Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism

In 2005, Palestinian human rights groups and civil rights organisations launched a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel. This campaign has multiple aims, one of them being to pressure the Israeli government to comply with United Nations resolutions, and ensure that its policies conform with international law and the Universal principles of human rights. Specifically, the BDS campaign intends to achieve the full recognition of Palestinians as equal citizens within the state of Israel, to achieve the right of return of Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel since 1948, as demanded by Article 11 of the United Nations general assembly resolution 194, and to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab land, cease the building of settlements and dismantle the ongoing Israeli West Bank barrier (also known as The Wall).

This campaign has attracted its supporters around the world, including Palestine solidarity activists in Australia. Various socialist and Left groups have strongly supported the BDS campaign. But the campaign has received strident criticism from Zionist organisations, political parties supportive of Israel and the ever-hostile Murdoch media establishment. Professor Irwin Cotler, former Justice Minister in the Canadian government, warned of what he called the ‘de-legitimisation’ of Israel, being promoted by campaigns like BDS. This de-legitimisation is nothing new, he argued, being based in anti-Semitism. Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, long known for his support of Israel, went further and attacked the BDS campaign for ‘abetting terrorism’, and for being an obstacle to peace. The BDS campaign has faced charges of anti-Semitism by Australian politicians and trade union leaders as well. Indeed, criticism of the state of Israel, its policies and founding ideology of Zionism is routinely met with the charge of anti-Semitism.

This charge usually serves to silence any debate about Israel’s policies, slander the critic with a tag that is dripping with historic vitriol, and delegitimise any measures by Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists to achieve full human rights for the Palestinians and the associated Palestinian refugees. If a critic of Israel is motivated by good old ethnic-racial hatred, then their claims for equal rights and statehood recognition are discredited. The supporters of the Palestinian cause can then be ignored, and their claims of Palestinian statehood rejected as the outpourings of the irrationally obsessed, mindlessly hateful partisans of anti-Semitism, motivated by revulsion of the Jewish people and their culture.

Let us examine more closely the issue of anti-Semitism, the claims of Zionism and its realisation in the state of Israel, and the tactic of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Anti-Semitism is an irrational, xenophobic hatred of Jews as a people; regarding the Jewish people around the world as constituting one indivisible, biologically unchanging entity that comprise one nation.

Anti-Semitism is nothing new, being based in the traditional religious, namely Christian hostility to the Jewish culture and people. After the lifetime of Jesus, early Christian attitudes towards the Jews began to harden. Anti-Jewish attitudes and doctrines were part of Christian teaching and popular art from the earliest times of the established Christian church. The gospel of John, written much later than the three other gospel books, contains the most decisive comments indicating a break with Judaism, though this book is less historical than the others. This kind of religious anti-Semitism was partly based on theological differences, competition for followers, and misapprehension of Talmudic beliefs and practices.

The religious-based anti-Semitism of centuries past has been largely superseded by the more modern-sounding, pseudo-scientific anti-Jewish prejudice, which singles out Jews as incapable of assimilating into their host nation, and motivated by a tribalist-racial hostility to non-Jews, and unwilling to adapt to the secular, ‘modern’ values of the West. Modern day, nationalistic anti-Semitism adopted a particular political dimension – to exclude the Jews as a people from the political and economic life of their resident nations. Forcing Jews out of employment, business, suppressing their language and schools; these became part of the political programme of anti-Semitic parties across Europe.

In the nineteenth century, with the rise of secularism and nationalism, the religious ideologies were pushed aside and the traditional prejudice of anti-Semitism was adapted to the changing political and economic conditions of capitalism. Oppressed nations, particularly those in the Ottoman Turkish, Austro-Hungarian, and Imperial Tsarist Russian empires, were demanding their independence and fighting for it. The Jewish populations of Europe, hitherto assimilated into their respective nations, were now articulating their religiously-based teachings of a return to Zion in a more nationalistic form. The Jewish people had been taught that a divinely inspired Messiah would restore them to the allegedly historical homeland of the Jews in Palestine. Never matter that Palestine was home to thousands of Arab Muslims and Christians. This yearning was always a vague aspiration; in the context of nineteenth century nationalism and secularisation, aspirations for a homeland were to take a different turn.

Throughout Europe, nationalist groups were agitating for independence; the Greeks, Serbs, Poles, Ukrainians and other nationalities long suppressed were rising. The authorities in Tsarist Russia, Ottoman Turkey and other European states needed a convenient scapegoat to blame the rising nationalistic tensions. The growth of industrial capitalism broke the bonds of feudalism, and undermined the position that many Jewish communities held in the feudal order. The capitalist system created its own inequalities and imposed suffering on the working class. Workers in various countries, among them the Jewish workers, made common cause to fight against the social and economic oppression of capitalism.

Anti-semitism was the usual outlet to divert growing anger at the economic and political injustices of the time. Immiseration could be blamed on the ‘Jewish usurer’, the stereotype of the shifty, scheming Shylock, extorting the ‘average’ (meaning non-Jewish) worker, gained traction in times of economic distress. Pogroms against Jewish communities were a frequent occurrence in Europe, particularly in Imperial Russia under the Tsar. In this charged context, the Jewish people of Europe began to join revolutionary, nationalist and socialist groups, joining the fight for social and economic justice.

But a new response began to be articulated by a number of Jewish commentators and intellectuals in Europe. They regarded anti-semitism as the inevitable and immutable consequences of living among non-Jewish nations, and that assimilation was impossible. They began to elaborate a new nationalistically motivated yearning for a homeland – Zionism. Lance Selfa, writing in the International Socialist Review magazine in the article ‘Zionism: False Messiah’, explains that political Zionism defined itself the project of establishing an exclusively Jewish state, as a nationalist, colonialist project. Zionism maintains that Jews around the world are a single nation and thus need to establish a separate homeland. Zionism holds that anti-Semitism is an inevitable consequence of the Jewish presence in their host societies.

Moses Hess, a German Jewish contemporary of Karl Marx, was the earliest exponent of this abnormal nationalism. He wrote a book, ’Rome and Jerusalem: The last national question’ (1862), in which he expounded that German anti-Semitism was a fact of life and could not be changed. The Jews of Europe would always be regarded as the outsiders, and that assimilation had failed. He argued that Jewish emancipation by joining the revolutionary struggles of the time was impossible, and that there was only one solution – a separate homeland for the Jewish people.

However, it is with Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jewish journalist and author fo the book ‘The Jewish State’ (1896) and modern political Zionism finds its most articulate exponent. Herzl argued that anti-Semitism was not only an inevitable product of Jews living as minorities amidst a non-Jewish population, but was also a necessary political ally, compelling Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere to be driven out and thus further the goal of building a separatist homeland. Zionism is a particular form of Jewish communalism, very similar in goals to the Hindu supremacist and communalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that seeks to establish a Hindu-exclusive state in India by expelling Muslims and other minority communities.

Zionism shares with anti-Semitism the basic foundational premise that Jews around the world are a fixed entity, and must be separated from non-Jewish populations in order to be emancipated. This kind of abnormal nationalism, not only required that Jews dissociate themselves from the struggle for equality and economic justice in their home countries, but also find a place to call their homeland. Palestine was not the first destination chosen by the nascent Zionist movement as a homeland; Herzl and the leaders of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) appealed to the major imperial states of the day for a territory to call their own. At various stages, Uganda, Argentina, Madagascar were all seriously considered as possible homelands for a new Jewish state.

They approached the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, the German Kaiser, and the Russian Tsar, whose regime was responsible for anti-Jewish pogroms, in the vain hope of acquiring recognition for their cause, helping to divert Jewish workers from the revolutionary struggle, and demobilise Jews in the fight against the poison of anti-Semitism. Herzl even shook hands with the Russian minister von Plehve, in 1903. Plehve was the minister of interior and director of the police who oversaw the massive pogroms against the Jews of Kiev and other cities in the early 1900s. The Zionist leaders approached all the imperial powers for favours, no matter how criminal and murderous they were in relations to the Jewish populations in Europe. Zionism, from its very inception, was always an ally of imperialism.

It is interesting to note that Herzl, Nordau, Weizmann and other Zionist politicians wrote about the Jews of Europe in the most disparaging, obscene terms, reflecting their acceptance of the basic ideas of anti-Semitism. Anne Zirin, in her article documenting the ‘Hidden history of Zionism’ notes that the writings of Herzl, Nordau, Weizmann and other leading Zionists are replete with descriptions of Jews as aliens, parasites, bacteria, poisonous elements that cause harm to their hosts. These views stem from the basic premise of Zionism – and anti-Semitism – that humans can be most logically and fundamentally divided into races, and it is useless to struggle against such genetically based racial differences. Herzl himself regarded the anti-Semite as a necessary and dependable ally; he wrote in his diaries that the anti-Semitic countries would be the most interested in expelling the Jews from Europe and assisting their emigration to a Jewish homeland. Herzl surmised that ‘the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies’. Not only were Jews considered a separate race, but also had to be defined as one of the ‘superior’ races, able to build their own state.

With the end of World War One, the imperial patrons that Herzl approached had all been defeated – Ottoman Turkey collapsed and its territories divided among Britain and France; the Austro-Hungarian and Tsarist Russian regimes had been toppled, and newly independent states had taken their place. The one empire that Zionist leaders had approached during the war, and which had committed to building a Jewish national home, was Britain. The 1917 Balfour Declaration committed the British government to the Zionist project of building the Jewish population in Palestine. The British ruling class, and Balfour the then Foreign secretary, were anti-Semitic; they had their own reasons for encouraging Jewish emigration to Palestine. The British military governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, bluntly declared that the Zionist movement was a useful ally of Britain, dedicated to building a ‘little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism’.

Balfour’s anti-Semitism was not out of place in the English aristocracy and ruling class. Winston Churchill, a rising star of British politics and the secretary of state for air and war, wrote an article for the Illustrated Sunday Herald in 1920 entitled ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’. In this article, Churchill argued that Bolshevism was a devious product of the Jewish mentality, a perverted aspiration for equality that can never be fulfilled. Jewish people in Europe were gravitating towards this subversive philosophy. After all, were not leading Bolshevik figures in the Russian revolution of Jewish origin? So that is conclusive evidence; the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy is afoot to overturn the existing social order. But there is a solution; winning Jews over to Zionism. The best antidote to the virus of Bolshevism and its misguided ideas of racial and economic equality is the doctrine of Zionism; the British government has the responsibility to build a Zionist home for the Jews in Palestine.

The goal of the Zionist project was spelled out quite clearly by its leaders – Palestine must be colonised. The migration of Jewish settlers into Palestine was conducted from the turn of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries not just for creating a new market and acquiring natural resources, important as those goals were. The Zionist movement wanted to create a new type of society, one that demolished the indigenous people – namely the Palestinians – and create a settler-colonial society that was exclusively Jewish. The Palestinian economy had to be undermined and replaced by a new, settler project. This effort undermines the myth, peddled by Zionist groups, that Palestine was a ‘land without a people’ and the Jews being ‘a people without a land’.

Vladimir Jabotinsky, a leading figure of early Zionism and the political father of the hardline right-wing ideological tradition within the Jewish state, explained quite clearly that the Zionist movement had come to Palestine to colonise it and defeat the local population. In a 1923 article entitled ‘We and the Arabs’, Jabotinsky elaborated exactly what the Zionist movement intended to achieve in Palestine: colonisation. He explained that the indigenous population would fiercely resist any attempts at colonisation, and so it was necessary to construct an ‘iron wall’ of separation, until the Palestinians either submitted, were expelled, or were simply liquidated. Jabotinsky expressed the racially biased colonial view of the Palestinians that settler advocates have had of indigenous populations.

Any native people – its all the same whether they are civilized or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.

He went on to expound on how exactly he wished the Zionist movement to treat the indigenous people of Palestine:

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

Jabotinsky founded a school of thought within Zionism that was sympathetic to the fascist powers of the time. He admired Mussolini’s Italy, and his organisation had cordial relations with leading fascist political leaders in Rome. In 1935, when Mussolini authorised a division of Zionist activists to take on military training in Italy, he described Jabotinsky to the Zionist emissaries of the time as ‘your fascist, Jabotinsky’.

Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism and precursor of the Likud party in Israel, was not the only Zionist activist that sought the collaboration of the imperial powers. The mainstream of the Zionist movement, Labour Zionism, led by figures like David Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, were also applying to the various imperialist powers for their patronage. The Zionist leaders offered to make Palestine an outpost of ‘civilisation’ amidst the ocean of native ‘savages’, the Arabic-speaking peoples. Annie Zirin, in her article about the history of Zionism for the International Socialist Review, quotes the writings of Theodor Herzl, who explained that the new Jewish state in Palestine would form an outpost of European cultivated civilisation against a tide of pan-Arab barbarism. This point is important, and we will return to it later.

Britain remained the imperial patron of the Zionist project, assisting the passage of Jewish emigrants to Palestine throughout the 1920s and 30s. With the revolt of the Palestinians in 1936, Britain changed its tactics and recommended partitioning the country along ethnic lines, allocating portions of Palestine to Arabs and Jews. What is important to note that during all this time, the Zionist movements in Europe regarded the imperial states as allies, and made decisive efforts to place themselves at their disposal. Lenni Brenner documented the efforts of the Zionist leaders to ingratiate themselves with the fascist powers of the 1930s, in his book ‘Zionism in the Age of the Dictators’. Brenner examines the attempts by the German Zionist federation to undermine the campaign against anti-Semitism in Germany, find ways to cooperate with the Nazi regime, and appease anti-Semitic sentiments in Germany in order to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine. The visit of a top Nazi SS official to Palestine for six months, as a guest of the Zionist federation, was commemorated with the issuance of a gold medal: on one side, the Nazi swastika with the words ‘A Nazi travels to Palestine’; on the other, the Star of David. The Nazi official in question wrote several article about his sojourn in Palestine, and was enthusiastic about the Zionist project, describing “how Jewish soil under a Jew’s feet “reformed him and his kind in a decade. This new Jew will be a new people.”

Brenner’s book is available online, and makes for a fascinating expose on the willingness of the Zionist leaders to approach any imperialist regime, no matter how murderously anti-Semitic, in order to achieve their goals of colonising all of Palestine.

It is not the purpose of this article to go into a detailed examination of the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli forces, establishing the Jewish state. The reader can refer to the excellent book by Israeli historian Illan Pappe, ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, which documents the plans of the Zionist movement to attain ethnic supremacy in Palestine by expelling the indigenous population. What is important to note is that after its official foundation in 1948, the Zionist state was not only dependent on imperial patronage for its survival, but also became a bulwark of reaction, establishing working alliances with other repressive regimes around the world. Zionism is an essential prop within the larger imperialist system. Nowhere is this aspect of the Zionist state more in evidence than in its extensive military, political, economic and ideological cooperation with the former apartheid state of South Africa.

In 2010, a book detailing this unspoken yet solid alliance was published, called ‘The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s secret relationship with South Africa.’ The ultra-racist regime of apartheid South Africa was subjected to sanctions and international condemnation throughout the 1960s and 1970s. United Nations resolutions called on states to terminate relations with the white supremacist state. But one state continued and even increased is economic and military cooperation with the white racist regime – Israel. The Afrikaner outpost in South Africa was not just anti-Black, but also had a history of anti-Semitism. The National Party, the South African party that implemented and extended apartheid, had sympathetic ties to anti-Semitic groups, and even supported the fascist regimes in the 1930s. Many of its leaders were themselves members of pro-Nazi groups in South Africa. Yet this was no obstacle for ties between Pretoria and Tel Aviv to flourish.

The Israel-South Africa connection was driven by pragmatic considerations – sharing nuclear technology, military training of their respective armed forces, the development of business ties, and the growth of cultural exchanges. But what is significant to note is that this axis was not just opportunistic; there was a deep ideological affinity between Zionism and white supremacist apartheid. The South African prime minister in the 1970s, John Vorster, described the common goals that both Israel and his regime had – confronting the enemies of western civilisation. Just as Israel was an outpost of white European civilisation up against an ocean of Arab-Muslim barbarism, white South Africa was engaged in a struggle against the onslaught of black African Communism. Tel Aviv and Pretoria were ‘brothers in arms’, forming a mutually beneficial and ideologically driven axis that reinforced repressive practices with regard to their respective indigenous populations.

Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African politician primarily responsible for the extension of apartheid and the creation of black African bantustans, commented in 1961 that: “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” John Dugard, professor of law and former UN special rapporteur to the Human Rights Council on the Human Rights situation in the occupied territories, wrote an introduction to a book published in 2009 called ‘Israeli Apartheid: A beginner’s guide’, where he examines the similarities and differences between the two societies. He should know what apartheid looks like – he is white South African. In 2009, Dugard wrote an article published in the Huffington Post that it is high time to treat the Israeli regime with the same exclusion as was apartheid South Africa. In its treatment of the Palestinians, Israel is implementing its own version of apartheid.

Understanding the history of Zionism, its regard for anti-Semitism as a cement with which to build a new state, and its role as an ally of racist and oppressive regimes, helps us to understand the importance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, the starting point of this article. So is boycotting Israel motivated by anti-Semitism? Absolutely not says Sherry Wolf, an activist with the Socialist Worker magazine and an advocate of BDS. Zionism’s supporters use the charge of anti-Semitism to deflect debate, shut down meaningful dialogue, and downgrade the struggle by Palestinians for their rights. The BDS movement has condemned anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms. As Sherry Wolf explains it, the BDS movement is about achieving economic, political and social equality for the Palestinians. Wolf herself is of Jewish background, and she recognises the historic injustice perpetrated by the Zionist regime against the Palestinians. Brian Klug, senior research fellow in philosophy at Oxford University and a founder of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, explains that anti-Zionism has nothing in common with anti-Semitism. Do not poison the debate on Palestine with false accusations. This does not mean that charges of anti-Semitism can be dismissed lightly – far from it. As Tony Greenstein, anti-Zionist activist in Britain elaborates;

Like the boy who cried wolf, the charge of “anti-semitism” has been made so often against critics of Zionism and the Israeli state that people now have difficulty recognising the genuine article…..One of the consequences of this abuse of the term “anti-semitism” is to devalue the currency. It renders it almost meaningless because people assume that allegations of anti-semitism are merely the last-ditch resort of those who are incapable of defending the Apartheid Wall that separates the people of the West Bank from their land, the bulldozing of civilian houses, the wanton destruction of olive groves and crops, to say nothing of the theft of their land.

Let us leave the last word to Omar Barghouti, one of the leaders of the BDS movement, who elaborated on why we should support the BDS movement:

A Jewish state in Palestine (“a state of the Jewish nation”), no matter what shape it takes, is by definition exclusionary; it cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically. Any other exclusionary regime in Palestine that denies citizens some of their rights based on their identity — ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, etc. — must be rejected just as strongly.

Accepting modern-day Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and discrimination, as called for in the democratic state model, is the most magnanimous — rational — offer any oppressed indigenous population can present to its oppressors. Only by shedding their colonial privileges, dismantling their structures of oppression, and accepting the restoration of the rights of the indigenous people of the land, especially the right of Palestinian refugees to return and to reparations and the right of all Palestinians to unmitigated equality, can settlers be indigenized and integrated into the emerging nation and therefore become entitled to participating in determining the future of the common state.

It is time to advocate a secular, unitary and democratic state in Palestine, because this is the equitable, humane solution for all its people.

Israel and Saudi Arabia – when rogue states combine

A quietly emerging correspondence of interests has resulted in an alliance of seemingly unlikely partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This combination, while powerful, has suffered a stinging defeat.

********************

Rove McManus, the talented Australian comedian and TV personality, used to host a comedy segment on his TV program called “What The….?”. He would select rather bizarre, unusual or freakish episodes of behaviour of celebrities, or ludicrous examples of eccentric conduct by actors, and invite the audience to express its incredulity and disbelief with the expression “What The…?”. We can all think of examples of outlandish or peculiar behaviour by TV and film actors which invite us to express our shock and disbelief at their eccentricity, behaviour far removed from the usual social norms that govern the conduct of the 99 percent. However, it is not only in the world of film and television where we can experience “What The….?” moments. In the area of global politics, seemingly opposite entities can engage in conduct that while initially appearing extraordinary, is actually motivated by basic economic and political interests.

Consortiumnews is an online magazine dedicated to independent investigative journalism, exposing the hypocrisies and crimes of US imperial power. On December 4, 2013, the magazine published a story about the Middle East with the following headline; “Saudi-Israeli Alliance Boosts Al-Qaeda”. Wait a minute….”Saudi-Israeli alliance?”…..’boosts Al-Qaeda?”…..What The….?? It beggars belief that two states that are diametric opposites would be cooperating on major international issues. A fundamentalist and exclusively Jewish state, cooperating with the hard-line Wahhabi Islamic state of Saudi Arabia? Surely this cannot be right.

After getting over the shock from the apparently unbelievable content of the headline, and digging deeper, one can find that such an alliance does indeed exist, and has been very active over the last few years. The entire article, written by Robert Parry, examines the strategic geopolitical interests that have converged to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together, if not in open embrace, then at least through channels of secretive cooperation. In August 2013, Robert Parry, the founder and senior editor of Consortiumnews published the interesting article ‘The Saudi-Israeli Superpower’ which elaborated on the growing interconnection between the two historically different states now seeking an alliance of convenience based on mutually agreed political interests. The ongoing Syrian civil war and the military coup d’etat of July 2013 in Egypt have brought to light a burgeoning, not-so-unusual alliance in the Arab world; the strategic cooperation of the Israeli state and Saudi Arabia. An alliance consisting of military clout, political power and financial backup, this cooperation has witnessed an intersection of interests. While the Israeli and Saudi states are the pillars of this alliance, the other Persian Gulf petro-sheikhdoms, and Jordan, all play a supportive role in this drama.

As Robert Parry explains in his article;

The potential impact of this new coalition can barely be overstated, with Israel bringing to the table its remarkable propaganda skills and its unparalleled influence over U.S. foreign policy and Saudi Arabia tapping into its vast reservoir of petrodollars and exploiting its global financial networks.

Implacable hostility to Iran

What immediate concerns have brought together this apparently odd couple? Both view Shia Islamic Republic of Iran as the main enemy, and have been busy lobbying American, European and other governments to take a tough line against Tehran. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have whipped up fears of the non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons programme to mobilise political and economic support for a military strike against that country. While the European states, the US and Iran were negotiating the now-established Geneva accords on curbing aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme, Saudi and Israeli officials were busy making plans for a military attack on Iran, should a deal have failed to materialise. Both have been agitating for harsher sanctions against Iran, and were disappointed with moves by the United States and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for rapprochement.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia worked overtime to try and scuttle any possible agreement between the P5 + 1 states – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – and the Iranian regime regarding the latter’s nuclear capabilities. The deal reached between the relevant parties represents a serious defeat for the Israel-Saudi alliance. The latter deployed increasingly hysterical rhetoric, and used their widespread ‘soft power’ connections inside the US and other governments to attempt to sabotage any kind of agreement. As Robert Parry explained in one of his many articles on the emerging Israel-Saudi alliance, both powers bring their complementary strengths to the table;

Saudi oil billionaires can reach into both Wall Street boardrooms and the corporate offices of Texas energy giants, while Israel has unparalleled lobbying power with Congress and can deploy its network of neoconservative propagandists to shape any American foreign policy debate.

However, this time, their wishes were not fulfilled. While the Saudi regime had a temper tantrum over the failure of the US to be swayed, the interim agreement with Iran represents a severe rebuff to the Zionist lobby in the US, and the concessions that Iran offered, albeit under economic duress, do represent a lessening of tensions and the threat of immediate war has receded. The fact that the deal was reached does not mean that it is fair or equitable to the Iranians. The latter have been suffering under a regime of punitive sanctions and were forced to give up a great deal just to secure some minimal relief from a crippling economic embargo. There was very little reciprocity in the terms of this deal. As Professor Ismael Hossein-Zadeh explained in his Counterpunch article;

Deprived of more than half of its oil exports/revenue, and largely locked out of the international banking and/or trade system, the Iranian economy and its people are already gravely suffering from the ravages of economic sanctions.

Under such pressing conditions, sections of the Iranian elite were looking to compromise and reach an interim deal. But the fact that the Israel-Saudi Arabia connection was working to sabotage even such an unjust arrangement represents how far they will push tensions to the point of even threatening a wider regional war. High level political figures in the Israeli establishment were even considering launching a bombing campaign against Iran should an agreement be reached between the P5 +1 and Iranian states. There were some voices in the Israeli establishment opposed to a unilateral strike against Iran – Gabi Ashkenazi, former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff for one; Shimon Peres, the Israeli President for another. However influential, they could not drown out the shrill rhetoric of the war hawks in Tel Aviv. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia, motivated by implacable hostility and hatred for any regional challenger, were pushing for a violent outcome with Iran – that outcome has been averted for the time being. This confederation of rogue bedfellows had hoped that spreading around the limitless Saudi and Arab-monarchy petrodollars, plus louder and more shrill neoconservative and Zionist voices in the US Congress would undermine any US-Iranian reconciliation – it did not work.

Aversion to the Arab Uprisings

Another area where both states find that they converge is their combined wariness of the political forces and social movements unleashed by the Arab Awakening, normally understood by the misnomer ‘Arab Spring’. Jordan is the principal contact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, being heavily dependent on the financial generosity of the petro-monarchies of the Persian Gulf, particularly the regime in Riyadh. Jordan has maintained close military contacts with Israel since signing a peace agreement in 1994.

The emerging nexus between Tel Aviv and Riyadh was further in evidence during the recent upheaval caused by the Egyptian military’s coup d’etat against the former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi. Saudi Arabia is providing lavish finances for the militarist regime, and Israel deployed its considerable political resources in Washington to lobby the Obama administration not to oppose the coup; in fact, the US steadfastly refused to describe the ousting of former President Morsi as a coup. Israel’s position has improved significantly with the removal of Morsi, and the consequent isolation of the Israeli-blockaded Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian government of Hamas in the Gaza Strip has suffered a reversal of fortune with the ousting of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

It is interesting to note that the royalist, theocratic dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, along with its Persian Gulf partners, is solid allies of the violently secular dictatorship of the current Egyptian President General al-Sisi.

The Syrian imbroglio

Cooperation between the two rogue states also extends to the Syrian civil war. The Syrian regime, a long-term benefactor of the Hezbollah party in Lebanon and the only Arab ally of Iran, faces an insurrection increasingly dominated by Saudi-funded Islamist militants. Israel and Saudi Arabia view the Syrian regime as part of a ‘Shia Crescent’ blocking the onward advance of the pro-American Sunni monarchies. The toppling of Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite from the Shia denomination of Islam, and the growing sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict, does not unnecessarily perturb the Tel Aviv regime. In fact, the Syrian government’s long-standing support for the Hezbollah party, the latter having defeated Israeli forces in 2006 and driving them out of Lebanon, would be cancelled by the victory of Saudi-backed Sunni insurgents.

Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States until September 2013, stated that the Saudi Arabian plan to destabilise and eventually overthrow the Syrian regime is something the Israeli leaders can agree with. The removal of the Iranian-backed Assad regime would be welcomed by Tel Aviv, and its replacement with Saudi-supported militant regime, while not the best outcome, is the preferred option. To quote Oren from Consortiumnews;

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.”

It is true that the Ba’athist regime in Damascus maintained an armed truce with the state of Israel for more than forty years. Syrian troops did not actually do battle with Israeli forces at any time since the 1967 war, when Israel seized (and still occupies) the Golan Heights from Syria. While both sides intervened in the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and 1980s, neither side directly engaged in combat against each other. As late as May 2013, Israeli officials were publicly declaring that they preferred Assad to remain in power, with the fear of an Islamist takeover dominating concerns in Tel Aviv. However, now with the Israeli-Saudi tag team in action, Israel is utilising its considerable political propaganda networks to encourage the United States (and other imperialist countries) to directly intervene in Syria on the side of the Saudi-backed insurgents.

One of the key players in enabling this new alliance to function is the Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, a mysterious figure involved in all sorts of murky affairs, currently head of Saudi intelligence and an intimate fellow traveler of the Bush family. His connections with the United States are legion and extensive, ranging from business interests to high-level political connections. He has been instrumental in cultivating the axis of cooperation between his regime and the state of Israel. The Likudnik-House of Saud axis of terror, according to veteran journalist Pepe Escobar, is sponsoring Sunni fundamentalist insurgents and providing political support for those groups, exacerbating the Sunni-Shia divide in the Arab and Islamic countries. Bandar is a cunning, long-term and wily political operator who knows how to use petrodollar-bribery and threats in turn to persuade his counterparts to adapt to Saudi strategy.

In July 2013, Bandar met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss, among other things, the situation in Syria. Bandar and his Saudi colleagues were pushing for full-scale and direct American military intervention in Syria, and he was trying to shore up support for another American-led imperialist regime change war. The Israeli-Saudi axis had been agitating for direct American and European military intervention in Syria, and Bandar was hopeful that the Iranian-allied Syrian regime would soon fall. Bandar met Putin to convince the latter to drop support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. What transpired in the meeting reveals the character of the Israel-Saudi network.

According to Robert Parry in his article “Israeli-Saudi Alliance Slips into View”, Bandar made a not-so-subtle threat that should Putin adhere to the Saudi position on Syria, the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics would not be targeted by Chechen militants controlled by Riyadh;

Amid Bandar’s calls for Russian cooperation with the Saudi position on Syria, Bandar reportedly offered guarantees of protection from Chechen terror attacks on next year’s Winter Olympic Games hosted by Russia in the city of Sochi. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year,” Bandar reportedly said. “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Putin refused to be intimidated, rejected the bribes offered by Bandar, and worked towards rejecting a joint American-British military intervention in Syria. Russian diplomacy, combined with public opposition to another imperial war after Iraq and Afghanistan, stymied moves by the American and British administrations for war in Syria. It is interesting to note that, quoting from Robert Parry again;

“Bandar’s Mafia-like threat toward the Sochi games – a version of “nice Olympics you got here, it’d be a shame if something terrible happened to it” – failed to intimidate Putin. Indeed, I was told that Putin’s anger fueled his decision to intervene in the Syrian crisis to head off a threatened U.S. military strike designed to “degrade” the Syrian military.”

The rejection of another American military intervention, this time in Syria, by the international community represents another serious defeat for the Israel-Saudi Arabia alliance. Prominent members of the Saudi royal family were fuming that their latest drive to war in Syria was rebuffed by the Obama administration. However, influence-peddling is the main characteristic of the Saudi-Israeli network, its soft power reaching into corporate boardrooms and political offices. Buying and selling political influence, lobbying and public relations are what the proponents of this dark alliance do best.

Rogue states operate by using underhanded means, and flout international law. They subvert the democratic process, and exploit divisions for advantage. The Sunni-Shia split is being used judiciously to create a sectarian reordering of the Middle East. As Stephen Lendman explains, Israel and Saudi Arabia seek to install controllable vassals, Arab proxies that can be bent to their will. If we fail to heed the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat the tragedies that occurred.

The House of Saud, with the backing of the Reagan administration of the 1980s, bankrolled a number of Sunni fundamentalist groups to fight against a Communist, secular state in Afghanistan. Hailed as freedom fighters by the Reagan government, the various groupings of Afghan mujahedeen formed the bases of what later spawned fanatical outfits like Al Qaeda. In the 1990s, the Islamist groups began targeting the United States. Israel and Saudi Arabia, the best of “frenemies” to use an internet meme, are doing their best to fund, train and politically support armed Sunni fundamentalist groups that will one day become roving guerrillas.

The first step in a long-term solution would be for America to actually leave the Middle East. After a decades-long ‘war on terror’, American policy in the Arab and Islamic worlds lies in ruins. It has brought nothing but misery and suffering to the people of those countries. Israel and Saudi Arabia have consistently partnered with the US in enabling, aiding and abetting American crimes. Criminal alliances need to be broken.