Seumas Milne’s malign anti-Zionist fantasy

One of the journalistic tics which broadly unite Guardian contributors, reporters and editors is their inability to hold Arab nations responsible for their continuing economic stagnation, and social and political failures.

While all Arab countries were freed from the yoke of European colonialism by the end of WWII (with the exception of Sudan, 1956), an entire academic and intellectual industry – known typically as post-colonialism, which sees the Arab world through the lens of relations between European nations and nations they once ruled – continues in the increasingly difficult rhetorical contortions necessary to deny Arabs and Muslims moral agency.

Such intellectual constructs, also known as neo-colonialism, a term popularized by, among others, Noam Chomsky, denotes the alleged practice of using capitalism, globalization, and cultural forces to control a country in lieu of direct military or political control.

Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne’s Marxist pedigree informs a unique adeptness at weaving in the language of neo-colonialism when contextualizing the politics of the Middle East, the Arab Spring, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  

Milne, in “The Arab spring and the west: Seven lessons from history“, Guardian, Dec. 20, begins his deconstruction of the “illusion” of Arab independence thusly:

There’s a real sense in which, more than any other part of the former colonial world, the Middle East has never been fully decolonised….Carved into artificial states after the first world war, it’s been bombed and occupied – by the US, Israel, Britain and France. [emphasis mine]

Framing the modern rebirth of the Jewish state in the context of European colonialism is actually something approaching a banality within Guardian Left circles, and represents one of the most common weapons in the intellectual arsenal employed against the state’s legitimacy.

While Milne’s broader commentary about the injurious influence of Western influence in the region is worth reading to properly understand the way in which such narratives inform much of the Guardian’s political lens visa via the Middle East, we’ll focus merely on the anti-Zionist element within his broader theme.

As such, Milne’s 7th “lesson” is titled: Western sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation is a permanent block on normal relations with the Arab world.

He writes:

Israel could not have been created without Britain’s 30-year imperial rule in Palestine and its sponsorship of large-scale European Jewish colonisation under the banner of the Balfour declaration of 1917. An independent Palestine, with an overwhelming Palestinian Arab majority, would clearly never have accepted it.

Such rhetoric, suggesting that Jewish immigration into their historic homeland (both during the first waves of Aliyah beginning in the 1880s, and then, later in the 20th century, as European antisemitic oppression made such emigration from the continent more urgent) represented a form ‘colonization’ is a historical inversion as ubiquitous as it is perverse.

Colonialism, as it is widely understood outside radical ideological circles, is quite simply the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory.

As Jews had no such territory from which to expand, and no military to secure its acquisition, the influx of impoverished Jewish immigrants into the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River where once stood the last sovereign state of any indigenous people in the land’s history, doesn’t even marginally fit the definition of a ‘colonial’ enterprise.

(The word “Palestine” derives from “Peleshet”, a name that appears frequently in the Bible and has come into English as “Philistine”. It was merely a geographical term, used to designate the region at those times in history when there is no nation or state there.)

Further, Milne’s suggestion of a British Mandate Authority’s “sponsorship of large-scale European Jewish colonisation” is a characterization which completely erases the severe British restrictions on Jewish immigration beginning as early as 1921, in contrast with relatively unrestricted Arab immigration.

Indeed, the fact that “Palestine” remained closed for the duration of the war served to strand hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe, many of whom became victims of Hitler’s Final Solution.

Milne’s conclusion that an “overwhelming Palestinian Arab majority would clearly never have accepted” a sovereign Jewish state is leveled in a manner suggesting that such Arab intransigence was morally understandable. I’ve always marveled at the notion advanced by critics of Israel’s creation that a Jewish nation encompassing a mere 5,500 square miles (per the ’47 Partition Plan), in a region hosting over 5 million square miles of majority Muslim, Arab territory, represented an unjust intrusion:  Racism, religious intolerance, and xenophobia with a liberal (post-colonial) veneer.    

Milne’s moral inversion continues:

That reality is driven home in this Pathé News clip from the time of the Arab revolt against the British mandate in the late 1930s, showing British soldiers rounding up Palestinian “terrorists” in the occupied West Bank towns of Nablus and Tulkarm – just as their Israeli successors do today.

The dishonesty in this passage is exquisite, though it’s certainly not surprising that Milne characterizes murderous antisemitic programs as progressive “resistance” – given his romanticism for such wanton violence in our modern era by Islamists, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The violence of the anti-Jewish riots, incited in large measure by the pro-Nazi Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, requires some context.  

Arabs (only 7 years after the savagery of the 1929 Hebron Massacre, which ended Jewish life in the city for the first time in hundreds of years) were pursuing the decidedly illiberal demands of: a complete cessation of Jewish immigration, an end to all further land sales to the Jews, and the establishment of an Arab national government (one Arab state where Jews would again be a powerless minority dependent upon the benevolence of non-Jewish,Muslim, rulers.)

Eighty Jews were murdered by terrorist acts during the labor strikes alone, and a total of 415 Jewish deaths were recorded during the whole 1936-1939 Arab Revolt period.

Milne, in his final paragraphs, writes:

But the original crucial link between western imperial power and the Zionist project became a permanent strategic alliance after the establishment of Israel – throughout the expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinians, multiple wars, 44 years of military occupation and the continuing illegal colonisation of the West Bank and Gaza. [emphasis mine]

The unconditional nature of that alliance, which remains the pivot of US policy in the Middle East, is one reason why democratically elected Arab governments are likely to find it harder to play patsy to US power than the dictatorial Mubaraks and Gulf monarchs. The Palestinian cause is embedded in Arab and Islamic political culture.

To Milne and his sycophants, Gaza (emptied of every last remaining Jew in 2005) is still being “colonised”; the Jewish state, within any borders will always be an artificial, inauthentic, colonial project; and a Jewish presence in the Middle East is worthy of continued Arab enmity.

The “Palestinian cause” Milne wistfully speaks of, the Islamic world’s lethal anti-Zionist and antisemitic obsession which Milne’s rhetoric nurtures (which has wasted so much of the region’s collective moral energy) represents the elite moral detachment which feeds so much of Guardian Left thought.

Though one could argue that Milne, the paper’s Associate Editor, represents the extreme end of the Guardian Left, it still seems that a proper accounting of his post-colonial inspired views is necessary in properly contextualizing the Guardian’s broader coverage of the Middle East.

As such, Milne’s latest assault on Israel’s legitimacy, and legitimization of Arab animosity, serves to embolden the most belligerent voices in the region – those for whom Jews, Israel, and Zionists are, and will always be, mere play things, the objects of an imaginative fixation, actors in Islamists’ continuing malign atavistic fantasies.

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