April 06, 2009

Palestine: a conservative cause?

The longer I have supported the Palestinian cause the more it has struck me that there is no reason why anyone professing the political values one associates with western systems of governance should support Israel or its zionist ideology and project. Of course such values, parliamentary multi-party democracy, liberty, the rule of law, tend to be expressed by all sorts of people often under the party banners, in the UK anyway, of conservative, liberal and social democratic/labour parties. Western states, take the UK as an example, govern the societies they find under their rule. Membership of those societies is an accident of birth. You get born within the boundaries, certainly if your parents like you are from within those boundaries, you're in. You can choose to leave and join another society or you might be joined by people from other societies. But the general rule is that western states, in our time, take society as they find it. Suggestions that society should be constructed around, say an ethnicity or a religion, have met with short shrift since WWII though fascistic ideas have made a bit of a come back in recent years.

So, Israel is run on very different lines to those outlined above and yet Israel is the darling of the west. Israel does not take society as it finds it. It tries to fashion the people under its rule around principles of Jewish ethnicity or religion. This means that Israel governs not so much a society based on accident of birth within its boundaries but an association based on cherry picking from among humanity. Here the accident of birth will be whether or not you are born Jewish or not though some people can convert as long as it is understood that the validity of conversion will be decided by an authority acceptable to the state. The deliberateness enters the story where those accidentally born Arab are removed or otherwise excluded and Jews are settled in and privileged.

Of course states favour certain languages or cultures and will guide their societies towards or through those things but they do not generally, in our time, cull whole sections of society in order to yield a given ethno-religious outcome.

And yet the loudest and most consistent voices against the zionist ideology and the zionist project, certainly since the establishment of the State of Israel and even more so since 1967 have been from the hard left in the west.

So I was quite pleased to see J.Otto Pohl come here to announce that he had posted Why Palestine is a Conservative cause. Sadly I don't agree with what he's saying:
The Palestinian population in 1947 consisted overwhelmingly of traditional agrarian communities composed of practicing Muslims and Christians. They had strong family values and traditions rooted in their religious beliefs. They also had deep roots in the land and long established local communities. Their daily way of life and world outlook thus fit the definition of conservative perfectly.
I don't think a traditional way of life is enough to make the preservation of that way of life a conservative cause in the western sense but I know what he means. I can however see how western conservatives, (neo-liberals?) may feel that there are some productivity issues in need of "liberating" here.
The Zionist movement in contrast was led by self described atheists and socialists such as David Ben-Gurion who were intent on radically transforming the demographics, landscape and economy of Palestine along revolutionary lines. The Labour Zionists were heavily influenced by the model of the USSR under Stalin and openly cited the NKVD's violent deportation of the Volga Germans and Crimean Tatars as models for removing the native Arab population of Palestine. In this endeavour they initially received the support of the USSR and socialist bloc which recognized the ideological similarities between Labour Zionism and Soviet socialism under Stalin. This assistance included heavy arms in violation of a UN arms embargo, military training and diplomatic support in the UN. The resemblance between Stalin's uprooting of the traditional communities of the Volga Germans, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars and the Zionist expulsion of the Palestinians is thus not coincidental. They share common ideological roots and the Zionists borrowed many of the techniques of ethnic cleansing from the Soviet Union. Thus the Zionist movement was in contrast to Palestinian society the antithesis of conservative. It was radical, socialist and atheist rather than traditional and religious like Palestinian society.
I think this is essentialising socialism around the main examples of systems self-described as socialists but in breach of socialist principles.

Actually, I think Otto has set his parameters for defining conservative and leftist too narrowly. I think Stalin and Ben Gurion were fraudulent in their professing of socialist ideals and policies and I think there are many who would be objectively described as conservatives who would have no problem with ethnic cleansing if they thought that identifiable economic gains could be made from it or if their own society could in some way be enhanced or strengthened by it.

I think of right/conservative as tending towards inequality/hierarchy and the left/socialist tending towards equality and the overturning not just of existing hierarchy but of hierarchy in principle.

Stalin and Ben Gurion were both promoters and enforcers of hierarchies in ethnic and socio-economic terms and the methods that they used and the outcomes they intended and achieved were not egalitarian, were not socialist. Ethnic cleansing is claimed to be anathema to all in the west, bar fascists but it does fit well under the banner of imperialism which one associates with a kind of conservatism.

Now there are different types of conservatives in America, you might say globally but it's more pronounced in America. There are the so-called neo-cons who are all for foreign interventions and there are the paleo-cons who are against interventions and who seem to have old fashioned notions of fair play. It is the paleo-cons that find zionism so offensive on the grounds that it is manifestly unfair to remove societies from land they have inhabited since time immemorial. But it is also interventionist in the case of support for zionism/Israel because Israel could not and cannot succeed in its ethnic cleansing and colonial settler project without outside help.

If we accept as conservative a consistent application of principles such that conservatives will not impose on outside societies what they would not accept in their own then we could say that Palestine is indeed a conservative cause. It is hypocritical of conservatives to inflict Israel on Palestine but it would be even more so for socialists to do so given the socialist credo of equality that zionism cannot deliver on if it is about a state specifically for Jews.

So, I've probably missed a few twists and turns of explanation - I'm rushing - but I think you can say that Palestine is a conservative cause if you define conservative in a certain way: traditionalist, non-interventionist, respectful of property rights and consistent from ones own country to others but you can only consider zionism a socialist cause if you only define socialism by reference to its most debased examples.

I'll leave it there for now. Otto says he'll return to the theme later and so, probably, will I.


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