarkable, was promoted for its propagandistic value. This may seem a strange concept to grasp – surely the capitalist West does not engage in vulgar propaganda? Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, the authors of the book mentioned above who have examined the Zhivago affair, wrote that:

During the Cold War, the CIA loved literature – novels, short stories, poems. Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov. Books were weapons, and if a work of literature was unavailable or banned in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, it could be used as propaganda to challenge the Soviet version of reality.

Literature is not only a reflection of a given society, it can also influence the outlook of its readers, and become a potent force for shaping that society. The political ramifications of historical novels is something that cannot be handled by censorship, that is for sure. However, we would be deluding ourselves if we did not recognise the galvanising impact that a novel can have on political vision. This is not merely an academic question, but has real-world contemporary relevance.

Consider the case of The Turner Diaries.

Published in 1978 by American white supremacist and neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce, the Turner Diaries has achieved a kind of Bible-status among the white nationalist Right. The themes elaborated in the novel have inspired terrorist actions in the US, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The novel elaborates how ‘race traitors’, enemies of the white race, are eliminated, along with African Americans, Jews and other minorities. This book, rather than extolling a bygone era of slavery, shifted white nationalism onto a futuristic perspective. It provided a blueprint for white nationalist action, and served to unite splintered groups.

The tone of the novel is lurid and violent – with misogyny and anti-Semitism dripping from its pores. Its impact cannot be underestimated – it has become a seminal text in the canon of racist hate literature. It has served to inspire terrorist violence, and has spawned a veritable genre of racist literature. A hero fighting against the odds is not a new idea in American literature – but Pierce gave it a white supremacist spin. Canada, among a number of countries, has deemed the book hate literature, and has outlawed its importation.

It is time to face the reality that literature, even when not overtly political, is part of the political and cultural climate. It has the ability to set the framework through which millions of readers understand political and historical issues. The Soviet programme at cultural and social engineering was more ‘sledgehammer’ in form that in the United States. But make no mistake, capitalist cultural engineering, while subtle and psychological, is no less powerful and saturates the public mind.

Israel and the Gulf States – a partnership emerges from the shadows

Israel and the Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, have no formal ties.

However, this has not stopped a covert and sustained campaign of cooperative measures and socioeconomic linkages between Israel and the Gulf nations. Tamara Nassar, an assistant editor at Electronic Intifada, has written that political and economic connections between Tel Aviv and its Gulf partners has been justified under the rationale of encouraging inter religious cooperation between Muslims and Jews.

Israel and the Gulf states are pushing towards a normalisation of ties, entrenching cooperative measures that go back decades. By solidifying relations with the Gulf monarchies, Tel Aviv aims to isolate the Palestinians, score diplomatic and economic victories, and formalise an anti-Iranian alliance. Saudi Arabia has been advocating an anti-Iranian axis since the early 2000s, and is being encouraged in this course by US President Donald Trump.

In October 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Sultanate of Oman, with the goal of boosting relations with that country. Oman has maintained cordial ties with Israel, and has provided a sympathetic voice for Tel Aviv among the Gulf nations. This visit comes on top of extensive back channel ties and communications between the Gulf states and Tel Aviv.

In February this year, two senior Israeli intelligence figures visited the nation of Qatar, for talks about security cooperation between the two nations. Qatar has hosted pro-Zionist political operators in the past, and has provided a platform for pro-Israeli evangelical Christian groups to advocate their millenarian apocalyptic visions for the Middle East.

Back in 2015, journalist and political commentator Murtaza Hussain, writing for The Intercept, noted that the extent and depth of the burgeoning and clandestine Israel-Gulf states alliance was gradually being revealed. With the Arab uprisings, and the removal of the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, the GCC nations and Israel stepped up their cooperative outreach.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has maintained longstanding security and economic connections with Tel Aviv. In the wake of the pandemic crisis, Abu Dhabi sent a plane load of COVID-19 medical aid to Tel Aviv, the first direct flight between the two countries. The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, hailed this step, and expresses his hope that this would accelerate the normalisation process.

Warming business relations and security arrangements are increasingly coming into public view. Israel intended to open its own pavilion at the World Expo 2020, slated to be held this year, but postponed due to the pandemic. Ties have been promoted under the cynical excuse of interfaith dialogue and Muslim-Jewish understanding. Such a rationale is a perverse deployment of a commendable goal to disguise coldly calculated political and economic objectives.

In fact, portraying the Israel-Palestine conflict as one originating primarily in religious differences between Jews and Muslims only serves to obscure the settler-colonialist ideology of Zionism, the underpinning which motivates the Israeli ruling class’ measures to create a Jewish-only state. Rather than some nebulous, historic ages-old animosity between Judaism and Islam, the conflict is underscored by the colonialist mentality and programme of the Zionist political project.

Ian Black, scholar and former Middle East editor for the Guardian, wrote an article elaborating why Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, led by Saudi Arabia, are quietly cozying up to each other. He wrote:

Evidence is mounting of increasingly close ties between Israel and five of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – none of which have formal relations with the Jewish state. Trump highlighted this accelerating change on his first foreign trip as president – to the Saudi capital Riyadh – by flying on directly afterwards to Tel Aviv.

Black notes that since the founding of the Zionist state in 1948, involving the expulsion of 700 000 Palestinians from their homeland, the Arab states have shared a collective opposition to Tel Aviv. Israel, for its part, has attempted to break out of this hostile environment by forging alliances with Gulf nations that are historically supportive of Anglo-American interests and imperial objectives. In this way, the Zionist state acquires friendly Arab allies, and isolates the Palestinians.

Outreach measures by Tel Aviv are neither new nor original. Since its inception in 1948, Israeli ruling circles have made concerted efforts to find allies in sub-Saharan Africa. Reaching out to non-Arab African states, with promises of security and technological cooperation, has been a crucial programme. Falsely portraying itself as an ‘anti-colonial’ venture, Israel has formed relationships with numerous African countries as they declared independence in the 1950s and 60s.

While sub-Saharan African nations have been supportive of the Palestinians, this has not stopped Israeli PM Netanyahu from establishing friendly relations with numerous African states. Ramzy Baroud, Palestinian journalist and scholar, noted that breaking Afro-Arab unity is a primary objective of the Israeli administration. It is no secret that Israel supports moves towards an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, as a reliable non-Arab ally in that region.

Never has the aphorism “you are known by the friends you keep” been more relevant and applicable.