Empire and the Palestine Carnage: Immediate Actions

by Dan Freeman-Maloy, published on Mondoweiss, May 23, 2021

The racial-justice pretenses of empire have been burned alongside bodies in Gaza. These are days of horror and grief – but also, and necessarily, of anti-racist rage. Anti-fascists and anti-racists have thus far been unable to block the murderers from killing and bring them to justice. This is a wrenching fact, but it cannot lead to feelings of powerlessness. A wide range of strategic responses are available to people of conscience, and it is urgent that they be pursued with energy and sustained resolution.

From Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, Haidar Eid has described this crisis in Palestine as a Sharpeville moment, a tragic but hinge moment in the struggle against Apartheid. Across the world, as we bear witness to the brutality of the colonizer and the bravery of the oppressed, action must follow.

As Eid writes:

“What more do people who love freedom need to see in terms of death and destruction to translate their words of support into action? What more than the dead bodies of hundreds of Palestinian children? No child, whether Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian or of any other religion should see what Palestinian children are seeing right now.”

The Palestinian national call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel needs to echo now more than ever. The “S,” which is the most important, adjusts to circumstance. The Palestinian national movement is not calling for an all-or-nothing approach. Arms embargoes against Israel of the sort that Amnesty International and the leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) have advocated would be steps in the right direction. On the flood of weaponry to Israel, and on the diplomatic support that lends cover to Israel’s crimes, the BDS work of people horrified by these racist horrors can and must be fitted to context.

Immediate action along parallel lines can complement this work. In this article, I review what seem to me three areas for priority action, before turning to the heritage of Joe Biden’s circumspect racism, which is all the more vicious in its quiet mockery.

These three areas for priority action are: Biden administration branding, China diplomacy, and the US empire’s ongoing suffocation of the Iranian economy. I’ll address these in turn before returning to Biden administration gaslighting and its heritage of quiet hate.

Priority areas for action

First, on Biden administration branding. The United States government likes playing people for fools. Rolling amnesia is their weapon of choice. In The Clintons’ War on Drugs: Why Black Lives Didn’t Matter,” Donna Murch explores how the Democrats’ mass incarceration policies of the 1990s were swept under the rug, as in the Clinton campaign’s “I’m with her” sloganry and the more recent “Biden-Harris” branding. Murch writes: “In American politics, we so often live in an eternal present.” If forgetfulness is empire’s weapon, memory is our defense.

Their prayers that we forget are understandable. It was one century ago to the year that US white supremacists armed by local authorities in Tulsa, Oklahoma massacred Black people in a flurry of hatred and lies. In 1921, they lied and tried to focus attention on the aggressors’ losses. This is a familiar and hateful game. From Tulsa, 1921, to Gaza, 2021, the horror is plain.

But US propaganda is faltering.

In 1921, US President Warren G. Harding was himself a member of the Ku Klux Klan, according to historian Wyn Craig Wade. Harding was a classical representative of that US white supremacy that has scarred so much of the world. We should never forget that it was a Harvard-trained New Englander, Lothrop Stoddard, who coined the terrible Nazi term Untermensch, or “Under-Man.” Stoddard raged against “Under-Men” as the oppressed who forget their place – hence 1921 Tulsa; hence 2021 Gaza. President Harding, speaking in Birmingham, Alabama, quoted Stoddard directly, even as Tulsa smoldered. Harding’s position was that Stoddard, a proto-Nazi, showed how “our problem here in the United States is only a phase of a race issue that the whole world confronts.”

Now Biden wishes to show that the US has turned the page. In 2008, Biden triggered a minor scandal with his description of how useful he felt that Barack Obama would be for this purpose. Biden said: “I mean, you got the first sort of mainstream African American who’s articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” It might be a US storybook. But Biden’s clumsy support for an Israel of daylight lynchings and death-by-airstrike reminds us that he is a bad narrator.

The unraveling of the Biden administration’s racial-justice lies is one price that empire needs to be made to pay for this horror, as Israel lynchs and bombs with Biden’s support, and as Biden jokes that he will run over those who seek to ask questions about it.

Second, on China. From the left flank of anti-racist scholarship in the United States, Gerald Horne has been arguing that racial justice movements in the United States need urgently to internationalize their strategic posture. This was also the message of Martin Luther King, Jr., for whom the struggles of the poor in Vietnam and in the United States could not be separated. King insisted that the crimes of empire need to be discussed at home: “I have worked too long and hard now against segregated public accommodations,” King said, “to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.”

The panic of US power on this point is a matter of record. This is how Malcolm X saw and exposed it:

“Many people in this country who want to see us the minority,” he said, “and who don’t want to see us taking too militant or too uncompromising a stand are absolutely against the successful regrouping or organizing of any faction in this country whose thought and whose thinking pattern is international rather than national. Whose thought patterns, whose hopes and aspirations are worldly rather than just within the context of the United States borderline, or the borderline of the United States.”

But internationalism can never be forgotten.

Empire would split us in groups to play us for fools. But the courage and heroism of the Palestinian resistance has brought on a new crisis in empire’s capacity to deceive. As Aimé Césaire told the world in 1955, it is of such moments that decolonization is made.

Danny Haiphong of the Black Agenda Report recently facilitated an urgent discussion, available online as “Yellow Peril and Red Scare: Forum on Anti-Asian Racism.” The facts are these. US power politics on China hinge on the claim that US officials are motivated by heartfelt concern for the human rights of Muslims. As part of this BAR discussion, Sheila Xiao from Pivot to Peace observed that empire is very arrogant in thinking that we will forget the truth. Memories of the US massacres of Iraqis in Fallujah and the torture of prisoners in Abu-Graib linger as “Biden-Harris” diplomats disguise US power politics on China as concern for Muslim human rights. Empire’s narrative is today being burned by US-backed Israeli killers of Muslims in Jerusalem and Gaza.

The lies are a step too far, even for imperial cynics. In 1994, a US-born mass murderer, Baruch Goldstein, walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and opened fire on Palestinians in prayer, killing twenty-nine people. Today, Israeli Member of Knesset (MK) Itamar Ben-Gvir idolizes Goldstein. Ben-Gvir displayed a portrait of Goldstein on his living-room wall. Ben-Gvir’s followers call for the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site of Muslim worship. Screaming “death to the Arabs,” their hate squads attacked in Jerusalem last month, pogrom-style, even as Israeli security forces raided al-Aqsa. The media whitewashing shows why no one trusts these conglomerates.

Instagram was so bold as to block references to the al-Aqsa Mosque. These references, so they claimed, connoted affiliation with a terrorist organization; Facebook, the owner of Instagram, later apologized. To the lynchings in Jerusalem were then added the aerial massacres in Gaza. With brazen arrogance, the Israeli diplomatic corps boasted that they used the international media to kill Palestinians. The tactic was to have the media report that Israeli ground troops were in Gaza. Palestinian fighters emerged to meet them and were killed with advanced, US-supplied weaponry.

These liars are overplaying their hand. Their lies burn through through their China diplomacy like acid.

Third, on Iran. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Donald J. Trump administration almost plunged us into World War III with its assassinating brinksmanship in Iran. In April 2021, the US and Israel once more scuttled talks with Iran. This is a hinge moment for the peace movement.

Here I have a narrow point and a broader one. The narrow point is that the US instrument for scuttling the latest talks with Iran was a government of Israel that has covered itself in blood and disgrace in Gaza before the eyes of the world. The push to a wider war can and must be stripped of all legitimacy. The broader point concerns the history of settler-colonialism and the lie that Israel is not, as it plainly is, an instrument of US empire. Those uninterested in the broader imperial history can skip ahead to the details on Biden’s quiet hate.

Settler colonialism as an instrument of empire

The history, though, is relevant. Empire has developed settler-colonialism along these lines for centuries. The British Imperial Historian Keith Hancock laid out the game. In sum, imperialism developed colonial settlement as a weapon that would fight without apparent command. Settlers would fight even more ferociously than the home country asked. Their conquering attacks, in the words of Britain’s Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, “had the supreme virtue of being self-propelling. The impetus to expansion was soon coming, not so much from the Metropolis as from the colonial communities themselves.” So it has been from Africa to the Middle East and beyond.

The truth, Hancock wrote, was that the hateful “unreasonableness” of settlers developed as a carefully constructed means of imperial expansion. In Ireland, for example, Hancock noted that it was bizarre for British statesmen to wash their hands of Protestant settler extremism. He reminded readers how “the old English statesmanship had spent so many generations in fostering Ulster’s ‘unreasonableness.’” Likewise, from Palestine to Iran, Israeli “unreasonableness” is US empire in disguise.

Recently, Human Rights Watch affirmed what is obvious to everyone with open eyes and honesty: Israel is an apartheid state. That much is plain. But in its international function, too, South African white supremacy has been reproduced in Palestine, play for play.

The details should never be forgotten. British imperialism first developed its base in South Africa as a way-station to India. It reinforced this position with clever imperial cruelty, anticipating its later attacks on Palestine. This spring, it was during Ramadan that Israeli police and Klansmen (Lehava, Otzma Yehudit) provoked and lynched in Jerusalem. During Britain’s South African frontier war of 1811–1812, a notorious attack came amid shwana, the First Fruits ceremony, of the Xhosa people.

Watch how empire’s expulsion of the Xhosa across the Fisher River was then consolidated. In 1819, the British Empire’s Poor Law policies were crafted into a lying humanitarianism. The idea was that the “surplus” of British poor people – those unwanted at home – would be offered the land of Xhosa and other dispossessed peoples, at whose expense the British Empire aimed to expand. Britain would be rid of its unwanted poor; and in getting rid of them, it would supply itself with frontier settlers, on the Fisher River and elsewhere. This colonial-settlement-as-charity was then applied theme for theme to encourage European Jewish settlement in Palestine, leading to the creation of the state of Israel.

This is amply documented. Usually, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), wrote his diary in German. But Herzl kept one word – “surplus” – in English. On this point, Zionist settler colonialism’s point of inspiration was plain: it was Anglo-Saxonist. Like the “surplus” of British poor people, the “surplus” of European Jews would be transformed, in this vision, from a “problem” in Europe into an ally of empire on the colonial frontier. Exclusionist antisemitism in the metropole and imperial expansion on the frontier could thus be packaged to combined imperial benefit. These ideas came to fruition when Britain’s World War I conquests finally brought this piece of West Asia, Palestine, into Western European hands.

The old settler themes poured out in barrels of ink. In 1917, Herbert Sidebotham, the military correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, urged British sponsorship of a Jewish settler colony in Palestine in order to produce “a modern State such as could ultimately, after a period of pupillage, form a self-sufficing State as a British Dominion, and not only become responsible for its own government and its local defence but even, like other Dominions, tender voluntary help to the Empire in its trials.” From 1956 Suez to 2021 Iran, so it has been, with Israel carrying out “self-propelling” attacks with Western weapons. By 1937, Britain’s Lord Melchett could praise steps towards the transformation of Palestine into a settled imperial base: “If the Empire could rally an army of 500,000 Europeans at this point, whose very existence and that of their homes and families depended upon the preservation of the Empire, what a change in the balance of power!” Then came 1948. The Zionist movement seized power in Palestine and expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, not least into Gaza.

Palestinians filled refugee camps to the shock of people of conscience – to the horror of all who took decolonization seriously. But as Irene Gendzier has shown, US strategists were impressed with Israel’s imperial potential. Israeli leaders were “self-propelling,” in the classical colonial sense, and offered empire their services. This is how Gershom Schocken, then editor-in-chief of the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz, phrased it in 1951: “Israel has proven its military prowess in the 1948 war.” For Schocken, it followed that

“if the Western powers will prefer, once, for whatever reason, to close their eyes, you can rely on it that Israel will be capable of sufficiently punishing one or more of the neighboring countries, whose lack of courtesy towards the West has gone beyond the permissible limits.”

Punish the uppity and call it righteous – this is the mantra of Western support for Israel. This was boldly restated this month by Bret Stephens of the New York Times (For the Sake of Peace, Israel Must Rout Hamas). Enemies thus reveal themselves, and empire loses its power to wash its hands.

Concerning Gaza, the fact must be popularized that these are US as well as Israeli atrocities. Since the late 1960s, the US has poured weapons into Israel on a scale that is unrivalled in the whole of human history. Never has one state armed another on anything like the scale that the US has armed Israel from 1969–2021. By 1982, during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, US secretary of state Alexander Haig had good reason to refer to Israeli military operations in the first person. Haig told the press: “We not only lost an aircraft and a helicopter yesterday, there is a claim that a second aircraft has been shot down.” Israeli aircraft, in 1982 as in 2021, were US aircraft with local pilots.

In other words, Joe Biden was clumsy but unoriginal when he celebrated Israeli power after the Gaza massacre of 2014. Biden said: “If there weren’t an Israel, we would have to invent one. If Biden’s “we” is British and US and in turn, this is just what empire did. We can all see the results.

This brings us back to Iran. Last month, the assassination of an Iranian scientist scuttled US-Iran negotiations towards something approximating peace. The prospect of regional war is horrific. So why kill a scientist (imagine if Iran did so!), why undermine negotiations? Israel claimed responsibility. “The operation,” the New York Times wrote, “raised the question of whether Israel was acting on its own to strike Iran and undermine American diplomacy as the Biden administration seeks to reconstitute a nuclear agreement. Or, alternatively, whether Israel was operating in concert with American interests, carrying out dirty work that would weaken Iran’s negotiating position in the talks.”

Empire’s plausible deniability is faltering. US Middle East policy is covered in disgrace.

Palestinians are taking terrible losses, and no feeling person can fail to feel wrenching grief and pain. Those who stand up to empire are being ruthlessly punished. In a number of areas, however, empire is losing this war. Support for Palestinian resistance requires action to raise the cost of these horrors for the US and Israeli perpetrators. There are many areas in which this can be done.

Joe Biden as a wolf in sheep’s clothing

It does not take harsh words for empire to kill: this was the classical mantra of British and US racism. For this reason, Malcolm X never tired of warning audiences about the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Enter Joe Biden.

For its part, US white supremacy was often spectacular in its brutality, as in the mob hatreds of the Klan. One chapter in Ersula J. Ore’s history of US lynching is “A Lesson in Civics,” underlining the use of spectacles of public torture in the history of anti-Black violence. This tradition is not, however, far removed from the celebration of quiet hate.

One of the leading publicists for the Klan was Thomas Dixon. With all of his simmering hate, Dixon points us in the right direction. His first epic tribute to the Klan was a novel entitled The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden, 1865–1900. The title was a double homage to empire’s  most famous apostle of circumspect hate, Rudyard Kipling.

Dixon’s title referred back a children’s story written by Kipling, “How the leopard got his spots.” The moral of the story is notorious. Racists claimed that each person of African descent – the “Ethiopian” of their imagination – was defined by a Blackness that was as fundamental to their nature as the spots on a leopard, a twisting of Biblical language. The subtitle referred to “The White Man’s Burden,” the phrase that Kipling introduced to celebrate the quiet lies of US warfare in the Philippines.

US racism in the Philippines was ferocious. In the US Congress, it was alleged that US General Jacob Smith ordered his troops “to burn and slay and make Samar a howling wilderness and to spare no one above the age of 10 years.” But one need not publicize such words in order to have troops carry them out. As US President Theodore Roosevelt phrased it, “walk softly and carry a big stick.”

As a narrowly English racist as well as a white supremacist, Kipling celebrated circumspection as the distinguishing feature of Anglo-Saxon racial mastery. In “The Puzzler,” Kipling wrote that “the English – ah, the English – they are quite a race apart.” For Kipling, the key was to “puzzle,” or to lie.

It was this embrace of lies that made Kipling an Anglo-American icon. He mocked lesser whites, “from the Teuton to the Gaul,” as fools who didn’t grasp the magic of a “suave, deceptive drawl.” He poked fun at all the “tantrums” of a “pentecostal crew,” including “French, Italian, Arab, Spaniard, Dutch and Greek, and Russ and Jew.” His English race would “bless its training that from cot to castle runs,” making hateful circumspection “the bulwark of thy sons.” Though their language might sound subtle, even gentle, “unperturbed,” the need could “wake our Island-Devil – nowise cool for being curbed!” In the same poem, Kipling idealized the racist in whom “hard, pent rage ate inward.” This racist could smile while pulling a trigger: “When his lips are schooled to meekness, when his back is bowed to blows – Well the keen aas-vogels know it – well the waiting jackal knows.”

Any who doubt what this “waiting jackal” was capable of should read Kipling’s poem “Grave of the Hundred Head,” easily available online (PDF pages 6–7). It narrates in gory, horrific detail the beheading of one hundred Burmese villagers in retaliation for the killing of a single British officer by anti-annexationists. More often, however, Kipling promoted a false humanitarianism of hateful smiles.

This is not a deceptive sideshow; it is racism at its most dangerous. C.L.R. James warned that a “calm confidence in its capacity to deceive is a mark of the mature ruling class.” In the post-slavery Anglosphere is condensed the experience of centuries of cleverly deceptive hate.

It is necessary to underline this point: the largest of Europe’s colonial empires made an imperial science out of disentangling verbal from operational brutality.

Returning, for instance, to China, this is how Kaiser Wilhelm II addressed German troops preparing to invade in 1900 alongside British, US, and other Western units, in an assault to punish the Boxer Rebellion (another joint Western attack on the uppity). Wilhelm’s “Hun speech” was notorious:

“Show yourselves Christians, happily enduring in the face of the heathens! May honors and fame attend your colors and arms! Give the world an example of virility and discipline. You are well aware that you face a brave, well-armed and savage foe. No pardon will be given, and no prisoners taken. Anyone who falls into your hands falls to your sword! Just as the Junes under their King Etzel [Attila] created for themselves a thousand years ago a name which men still respect, you should give the name of German such cause to be remembered in China for a thousand years that no Chinaman, whether his eyes be slit or not, will dare to look a German in the face.”

This verbal aggression was unique to Germany. But Suzanne Kuss has found that German units were not then appreciably more brutal in their treatment of Chinese civilians than the units of imperial powers whose leaders chose their words more carefully, and who fought in the same composite Western force. Imperial circumspection had been crafted as a means of violence, not a brake on it.

Jumping ahead to anti-Palestinian violence in the age of US empire, a US television clip, easily available on YouTube, shows what this means. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 – the one that US secretary of state Alexander Haig described in the first person – ended in the autumn of that year with a horrific massacre of thousands of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The notorious American-Israeli racist Meir Kahane can still be seen on YouTube declaring: “I remember Sabra and Shatila, it was a great, great day.

As Kahane called for more violence, he was joined by future Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in a debate on ABC’s Nightline. Ted Koppel hosted the debate, standing in for Kipling. Kahane argued that anti-Palestinian hate is central to Israeli politics. Olmert countered that Kahane should not speak so plainly. Koppel seemed to agree with Olmert. Kahane was busy organizing anti-Palestinian hate squads. The problem, Koppel tells Kahane, is not Kahane’s racist message but “the manner in which you say it.” The exchange can be found easily, as it is often posted by the Israeli far right.

This brings us to the subtext of Biden’s silent support for the Israeli butchery of Palestinian children in the spring of 2021. As Aimé Césaire wrote: “Of course, humanism loses none of its prestige (we are in the Western world), but let us understand each other.

Biden has not said that Palestinians should be treated as sub-human. Instead, his position as this Gaza massacre unfolded was that the US would stand against “rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centers.” This is the old story, in which only European settlement “peoples” a territory. One need not yell about indigenous sub-humanity. One need not say that words like “population centers” and “people” refer only to “populations” or “people” of a certain origin. That’s just implied. Biden does not say that Palestinians do not live as humans in “population centers” because he does not have to. An advanced system of racist acculturation makes this dehumanization implicit.

One is reminded of the US Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1857. The decision held that the phrase “people of the United States” did not include Black people. This had not been stated outright; it was just, so decreed the court, that it was “an axiom in morals as well as in politics” that Africans were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Unspoken racisms of this kind were the stuff of slavery and colonial war.

As the abuses continue, old habits die hard.

Meanwhile, however, the lies wear thin. In 2002, Biden told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that ideological warfare needed to factor into US strategy. He said: “No matter how powerful our military we will not be able to achieve all our foreign objectives if we lose the war of ideas.” At home and abroad, the US and Israel can kill. For the moment, this cannot be stopped.

But they can also be made to lose the war of ideas that makes the killing sustainable.

Conclusion

Palestinian courage this spring has stunned people across the world. We have no right to ask that the Palestinians stand alone in this fight, facing a burden of leadership now repeatedly forced upon them.

It was half a century ago that the great Egyptian leftist Anouar Abdel-Malek wrote about empire’s hateful designs in the Middle East, including “the mobilization of world racism against a Palestinian resistance cut off even from its friends.” Not since the days when Egypt fell to the Scramble for Africa, he wrote, had the region been attacked by empire with the ferocity that it was attacked in 1967 with Western weapons and Israeli personnel. Empire then swung behind Israel’s cause as never before.

Everything indicated despair,” Abdel-Malek wrote.

“And then, from the heart of the night, there came a gleam of hope. The people of the tents, the anonymous men and women, children and old people of Palestine embarked upon the only valid course open to a nation stripped of its homeland and faced with that ethnic, cultural and political racism which lies at the core of all imperialism.”

In all of its courage, the Palestinian national movement has faced lies and punishment without end.

Now, in 2021, Haidar Eid has expressed the call for a solidarity of freedom struggles at its most urgent. The people of Palestine have shown steadfastness and heroism in the face of these horrors. It falls to all of us to ensure, as Eid writes, that this Sharpeville moment becomes a turning-point to remember – one that all people of conscience will actively honor against the lies of empire’s “eternal present.”

*Featured Image: Biden shakes Netanyahu’s hand, in new ad from Democratic Majority for Israel. Screenshot

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