As the Israelis continue to pound Gaza, killing Hamas cadre, traffic cops, and civilians alike, Americans shake their heads and wonder: why can’t they all just get along? Why must we be involved? The answer to both questions lies in understanding the peculiar nature of the Israeli state and its "special relationship" to the West, specifically the U.S.
Defenders of the Israeli government and its policies often complain that Israel just wants to be treated as a "normal country," like any other. They cavil that the Jewish state is treated like an outsider, a pariah, and held up to standards that don’t apply anywhere else. The big problem for these complainants, however, is that Israel is not a normal country, and never has been.
From the day of its birth, Israel has been a Western project, a unique creation of European ideologues whose vision of a Jewish state was rooted in myth, custom, and remembrance, rather than blood and soil. Israel owes its existence to theology rather than geography, and in this it occupies a singular place in the history of nations. The only other comparable state is, or was, the old Soviet Union, which was founded as the receptacle for Leninist ideology, but even here the analogy isn’t quite exact, for the simple reason that Russia preexisted the USSR by several centuries, and Russian nationalism soon came to dominate and overwhelm the ostensibly "internationalist" Kremlin leadership.
As a settler colony rather than a rooted nation, Israel’s always precarious existence is made possible by an extensive international support system that exists entirely outside the Middle East. In the beginning, it was the Zionist movement itself that provided the outside material aid that nurtured and grew this nascent nation. That, however, was not enough to provide the sustenance Israel needed to come into existence and survive in a very rough neighborhood, so it was the British empire that presided over its birth. The Balfour Declaration provided the semi-legal basis for the existence of an independent Jewish state in the area known as Palestine.
The British, however, had neither the resources nor the inclination to act as Israel’s permanent sponsor and protector, and this role eventually fell to the United States. Without U.S. aid, including unconditional military and political support, Israel could not exist for long. Over the years, it has evolved its own characteristic means of survival, which is analogous to that of an epiphyte – a plant that, rather than rooting in its own soil, grows on other plants.
Because Israel is almost entirely dependent on international support – and especially American support – for its very survival, without U.S. public opinion behind it the Jewish state would soon wither on the vine. What this means, in practice, is that a constant stream of pro-Israel propaganda must be directed at the American people in order to justify the high levels of financial and military aid that keep Israel afloat. What’s more, the Israelis must constantly generate the urgency and immediacy of the need to support their country. They have succeeded in doing this by projecting a sense of continuing crisis. The idea that Israel is in danger, that unless we ship billions more in taxpayer dollars the Israeli state will sink beneath the waves of an unrelenting Arab assault, is constantly being pushed – and we wonder why the "peace process" is perpetually stalled.
Given the need for a constant crisis, all efforts to mediate a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question are doomed to utter failure. The Israelis simply have no interest in peace, when war suits their purposes so well. Indeed, when things get too peaceful, they have every interest in stirring things up. Once more, Israel is supposedly fighting for its life – so please keep those aid packages coming, to the tune of over $3 billion per year!
Another aspect of this epiphytic survival strategy involves the large-scale theft of military and other classified secrets, mainly from the U.S., as illustrated by the arrest of Jonathan Pollard, and, more recently, his fellow spy Ben Ami Kadish. U.S. intelligence agencies have long characterized Israel as the most aggressive procurer of illicit technology transfers, and the case of Kadish – who stole nuclear secrets, missile defense technology, and other high-tech weapon designs – underscores this sensitive yet largely ignored aspect of the "special relationship."
Yet it isn’t just technological secrets that the Israelis are interested in pilfering from their American big brothers: due to their dependence on the decisions and actions of our policymakers, they also require an extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the U.S. government. That’s what the case of the AIPAC defendants is all about.
While Kadish recently pled guilty to charges of espionage, the AIPAC defendants – Steve Rosen, former AIPAC lobbying director, and Keith Weissman, who used to be AIPAC’s Iran expert – are fighting the charges. They are accused of pilfering not only military-related intelligence, but also U.S. government documents revealing the internal policy debates within the administration, especially U.S. policy toward Iran. Their defense
team argues that the Justice Department, in prosecuting their clients, is criminalizing what ought to be considered legitimate lobbying and advocacy. One has to wonder, however, what kind of "advocacy" requires the theft of highly sensitive and classified materials and their transmission to officials of a foreign government.
Yet, from the Israeli perspective, this is entirely legitimate, given their peculiar national survival strategy. An epiphyte, after all, depends on its host. The host, however, may have other ideas – and that’s where the extensive Israeli penetration of U.S. governmental and opinion-making institutions comes in. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have done us all a service is providing a comprehensive survey of this effort and its astounding success, and we are seeing this play out in the political responses to the Gaza massacre, with both major political parties, as well as the incoming president and the bulk of the media, playing right along with the Israeli propaganda machine.
Until and unless the peculiarities of the "special relationship" are untangled and the cord cut, Israel will continue to rampage throughout the Middle East. The most recent Gaza massacre is only the beginning.