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.

18 replies »

  1. The Guardian became a warm home for ex- and present Stalinists.
    Neil (“kill the quislings” Clark – the well known promoter of mass murderers
    penned an extremely disgusting attack against the passed away Vaclav Havel – one of the greatest hero of the fight against communist totalitarianism in Europe.
    Good to know where are the political sympathies of the Guardian editors.

  2. Adam, I don’t understand these people. With a world of knowledge more available every day they choose lies and distortion and create hatreds.

    Mad? Meretricious? Both?

    • All that and more, Ariadne. They have a phobic reaction to being found out to be wrong and this may be the main reason for their overidentification with Islamism, to whom everyone else is always wrong.

      I suspect Shameless to be, in fact, entirely the opposite of his name – phobic of actually being shamed.

      The antidote to such preciousness is obvious – as much shaming as possible coupled with a healthy dose of humour at the precious one’s expense.

      Pick apart everything he does and says and LAUGH at him

      • They have a phobic reaction to being found out to be wrong

        I doubt Milne would consciously, at least, ever consider the latter a possibility.

        • Yes — a huge part of being entirely ensnared within a closed system of thought, an ideology, is the extent to which it can be tinkered with to avoid any real possibility of falsification on fundamental tenets. Just
          as a certain type of religious fundamentalist can “explain” practically any
          opposition to their own views as being inspired by “Satan” or “the Devil,”
          many of Milne’s ilk invoke murky notions like “false consciousness” to explain why the workers reject their Marxian views.
          Cf. Karl Popper’s still vital discussion in his The Open Society and Its Enemies.

  3. As ever, Milne makes one-sided statements without ever looking like going into the background:

    Western sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation is a permanent block on normal relations with the Arab world
    Would the Arab world be willing to have normal relations with Israel if the Palestinians got their own state? As you say, Adam: my impression is that Milne considers Israel itself to constitute colonisation.

    The very next line:
    Israel could not have been created without Britain’s 30-year imperial rule in Palestine and its sponsorship of large-scale European Jewish colonisation

    Not “(re-)immigration” but “colonisation”. And as you point out: what “colonisation” of Gaza anyway?

    The Palestinian cause is embedded in Arab and Islamic political culture.
    Yes – but why? It’s not whataboutery to ask Milne the simple question why countless other popular struggles /examples of hardship in the Arab and Muslim world are not so “embedded.”

  4. “Seumas Milne: The ‘Arab spring’ and the west: seven lessons from history”

    Lessons that Milne and the Guardian apparently never learned.

  5. Milne probably felt the need to attack Israel in this way and at this time because Newt Gingrich dared to call Palestinians an invented people. Journalistic politics.

    • Except that most of the article has nowt to do with Israel/Palestine. No, this is just Milne’s merry end-of-year blurb.

  6. Michael, even Yasser Arafat admitted that the Palestinians were an invented people, invented so as to bring pressure to bear on Israel!

  7. Wouldn’t an independent Palestine have been ‘carved’ out by British imperialism, had it been formed? Wouldn’t it, as the first independent Palestinian entity in history, have been, in its own way, artificial, a product of empire?

    But wasn’t partition recommended precisely because Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians objected to more than the tiny number of Jews to which they were accustomed, by their successive imperial Christian and Islamic regimes? Without a state and defensible territory, the ability to receive more of their own, the Yishuv wouldn’t have lasted long.

    It wasn’t just a Jewish state Palestinian Arab Muslims resisted, it was the presence of, as they saw it, too many Jews, period

    But, in the end, whose fault, exactly, is it that an independent Palestinian state was still born? Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians resisted its formation, a priori, thinking it more important to deny one to Jews.

    The cry of the Arab rebels Milne seems to applaud was

    ‘The English to the sea, the Jews to the grave’ i.e. transfer: the British from Palestine, the Jews from this world.

    Since Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians resisted Jews’ presence in above tiny numbers, what choice did Jews have but to rely on British protection if they wanted to settle in Palestine? It was either that or forget living in Palestine at all.

    But that is the whole point: Milne doesn’t think they had a right to settle there in the first place, rather Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians had a right to continue to keep them out.

    If he thinks that, deep down, at least, why should Israeli Jews trust to his good intentions, or those of his ilk?

    Jonathan Freedland really should have something to say about this. But will he?

  8. Seumas and his support for the anti Imperialist anti colonialist invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Kuwait and Georgia.

    The Guardian is not only the greatest legitimising force for antisemitism but also Stalinism. Any ideology which successfully mounted a genocide or two is to be defended and promoted by them.

    Neil Clark just penned another piece of garbage pissing on the memory of Havel who dared to oppose the workers paradise. He needed a new gig after having pimped Lukashenko and his thugs who beat back the neo liberal colonialist imperialists with their jack booths and batons …

  9. “The Palestinian cause is embedded in Arab and Islamic political culture”, says Milne.

    It is certainly embedded in their rhetoric, but what in practical terms have the rest of the Arab world done to aid their blessed Palestinian brothers?

    Denied them citizenship or equal rights, kept them in “refugee camps” for 60 years, marginalised, persecuted and expelled them.

    So that is how one is supposed totreat the objects of one’s affection and undying support?

    • Precisely the kind of fact which Milne’s simplistic, cartoon-like political analysis finds deeply embarrassing. He would probably resort to changes the terms of the question until he could insist that this, too, is down to the
      history of international involvement in the area — it’s all the fault of the West and the Zionists somehow!

  10. Wow!

    What a brilliant response to that odious Milne article. It’s hard to credit the man is over 50 years old. He has the political vision and depth of wisdom of a teenager.

    He clearly hasn’t a clue about the Jewish people, their long history, their unique culture, and their ancestral connection with the land of Israel. But then that’s because he is a shallow, rootless specimen of the English upper classes.

    This universally despised species has been in decline since the 1950s, and which has yet to realize that its days are over, and that Jews are no longer ghettoized second class citizens with nowhere to call their own, but masters of, and stakeholders in, their own vibrant country.

  11. I read the first page of comments on this ludicrous article and most were not approving.

    Then there was this:

    19 December 2011 04:15PM

    Response to chieftaindan, 19 December 2011 04:09PM
    Seriously? Britain was responsible for encouraging Jews to come and settle in Palestine? And the relationship only broke down because Britain happened to restrict immigration? So, what then, nothing to do with the Mufti’s support of the Nazis, then.

    Yes, Britain was responsible for the Jewish settlement of Palestine. As for the Mufti, well he was only one man and a lone voice as the Palestinians had no interest in western wars.

    A 12-year-old?