Something troubling is quietly under way in the western world, that portion of the world’s governments who style themselves liberal democracies and free societies. Through a number of avenues, people’s assumptions about the role of government are being undermined as their governments evolve towards a pattern established in the United States, in the way governments, however elected and organised, regard their responsibilities towards their citizens and the world community.
Of course, the United States in many matters often prods, cajoles, or threatens other states to follow where it leads, such as with votes at the UN or with at least token forces for one of America’s colonial wars to lend the appearance of international effort. Despite America’s poor economy and declining relative future prospects, it still has many resources for pushing others, but a good deal of what is happening is a result of new forces that only reinforce America’s imperial tendencies.
People in the west often elect governments who turn around to do things voters did not want done. They realise they are being lied to by their governments and corporate press, but they feel helpless to remedy the situation. Special interests increasingly dominate government because they increasingly pay its campaign costs and extend other important favours.
Citizens in many places feel the meaning of casting a ballot has been diminished as they watch their governments ignore extreme injustice, hear their governments make demands and threats over matters which do not warrant threats, see themselves become ensnared in wars and violence they never wanted, and generally feel their governments are concerned with matters of little concern to them. That, if it needs to be said, is not what democracy is about. And where do we see governments making reforms to remedy the situation threatening democracy? Almost nowhere.
It might at first seem an odd thing to write – considering the influence Israel exerts in the western world (what other country of seven million is in the press virtually each day?) and all the favourable press it receives (every major newspaper and broadcaster has several writers or commentators who see it as their duty to influence public opinion on Israel’s behalf, with the New York Times submitting all stories about Israel to Israeli censors before publishing) – but Israel is an inherently unstable state.
No matter how much money is poured into it for arms and force-fed economic development, it cannot be otherwise. Its population is hostile to the people with whom it is surrounded and intermixed, living something of a fantasy: white-picket-fence notions of a community free from neighbours who do not resemble each other.
Its founding stories also have a fairy tale quality, heroic with a mythical division of good and evil, always ignoring the violence and brutality that cannot be forgotten so easily by its victims, and the manipulation of imperial powers which defrauded others as surely as any phony mining stock promotion.
Its official views and the very language in which they are expressed are artificial constructs which do not accurately describe what they name, words like “militant” or “terrorist” or “existential.” Its official policy towards neighbours and the people it displaced has been one of unrelenting hostility. Its leaders in business and government almost all securely hold dual passports, hedging their bets. Its average citizens face a hard time in an economy shaped, not for opportunity and economic freedom, but for war and the policing of millions of captives and unwelcome residents.
None of this is indefinitely sustainable, and modern Israel is a highly artificial construct, one neither suited to its regional environment nor amenable to all the powerful trends shaping the modern world: globalisation, free movement of peoples, multiculturalism in immigration, and genuine democratic principles, not the oxymoron of democracy for one group only.
It is the many desperate efforts to work against these hard realities that have unleashed the forces now at work on the western world. As just one example, against the best judgment of many statesmen, Israel was permitted and even assisted to become a nuclear power. The logic being that only with such weapons could Israel feel secure and be ready to defend Jews abroad from a new Gotterdammerung.
The truth is, as is the case with all nuclear weapons, Israel’s arsenal is virtually unuseable, except, that is, as a powerful tool for blackmail. Israel has blackmailed the United States several times, the latest instance being over Iran’s nuclear programme, a programme that every reliable intelligence source agrees is not aimed at producing weapons. More than one Israeli source has suggested that low-yield nuclear weapons are the best way of destroying Iran’s technology, buried deep underground – a suggestive whisper in American ears to do what Israel wants, or else.
Analysis suggests that what Israel truly wants is the suppression of Iran as a burgeoning regional power, so that Israel can continue to perform the powerful and lucrative role as sole United States’ surrogate in western Asia along with its numerous, always-kept-quiet dealings with that other great bastion of democracy and human rights, Saudi Arabia.
There have been many unanticipated and unpleasant results from just this one matter of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Take Israel’s relationship with the former South African government and that country’s own drive decades ago to achieve status as a nuclear power. Not all the details are available, but we know from now-published documents that Israel once offered literally to sell nuclear warheads and compatible missiles to apartheid South Africa. We know further that South Africa did achieve its goal, there having been a rush, secret programme to remove its weapons when the apartheid government fell. We know further that there was a nuclear device tested at sea, very likely a joint Israeli-South African test, its unmistakable flash having been recorded by an American satellite.
Just this one aspect of Israel’s behaviour has worked directly against the aims and wishes of many in the west, supporting both apartheid and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, in order to accomplish these things, large efforts had to be made at deception and secrecy in dealing with a number of governments whose intelligence services would certainly have come across trails of evidence. Those are rather weighty matters for governments to decide without the knowledge of voters.
Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons acts both as a threat and a stimulus to other states in the region to obtain their own. Iraq tried to do so and was stopped, twice. Finally, America used Iraq’s nuclear weapons as a pretext for a bloody invasion which killed at least half a million people, when it was clear to all experts by that time that Iraq no longer had any working facilities for producing them.
It violently swept Iraq off the region’s chessboard to please Israel, much as today Israel wants it to do with Iran. Countries which have seriously considered, or once actually started, working towards nuclear weapons in the region include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya; and in all cases their motives involved, at least in part, Israel’s arsenal.
The United States today is in the midst of a massive, years-long campaign to cleanse the Middle East of what its rulers regard as undesirable elements. What determined these undesirable elements? The chief characteristic was whether they respect the general foreign policy aims of the United States, including, importantly, the concept of Israel as favoured son of the United States in the region, with all the privileges and powers accorded that status.
Certainly the selection had nothing to do with whether the rulers in question were democratic, and certainly it had nothing to do with whether their countries recognised and respected human rights, John Kerry’s pandering or Hillary Clinton’s histrionics to the contrary.
America pays no attention to such niceties when it comes to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, and many other places of strategic interest to it, including Israel. The values given lip service in the American Constitution and at Fourth of July picnics have as much to do with foreign policy as they do with the muffled screams from Guantanamo and the rest of the CIA’s torture gulag or the horrific invasion of Iraq and the systematic, large-scale use of extrajudicial killing.
An elaborate machinery has grown up around the relationship between America and Israel since 1948, when President Truman made the fateful decision – reportedly against his own private judgment – to quickly recognise the government of Israel and extend to it the then-immense prestige of the United States in the immediate post-war period. That machinery – its chief features being highly-organised and well-funded special interest campaign financing, assays of every elected or appointed American official for his or her friendliness to Israel as with regular junkets for new Congressmen, and the most intimate and regular access by both lobbyists and Israeli officials to the highest officials in Washington – is now part of the political landscape of the United States, taken for granted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. But it is not natural, and, over the long term, it is not even in keeping with the interests of the United States.
Being enmeshed in that decision-distorting machinery, rather than simply demanding Israel return to the Green Line and support a reasonable settlement, is what ultimately produced 9/11, the war on terror, and the invasion of Iraq. It has also resulted in systematic extrajudicial killing, the consignment of tens of millions of people to tyranny, including the people of Egypt and Palestine, the dirty business of the engineered civil war inflicted upon Syria, and the swallowing of America’s national pride many times as with the Israeli attack on an American spy ship, Israel’s seizure of neighbouring land, and Israel’s incessant espionage on its greatest benefactor. Some of these avoidable disasters had further internal effects in rationalising the establishment of many elements of an American police state.
The nature of this relationship itself demonstrates something about the unstable nature of Israel. America has many allies and friends who do not behave in these ways because it is simply not necessary: but Israel is constantly reaching, trying to improve or enhance or consolidate its situation, trying to seek some greater advantage. It assumes in its external affairs what appears to be a completely amoral, results-at-any-cost approach, from stealing farms, homes and water to stealing secrets, playing a long series of dirty tricks on the world along the way, as it did at Entebbe or in the Six Day War, or in helping apartheid South Africa, or in releasing horrible malware like Stuxnet, or in abusing the passports of other nations to carry out ugly assassinations – all secure in the knowledge that the world’s most influential nation is captive to the machinery, unable to criticise or punish.
The trouble is that such acts endlessly generate new hostilities in every place they touch. It cannot be otherwise, yet Israel and its apologists speak only in terms of rising anti-Semitism to shut critics up, a practice which often generates still more hostilities, and only increases awareness of the many dishonesties employed to keep Israel afloat.
The nature of the American-relationship machinery has proved so successful in shaping policy towards Israel that it has been replicated in other western countries. Only recently, we read the words of a former Australian prime minister warning his people of undue influence on government. In Canada, traditionally one of the fairest-minded of nations towards the Middle East, our current, extremist prime minister (an unfortunate democratic deficit in Canada making it possible to win a majority government with 39 percent of the vote) has trashed Canada’s traditional and respected position and worked steadily towards establishing the same backroom-influence machinery. Of course, along the way, his party will enjoy a new source of campaign funding, adding yet a new burden to Canada’s existing democratic deficit.
No one, I think, entirely planned this set of outcomes from the beginning. It really has been a matter of innumerable adjustments, accommodations, and opportunistic manoeuvres which no one could have predicted in 1948. Those days were, at one and the same time, joyful for many Jews staring back into the utter darkness of the Holocaust, and tragic to a people having nothing to do with those murderous events, yet who were stripped of property and rights and dignity – a situation which has only become worse since what they quite understandably call the nakba.
But the corrosion of democracy in western governments, afraid of ever saying no to Israel and too willing to add to party political coffers in exchange for favours, is real and palpable, and it is only going to become worse. The situation is best characterised as a race for the bottom.