samedi 16 août 2008

Israel,Rewarding the Cop on the Beat:

Class Warfare: Noam Chomsky Interviews with David Barsamian

January 6, 1996

DB: The French government is trying to impose its own version of class warfare on French workers. The response has been rather dramatic. There have been wide-scale demonstrations, effectively shutting down the country. What do you think of that?

It’s really not anything particularly special that the French government is doing. It’s applying a version of neoliberal structural adjustment, which is rammed down the throats of the Third World. They have no choice. It’s increasingly being applied in the industrial societies as well, the U.S. and Britain considerably in the lead, but in a globalized economy others are being dragged along in one way or another. The difference in France was primarily the response, not the programs. There remains a tradition of working-class solidarity and activism that surprised a lot of people, and that’s what happened. I don’t think it will basically have an effect. The manifestation of it was interesting and important and could be one of the many strands initiating other comparable reactions, which could have a mutually reinforcing character sooner or later.

DB Were you surprised?

Yes. It hasn’t happened in other places where people have been hit much harder.

DB Strikingly, it didn’t happen in Decatur, Illinois, where just about at the same time this thing was going on in France the eighteen-month UAW strike at Caterpillar just collapsed.

It did collapse, you’re right. But it was interesting to see how. Most of the work force voted against capitulating. The contract was a complete capitulation to Caterpillar. That’s recognized on all sides. It was a “rout,” as the business press called it. The workers at the plant voted 80% against it. The union leadership decided to accept it, and may have been right. Their point is that the forces were so unequal that the chances of their holding out were very slim. But it’s not comparable to France.
There it was a matter of working-class solidarity. But working-class solidarity is actually illegal in the U.S. We don’t have things like general strikes or even secondary boycotts. They’re excluded by law. The laws are designed to undermine the possibility of acting on general class interests or other general interests, which is quite unusual among industrial societies. Maybe unique, at least among the more democratic ones.
In France this was a national issue. Hardly anyone here knew about the Decatur situation. There was barely any coverage of anything that had been happening, except in the business press now and then or, let’s say, the Chicago Tribune, the kind of papers that are business-oriented and nearby. But very few people knew anything about it. As you recall, when Decatur workers came to the Boston area to try to raise some support, they could barely get any people out to a meeting, which is very unusual. Almost anything gets a big crowd under comparable circumstances. So they were left alone, hanging on a limb.

Caterpillar was in an extremely strong position. Like corporate America generally, it has made huge profits in recent years. It had, I think, about 40% or 50% profit growth in the last year. And they’ve used their profits for a very sensible business strategy. These are people who are fighting a bitter class war. They’ve used them to create excess capacity overseas so that, as they explain to the business press, they could undermine any workers’ actions by simply using their other facilities, many overseas, to ensure that they maintain their market.
Also, in the U.S., again unusual, maybe unique among industrial societies, it’s permitted to employ permanent replacement workers, which is worse than scabs, to destroy strikes. The U.S. has been cited for that by the International Labor Organization, but it continues. And a huge number of part-time workers, and so on. So Caterpillar was in a very strong position to carry out a very efficient class war in a successful effort to undermine some of the last remnants of American unionism.
There was very little general solidarity, in part because there was simply no awareness. The thing was kept under wraps. Also because the options for common action have been very much undercut, in part simply by legal measures and in part by a huge onslaught of propaganda to just simply drive such ideas out of people’s minds and leave them alone, facing awesome power by themselves.

DB: One other thing about the Caterpillar strike in Decatur: There have been almost Stalinist-like restrictions on the returning workers.

Not “almost.” The Wall Street Journal had an article which was headlined by saying that workers have gag rules imposed. The company will allow some workers to return, which is already pretty outlandish, but they are under a gag rule which requires that they say nothing about the strike. They say nothing critical of management. They don’t wear T-shirts that have something that the company considers harmful to its reputation. It’s straight Stalinist. It’s not “Stalinist-like.”

DB: Let’s move on that note of Stalin to Russia. Recent elections there indicate a revival of support for the Communist Party. Is that entirely unexpected?

I don’t quite interpret it that way. It’s not just in Russia. It’s all over Eastern Europe. The standard version, which is actually given in a New York Times report that I’m almost quoting, is that nostalgia for the past is increasing as it recedes further into the distance. I don’t think there’s any indication of nostalgia for the Stalinist dungeon. It’s not that the past is receding. It’s that the present is approaching, and the present happens to be Brazil and Mexico. However horrifying the Soviet socioeconomic system might have been, the way people live in the comparable countries that we run are, for the most part, much worse.
So for the large majority of the population of places like, say, Brazil,
Guatemala, or Mexico, the conditions of Eastern Europe would have seemed very impressive indeed. Now what the people of Eastern Europe are seeing is that they are being returned to Third World conditions, the conditions of countries that we’ve been running for a long, long time.
And as that approaches, they don’t like it. Just as if the population in our own domains had a choice, they wouldn’t like it, either. And that’s what I think one is seeing, not a kind of revival of love for the dungeon that has disappeared.

DB: Moving on to Haiti, there were elections there also very recently.
Generally, U.S. commentary has been very critical of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the Lavalas movement.

It’s actually mixed. First of all, it’s important to recognize that certain critical facts are still kept very, very quiet. One is that there was no embargo, to speak of. To mention one striking example, public but still largely suppressed, the Bush and Clinton administrations authorized Texaco to ship oil illegally to the junta and its rich supporters. The second is that Aristide was allowed to return under very strict conditions, an extreme form of structural adjustment, exactly what the public voted against in the 1990 election that so scandalized U.S. power. He hasn’t entirely been living up to them. Haiti is in a way like France. It’s one of the few countries where there has been popular resistance to the imposition of these neoliberal structural adjustment programs. Aristide has roots among the people, and he has to some extent reflected that and has not gone along as willingly as have the usual Third World elites with the orders from Washington, the World Bank, and the IMF. Haiti has been punished for that. The very limited funds that have been offered have indeed been withheld because of their refusal to undergo a program which would essentially dismantle the entire governmental system and turn it over to private power to an unprecedented extent.
They’ve been dragging their feet on that. There’s been a lot of popular resistance. As a result, Aristide is criticized.
But the democratic structures which swept him into power, the grassroots movements, have not been demolished by years of terror. And although he has—lacking any alternative, in my opinion—gone along pretty much with the external power that allowed him to return, he hasn’t done it with the proper willingness and enthusiasm and devotion to the masters, which does arouse criticism.

DB: Do you know anything about the new president, René Préval?

He’s been close to Aristide and does reflect pretty much the same views. I think he has essentially the same base of support.

DB: Haiti was an example of what is called “humanitarian intervention.” Somalia is another. Bosnia is also cited. Are there instances where you would support such actions?

First of all, I suppose just about every military action in history has been described as humanitarian intervention. They may not have used that term, but some similar one. It’s always with very noble purposes.
And if you try to find genuine examples in history of authentic humanitarian intervention, you’re going to find pretty slim pickings. On the other hand, I don’t think you can give a general principle about when the use of military force is legitimate. It depends on what the alternatives are. So there are circumstances in which maybe that’s the least bad of the available alternatives. You just have to look at things on a case-by-case basis. There are some general principles that one can adhere to, but they don’t lead to specific conclusions for every conceivable case.

DB: I know on Bosnia you received many requests for support of intervention to stop what people called “genocide.” Was it genocide?

“Genocide” is a term that I myself don’t use even in cases where it might well be appropriate.

DB: Why not?

I just think the term is way overused. Hitler carried out genocide.
That’s true. It was in the case of the Nazis a determined and explicit effort to essentially wipe out populations that they wanted to disappear from the face of the earth. That’s genocide. The Jews and the Gypsies were the primary victims. There were other cases where there has been mass killing. The highest per capita death rate in the world since the 1970s has been East Timor. In the late 1970s it was by far in the lead.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call it genocide. I don’t think it was a planned effort to wipe out the entire population, though it may well have killed off a quarter or so of the population. In the case of Bosnia—where the proportions killed are far less—it was horrifying, but it was certainly far less than that, whatever judgment one makes, even the more extreme judgments. I just am reluctant to use the term. I don’t think it’s an appropriate one. So I don’t use it myself. But if people want to use it, fine. It’s like most of the other terms of political discourse. It has whatever meaning you decide to give it. So the question is basically unanswerable. It depends what your criteria are for calling something genocide.
On the calls for military intervention, they were of an interesting character. They were very vague. I’ve never seen, during all these years in which there’s been a lot of laments about the collapse of Western civilization and so on, I just didn’t see any substantive proposals as to what could be done. Do something, was what people said. Send troops.
But what are they going to do? The substantive proposals were extremely slim. What has been done I think is quite ugly. What has been done, and I think this has been in the works for a long time, is essentially leading to an effective partition of the region, the former
Yugoslavia. Slovenia is out of it, but except for that, the rest of it into a
Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia, with Bosnia pretty much partitioned.
They may call it a state, but part of it will be part of Croatia and part of it will be part of Serbia.
Greater Croatia is already pretty much a U.S. client. The U.S. has been helping it arm and has been supporting it. And I think that the U.S. anticipates the same will be true of Greater Serbia, so if it works out that way it will place the U.S. in effective control of the former Yugoslavia, which is pretty much a return to the previous status quo.
That region has considerable significance. From the U.S. perspective it’s always been regarded as part of the periphery of the Middle East, the whole system of protection and control over energy resources.
It’s also a kind of a base for entry into the restored Third World of Eastern Europe, where there are common interests among the major industrial powers, but there are also conflicts. So the U.S. has somewhat different ideas about how to exploit Eastern Europe from those of, say, France and Germany. The base in the Balkans places the U.S. in a position to implement its own power interests and economic interests. So a U.S. takeover of that region, or, more accurately, a re-takeover of the region, is not an unexpected goal of foreign policy. What the U.S. has done is sort of stand on the side lines as long as it was tough going there. When it looked as if a military balance had been established, primarily by U.S. aid to Croatia and indirect aid to the Bosnian Muslims—which in fact the U.S. actually let Iran do a lot of—now that that balance was more or less set and it looked as though it would be possible simply to insert U.S. forces to separate warring armies without too much threat or danger, and of course commitment to use massive force if anything goes wrong, then the U.S. sent in troops.
Now suppose I had been in Congress, let’s say, and had been asked to choose between exactly two alternatives. One, let them keep massacring one another. Two, put in U.S. troops to separate warring armies, to partition the country into two U.S. dependencies with a possibility that something may go badly wrong, as in Somalia, and there might be a huge slaughter. If those are the two choices, I probably would have voted for sending the troops.

DB: What about Germany’s interests in and links to Croatia? Do you think that’s significant?

It’s very significant. Germany took the initiative in the early stages, in a very premature recognition of Slovenia and Croatia and Bosnia-
Herzegovina. Slovenia was sort of reasonable, I suppose. But in the case of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the recognition was first a German initiative, and the European Union went along very quickly, without any concern for a rather serious question, namely, the rights of substantial Serbian minorities. That’s not to justify the way they reacted, but there were legitimate concerns and they were not taken into account. That was just a prescription for disaster.

DB: Misha Glenny and others have cited the German recognition as igniting Serb fears of a resurgence of German power in the Balkans.
They have memories there.

They have plenty of memories. Everybody has memories. Again, none of this is justification for what happened. But the recognition of the independence of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina without any concern for this obviously quite serious problem was throwing a match into a can of gasoline.

DB: It seems to me that Clinton was very anxious to supplant U.N. forces with NATO. Do you agree?

Only at the right moment. As long as it was difficult, they wanted U.N. forces in there. As long as there was fighting and danger and difficulties in getting humanitarian supplies, the U.S. wanted to be out of it. NATO means the U.S. It’s a cover for the U.S. The U.S. only wants to move in when the game is over and it can pick up the pieces. So the hard work was done by the Europeans. You can ask how well they did it. Pretty badly, I think. But nevertheless, it was their task. The U.S. was on the sidelines. It was willing to bomb but nothing else. By the time it seemed as if the conflict had a possible resolution by insertion of force, massive force, that would not be under any threat, by the time that looked possible, the Clinton administration wanted the U.N. out and wanted to take over. It’s not very different from Somalia. In the case of
Somalia, as long as the conflict was raging and there was a terrible famine and people were dying and there were a lot of murders, the U.S. just simply stayed out, didn’t want anything to do with it. When the fighting was declining and it looked like there was going to be a good harvest and there was a fair chance that the famine was ending, the Red
Cross and other efficient agencies were getting food through—at that point the U.S. moved in with a massive show of force and a huge PR operation, expecting to get a lot of at least favorable publicity out of it.
Indeed, that would have happened if it hadn’t been for U.S. military doctrine, which is unusual. It requires that U.S. forces never be put under any threat at all. If someone looks at them the wrong way, we call out the helicopter gun-ships. That’s why the U.S. is pretty much disqualified from peacekeeping operations that involve civilians. And they’ve made it very clear, incidentally, in Bosnia, that they’re going to do the same thing. Massive force if anybody gets in their way, unlike these wishy-washy Europeans, who don’t just kill anybody in sight. In
Somalia it led to a disaster. According to U.S. sources, somewhere between 7500 and 10,000 Somali civilians were killed before the U.S. forces were withdrawn. And that was not a very conflictive situation.

DB: You’re saying that the U.S. was responsible directly for those deaths?

A good bit of it. Just violent overreaction to minor provocations, the kind of thing that other countries don’t respond to. For example, at the same time that U.S. forces went into Bosnia, with huge coverage and front-page stories, if you really looked into the back pages and the small
items , you might discover that at that very same time , Norwegian peacekeeping forces in Southern Lebanon were attacked by Israeli tanks and several were severely wounded and hospitalized. We don’t have the rest of the story because it wasn’t reported. If anything like that happened to U.S. forces, even anything far less than that, there would have been a massive military response.

DB: Can’t also the U.S. point to these kinds of interventions as a justification for continued massive military spending?

Sure. It’s used for that, in fact. The Somali intervention was pretty openly described that way. Colin Powell and others put it in pretty much those terms, pointing out that the Pentagon budget was in trouble and they needed some good public relations.

DB: Let’s turn now to focus on the Middle East. It is received wisdom that the September 1995 Oslo accord has pretty much settled the lsraeli-Palestinian question. Typical headlines were, “Israel Agrees to Quit West Bank.” “At the White House, Symbols of a Day of Awe.”
“The Undeniable Reality: The Palestinians are on Their Way to an Independent State; the Jews are Bidding Farewell to Portions of the Holy Land to which They Have Historically Felt Most Linked,” and on and on. You take exception to those views.

Not entirely. I think some of it is correct. It is a day of awe. It was a tremendous victory for the rule of force in international affairs, a very impressive one, and a extraordinary doctrinal victory as well. Maybe that should inspire awe. It’s possible that it may resolve the conflict pretty much the way that the great powers have been doing in Bosnia may resolve that conflict by partitioning it. There are ways to resolve things.
The problem of the Native Americans was resolved. They’re not around any more. So the problem was resolved. The Israel-Palestine problem may be resolved in the same fashion. Certainly the Oslo agreements are a long step towards it.
On the other hand, the factual descriptions are just farcical. Israel didn’t quit the West Bank. It indicated no intention of quitting the West Bank. In fact, it made very clear its intention, and its intention means Washington’s intention, because otherwise it doesn’t happen. So Washington made clear with its Israeli client that it would not quit the West Bank. On and on the rest of the story is just the most outlandish fabrication. Just simply look at the bare facts. This agreement didn’t deal with the Gaza Strip, where Israel retains the roughly 30% it wanted. And in fact in its recent budget it has just assigned that part of the Gaza Strip to Israel itself. It places it under the budget for the Negev.
That cuts off the areas assigned to Palestinian administration from any access to the Arab world.
In the West Bank, which was covered by the Oslo agreement of September 28, they divided it into four areas. One area is total Israeli control. That’s 70%. Another area is given to Palestinian administration, the municipal areas of a half-dozen cities. That’s 2%. The remainder, roughly 28%, consists of about a hundred isolated sectors within the
Israeli 70% which are given local autonomy under overall Israeli control.
There’s a fourth region, that’s Jerusalem, which Israel has already annexed. Jerusalem means Greater Jerusalem, a big, expanding area, a substantial part of the West Bank. It’s kind of intriguing that if you look at the maps, not only in Israel but in the New York Times, they simply assign that area to Israel. So the New York Times map colors it the same color as Israel. The West Bank is everything but that. So that region, though theoretically up for negotiation, has already been assigned to Israel by itself and the U.S. government and the New York Times. So those are the four areas. To talk about Israel withdrawing from the West Bank under those conditions is ridiculous. It becomes even more absurd when you look at the further conditions.
Israel retains veto power over any legislation passed by Palestinians anywhere in any of the areas where they have a degree of local autonomy. The Palestinian authorities are required, and agreed, to accept the legality of Israeli rights in the West Bank and Israeli sovereignty over what Israel will determine to be state lands or absentee lands. Those are pretty loose categories, but they will amount to essentially what Israel feels like keeping. That, incidentally, totally undermines U.N. 242, completely dismantles it, the basic diplomatic framework, which called for withdrawal from the territories. And it completely rescinds the decisions of the Security Council and of just about every government in the world that the settlements are illegal and that Israel has no sovereign rights in the territories. That’s all rescinded.
The Palestinian Authority agrees to accept that Israel does have sovereign rights there and what it does is legal and legitimate.
There was great talk about the amazing transformation in Yitzhak Rabin. He was willing to concede. Israel was willing to make a “historic compromise.” Simply compare what they took in Oslo II with what they had been calling for at the peak period of refusal to have any dealings whatsoever with the Palestinians or to recognize any of their rights. So in 1988, for example, when the U.S. and Israel were refusing any dealings with the Palestinians, any recognition of Palestinian rights, an extreme point of rejectionism, at that point Yitzhak Rabin was Defense Minister, and he called for keeping 40% of the West Bank and Gaza.
They didn’t want the rest. That’s the traditional position. Now they’ve got between 70% and 98%, depending on how you estimate it. About twice as much as what they had asked for at their most extreme position.
I don’t think they’re going to keep that much. It would be crazy. In subsequent imposed agreements, I presume that they’ll reduce their own integration of the territories to what they’ve always wanted.
Meanwhile, it’s not just words. It’s also actions on the ground. So the new budget, which was just passed by the Knesset, the Parliament, in late November, after Oslo II and after the Rabin assassination, calls for tens of millions of dollars for new settlements in the West Bank, the
Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, funded as usual by the American taxpayer in one or another fashion. It offers even inducements for new settlers. This includes, just toshow how extreme it is: There are new settlers who go to the Gaza Strip, which is a very arid area where people don’t have drinking water. They will be given special subsidies for fish ponds in the new budget. That’s typical. Meanwhile, Israel’s military budget is going up, but mostly for the construction of what they call “bypass roads,” a big network of infrastructure roads that will enable Jewish settlers on the West Bank to travel freely without even seeing scattered Arab villages which are isolated from one another and will disappear somehow. It also cantonizes the region, breaks it into separate areas. So whatever local autonomy is granted won’t have any larger significance.

DB: In a Z magazine article you make an analogy with the Oslo accords and New York State ceding authority over certain areas. What was that?

It’s kind of as if the New York State authorities decided to cede control of the South Bronx and the slums of Buffalo to local authorities, meanwhile taking the wealthy urban areas, the useful land, the resources, the commercial and financial centers, in fact, anything they wanted. They’d be delighted to do that if they could.

DB: How do the Oslo accords treat the question of Palestinian refugees, right of return, and/or compensation?

That’s simply gone. There’s nothing there for the refugees. Yitzhak Rabin and his colleagues have made it very clear and explicit that they are not going to get anything. They’re out of the game. The U.S. backs that. Remember, everything that happens there happens because the U.S. backs it. Otherwise it does not happen. So this is U.S. policy, much more extreme under Clinton than his predecessors, incidentally. The idea is to somehow just scatter them like human waste somewhere.
That is in direct violation of long-standing international agreements going right back to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948, one provision of which called for the right of return of people to territories from which they had been expelled. The explicit intention was to affirm the Palestinians’ right. This was made clear and explicit the next day, when the U.N. unanimously, including the U.S., endorsed the right of Palestinians specifically to return or compensation under this provision, Article 13 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. That’s all gone. It’s never been more than rhetoric, but now even the rhetoric’s gone.

DB: Are you saying that Washington runs everything and there’s no such thing as lsraeli sovereignty?

Oh, no. It’s not that there’s no such thing as Israeli sovereignty. The state of Nevada has some sovereignty, too. But Washington’s influence is overwhelming. Remember, Israel gets a degree of foreign support that is just off the scale. There’s no country that even comes close. You can’t call it the fifty-first state of the Union, because no state gets anywhere near that amount of per capita aid from the federal government. There’s no country in the world that compares. It’s just not on the spectrum.
U.S. influence in the region is overwhelming. The U.S. controls the major oil producers. Egypt’s a client. Turkey is pretty much a client.
Pakistan often has been. As long as the Shah was in power, Iran was another client. Of course, control is not total. It’s not even total in Central America. But it’s very extensive. In the case of Israel, the dependency is extremely high.

DB: In that same Z article, you say that the U.S. gives $3 billion annually to Israel, “perhaps twice that if we add other devices.” What are those devices, and how does Israel command that level of U.S. aid?

There’s a whole range of devices which have been looked into in some detail by people like Donald Neff and others, who have arrived at the $6 billion figure. They include loans that are turned into grants, delaying payment, all sorts of financial trickery, handover of technology.
There’s a whole mass of devices. I think that Neff’s rough estimate of about $6 billion probably isn’t too far from the mark. The $3 billion alone is unprecedented. How does Israel get that degree of aid? There’s debate over that. There have basically been two positions. This is independent of whether you support or oppose it. People, whatever position they take on that, have divided over two factors. One is the domestic lobby. The second is the strategic role that Israel plays in U.S. general global policy. My own view is that it’s the second factor that’s largely responsible for this.

DB: The one you called the “local cop on the beat”?

It’s not I who called it that. I’m borrowing the term from Richard
Nixon’s Secretary of Defense.

DB: Melvin Laird. While police headquarters remain in Washington.

That’s my term. So his words were, “We need local cops on the beat.” I just added a little gloss: And police headquarters remain in Washington.

DB: Whether it’s the $3 billion official figure or the $6 billion one, that’s an awfully high salary to pay for a cop.

The U.S. gets a lot out of it. Take that $3 billion. A lot of it is military aid. What’s military aid? Military aid is payment by the U.S. taxpayer to U.S. corporations. That’s money that doesn’t move out of U.S. banks.
Incidentally, that’s true of a lot of foreign aid. You want to maintain the high-tech sector of the U.S. economy. The way we do that is under a military cover. One way of doing it is producing and exporting high-technology waste. That’s the majority of the $3 billion.
Then there’s plenty more that’s involved. There are mutual operations in technology development. There’s intelligence sharing. Israel has been a mercenary state. For example, when Congress imposed human rights constraints on the Carter and Reagan administrations and wouldn’t let them participate directly in the ongoing slaughters in Guatemala, they could turn to Israel for help. Not just Israel, also Taiwan, Britain, Argentine neo-Nazis. The U.S. is a big boy on the block. It has big terror networks. But Israel has been a big part of this in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere. But its primary role is as a crucial part of the system of support of the family dictatorships that the British used to call the “Arab façade” that manages the energy resources and ensures that the profits flow to the West. There has always been a kind of tacit alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And now it’s likely to come more to the surface. That’s an important role. In fact, if you take a look at U.S. aid, it shot up in 1967, after Israel smashed the Egyptian forces of Nasser, which were the leading forces for independence in the Arab world and considered a great danger. Israel smashed that. Aid to Israel shot up.
It went up again, in fact more than quadrupled, in 1970, when
Jordan was carrying out a massacre of Palestinians. It looked for a moment as though Syria might intervene to support the Palestinians, at which point the U.S. asked Israel to just mobilize to bar that, and it did.
“Black September,” as it was called, could continue. That was considered very important. Henry Kissinger himself described it as one of the most important contributions that Israel made, and military aid shot up. So it continues. These are some of the reasons why I’m skeptical about the domestic lobbying interpretation. In my view domestic lobbies work insofar as they line up with major power interests. Then they may have an effect, even a swing effect. But not an independent effect.

DB: Is there a figure on how much money the U.S. has given to Israel since 1948? Does anybody know?

Sure, you can find it out. It wasn’t enormous, it wasn’t high until 1967. Virtually all Israeli capital formation up till 1967 was from external sources, either from the U.S. or German reparations. Remember that the U.S. gives aid in another way, too. Israel is the only country to which it is possible to make tax-free donations. If you want to make tax-free donations for the purchase of land from which Arabs are excluded, you can do that tax-free in the U.S. And that amounts to a lot of money.
So if you add up all the money, even up to 1967, it was pretty substantial. But after that it goes off the chart. In 1978, Israel was receiving more than half of official U.S. aid worldwide. It usually runs about a third. And that’s just official aid. It doesn’t count the other stuff.

DB: It’s been suggested already that if there is a Syria-Israel deal on the Golan Heights that the U.S. will essentially pay the bill.

In a sense it will pay the bill, but the U.S. pays the bill for maintaining the state altogether to a large extent. Similarly with Egypt.
Take a look at U.S. foreign aid. The biggest component of it is Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. It has included Pakistan. It varies a bit over the years, so there have been years when El Salvador was up there. But over a long period it’s basically those states. Per capita, of course, that means overwhelmingly Israel. That’s all part of the system of what the
Nixon administration called the “local cops on the beat.” The Arab façade ensures that the flow of profits from oil go to the West, mainly to the U.S. and Britain, and not to the people of the region. That Arab façade needs protection from its own population. There has always been a ring of gendarmes that provides that protection, and they get supported.

DB: The New York Times is writing articles saying, Tel Aviv is “awash” with luxury cars. Israel is a “rich” country. Its standard of living is higher than a couple of European states.

It’s a rich country thanks largely to outside aid. On the other hand, remember it’s a U.S. client, which means it’s coming to resemble the U.S. So it has a very high proportion of the population living in poverty, and it has extremely high inequality. I think it’s second only to the U.S. among the rich countries.

DB: But the question arises, in this time of so much obsession with fiscal austerity and budget cuts, why is this money not being a topic of debate?

How about the subsidies to the wealthy in the U.S.? Is that a topic of debate? The Pentagon budget just went up. Fiscal austerity means fiscal austerity for the poor, not for the rich. Here’s some figures from Israel, if you’re interested, from the Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago. Headline:
“Record 670,000 Lived Under Poverty Line in 1994, an increase of about 24,000 over 1993.” Going up very fast. As the wealth is going up. In this respect it’s quite similar to the U.S.
But “fiscal austerity” is a term that is not intended seriously. There’s no fiscal austerity for the Fortune 500, who have just celebrated their fourth straight year of double-digit profit growth. Part of the reason for that profit growth is precisely federal subsidy. These guys have forgotten what capitalism is even supposed to be. There was a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal the other day. Two states, Maryland and Virginia, were competing with different strategies for economic development. For a while, Maryland was going ahead, and then Virginia did. The article is all full of talk about their entrepreneurial values and business-friendly climate and what great success stories they are.
Virginia is now in the lead. Take a look closely and you’ll notice that it’s not Virginia and Maryland. It’s the parts of Virginia and Maryland that border on Washington. The difference of strategy that’s being followed is that Maryland has been banking on biotechnology, expecting to rip off the National Institutes of Health, and Virginia has been banking on electronics and high tech, counting on ripping off the Pentagon budget.
That’s their business strategy: Which part of the federal government can we use to subsidize us? The reason why Virginia is doing better is that they picked the winner at the moment, namely, the Pentagon system, which is the traditional technique for maintaining high technology.
That’s called “entrepreneurial capitalism.”

DB: That creates the “opportunity society” that the right wing touts.

There’s no fiscal austerity there. There’s fiscal austerity for children whose mothers don’t live the way Newt Gingrich says they should.

DB: Let’s get back to the Middle East. In writing and speaking on the topic you sometimes cite Israel Shahak as a source. Who is he?

Israel Shahak has been for many years Israel’s leading civil libertarian. He’s a militant civil libertarian who, since shortly after the 1967 war, has been defending Palestinian rights and the rights of other oppressed people, no matter who’s oppressing them, whether it’s the Palestinian authorities and the PLO or Israel. He also writes quite a lot about religious coercion and its effects, which are quite extreme in Israel, and on many other topics. He also is an invaluable source of information on any number of topics. He also circulates to people who read Hebrew tons of stuff from the Hebrew press. He does a lot of translations which have been very useful. The Israeli press covers things, for example, the occupied territories, with considerable accuracy, way beyond anything that one finds here. So he’s been a very valuable source. He himself is a Holocaust survivor. He was a child in the Warsaw ghetto and ended up after the ghetto uprising in Bergen-Belsen for a couple of years and then went to Israel. We’ve been personal friends for many years.

DB: You’ve always been critical of Yasir Arafat and his leadership of the PLO. Have you seen anything in the last few months that would perhaps cause you to reassess your view?

Yes. It’s getting worse.

DB: In what way?

I’ve always been critical, back to the time when he emerged in the late 1960s, pretty harshly critical all through, but now it’s getting much worse. The repression in the West Bank is quite serious. It’s reaching as far as even not just the usual targets, but very visible figures, leading human rights activists, editors, and so on. The control of the electoral process reached such a level of absurdity that it was condemned by European Union observers. Israel had made it very clear what kind of arrangement they were making with Arafat right after the first Oslo agreement. Yitzhak Rabin, who was Prime Minister (this is now
September 1993, the “great breakthrough”), was explaining it to his party, the Israeli Labor Party, or maybe it was to the Parliament. He pointed out that it would be a good idea to have Arafat’s forces carry out local administration, that is, run the local population, instead of the
Israeli military, because then there won’t be any complaints to the High Court or protests to human rights organizations or mothers and fathers and bleeding hearts. In other words, they can do a good job. Israel in fact is shifting to the traditional form of colonial control, at last. When the British ran India, or white South Africans and Rhodesians ran their countries, they tried not to use their own troops. They overwhelmingly used local mercenaries. The U.S. does the same in Central America. We try to use the security forces. If it’s necessary, U.S. troops go in, but local mercenaries called state security forces or paramilitary forces are much more efficient, for exactly the reasons that Rabin said. That’s the role that the Palestinian Authority is supposed to play. And if Arafat doesn’t play it he’s not going to last long. That’s the deal he made with Israel. In return, they will be treated very well, like Third World elites generally.

DB: It’s interesting to contrast U.S. aid to Israel and U.S. generosity to the Palestinians, for example. The U.S. is committed to providing $500 million over five years. That’s 100 million bucks a year. It’s not much money.

It’s virtually nothing. A couple of days ago I got a letter from an Israeli friend, a professor at Ben-Gurion University who runs the Israeli human rights group for Gaza. He travels there. He told me there’s terrible poverty and this and that. There’s some construction and development going on, and no sign of any U.S. money. What money there is from the European Union or some other source.

DB: Early this morning I was looking at your 1974 book Peace in the Middle East? It had a question mark at the end. You were part of a group that had a vision of a binational state in Palestine. It seems that events have gone in a diametrically opposite direction. Is there any chance to revive that dream?

Yes. In fact, I think that’s the only plausible outcome at this point. I was always pretty skeptical, as you recall, both in that book and later, about the two-state settlement ideas that were being proposed. They were, in fact, the international consensus for quite a few years. It never seemed to me very reasonable. Maybe some kind of federal arrangement or something. But at this point, the issue of two states is dead. There is not going to be any meaningful Palestinian state. It’s over. In fact, there will be no full Israeli withdrawal as required by the international diplomatic framework that the U.S. helped to craft, then completely undermined. That’s pretty clear. What is being instituted is a kind of an apartheid system, as has been pointed out by Israeli commentators, meaning something like the system that South Africa imposed in the 1950s, even with Bantustans, which they’ll call maybe a Palestinian state. The right end result of that is to overcome apartheid, as in South Africa, and move to some sort of cantonal arrangement or federal arrangement or other form of arrangement that will recognize, ultimately (I hope not too far in the future), the equal rights of all people there, which is going to mean their communal rights as well.

DB: There never was much sympathy, as you look over this whole question over the last forty or fifty years, for the Palestinian side in the U.S. The little there was is virtually disappearing. For example, there was the Middle East Justice Network and its newsletter, Breaking the Siege. They’re no longer in existence.
You have to be a little cautious about that. The general American population has been in favor of a Palestinian state by about two to one for most of the time that polls were taken. And that’s without hearing it anywhere. So as usual, there’s a big difference between elite opinion and general opinion. But among elite circles you’re absolutely right. So in the press and in elite discussion and journals of opinion, the Palestinians don’t exist. They’re just a bunch of terrorists. Just to giveone trivial example: When the New York Times assigned Greater
Jerusalem to Israel, did you hear a peep of protest?

DB: No, there was nothing. And also, the figure that is given for the settlers on the West Bank and Gaza always excludes Jerusalem. The figure in circulation is 130,000.

Which is under half of the settlers. In fact, Teddy Kollek—who was the mayor of Jerusalem—is considered a great hero here, a great humanitarian and a marvellous person who was bringing about Arab-Israeli harmony in Jerusalem. What he was doing, in fact, was setting up highly discriminatory regulations and procedures to try to overcome the Arab majority in East Jerusalem, where the population was crammed into narrower and narrower quarters, not permitted to build while land was being confiscated and Jewish settlement was being heavily subsidized. He was very clear about it. He said, Look, I’m not going to do anything to help the Arabs unless it’s needed for the benefit of Jews. He said, We’ll improve their health standards because we don’t want them to get cholera because maybe it’ll spread to the Jewish population. But beyond that, nothing, except occasionally for some “picture-window effect,” as he called it. That’s what the U.S. taxpayer is funding. Not only that, but what American intellectuals are calling, as Irving Howe once put it, strides towards social democracy that are an inspiration to all of us.

DB: I know you’re always kind of reluctant to suggest things for people to do. Might there be some avenues that people can pursue on this particular issue?

Sure. This is one of the easiest ones there is.

DB: Why do you say that?

There’s a very well-established international consensus which the U.S. itself helped frame (in fact was instrumental in framing), which calls for total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, period.
That was the official U.S. position. The U.S. framed it. That could be reconstituted. It happened to collapse in the government under Kissinger’s influence in 1971, but it’s not an option because people aren’t aware of it. Nor does there have to be any support whatsoever for aid policies that go toward carrying out what I just described in
Jerusalem. What’s called “aid” to Israel is a funny kind of aid. It’s the kind of aid that’s driving more and more people under the poverty line.
It’s aid in the usual sense: aid to some sectors, harming other sectors.
That doesn’t have to happen. Countries should receive aid. I don’t think rich countries should have the priority for aid, but if they do, it doesn’t have to be the kind that leads to a record number of people under the poverty line, going up higher than any rich country outside the U.S. It doesn’t have to be that kind of aid any more than we have to have that social policy here. There’s plenty that Americans can do, especially in this area, where the U.S. influence and power is so decisive. But of course, as usual, it requires first escaping from the tentacles of our propaganda system, which in this particular case is really awesome in its power.

DB: What’s ahead for you? I know you have a trip coming up to India.

I’m leaving in a couple of days.

DB: What are you going to be doing there?

The usual thing. It’s initially political talks organized by an Institute of Economics in Delhi and extending around Delhi to Calcutta, Hyderabad, and Trivandrum. It’s mostly political talks, some on linguistics and other topics.

DB: You were last in India twenty years ago?

More than that. In 1972 I was there to give the Nehru Memorial Lectures.

DB: It will be interesting to talk to you about your impressions of India when you come back.

I’m afraid when I look at my schedule my impressions are mostly going to be of airports and the insides of lecture halls.

DB: We started this series of interviews with you sort of contemplating winding down things at MIT and your teaching career there. Any further thoughts on that?

No, not really. I have no definite plans. I forget what we talked about, that was a long time ago. It’s very uncertain.

DB: But you want to keep your rigorous schedule of talks and incessant requests for interviews like this one at the current level?

“Want” is a funny word for it.

DB: Is there much choice, with the level of demand?

Not only that, but just a feeling that I’m not doing what I should.

DB: If you had your druthers, what would you rather be doing?

It gets pretty wearing, but what I should be doing is way more of this kind of thing.

DB: Thanks a lot. Bon voyage!

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