Bastion of Enlightenment… or Enforcer for Imperialism:

The Case of ISRAEL

Part Four

Posted May 7, 2018 | Originally published October 10, 2010 | Revolution Newspaper |


The Case of Israel – Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?”

What is the history of the Israeli State?

What role does Israel play in today’s world?

What is the true history of the Palestinian people, and their dispossession from a land they had lived in for centuries?

What is the relationship between the U.S. and Israel?

In the past few weeks, courageous protests of Palestinian people in Gaza have been viciously suppressed by heavily armed Israeli forces. At least 47 people have been killed, and over 3,500 wounded. The protests continue, and are building towards May 15, the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel through the violent uprooting of three-fourths of the Palestinian population and the theft of their land. Palestinians mark May 15 as the Nakba – the “Catastrophe”.

In the context of these protests, three weeks ago Revolution began a serialization of a special issue from 2010, “The Case of Israel – Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?” (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) The questions it addresses are more important than ever.


The U.S. Confronts Postwar Challenges...

As noted earlier, World War 2 weakened the old-line colonial empires like Britain, France, Japan, Holland, etc. and it drew the colonized peoples into political life. Revolutionary struggles in Asia—particularly in China, but also in Vietnam—intensified, and within several years the revolution would be victorious in China. The most thoroughgoing of these national liberation struggles were led by communists, as in China. But beyond that, there was a tremendous rise of secular nationalism, in places like Indonesia, Iran, a number of nations in Latin America, and the "Arab world" as well.

In the Middle East, the most prominent representative of secular nationalism was Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Nasser came to power promising to stand up against the imperialist powers and put an end to the decades of Egyptian colonial and neocolonial humiliation and subjugation.

At times, the U.S. aligned with national liberation struggles as a wedge to edge out its rivals. This is what happened in the 1956 war between Israel, France, and Britain on the one side, and Egypt on the other. In 1956, Nasser moved to nationalize the Suez Canal—a legitimate assertion given that the canal was, after all, in Egypt. The Suez Canal took on new importance after the war, with half of its traffic being increasingly precious and strategically critical oil exports from the Middle East. In response, France, England, and Israel invaded Egypt, with Israel making rapid military advances into Egypt. The U.S. (and the USSR) pressured the invaders, including Israel, to back off. This was part of establishing that the U.S. was now the shot-caller in the region (and the world). In a limited and short-term way, Nasser's nationalist aspirations coincided with U.S. strategic objectives.

But in the main, secular nationalist movements like Nasser's were strategically seen as obstacles by the U.S. The U.S. worked to undermine and/or eliminate them, often through CIA-backed military coups, as in Iran, Guatemala and Indonesia—coups which took hundreds of thousands of lives. By the mid-1960s, Nasser's influence and power had been checked and knocked down, including by increasing U.S. sponsorship of Israel.15

One important national liberation movement that emerged in this period was that of the Palestinian people themselves. The Palestinian people had resisted the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and they rose up in arms against British rule after World War 1. In militias and in other forms of courageous resistance, Palestinians fought back against the Nakba. But their struggle went to another level in the context of the worldwide revolutionary upsurge in the '60s. Palestinian guerrilla organizations launched armed struggle against Israel with the aim of creating a democratic, secular (non-religious) state throughout Palestine. The struggle of the Palestinian people attracted broad support throughout the world (see "The Palestinian Resistance").

...And Forges a "Special Relationship" With Israel in the Cold War

Through the Nakba, and the 1956 war, Israel was strengthened as a military power in the Middle East. As such, it was eyed by all the world powers as a valuable agent. As the U.S. moved to establish domination in the region, and the world, the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel began to grow.

In the immediate wake of World War 2, a socialist camp had emerged in opposition to world capitalism. But that bloc was short-lived. In the 1950s, capitalist-roaders—that is, political representatives of the remaining and powerful capitalist relations in socialist society—came to power and restored capitalism in the Soviet Union. This restoration of capitalism in the USSR—the rise of Soviet social-imperialism—was a major event. The contention between the U.S. and this rival imperialist and its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and elsewhere was to shape much of the geopolitical landscape for decades.

This conflict—the "cold war"—had a profound role in defining the role of Israel and its relationship to the ambitions and requirements of the U.S.

A pivotal factor in the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel was Israel's overwhelming victory in the "Six-Day War" in 1967, when Israel invaded and occupied large sections of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Strategic thinkers in the U.S. government took note. Even as the U.S. was working to sponsor other allies in the region (most notably the brutal Shah of Iran, who they installed in a CIA coup in 1953), Israel stood out as a uniquely valuable asset for the U.S. as the "leader of the free world"—that is, the head of the bloc of western imperialists.

In 1967, the U.S. sold cutting-edge jet fighters to Israel for the first time, establishing the principle of U.S. support for Israel's qualitative military dominance over the Arab countries.

In the ensuing decades, much of the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel was framed by global contention with the Soviets. The new Soviet imperialists used the anti-imperialist reputation gained when the country was socialist—along with military and economic aid—to seek influence in the governments of Asia, Africa and Latin America. They aimed to gain a foothold through which to contend with the U.S. The 1973 war between Israel, on one side, and Egypt and Syria, on the other, (referred to in Israel and the West as the "Yom Kippur War") had significant elements of a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At that time, Egypt was moving towards alignment with the Soviets and got substantial military hardware and advice from the Soviets, and Syria was closely aligned with the Soviet bloc.

Similar dynamics set the backdrop for Israel's bloody, U.S.-backed 1982 war against Lebanon. During the 1980s, Lebanon served as a base area for Palestinian forces, but also as focal point of contention between U.S.-aligned forces and the Soviet-backed Syrian regime and other Soviet-leaning forces in the region. That war had a devastating effect on the civilian population. Israeli jets waged a massive bombing attack on the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

It was in the course of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that Israeli military forces surrounded and sealed off the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut while their Lebanese allies massacred between 750 and 3,500 people. Israeli military and allied forces were to occupy southern Lebanon for 18 years.

From the mid-1960s up until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship was in large part framed by the clash of these rival superpowers. Israel engineered both the coming to power of Idi Amin in Uganda and, when he outlived his usefulness, sped his demise, and facilitated genocidal slaughter by the Guatemalan death squads to strike at Soviet-aligned countries or forces in those parts of the world. And frequently, Israel supplied military aid to pariah regimes the U.S. did not want to be too openly associated with but which played critical roles in countering Soviet influence—like the apartheid regime in South Africa. The centerspread of this issue of Revolution documents such crimes around the world.

The End of the Cold War: The U.S. / Israel "Special Relationship" Evolves

The collapse of the Soviet Union was an unprecedented event that upended many global economic, military, and power relationships.16 One unexpected product of that collapse was the rise of the very Jihadist forces the U.S. built up to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these forces turned against the remaining superpower, the U.S. While Islamic fundamentalism does not challenge imperialist domination of oppressed nations, it does pose a real challenge to the whole matrix of global relations that the U.S. sits on top of.

With the emergence of the Islamic fundamentalist challenge to U.S. imperialist domination in the Middle East, Israel's role has morphed to serve U.S. needs in that conflict. In 2006, Israel launched a massive invasion of Lebanon to strike mainly at Hezbollah—Islamic forces aligned with Iran. (See "Drumbeat for Israeli Attack on Iran Grows Louder by the Day.") The Israeli invasion killed over 1,000 people, displaced over a million, and blanketed South Lebanon with over a million anti-personnel cluster bombs that today still maim and kill Lebanese farmers and children.

U.S. Imperialism: Sticking by, and Stuck with Israel

In much of the world, and in a very intense way in the Middle East, Israel's displacement and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people and other crimes makes that country the object of tremendous outrage and anger. That is a big problem for the U.S. as it seeks to counter oppositional Islamic forces and impose pro-U.S. regimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Widespread outrage against Israel puts reactionary pro-U.S. regimes in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, in an awkward and even precarious position. And the close bonds between the U.S. and Israel provide openings for rival powers to exploit in their contention with the U.S.

When U.S. General David Petraeus (now commander in Afghanistan) told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the area of responsibility," he was identifying a real contradiction for the U.S. ruling class.

It has not proven easy for the U.S. to broker a settlement that would integrate the Palestinians into some semblance of a stable situation, and, at the same time, satisfy what the Israelis see as their need for unchallenged domination and a thoroughly Zionist state. This has remained a sore point in the region and around the world, and as Israel resorts to more and more extreme measures to lock down the Palestinians, this contradiction becomes sharper.

And yet, in profound ways, the U.S has not only stuck by Israel—it is stuck with Israel. Despite real problems and even significant differences at times, the unique "strategic relationship" between the U.S. and Israel continues because, from the perspective of U.S. imperialism, there is no real alternative on the chessboard in terms of the role Israel plays in the Middle East and throughout the world.

With the U.S. deeply mired in wars throughout the Middle East, the role of Israel is more critical than ever. In an op-ed piece, U.S. Representative Steve Rothman (a "liberal" Democrat and strong supporter of Obama), enumerated how "One strategic ally in particular has always stood out from all others: the state of Israel." He noted that Israel provides "America with vital security assistance in the Middle East and around the world." Rothman argued that "without our partnership with the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces—the Israeli army), the United States might need to have 100,000 or more additional troops stationed permanently in that part of the world to make up for the protection of U.S. interests and vital intelligence provided by Israel to the United States."17

One reason why Israel is so important to the U.S. is that it is the one country in the region where the pro-U.S. government has a big social base. That loyal social base, in turn, rests in large part on the history and present-day place of Israel in the world's "food chain"—that is to say, the ways in which it shares in imperialism's parasitical relation to the oppressed nations of the world. European-immigrant citizens of the country have a high standard of living measured in nice houses, wages, and access to gadgets and luxuries. Israel provides its citizens with the trappings of bourgeois democracy—various rabid Zionists along with some moderate critics of the government who accept the terms of Zionism can run against each other in elections, while any politics that opposes Zionism is violently suppressed.

In short, with its massive nuclear arsenal, its European/U.S. level of technology, and a substantial section of its population enlisted in the "logic" and immorality of Zionism, Israel plays an irreplaceable role enforcing U.S. interests.

It is these factors that make it very difficult for U.S. imperialism to alter the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel—particularly right now. And this is true even though U.S. support for Israel provokes further opposition to the U.S. in the region, and creates fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalist Jihad.

Needed: Resistance... and a Radical Rupture in Framework

Israel was, and is built literally on the blood, bones, land, and homes of the Palestinian people, stolen through terrorist ethnic cleansing that constitutes a great legal and moral crime. As such, the state of Israel is illegitimate, and no justice—for anyone—can be found within the paradigm of the Zionist state. And this state was a product of, and plays a special role in enforcing the global system of capitalism-imperialism.

Identifying the illegitimacy of Israel is not a "Palestinian perspective." Nor is it in any way anti-Jewish. As we have seen in earlier sections of this article, the existence of Israel is not any kind of "justice" for the crimes of the Holocaust, but is in fact a product of the same system that engineered the Holocaust. Israel is not a solution to the age-old oppression of the Jewish people as Jews. It is, instead, a settler state and a tool of imperialism. As such it should and must be opposed.

Over the past several years, growing numbers of people around the world, and within the U.S., have become outraged by Israel's crimes, and have been driven to political protest. Campus actions have had important impact. Solidarity actions, including the Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and actions of the International Solidarity Movement and others, have sounded a call to the world and given heart to Palestinian resistance. BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) activity has raised awareness, generated necessary debate and controversy, and turned up the political heat on Israel—especially on campuses.

This movement of opposition to Israel and its crimes is growing, and must be built further. This is all the more urgent as Israel threatens war against Iran, and carries out vicious day-in/day-out repression against the Palestinians, with no end in sight. Much more protest and debate is needed over the nature and role of Israel. This special issue of Revolution is intended as a contribution to that. And it is a challenge to everyone, students in particular, to dig into the root causes behind Israel's crimes in a global system of exploitation and oppression, and to check out, and get with, the movement to end that system.


15. Today, the rulers of Egypt function as U.S. puppets who collaborate with the U.S. and Israel to oppress the Palestinians. Egypt is the third largest recipient of U.S. "aid" (after Iraq and Israel), and much of that goes to fund a massive repressive apparatus. [back]

16. For more understanding of that event and its implications, see "The New Situation and the Great Challenges," ( and Bringing Forward Another Way (online at or as a pamphlet from RCP Publications, 2007). Both are by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. [back]

17. "U.S.'s valuable, strategic relationship with Israel" by Rep. Steve Rothman, The Hill, June 3, 2008. [back]


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