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John Mearsheimer and the Future of Israeli Apartheid
May 12, 2010
John Mearsheimer has given a fascinating prognosis of the situation in Israel. The basic argument is as follows (skip to the end of the bulleted list if you’ve already read it):
· There is not going to be a Palestinian state. There is no political will for it in Israel, and the US lacks the power to impose a two-state solution, largely because of the continuing power of the Israel Lobby. Netanyahu’s “victory was so complete that the Israeli media was full of stories describing how their prime minister had bested Obama and greatly improved his shaky political position at home.” Mearsheimer quotes Andrew Sullivan’s comment on “a cardinal rule of American politics: no pressure on Israel ever. Just keep giving them money and they will give the US the finger in return. The only permitted position is to say you oppose settlements in the West Bank, while doing everything you can to keep them growing and advancing.”
· A Palestinian state is anathema to the Israeli government — the most radically ethnonationalist in its history — and it contradicts basic Zionist ideology, going back to Mandate days: “From the start, Zionism envisioned an Israeli state that controlled all of Mandatory Palestine. There was no place for a Palestinian state in the original Zionist vision of Israel.”
· It is possible that there would be a mass ethnic cleansing — but such a “murderous strategy seems unlikely, because it would do enormous damage to Israel’s moral fabric, its relationship with Jews in the Diaspora, and to its international standing.” Nevertheless, “we should not underestimate Israel’s willingness to employ such a horrific strategy if the opportunity presents itself. It is apparent from public opinion surveys and everyday discourse that many Israelis hold racist views of Palestinians and the Gaza massacre makes clear that they have few qualms about killing Palestinian civilians. … Still, I do not believe Israel will resort to this horrible course of action.”
· The result is that the trends toward an “incipient apartheid state” will become a full-blown apartheid state “over the next decade.”
· “In the long run, however, Israel will not be able to maintain itself as an apartheid state. … It will eventually evolve into a democratic bi-national state whose politics will be dominated by the more numerous Palestinians.”
· An apartheid Israel is non-viable for several reasons: The information freely available on the Internet; continued outrage among the Arabs and Muslims; because it is “antithetical to core Western values”; because it endangers American lives; and because most American Jews will not back it.
· Elaborating on the last point, he divides American Jews into three groups, “righteous Jews” (liberals like Norman Finkelstein and Philip Weiss who are critical of Israel), “the great ambivalent middle,” and the “new Afrikaners” — people like Abe Foxman and Elie Wiesel whose views are identical to those of the politically dominant ethnonationalist government in Israel. At the very least, the new Afrikaners will support Israel no matter what it does.
· Although the organized Jewish community is now dominated by the new Afrikaners, this will not last because Jews, like other Americans are ill-informed about the extent of Israeli apartheid. “This situation, however, is unsustainable over time. Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Greater Israel is a reality, the righteous Jews will have two choices: support apartheid or work to help create a democratic bi-national state. I believe that almost all of them will opt for the latter option, in large part because of their deep-seated commitment to liberal values, which renders any apartheid state abhorrent to them.”
This is where I part ways with Mearsheimer. It is certainly true that Jewish activist organizations like the ADL are constantly going into high dudgeon at the very mention that Israel is an apartheid state. Any such assertion is regarded as an “extreme anti-Israel rhetoric” by the ADL and has the effect of shaping the views of ordinary Jews and preventing them from acknowledging Israeli apartheid as it already exists.
But how is this going to change? The reality is that American Jews are quite comfortable with a morally schizophrenic view in which they have vastly different moral standards when it comes to Israel versus the US. This has been going on for a long time — to the point that I started a recent blog by writing, “Finding examples of Jewish double standards and hypocrisy vis-à-vis their attitudes about Israel and the US is like shooting fish in a barrel. But their posturing on the Arizona immigration law is particularly egregious.” Recall that opposition to Arizona-type laws spans the entire organized Jewish community in the US, despite the fact that such practices are routine in Israel.
Jewish moral particularism is a powerful reality among Jews. Mearsheimer takes Jewish liberalism in America and throughout the West at face value, as representing “deepseated commitment to liberal values” that is central to Judaism itself.
In accepting this, Mearsheimer is taking people like Gideon Aronoff of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society at face value — always a bad idea. The HIAS declares,
Drawing strongly on Jewish tradition, we provide services to Jewish immigrants, refugees, and others in need – without regard for their religion, nationality, or ethnic background. We are guided by our Jewish values and texts. The Torah (Hebrew Bible) tells us 36 times in 36 different ways to help the stranger among us. This, and our core belief that we must “fix the world” (tikkun olam, in Hebrew), are the driving principles behind our work.”)
Aronoff makes it sound as though Jewish advocacy of immigration is part of a deep ethical commitment that goes to the heart of Judaism. But of course he never attempts massive resettlement of non-Jews into Israel, nor does he agonize about Israel's biologically-based immigration laws. His moral posturing is entirely directed at the US. Even a casual look at traditional Jewish society shows it to be highly authoritarian, with no concept of individual rights or free speech and deeply concerned about the racial purity of all group members. However one interprets the Torah, Jewish society has never welcomed the stranger, and that is certainly true of Israel.
Jewish commitment to liberalism in the West has been all about ethnic hardball, not about high-flown moral values. Jewish liberalism is the cutting edge aimed at displacing previously dominant WASP elites and their culture. It is not motivated by a moral universalism of human rights — a philosophy that is utterly foreign to the Jewish tradition. Rather, it is motivated by fear and loathing of the traditional peoples and cultures of Europe — and the desire to become a dominant elite.
Obviously, the vast majority of Israelis fail to hold liberal values, and historically the common denominator of Jewish behavior in traditional societies has been alliances with elites, often rapacious alien elites. Jewish radicals in the Soviet Union became "Stalin's Willing Executioners," perpetrating the greatest mass murders of the 20th century, and the Jewish left in the US rationalized or ignored it for decades. Indeed, the remnants of the Jewish left in the US are far more concerned about the imagined excesses of McCarthyism than they are about the horrific deeds of their co-ideologues in the Soviet Union.
The result is that Jewish liberalism is far better seen as ethnic strategizing rather than a core ethical commitment:
The Jewish identification with the left should … be seen as a strategy designed
to increase Jewish power as an elite hostile to the White European majority of
America. As I have argued,
Jewish intellectual and political movements have been a critically necessary
condition for the decline of White America during a period in which Jews have
attained elite status.
All of these movements have been aligned with the political left. As Democrats,
Jews are an integral part of the emerging non-White coalition while being able
to retain their core ethnic commitment to Israel. Indeed, the organized Jewish
community has not only been the most
important force in
ending the European bias of American immigration laws, it has assiduously courted
non-White ethnic groups, including Blacks, Latinos, and Asians; and these groups
are overwhelmingly aligned with the Democratic Party. (Review
of Norman Podhoretz’s Why are Jews
Liberals?) (See also
Ch. 3 of
The Culture of Critique, p. 79ff)
(See also Ch. 3 of The Culture of Critique, p. 79ff)
Mearsheimer suggests that American Jews, especially young Jews, will over time be less committed to Israel as they realize that they are safe in America, so that Israel is not needed as a safety valve. He also points to a very real phenomenon — that Jews in Israel are increasingly dominated by the religious fundamentalists and, I would add, the secular ethnonationalist descendants of Vladimir Jabotinsky. Both groups are highly fertile and they will increasingly dominate Israel in the future. Indeed, they are already the backbone of support for the current ethnonationalist government, which features the openly racialist, pro-apartheid Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister.
But it is highly questionable that commitment to Israel by American Jews has anything to do with Israel as a safety valve. Anti-Semitism in the US declined to vanishingly low levels in the aftermath of World War II, and there has been absolutely no possibility of a serious anti-Jewish movement since.
Nor is it likely that the dominance of the ethnonationalist right in Israel will alienate American Jews. American Jews with even a modicum of Jewish identity see themselves as part of the Jewish people, with interests that transcend the interests of the country they happen to live in. This has always been the case, and is the source of the recurrent charge of dual loyalty (see here, p. 60ff). There is no reason to suppose that this will change in the future.
And this means that if Israel is seen as threatened — and the ADL will see to it that Israel is always presented as threatened, American Jews will rally to its defense. All the more so if the threat is real and dire. If there was a real threat to Israel, as happened during the Six-Day War, American Jews will suddenly develop an intense commitment that will surprise even them:
[As expected by social identity theory in psychology] in times of perceived threat to Judaism there is a great increase in group identification among even “very marginal” Jews. … Jewish identification is a complex area where surface declarations may be deceptive and self-deception is the norm. Jews may not consciously know how strongly they in fact identify with Judaism. … [For example,] around the time of the 1967 Arab/Israeli war, many Jews could identify with the statement of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that “I had not known how Jewish I was.” (Separation and Its Discontents, Ch. 9)
I think it is highly doubtful therefore that when push comes to shove the American Jewish community will fail to come to the defense of Israel — no matter how overtly racialist and explicitly apartheid it becomes. Recall Paul Gottfried's reminiscence about what the 1967 war looked like on American college campuses :
All my Jewish colleagues in graduate school [at Yale], noisy anti-anti-Communists, opposed American capitalist imperialism, but then became enthusiastic warmongers during the Arab-Israeli War in 1967. One Jewish Marxist acquaintance went into a rage that the Israelis did not demand the entire Mideast at the end of that war. Another, though a feminist, lamented that the Israeli soldiers did not rape more Arab women. It would be no exaggeration to say that my graduate school days resounded with Jewish hysterics at an institution where Wasps seemed to count only for decoration.
I saw the same thing among Jewish radicals at the University of Wisconsin at that time: Radical internationalists suddenly became obsessed about Jewish nationalism. Similarly, the Jews who are most critical of Israel would alter their views in a heartbeat if Israel was really threatened.
The internal dynamics of the Jewish community are always led by the most committed activist elements within it, with the rest of the community ultimately going along with them. The best example of this is Zionism itself — once the view of a small minority of deeply committed Jews, but eventually becoming the defining feature of the entire community. Jews who do not go along with the policies advocated by the radicals have been aggressively marginalized by the mainstream Jewish community. I see no reason to suppose that that trend will not continue into the future.
Mearsheimer concludes that “Greater Israel will eventually become a democratic bi-national state, and the Palestinians will dominate its politics, because they will outnumber the Jews in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.” This could be avoided by an energetic commitment to a two-state solution, but that just isn’t going to happen for all the reasons noted above. Israel will therefore self-destruct, a victim of Palestinian fertility and the non-viability of an apartheid state in the modern world.
The problem here is that Mearsheimer assumes that the globalist values that he
as an American liberal holds dear have triumphed and there is no going back. But
the reality is that, as Pat Buchanan
in a recent column, globalism is on the defensive. Everywhere except the West,
that is. Ethnonationism
is utterly normal
around the world, except for Whites.
The triumph of ethnonationalism is especially apparent in Israel. Historically,
the Middle East has always erected societies based on apartheid. Different
religious and ethnic groups lived together, often in superficial harmony
overlaying relationships of dominance and subordination.
But they remained separated socially into endogamous groups. It’s sobering to
realize, for example, that the
who were the remnants of the peoples conquered by the Israelites during the late
Bronze Age, remained as an unassimilated, unmarriageable group for hundreds of
years within Israelite society. Western ideas of individualism and exogamy are
completely foreign to this part of the world. What we see now is Judaism
returning to its ancient roots. The only difference now is that the groups are
physically separated by walls and separate roads. Israel
will jettison democracy long before the Palestinians have a majority.
Israel will jettison democracy long before the Palestinians have a majority.
Moreover, looking ahead, there are numerous signs that the power of the West to
enforce its liberal worldview on others is in decline. America cannot afford
another trillion dollar war with Iran, and it seems to be
losing in Afghanistan.
Its hold on Iraq
continuing massive injections of money and an occupying army, and in any case
has not altered the sectarian, ethnically based structure of the society typical
of the Middle East. The entire Muslim world is what it has always been —
resolutely opposed to building Western-type societies based on representative
government and individual rights against the state.
Moreover, the rise of China certainly does not mean that they will develop an
interventionist foreign policy aimed at ensuring human rights and democracy.
Far from it. Indeed, China is a model of an ethnonationalist state, with no commitment to
democracy but a strong commitment to economic nationalism and remaining
ethnically Chinese. For example, its response to the threat of minority
breakaway states on its borders has been to flood those areas with Han Chinese.
It's foreign policy is
dominated by its economic goals, not by dedication to abstract principles of
democracy and individual rights, and there is no reason to think that that will
change in the future. Such principles have no historical basis within Chinese
It's foreign policy is dominated by its economic goals, not by dedication to abstract principles of democracy and individual rights, and there is no reason to think that that will change in the future. Such principles have no historical basis within Chinese society.
In the case of Israel, the will of Western powers to force an end to apartheid
is non-existent. And while the US and
the West are set to decline in influence, Israel remains armed to the teeth.
Mearsheimer’s argument is an updated version of the argument in
The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy
that the influence of the Israel Lobby should be curbed for the long term good
of Israel. But from Israel’s point of view, continuing their aggressive ways has
good chance of winning:
After all, Israel is by far the preeminent military power in the region and can
easily act to preempt the development of weapons of mass destruction by its
enemies, including Iran. And as a nuclear power, it could inflict huge costs on
any enemy who even contemplated destroying it. It also has the world’s one
remaining military superpower completely at its bidding, so that it’s difficult
to envision a worst case scenario in which Israel is decisively defeated. Why
should the Israelis give up anything when victory is in sight?
Mearsheimer concludes with some generally sensible advice to the Palestinians.
But again, he assumes the perspective of a liberal Westerner. Two of his
suggestions show his belief that somehow everyone thinks and acts just like
It is essential that the Palestinians make clear that they do not intend to seek
revenge against the Israeli Jews for their past crimes, but instead are deeply
committed to creating a bi-national democracy in which Jews and Palestinians can
live together peacefully. The Palestinians do not want to treat the Jews
the way the Jews have treated them.”
Finally, the Palestinians should definitely not employ violence to defeat apartheid. They should resist mightily for sure, but their strategy should privilege non-violent resistance. The appropriate model is Gandhi not Mao. Violence is counter-productive because if it gets intense enough, the Israelis might think that they can expel large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians must never underestimate the danger of mass expulsion.
I completely agree that violence by the Palestinians might trigger expulsion,
but expulsion or at least continued apartheid will happen in any case.
Non-violent resistance will be met with effective counter methods. The latest
non-lethal method used by the Israelis is spraying Palestinians with “skunk”:
Imagine the worst, most foul thing you have ever smelled. An overpowering mix of
rotting meat, old socks that haven't been washed for weeks — topped off with the
pungent waft of an open sewer. Imagine being covered in the stuff as it is
liberally sprayed from a water cannon. Then imagine not being able to get rid of
the stench for at least three days, no matter how often you try to scrub
Whatever form of resistance the Palestinians adopt will be ineffective.
Non-violent forms of resistance seem to be effective in gaining the sympathies of White Europeans, but I can’t think of any other group of people that they have been effective with. I suspect that the effectiveness of non-violent protest among Westerners is due to their weak ingroup bonds — another aspect of Western individualism which cannot be assumed to operate among other peoples. While everyone else sees human suffering primarily in terms of how it affects people in their ingroup, Westerners seem susceptible to moral appeals — the moral universalism at the psychological level that was exploited so effectively in the civil rights era and now on behalf of impoverished immigrants (legal and illegal), persecuted refugees, Third World orphans, and Haitian earthquake victims.
On the other hand, Jewish fanatics like Abraham Foxman, Alan Dershowitz,
and the entire Jewish activist community led by the new Afrikaners feel
nothing but contempt and hatred at the sight of suffering Palestinians. They are prone to
elaborate rationalizations that rationalize any and every sort of brutality
against them. Psychological research shows that powerful ingroup commitments make one morally blind to the
suffering of outgroup members
and the entire Jewish activist community led by the new Afrikaners feel nothing but contempt and hatred at the sight of suffering Palestinians. They are prone to elaborate rationalizations that rationalize any and every sort of brutality against them. Psychological research shows that powerful ingroup commitments make one morally blind to the suffering of outgroup members— especially if the outgroup members are seen as in conflict with the ingroup.
Mearsheimer believes that images of suffering Palestinians will eventually pull
at America’s heartstrings, especially if among those who browse certain sites on
the Internet. But there are a lot of reasons why this won’t have a decisive
influence in the foreseeable future:
· Most non-Jewish Americans don’t care about the Middle East and the largest group of those who do care, the Christian Zionists, see Israeli atrocities as easing the way for the End Times. When Americans browse the Internet, they are much more likely to go to entertainment sites — sex, sports, and movie stars — than to anti-Israel sites. They won’t see images of suffering Palestinians unless they appear in the aboveground media.
But the aboveground media is still in Zionist hands and that won’t change any
time soon. Media moguls like Haim Saban — a new Afrikaner if ever there was one
— would go all out to prevent any change away from the status quo.
Historically, Jews have been very effective in pressuring media they don't like
with negative economic consequences, such as advertizing boycotts. This is true whether
the media is
Jewish-owned or not.
Historically, Jews have been very effective in pressuring media they don't like with negative economic consequences, such as advertizing boycotts. This is true whether the media is Jewish-owned or not.
Even if the American public became motivated on this issue, politicians would
think twice about opposing Israel because their opponents would suddenly have
lots of campaign money. There are quite a few issues — most notably immigration
— where popular attitudes are irrelevant to public policy. America is run by its
elites, and Jews are a very prominent component of American elites at all the
points of influence — media, financial, legal, and political. Far more than
immigration (whose disastrous effects are getting obvious to pretty much
everyone), popular anger about Israel is unthinkable without elite concurrence.
Moreover, it would be foolish for the Israelis to believe that the Palestinians would not hold a grudge against them for all that has happened if indeed the impossible dream of a bi-national democratic state comes to be. This is the same impossible dream that White Americans have when they think that the future multi-racial, multicultural, White-minority America will cease to hold historic grudges against the formerly dominant Whites and that it will retain all the institutional structures as when Whites were dominant. It won’t happen.
The Israelis surely know what their fate would be in a democratic society dominated by the Palestinians and they will go all out to prevent it. Surely no one would suppose that Israelis are so committed to democracy as a principle that they would commit themselves to certain persecution and destruction by continuing to adhere to it. What's good for the Jews and all that.
Would that White Americans were less committed to principles and more committed
Unfortunately, White Americans still don’t grasp what is in store for them in a
society dominated by Jews and other groups with a historical grudge against
them. The end of democratic and republican institutions will be the least of it.
Mearsheimer’s almost child-like faith in what the bi-national state would look
like shows that he certainly does not really grasp the deadliness of ethnic
politics. The Israelis and Jews in general are under no such illusion.
The main point here is that Mearsheimer’s point of view makes a great deal of sense if one can assume that post-1960s liberal Western values will persist into the future and that Western societies will have the power and will to enforce them on Israel. It makes sense if in fact there is some deep democratic impulse in the soul of all Jews. But for all the reasons mentioned above, this is wishful thinking.