Materialist Analysis, Zionism and the Jewish Question: Reply to a Comrade

The comment below was recently received in response to the Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism that was published on this site in September. The issues raised are on a qualitatively higher political level than most previous responses received to these theses, and therefore require as full a political reply as possible. So I am turning the response to them into a separate item, in order to address the issues posed properly. Comrade Eric’s comment reads in full as follows:

The problem with this materialist analysis is that there isn’t a material connection between the American-Jewish bourgeoisie and the state of Israel. Or rather there is a connection but it is of no particular significance compared with the connections between the American bourgeoisie and other states in general. Israel is not the state of the Jewish bourgeoisie. It does not defend Jewish property throughout the world.

That many of today’s top capitalists in America are Jewish is surely of some significance in determining American orientation towards Israel and foreign policy in the Middle East in general. But if, for example, we look at Sheldon Adelson, the most notorious Zionist fundraiser and lobbyist, we find that he was not a Zionist until 1988. (See http://theweek.com/article/index/229275/sheldon-adelson-7-surprising-facts-about-2012s-biggest-donor). Such individuals play the role of philanthropists, party funders and lobbyists but their attachment to Israel is ideological rather than material and is thus plastic. Indeed until 1967 Jewish elites in America had very little interest in Israel at all. It was the ten day war that transformed Israel into a strategic asset and allowed Jews to express support for Israel without fear of being accused of dual loyalty. Norman Finkelstein locates 1967 as the year when the Holocaust Industry kicked off.

You do raise some interesting questions. Zionism certainly seems to provide an ideological focus as well as a strategic focus in the US. The outpost of Western civilisation in the hostile Arab world etc. And it’s worth looking at how loyalty to Israel is used to control discourse in America, disloyalty to Israel being equated with disloyalty to America. However this is an American bourgeois ideology, not a Jewish bourgeois ideology. Politically to reply that Jewish capitalist interests are fundamentally different (alien?) to those of the American state is to provide the far right with ammunition. Anti-Zionism is about Palestinian self-determination not the American liberal-left or world peace etc.

It is interesting that comrade Eric first of all denies that there is a material connection between the Jewish part of the US bourgeoisie and the Israeli ruling class, and then qualifies this by saying that that such connections exist, but are no more than the connections of the US bourgeoisie to any other ally. He admits that the large presence of Jewish capitalists in the US ruling class may be significant to some extent, but downplays this using the example of Sheldon Adelson to argue that “their attachment to Israel is ideological rather than material and is thus plastic.”

Law Of Return

But irrespective of the trajectory of individuals, there is one form of connection that Jewish bourgeois in the United States (and indeed Jewish bourgeois elsewhere) most certainly have with Israel that is not merely ideological, but is qualitatively different to the relations of the US ruling class in general with every other state worldwide. That material connection is a legal one involving what, in a sense, is a form of property right over the Israeli state itself. It is codified in the Law of Return, giving every person worldwide whom the Israeli state recognises as being Jewish, the automatic right to Israeli citizenship. In his recent work ‘How I Stopped Being a Jew”, Shlomo Sand explained what this means in practice:

“It is enough to make a short visit to Israel, readily obtain an identity card, and acquire a second residence there before returning immediately to their national culture and their mother tongue, while remaining in perpetuity a co-proprietor of the Jewish state – and all this for simply having been lucky enough to be born of a Jewish mother.” (p84)

This is not in itself ‘property relations’ in the strict Marxist sense of the term. But it is glaringly obvious who would benefit most from this de-facto joint citizenship arrangement that is confined to those of proven ‘Jewishness’ in any country of the world. It is, by definition, the bourgeoisie, particularly of the wealthiest countries outside Israel that are in a position socially to take maximum advantage of this unique citizenship arrangement, that does not generally exist elsewhere.

This legal relation, and the rights that derive from it, were in the first place the product of the power of the Jewish bourgeoisie in the other wealthy imperialist countries – without whose political and business influence and material support Israel would never have been created in the first place, and the mechanism by which these links can be continuously reinforced by the formation of new ones of the same type. Obviously, in theory at least, poorer Jews have the same rights as wealthy Jewish bourgeois under the Law of Return. Obviously also in practice, the benefits inevitably disproportionately will go the ruling class Jewish elements. Such connections between Israeli bourgeois and key components of the bourgeoisies of other advanced countries undoubtedly explain Israel’s prominence in a whole range of high-tech, strategic industries, important to the imperialist countries in general. This is boasted about by some Methodist Zionist supporters in this puff-piece extolling the virtues of Israel in business terms, as a political attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

You would have to be pretty naive to believe that all the high-tech whizz-bang stuff referred to is the work of Israel in isolation as these apologists imply. Rather it is obviously the result of a material overlap between Israeli business and that of other advanced countries. That is, an overlap between the ruling class of Israel and part of that of its imperialist partners, based on shared citizenship, and therefore an overlap in ‘ownership’ of these imperialist states with Israel (the state being ‘the executive committee of the bourgeoisie for the administration of its common affairs’ to paraphrase Engels). Obviously the most important expression of this is the relationship with the US, but similar links exist to a greater or lesser extent with other, European imperialist countries also.

In that sense, Eric’s remarks about the individual career of Sheldon Adelman, and his holding of him up as an archetype of the way these links supposedly work, leave out the most important factor in enabling his trajectory in the first place. Obviously, individuals may vary according to background as to when and in what circumstances they become conscious of these opportunities and decide to take them up. But what is more important is the existence of these possibilities in the first place, that makes such a political evolution even feasible.

Strategic

His point about the 1967 war and its importance as the seminal moment the alliance of the United States with Israel became solidified and strategic is true, but it does not contradict the thesis of an overlap between the Israeli ruling class and others. All such phenomena have a point of origin, and go through various stages of development, and possibly even decline. Because it has only a semi-national, and not a fully national, character, and a territorial asset (Israel) whose ownership is fundamentally in dispute, the pan-imperialist Jewish-Zionist bloc is fragile and can disintegrate, particularly if that unifying territorial focus were lost.

For rather a long time, there has been Jewish over-representation in the imperialist bourgeoisies relative to the weight of Jews in bourgeois society generally, but that does not mean that for the whole of that period those bourgeois were equally coherent in terms of consciousness and organisation. For much of the earlier capitalist era, that Jewish bourgeois layer was insecure, and feared becoming a scapegoat for the crimes of the bourgeoisie in general, as happened in Nazi Germany most dramatically. Zionism as a quasi-national movement was always aimed at overcoming that insecurity, and gaining the Jewish bourgeoisie the leverage to achieve that.

So while it is obviously true that 1967 was an important point in the rise of the strategic alliance of Israel with the US (and the deepening of its parallel influence in Europe also, I would argue), that does not contradict at all the thesis that the tie between Israel and other imperialist powers, centrally the US, is of a different nature to the US alliance with, say, the UK, Germany and Japan. In the former case, there is an overlapping component of the ruling class(es) that have a common commitment to an ethnocentric, semi-national project. There will of course be individual bourgeois of Jewish origin who do not support that project, but that does not at all contradict the theory, which only depends on the Jewish component having sufficient weight to exercise an influence out of the proportion to Jewish weight on the ground.

That is the material basis for the power of AIPAC, and its analogues in other imperialist countries. Actually, it would be incorrect and schematic to say that American capitalist interests and Jewish capitalist interests are fundamentally opposed or ‘alien’, nor that the ideology that drives this alliance is either a a ‘Jewish’ bourgeois ideology or an ‘American’ one. They are imperialist formations that overlap, are not fundamentally separate, but not identical either. It is also untrue to say that even antagonistic imperialist bourgeois powers, for instance, have fundamentally opposed interests, though at times the relations between them may make things appear that way. When they are confronted with a threat to them that really is fundamental in class terms, these antagonistic forces tend to unite – including across national lines.

Parallelogram of Forces

What is true is that the policy of any imperialist state formation, including the US, is the product of a parallelogram of forces within it, and obviously interacts with other forces externally. The Zionist-ethnocentric project has a strong element of political influence within the US ruling class (and others, from the UK to France to Germany), and far from being something ‘alien’ to the other ‘national’ elements of the imperialist ruling classes, they look on this influence pretty favourably and with deference.

Israel and its openly reactionary nature has banished the fear and distrust the ‘mainstream’ bourgeoisie once had of the Jewish bourgeoisie, which was based on a somewhat irrational fear that the Jewish bourgeoisie could be a cipher for revolutionary movements against itself. Now the opposite belief is mainstream; it is widely seen in bourgeois circles that the Jewish bourgeois are bearers of a proto-bourgeois tradition (based on commercial capital) that is centuries older and thus more cultured than the gentile bourgeoisies of the West. Such figures as Milton Friedman, Kissinger, Keith Joseph (Thatcher’s inspirer and mentor in Britain) are not potential scapegoats, but are seen as elements of a class-conscious vanguard of the bourgeoisie, and revered by the Western ruling classes.

This is why Eric’s point that highlighting the role of the Jewish bourgeoisie in some way gives ammunition to the far right, is mistaken. There are of course far right elements who are virulently anti-Jewish and racist, but they are living fossils, incapable of generating support from the bourgeoisie today, for the reasons spelt out above, and doomed to political extinction. To accept the idea that Jews in current circumstances are inevitably targets of a potent and operative far right is to accept an element of the Zionist worldview, that Jews are in all times and places victims of gentile society. But there are no concrete, historically grounded reasons for the mainstream gentile bourgeoisies to target the Jewish bourgeoisie today, and therefore no chance of a real far right movement emerging to target the Jews in general.

Not inevitable victims

Abram Leon’s work ‘The Jewish Question: A Marxist Analysis‘ was spot on in analysing the indispensable role of the Jews as repositories of capital in non-capitalist, feudal societies. He dismissed the notion that Jews were some kind of inevitably-persecuted ‘victim’ people and noted that “the Jew was as characteristic in feudal society as the lord and the serf” (p249). He however erred in projecting, based on terrible developments in European capitalist society in the early period of imperialism, that capitalism would fail to integrate the Jews within it, and that even if a Zionist state were formed, it would prove ephemeral. He did not live to see important historical events that would falsify that prognosis, along with quite a few other prognoses of pre-war Trotskyism.

In fact, Zionism has cemented the place of the Jews within the capitalist order, and it has done so in such a way that the Jewish bourgeoisie have become a characteristic caste within capitalism, and responsible for one of the most egregious injustices within it, in terms of the dispossession of the Palestinians and the egregious consequences that flow from that (including the poisoning of the politics of the Islamic world by sometimes destructive forms of Islamic radicalism that are themselves a kind of deformed political antibody generated by those societies to Zionist aggression).

All these are reasons why we should sharpen up our critique of the activities of the Israeli ruling class’s ‘foreign legions’ in the Western ruling classes, not blunt such criticism for fear of encouraging an obsolete type of ‘far right’ that in today’s political reality is like a fish out of water, gasping for air. There are plenty of opportunities for a racist, anti-Muslim, anti-black ‘modern’ far right to make progress, but the only very slim chance the old anti-Jewish far right have of reviving themselves is if we pull our punches in criticising the ethnocentric agenda of Israel’s Western supporters.

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24 comments

  1. Stephen Diamond

    I’m not entirely sure what your Jewish-bourgeoisie-vanguard theory explains. What imperialist policies would be different if there were no Zionist vanguard?

    Theoretically speaking, to treat the right of return candidly as a property right, you should try to estimate its monetary value. Do you think it is substantial?

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  2. Ian

    I suspect that without the Jewish semi-internationalist element and its influence on the bourgeoisie today, there would be a much greater element of protectionism in the policies of the various bourgeoisies towards each other, and hence a greater danger of inter-imperialist conflict. At the height of bourgeois anti-Jewish sentiment, in the interwar period, this is exactly what happened in a period of capitalist depression in some ways similar to the situation now. But though large-scale protectionism was predicted by some analysts in the late noughties at the beginning of this depression, this has become something of a case of the dog that did not bark.

    The breadth of outlook and lack of narrow nationalism of Jews is something that has benefitted the proletariat in the past. Now it is benefitting the bourgeoisie, and helping to preserve the system from its own self-destructive tendencies.

    As to my point about the Law of Return (not the right to return) representing ‘property rights’, that is a metaphor, not something to be taken literally. However, it is a material connection, since such citizenship rights qualitatively augment the possibilities for exercising other, more conventional property rights (in Marxist terms). I’m no trained economist, and an accurate figure would be difficult to calculate, but I reckon much of the economic wealth and productive capacity of Israel, which interacts enormously with the hi-tech elements of its imperialist allies, not to mention armaments that are both a pre-condition and a product of the exercise of this right, may be owing to this factor in a decisive fashion. I don’t know how much, but you may be talking hundreds of billions of dollars here, or maybe more. That is a guess,but not an unreasonable one I think.

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  3. Eric

    I think you tie the internationalisation of the capitalist class with the freedom to settle of capitalist individuals. I really don’t think the latter makes much, if any difference to the former, but I try to maintain an open mind. Foreign investment occurs without laws of return.

    Is this actually true?
    [it is widely seen in bourgeois circles that the Jewish bourgeois are bearers of a proto-bourgeois tradition (based on commercial capital) that is centuries older and thus more cultured than the gentile bourgeoisies of the West.]
    Is, for example, Milton Friedman’s Jewishness seen as important? It all seems a bit romantic to attribute these sentiments to hard-boiled capitalists. Even if such figures are seen that way, why does that make them more cultured or more far sighted in actuality?

    [There are of course far right elements who are virulently anti-Jewish and racist, but they are living fossils, incapable of generating support from the bourgeoisie today, for the reasons spelt out above, and doomed to political extinction.]

    Is this an observation about current trends (if it is, it isn’t true in parts of Eastern Europe for example and further racist parties of any type rarely get much ruling class support) or is it a theory about the current epoch? If the latter how can you base such dramatic conclusions on so little?

    Further if you are hoping your theory makes a connection with a mass base of some sort, why wouldn’t looky-likey far right theories do the same?

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  4. Eric

    [You would have to be pretty naive to believe that all the high-tech whizz-bang stuff referred to is the work of Israel in isolation as these apologists imply. Rather it is obviously the result of a material overlap between Israeli business and that of other advanced countries.]

    Isn’t this also true of, say, South Korea?

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  5. Stephen Diamond

    I don’t have any trouble with the claim that the Law of Return (thanks for the correction) confers a property interest. But interest’s value isn’t the value of Israel to the collective Jewry but the cash value of the option to an individual Jewish billionaire or deci-millionaire. [If we don’t put it in those terms, how are we to evaluate whether you’re correct that the Law of Return creates a sufficient international Jewish-capitalist interest in Israel?]

    I’m not sure we can take this further than a thought experiment, but I’d ask, how much would a Jewish capitalist pay for the option if he didn’t already have it? Or what would he sell it for? These put rough limits on the value of the option. When you consider that the rich are unlikely to feel impelled it emigrate, only the worst holocaustphobes of these Jewish magnates would consider forced emigration more than a minute likelihood.

    In short, it doesn’t seem plausible to me that the Law of Return is a material basis for international Zionism.

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  6. Ian

    The internationalisation of the capitalist class, and foreign investment, are different things. The imperialist bourgeoisie’s have historically been nationally based, but the productive forces at their disposal flow across national boundaries (that is closely linked to ‘foreign investment’). The contradiction is the source of imperialist conflict. But when the ownership of substantial amounts of capital (domestic and ‘foreign’) flows across national borders, then you have a different situation. Multi-national capitalism is largely a myth – imperialist states tend to defend one national capitalist fraction (and their ‘foreign investments’) from each other (and threats from the working class), but this is an exception to the rule. It is of the nature of this exception that it is unstable – if Israel were a completely viable imperialist national state then this situation would tend to be resolved along national lines, I suspect. But it is not fully viable.

    Are Friedman etc revered for being Jewish? Mainly no, they are revered for their services to capital, though much philo-semitic sentiment in the ruling class I would argue derives from recognition of the usefulness of these trends to the bourgeoisie as a whole. Friedman himself has made a fairly big deal about the Jewish role in capitalism and has attempted to analyse it, in his 1972 essay “Capitalism and the Jews: Confronting a Paradox,”, which is online here. He considers the supposed anti-capitalism of the Jews to be an aberration.

    Eric makes a point about the persistence of pre-war style anti-Jewish racism in Eastern Europe. But what is remarkable about this is the lack of sizeable Jewish communities in these countries any more – having been wiped out by the Nazis and their allies. Is it not reasonable to surmise that this is a product of the backwardness of theses countries, their underdevelopment in a capitalist sense, and hardly the mainstream of bourgeois thought. Before WWII, anti-Jewish prejudice was a mainstream part of bourgeois thought.

    Racist parties not getting bourgeois support? What about the support of the European and US right for Apartheid? What about the Dixiecrats? What about Thatcher’s speeches about Britain being ‘swamped’ with people of a ‘different culture’, or the openly racist rationale for UK immigration laws introduced in the 1970s – primary purpose etc? Such things were sometimes coded, but they were generally and popularly understood as being racist. Not like today when the UK ruling class insists that even its crackdowns on immigration are about economics, not racial discrimination. If such measures, or similar, had been understood to be targeted at Jews, that would have been big news. But for them being targeted at non-whites, there was then such a quiet bourgeois consensus, which only shifted in the 1990s.

    My theory is that there is no inherent reason why Jews should be victims of capitalism, and that the anti-Jewish campaigns that were waged between the 1880s and the end of WWII were the produce of subsidiary problems that had their roots in an earlier social system. This was elaborated in a coherent, Marxist manner by Abram Leon in the early part of his work on the Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation. The last 70 years or so since Israel’s formation is a similar length of time – and there is no sign of any shift back on the horizon. It amounts to almost three generations; adequate time to make a judgement or a prognosis. Other, opposite prognoses have been based on similar time-spans.

    Also, my aim is not a short-cut to mass influence. This analysis is rather something to fight about programmatically, in order to defeat a pernicious and unrecognised trend on the left: Jewish chauvinism, which according to the logic of this analysis, is a kind of social-imperialism (sui generis). The left wing taboo whereby phenomena such as AIPAC, the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem ‘Friends of Israel’, etc in imperialist politics, cannot be addressed in a Marxist manner. There is no way that the left can address properly the role of Israel as an imperialist formation with its own ‘foreign legion’ in Western bourgeois politics – which manifests itself as the phenomenon of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ – remarked upon by a variety of bourgeois thinkers even, from Gore Vidal to Mearsheimer/Walt – without destroying that taboo.

    That taboo amounts to a Jewish-bourgeois, anti-Arab prejudice on the left. Since all these bodies are targeted against Arab rights.

    As to supposedly ‘look alike’ far right theories, that is a familiar allegation directed at serious Marxist attempts to analyse the Jewish Question. It is interesting that Milton Friedman positively cites Werner Cohn in his essay, as Cohn was the author of a critique in this vein of Abram Leon. Such things must be discounted, reality is reality, and must be analysed, no matter if the subject matter causes discomfort. If this is not done, the far right gain the opportunity to make use for propaganda purposes of such facts.

    Regarding South Korea, I do not see any comparable overlap of ownership to that of Israel with elements of the imperialist ruling classes. Nor any comparable phenomenon of the ‘tail wagging the dog’. The insults by some Japanese politicians to Korean nationalist sentiments over WWII, for instance, rather suggest a more conventional relationship.

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  7. Ian

    Regarding Stephen’s point above about the cash value of the rights existing under the Law of Return, I think this misunderstands what I am discussing. This mention of property rights is, as I said, a metaphor, not a strict equation with capitalist ownership rights. It amounts to a ticket to membership of a national ruling class that a particular ‘foreign’-born bourgeois would otherwise be excluded from. It allows a Jewish bourgeois, part of the US (or British, or French, etc) ruling class, to be part of the Israeli ruling class also. As such, I doubt very much if it would ever be bought and sold like securities on a stock exchange, and thus the idea of quantifying it in this way seems highly problematic. In a sense , it is more valuable than that. Politics is concentrated economics.

    It is also not necessary for such bourgeois to live in Israel to exercise these rights. It was the pre-existing clout of Jewish bourgeois in the existing ruling classes of the Western countries that allowed this state to be created in the first place, so in a sense it is true that bourgeois international Zionism predates Israel and thus Israel is not the ‘material basis’ for international Zionism.

    Israel however is the ‘material basis’ that holds it together, as its defeat as a Jewish state would mean the defeat of the Zionist national project. The dynamics of this are such that it could not be re-created elsewhere, and this Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, not having even a wholly disputed territory, would slowly disappear through assimilation into the more conventional bourgeoisies. Its entire rationale for separate existence would be undermined and it would be fatally demoralised. That would be a victory not just for the oppressed in the Middle East, but also for the world working class, as it would deprive the imperialist bourgeoisie of an extra asset it acquired.

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  8. Eric

    We haven’t had inter-imperialist conflict since 1945 and there are no prospects for such a conflict in the immediate future. There is zero chance of another world war in Europe only a war between the US and Russia or China is even worth considering and that seems vanishingly unlikely. Capital has become interlocked even if it is still nationally based and this is a result of a process of foreign investment between imperialist nations. Genuine multi-nationalism as opposed to trans-nationalism may be rare but it wouldn’t be of any particular significance if it were the norm. Lenin’s analysis of imperialism needed updating even while Lenin was still alive, today it is hopelessly dated. This does not have anything in particular to do with Jewish capitalists.

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  9. Eric

    To put it by way of an example: Consider ,say, the US and France, is it possible for an american capitalist to be a Francophile in the same way that many are (pro-)Zionist? As in up to and including support for French foreign policy? I think the answer is a clear yes. French and American imperial interests diverge now and then especially during the Bush era, but then there is divergency within the ruling classes of these countries anyway. There is enough give and take for those views to be respectable if unfashionable. The material basis for Francophilia is established in much the same way that the material basis for Zionism is. What is different is the urgency and the political and strategic utility of the latter.

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  10. Ian

    It is certainly possible for an individual capitalist to be a Francophile, and to slavishly follow French foreign policy. However, this would merely be regarded as eccentricity, or in times of US French tension, might attract criticism – if anyone felt it significant enough. There is no chance of anything comparable to AIPAC, or the Friends of Israel factions in UK political parties, emerging, regarding France. These bourgeois factions can and have damaged or even destroyed the careers of other bourgeois politicians who are critical of Israel. That is part of what I mean by the ‘tail wagging the dog’. For some empirical detail on this, read Mearsheimer/Walt.

    Regarding inter-imperialist war – WWI was basically about Germany challenging the world hegemony of the British Empire. The war crippled both Germany, but Britain lost its world hegemonic position and the US was not then strong enough to replace it as world imperialist hegemon. The interwar period was chaotic, since there was no effective hegemonic power; this was only resolved with WWII, when the US came fully into that position, with only the weaker USSR as a potential (but always overrated) challenger.

    The chauvinist campaign against France and to a lesser extent Germany for refusing support to the US/UK invasion of Iraq was just a taster of what an inter-imperialist conflict might mean (incidentally, this had significant impact from the Project For a New American Century, which had major impact from Jewish-Zionist bourgeois elements). Subsequent French governments (Sarkozy, Hollande) have capitulated to this Zionist/neocon agenda, partly because of the activities of France’s own Israeli Foreign Legion in French bourgeois politics (aka Crif), . That is a concrete example of Jewish-Zionist elements both stoking, temporarily, a degree of inter-imperialist tension, and resolving it through helping along a change of personnel at the top of bourgeois politics in France. Incidentally, these people do not do these things alone, they would not have the power in terms of numbers to do this. They are able to do so because of the deference of wider elements of the bourgeoisie to them.

    If this is not the case, how do you explain why, for instance, where the British Conservative Party is concerned, around 80% of its parliamentary representatives support the Conservative Friends of Israel? This is the main party of the UK ruling class. A remarkably strong contingent wearing its loyalty on its sleeve to a rather distant state. Let us note that the Tories are not noted for their warm feelings for other, more conventional European imperialist partners, such as France and Germany.

    I do not see how these things can be explained without the kind of analysis put forward in my Draft Theses on the Jewish Question. You can close your eyes to inconvenient facts, because the implications are discomforting, but that will not make the facts themselves go away.

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  11. Eric

    If you believe that inter-imperialist rivalries dominate world politics and you believe that Israel is an imperialist state in its own right then it is indeed remarkable that 80% of Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends of Israel. I reject both of those propositions. Israel is a strategic asset and the question of whether to side with the Israeli state is constantly being put forward by the fact of the conflict. There may or may not be more to the prevalence of various Friends of Israel in various bourgeois political parties, but I would suggest that it is a sufficient explanation in its own right.

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  12. Ian

    It is indeed remarkable that 80% of Tory MP’s support the Conservative Friends of Israel. Given your comparison of Israel with South Korea, it would be also remarkable if 80% (or even 40% or 20%) of Tory MP’s were supporters of the Conservative Friends of South Korea. Taking into account geographical factors,maybe a similar proportion of deputies from the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party – main party of Japanese imperialism – ought to be supportive of a similar body supporting South Korea as a strategic ally, for instance against China (a more potent potential adversary of Japan than any Arab state conceivably could be to any European imperialist state – let alone vis a vis the US or Canada!). But no chance of that, their PM prefers to insult Koreans over ‘comfort women’. Imagine if a German Chancellor did something similar to Israel over WWII (!!!)

    Such comparisons are fatuous. If Israel is comparable to any Western client in the past, South Africa, not South Korea, would fit most clearly. Which was – and still is (in a modified way) – clearly imperialist. There was an ethnocentric project behind apartheid South Africa, but it was often shamefaced – at least in public – after WWII at least. But the ethnocentric project behind Israel is not shamefaced at all – it is openly stated. And the Western left defers to it, because of a mixture of liberal guilt and a belief that the Jews are an eternally oppressed, progressive people, who cannot possibly give rise to an independent subject that is part of the imperialist camp.

    This stuff about how Israel is a ‘strategic asset’ of imperialism, but not actually imperialist itself, implies that Israel itself is some kind of semi-colonial state, an oppressed nation in its own right, sui generis. As long as the Western left promotes such rubbish, it will never connect with the victims of Zionism/imperialism in the Middle East, it will always be seen as producing sophisticated, but basically dishonest, apologias for Jewish/Zionist racism, and as a by-product of this betrayal, will politically strengthen the credibility of Islamists as the only real force opposing this racist, imperialist project down the line.

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  13. Ian

    That is not likely to be a simple thing, given the overlap between the US ruling class and that of Israel. It would mean a much bigger factional conflict within the US ruling class than occurred over Vietnam. For that reason, it may never happen, as the ruling class regards such divisions with trepidation and would do everything within its power to avoid it. That is why non-Marxist, conservative critics of the “Israel lobby” are on a sticky wicket, since the ‘lobby’ is not a lobby but a key part of the US ruling class that overlaps with another ruling class.

    There is no precedent for this. Its achilles heel is Israel’s lack of legitimacy in the Middle East and thus of real stability. It may be that the only way such a shift could happen would be if the Jewish-Zionist component were thoroughly demoralised by some kind of major reverse in the Middle East, and compelled to depend on their current minority of opponents within the US ruling class to broker an orderly retreat (instead of a disorderly rout). That could only be the result of major developments from below, from the Palestinians, and an effective worldwide movement in their support.

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  14. Stephen Diamond

    If “Jewish” monopoly capitalists tie the ruling class to an alliance with Israel when it no longer serves their class interest, they’re no vanguard.

    Rather, they’re then a sectoralist interest within the bourgeoisie that weakens rather than strengthens it.

    But my own impression is that they are indeed a vanguard. I don’t see a fundamental commitment to Israel on the part of the richest Jews. Just a few super-rich tycoons, who are indeed rich enough to buy the allegiance of 80% of Conservative MPs. (You won’t find, I don’t think, similarly powerful S. Koreans.) Most of the Jewish financiers are pure acquisitors who will turn against Israel in a beat if it’s established that an alliance with Iran, combined in its effects with the Arab world’s decreased importance (with the cheapening of oil), makes different alliances in the abstract interest of their class.

    [I think I detect a theoretical similarity between Daum’s theorizing on the Soviet Union and yours on Israel. Both of you look to property interests that aren’t recognized as such legally: the managers’ property rights over enterprises and the Law of Return. You deny, however, that this is a real property interest, in Israel’s case. Then I don’t think you’re entitled to conclude that the Israeli ruling class consists of the international rich Jewry: Israel’s contribution to the status of “Jews” is symbolic, not material. Which means, as Eric said, that it’s malleable.]

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  15. Ian

    Its quite possible that in some circumstances, the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie could indeed be transformed from a vanguard into a mere sectional interest. All kinds of transformations have happened in history. The problem with dissociating this layer from Israel, as Stephen seems to do here, is that without Israel, what would hold them together? Without the semblance of a territory to be loyal to, ‘Jewishness’ without Judaism in a religious sense, is thin gruel indeed. One of the most important objectives of the Zionist project was to find a way to counteract the natural process of assimilation – the self-dissolution of the Jews.

    Without the unifying role of Israel, such Jewish magnates would still be predatory and astute. But what would distinguish them from other gentile magnates of similar disposition? Increasingly less and less. Obviously this distinction is important to them, otherwise there would be no point in their Zionism and great effort expended in support of Israel in the first place. There is no way Iran could ever substitute for that!

    Symbolic things can be material in practice. If ‘symbols’ are valued by particular people (i.e. bourgeois) to the point that they are prepared to fund armed forces to defend something ‘symbolic’, i.e. the ‘Jewish’ character of Israel, then those symbols represent a material force. An idea, in the heads of the masses, represents a material force. Even more an idea in the heads of a minority with large scale property and the ability to wield armed force.

    Actually, in a sense, Stephen is quite perceptive in the point he makes about the Stalinist regime vis-a-vis Zionism. Both are anomalous forms within capitalism, that deviate from a classical norm. Both are/were highly problematic, have enormous weaknesses, and lack the solidity implied by more classic forms of capital and/or the state. Both are/were likely at some point to give way to more classical norms – more conventional oligarchic forms of capitalism in the case of the Stalinist elite – the final assimilation of the Jewish bourgeoisie in the case of Zionism. Both are products of the inability thus far of both capitalism in its more classical form, and the organised workers movement, to solve complex problems concretely posed by the uneven development of the same capitalism. And both pose both complex questions of analysis and programme, with great urgency, for Marxists, and the need to combine a flexibility of analysis with principled politics. Not easy.

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  16. Eric

    Surely, whereas a materialist analysis should not deny the importance of ideas, it should not *base* itself on the material qualities of symbolism.

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  17. Stephen Diamond

    “But what would distinguish them from other gentile magnates of similar disposition? Increasingly less and less. Obviously this distinction is important to them…”

    What do you think the importance of the distinction is to them?

    If it’s their recognition that they’re the best leaders of the ruling class, they might distinguish themselves without Israel just by those characteristics that make them so. Ideologically: Multiculturism/Political Correctness.

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  18. Ian

    No, their ‘Jewishness’ is important to them. Otherwise, why bother with Zionism, Israel and all that jazz in the first place?

    They actually identify their Jewishness with their prowess as leading elements of the bourgeoisie. This is implicit in Friedman’s speech that I linked to earlier, and in particular his approval of Sombart’s ‘The Jews and Modern Capitalism’, which as Abram Leon saliently pointed out, is riddled with errors and in particular confuses commercial capital (which does not produce surplus value) with industrial capital (which is fundamentally based on the production of surplus value).

    Friedman does not care about that, he endorses Sombart’s thesis and extends it, in effect saying that the anti-capitalist trend among Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries was an aberration, and that capitalism is really where the Jewish interest lies.

    I am taking Friedman as a kind of theorised archetype of a bourgeois ideologue here, who is obviously both very proud to be Jewish, and a fervent supporter of Israel. This seems fair enough, given his prominence and his enormous authority among the neo-liberal bourgeois trend. His ignoring of Sombart’s error on capitalism and surplus value does not appear accidental either, as his trend in bourgeois economics is the one that wants to do without the working class as much as possible, and promote enrichment through financial wizardry and chicanery. We all know where that ended up in 2007 onwards.

    The other point is that their version of multiculturalism, political correctness, etc. are means to an end, not ends in themselves. If their ‘Jewishness’ withered away through assimilation, then these things would be superfluous to requirements and would also wither away. The difference that they want tolerated is theirs, not that of others, that is merely a shallow hypocritical by-product (though it also has its own autonomous dynamics, once brought into being).

    Incidentally regarding Eric’s point, he would be right if were were dealing with pure symbols, disconnected from material reality. But the symbols we are dealing with here are obviously closely related to material interests, and material reality, though there is a high degree of autonomy of the interplay of such symbols which have their origin in material reality in the past.

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  19. Stephen Diamond

    Do you happen to have any idea regarding how many “Jewish” magnates have taken a residence and Israeli citizenship? [If their very “Jewishness” is important to them, I’d expect a strong majority to, given the process’s ease.]

    If “Jewishness” is important to most “Jewish” magnates, why are AIPAC contributions concentrated so heavily on a small number of them?

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  20. Ian

    You can easily find information about the many US politicians who have dual US-Israeli citizenship. Non-politicians are much less traceable.

    AIPAC is skilled in camouflage, using its non-Jewish Christian Zionist component to mask the fact that without Jewish Zionism, Christian Zionism could not exist in the first place, and is a follower movement, not a leader. I am not surprised that only a small number of the most committed are the visible contributors. That is how bourgeois politics works in any case.

    I don’t see that being ashkenazi means much outside of being Jewish.

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  21. Stephen Diamond

    It makes a difference whether Zionism is semi-national project or a racist project. If all that coheres the “Jews” is a common culture or national identity, Israel may be essential. But if Jewish nationalism is fundamentally a form of racism, its Israeli expression isn’t essential.

    The possibility of a pure racial identity is mitigated by the absence of the clearest external identifying characteristics. But “Jews” can identify most of their brethren by appearance.

    We can see, in fact, the development of an explicit cult of the ashkenazi. Their supposed innate intellectual endowments are now widely worshiped in the press. [While a faction of the bourgeoisie can be heard to complain that “Jews” are over-represented greatly in college admissions, even adjusting for test scores.]

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  22. Ian

    I dont know of any racism that has come into existence without any kind of national project. It certainly was not true of early capitalism – the rise of racism was always intimately linked with the rise of capitalist nation-states, that needed racism to justify the incredible brutality involved in the process of primitive accumulation (through black New World slavery, most obviously) that laid the economic and material basis for modern Western capitalism and hence the nation-state. Later this was extended to justify colonialism, not just the plunder involved in capitalist start-up, but also the imperialist project of division and re-division of the world.

    The Jewish national project (in fact only semi-national because of the lack of a viable territory) was part of this, so of course it had to be racist. I doubt that most Jews are identifiable by appearance, however, though there are more subtle means which may not qualify as physical appearance.

    I don’t dispute that there is a cult of the Ashkenazi but it is centred around Israel and its European-derived elite. Whether it would have any meaning outside of the Zionist project seems to me purely hypothetical – its basis is that many of the initial cadre of Zionist colonisation and the bulk of the cannon fodder they subsequently used to create Israel originated in Central and Eastern Europe. However, the financial backing they secured for that project from wealthier Jews must have been broader than that, as European – and no doubt American – Jews who had considerable clout prior to the late 19th Century exodus of Jews from Russia, Poland etc. westward were very much more mixed, and had a considerable Sephardic element (particularly from Spain),

    The reason Jewish nationalism appears more racist is that the national element is not viable, due to lack of a viable territory. This weakness means it cannot be (partially) inclusive in the manner of other modern nationalisms. Shlomo Sand is very good on this.

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