Socialist Worker

Moshé Machover on Israel's permanent war

Longstanding anti-Zionist campaigner Moshé Machover spoke to Matthew Cookson about the roots of the current Middle East crisis

Issue No. 2012

Moshé Machover

Moshé Machover

The “war on terror” is deeply unpopular across the world - including in Britain and the US. People in many different countries are questioning and criticising their governments for participating in George Bush’s imperialist project.

Yet Israel remains an exception. Opinion polls there have shown overwhelming support for the assault on Lebanon and the wider “war on terror” among Israelis. Why is this the case? And what are the historical and political roots of Israel’s aggression?

To answer these questions I spoke to Moshé Machover, an Israeli dissident and a longstanding anti-Zionist and socialist. Moshé was born in Tel Aviv and studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before coming to Britain in 1968. He is currently emeritus professor of philosophy at King’s College London.

“The majority of Israelis believe that they are the victims,” says Moshé, “just like the settlers in America believed that they were the ones threatened by the indigenous people there.”

This perception is fed by Israeli government propaganda, he adds. “Israeli public opinion for the most part believes that Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon and Gaza.

“In fact the Israeli government removed troops from Lebanon because they were defeated by Hizbollah, but they didn’t quite withdraw. They retained part of Lebanese territory - the Shebaa Farms.

“And neither the British nor the Israeli public is aware that Israel has been making incursions into Lebanon all the time - snatching people sometimes. It has also violated Lebanese and Syrian airspace and territorial water.

Besieging the region

“There’s a similar situation in Gaza. Israel withdrew its army and settlers, but it has been besieging the region and making raids into it. Two days before Hamas and others captured this Israeli soldier, Israel abducted two people from Gaza. And of course it had killed many Gazans by shelling and ‘targeted’ assassination.

“Despite this you find a lot of people who say the captures of Israeli soldiers were gratuitous attacks by Hamas and Hizbollah - they are blamed for starting it.”

Moshé argues that this perception among the Israeli public has been strengthened by Hizbollah sending rockets into Israel in response to the invasion of Lebanon.

“Israel’s missiles and bombs are accurate,” he notes. “When the Israelis hit a civilian target or the United Nations observation point, it is clear that they meant to hit it, for political reasons.

“But the Katyusha rockets of Hizbollah are not accurate. They fall randomly and kill mostly innocent people, including Arab citizens of Israel.

“This, and the fact that they are not shown the devastation Israel is creating in Gaza and Lebanon, makes Israelis believe that they are the victims.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Machover, together with Akiva Orr, wrote The Class Character of Israel - a pioneering Marxist account of the nature of Israeli society.

The essay argued that Israel was “financed by imperialism without being exploited by it” because it was a “watchdog” for the US in the Middle East. This pays for a Western standard of living for Israel’s Jewish majority.

This fact, together with Israel’s settler society status, explains why Zionism and the oppression of Palestinians are taken for granted by the majority of the Israeli population.

As Machover and Orr wrote, “As long as Zionism is politically and ideologically dominant within that society, and forms the accepted framework of politics, there is no chance whatsoever of the Israeli working class becoming a revolutionary class.”

I asked Moshé whether the arguments in this article still stood up 35 years later. “Of course, it’s very old and things have changed - but the fundamentals are the same.

“There was a period during the 1970s and 1980s when Israel relied much more on Palestinian labour. There was a beginning of a convergence towards South Africa’s model under apartheid.

“This convergence came to an end with the first Palestinian intifada [uprising] in 1987. Israel has since reverted to the kind of society described in the article. Palestinians are not regarded even as a source of exploitable labour power.

“Now the people doing the most menial work in Israel are migrant workers. There are thousands of Chinese workers, Filipinos, Romanian, Polish, Thai and others. They have replaced Palestinian workers.

“So the Palestinians are now surplus to requirements. This makes it much worse than South Africa, because it is possible to reverse apartheid.

“There is no economic equality in South Africa yet, but the blacks are still there and can fight for equal rights. But once ethnic cleansing is implemented, it is very difficult to reverse.”

Last year’s Israeli withdrawal from Gaza - and the realignment of political parties in Israel - led many mainstream commentators to argue that Israel was finally ready to allow an independent Palestinian state to exist.

But Moshé believes these manoeuvres were all about continuing Israel’s dominance over the Palestinians. “The withdrawal from Gaza was a consolidation of the occupation,” he says.

“A larger number of settlers were implanted in the West Bank. Gaza, from a secular Zionist point of view, had little value as it has too many Palestinians in it - it was too costly to maintain.

“So they turned it into a big prison camp - they are ‘putting the Palestinians on a diet’, as an adviser to the Israeli prime minister said earlier this year.

“And they have been bombing and assassinating Palestinians. Hamas kept a ceasefire for 16 months. But Israel was always provoking Hamas, until finally it made a successful military operation against Israeli soldiers who were manning a post from which Gaza was being shelled.

“This operation, and the capture of an Israeli soldier, was a military humiliation for Israel, which was made even worse when Hizbollah captured two more Israeli soldiers.”

Military sophistication

These actions “were used as a pretext for the huge devastation of Lebanon”, says Moshé. But the Israeli action has not gone to plan.

“Hizbollah’s military sophistication and capability is incomparably better than any other Arab force that Israel has confronted. They are the only Arab force that has decisively beaten Israel in a campaign and forced it to withdraw.”

So what about the role of the US in propping up Israel’s actions? Moshé is adamant that “this war was prepared long ago - it is a US-Israeli war”.

“The aims go beyond Hizbollah,” he argues. “This is a public demonstration - with the whole world as the audience, especially the Arab world, and in particular Syria and Iran.

“Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran are the only forces remaining in the Middle East that are not subservient to the US and its local junior partners.

“The US didn’t just give the Israelis a green light - it is also giving Israel the jet fuel. It is encouraging Israel.”

The nature of Israel’s relationship with the US has been the subject of much debate in the media.

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two US academics, recently claimed that there is an “Israel lobby” that ensures that the US backs Israel against its own interests.

I asked Moshé whether this theory is confirmed or disproved by the US’s support for Israel’s assault on Lebanon. “What Mearsheimer and Walt are right about is the descriptive part of their article - the operation of the pro-Israeli lobby,” he replied.

Ideological reasons

“It is not just a Jewish lobby. The fundamentalist Christians are a much bigger part than the Jewish lobby, for their own ideological reasons.

“But Mearsheimer and Walt are right wing critics of US policy. There has always been a minority within the US elite that argues that the US is not doing the right thing.

“US capitalism is not a monolith, and these people belong to the minority who believe that the US is not serving its own interests. So who should they blame? The pro-Israeli or Zionist lobby.

“On this they are wrong. Is the dog wagging the tail, or the tail wagging the dog? Their theory is that the tail is wagging the dog and subverting US policy.

“But the US military/industrial complex is doing what it thinks of as serving its interests. They see Israel as a useful instrument. But this has a cost - it encourages anti-US terrorism and resentment in the Arab world.

“Of course, terrorism can be useful to the US elite, and as a real threat it is relatively negligible. It is not like the Cold War when the US was faced by another superpower with nuclear weapons - that was a real threat.”

Moshé adds, “As for Arab resentment, the corruption of the present Arab regimes and their subservience to the US help prop up this situation.

“Things would be very different if the Arab world underwent a progressive transformation and stood up to the US.

“That would be the only thing that would make the US change its policy in the Middle East - they would have to pay a real price.

“The oil and arms industry is making a massive profit out of the Middle East wars. George Bush and Dick Cheney are linked to these kinds of companies. Israel is allowed to be strong because it serves the interests of US capitalism.”

Moshé doesn’t believe there is much hope for peace in the short or medium term. “As far as Israelis are concerned, world public opinion is the US,” he says.

“The rest of the world doesn’t count - they have the world’s sole superpower as their backer. Israel is not under international pressure. That is why it is so important to campaign to boycott Israeli goods.

“Any long term solution must be based on equal individual rights to all, and equal national rights for the two groups involved, including the right of return for Palestinians. Whether there is one or two states is less important than this.

“A resolution can only take place when the Arab east is transformed and the balance of forces is different. It cannot be confined to just Palestine-Israel.

“The problem can only be resolved in a socialist union of the whole region. Marxists have always thought of the region as a whole. We need to think big.”

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Sat 5 Aug 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2012
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