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Israel and the Neo-Conservatives

April 2, 2011
by Lawrence Gulotta

“The truth is that the original neocons were very far from deep, emotional supporters of Israel. They were pro-Israel, but their pro-Israel views stemmed from their general hawkishness rather than vice versa.”   “Foer on Kristol” by Jonathan Chait in New Republic, March 31, 2011:  http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/86103/foer-kristol

Foer’s article is useful, but not altogether authoritative. For example, Daniel Bell never claimed to be a neoconservative. He described his position as a “socialist on economic issues, a liberal on political issues and a conservative on social issues.”

I think Chait gets it wrong on the neocons and Israel. The reason he gets it wrong is he never “names names” and therefore is addressing the issue only in the abstract.

Norman Podhoretz may have found his early exposure to Israeli society a difficult experience-but Israel was governed, up until 1974, by a form of “Labor Zionism.” The “Socialists,” the Labor Party, the members of the Socialist International, were in power in Jerusalem. Of course, the young Podhoretz would find Labor Zionism coarse, boorish and well, difficult to align with the social democratic ideology.

With the political fall of Labor Zionism and the ascendancy of Zionist Revisionism, a new dynamic was in play. Kristol, Podhoretz, N. Glaser, the defense intellectuals-Richard Perle, Edward Luttwak-and others- found affinity with the ruling Likud Party and its tactical and ideological orientations.

It is arguable that prior to the rise Zionist Revisionism, the neocons demonstrated “deep, emotional support[ers] of Israel. Certainly from the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the neocons articulated “deep emotional support for Israel.”

The second generation neocons–people like Carl Gershman and Eliot Abrams, consistently demonstrated “deep, emotional support for Israel.” The neocon political faction supported Richard Nixon against George McGovern in 1972. I recall a YPSL meeting where Gershman announced his support for Richard Nixon. (George Meany had declared his neutrality in the 1972 Presidential election). Gershman was obviously strongly influenced by and carried out Kristol’s factional political line.

The early neocons supported–some only critically– the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the neocons were moving to the political right, rapidly. Unqualified support for Israel was a central tenant of Kristol’s political faction. The reason Kristol invited the young Podhoretz to write for Commentary was because Podhoretz, like Kristol, was rejecting Labor Zionism and supporting, first in a critical fashion and later wholeheartedly, Zionist Revisionism. Kristol was recruiting Podhoretz to the factional struggle against Israeli “democratic socialism.”

Missing from Chait’s review and Foer’s article is the not so peripheral influence of éminence grise, Max Shachtman and his associates. The literary executor of Leon Trotsky’s estate, Max Shachtman supported the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the Vietnam war. Although generally assigned a minor role by historians of neoconservatism, Shachtman and his associates held some influence on Norman Podhoretz and Midge Dector, if not Irving Kristol himself. Of course we know Irving Kristol was one of “Max’s boys” during CCNY days. Which faction was more pro-Israel than the now defunct Shachtmanites?

The early neocons were pro-Israel but not deeply and emotionally because the ruling ideology of Israel up until 1974 was democratic Socialist. The neocons were generally hawkish and anti-Labor Zionist. Once Labor Zionism collapsed, the neocons and the Zionist Revisionists (the Israeli Government) could make common cause on all fronts, deeply and emotionally.

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