Israeli Exceptionalism

JVL Introduction

The recent kerfuffle about a sentence in a Maxine Peake interview must not be allowed to distract from the deep and fundamental connection between Israel and the US.

In his analysis, Simon Korner shows that, particularly since 2001, Israel’s major contribution to US policing has been to help it reorient towards counter-terrorism and subjugation of sections of its population – based on the Israeli experience of suppressing the Palestinians.

He draws on the argument of Jeff Halper’s War Against the People that Israel is central to the “global pacification industry”,.

He argues that for the US it is guarantor of access to the vital resources of the region, as well as the real-world testing ground for new military technologies and innovations.

Korner thus concludes that: “Israel is thus an asset the US will do almost anything to protect.”

This article was originally published by The Socialist Correspondent on Fri 10 Jul 2020. Read the original here.

Israeli Exceptionalism

Why single out Israel for opprobrium, its defenders often ask, using the question as the basis for accusations of anti-semitism? One reason is Israel’s special relationship with the most dangerous power in the world: the US.

Let’s look first at Israeli influence on US policing, a currently controversial topic. Cathy Lanier, former police chief in Washington DC, gave the following endorsement of Israeli training: “No experience in my life has had more of an impact on doing my job than going to Israel.”

Israel’s major contribution to US policing has been to help it reorient towards counter-terrorism and subjugation of sections of its population – based on the Israeli experience of suppressing the Palestinians. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the federal US Department of Homeland Security established a special office in Israel. The NYPD followed suit in 2012. As a result of Israeli training – masterminded by Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who was responsible for bombardments of Gaza and for targeted killings – the NYPD’s Demographics Unit developed a Muslim surveillance programme “modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank,” according to the Associated Press. “We went to the country that’s been dealing with the issue [terrorism] for 30 years,” Boston Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans said after his training trip. A police chief colleague described Israel as the “Harvard of antiterrorism”. Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal calls the process the “Israelification of America’s security apparatus.

The specific knee-on-the-neck technique highlighted by Maxine Peake can be seen in use against Palestinian victims in numerous news images, including against unarmed protesters close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in March this year . This particular restraint posture was also pictured in the website header image (deleted soon after the Long-Bailey sacking, but recorded for posterity by Skwawkbox) of the Israeli Tactical School. The School, which boasts instructors from Shin Bet, Mossad, Yamam (Israeli SWAT) and Israeli Navy SEALs, provides security training to US police and secret service, based on the techniques given to Israeli security forces.

These images refute the claim by Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfield that the technique is not used in Israel nor used in its training. The same denial was made by Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo after the murder of George Floyd, though archived versions of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Use of Force Policy show that “neck restraints” and “choke holds” were part of the department’s code in 2002.

This date precedes much of the Israeli police training in the US, showing that American police were meting out homegrown brutality against Black people and others without recourse to Israeli instruction. But as Iranian-America academic Laleh Khalili tweeted : “It is not that the Israelis ‘originated’ some particularly violent form of restraint. It is that they are a totally pivotal and central part of a network of global security practices which requires violence against civilian populations that are racialised.” In other words, this is a bigger issue than police tactics or training, one that goes to the heart of Israeli exceptionalism.

Israeli writer Jeff Halper believes Israel is central to the “global pacification industry” – a country armed to the teeth, oriented towards war both internal and external. Israeli newspaper Haaretz has described Israel as “securityland”. Halper’s book War Against the People (Pluto Press, 2015) shows Israel’s disproportionate level of militarisation – the most highly militarised country in the world since 2007, according to the Global Militarisation Index, and one of the top 10 states in the global arms trade. It plays a key role in providing expertise in surveillance and control to countries round the world, including major Nato powers.

One example is the close UK-Israeli cooperation in cybersecurity, which British Israeli lobby group, Bicom, regards as a “first-order partnership”. Robert Hannigan, former director of GCHQ, praised his organisation’s “excellent cyber relationship” with Israeli security services, whose work is highly prized. Co-operation works both ways. During the Israeli massacre in Gaza in 2008-9 that killed 1,400 people, GCHQ supplied Israel with information on Palestinians , and again, in turn, Britain has benefited from Israeli training in the use of drones “field-tested” on Palestinians in Gaza, according to War on Want (11 Dec, 2013).

While Britain remains close to its former colony, Israel’s position as a dangerously volatile regional power is dependent above all on its close relationship to the US.

Bipartisan agreement in America has long guaranteed support for Israel as a vital element of US foreign policy. Israel receives $3.8 billion a year from the US, as well as privileged intelligence for monitoring and targeting Palestinians, according to documents from the US National Security Agency uncovered by Edward Snowden in 2014.

The Institute for Policy Studies, a peace-oriented US thinktank, points out a revealing pattern in US aid to Israel. After the 1967 war, US aid rose by 450%, and again after the civil war in Jordan, when Israel suppressed radicals there. The 1973 Israeli military victory against Egypt and Syria again elicited an 800% increase in aid, as Israel proved it could defeat enemies armed by the USSR. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, aid quadrupled, as it did after the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and again during and after the first Gulf War (Zunes, S. In the United States Support for Israel Goes Beyond the Moral, in Global Viewpoints: Modern Conflict and Diplomacy, 2020, Greenhaven Publishing, New York, p.57). What this suggests is that US aid is not given to ensure Israel’s survival but responds to proof of Israeli strength and aggression. The greater Israel’s belligerence – including its crushing of Palestinian aspirations – the more US aid it receives.

Israel is valuable to the US mainly because it ensures the US “access to the vital resources” of the region, as Ariel Ilan Roth of Johns Hopkins University puts it – guaranteeing American control over Middle Eastern energy .

Helping defeat secular Arab nationalism during the Cold War has morphed into threatening and attacking defiant regional players such as Iran, Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU’s) in Iraq, as well as limiting the advance of Russian influence in the area. Israel has its own national interests, whose aims broadly, though not entirely, coincide with those of the US. Although the US’s interest in Middle East oil is no longer primarily to supply its own energy needs, which it can satisfy through domestic fracking, it nevertheless aims to monopolise the energy in order to squeeze China, whose development relies on Middle Eastern sources – thus Israel is strategically placed to promote the central plank of US policy.

Another reason Israel matters to America is that it provides an up to date, real-world testing ground. The head of the Israeli army’s technology and logistics division, Avner Benzaken, told journalist Markus Becker, for Der Spiegel, (27 Aug, 2014): “If I develop a product and want to test it in the field, I only have to go five or 10 kilometres from my base and I can look and see what is happening with the equipment.” Weapons testing in real-life situations also serves as an excellent showcase for US-made weapons – promoting US arms manufacturers’ products to other countries in the Middle East and beyond.

A third thread tying Israel to the US is the pressure from American Zionist organisations – Jewish, Evangelical Christian and others – which lobby successive US leaderships on Israel’s behalf and raise money in its support. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is the second-most powerful lobbying organisation in Washington, according to Zack Beauchamp, senior correspondent for Vox news website. The strong ideological commitment of millenarist US Christians, now represented at the heart of US power in the form of Mike Pompeo, and of Jews loyal to the idea of a national homeland, puts strong pressure on the US to stand by its long-term commitment. More broadly, there is still a belief among American voters that Israel is a democracy and a stabilising influence, though this consensus is facing a rising challenge from progressive organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace. The reprehensible facts on the ground in Israel, are making such a stance increasingly implausible, particularly annexation, but for now, being pro-Israel remains a vote-winner.

One result of long-term US financial and intelligence support has been the rise of Israel as a high-tech scientific hub, with advanced cyber and bio-technology industries, and sophisticated intelligence gathering. Now a major arms manufacturer and exporter in its own right, Israel is the eighth biggest arms supplier in the world, exporting arms worth £9.2 billion in 2017, with India its biggest customer Elbit Systems was ranked by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) as the 28th largest arms company worldwide (excluding China) in 2017, one of the world’s premiere “security and defence,” firms. Elbit’s expertise in helping build the Israel’s apartheid wall in turn enabled its subsidiary Kollsman Inc. to win a contract for the creation of the US-Mexico border wall, including its surveillance towers. Israeli-US collaboration extends to developing joint missile defence systems and space programmes – Israel is a member of Nasa’s Center for Moon Research, for example.

While Israel’s rate of killing may not always match that of the Saudis’ in Yemen or Turkey’s in Syria and Libya, its structural role as the US’s advance guard makes it a uniquely important player. Added to which is the fact that it is nuclear armed, with missiles capable of hitting Iran. Israel’s increasingly close military and trading relations with India – exporting missiles for potential use against China – further entrench it as an important link in the imperialist chain.

Israel is thus an asset the US will do almost anything to protect. According to SIPRI, between 2009 and 2018 64% of the world’s arms exports to Israel came from the US  – including the Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter, and the newer F-35, which form the backbone of Israel’s airforce.

When British imperialism assented to the establishment of “a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of hostile Arabism,” as Sir Ronald Storrs the first British governor of Jerusalem put it in his memoirs published in 1937 (The Memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs, G.P Puttnam’s Sons, New York, p. 364), it wanted an outpost of empire to police the Arab masses – a colony loyal to the imperial metropolis, fierce in its defence. Just as the British pioneered new techniques of securing colonial rule in Ulster, which were then imported to mainland Britain, so the US imports Israel’s refined colonial practices to the American mainland – updating its longstanding use of lynching and other terroristic tactics already in use. In both cases, the effect is to erode democracy in the home country.

Thus, to draw attention to the close relationship between Israeli and US tactics, as Maxine Peake did, is perfectly accurate, and serves to highlight the far deeper connection between the two. Both are warlike nations who believe their survival as dominant powers depends on the constant projection of deadly force and terror. This is a fact that should not be retreated from but highlighted constantly in order to help build a mass movement for change.





Comments (6)

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. I was not aware how deep those links run between the US and Israel, but also UK/Israel both in ideology and military operations. It is really scary.

  • Sheldon Ranz says:

    “…archived versions of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Use of Force Policy show that “neck restraints” and “choke holds” were part of the department’s code in 2002.” But the knee-on-neck technique was not specified in the department’s code because it was unknown to them in 2002. The’Floyd technique’ is a popular maneuver of krav maga, the Israeli martial art. There’s no record of it having been used in Minnesota until after 2012, when around 100 Minnesota cops attended a training seminar sponsored by the Chicago office of the Israeli Consulate, which dwelt on matters such as security cooperation and anti-terrorism techniques. All in all, Maxine Peak should never have apologized.

  • DJ says:

    This article drawing upon the work of Jeff Halper is very informative. It highlights the Israeli government’s attempt to define its repression of indigenous Palestinians as ‘counter. terrorism’.The ‘othering’ of minority groups and left wing opponents as terrorists is a feature of a growing number of right wing populist and authoritarian governments across the globe. Increased police militarisation, surveillance and data harvesting represent a serious threat to the left not only abroad but also in the UK. The article also provides a useful update on the strategic importance of Israel to the USA. This should not be underestimated given the increased activities of Russia and Turkey in the Middle East.

  • DJ says:

    The framing of Israel as a key player in the”war on terror”is also designed to legitimise the regime. This helps to cement support from Trump and religious right in the US along with Bolsonaro in Brazil. Netanyahu has. also been busy establishing economic and military ties with the fellow ethno nationalist regime of India under Modi. This focus on the war on terrorism has helped garner support for the Israeli government in Europe especially from the right including overt anti semites.The far right see Israel as an ally in their fight to defend western culture from “hordes of mainly Muslim migrants”

  • DJ says:

    The point of all this is to demonstrate that the left in British politics needs to understand that the injustices faced by the Palestinians require a massive global campaign like we saw against apartheid in South Africa.Initial campaigns against annexation are to be welcomed as trigger towards the achievement of an unstoppable train towards the dismantling of Israeli Apartheid.

  • Jan Plummer says:

    Spot on Sheldon Ranz. There is a link re knee on neck techniques. If it walks and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. We should all be braver about speaking out.

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