The Zionists have received support, since the launching of their movement, from the dominant Protestant segment of Christianity, whose theology reinstated the Jews to their covenant with God. As a result, a few Protestants began calling for the ‘restoration’ of Jews to Palestine in the seventeenth century; at the time, Jews looked upon these proposals with deep suspicion. Since the nineteenth century, a new group of evangelical Christians began to support the ‘restoration’ of Jews, because they believed this was a necessary prelude to the Second Coming. From its home in Britain, this movement spread to the United States, where, in recent decades, cheered by Israeli victories, it has become an important source of support for Zionism in the United States.
In no small measure, the success of the Zionist colonial project was magnified by the weakness of the Arabs in the Middle East. Unlike Algerians in the nineteenth century or Libyans between the two World Wars, the Palestinians were slow in resisting Jewish colonization – the first serious resistance was mounted in 1936 – and, once beaten, in 1939, they could not reorganize for more than two decades. More fatefully, the Jewish colonization of Palestine did not evoke a response in the larger Arab/Islamicate world that was commensurate with the scale of the Zionist threat to the Islamicate. This period is marked by the absence of any concerted efforts in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, or the Arabian Peninsula to resist Jewish colonization before it would become undefeatable. The Arab nationalists began to stir when it was too late, after Israel had established itself and soon would be in a position to smash them before they could build their strength.
Anxious to conceal the power of the Jewish lobby, Zionists often argue that the Western powers supported Zionism only because the Jewish state served their strategic interests in the Middle East. We have shown that Zionism was in conflict with the long-term interests of Britain and the United States. Exigencies of war and the presence of a strong contingency of Christian Zionists in the cabinet of Lloyd George explain British support for the Balfour Declaration in 1917. On the other hand, the strong U.S. support in 1948 for the partition of Palestine – and later – was the product of a domestic Jewish lobby.
In the 1940s – and even later – the United States commanded considerable goodwill in the Arab world. The populist movements in the Arab world directed their anticolonial animus against the British and the French, not the Americans. In addition, the Arab dynasties and petit bourgeoisie, who expected to gain power after the departure of the colonial rulers, would have been quite happy to work with their former rulers and the United States. Arab and local nationalisms—weakly founded, in any case – had no radical thrust. It takes little prescience to see that the insertion of Israel in the Middle East – far from serving Western strategic interests – was certain to create threats to these interests, where none existed before. Nor was this prescience lacking in Washington. The officials at the State and Defense Departments saw this clearly, but they were overruled by the exigencies of presidential politics.
Once created, however, Israel had the resources to create and entrench the perception that it is a strategic asset, that it defends the vital interests of Western powers in the Middle East. The creation of a Jewish colonial settler state in the Arab world – one that would have to engage in massive ethnic cleansing – was the perfect incitement for starting a rising spiral of anger against Israel’s Western backers, chiefly, the United States. Arab anger over Israel, exacerbated by Israel’s truculent policies, would continue to fuel Arab nationalism and push it in a radical, anti-Western direction. Even so, the United States persisted in its doomed efforts, during the 1950s, to bring about peace between the Arabs and Israel. Israel would ensure that these efforts would not succeed, forcing the Arab nationalist states to turn to the Soviet Union. Inevitably, at this stage, Washington would see radicalized Arab nationalism as a threat to its interests in the Middle East. The first circle was complete. Israel had manufactured the threats that would make it look like a strategic asset. In a preemptive strike in June 1967, Israel confirmed this by defeating Egypt and Syria, the two leading Arab nationalist states.
Once this paradigm was in place, Israel and its Jewish allies in the United States worked hard to ensure that it stayed in place. Jewish Zionists in the United States, working both inside and outside the Jewish community, worked to whittle down the ability of the American political system to take any positions contrary to the interests of Israel. In the aftermath of the victory in the June War, and Israel’s new policy of expanding its frontiers to incorporate the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, a new, more aggressively pro-Israel cadre of Jews took over the leadership of the mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States. They worked to suppress dissent within the Jewish community, used campaign contributions to elect the strongest pro-Israeli candidates to the Congress, and maintained discipline inside the Congress by punishing dissenters at the next election. They cultivated the Christian Zionists, who were being energized by Israeli successes. At the same time, pro-Israeli think tanks produced hundreds of position papers, journal articles, magazines, reports, and books, resurrecting atavistic fears of a dangerous, resurgent, anti-Western Islam that was the greatest threat to the power of the United States.
The secret of Zionist success, then, lies in the manner in which it overcame the chief flaw in its design: it did not have a natural mother country to support its colonial project. By winning over the Jews in the Western diaspora, and galvanizing them to use their wealth, intellect, and activism to promote Zionist causes, the Zionists succeeded in substituting the West for the missing natural mother country. Over time, nearly every major Western country (including the Soviet Union) has offered critical help in the creation, survival and success of Israel. Most importantly, the two greatest Western powers, Britain and the United States, successively, have placed their military might squarely behind the Zionist project despite the damage that this inflicted on their vital interests in the Middle East.
The United States has already paid dearly for its pro-Zionist policies since 1948. Over time, these costs would include the hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to Israel and its Arab allies, the alienation of the Arab world, an oil embargo, higher oil prices, the rise of Islamic radicalism, and several close confrontations with the Soviet Union in the Middle East. After September 11, 2001, under strong pressure from Israel – working in league with their neoconservatives allies – the United States launched a costly but unnecessary war against Iraq. In turn, this war galvanized the Islamist radicals, giving them a new theater where they could engage the United States. The United States has financed this war – and the war in Afghanistan – by borrowing from China and the oil-rich Arabs. We must also add two other consequences of the Iraq War to the debit in America’s Israeli account: the rise of Iran and the growing challenge to U.S. hegemony in Latin America.
The costs that the United States – and the rest of the Western world – might incur in the future are likely to be much greater. We can only speculate about these costs, or when they will come due. The repressive, pro-American regimes in the Arab world are not sustainable. When these unpopular regimes begin to fall, and are replaced by Islamist governments, it may become difficult for the United States to maintain its presence in the region. Indeed, it is likely that the United States itself or Israel might trigger this outcome with an attack on Iran. In the opinion of some, this is an accident waiting to happen.
Should Israel wither away, the United States will bear much of the collateral damage of this collapse. The withering of the Jewish state could occur due to international pressures against its apartheid regime, a slow loss of nerve as Jewish settlers lose their ‘demographic war’ with the Palestinians, or loss of deterrence as Israel continues to engage in failed attempts to destroy the Hizbullah and Hamas. Israel and the United States have been joined at the hip for many years. In America’s public discourse, the two have become more and more like each other: they are two exceptional societies, marked by destiny, chosen by God, created by brave pioneers, who have shaped and continue to shape their common destiny through territorial expansion and ethnic cleansing. Should the Jewish state wither away, its much larger twin may begin to wobble.
Some consequences of the withering away of Israel might be easy to predict. Over the past century, the successes of the Zionist movement have galvanized many American Jews and Zionist Christians; they will now be disillusioned, in despair, confused, and angry. Probably, most Israeli Jews will want to migrate to the United States, which most Americans will be loath to refuse. Yet, this will give rise to frictions between some sections of Gentiles and Jews and may give rise to pockets of anti-Semitism. Tensions will also rise between Jews and Muslims in the United States. The disillusioned Christian Zionists too may seek to scapegoat all peoples of color, but especially Arab-Americans and Muslims. In all likelihood, the United States will experience growing conflicts among different sections of its population; there will be more racism, hate crimes, and, perhaps, worse. None of this will be good for America’s image as a great country.
Although the domestic fallout of the withering of the Israeli state will be serious, the more serious losses for the United States will flow from the erosion of its control over the oil-rich states in the Persian Gulf. It would be foolhardy to predict the contours of the new map that will eventually emerge in the Middle East and the Islamicate. Whatever new structures emerge, these transformations are likely to be violent. On the one hand, the fragmentation imposed on the Islamicate has created local interests that will seek to maintain the status quo. These local interests now will confront Islamist movements that seek to create more integrated structures across the Islamicate. These conflicts will be deeply destabilizing, as India, China, Europe and Russia may choose sides, each eager to replace the United States. Once the U.S.-Israeli straitjacket over the region has been loosened, it will not be easy to fashion a new one made in Moscow, Beijing, Brussels or New Delhi. The Islamicate world today is not what it was during World War I. It is noticeably less inclined to let foreigners draw their maps for them.