The Reality of Israel-Palestine: Part 1

The US-Israeli Relationship

Holding up the supply of shiny new weapons is America’s traditional slap on Israel’s wrist. But an embargo is ineffective unless it is certain to last … Much more effective would be the belief in Israel that this time an American president will stick wit his policy, including if need be a lasting embargo on arms and a rethink of the extent of America’s aid.

 – The Economist, London, September 11, 1982, cited in Noam Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians”, p. 2

[Menachem Begin, Former Prime Minister of Israel, 1977-83] has shown that whatever protests this or that American administration might make against the expansion of Jewish settlement or the infringement of human rights, in the West Bank, he has been able to strengthen his grip on the area without any diminution of American aid. Indeed, he is even anticipating an increase … Indeed the American Government has been financing the very policies it denounces with such consistency that one doesn’t have to be an Arab to wonder if the denunciations are sincere.

 – Chaim Bermant, “Financial Influence”, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 19, 1982, cited in Noam Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians”, p.109

This post is the first installment of a three-part series that will describe and explain the history and current reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, and what marginal role Australia has played, and continues to play, in the enduring situation. The first installment, this current post, illustrates that the situation in Israel-Palestine is defined by Israel doing whatever it wants because it has the lasting and essentially unwavering support of the US, and has since 1967-70. It goes through the history and causes of the situation in detail to explain why Israel and the US have this special relationship, and why it has meant, and continues to mean, joint Israeli-US repression of, and terror against, the Palestinians. This post also shows how these actions are and have always been in flagrant violation of international law, UN resolutions and sometimes even US law.

The second installment applies the argument from the first post to several wars and conflicts in which Israel has been involved since its formal creation in 1947. In doing so, the post does two things. One, it talks about the propaganda and demagogic myths which surround the wars and conflicts of 1947-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 1987 and 2000, and attempt to hide, transform or completely fabricate Israel’s involvement in the events. This lays out more of the history in closer detail and helps to dispel certain illusions under which people might otherwise be acting. Two, this provides evidence to support the argument from the first installment of the series which then enables us to draw a conclusion about its likely validity. Thus, the second installment expands on and reinforces the line of argument begun by the first.

The third installment of the series applies this broad discussion to a narrower area than the ones prior: Australia’s small, but telling, role in the history discussed in the previous two installments. This focuses solely on some of Australia’s recorded votes in the UN on topics to do with Israel-Palestine and uses these votes to further expound on how the US-Israeli relationship is able to proceed in the way it does despite being patently illegal and despicably heinous. This lends additional support to the argument which broadly connects the three installments and brings the series to a close.

I hope not to make these posts too cumbersome to read, but I won’t sacrifice necessary content for expediency. The things said may resonate with some, polarise others and leave the rest uncertain and/or indifferent. But I encourage everyone reading to read each post as a whole and then make up your mind rather than premeditatedly dismiss the arguments for being too alien or because of some other objection. With that, I’ll begin the first installment of my Israel-Palestine series: the US-Israeli relationship.

When you talk about the US-Israeli relationship from Israel’s creation in 1947 until now, you need to recognise that the relationship was very different during the periods before and after 1967-70. This fact and the circumstances surrounding it are key to understanding the US-Israeli relationship and what outcomes it produces. Therefore, the following covers the periods before and after 1967-70, and explains how and why the US-Israeli relationship has changed from 1947 to the present; what this has meant for the US and Israel; and, broadly speaking, what consequences the US-Israeli relationship has produced.

Below is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s (1983) “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians,” which masterfully critiques the interwoven relationship between the US and Israel, and its consequences. The content is exactly the same, but I’ve slightly adjusted the footnoting and deleted the endnotes. If you’re interested, though, you can find the PDF version here. In terms of the PDF, the whole excerpt below comes from Chapter 2: The Origins of the “Special Relationship”, while specifically the first paragraph comes from pages 61-2, and the remainder comes from pages 66-9. Noam Chomsky is a world-renowned intellectual, linguist, activist, author and long-standing professor at MIT. Paul Robinson, writing for The New York Times, February 25, 1979, said that “Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” He is also ethnically Jewish, fluent in Hebrew, and, in 1953, lived for a short time on a kibbutz in Israel. Part of his towering account of the US-Israeli relationship now follows.

Despite the remarkable level of U.S. support for Israel, it would be an error to assume that Israel represents the major U.S. interest in the Middle East. Rather, the major interest lies in the energy reserves of the region, primarily in the Arabian peninsula. A State Department analysis of 1945 described Saudi Arabia as “…a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” The U.S. was committed to win and keep this prize. Since World War II, it has been virtually an axiom of U.S. foreign policy that these energy reserves should remain under U.S. control. A more recent variant of the same theme is that the flow of petrodollars should be largely funneled to the U.S. through military purchases, construction projects, bank deposits, investment in Treasury securities, etc. It has been necessary to defend this primary interest against various threats.

A third threat from which the region must be “defended” is the indigenous one: the threat of radical nationalism [independent secular nationalism]. It is in this context that the U.S.-Israel “special relationship” has matured. In the early 1950s, the U.S.-Israel relationship was decidedly uneasy, and it appeared for a time that Washington might cement closer relations with Egyptian President Nasser, who had some CIA support. These prospects appeared sufficiently worrisome so that Israel organized terrorist cells within Egypt to carry out attacks on U.S. installations (also on Egyptian public facilities) in an effort to drive a wedge between Egypt and the U.S.,[1] intending that these acts would be attributed to ultranationalist Egyptian fanatics.

From the late 1950s, however, the U.S. government increasingly came to accept the Israeli thesis that a powerful Israel is a “strategic asset” for the United States, serving as a barrier against indigenous radical nationalist threats to American interests, which might gain support from the USSR. A recently declassified National Security Council memorandum of 1958 noted that a “logical corollary” of opposition to radical Arab nationalism “would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.” Meanwhile, Israel concluded a secret pact with Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia. According to David Ben-Gurion’s biographer, this “periphery pact” was encouraged by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and was “long-lasting.” Through the 1960s, American intelligence regarded Israel as a barrier to Nasserite pressure on the Gulf oil-producing states, a serious matter at the time, and to Russian influence. This conclusion was reinforced by Israel’s smashing victory in 1967, when Israel quickly conquered the Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, the last, after violating the cease-fire in an operation ordered by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan without notifying the Prime Minister or Chief of Staff.

The Israeli thesis that Israel is a “strategic asset” was again confirmed by Israel’s moves to block Syrian efforts to support Palestinians being massacred by Jordan in September 1970, at a time when the U.S. was unable to intervene directly against what was perceived as a threat to U.S. clients in the Arab world. This contribution led to a substantial increase in U.S. aid. In the 1970s, U.S. analysts argued that Israel and Iran under the Shah served to protect U.S. control over the oil-producing regions of the Gulf. After the fall of the Shah, Israel’s role as a Middle East Sparta in the service of American power has evoked increasing American support.

At the same time, Israel aided the U.S. in penetrating Black Africa with substantial secret CIA subsidies—supporting Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, Idi Amin in Uganda, Mobutu in Zaire, Bokassa in the Central African Republic, and others at various times—as well as in circumventing the ban on aid to Rhodesia and South Africa,[2] and more recently, in providing military and technological aid, as well as many advisers, for U.S. clients in Central America. An increasingly visible alliance between Israel, South Africa, Taiwan and the military dictatorships of the southern cone in South America has also proven an attractive prospect for major segments of American power. Now, Israel is surely regarded as a crucial part of the elaborate U.S. base and backup system for the Rapid Deployment Force ringing the Middle East oil producing regions. These are highly important matters that deserve much more attention than I can give them here.

Had it not been for Israel’s perceived geopolitical role—primarily in the Middle East, but elsewhere as well—it is doubtful that the various pro-Israeli lobbies in the U.S. would have had much influence in policy formation, or that the climate of opinion deplored by Peled and other Israeli doves could have been constructed and maintained. Correspondingly, it will very likely erode if Israel comes to be seen as a threat rather than a support to the primary U.S. interest in the Middle East region, which is to maintain control over its energy reserves and the flow of petrodollars.

Support for the concept of Israel as a “strategic asset” has, then, been considerable among those who exercise real power in the U.S., and this position has regularly won out in internal policy debate, assisted, to some extent, by domestic political pressures.

But why exactly did the US-Israeli relationship become like it is now during 1967-70? Chomsky answers that too in an interview sourced from http://www.chomsky.info which you can find here. His explanation now follows below.

The US-Israeli relationship in its current form began in 1967. In 1967, Israel performed an enormous service for the US. It destroyed independent secular Arab nationalism, which was considered a major threat. The oldest and most valued US ally is Saudi Arabia — that is where most of the oil is and Saudi is probably the most extreme fundamentalist Islamic tyranny in the world and the main US ally. In fact, most of the time the US is supporting radical Islamists against secular nationalists.

The major centre of Arab nationalism was Nasser’s Egypt – Saudi Arabia and Egypt were fighting a proxy war in Yemen. Israel destroyed Nasser’s secular nationalism, and that’s a tremendous boost to US power. Nasser was considered a great threat and it was feared that Nasser might use the region’s resources for the benefit of its people, rather than to the benefit of the west, and at that point, the relationship was firmed up.

In 1970, something even more important happened. The Palestinians were becoming an organised, secular nationalist movement, which is frightening [to the US]. They were in confrontation with Jordan, a US- British ally. In fact, the Jordanian army was slaughtering [the Palestinians]. It looked briefly as if Syria might intervene to protect Palestinians and that was considered a major threat to the Hashemite monarchy and also to the gulf tyranny in Saudi and the others.

The US could not intervene at the time because it was tied up in Indochina. Israel – at US request – mobilised its forces and Syria had to back off. At that point, US aid to Israel quadrupled. That was essentially the end of secular nationalism in the Arab world. Since then Israel has become a major US strategic asset. It’s a western implant right at the periphery of the energy-producing region.

The US’ second closest ally is Turkey, another part of NATO in this case, but another kind of US base for the control of the energy producing regions and to protect the monarchies against their own populations. Israel has been an important part of that, but it has also provided all kinds of secondary services to the US, which follows from its relationship of dependency.

For example, when the US and Britain wanted to evade sanctions against South Africa as they did, one of the ways they did that was through Israel, which was pleased to have open connections with the apartheid state – they regarded themselves as in a similar situation. That even extends to Southeast Asia when Carter wanted to increase US support for Indonesian aggression in East Timor, which was slaughtering the population. There were congressional barriers, so the US couldn’t support Indonesia directly, so they got Israel to send US jets into Indonesia. In Central America, it’s all over the place. It’s a strategic alliance that has been very valuable to the US.

Okay, so that covers the US-Israeli relationship and why the US supports Israel so assiduously. But what support does Israel actually receive from its relationship with the US? It surely needs support if it’s to hold up its end of the bargain, but what exactly does that involve? To answer this, we again turn to Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle”. In brief, Chomsky sums up US support for Israel on three levels: diplomatic, material and ideological. However, Chomsky assumes that people already understand that, despite whatever you might believe about the international balance of order, power and democracy, the US is the world’s supreme power.

As by far the world’s leading economic and military power since World War 2, and as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which accords the US veto power over any Security Council Resolutions it doesn’t like, the US is virtually not bound by anything. It obeys the laws which suit it, disregards whatever institutions it doesn’t like, and does whatever it wants because, as the world’s great power, the US doesn’t have anything which can hold it to account, other than its domestic population. However, if you’ve seen my posts on the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare and ‘manufacturing consent’ and the nature of society, you’ll know that states such as the US propagandise their population so that they’re confused and therefore passive, apathetic and obedient in the face of the state’s awesome power and injustices. This way, the US removes the public as the one obstacle to its imperial global domination and then proceeds as it likes.

Thus, with no one and nothing that can hold the US to account, it acts however it chooses. Since 1967-70, that’s included supporting Israel as a client state which enforces the US’s will and protects its interests in the Middle East, which basically comes down to control of Middle East oil reserves as a source of colossal revenue for the state and US corporations, and a kind of leverage by which to force other states to follow Washington’s orders. As the godfather of the world, the US has no boundaries but what the currently propagandised American public can impose upon it, meaning that right now no boundaries exist.

Fully discussing and proving this point is in itself a long discussion we can’t get into now, but if you’d like to read more about it then “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky gives an excellent analysis and abundant proof of how states use propaganda to do whatever they please and get away with it. For now, though, with the global hegemony of the US established and its consequences laid out, I’ll return to the excerpt from Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle”, Chapter 2, pages 48-53, which detail the US support that enables Israel to be the regional enforcer which, since 1967-70, it’s been able, obliged and willing to be thanks to its relationship with the US.

The relationship between the United States and Israel has been a curious one in world affairs and in American culture. Its unique character is symbolized by recent votes at the United Nations. For example, on June 26, 1982 the United States stood alone in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution calling for simultaneous withdrawal of Israeli and Palestinian armed forces from Beirut, on the grounds that this plan “was a transparent attempt to preserve the P.L.O. as a viable political force,” evidently an intolerable prospect for the U.S. government. A few hours later, the U.S. and Israel voted against a General Assembly resolution calling for an end to hostilities in Lebanon and on the Israel-Lebanon border, passed with two “nays” and no abstentions. Earlier, the U.S. had vetoed an otherwise unanimous Security Council resolution condemning Israel for ignoring the earlier demand for withdrawal of Israeli troops. The pattern has, in fact, been a persistent one.

More concretely, the special relationship is expressed in the level of U.S. military and economic aid to Israel over many years. Its exact scale is unknown, since much is concealed in various ways. Prior to 1967, before the “special relationship” had matured, Israel received the highest per capita aid from the U.S. of any country. Commenting on the fact, Harvard Middle East specialist Nadav Safran also notes that this amounts to a substantial part of the unprecedented capital transfer to Israel from abroad that constitutes virtually the whole of Israel’s investment—one reason why Israel’s economic progress offers no meaningful model for underdeveloped countries. It is possible that recent aid amounts to something like $1000 per year for each citizen of Israel when all factors are taken into account. Even the public figures are astounding.[3] For fiscal years 1978 through 1982, Israel received 48% of all U.S. military aid and 35% of U.S. economic aid, worldwide. For FY 1983, the Reagan administration requested almost $2.5 billion for Israel out of a total aid budget of $8.1 billion, including $500 million in outright grants and $1.2 billion in low-interest loans.

In addition, there is a regular pattern of forgiving loans, offering weapons at special discount prices, and a variety of other devices, not to mention the tax deductible “charitable” contributions (in effect, an imposed tax), used in ways to which we return. Not content with this level of assistance from the American taxpayer, one of the Senate’s most prominent liberal Democrats, Alan Cranston of California, “proposed an amendment to the foreign aid bill to establish the principle that American economic assistance to Israel would not be less than the amount of debt Israel repays to the United States,” a commitment to cover “all Israeli debts and future debts,” as Senator Charles Percy commented.

This was before the Lebanon war. The actual vote on foreign aid came after the invasion of Lebanon, after the destruction of much of southern Lebanon, the merciless siege and bombardment of Beirut, the September massacres, and Israel’s rapid expansion of settlement in the occupied territories in response to Reagan’s plea to suspend settlement in accord with his peace proposals, which Israel rejected. In the light of these events, the only issue arising in Congress was whether to “punish” Israel by accepting the President’s proposal for a substantial increase in the already phenomenal level of aid—what is called taking “a get-tough approach with Israel”—or to take a softer line by adding even more to the increases that the President requested, as the Senate and most liberals demanded. Fortunately, the press was sufficiently disciplined so that the comic aspects of this characteristic performance were suppressed. The consequences of this message of approval to Israel for its recent actions on the part of the President and Congress are not at all comic, needless to say.

It should be noted that in theory there are restrictions on the use of American aid (e.g., cluster bombs can be used only in self-defense; development funds cannot be spent beyond Israel’s recognized—i.e., pre-June 1967—borders). But care has been taken to ensure that these restrictions will not be invoked, though the illegal use of weapons occasionally elicits a reprimand or temporary cut-off of shipments when the consequences receive too much publicity. As for the ban on use of U.S. funds for the settlement and development programs that the U.S. has officially regarded as illegal and as a barrier to peace (i.e., beyond the pre-June 1967 borders), this has never been enforced, and the aid program is designed so that it cannot be enforced: “in contrast to most other aid relationships, the projects we fund in Israel are not specified,” Ian Lustick observes, and no official of the State Department or the aid program has “ever been assigned to supervise the use of our funds by the Israeli government.”

For comparison, one may consider the U.S. aid program to Egypt (the largest recipient of non-military U.S. aid since Camp David), which is run by an office of 125 people who supervise it in meticulous detail. Many knowledgeable Egyptians have been highly critical of the aid program, alleging that it reflects American rather than Egyptian priorities, financing U.S. imports which must be brought on American ships and U.S. consultants, when trained personnel are available in Egypt for a fraction of the cost. They also note the emphasis on the private sector, “pay[ing] Mid-west farmers for wheat which could be grown at half the price in Egypt” (according to a former AID director), and in general the infiltration of Egyptian society to the extent that some perceive a threat to Egyptian national security.

These examples illustrate the diplomatic and material support that the U.S. provides for Israel. A concomitant, at the ideological level, is the persistence of considerable illusion about the nature of Israeli society and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since 1967, discussion of these issues has been difficult or impossible in the United States as a result of a remarkably effective campaign of vilification, abuse, and sometimes outright lying directed against those who dared to question received doctrine.[4]

This fact has regularly been deplored by Israeli doves, who have been subjected to similar treatment here. They observe that their own position within Israel suffers because of lack of support within the U.S., where, as General (Res.) Mattityahu Peled observed, the “state of near hysteria” and the “blindly chauvinistic and narrow-minded” support for the most reactionary policies within Israel poses “the danger of prodding Israel once more toward a posture of calloused intransigence.” The well-known Israeli journalist and Zionist historian Simha Flapan describes “the prejudice of American Jewry” as now “the major obstacle to an American-Palestinian and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, without which there is little chance to move forward in the difficult and involved peace process.” In concentrating on the role of American Jewry, these Israeli writers focus much too narrowly, I believe.

To cite one last example, an article in the American Jewish press quotes a staff writer for Ha’aretz (essentially, the Israeli New York Times) who says that “you American Jews, you liberals, you lovers of democracy are supporting its destruction here by not speaking out against the government’s actions,” referring to the wave of repression in the occupied territories under the “civilian administration” of Professor Menachem Milson and General Ariel Sharon introduced in November 1981 (see chapter 5, sections 5-8). He goes on to explain the plans of Begin and Sharon: to drive a large number of Arabs out of the West Bank, specifically, the leaders and those with a potential for leadership, “by every illegal means.” How?

“You activate terrorists to plant bombs in the cars of their elected mayors, you arm the settlers and a few Arab quislings to run rampages through Arab towns, pogroms against property, not against people. A few Arabs have been killed by settlers. The murderers are known, but the police are virtually helpless. They have their orders. What’s your excuse for not speaking out against these violations of Israeli law and Jewish morality?”

The settlers, he adds, are “Religious Jews who follow a higher law and do whatever their rabbis tell them. At least one of the Gush Emunim rabbis has written that it is a mitzvah [religious duty] to destroy Amalek [meaning, the non-Jewish inhabitants], including women and children.” The Ha’aretz journalist adds that his journal has “a file of horror stories reported to us by soldiers returning from occupation duty in the West Bank. We can refer to them in general terms—we can rail against the occupation that destroys the moral fibre and self-respect of our youth—but we can’t print the details because military censorship covers actions by soldiers on active duty.” One can imagine what the file contains, given what has been printed in the Israeli press.

It should be noted, in this connection, that many crucial issues that are freely discussed in the Hebrew press in Israel and much that is documented there are virtually excluded from the American press, so that the people who are expected to pay the bills are kept largely in the dark about what they are financing or about the debates within Israel concerning these matters. Many examples will be given below.

The dangers posed to Israel by its American supporters have consistently been realized, leading to much suffering in the region and repeated threat of a larger, perhaps global war.

The US-Israeli relationship thus emerged and has since continued to grow and deepen along those lines. Essentially, the consequence has been that, as a client state of the US serving as a regional Sparta, Israel can do whatever it pleases. Occasionally, when Israel’s barbarity receives too much publicity, it’ll be chided and tapped on the wrist like a misbehaved child. In extreme cases, like if, perhaps, it snubs US orders (you know, a serious offense), aid will be reduced or cut off temporarily. Fundamentally, though, Israel’s never held to account for what it does, much to the dismay of those beneath the US-Israeli iron boot, including and especially the Palestinians.

That covers Part 1 of my Reality of Israel-Palestine series. It’s not exactly my own work, but even though I could’ve written the explanation myself, I didn’t see the point since I would’ve drawn heavily on “Fateful Triangle” and I have no interest in trying to compete with Chomsky. So even though, unlike my other posts so far, it’s mostly not my original work, I hope you don’t mind and you enjoyed the article. As soon as I can, I’ll post Part 2 of the series: “Israel’s Wars: Realities and Myths,” which will take the US-Israeli relationship and apply it to some of the wars and conflicts which Israel has waged and participated in since it was created in 1947, including the so-called War of Independence during 1947-49, the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, the Six Days War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Lebanon War in 1982, the First Intifada in 1987 and the Second Intifada in 2000. Below are the footnotes which’d be in their proper places above if not for formatting problems. They’re also definitely worth reading.

[1] The official in charge of these operations, Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, became Secretary-General of the Histadrut (the socialist labor union). According to the respected Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, Lavon gave orders that were “much more severe” than those leading to the terrorist operations in Egypt, including an attempt “to poison the water sources in the Gaza Strip and the demilitarized zones” (Davar, Jan. 26, 1979). He does not indicate whether these alleged orders were executed.

[2] UPI, Boston Globe, May 16, 1982: the item reads, in toto, “American-made helicopters and spare parts went from Israel to Rhodesia—now Zimbabwe—despite a trade embargo during the bitter war against guerrillas, the Commerce Department has disclosed.” The Labor Party journal quotes the head of South Africa’s military industry as saying that Israeli “technological assistance permits South Africa to evade the arms embargo imposed upon it because of its racial policies” (Davar, Dec. 17, 1982). Yediot Ahronot, citing the London Times, reports that “Israeli technicians are helping South Africa evade the French military embargo” by transferring and repairing French armaments in Israeli hands (Oct. 29, 1981). Close relations with South Africa were established by the Rabin Labor government in the mid-1970s and remain warm, because, as Minister of Industry and Commerce Gidon Pat recently stated in Pretoria, “Israel and South Africa are two of the only 30 democracies in the world.” Similarly, Gad Yaakovi of the Labor Party “praised the economic and ‘other’ [i.e., military] relations with South Africa in a television interview” in Israel, Yoav Karni reports, adding that if he had said similar things in Britain, Holland or Sweden he would have lost his membership in the Social Democratic party, though his remarks caused no distress in the Israeli Labor Party.

[3] The General Accounting Office (GAO) has informed Congress that the actual level of U.S. aid may be as much as 60% higher than the publicly available figures. This is the preliminary result of a detailed study of U.S. aid to Israel by the GAO. “A major issue could develop next year [1983] over how much of the GAO study may be made public.” James McCartney. Philadelphia Inquirer, August 25, 1982.

[4] Israeli intelligence apparently contributes to these efforts. According to a CIA study, one of its functions is to acquire “data for use in silencing anti-Israel factions in the West,” along with “sabotage, paramilitary and psychological warfare projects, such as character assassination and black propaganda.” “Within Jewish communities in almost every country of the world, there are Zionists and other sympathizers, who render strong support to the Israeli intelligence effort. Such contacts are carefully nurtured and serve as channels for information, deception material, propaganda and other purposes.” “They also attempt to penetrate anti-Zionist elements in order to neutralize the opposition.”

‘Manufacturing consent’ and the nature of society

Nothing is worse than active ignorance.

 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ignorance, the root and stem of every evil.

 – Plato

The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a great lie than to a small one.

 – Adolf Hitler

Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.

 – Noam Chomsky

The view of the world presented in the mass media doesn’t always correspond to reality. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s often rather false. In general terms, the media worldview presented in industrialised western countries is framed in a way that’s desirable and pleasant for the intelligentsia, since it subjects the vast majority of common people to a comforting illusion they enjoy, while concealing that we’re ensnared by a machinating plutocracy, instead of the democracy they feign to represent. Though this process is complex enough that it can’t be quickly explained or proven here, Herman and Chomsky’s co-authored book, Manufacturing Consent, resoundingly substantiates the claim. Fortunately, though, in the interest of fleshing out the issue somewhat, the chief consequence is much simpler and easier to discuss: powerful institutions – government, corporate and otherwise – are able to wantonly behave however they choose, provided they’re supported by the intellectuals and elites by and upon whom the media propaganda industries are maintained and dependent. In sum, so long as the media, intellectuals and elites behave this way, complicit institutions have unlimited opportunity to do whatever they like without repercussions, including, as has been shown in recent history, terrible corruption and atrocities.

The facts of history presented by Herman and Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent establish that this use of media propaganda is possibly the most important source of the world’s problems since the end of World War II, as it’s allowed powerful and ostensibly democratic states to become neo-imperialists with foreign policies defined by state-sponsored terror. Though this claim may, perhaps, seem outlandish, it’s supported by the record of U.S.-orchestrated military campaigns throughout the world, such as in Indochina – during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s – from which Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam may never fully recover. For an account of the historical record of these atrocities and media complicity in suppressing them, see the section, ‘The Indochina Wars’, in Manufacturing Consent.

Thus, the pseudo-democratic states of the world have been generally disinterested in the libertarian ideals they claim to be guided by, and in fact readily violate them. Moreover, these states are meanwhile committed to concealing the truth of their crimes by utilizing the startling subservience of the mass media to government programs and propaganda in order to keep the public unaware of reality and thereby manufacture its consent. This is an issue which might at first seems implausible, but has been confirmed by Herman and Chomsky beyond all reasonable doubt. Indeed, the fact that it at first seems ludicrous to a good many people illustrates the effectiveness of the propaganda system by which we and recent recorded history are deceived and distorted.

However, I most believe in this thesis, putting aside for the moment Herman and Chomsky’s sheer reasoning and scholarship, because I choose to believe that people are fundamentally good, with belonging, social welfare and moral justice as some of the precepts most important and inherent to the human condition. However, if this is true, there must be something which accounts for why people are capable of perpetrating injustices and atrocities against one another, and of allowing them to be perpetrated. One such explanation, I believe, is that in a monetised world probity is often tenable only so long as it does not challenge financial security. Generally, monetised societies impose a set of priorities which is not always in keeping with moral principles. For example, the monetary state-capitalist system on which the world is founded venerates economics, commerce and consumerism, which people must therefore also venerate in order to survive, which significantly reduces their ability to factor in moral decency and social justice. This, to me, is a fundamental explanation for why good people do bad things: the world compels them to behave that way, and offers few viable alternatives. Small wonder that some people become capable of propagandizing publics, and harnessing state power to design and implement campaigns of terror, when the world allows and even impels you to do so. Further, due to the hastening speed, multiplying responsibilities and growing atomization of life in our monetised world, people are vulnerable to being deceived by ongoing propaganda campaigns, providing another way in which the nature of life facilitates corruption, ongoing propaganda and atrocities. Moreover, if the propaganda stands without serious challenges for long enough it will eventually become an accepted reality, whereafter it’s even more difficult than before to convince people that they’re victims of propaganda and that their supposed and vaunted democracies aren’t as august as they suppose. These principles, I believe, explain why and how the kind of atrocities Herman and Chomsky document are committed, and are entirely consistent with the arguments for media propaganda systems that they outline in Manufacturing Consent.

Thus, I think that the world being monetised and the media becoming propaganda systems are the fundamental factors which enable and compel states to deceive and manipulate their populations in order to perpetrate, maintain and profit from some of the world’s great crimes. This can explain why good people allow governments to commit horrendous atrocities, such as the Indonesian genocide against East Timor, financed by the U.S. and done without objections from the American people who were never properly informed about it. Though it’s unpleasant to entertain that we’re deceived by the institutions of authority that we’re made to believe we can trust, it’s true nonetheless. Fortunately, though, while many democracies aren’t what they presume to be, the principles of democracy are enshrined in law, waiting to be utilised. Therefore, even though states and corporate institutions are amoral entities by nature, governments are legitimized by popular consent and corporations require support from populations to survive, meaning that they are both ultimately answerable to ordinary people. Thus, if publics are informed and organized, they can impose moral standards on powerful institutions, forcing them to commit to decent causes. And as publics can indeed be informed and organized – though slowly and arduously due to the effects of sophisticated, prolonged propaganda – the fundamental problem which Herman and Chomsky illustrates can certainly be addressed. This, I think, ought to be what we do to fight corruption and atrocities: disseminate information within our available media, seek out and join likeminded groups of people, and organise populations at large. This’ll seem slow and unavailing, but it’s the only way great moral victories have ever been achieved. In the end, the problems are daunting, but if we want to call ourselves good people, action’s required. We therefore can accept the tasks incumbent upon us or, as Chomsky says, “If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion.”

Economic, political and social strategies to prevent human trafficking

To some degree it matters who’s in office, but it matters more how much pressure they’re under from the public.

 – Noam Chomsky

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

 – Martin Luther King Jr.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.

 – Confucius

It seems obvious that any genuine solution to human trafficking in Thailand and throughout the world must include the Thai government and the many governments worldwide. This enterprise demands, I think, a mass collaboration encompassing the world’s states and the panoply of organizations dedicated to working against human trafficking. Further, this collaboration can’t be restricted to designing laws which then aren’t enforced, economic programs which aren’t promoted, espousing principles which’re only embraced in rhetoric, and announcing to publics what’ll be done rather than engaging them with how they can be involved. Instead, we need authentic changes that benefit suffering people, since the mere appearance of progress isn’t enough.

I believe that to achieve this objective, the collaboration itself needs to be the consequence not just of relatively small attaches of experts and politicians, but of popular organizations which mobilize and direct public support to fight against human trafficking. In this way, initiatives will be at the behest of the people, vetted by the people and implemented for the people, as opposed to leadership from the states and corporations which have hitherto proven at best inconsistently committed to combating human trafficking and addressing its root causes. Thus, the task is to organize individuals and the publics of which they’re parts so that they can harness the democratic fact that leaders are legitimised by the consent of the people, and force governments to follow the people’s demands or be replaced by another that will. This is no doubt a meticulous and, at times, seemingly intractable task due to the increasing speed, multiplying responsibilities, dwindling freedom and growing atomization of life. However, assuming, as I choose to do, that people are inherently moral and would become involved in seeing human suffering rectified if they knew the realities of human trafficking, the task is to raise awareness of human rights violations, and capture the unsummoned goodness of which people are capable and translate it into the kind of popular movements by which all of history’s great victories for justice have been won.

However, this is by no means the end, as the programs which people ought to aspire for once these movements are forged are just as important as the movements themselves. Indeed, the particular details of the programs required and the movements by which they’re conceived and implemented are both essential in accomplishing significant ends, since neither can attain the achievements we need without the other. Hence the question beyond how to build movements for change is precisely what policies should those movements pursue? Such policies, in my view, should concentrate on two broad areas: reducing poverty, and increasing the policing and prosecution of human rights violations, including human trafficking. In others words, prevention and punishment.

As regards prevention, reducing poverty prevents human rights violations such as human trafficking from ever taking place by eliminating the circumstances which place people at risk of having their rights violated. This means that by developing the economy on which at-risk people depend, their life prospects will naturally improve, which reduces their vulnerability to traffickers. For instance, providing greater financial stability reduces people’s vulnerability to traffickers by enabling them to afford secure homes, basic necessities or to simply move to less dangerous areas, all of which provide protection from traffickers or at least reduce the attraction of the offers they make by increasing people’s ability to look after themselves. Therefore, reducing poverty is perhaps the most important means by which we can address human trafficking, since it makes all other initiatives superfluous.

Any serious policy for reducing poverty begins with providing affordable (ideally free) education to all people, while instituting economic policies which nurture domestic industries on the local, regional and national levels. This, I feel, necessarily precludes neoliberal policies as an outright economic approach, at least until nations’ industries are mature enough to enter and compete within the global market. However, as Noam Chomsky points out, these policies have a damaging effect on ordinary people while they benefit the wealthy, meaning it might be best to simply exclude them altogether. Further, governments must adopt protectionist and interventionist policies to enable nascent industries to develop, as Ha-Joon Chang, Professor of Economics at Cambridge University, points out was done by virtually every one of today’s wealthy nations, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Belgium, Japan and South Korea, to name a few. Governments ought also to recognize that different industries and regions will have various desires, needs and rates of development. As such, economic policies need to be flexible enough to enable people from disparate circumstances to decide upon and pursue their own pathways for development, while at the same time retaining a general nationwide plan for economic development and a central mission shared by the population across differing locations and industries. Although this may likely require assiduous monitoring by a large bureaucracy at many levels, which will undoubtedly at times appear stifling, irritating and cumbersome, its virtues outweigh its detriments for the purpose of sustainable, long-term growth and development, as evinced by the recent economic histories of the world’s wealthy nations.

As regards punishment, it needs no discussion that monitoring and prosecuting human rights violations is one of the foremost disincentives at our disposal for combating human trafficking. For this to occur, we need laws to define crimes and convict offenders, both of which we possess. However, the laws around human trafficking are necessarily broad and at times poorly defined due to the multifarious nature of human trafficking itself. Further, jurisdiction can be poorly defined and easily shirked when high-traffic regions surround borders between neighbouring countries, as with Thailand and its abutting neighbours Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Nevertheless, the framework of laws, though it could certainly be improved, is adequate to prosecute human traffickers. Thus, any meaningful approach to eliminating, or at least reducing, human trafficking entails the simple enforcement of existing laws and conventions, both domestic and international.

Where this becomes difficult, however, isn’t as much with the laws themselves or with knowing that they ought to be enforced, but with actually ensuring that the laws are genuinely applied. Mere enforcement, simple though it seems, isn’t a straightforward issue. This is because there’re many people with vested interests in trafficking who profit from the industry and would prefer to see it continue. Unfortunately, some of these individuals include corrupt police, lawyers, judges, officials and politicians who are in positions to confront the ongoing travesties, but are not inclined to make use of their tools, but rather actively work to block their employment. Indeed, such corruption is a substantial obstacle in identifying and convicting traffickers. Therefore, addressing this corruption is an important aspect of any viable policy for addressing human trafficking, because it’ll enhance the capacity of governments, organizations and legal bodies around the world to place pressure on human traffickers and their clients, diminishing, if not one day eradicating, the industry as a whole.

With these approaches – popular mobilization, reducing poverty and monitoring and prosecuting crimes, as well as others I personally can’t now think of – human trafficking can be radically reduced in its scope and appeal to traffickers. Moreover, developing nations and their people will benefit from the same foundational economic development which made wealthy nations the dominant financial powers they are today, and which has the direct ability to improve the lives of people around the globe. I believe that all we require is public awareness and organization, as the necessary support will naturally follow from the intrinsic moral decency of human beings who prefer to see their fellow people live in peace and comfort rather than toil in danger and poverty.