06.03.2015

"DoubleThink" featured article: Chutzpah & Criticism. Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington in perspective

Today, we are featuring an article by Scott Stelle, author of our partner blog "DoubleThink", who looks at the historical and familial precedents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial speech at the United States Congress a few days ago, especially with regard to the its context in terms of the different branches of historical Zionism and the current political climate in Israel.


There are some uncanny parallels between 
between Israeli politician Menachem Begin’s first visit to the United States during December 1948 and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington [this] month [i.e. March 3, PB].

PM Netanyahu is a frequent visitor to Washington (this was at his address to a joint congressional session in 2011)
While Begin was greeted with a critical letter in the New York Times by such prominent Jews as Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook among others, Netanyahu’s upcomming trip, due to Bibi’s breach of White House protocol and conspicuous re-election campaigning, is provoking unusual harsh criticism from American Jewish leaders as well as the mainstream media across the ideological spectrum from Fox News to the New York Times.       
                  .
The specter of 1948 overshadowing Netanyahu’s visit calls attention to Israel’s own violent and criminal birth, still viciously at work, though now largely forgotten in mainstream public discourse. The Zionist ideology’s emphasis of “restoring” an ancient Hebrew national identity and the claim of “continuity” between the Jewish people and their biblical homeland in Palestine became official orthodoxy after the foundation of the state of Israel, whose formative years also coincided with the Jewish trauma of the Holocaust, which incidentally didn’t find expression in “collective memory” until the late 1950s, after the Israeli state had securely established sovereignty over its new territory. Most American Jews’ knowledge of Israel up until the 1980s was based more on symbolic narratives, like Leon Uris’ popular novel and film Exodus, than historical facts. Yet, in light of archival research and current events is America’s blind solidarity with Israel really warranted?


Politics may be informed by history, but it is always about the present and near future. Soul-searching efforts like Germany’s critical scrutiny of Nazism or America’s attempt at understanding its ambivalent “Manifest Destiny” and racist-genocidal roots are difficult but healthy enterprises. Events ranging from Wounded Knee, My Lai and Abu Ghraib to Ferguson will continue to haunt us until we recognize our rapacious “national character.” Long before Israel’s New Historians became as committed to truth as postwar German historiography, Einstein critically appraised the 1948 Arab-Israel War without glossing over misdeeds, like the ethnic cleansing of locals who had lived in Palestine for over a thousand years.If you replace the names Begin with Benjamin and the attacks of Arab villages with the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Einstein’s et al. letter here could have almost been written today:
“The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism through out the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents. Before irreparable damage is done by way of financial contributions, public manifestations in Begin’s behalf, and the creation in Palestine of the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel, the American public must be informed as to the record and objectives of Mr. Begin and his movement. The public avowals of Begin’s party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.”
The letter "New Palestine Party. Visit of Menachen Begin and Aims of Political Movement Discussed", signed by Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook and others to the "New York Times", published in the "Books" section (p. 12), Saturday, December 4, 1948  

Historically, the politics of the Zionist Movement has generally been more socialist than fascist, yet there has nonetheless been fascist elements within the movement since the 1920s. However, they have grown more powerful since the 1970s onwards, and especially after Christian-Right Zionists, like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, started supporting Israel’s Likud party, the direct heirs of Revisionist Zionism. In 2014, Zeev Sternhell, Israel Prize laureate and renowned scholar of European fascism, was asked by Haaretz duringOperation Protective Edge if he had seen any signs of a budding fascism in Israel? He said most definitely, just consider the new “nationhood law” which would define Israel as the state of the Jewish people only, “the brutal and violent erosion of freedom of speech; and the various manifestations of a witch hunt here, when a journalist like [Haaretz’s] Gideon Levy needs a bodyguard.”


The psychic parallels surrounding these two distinct trips and Israeli politicians are not merely a matter of chance. Though difficult to detect, continuity exists through logic and personalities. Despite the long temporal gap, the behavior of Begin and Netanyahu are united by a political ideology: namely, “Revisionists Zionism,” which according to Einstein’s letter:
“preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority. Like other Fascist parties they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free trade unions. In their stead they have proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model. During the last years of sporadic anti-British violence, the IZL and Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.”


Calder Walton’s new Empire of Secrets supports Einstein’s analysis. “Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Jewish (or Zionist) terrorists groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine.” (cf. Calder Walton, Empire of Secrets (William Collins: London, 2014), p. 76). In the immediate aftermath of WWII, neither the Soviets, Nazi and Axis intelligence networks nor Islamists threatened British security as much as Zionist terrorists.
Benzion Netanyahu (1910-2012; pictured here in 2007)
 
The fascists who pursued a fanatical right-wing agenda were inspired by Revisionist Zionism and the “extremist writings of the Polish Zionist politician Vladimir Jabotinsky.”
 (cf. Walton, Empire of Secrets, as above, 83)

The militant arms of the revisionist were first established in 1931 with the Irgun and the more extremist and smaller Stern Gang which in 1940 split off from the Irgun for being too moderate. While Menachem Begin is well know as the founder of Likud and Israel’s sixth prime minister, he was also the leader of the Zionist terrorist or paramilitary group when the Irgun in July 1946 blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people.
On the other hand, Benzion Netanyahu, Benjamin’s father, was Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s disciple and personal secretary, and whom Jabotinsky sent  to America in 1940, as the “executive director of the U.S. branch of the Revisionists. Much of his work involved writing advertisements, which were placed in the New York Times and elsewhere, challenging the Allies’ failure to rescue European Jews from the Nazis and the need for a Jewish state in Palestine. Netanyahu spent part of his time on Capitol Hill, seeking Congressional backing for the cause of Jewish statehood.” So, both Begin and Benzion were the heirs of Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism.
Ironically, Netanyahu’s unpopular speech to Congress, including his megalomaniac claim that he represents all Jews, might undermine the whole carefully constructed “special relationship,” which Bibi’s own father helped build through his very effective lobbying efforts. The “US-Israel special relationship” has been very beneficial for Israel but has since 1962 cost the United States over $100 billion. In short, “the United States has been regularly transferring aid of about $3 billion annually.
The enormity of this PR blunder is all the more surprising considering how slick Israeli media strategists usually are at influencing public opinion in America and Europe. So, this affair is more indicative of Bibi’s chutzpah than ignorance; for Israel’s ambassador to America was born and raised in Florida. Before ambassador Dermer went to work for Netanyahu, he worked with Bush Jr. and expert Republican pollster and political strategist Frank Luntz, who commissioned a group called The Israel Project, with offices in the US and Israel, for use by those “who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel.” Netanyahu’s degree of confidence in influencing American public opinion is more than a simple matter of propaganda; it rests on what communication scholars call definitional control or the ability to explain, and circulate, a particular view of reality by controlling the educational and entertainment media that affects the minds of a population as well as influencing political processes through lobbying. 

Thanks to the efforts of America’s so called 
Israel Lobby (neoconservatives, AIPAC, Israel’s Likud party and the Christian-Right), Israel’s negative images had by the 1980s been pushed to the margins of collective memory and replaced by the mantras of “defend Israel, save Soviet Jews and remember the Holocaust.” Yet, more recently, a handful of critical Israelis and Jewish Americans have been arguing that this situation is not helpful because America’s pro-Israeli lobbying organizations are actually harming Israel’s true interests. Also, one might ask whether Netanyahu’s policies and comments are helping or harming European Jewery?


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