Jennifer Löwenstein: Zionism, one of the most unfortunate manifestations of modern nationalism

by Milena
Rampoldi, ProMosaik e.V. – My interview with the journalist Jennifer Loewenstein
who has been working for years on the Middle East. About her work she wrote me:
“This year I’ve been working on Iraq and Syria more than anything else.
I’ve never stopped following the crises in Gaza and the West Bank, however.
There are some ties between the two – not obvious or ‘conspiracy’ oriented. As
you may know, I’ve lived in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and
Beirut. I’ve traveled in Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. I’ve also worked a
lot on refugee issues. (I lived in the refugee camp of Bourj al-Barajneh in
Lebanon for 3 summers, though that was a while back now – 1999-2002 – but
return almost every year to visit friends.)  I haven’t been able to get
into Gaza since 2010, but I follow events there closely and keep up with my
contacts there. I think an important issue is how the media focus has been
taken off Palestine as the Syrian Civil War continues. Both deserve a lot of
attention, however. US foreign policy in the region continues to trouble me, to
say the least. It deserves a lot of attention and clarification.”

Loewenstein was Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the
University of Wisconsin–Madison. Last August she mooved to Penn State University. She is politically active, and writes as a freelance journalist. Her work has been featured in
scholarly publications such as The Journal of Palestine Studies, and she is a
regular contributor to CounterPunch magazine.Loewenstein is a member of the USA
board of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and founder of the
Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Milena Rampoldi: You have been a lot in the Middle East. Which is the main
peace obstacle there?
Loewenstein: Unrestrained US military involvement in the Middle East and the
US’ simultaneous refusal to put pressure on its client states to seek
non-military resolutions to their conflicts poses, in my view, the greatest
obstacle to regional stability to say nothing of  real peace. It is
impossible to single out one of the many wars and conflicts raging across the
Middle East today as being the ‘worst’ situation in the region (now or in the
past). Each is related to the Middle East order created by the colonial powers,
Britain and France, at the end of the First World War and, subsequently,
exploited by them. 
After the end of
the Second World War, as the British and French empires receded, the United
States filled the void left by these powers with its own imperial influence,
economic interests and political objectives, strengthened, I should point out,
by the Soviet Union’s equally genuine competition for regional influence. Cold
War politics should not be uncritically deferred to as the guiding framework
for superpower competition, however. The fear and propaganda generated
domestically in the US against “communism” and an “Evil”
Soviet empire proved a powerful tool for recruiting people to fight in US wars
in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe. Much of what we were taught
about the designs and power of the Soviet Union, however, was overstated or
simply false. Much was omitted with regard to our own alleged allies. It is
crucial to understand this in the context of Vietnam and US military
involvement in southeast Asia as well. The Middle East was of particular
importance, and has been ever since, because of its strategic location, its oil
and natural gas reserves, and because of regional instability deliberately
cultivated by those powers that had sought to control parts of it in the past.
Until 1967, when the US’ “special relationship” with Israel began
seriously to be cultivated, no single Middle Eastern nation was allowed to
dominate the region – least of all one with close ties to Moscow.
MR: How to deal
with Zionism? What does Zionism mean to you?
JL: Modern Zionism
may end up dealing with itself if it continues along what has become an
increasingly self-destructive and globally alienating path. It is widely
understood by most people (outside the US) that the only thing keeping Israel
from becoming a global pariah state is the unconditional support it receives
from the United States and, to a lesser extent, the EU. This is one reason why
mobilizing world public opinion is so important where Israel and Zionism are
concerned. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions’ (BDS) movement has had an
effect on how Israel is perceived in the West, but it has a long way to go and
must navigate some dangerous political waters carefully. Most Americans still
view Israel in a more positive light than the Palestinians and their Arab
neighbors, thanks in part to the continual demonization of Arabs, Muslims, and
Islam in US domestic civil society: schools, universities, civic organizations,
churches, synagogues, conservative and liberal “think tanks,” state,
local and national governing institutions, the entertainment industry, and, of
course, the news media (including social media and the speed with which information
can be processed, spun, and disseminated) all play a very large role in
manipulating fear, xenophobia, and ignorance. Political lobbies, primarily
AIPAC, have often been blamed for determining America’s “pro-Israel”
stance and they do, indeed, play a forceful role. This role is significantly
diminished, however, when juxtaposed to the giant oil and natural gas cartels,
highly profitable corporate enterprises designed for the benefit of ourselves
and our allies, and the overwhelming role of the US armaments industry in
selling advanced weaponry and spreading, stoking and assuring war.
Zionism has become
one of the most unfortunate manifestations of modern nationalism (in this case
Jewish nationalism). Over the years it has become 
chauvinistic, dangerous, and
sadistic – especially toward non-Jews living in Israel or in territories
illegally occupied and annexed to Israel over the years. What makes Zionism a
particularly pernicious form of nationalism is that it is a form of
settler colonialism. In order to create a Jewish state, Zionism (as it has
developed) required more and more land, resources, external financial and
military subsidization, and Jewish people in order to flourish. What we are
seeing today is a logical conclusion of this project: the need to remove,
chase out, terrorize, isolate into densely populated but unconnected islands of
territory – including squalid urban settings, torture, or kill off, those
people who stand in the way of this project. Were the eyes of a good part of
the world not already focused on Israel, it would be frightening to see how its
future would unfold. This underscores the need for people to educate and
mobilize public opinion around what is happening in Israel and its illegally
held territories. Even with broad based activism against Israel’s
self-declared “manifest destiny” its political and military
leadership continue to act with impunity and to be held unaccountable for
repeated acts of aggression, mass murder and destruction against the people and
land of Palestine.
Personally I have
no stake in Zionism whatsoever. I come from a long line of anti-Zionists
(reaching back into the 19th century) and am increasingly appalled by what I’ve
seen and experienced in Palestine and in places such as the Palestinian refugee
camps of South Beirut as the direct consequences of Israeli state policy. No
state — ethnic, religious, or otherwise — can truly be secure until people
within and outside its borders learn to accept each other as humans first and
as beings whose collective future depends upon extensive cooperation, universal
human rights, the need to share the earth’s land and resources, and respect for
the earth itself. This may sound idealistic. It is increasingly clear, however,
that it is becoming a necessity if human life is to continue.
MR: How are all
the conflicts in the Middle East connected one with another?
JL: To
do this question justice, I would have to write a book. Many of the conflicts
(such as in Syria and Iraq) are directly connected to each other. They are also
influenced to a large degree by an apparent need for regional hegemony by the
strongest military powers. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are heavily involved in the
Syrian and Iraqi Civil Wars, as are Turkey and Iran. Other states, such as
Yemen, have become the unwitting victims of the treacherous game of chess being
played out across the region. There is no question, however, that the wars and
conflicts that have raged and are raging in the Middle East are another direct
result of US intervention since, above all, the end of the Second World War.
Soviet and Russian power, along with European great power intervention have
exacerbated the conflicts within the Middle East but none have done so on
the scale of the United States. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be seen
as an extension of US meddling in the region, which has done so much to
destabilize it already. Israel is an arm of US power and, as such, acts with
the knowledge and complicity of its master. That these two countries have
differences has not challenged the status quo since the special relationship
between Israel and the United States began in the aftermath of the 1967 June
War. Right now, that status quo is not in jeopardy, and this should give us all
pause to think about ways this can change.
MR: What does it
mean to you to be a journalist looking for truth?
JL: It means
celebrating when other journalists and people work together with you to seek
it, write about it, and to educate people to think for themselves. It also
means bracing yourself for the worst possibilities when individuals,
institutions, or states begin to find your work threatening.
MR: How can we as
writers, journalists, and bloggers help to promote peace in the Middle East?
JL: We have an
obligation to inform and educate people without imposing our personal views on
them. This can take place in schools, universities, in the arts, in political
forums and neighborhood organizations; in churches, mosques, synagogues, in
grocery store conversations; at the dinner table; in local or national
demonstrations; in letter writing campaigns; in call-ins and sit-ins; in
non-violent direct action; in reading world newspapers; in taking the
initiative to speak to people in our cities and towns who come from other parts
of the world; in initiating activities that we’re all waiting for someone else
to do. We have another obligation to be patient and not to expect to see change
overnight. Some of  us may never see the kinds of things we have worked so
hard to attain. We have got to learn how to organize effectively without
falling victim to petty, divisive infighting among the people working with us.
We have to get it across to people that problems do not resolve themselves. On
the contrary, left untouched, such major problems will only worsen.
MR: Tell us about
your experience in Gaza.
JL: This
would take an entire 
memoir, which I hope
to write someday. Suffice to say, it has been the resilience of the people of
Gaza, above all, that has kept me going even at my darkest moments.