Chris Harman


A conspiracy theory
that weakens the movement

(May 2006)

From Socialist Review, May 2006.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Talk of an Israel lobby lets capitalism off the hook

The US war on Iraq and its threat against Iran are products of US capitalism’s drive for global hegemony. That is what we have always argued in SR.

But there is another interpretation to be found on both the fringes of the anti-war movement and in the Muslim majority regions of the world. It holds that the driving force behind the war is the “Jewish lobby” in the US.

Two US academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, have caused a considerable stir by trying to justify a variant of this view in the 23 March issue of the London Review of Books. They claimed that an “Israel lobby” has a dominant influence on US policy. Mearsheimer and Walt have since been accused of anti-Semitism – allegations which do not hold up, since the authors do not identify aggressive Zionist politics with the mass of Jewish people in the US (nearly half of whom, they point out, opposed the war against Iraq).

Nevertheless, their argument is fundamentally wrong, and must be rejected by serious opponents of the war. It diverts attention away from the real forces behind the war and, in doing so, opens the door to conspiracy theorists who blame all that is wrong in the world on an alleged “world Jewish conspiracy”.

The article begins with incontestable facts. It says that the US gives aid to Israel which “dwarfs that given to other states”, amounting to “$140 billion dollars since World War Two”. It adds that since 1982 the US has vetoed 32 UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.

But it then insists that “such generosity” is not a result of Israel being a “vital strategic asset”. Israel may have helped the US’s interests at the height of the Cold War, but supposedly this is no longer so. It argues that the US war against Iraq and the threats to Syria and Iran follow from Israeli expansionism which is pushing the US to go against its real strategic interests. These interests would be better served by forcing Israel to accept its 1948 borders, so making it easier “to rebuild America’s image in the Arab and Islamic world”.

The only thing stopping this, they claim, is the enormous influence exercised by the “Israel lobby”. The article goes to some length to point out key positions occupied by fervent Zionists, not only within neo-con circles but also within the Democratic Party and the Senate.

But there is one great flaw in this whole argument. The article never explains how the “Israel lobby” has come to exercise its influence. It cannot be just the voting power of those of Jewish descent who are mobilised by the “Israel lobby”. The 30 million Latin Americans in the US have never had such clout, and nor have the millions of Irish descent.

Why would US multinational corporations, whose owners are overwhelmingly non-Jewish, be prepared to see a small group of ardent supporters of Israel exercise such influence? The reason that these great pillars of US capitalism support Israel, and an aggressive policy in the Middle East, is because they see it as being in their interest – regardless of their own religious or ethnic background.

They have investments and markets all over the world. The more globalisation speeds up, the more they depend upon the power of the US state to protect their interests. As the centre of oil production, the Middle East is a key arena in this struggle.

The Middle East has many pro-US governments. But they usually lack the degree of popular support needed to provide long-term stability for US interests. The US ruling class remembers the revolutions in Egypt in 1952, Iraq in 1958, Libya in 1969 and Iran in 1979. Also, Middle East governments can prioritise commercial and diplomatic relations with China, Europe, Japan or Russia over the US.

But the Israeli state has no choice but to rely on US protection. Israel willingly pays for that protection by identifying with US interests throughout the region. As such, they both fear movements that aspire to unite the peoples of the Middle East against subordination to US interests. Israel is the willing watchdog of US imperialism.

Of course, a watchdog can have desires which are not shared by its master. It demands to be fed even when the master would prefer to use his resources in other ways. In the same way, the Israeli state adopts an aggressive posture to the Occupied Territories, despite the fact that this is not in the immediate interests of US capitalism. The US puts up with such behaviour as the price of having an ultra-dependable ally.

The US ruling class sees Israel as a US base, almost as part of its own national territory. It is hardly surprising then that it has no objection to the most ardent defenders of Israeli expansionism holding important positions in the US political establishment.

People who see the “Israel lobby” as being behind US imperialism get things completely the wrong way round. They believe that US capitalism could strive for its worldwide interests without militaristic, imperialist adventures – without watchdogs. And that opens the door to those who want to absolve capitalism from blame for its crimes by talking of conspiracies by religious or ethnic minorities.

Last updated on 27 December 2009