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The Israeli Connection’

In response to:

The 'War for Washington' from the October 8, 1987 issue

To the Editors:

Stanley Hoffmann, in his review of The Israeli Connection [NYR, October 8], managed to spell my name correctly eight of nine times, and I am grateful for that. When it comes to more substantive aspects of the text, however, Hoffmann’s reading does not reach the same standard of fidelity. Let me illustrate:

  1. Hoffmann presents the book as examining “Israel’s arms dealings throughout the world,” and then suggests that “financial considerations—the enormous contribution made by arms sales to the Israeli balance of payment” may account for them. Most of the events described in The Israeli Connection are not “arms dealings” or “arms sales,” and cannot be explained on any economic grounds.

A few questions about events which are covered in the book:

Was the Israeli involvement in the Algerian war for independence (on the French side, of course) based on financial considerations?

Was Israeli aid to the Kurdish rebellion against Iraq based on economics?

Was Israeli aid to the Idi Amin coup in Uganda based on profit considerations?

Was Israeli support for the Marcos regime based on prospects for financial gain?

Do Israeli military advisers and secret police operatives in South Africa represent a financial investment?

Numerous additional examples are found in the text, and they demonstrate quite clearly that the book is about a lot more than “arms sales.”

  1. The book does not cover just Israeli involvement with “Eden Pastora’s contras,” but Israeli support for all contra groups, especially those under the command of Enrique Bermudez.

  2. The book does not suggest that Israel is a “surrogate of the US.” It did not act as a US surrogate in Algeria, Uganda, Ethiopia, Turkey, Morocco, Zaire, South Africa, and many other places. Israel has its own foreign policy, but is certainly a “strategic asset” and a valuable ally of the US, especially when it comes to covert operations.

  3. Hoffmann complains that the term “the Third World” is never examined. The book’s index provides us with twenty-five items related to the “Third World,” including a definition. This definition (on pages 176–177) is specific enough to include measures of life expectancy and per capita income.

  4. A word which most annoys defenders of Zionism, like Stanley Hoffmann, is “colonialism.” You can say anything about Zionism, as long as you don’t use the forbidden word, which, as it happens, describes the situation pretty well. Hoffmann’s defense is that “most Zionists, unlike colonialists, did not aim at dominating the ‘natives’—in this instance, the Arabs. Zionism’s flaw was its ignorance or neglect of the effects its own brand of nationalism was bound to have on displaced Palestinian Arabs or on Arab residents subjected to Jewish rule.”

Colonialism is a system under which, in a defined territory, nonnatives are entitled to political rights which natives are denied. That is exactly what Zionism had in mind in regard to the natives (without quotation marks) of Palestine and that is exactly what we have today in Israel. Under the Israeli system of government, a Mr. Cohen from Brooklyn (provided he can qualify as “Jewish”) has more rights than any Palestinian native the moment he steps off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The same Mr. Cohen (provided he can qualify as “white”) will have more rights than any black native of South Africa, if he decides to settle in South Africa and lands at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. This may be one source of the solidarity between Israel and South Africa, which Hoffmann mentions.

It is true that Zionism did not seek to dominate the natives. It simply wanted to displace them and replace them with settlers. This system is known as settler colonialism. In settler colonialism, the native population is removed, to make room for settlers and their new society. The basic principle used to justify it in both Israel and South Africa is the definition of some natives as foreigners and some foreigners as the real natives. That is how we came to have displaced Palestinian Arabs. This system has nothing to do with the occupied territories. It exists in Israel in its pre-1967 borders, in Tel Aviv, and in the Galilee. It is just possible that using such forbidden words as “colonialism” may get us further in understanding why most Israelis don’t want to go back to the old borders, and why they feel a certain empathy for South Africans.

  1. Hoffmann has decided to ignore one explanatory chapter in The Israeli Connection (titled “Israel as Pariah and as Model”), which points to the similarity between Israeli involvements in the Third World and those of other nations, such as South Africa, Taiwan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Brunei. This is one of the questions raised by the Iran-contra affair. Not only Israel is supporting the contras, but also several other countries which are far removed from Central America. The questions about Israeli involvement can be asked about South Korea and Saudi Arabia, and may yield instructive answers.

I invite interested readers to examine the text of The Israeli Connection and judge for themselves what the book really says, and how well.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

New York City

Stanley Hoffmann replies:

Professor Beit-Hallahmi seems to have trouble alternatively in reading his own book accurately and in reading my review of it correctly.

  1. I did not suggest that Israel’s arms deals throughout the world could be fully explained by financial considerations. What I wrote was that they “can be explained in large part by the need to avoid international isolation and by financial considerations.” The desire to avoid isolation is a point Mr. Beit-Hallahmi himself makes, and I did indicate throughout my review that I agreed with him.

  2. On page 200 he writes: “It is clear that Israel has been acting as a US proxy.” On page 201 he adds: “Israeli leaders may not completely share the US point of view in every case, but nonetheless be ready to serve US goals.”

  3. His definition of the third world (page 176) tells us that it is “a world of struggle, misery, and suffering.” Struggle is not a monopoly of the third world; as for misery and suffering, the author tends to blur the vast differences in economic resources and performance between, say, the poorest African or Asian countries, and such developing states as the new industrialized countries of Far East Asia and Latin America. As an analytic concept the third world makes no sense.

  4. Professor Beit-Hallahmi and I disagree about the “colonialism” of Zionism’s founding fathers and original ideology. He does not seem to have noticed that he and I agree about what matters today: the colonialist situation in which Israeli policies and practices have put the Jewish state.

  5. One reason why I did not explicitly discuss the chapter on “Israel as Pariah and as Model” is that the author’s list of pariahs and “associate members” is too vast and indiscriminate to be useful.

  6. Professor Beit-Hallahmi tells us that the book is “about a lot more than arms sales.” Why, then, is its subtitle: “Who Israel Arms and Why”?

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