James Petras: Another Powerful Voice on the Neocons

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 2006 book The 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 Palestine: 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 exposé, 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. 47).

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 Israel Shamir.)

As if he hadn’t taken on enough work, Petras returned with a new book in 2007, Rulers 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 are Jews.

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)

In 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 making configurations.”

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.