James Petras: Another Powerful Voice on the Neocons
February 6, 2008
Any number of prominent commentators have pointed to the power of the Israel Lobby in the United States, and to one degree or another they have noted that Jews compose the bulk of the segment of the Lobby known as neoconservatives. Opinions about this Lobby and Jewish neoconservatives range from pungent to calm and reasoned, with a pundit like Pat Buchanan representing one end of the spectrum and former President Jimmy Carter or scholars Mearsheimer and Walt and Kevin MacDonald the other.
Now we have the entry of an eminent American scholar who gives Buchanan a
run for title of most strident anti-neoconservative: James Petras.
James Petras is a retired Bartle Professor of sociology at Binghamton
University. A well-known Marxist, he is the author of the sizzling
Power of Israel in the United States. How
his approach compares to that of Carter, et al. is of some interest.
Carter, of course, has raised the hackles of many because of the arguments
he makes in
Peace Not Apartheid. For instance, he claims
that the United States exhibits “undeviating backing of Israel” and that
“because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United
States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned” and
“voices from Jerusalem dominate in our media.”
This echoes the thesis of Mearsheimer and Walt, whose The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy has powerfully critiqued the existence and goals of what they define as "a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction." It also echoes much of the thinking in MacDonald’s "Neoconservatism as a Jewish Movement", where he describes neoconservatism as “a complex interlocking professional and family network centered around Jewish publicists and organizers flexibly deployed to recruit the sympathies of both Jews and non-Jews in harnessing the wealth and power of the United States in the service of Israel.”
Pat Buchanan adopted a far more belligerent tone in his seminal cover story
in The American Conservative back
in early 2003. Entitled “Whose
War?,” it answered that the pre-planned attack on Iraq following
9/11 was instigated by a “neoconservative clique.” Ratcheting up the
rhetoric, Buchanan went on to write, “We charge that a cabal of polemicists
and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that
are not in America’s interests. We charge them with colluding with Israel to
ignite those wars.”
Petras adopts a similar tone but expands Buchanan’s arguments into a
book-length exposť, arguing persuasively that the Zionist project to subvert
American sovereignty has succeeded, much to the detriment of many
non-Israelis: "The tyranny of Israel over the US has grave consequences for
world peace and war, the stability and instability of the world economy, and
for the future of democracy in the US.”
Like other critics of neoconservative influence, Petras emphasizes the Jewish identity of so many in the campaign, including unofficial political advisers who organized an array of groups to prosecute the Zionist agenda. He goes further, however, in positing a far more extensive network of Zionist activists:
While the design and execution of the US war strategy was in the hands of Zionist civilian militarists in the Pentagon, they were only able to succeed because of the powerful support exercised by Sharon's acolytes in the major Jewish organizations in the US. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, and the thousands of their activists—doctors, dentists, philanthropists, real estate magnates, financiers, journalists, media moguls, and academics—acted in concert with key Jewish politicians and ideologues to press the case for a war because, they would argue, it was in the interest of the State of Israel. . . .
Closely echoing the arguments of Kevin MacDonald about Jewish intellectual
“movements,” Petras drives home the point that “the ZPC's [Zionist Power
Configuration's] formal and informal
structure has a crucial dynamic element to it: each power center
interacts with the rest, creating a constant 'movement' and
activity, which converges and energizes both leaders and followers" (p.
In a book not reaching two hundred pages, Petras goes on to discuss the
connection between Israel and 9/11, analyzes the Libby Affair, unmasks
Seymour Hersh and Noam Chomsky as Jewish protectors of Zionism, examines the
2006 invasion of Lebanon, and exposes Danish editor “Flemming Rose” of the
Muhammad caricature cartoon confrontation as a Mossad asset. He also
argues that the Jewish Lobby, not Big Oil, fabricated the bogus Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction threat.
An astute student of power politics, Petras examines how Zionists virulently
attack critics, often under cover of “respectable” media such as
The New York Times. (These
“swarm” attacks were aptly described in an essay by Israeli anti-Zionist
As if he hadn’t taken on enough work, Petras returned with a new book in
and Ruled in the US Empire: Bankers, Zionists and Militants.
Here, Petras expands the scope of his charges, making the (Marxist) case
that Finance Capital dominates America (and by extension much of the world).
Critically, Petras highlights the overlap between our financial rulers and
those agitating on behalf of Israeli interests; a high percentage of both
Petras points to the historically Jewish firm of Goldman Sachs and its
“unprecedented” presence in the flow of representatives from Wall Street to
Washington. Lest one make a partisan argument for Republican dominance
here, Petras quotes a financial newspaper as saying “Neither Mr. Bush nor
Goldman have been criticized by Democrats for holding too many powerful jobs
in part because the investment bank also has deep ties to the Democrats.”
How deep? “Goldman represented the biggest single donor base to the
Democrats” prior to the 2006 mid-term elections.
This 2007 book also allows Petras the benefit of hindsight, which he uses to
update his discussion of the 2006 Israel attack on Lebanon and to illustrate
how Zionist power worked to negate the peace initiative of James Baker and
his Iraq Study Group.
Displaying a simmering rage, Petras caustically offers an example of the Israeli-tail-wagging-the-American-dog nature of the relationship between the two countries:
. . . Israel and its US Lobby were and are largely unmoved by the death and
injury of US soldiers in Iraq and the squandering of the US taxpayers’
money. This has been reinforced by the fact that less than 2/10 of one
percent (0.2 percent) of the US soldiers in Iraq were Jewish and probably
very few of those were on the front lines. More young American Jews
volunteer to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. (p. 118)
my last column, I quoted Evan Goldstein as believing
that the Jewish neocons were in it “for the long haul; they have been at
this for decades.” Petras agrees, noting that "Israel's hegemonic
position has endured under both Democratic and Republican presidencies for
almost half a century. In other words it is a structural historical
relation, not one based on personalities, or particular transitory policy
As far-reaching as Petras’s two books are, they deal with only a portion of
the vast spread of Jewish power throughout the world. This power
affects far more than foreign policy in the Middle East or the operations of
Finance Capitalism, as Petras realizes. “The power of Israel is based
on that of the Diaspora, the highly structured and politically and
economically powerful Jewish networks which have direct and indirect access
to the centers of power and propaganda in the most powerful imperial country
in the world.”
This Jewish Diaspora is energetic and shows no sign of relaxing. Its
dazzling display of power in Washington during the last two administrations
is but one of its many command performances.
Edmund Connelly is a freelance writer, academic, and expert on the cinema arts. He has previously written for The Occidental Quarterly.