RSS Feeds
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,    but because of the people who don't do anything about it    
Occupation magazine - Commentary

Home page  back Print  Send To friend

We are the radicals: Netanyahu and the invention of terrorism
By: Shoshana Gabay
25 February 2018

Original Hebrew:àðå-äøãé÷ìéí-ðúðéäå-åäîöàú-äèøåø/

Binyamin Netanyahu was already an American celebrity when he was parachuted into Israeli politics in the late 1980s. The support from within Republican circles then ruling in Washington, among the strongest forces in the world, have enabled his protracted rule to this day. Seeking to play down his status as an outsider in Israel, Netanyahu has represented the strong support he receives in America as being based on his position as prime minister, and not going back in time much further to his life’s work: the formulation and marketing of the doctrine of “international terrorism” for the US administration. Former US secretary of state George Shultz is quoted on the prime minister’s website as saying that Netanyahu’s public activities and his books on the subject of terrorism had “decisive influence” on the shaping of American foreign policy from the beginning of the 1980s; that is, the adoption of religious and racial civilizational war as the doctrine behind the United States’ wars worldwide.

“International terrorism”, a new political-ideological product that Binyamin Netanyahu and his father Prof. Benzion Netanyahu invented in the late 1970s, represented a new existential threat to humanity the existence of which the Western intelligence agencies had not yet warned of: a mostly Muslim international network, manipulated by the Soviet Union, the traditional enemy of the US, with octopus arms. “International terrorism” served as a flexible and subjective magical formula that wrapped familiar political violence in a new and threatening package that covered every popular uprising and every military-political objective desired by the US and the West.

In 1976, Netanyahu senior was a retired history professor and his 27 year old son had just begun a career as an economic consultant in the private sector. Although they had both emigrated from Israel several years previously, the Americans considered them experts on the subject of its military supremacy. That was because the son and brother Jonathan Netanyahu, a commander in the Israeli army’s General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) had turned overnight into an icon in the American public after he fell in Operation Entebbe on 4 July 1976. The Netanyahu family succeeded in linking his name exclusively that dramatic event, which constituted one of the Israeli army’s finest hours internationally. Israel’s military operation on African soil became an international spectacle with intensive media coverage, and quickly resulted in books and Hollywood films. But the family endowed with revolutionary energy wanted a lot more than 15 minutes of fame.

The Netanyahu family’s idea was to use the showcase terrorist attacks of the 1970s, like the kidnapping and murder of Italian prime minster Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades, the Kingsmill massacre by the Irish underground, the hijacking of the plane to Entebbe and the climax – the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972, which was watched live by 900 million viewers worldwide. Those events frightened, excited and glued the public to their TV screens, and father and son proposed that the American administration should use them to cause the public in the US in particular and the West in general to feel that they were faced with the danger of destruction (even though terrorism was a quite ineffective strategy).

The concept of the government striking terror in the hearts of the public was contrary to the US approach during the Cuban missile crisis with the USSR in the 1960s, an event that had more than a small potential to become an apocalyptic nuclear holocaust. At that time the leaders took care to use measured and restrained language that would not scare the public. Up to then Western governments had considered diplomacy and police or the FBI to be the appropriate response to that kind of political violence, which was not considered a serious threat at all. The Netanyahu family suggested in contrast that the Americans exploit the huge emotive potential of demonstrative terrorist attacks to promote a consensus in favour of “war on terrorism” – a showcase war against the demonic enemy – Arab-Muslim terrorism – which, unlike the Vietnam War, would be swept to television viewers on a wave of widespread popularity, just like the Entebbe operation.

[Photo caption: Yehoram Gaon as Yoni Netanyahu in the film “Operation Jonathan”, 1976. Photo: Government Press Office. “War on terrorism” is the oxygen of Netanyahu’s political project.]

If media coverage is considered the oxygen of the tactic of demonstrative terrorism, then “war on terrorism” is the oxygen of Netanyahu junior’s political project. The publicity that the terrorists sought by committing political crimes in order to bring their national or other struggles to the attention of the public turned Netanyahu into one of the most famous people in the US. The terrorism that enjoyed vast ratings in the American media (like an early incarnation of the reality shows) had nearly zero effect on the security of US citizens. On the talk shows on which he intensively appeared, not only did Netanyahu junior frighten the viewers and the hosts with the dangers awaiting them, but in the same breath he also saved their lives with proposals to eliminate the terrible danger. And you could believe him, for after all, his brother Yoni was the terrorism-fighting hero of Entebbe.

Rousing the West from its slumber

The Netanyahu family found themselves in a Garden of Eden for the application of their radical ideas at a time when big money and the arms industry raised their heads and began to undermine the welfare state that had begun to develop in the US after the Second World War. The American arms industries had become powerful during the war, and they had no intention of giving up their power and their profits now, when the US had become the strongest empire in the world. In an extraordinary speech in 1961, President Eisenhower warned against the dangers posed to civil society’s liberties and to democracy in the US by the American arms industry, which financed the activities of Senators and members of Congress from both parties in order to perpetuate the state of endless war. Eisenhower urged citizens to be alert, in order to force the military industries to return to the old American conception in which the arms industry shrinks significantly after every war and returns to peacetime activities.

And indeed, the US’ departure from Vietnam proved to the arms industry that it could not rely on the administration to conduct long-term wars against the peoples of the Second and Third Worlds; the sons of the American middle class who served in the conscript army demonstrated in the streets and demanded that the conflict to be ended as fast as possible, not to mention the fact that in the late 1960s the worst thing of all happened: the US policy of détente with the USSR, begun by President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, which threatened to deprive the US of its ultimate enemy.

It was against this background that the neoconservative movement (the neocons) emerged in the US in the early-mid 1970s, among whom Netanyahu junior was considered one of the most important figures. They started out in the Democratic Party and among Jews from New York, who were fed up with the bleeding-heart liberalism of the failed 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, with his plans for eradicating world hunger and withdrawing from Vietnam. They very quickly moved to the Republican Party and totally assimilated into it. This radical revolutionary movement of intellectual administration people and Washington elites Washington constituted the spearhead of the American arms industry. It concentrated on fostering US military hegemony worldwide and exhorted unending imperial military action.

[Photo caption: Bush junior announces a 74.7 billion dollar increase in the Iraq war budget (behind him: Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld], 2003. The neocons’ Team B.]

Before the invention of terrorism as the primary and most dangerous enemy, the main focus of the neocons’ struggle in the mid-1970s was to undermine the Republican policy of détente. They pressured the Ford administration to reject CIA reports that stated that the USSR posed no special threat to the US and that it was interested rather in the policy of détente, and to encourage the drafting of an alternative report from outside the intelligence organization. The alternative team, called Team B, was organized by the neocon Donald Rumsfeld under the then CIA director George Bush senior, and it included Paul Wolfowitz, who later became the deputy to Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary. Wolfowitz was also the father of that administration’s doctrine of invading Iraq, and the intellectual force behind it. Team B prepared mendacious reports and distributed imaginary theories about fearsome Soviet weapons, five minutes before the USSR dissolved itself. It turned out that those “moderate” CIA reports, which did not see or hear any terrible threat coming from the USSR, were right after all.

The end of military conscription in the US in 1973 paved the neocons’ way to power. From now on, only the sons of the poor would join the military, as paid employees, and they would no longer demonstrate against their places of work or make trouble as the sons of the middle class had done. Even if the relatives of the poor did protest against their deaths, it would not influence public opinion or cause any public pressure. Or as President Trump said recently to the wife of a soldier who had been killed, “they knew what they signed up for.”

The conversion of “terrorism” into a political ideology by the American administration and its separation from the sphere of political science/sociological research into political violence, also began in the early 1970s, according to the Harvard scholar Dr. Lisa Stampnitzky for example. During that era of looking for new enemies, the proponents of unending war understood that there was a need to revise concepts like guerrilla warfare and popular uprisings, which sounded “neutral” and even positive to public opinion, and to convert their participants into evil people and aimless barbarians – in short, “terrorists”. To condense Stampnitzky’s main conclusion, that revolution converted the academic approach to terrorism into the promotion of propaganda in the service of the government, the terrorism experts being those whom the government and the television networks decided were terrorism experts, with no reference to any scientific discipline.

The hundreds of millions of viewers glued to their televisions did not disappear from the consciousness of members of Congress and the arms industry, and they began to sniff out the vast political potential of the concept of terrorism as the enemy of the people even before the Netanyahu family appeared on the scene. Except that in those years of testing the waters, they did not yet know effectively how to take advantage of it politically, for the US at the time had not yet experienced terrorist attacks by outside enemies. Incidents of aircraft hijacking or kidnappings of businesspeople that were characteristic of the 1960s and 1970s were not up to the task of providing a clear or demonic enemy. As well as the fact that until then the practice was to solve the problem with diplomatic contacts in order not to violate the sovereignty of other countries and impose a solution to the problem in the country where the terrorism was taking place. Thus it was not a phenomenon against which the public could be convinced to go to war, dispatch the military and use enormously expensive weapons.

It is important to point out that the chances of an American dying on US soil due to a terrorist attack from outside and committed by a Muslim were nearly zero, then as they now. From the beginning of the 1970s until today fewer than 3,500 people have been killed that way. It is a negligible phenomenon, most of it represented by the attacks of 9/11. In contrast, the number of people who have been killed in the US from 1968 to 2015 by armed citizens is extraordinary: 1,516,863, more than all of the USA’s losses in all wars at home and abroad, which stand at 1,396,733. So how to convince the American public, which lives in a country that is well defended from outside but violent internally, that it is terrorism committed by non-Americans that represents the greatest threat to their existence?

[Photo caption: Students for the reform of gun laws in the US after the shooting at a high school in Florida. 19 February 2018. Photo: Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 2.0. How to convince the American public, that it is actually terrorism committed by non-Americans that represents the greatest threat to their existence?]

Up to then the Western empires had known military supremacy vis à vis the buzzing fly of the weak nations of the Second and Third Worlds, and did not consider them to be any significant danger. The Third World was described as savage in order to explain the importance of imposing restrained civilization on those cultures as the White man’s burden, but not as an existential danger to the empires. The Netanyahu family’s brilliant idea was different: to convert the violence of the Third World against the invaders from the West from a mere irritant to a satanic and catastrophic threat and to invent an ideology that would convert those weak peoples into the adversaries of the West with power equal to that of the West in the eyes of the public.

That ideology concentrated exclusively on their violence and on demonizing them, and legitimized the Western violence deployed against them as necessary for the survival of humanity. That equation would convince the American public to discard its traditional isolationism in foreign policy. Accordingly, instead of the colonialist approach of bringing the blessings of democracy to the savages, the Netanyahu family emphasized those peoples’ hatred of democracy and freedom, which endangers the existence of the West and justifies declaring war on them. During the Bush junior era the two ideas were combined – those peoples must be fought because of the danger they represent to the West and to force them by invasion and destruction to be democratic.

In order to carry out such a dramatic turnaround that would enable unending US imperial action, it was necessary to revive the tried and true formula of the enemy of a different religion and race, which had prevailed before the coming of the communist enemy. For you cannot launch a colonial war without its being based on racial hierarchy and discrimination between types of human beings.

The West against the barbarians

About a month after Jonathan Netanyahu fell in Operation Entebbe, Binyamin and Benzion Netanyahu began the work of founding the “Jonathan Institute for the Study of International Terrorism” in Washington. Despite the name, Netanyahu and his father, the chairman of the institute, wanted to immortalize Yoni not through the scientific-academic study of political violence, but by promoting a project of American propaganda for the defence of “civilized countries” (the term used by the father, the son and most of the participants in their conferences) against barbarism and to save the West from destruction and existential danger. Netanyahu junior wrote, in a book he edited in 1986, Terrorism: How the West Can Win, that “Yoni dedicated his life to the defence of his homeland, but when he fought terrorism, he saw himself as a partner in a much broader struggle: that between civilization and barbarism”. [1]

Until he retired, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu lived anonymously in the US, where he had immigrated before the creation of the State of Israel. The Republican Party towards which Netanyahu senior was inclined was still in its era of right-wing liberalism, that is, acceptance of the Democratic New Deal and an isolationist foreign policy that avoided sending the army outside the US to resolve conflicts. This was far from the views of Netanyahu senior, which were deeply rooted in social Darwinism and imperialism. The golden age of the American welfare state after the Second World War looked to Netanyahu senior like the victory of the hated American liberalism in the economy, politics and culture.

And now, after Operation Entebbe, came the Netanyahu family’s opportunity to move at long last from the radical margins in Israel and the US to the centre of the political stage in both countries, to the golden age of their lives. Although their activities in the private institute they founded hosted only two international conferences, those ensured not only the application of the ideology, but also Netanyahu junior’s propulsion into American ruling circles and to great things politically. After those two conferences US foreign policy changed.

To the Jonathan Institute’s first pioneering conference on “international terrorism”, which was held at the Hilton Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1979, the Netanyahu family invited pro-colonialists and supporters of unending war from the conservative elites in Washington, senior figures from intelligence agencies and the American administration and a few people from Israel and rich countries in the West. The Americans who went to the conference spoke out against the administration in their country even when it was Republican, against the intelligence branches’ “moderate” reports on the enemies of the nation and against the administration’s cooperation with the United Nations and abiding by its international resolutions. Most of them were experts on the propaganda that the CIA was then spreading against the USSR, establishment people who had served in Vietnam, South Africa or colonies in Africa and Asia and had participated in suppressing popular uprisings, including in Ireland. During the 1970s they made a career change and became terrorism experts – a profession that had not existed before then. A little more than a year before Reagan’s rise to power Binyamin Netanyahu and his father succeeded in bringing to Jerusalem future senior figures in his administration: Bush senior, former head of the CIA and Reagan’s future vice president came, as did other senior figures from intelligence and the American administration, including from Team B, such as the Sovietologist Prof. Richard Pipes and senators including neoconservative guru and propagandist for the arms companies, the anti-détente Henry Jackson.

In the speech of his life at the opening of the conference, Chairman Benzion Netanyahu set out his vision for the American empire and the countries of the West (Bibi did not speak at that conference). He asserted that international terrorism is the worst threat facing humanity today, and that it is a moral duty to fight it. According to him, the terrorists intend to destroy the countries of the “free people”, and there is no possibility of solving this problem through the existing international institutions because the UN collaborates with the terrorists, and so the rich Western states must create a front to bypass it. All means must be deployed against the terrorists, even if they are not legal. Accordingly, Netanyahu senior implored the administration people at the conference to act to create a private military body of the rich Western states that would bypass the UN and fight the enemy, terrorism.

[Photo caption: Binyamin Netanyahu speaking at a screening of a documentary film on his father (background), 2012. Photo. Government Press Office.]

And indeed, the participants in the conference who were chosen by the family agreed with the father’s statements. Paul Johnson, the conservative Catholic British journalist and historian and a senior figure in Margaret Thatcher’s new government, who used Christian terminology when he spoke of the seven deadly sins of terrorism, claimed that the danger of terrorism was greater than “nuclear attack or the population explosion or global air pollution or global resource depletion”. [2] Moreover, he emphasized that this was a racial and religious war between the West and those who hate it because of its democracy, apart from those who pull the strings – the communists from the USSR, with whom there is no racial or religious problem, heaven forfend, but only an ideological one. As Benzion Netanyahu had pointed out once: “I always knew that the Russians were not primitive nor insane. Despite everything, Russia was a civilized, European power”. At this conference accusatory fingers were pointed at the USSR that headed an international network and activated the terrorists.

Since an existential danger was involved, Netanyahu senior and the conference participants proposed principles for the convenience of the rich counties in the West, according to which all is possible and all is permitted in foreign policy for the US and its allies – or what Johnson called in his speech “practical, informal and flexible arrangements between the major civilized powers” [3] that is, permission for actions that are against international law. At the conclusion of the conference Senator Jackson explicitly called for “law-abiding” states to loosen the restraints when they are dealing with those called terrorists.

Conference participants called for the rich countries militarily attack non-Western states and non-state entities not only in response to acts of violence, but unilaterally when they saw fit, regardless of international laws and with coordination between them in what is called preventive war. (It should be noted that the ban on preventive war became one of the most important principles in the UN Charter, Article 51, which is a reiteration of one of the principles from the Nuremberg trials.)

The creation of an international front against terrorism was a way to bypass the UN, to weaken and undermine its status as an institution responsible for the peace of the world that is supposed to solve international problems. This idea was very much in keeping with the abhorrence right-wing administration people and economic elites in the US had for the organization. The conservative elites loathed the flood of countries that had joined the United Nations from the Third and Second Worlds and the Muslim states, which had been given equal voice in the institutions of the UN. This over-democratization blurred the distinction between the rich countries and the poor ones, which were equal under international law, and threatened the supremacy of the West. Suddenly it turned out that the abstract principles of liberty, equality and fraternity of peoples in the name of which the Europeans spoke, also served the conquered weak peoples of the Third World. The latter pointed to a contradiction between the ideals of the strong on the one hand, and imperialism and colonialism on the other. Netanyahu senior’s claim that those ideals are not an authentic expression of the West, but of degenerate liberal elements, resonated among US and British pro-imperialists. If after the Second World War there was a general agreement among the member-states of the UN that it was necessary to solve conflicts and struggles through international diplomacy, the Netanyahu family and the neocons proposed that from now on it is the laws of war that should prevail in this arena, which will be run by the US and the West instead of the UN.

Although Israel was not considered part of the White West and was not rich at that time, it offered excellent military qualifications and the doctrine of terrorism in return for being recognized as part of the West. “Zionism has always been an advance position for the West in the Middle East”, Netanyahu senior said at the time.

The new Reconquista

Whereas most of the Americans at the conference in 1979 were only interested in the claim that the USSR was behind terrorism, the Netanyahu family tried to interest them in the second part of the claim, which was more important to them: the terrorists were Muslim Arabs. After the end of the tensions with the USSR and its dissolution, the Americans too would take interest only in this part.

Shortly before the conference at the Hilton, two international academic conferences on terrorism had already taken place in Europe, but there had not yet been a conference on “international terrorism” – a term Netanyahu junior inserted into the name of the conference that reflected a groundless assertion. Those were purely gatherings of experts, not of politicians and administration members like in the Netanyahu conferences that were intended to represent a political ideology and ways to implement it. The theory on an international terrorist network operated conspiratorially from above by the USSR, which was presented for the first time at the Jerusalem conference, which was also raised afterwards by the journalist Claire Sterling in her 1981 book The Terror Network, became holy writ for of the CIA at the beginning of the Reagan era. That theory was already refuted by experts within the CIA itself at the time of its invention, but the opinions of those experts were not taken into consideration at the time, because they ran counter to the ideology of the Reagan administration.

[Photo caption: International front of “civilized countries” against terrorism.]

From then until today, academic scholars and intelligence experts have gazed in wide-eyed astonishment at the mendacious link the neocons made between the USSR and the “international terror network”. That is, it was a matter of stepping up the cold war between the two powers, including until then support for allies throughout the world, aid with arms and training their armies and war between their intelligence branches. They were not seen as terrorists that the USSR sent to destroy the West at home.

The allegation that the terrorists were part of a broad worldwide network that was operated from above and scheming against the West was refuted by the anthropologist Prof. Scott Atran, who says that they are a “decentralized, self-organizing, and constantly evolving complex of social networks”. [4] That is, not international and not operated from above, for political violence of the type called “terrorism” is local in the sense that it is linked to conflicts in a specific area, and even if it moves on to new methods such as hijacking an airplane in another country in the wake of the progress of globalization and technology, that does not make it “international terrorism”. Moreover, the USSR’s support for guerrilla fighters from the Third World does not convert them from leaders of a popular revolt into KGB agents. Concealed behind the theory of international terrorism is the racist assumption that the peoples of the Third World have no will of their own and that they are manipulated like puppets by the KGB.

When Netanyahu father and son spoke of an international front of “civilized countries” against terrorism, they meant that the Christians should join the Jews’ war against the Muslims in the Middle East. A civilizational war. The new Crusaders of the 20th century were present at the Netanyahu family’s premiere performance, before Huntingdon’s theory of the Christian-Muslim clash of civilizations was even published. The two of them linked the “war on terrorism” to the historical Christian wars of religion against the Muslims. The father, an expert on the antisemitism of the Medieval Spanish Inquisition, claimed in the past that there was a clear analogy between the war of the Reconquista – the war between the Christians and the Muslims in medieval Spain that lasted about 800 years – and the return of the Jews to Zion.

The Reconquista, he claimed, should be an example for Christians in the unending war on the Muslims today: “In our era, the genie of the Arab-Muslim threat has again been freed from the bottle. Islam has always aspired to subjugate the Western world and if its two previous attacks had not been stopped, all human history would be different.” Netanyahu junior too claimed that it was an old hatred for the Western world, given new life by terrorism. The packaging of American foreign policy as a “new Reconquista”, a new war of religion by the Christians against the Muslims, was the perfect product for the neocons motivate an aggressive and activist foreign policy and to exploit its advantage in the primary empire in the world.

Netanyahu senior’s positive opinion of the Reconquista is unusual – and not only because the Jews of Spain welcomed the Muslim conquest in the seventh century so they could be freed from the punishment of the Christian Visigoths or because of the expulsion of the Jews of Spain by the Christians in the 15th century, but in view of his claims about the importance of the “civilized” countries against “barbarism”. For the victory of the Reconquista caused the destruction of the developed and pluralistic Muslim civilization in Spain by the barbaric Christians from the north, and its conversion into a monolithic and fanatical warlike society. After the conquest the Christian kings themselves recognized the superiority of the material culture of Muslim Spain and adopted the social and cultural administrative structures of the Muslims with the help of the conquered Muslims and the Jews. Prof. Ron Barkai, an international expert on Spanish history in the Middle Ages and the Muslims who were forced to convert to Christianity (the Moriscos), claims that the history of the Jews of Spain should not be seen as an isolated phenomenon, but in the broader context of relations with the Muslims and the Christians. He describes the life that the three religions shared together for 800 years in a way that facilitated mutual influences – a phenomenon unparalleled in all the lands of Europe. Barkai says that the Spanish outlook was one of mental closeness to the other, who was not seen merely as an enemy who must be physically eliminated. The Reconquista was in effect a civil war, for the Arab government in Spain did not import a population to Spain, but the local population converted to Islam. The conquest of Spain by the Christians eliminated the fabric of shared life and led to expulsion and religious ethnic cleansing from which Spain did not recover for hundreds of years.

[Photo caption: The book Binyamin Netanyahu edited, published in 1986.]

The messianic language of the Netanyahu family emphasizes race and religion as the distinguishing factors between friend and enemy, between light and darkness, permits total war on the enemy, threatens catastrophes and elevates and glorifies the West as the master race. It distances itself greatly from the common characterization of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis as a conflict over territory, which is accepted internationally and also by many right-wing Israelis. In the Netanyahu language, the Palestinians are part of terrorist Islam that threatens the West, period. This language afterwards created a strong alliance between Netanyahu junior and the rising force of evangelical Christians in the US, a group that numbered over 90 million at the end of the 1970s, and who broke with the long Baptist tradition of separation between religion and politics when they brought about the rise of Reagan in 1980. The revolutionary entry of the evangelicals into politics helped to end the starvation diet that was imposed on the upper deciles and the arms industry since the end of the Second World War, including by the Republican Party.

The importance for evangelicals of religious war on Muslims can be seen in a survey in which 89% of Trump voters pointed to “terrorism” as reason number one why they voted for him, even before the economy, which was number two at 87%. Over two thirds of evangelicals are White and in elections they are a third of all Republican voters. This dominant messianic religious group has become the centre of Netanyahu’s political power and constitutes in effect most of Netanyahu’s troops in the US and the world.

[Photo caption: The campaigns of the terrorism-fighter Abu Hamza (Tzvika Yeheskeli).

From 1980 until today every candidate who seeks the presidency of the US must relate to terrorism as an existential threat and not as a marginal, negligible and unimportant phenomenon. The projection of terrorism onto the religion of Islam engendered for the American public a new and mighty enemy – worse than the Soviet communists. This is an enemy the evangelicals have an interest in fighting with all their strength in a permanent war of annihilation, in order to bring about the return of Jesus (true, in the evangelicals’ end-times war it is a commandment to destroy the Jews as well, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it).

A new definition of terrorism was born at the Jerusalem conference, and a year later, in 1980, the US intelligence agencies started treating terrorism not as a war tactic, as had been the practice, but as the name of the ideology of political violence of certain ethnic-religious groups. In 1981 the book International Terrorism: Challenge and Response was published, containing the speeches of the conference participants, edited by Binyamin Netanyahu. On its back cover Binyamin Netanyahu is described as “professor emeritus of Judaic studies at Cornell University and currently director of The Jonathan Institute. He is author of numerous books and studies in the field of medieval and modern Jewish history.” [5] The father and son had blended into one.

At the Netanyahu family’s second conference, which took place in Washington in 1984, Netanyahu junior was already Israel’s ambassador to the UN, and better-known in the US than his brother Jonathan. The neoconservatives attended this conference as members of Reagan’s administration, with them Secretary of State George Shultz, CIA members, senior journalists and the crowning glory of the conference: experts on Islam. At long last the Netanyahu family could concentrate on the subject that was most important to them: the use of Western military force operating outside international law against the Muslim civilization. The conference concentrated mainly on linking the word “terrorism” to the word “Muslim”. In deference to American public opinion, the USSR was still featured, but only on the sidelines as the sponsor of Islamic terrorism.

At that conference Netanyahu junior also organized a symposium on the media coverage of terrorism, moderated by the television personality Ted Koppel, with the participation of senior journalists like Norman Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Bob Woodward and John O’Sullivan, who spoke about the symbiotic relationship between television and terrorism and about “media terrorism” – that is, the participation for all practical purposes of the media in terrorist acts when they provide coverage to the actions of terrorists and their national struggles. The central idea in the symposium was the need for journalists to censor themselves in order to support the government’s efforts.

Terrorism is Islam and Islam is terrorism

The speeches at the conference in Washington in 1984 were compiled into a book edited by Binyamin Netanyahu and published two years later, called Terrorism: How the West Can Win, which, along with Sterling’s book, became the central theoretical text of the CIA and the Republican Party as well as President Reagan’s favourite book. At the Washington conference Benzion Netanyahu meticulously describes the nature of the “terrorist” according to the best of the popular eugenicists of the early 20th century, very much like Cesare Lombroso, a 19th century scientist he admired.

Lombroso posited that the inclination towards criminality was not environmental but biological. The criminal is born a criminal and does not belong to the race of Homo sapiens, but is a degenerate person with flawed morality. Netanyahu senior speaks of the terrorist as “a new breed of man which takes humanity back to prehistoric times, to the times when morality was not yet born. Divested of any moral principle, he has no moral sense, no moral controls, and therefore is capable of committing any crime, like a killing machine, without shame or remorse. But he is also a cunning, consummate liar, and therefore, much more dangerous than the Nazis, who used to proclaim their aims openly.` [6] He also describes his pathology: “an egoist who has realized his urges relies only on his brutality”, and declares that the West’s attitude to terrorism is a sign of a “serious moral sickness”. [6] (From the above-mentioned book.) If until then it was acceptable to see terrorism as a tactic that all human societies have used, according to Benzion Netanyahu the terrorists were a group that had one ethnic religious identity: Arabs and Muslims.

The Netanyahu family’s two terrorism conferences marketed the approach, accepted in Israel, according to which there is a binary difference between a guerrilla fighter and an evil terrorist, even though internationally no distinction was made between the two until the 1960s. Many of the participants gleefully dissected the unsuccessful adage that “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” to expose the false symmetry and relativistic morality propagated by the liberals who collaborate with the terrorists. But the correct formulation is that Western states and non-state political groups at the same time carry out acts of war according to the laws of war and international conventions, as well as terrorism – warlike actions aimed at civilians. Terrorism is also an inseparable part of the Netanyahu doctrine itself, as he claims in his book: “by no means should a military response be ruled out at the outset only because of the risk of civilian victims. This position has a basis both in practicality and morality.” Thus, a propagandistic show of the purity of the democratic countries’ arms in contrast to the terrorist murderers has no factual basis.

Nor nor was there any scholarly basis to the Netanyahus’ conferences. It is hard to base any science on a toxic concept like “terrorism”, the fundamental assumption of which is an emotive expression of prejudices. For the word “terrorist” already contains within itself a moral assumption, and it is a term applied to people we consider evil. Of all the types of political violence, terrorism is actually one of the lesser crimes: lesser than genocide, oppression, occupation, military terrorism against occupied populations and the terror a government inflicts on its subjects. For example, in this lecture, [7] Gary LaFree, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, which operates the Global Terrorism Database, refutes “nine myths about terrorism”. There are no ratings to be had for commercial television from showing unemotional scientific truth that cannot be made into propaganda, but it definitely presents the life-work of Netanyahu junior in an absurd light.

For example, Binyamin Netanyahu’s analyses for American ears, based on the fact that he is an Israeli who “understands Arabs” are rubbish. For example, in the book Terrorism: How the West Can Win, Netanyahu claims that pan-Arabism is a rising force. That prediction is fundamentally flawed, because the defeat in the 1967 war dismantled the ideas of pan-Arabism and nationalism in the Arab states and facilitated the ascent of Islam. And his claims about the need to occupy Iraq because of its possession of weapons of mass destruction were also in fact mendacious. Netanyahu’s geo-political analyses are based on the position he adopted as an alarmist running to the rescue to warn the American and Western publics about the demonic enemy. These analyses, which became the American doctrine, are indeed very effective when he presents them in his television appearances in the US, except that ideas based on the assumption that Arabs and Muslims are a race separate from the rest of humanity, and that the role of the White race and the Jews within it is to restrain them, make it difficult ascribe to them any value or the potential to provide any reliable picture of the capacities and intentions of the adversary, which he himself created for the West.

[Photo caption: Binyamin and Benzion Netanyahu at a ceremony to mark the 35th anniversary of Operation Entebbe on Mount Herzl, 2011. Photo: Government Press Office.]

A comparison with Menachem Begin shows just how radical the Netanyahu family was in its vision, even relative to right-wing Zionists. Begin was indeed a right-wing conservative, but also a liberal in the tradition of the old American Republicans, that is, he believed in the rule of law, and despite his capitalist outlook, he believed in the welfare state and in the existence of trade-unions. Netanyahu senior and junior, on the other hand, loathe liberalism and values such as equality, and believe in capitalism based on social Darwinism and genetic elitism, and believe that sacred goals such as eliminating the enemy justify the suspension of the law. Those principles are identical to those of the old reactionaries of Europe and the new reactionaries of the ruling circles in the US that appeared in the early 1980s.

The Netanyahu family wholeheartedly believes that a person’s fate must be determined by their ethnic-religious origin (as long as the Jews are considered to be part of Western civilization, that is, high on the hierarchical-ethnic ladder of humanity). This principle dictates the “concept of Muslim terrorism”: the important thing is the ethnic-religious identity of the perpetrators, on the basis of which their actions are judged. Since then, this idea has trickled down to the American public. Thus, for example, when there is a shooting incident, the identity of the shooter is immediately checked so that his act can be defined: if the shooter is White Christian, then it was an unfortunate shooting incident; if he was an Arab/Muslim, then the incident is defined as terrorism. Even when a White Christian shooter massacres school children or the audience at a concert, he is not considered a terrorist.

“Our enemies do not hate us because of what we do, but because of who we are”, declared Binyamin Netanyahu to an American evangelical audience a few years ago. Although Israeli society has acted in accordance with this fundamental principle for generations, for the Netanyahu family this has been the primary and sole principle, with no shades in between. This principle also dictates that “We have no choice but to hate them too for their ethnic-religious origins”. Such a political approach leaves no possibility for negotiations, because it involves a profound biological negation of the other side. It is a recipe for eternal war, or as Netanyahu senior put it, “permanent readiness for war”.

Because of their membership in a certain race, the enemy commits crimes irrationally, and so it is impossible to attribute to them any motives such as resistance against oppression. As Netanyahu junior put it: “the main reason for terrorism is found not in any grievance they raise but in a fundamental tendency for unrestrained violence”. This is also the position of the father, who said in a newspaper interview that “the problem of the Left is that it thinks that war with the Arabs is basically similar to the wars that are conducted between the nations of the world. They reach a compromise or one side wins, or when both sides come to the conclusion that they are tired of war and victory is not possible” and that “the Arab enemy is difficult because the inclination to conflict is part of their identity … that’s the way the structure of the Arab’s personality is”.

And if we’re dealing with a biological matter, then there is no possibility of change, and the only solution is force. And if the enemy still declares total war on the West, then the necessary conclusion is that there is no choice but to fight them in a total war and to destroy them by means that are above the law. This ideology is most effective for the American Right, and provided a solution for its need to bring back imperialism without resorting to the idea of White supremacy in foreign policy as was acceptable in the past, but by concentrating instead on the satanic nature of the enemy.

The importance to Netanyahu junior of ethnic-religious identity as a distinguishing principle and a basis for judging people can be seen among other places in the testimony of the political commentator Marvin Kalb, who claimed that in a conversation with him Netanyahu emphasized that Barak Obama’s middle name is Hussein, and that his father was Muslim. (at 58:08 in the clip) [8] Thus did Netanyahu seek to frighten the American journalist by exposing the Muslimness of Obama, the fake Christian.

A Jewish seal of approval

The crowning glory of Netanyahu’s political enterprise was the implementation of his ideology by George Bush junior, when the latter declared a “war on terror”. Bush junior, himself a neocon, repeated in his speech Netanyahu’s words that were blended into Wolfowitz’ doctrine of invading Iraq. The empire’s vast military power was showcased on television in 2003 through the invasion of Iraq, a country that had no direct link at all to the events of 9/11. American television showed the American public a barrage of showcase bombings to punish the residents of Baghdad, which was called a war of “Shock and Awe” and were carried out at night to create dramatic effects of flames and smoke over the bombed houses. The media ignored the fact that in those ecstatic moments of war theatre, sleeping children and innocent civilians were plunging to their deaths.

[Photo caption: Bibi and Bush. Photo: Government Press Office.]

[Photo caption: Bibi and Shultz. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom / Government Press Office.]

If after the Second World War Western armies endeavoured to conceal attacks on civilians, now they were bragging about deliberate attacks on defenceless civilians to the cheers of the public. The relations of force between the empire’s army and those who faced it were clear to all, as reflected in the joke that this or that country could be occupied with nothing but a military band. Thus demonstrative imperial wars with no opposition from any substantial military force are in essence attacks on innocent civilians.

For a brief moment after the Second World War, with the struggles of the Third World for independence and the struggles of the Blacks for equality in the US in the 1960s, it looked like the door had been closed on imperialism and colonialism. And then the Netanyahu family comes in through the window, with a solution at the heart of which is the imperative to disregard the motivations of those who are revolting, and to concentrate exclusively on the political violence they are carrying out – and in Binyamin Netanyahu’s tautological language: “those who carry out terrorism are the ‘terrorists.’” The speed and facility with which such ideas returned to the policies of Western governments was due among other things to the fact that those advocating that racism were Jews; White supremacism needed a Jewish seal of approval to move it a safe distance away from the appearance of Nazism.

[Photo caption: MK Binyamin Netanyahu, 1988. Photo: Yaakov Saar / Government Press Office.]

There are not many differences between the Netanyahu families’ conferences and the various White supremacist conferences that take place in the US, apart from the class aspect. Both kinds of conferences advocate political, economic and social domination over those who are not White. Whereas the rhetoric of the Netanyahu family is appropriate for the conference participants who belong to the upper classes and the privileged sectors of society, cruder and more direct language directed at other races is heard in the White supremacy conferences, which are usually aimed at a lower-class constituency. The main difference between the two kinds of conferences would appear to be that Netanyahu senior and his son want the Jews too to be included in the European White race – an aspiration that turned out not to have been realized among the Jews of eastern Europe after the creation of the Jewish state in the Middle East, nor among those who declared themselves to be proud Zionists like the Netanyahu family; they are knocking on the doors of the rich and strong Europeans like their ancestors who lobbied in the eastern European diaspora, seeking to be accepted into the club they saw as superior, even when it did not accept them. Zionism worked a miracle and enabled the Jews to be accepted among the White Christians at long last. The evangelicals are pro-Zionist and antisemitic, and willing to include the Ashkenazi Jews in the White race on condition that they be Israelis and warriors against Islam in the land of Israel, and not citizens of the US.

To this day Binyamin Netanyahu is considered one of the most popular figures among the American public in public-opinion polls. He even has his own favourability-rating curve over the years in Gallup polls. Netanyahu also stars as an important figure in a flood of conspiracy theories about 9/11 and in many investigatory books on the subject of terrorism. Strangely, almost nothing is written about this in Israel, not even among his critics who have mockingly dubbed him “Mr. Terrorism”. As far as the media and biographers are concerned, Netanyahu’s activities are part of the “Israeli hasbara” project abroad. That is, it goes without saying that there is nothing there worth investigating.

This propaganda influenced the international system, and starting in the 1980s it helped to set in motion a new war of religion between Christians and Muslims, by turning American foreign policy into a military attack on Muslim civilization. Netanyahu effectively inflicted grave harm on the Arab and Muslim population worldwide, more than any other Israeli general or politician, and he contributed to making it the most hated ethnic-religious group in the US and in European countries.

The Netanyahu family’s project of making the Muslim the enemy of humanity, which helped the son to reap meteoric success in his career, began just at the time when Israel was getting stronger. Netanyahu junior’s rule in Israel began when Israel was already a powerful state surrounded by weak neighbours. But for some reason that process has been perceived by the Israeli public, including even those who are disgusted by him, as Netanyahu’s achievement. For his part, he fuels the existential fears of Israelis and Jews by spreading and raising the flames of hatred of Muslims and Arabs in what sounds to Israelis like the “tough talk” of a man who “understands Arabs”. And indeed, that hatred is a very effective tool for political mobilization in times of security and abundance, when there is no security interest whatsoever in reaching a compromise with the Palestinians as there was during the first 30 years of the existence of the State. Only a moral problem remains, and Netanyahu’s American doctrine of terrorism takes good care of that in Israel too.

Translator’s notes

1. The quote from the book is not from the text of the English version of the book, but re-translated from the original Hebrew text of this article.

2. Quote not from Johnson`s original English.

3. Johnson repeated the phrase in an article published in Crisis Magazine on 1 January 1985, “The Cancer of Terrorism”.

4. Scott Atran, `Black and White and Red all Over: How the hyperkinetic media is breeding a new generation of terrorists`, Foreign Policy, 22 April 2013.


6. “a new breed … aims openly” and “serious moral sickness” are quoted from the original English text of Prof. Netanyahu’s speech, published online in “International Terrorism Conference”, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Digital Library Collections.



Links to the latest articles in this section

Three weeks into the Gaza War - a somber and sober assessment, with some historical perspectives
Israelis, Palestinians, Gaza, Hamas - trying to preserve sanity
Gush Shalom: The UN decision is a very necessary message to Israel’s extreme right-wing government