The Jewish State in Israel and the Levant

October 8, 2014

The leaders of the world's most powerful countries use the term "terrorism" to disparage any violence they themselves don't commit or condone, explains Ben Norton.

IN HIS 1999 obituary for Eqbal Ahmad, Edward Said characterized the Pakistani intellectual as "perhaps the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of Asia and Africa." Ahmad was a true "combatant against what he perceived as human cruelty and perversity," Said wrote, with "an almost instinctive attraction to movements of the oppressed and the persecuted." He was "an intellectual unintimidated by power or authority, a companion in arms to such diverse figures as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk, Fred Jameson, Alexander Cockburn and Daniel Berrigan."

Eqbal Ahmad was also a leading specialist in the study of terrorism. In the 1990s, he was already warning of the danger of the misuse of the term--years before 9/11, after which the slur "terrorist" began to be tossed around like colorful plastic spheres in a child's playpen. Today, "terrorist" is almost bereft of meaning. It is used to demonize an irreconcilably disparate set of individuals, movements and institutions with contradictory ideals and methods, united only by the fact that some external entity doesn't like them. The ever-prescient Ahmad foresaw this development. "[P]osture of inconsistency necessarily evades definition," and if "you are not going to be consistent, you're not going to define," Ahmad explained.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

In an October 1998 speech at the University of Colorado-Boulder called "Terrorism: Theirs and Ours" (based on his book of the same name), Ahmad summarized his findings after spending years investigating this most taboo of political phenomena. After closely studying at least 20 official U.S. documents on terrorism, for example, he explained that he never found a single definition of the concept. "All of them explain it," he revealed, "emotively, polemically, to arouse our emotions rather than exercise our intelligence."

The word "terrorism" is often used as a kind of religious utterance rather than an actual substantive analysis of contemporary political phenomena. That which diverges from hegemonic conceptions of (state) violence is "terrorism." When it has the stamp of approval from the bourgeois state, however, it is an heroic act of "self-defense."

In a case study of the rhetoric of "terrorism," Ahmad refers to a October 25, 1984, speech by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. In the seven single-spaced pages of the State Department Bulletin documenting the event, Ahmad notes, terrorism is not once defined. Instead, the following intellectually rigorous descriptions are used at various times:

Definition number one: "Terrorism is a modern barbarism that we call terrorism."

Definition number two is even more brilliant: "Terrorism is a form of political violence." Aren't you surprised? It is a form of political violence, says George Shultz, Secretary of State of the U.S.

Number three: "Terrorism is a threat to Western civilization."

Number four: "Terrorism is a menace to Western moral values."

Do these do "anything other than arouse your emotions?" Ahmad asked his audience. Of course they don't. They instead appeal to base fears and prejudices. When you appeal to, exploit, a population's base fears and prejudices, they are much easier to control, to do what you want them to do. Government officials "don't define terrorism because definitions involve a commitment to analysis, comprehension and adherence to some norms of consistency," Ahmad concludes.

To counterbalance this destructive and deadly dogma, Ahmad insisted on a consistent, scholarly approach to terrorism. As a very first step, he enumerated five types of terrorism. Of these, nevertheless, in popular culture, he lamented, "the focus is on only one, the least important in terms of cost to human lives and human property," while the type with the "highest cost is state terror."

How much higher? Ahmad estimates the "ratio of people killed by the state terror of [U.S.-backed Pakistani dictator] Zia ul-Haq, [U.S.-backed Chilean dictator] Pino­chet [and other U.S.-backed despots] versus the killing of the PLO and other terrorist types is literally, conservatively, 100,000 to one. That's the ratio."


THE U.S. political (and obedient media) establishment has clearly never read the work of Eqbal Ahmad. It is still hopelessly fixated on acts of small terrorist groups. It would be an understatement to say that the fascist, terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) has frequented the news in the Western world in recent weeks. It's virtually impossible to read or watch a minute of the corporate media without hearing about the group's supposed "threat to Western civilization" (even though the vast majority of those ISIL kills are Middle Eastern Muslims).

CodePink's inestimable Tighe Barry comically satirized this frenzy in a surprise mid-September visit to the office of Senator Lindsey Graham ("America's most terrified senator," with a strong inclination for "never-ending doomsday visions," according to Salon.com) as he desperately sought a place to hide from the "jihadist" threat.

None of this is to deny the ghastly nature of this disgustingly violent brigade of death. I refuse to call the so-called "Islamic State" Islamic, given that the vast, vast majority of Muslims in the world do not consider ISIL Islamic, and given that a wide array of the world's Muslim leaders have staunchly rejected the organization and its caliphate.

("Fascist," I maintain, is actually a much more accurate descriptor, as ISIL exhibits the main characteristics of fascism: violent hyper-nationalism; a mythological, fantastical vision of a supposedly "pure" idealized past that it seeks to recreate; and the desire to create a homogenous ethnostate under the control of a supreme autocrat.)

I tend to avoid the adjective "barbaric," given its racist and colonialist connotations and the intellectual laziness it tends to project, but as so many Middle Eastern Muslims, and even the Obama administration, have used it, I must say: ISIL is nothing short of barbaric.

If one wishes to be morally (and politically) consistent, however, when speaking out against barbarism, one must also condemn other equally, if not even more, horrific forms of barbarism. In more direct terms, if you are going to revile a bunch of bandits for beheading innocent people guilty of being of the "wrong" religion, you should also revile a state for bombing innocent people guilty of being of the "wrong" race. That is to say, you should condemn Israel and its merciless bombing of Gaza this past summer.

At the end of the day, any serious, critical look at Israel's policy toward the indigenous Palestinians it has colonized, occupied, and ethnically cleansed for decades should remind one of the mayhem wreaked by ISIL today.


PALESTINIAN HUMAN rights advocates have noted the striking similarities between this fascist organization and this fascist ethnocratic state, and they have chosen a new way to approach it--calling Israel out for what it is: The Jewish State in Israel and the Levant. JSIL.

On September 29, Palestine solidarity activists flooded Twitter with #JSIL and #JSILisISIL. The hashtag seems to have first been used in this context on the evening of September 27. It appeared sporadically until the afternoon of September 29, when leading Israel-Palestine journalists Rania Khalek and Max Blumenthal tweeted "#JSIL trend it."

Khalek and Blumenthal--as competent journalists are supposed to do (if only all journalists could follow suit)--always back up their assertions with evidence. And lots of it, at that. They highlighted countless similarities between ISIL and JSIL, decisively proving that fascist apartheid Israel and fascist ISIL are not that different after all:

"Like its ISIL counterpart," Khalek tweeted, "the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant (JSIL) executes journalists," citing a Ma'an News article entitled "Families of 16 journalists killed in Gaza demand justice."

"Like ISIL," Blumenthal responded, "the Jewish State of Israel in the Levant executes human rights workers," citing a Ha'aretz article entitled "A bullet through the heart of a Palestinian man--and an entire community" and subtitled "A social worker and father of three, Hashem Abu Maria, was killed by an IDF sharpshooter during a protest against the Gaza war. Two others were also shot to death."

Blumenthal continued: "Like ISIL, the Jewish State (JSIL) executes medical workers and first responders," citing an interview in an Alternet article he wrote in which an innocent Red Cross volunteer was deliberately murdered by Israeli soldiers.

"The Jewish State in Israel & the Levant (JSIL) recruits foreign fighters with propaganda," Khalek added, along with the tag #JSILisISIL, pointing to the Mondoweiss article entitled "Slate blames Birthright for indoctrinating American Jew who was killed fighting for Israel."

"Like ISIL," Khalek goes on, "the Jewish State (JSIL) beheads its victims, even children," citing a chilling ElectronicIntifada.net article entitled "'Wake up, my son!' None of Gaza's murdered children are just numbers."

Blumenthal tweets: "Like ISIL, the Jewish State (JSIL) recruits indoctrinated foreigners to displace indigenous people," citing a Guardian article entitled "How 90 Peruvians became the latest Jewish settlers."

"ISIL targets hospitals, doctors, journalists," writes Blumenthal. "JSIL targets hospitals, doctors, journalists." He includes the Mondoweiss article entitled "Latest from Gaza: Israel targets houses, mosques, disabled center and essential infrastructure, 14 more Palestinians killed."

Khalek concludes: "JSIL has already imposed its jizya [the tax an Islamic state levies on non-Muslim subjects, according to ancient Islamic law] on American taxpayers forced to pay $3.1 billion per year to Israel in military aid. Scary stuff."


THESE PARALLELS barely scratch the surface of Israel's state terrorism. But they should also lay to rest THE criticism that Israel and ISIL are somehow categorically incomparable in their appetite for terror.

Aside from the similarities of their acts of terrorism, one might also note the similarity of the expansionist doctrine guiding these two terrorist organizations. ISIL seeks to create a state in all of the Levant and Iraq, not just in Syria. God granted it that land, ISIL insists, and God demands that it be under the control of caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is supposedly a successor of the prophet Muhammad.

Journalist Dan Cohen spoke to the expansionist nature of Israel, noting, "Growing up Jewish in America, JSIL infiltrated my synagogue and actively recruits from my community to kill for its expansionist aims."

Like ISIL, Israel, too, claims its acts of expansionism, foreign recruitment and extreme violence are in service to the divine. At the heart of religious Zionism is the idea that God granted the land of Palestine to the Jews 2,000 years ago, and that, if they have to slaughter, colonize, and/or ethnically cleanse the indigenous population living there (an indigenous population that, quite ironically, as Israeli historian Shlomo Sand's work shows, is probably more closely related to those Jews from two millennia ago anyway) to fulfill this divine promise, then so be it. (This is also, significantly, the same reasoning that motivates Christian Zionists--they are afraid they will go to Hell if they don't defend Israel, no matter how heinous its crimes.)

In its 1999 political platform, Likud, the dominant party in Israeli politics, in no unclear terms, dictates that the "Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel," and that the "Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." "Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel," Likud insists, and it "will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting"--violently, of course.

Such a view is by no means relegated to the turn of the millennium. Moshe Feiglin, one of 10 deputy speakers in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, while publicly calling for a "final solution" to the Palestinian "problem" (where have we heard that before?) during Operation Protective Edge, claimed outright that "Gaza is part of our Land, and we will remain there forever."

Impose "a total siege on Gaza" and "[a]ttack the entire 'target bank' throughout Gaza with the IDF's maximum force (and not a tiny fraction of it) with all the conventional means at its disposal," demanded Feiglin openly in the pages of Arutz Sheva. Destroy all "infrastructural targets...with no consideration for 'human shields' [i.e., civilians] or 'environmental damage.'" The "IDF will conquer the entire Gaza," the influential Israeli politician hopes out loud.

And yet, still, some Zionists don't think annexing Gaza goes far enough; they yearn to return to the day when Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula (note: it has also never relinquished control of Syria's Golan Heights in flagrant violation of international law).


THAT NUMEROUS parallels exist between ISIL and JSIL should not be surprising. This summer, during Israel's Operation Protective Edge massacre in Gaza, renowned Israeli journalist Gideon Levy acknowledged that "fascist" is an appropriate term to describe Israel, writing in no less than the pages of Ha'aretz:

All the seeds of the incitement of the past few years, all the nationalistic, racist legislation and the incendiary propaganda, the scare campaigns and the subversion of democracy by the right-wing camp – all these have borne fruit, and that fruit is rank and rotten. The nationalist right has now sunk to a new level, with almost the whole country following in its wake. The word "fascism," which I try to use as little as possible, finally has its deserved place in the Israeli political discourse.

ISIL and JSIL, as fascist entities, naturally share many commonalities, their terrorist proclivities primary among them.

The U.S. is not only unwilling to acknowledge these acts of terrorism for what they are, but it is arguable that by refusing to contemplate the root causes of terrorism, U.S. officials have no interest in understanding terrorism in order to stop it. "The official approach eschews causation," wrote Ahmad, citing a December 18, 1985, article in the New York Times. The foreign minister of Yugoslavia asked Secretary of State George Shultz to look into the causes of Palestinian "terrorism." Shultz, in the words of the New York Times reporter, "went a bit red in the face. He pounded the table and told the visiting foreign minister, there is no connection with any cause. Period."

Ahmad, on the other hand, always opposed this doctrinaire, delusional approach to understanding political violence. He understood the origins of terrorism. He understood that terrorism begets more terrorism. Ahmad explained:

Most studies show that the majority of members of the worst terrorist groups in Israel or in Palestine, the Stern and the Irgun gangs, were people who were immigrants from the most anti-Semitic countries of Eastern Europe and Germany. Similarly, the young Shiites of Lebanon or the Palestinians from the refugee camps are battered people. They become very violent. The ghettos are violent internally. They become violent externally when there is a clear, identifiable external target, an enemy where you can say, "Yes, this one did it to me." Then they can strike back.

The leaders of the Zionist militias Irgun and the Stern Gang (also known as Lehi)--both of which were explicitly Jewish terrorist organizations that carried out atrocious acts of violence against Palestinian civilians--became some of the most powerful members of the Israeli government, even prime minister, in the cases of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

Today's Likud, which is the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, grew out of Irgun. It's no wonder, then, that these fascists continued their policies of racist extermination and state terrorism. If a terrorist is willing to kill for their fascist beliefs when in a small militia, those violent tendencies are not going to magically disappear when they are in charge of a state.


STATE TERRORISM--including the U.S.'s complete destruction of Iraq, genocide of the Iraqi people, and "Salvador Option" Shia death squads; Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's brutal state terrorist campaigns of mass bombing, torture, starvation and rape of civilians, including children; Israel's indiscriminate slaughter of Palestinian civilians--these obscene, unforgivable forms of terrorism create more and more terrorists every single day.

In Operation Protective Edge, Israel's most recent exercise in "mowing the lawn" in Gaza, the ethnocracy murdered more than 2,000 Palestinians, about 1,500 of which were civilians. In 51 days, Israel slaughtered 500 children. We must call this out for what it is: state terrorism. There is no question about it.

Viggo Mortensen, to great hullabaloo in the tabloids, has joined the group of U.S. human rights activists honest enough to call Israel's state terrorism what it actually is: state terrorism.

We must be honest with our language. If we are going to refer to ISIL as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, we must also refer to Israel as the Jewish State in Israel and the Levant. Say it; say it loud. JSIL.

For if we ever truly wish to stop terrorism, to end terrorism in all of its forms, we must be honest about its very nature, and we must heed Eqbal Ahmad's counsel to condemn the most deadly and destructive form of terrorism of all: state terrorism.

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