Swans Commentary » swans.com December 19, 2005  



Michael Neumann's The Case Against Israel


by Gilles d'Aymery


Book Review



Neumann, Michael: The Case Against Israel, CounterPunch and AK Press, January 2006, ISBN 1-90485-946-1, 220 pages, $16.50 (paperback)


(Swans - December 19, 2005)  The British essayist and novelist Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), author of A Room With A View and A Passage To India, wrote in his 1951 collection of essays, Two Cheers for Democracy, "I suspect that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves." Amidst the one hundred-plus books I've read on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, none fits Forster's sentiment better than Michael Neumann's The Case Against Israel. This is simply the most cogent, reasoned, and lucid argumentation I have ever read in support of a two-state solution to the century-old conflict. Short (220 pages); to the point but not in your face; impeccably researched with 26 pages of references including a list of 28 important works, 188 endnotes, and a full index; there is no stone left unturned and practically no issue left unexplained in this highly condensed, unadulterated, and coherent analysis.

The book's title should not mislead readers. Those who follow the horrific tribulations of that small real estate with its strategic and religious confluences will obviously recognize that the title is a play on, or a response to, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel (John Wiley & Sons, August 2003). The argumentation is by and large a refutation of Dershowitz's case though it is not a point-by-point rebuttal of the 32 questions Dershowitz attempted (poorly) to answer. In actuality, Dershowitz is only mentioned once in the entire book. Instead of rebutting a lawyerly discourse based on polemical diatribes, crass emotionalism, and the repetitive regurgitation of falsities, Michael Neumann focuses on what has been lost in our recent historical travails: reality-based analysis -- historical facts, formal logic, ethics, behavioral rationality, philosophy, morality, and politics (Neumann is a professor of moral and political philosophy at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada). While he does not posit that he's an expert or historian, history is no stranger to him: his father, Franz Neumann, was the author of Behemoth: the structure and practice of national socialism, 1933-1944, the classic history of Nazi Germany. (And, for what it's worth, his stepfather was Herbert Marcuse.)

Indeed, Neumann convincingly debunks the old canards, myths, and fallacies advanced by Dershowitz and the legions of Israeli apologetics: The Zionist project was about redeeming the land or creating a "homeland" for the Jews, the bible says god gave the land to the Jews; the Palestinians did not really exist (they're only Arabs), their actual state is Jordan; they hate the Jews; they want to throw them to the sea; they never did and don't want to compromise (they are jusqu'au-boutistes); they are terrorists; there is no moral equivalence between Palestinian and Israeli violence (the former is terroristic, the latter sheer self defense); Israel is a "beacon of light" (of democracy, Western values) judged by a "double standard"; critics of Israel are anti-Semites, etc.

The last point -- opposition to Israel is anti-Semitic -- is quickly dismissed by the author. First, he has already addressed the charge in a brilliant essay, "What Is Anti-Semitism?", published in The Politics of Anti-Semitism (CounterPunch/AK Press, 2004), also reviewed in these pages. Second, "since not all Jews are Israelis or supporters of Israel, to be against all Israelis or Israel, is not to be against all Jews." Third, most criticisms are directed against the policies of Israel toward the Palestinians, not the existence of Israel; and lastly, as he states, "[N]o doubt many anti-Semites oppose Israel, and do so for anti-Semitic reasons, and conceal their motives. [But] none of this is relevant to whether or not Israel is in fact in the wrong." "No doubt," he concludes, "many people opposed Japanese fascism for racist reasons. It does not follow that such opposition was mistaken." End of discussion. Michael Neumann shows little patience with irrelevancies and false arguments.

Furthermore, he does not make a legal disputation against Israel but confines his attention to a "moral and political argument," in search of "what ought to occur in Palestine, what solution to the conflict should be adopted," and he relies on three widely accepted views in political philosophy: That "there is some basic right of self-defense that on occasion permits a violent response"; that "one group can't normally acquire the power of life and death over another group without their consent"; and that one is responsible for the foreseeable consequences of one's action whatever the intentions that motivated it. Then he lays out his claim in two parts and dispassionately demonstrates that the Zionists and Israel with their allies du jour have mostly been in the wrong in their dealings with the Palestinians, and that the end of the conflict necessitates the unilateral end of the occupation and the recognition of the Palestinian people within the sovereign borders of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. His case is not so much against Israel that it is in favor of a Palestinian state.

"The central fact of the conflict is that Zionists sought sovereignty in Palestine. From this, all else follows: the Arab response and all that came after." (emphasis in the book) "Israel is the illegitimate child of ethnic nationalism." These are the two statements that best summarize "Zionism and the Birth of Israel," the first part of The Case Against Israel. They are reinforced by a methodical, logical, and historical narrative. From the inception of the Zionist project in the late 19th century, Zionism was not about a safe heaven (the "saving Jews" advocacy line would come much later, in the ashes of the Holocaust, and is not even convincing, as Neumann shows), or having a "homeland," or redeeming ancestors' territories -- all contentions that keep being rehashed to this day. It was about taking sovereignty over a foreign land, a land inhabited by a people who had no interest or reason to be dominated in matters of life and death by Jews. From Theodore Herzl to David Ben Gurion, Zionists were about creating a state in Palestine -- a state, with its monopoly on power, of the Jews, by the Jews, and for the Jews. It matters not whether the Zionists were enlightened socialists, or idealists, or racists. What matters is that a group of people, foreign to the land, wanted to impose their sovereignty through expropriation -- and we now know, through expulsion too -- on another group of people that inhabited that land. This, contends Neumann, was the first mortal threat to the Palestinians -- a threat they could not but oppose and resist through violent or non-violent means. It surely began in non-violence with the pleas from Palestinian notables to the European powers to stop the influx of Jews in Palestine, but the pleas were not heeded and blood began to flow as early as the 1920s. It went downhill from then on.

Neumann notes that at the very moment Europeans were turning their backs on ethnic nationalism that had been so devastating, Zionists were imposing their own ethno-nationalism in Palestine. The establishment of sovereignty by one ethnic group over another has quite logically -- and sadly -- led to the consequences that we've witnessed for so long. For him,

Zionism always was, despite strategically motivated denials and brief flirtations with other objectives [e.g., bi-nationalism], an attempt to establish Jewish sovereignty over Palestine. This project was illegitimate. Neither history nor religion, nor the sufferings of Jews in the Nazi era, sufficed to justify it. It posed a mortal threat to the Palestinians, and it left no room for meaningful compromise. Given that the Palestinians had no way to overcome Zionism peacefully, it also justified some form of violent resistance.

By 1948 the Jewish state in Palestine was a fait accompli, and its existence quickly earned international legitimacy. By the early 1970s, following Israel's wars (1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973) and the military supremacy of the Jewish state, the existence of Israel was assured and secured. But, this fait accompli was not enough for the Zionists. Sovereignty within the 1948 borders was a tactical step in the direction of wider ambitions that went back all the way to early Zionism: Greater Israel. In the next part of his exposé, "The Current Situation," Michael Neumann examines the second mortal threat to the Palestinians -- the continuation of the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and, even more threatening to their existence, the settlement of these occupied territories -- that has resulted in the predictable, and understandable, violence that continues to this day.

The policies undertaken by the Israeli governments (both Labor and Likud) following the pre-emptive Six-Day War in 1967 -- occupation and settlement of the West Bank and Gaza -- will quite possibly be recorded by historians as the single most damaging political calculation ever made by this small state. Their consequences have now become a threat to its existence; not its physical existence, which is quite secure, but its moral existence -- a threat to the moral fabric of Israeli society. The opprobrium Israel faces in the entire world, with the lonely exception of the United States, to which one could add the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, can only be traced to the implacable continuation of these policies. This young country so endeared and admired in the 1950s and 1960s even though it was born out of the expropriation, partial expulsion, and imposition of a foreign sovereignty over the remaining indigenous population, the Palestinians, has become an international pariah. The time has long passed since one could speak of "a land without people, waiting for a people without land," or, as Golda Meir stated in 1969, "It was not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."

It turns out that they did exist, were largely dispossessed, and became the subjects of an alien sovereignty; and they still exist, are still being dispossessed, and remain subjugated to a violent and humiliating occupation. The outcome could have been quite different. In the wake of the Six-Day War, the Palestinians hoped for an independent state and regarded the Israeli victory as a means to free themselves from Jordanian rule. This is not a well-known historical fact, but Neumann documents that for a short flimsy period the Palestinians felt that the Israelis were their liberators. The Palestinians let the Israelis know that they were ready to negotiate an immediate settlement to establish their own sovereign state alongside Israel. Their calls were not answered or, to put it slightly differently, the answer was loud and clear. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and started its settlement policy. It's worth quoting a citation from a speech by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan:

This is what used to be called 'Jew after Jew'... It meant expansion, more Jews, more villages, more settlements. Twenty years ago we were 600,000; today we are near three million. There should be no Jew who says 'that's enough,' no one who says 'we are nearing the end of the road.' ...It is the same with the land. ...there will be complaints against you if you come and say: 'up to here.' Your duty is to not stop; it is to keep your sword unsheathed, to have faith, to keep the flag flying. You must not call a halt - heaven forbid - and say 'that's all; up there, up to Degania, to Musfallasim, to Nabal Oz!' For that is not all.

Which brings Michael Neumann to comment on "the comparison with fascist ideologies of 'blood and soil'"...and leads him to cover the deliberate ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that has taken place ever since, as well as the inevitable violent resistance from the Palestinians. Their only choice was, and remains, to leave the territories or to resist. What's so infuriating here, and well documented by the author, is that Israeli leaders have consistently acknowledged -- not so much in public, for it is yet another argument used in the propaganda war to appropriate the Occupied Territories -- the uselessness of these territories for the strategic defense of Israel. The Palestinians have no alternative but to resist, when Israel has an obvious one, recommended by many Israeli military experts: unilateral withdrawal.

Yet again, it is the Palestinians that are accused of violent actions and faulted for not resorting to non-violence. But, as Neumann convincingly establishes, "non-violence has never 'worked' in any politically relevant sense of the word, and there is no reason it ever will." His demonstration, using the examples of Gandhi (Indian independence), Martin Luther King (US Civil Rights), and South Africa (the end of Apartheid), may be resisted by the partisans of non-violence but I strongly recommend they read his analysis. A non-violent advocate myself, I must admit that Neumann makes a compelling case. Non-violence can only work when the powers-that-be are on the side of the struggle. Israel, evidently, has not been on the side of the Palestinian struggle for independence! It should also be noted that the Palestinians have gone through periods of substantial calm with little or no violence, to no avail. Suffice it to look at the current Israeli response to the non-violent resistance and demonstrations against the massive wall of separation that Israel is slowly completing. It does not make the news in the U.S. but its harshness is obvious to anyone who cares to look.

So, we are left with the old hatred. "They" hate us...always have...always will. How, then, can we have a Palestinian state next door that will forever be Israel's enemy and never accept its existence? Neumann answers this old hogwash with the precision of a surgeon. Hatred comes from war. Hatred comes from occupation and from being treated worse than dogs. Hatred slowly rescinds with peace. And is not peace with Egypt (and Jordan) proof that the existence of the state of Israel is accepted by its former enemies? Even the latest bombastic comments originating in Iran cannot hide the actuality: Israel is a fully secured country whose legitimacy, within its 1948 boundaries, is a fact, fully recognized by the overwhelming majority of the world.

Neumann then turns his attention to terror and terrorism, which he dissects in both practical and moral terms. He also examines how Israel became an ally of the USA ("a child of the Cold War") and the role of US Evangelical Christians in the support of Greater Israel; why the alliance should end, for the benefit of all -- Israelis, Jews, Americans, Palestinians... -- and whether Israel is judged by a double standard, or "higher standard," as well it should be since, as the narrative goes, the country is deemed by its proselytizers a Great Beacon of Light.

But I can't get into his rationale further; this review is already too long. I must confess that having a natural contrariant propensity, I was humbled by Michael Neumann as I could find nothing to object to in the case he makes. Perhaps he could have covered the importance of the West Bank aquifers in Israel's decision to hold tight to the Occupied Territories and colonize them; but I suspect he would dismiss this point as yet another irrelevancy that besieges this sorry state of affairs...and, darn, he would be correct.

To close: I very much appreciate the even-handedness of Neumann's precise, thought through, and well-documented rationale. Very few people have the capability and the character to be intellectually relevant and to address this divisive subject so objectively. Yet, I sensed a subterraneous emotional thread in his faultless, short, yet exhaustive, dissertation: A call for justice. People from all backgrounds, Jews and non-Jews alike, are clamoring with quiet certitude: Enough is enough. A growing number of Israeli and Jewish people all over the world, including the U.S., are courageously raising their voices in favor of the end of the occupation. Michael Neumann is one of these voices. He deserves to be heard and widely disseminated. Please buy the book, read it, and if you feel like it, prove me wrong.


· · · · · ·
Neumann, Michael: The Case Against Israel, CounterPunch and AK Press, January 2006, ISBN 1-90485-946-1, 220 pages, $16.50 (paperback) -- You can buy the book directly from CounterPunch's On-line Bookstore.

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Internal Resources

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About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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This Edition's Internal Links

Reflections On 2005 And The Future - Edward S. Herman

After The 2004 Elections - Louis Proyect

2005: Navigating The Doldrums...An Unprogressive, Sulking Year - Gilles d'Aymery

2005: Annus Propagandus - Jan Baughman

2005: A Look Back In Anger - Charles Marowitz

2005: Earth Responds, Illusions Crumble, Vision Needed - Eli Beckerman

2005: A Lamentable Year - Robert Wrubel

2005 And Its Possible Impact - Philip Greenspan

The Good Gardener - Gerard Donnelly Smith

2005: Pessimism Unleashed - Milo Clark

Resistance Is No Longer A Choice - Joe Davison

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Published December 19, 2005