Israeli militarism and its political economy Ruthless Criticism

Translation of Ch.2, Part 2 of Abweichende Meinungen zu Israel: Die politische Emanzipation der Juden durch eine Militärdemokratie mit imperialistischem Auftrag, H.L. Fertl, Resultate Verlag 1982


Israeli militarism and its political economy


The military power of a state does not coincide with the national business it oversees and its profits. A state can manage a lot of unproductive misery internally, lose its creditworthiness and thus its solvency externally, and still manage to carry out some respectable acts of violence. The maintenance and deployment of a military apparatus is certainly not a business – the sale of such equipment is, but its intended use never is! – and is therefore not based on the otherwise valid criteria of profitability. A state can certainly command a flourishing business life and interrupt its progress in favor of and through a campaign of violence that earns respect. Nevertheless, business and violence are far from being different worlds. First, in the capitalist democracies of the West, the military power of the state is there to secure the rights that the sovereign state power acquires over other sovereigns through the foreign business successes of its nation. These countries have undeniable interests in and throughout the rest of the world; economic life revolves around their credit money even in the worst South American slums; they list entire regions as “our” oil wells or “our” sales markets; and that’s why political responsibility for the rest of the world of states, which of course requires military protection for its “credibility,” is the most self-evident thing in the world to them. So of course they see the deployment and, in the case of their enemies, even the mere maintenance of a military by states without such wide-ranging, well-founded and pervasive economic interests all over the world as evidence of aggressive attitudes and intentions; and they constantly want to impose rules on others that they would never concede to have any validity for themselves, namely as to how many weapons another state can legitimately claim for the purpose of defending its legitimate interests. And this claim to a certain supremacy over the sovereign means of power of foreign sovereigns is not just a pious wish – even if it is not respected by the enemy for whom it would matter most: that is precisely why the Soviet Union is the main enemy. Otherwise, however, the second factual connection between national business success and military potential certainly asserts itself. A modern apparatus of violence needs masses of professional personnel – or, alternatively, young conscripts who are civicly and technically prepared for military service – and masses of expensive material. It therefore presupposes wealth, and not just a somehow accumulated budget surplus or other national treasure, but rather a constantly available, abundant surplus. Precisely so that military power can be set up and operate entirely according to its own criteria, i.e. free from the perspective of profitable business, it must be successful on a national and international scale. Its course must continually yield the surplus by which state power can emancipate itself so completely from its necessities that it can enforce its rights throughout the world and thus guarantee the security of national business interests.

Logically, this connection is most evident in the bellicose use of military force. Bellicose ventures by a state that does not in any case already constantly harass its neighbors and opponents with harsh national interests, asserting well-founded legal titles against them based on the abundant wealth of its society, are considered “senseless” adventures. And in a cynical sense, that’s not even wrong. For such states do not have the resources to afford so much wasteful expenditures that they could successfully force their opponents to unconditionally respect their legal claims and thus win a victory that would be worthwhile for their power. Victory is expensive enough these days; the type of victory in which the victorious nation can exploit the freedoms it has gained vis-à-vis the rest of the world of states requires, firstly, correspondingly massive and offensive interests that are only at home in the handful of “developed” capitalist “industrialized states,” and secondly, can hardly be paid for – only by the said “industrialized states” with regard to the benefits of the global political freedoms to be gained.


In comparison with the powerful democracies of the West, which Israel wants to be one of, and with the principles of imperialist success realized there, which Israel undoubtedly enjoys in its own way, the relationship between business and military force – like so many other things – is exactly the opposite of “normal” for the Jewish state. The self-assertion of a sovereign state power in the midst of a whole “world” of self-created enemy states creates far-reaching military necessities, even before there can be any thought of profitable business at home and any commercial exploitation of the respect won externally. Although “only” for the entire Arab region, Israel’s military power must at least meet the most extreme criterion known to imperialism – and only the “superpower” of the USA meets it on a global scale, with restrictions regarding nuclear war: guarantted to be, firstly, superior, secondly, at all times, thirdly, at any location, and fourthly, against any possible opponent. This immodest claim was and is only manageable on the basis of a powerful interest in Israel’s superiority; an interest that from the outset makes the development of the Israeli military apparatus completely independent from the surpluses of the national economy and at the same time provides all the support needed for its successful deployment. For the relationship between violence and business in Israel, this means: in order to exist at all, this state must constantly afford the ruthlessness against its own national economy and its growth that “normal” capitalist nations can only afford, firstly, on the basis of their economy doing successful business on a global scale and, secondly, only with regard to an imminent war or a war in progress. In its own right, the “confrontational” and therefore necessarily military state of Israel is an economic absurdity that is only viable as a massively subsidized entity.

In fact, Israel has never lacked the necessary imperialist interest and corresponding inflows of money. The establishment of a Jewish society on Palestinian soil had already been financed by Zionist agencies – in particular, the Jewish Agency, the economic administrative apparatus of the World Zionist Organization for Palestine – with funds from all over the world, especially from Jewish communities in the USA. These donations, which amounted to a kind of voluntary tax on Zionist and non-Zionist Jews in the capitalist world – for 1946, for example, this amounted to around 100 million dollars from private donors in the USA – increased with the founding of the state and also boomed again on the occasion of every major military undertaking by Israel – between 1948 and 1973, the largest American aid organization alone raised and transferred approximately 3 billion dollars to Israel; in addition, the sale of Israeli bonds abroad, de facto also more of a foreign currency donation than a worthwhile financial investment, had already channeled almost 1 billion dollars from the USA to Israel by 1967. The Federal German “reparation payments” were of a similar magnitude, partly to individual recipients in Israel – 7 billion DM between 1954 and 1964 – and partly directly to the Israeli state treasury – 3 billion DM between 1953 and 1965 – which were replaced by highly advantageous loans in the 1960s and supplemented by weapons gifts from the end of the 1950s onwards. Since the end of the 1960s, however, the American government has provided by far the largest subsidies: between 1972 and 1980 alone, 15.5 billion dollars in “civilian” financial aid and another 12 billion dollars in military aid, both largely as gifts. These subsidies are roughly on a par with Israel’s military spending, which accounts for the economically absolutely insane war-related share of a quarter of the nation’s total calculated “gross national product” – in 1978, for example 3.22 billion dollars out of 13.76 billion – even for the Soviet Union this share is estimated by Western “experts” to be only around 10%, for the FRG just under 3%, and for the USA a good 3%. If anyone were to take seriously the state’s external debt, which Israel accumulates in addition to direct gifts, as a mountain of debt, this state would no longer even be a case for restructuring: at 21.7 billion dollars at the end of 1980, it amounts to twice as much as what economists calculate to be Israel’s “gross national product.” In this case, however, there is neither cause for intervention by the International Monetary Fund nor “fears” about the future creditworthiness and thus solvency of the debtor, and no authority in the imperialist world economy is calling for less unproductive use of the “borrowed” funds. The capitalist states allow this “debtor” to be an absolute exception to the other practices of the international credit system which are ruinous for the recipient, as if to prove what the accumulated wealth of the West could achieve in terms of real gifts to the rest of the world.

However, this does not mean that the Israelis have it good; quite the contrary!


Internally, the Israeli military state is setting in motion a huge debt and subsidy circus with its economic and financial policy. First of all, it borrows from its citizens in accordance with the rules of a capitalist debt system. Like any enlightened bourgeois treasury, only much more extensively than elsewhere, it puts government bonds into circulation, which represent interest and “liquidity” for their owners as needed, securing the state access to any necessary amount of goods as well as civilian and military personnel. The state not only pays for everything it needs, but also pays interest on it and, through this type of money procurement, provides all entrepreneurially active parts of its own economy – its own, union-owned, other cooperative and private companies – with the means of a flourishing credit system, so that every company really has or does not have the inexorable measure of its success or failure in the money it earns. All this, however, comes with one flaw, the extent of which distinguishes the Israeli national economy not only in degree but in quality from that of friendly countries. The state draws so generously on the money of its nation’s owners – and serves them with its promissory notes, i.e. with credit money – that there is absolutely not enough left for the continuation, let alone the growth, of its economy:

Its credit money is not only devaluing very quickly and thoroughly – on average by a good third annually from 1970 to 1979, and by over 130% in 1980! – but faster than it could actually increase. If this were to remain the case, the result would be the following vicious circle: the state ensures that all economic activities within its sphere of rule have to be paid off in order to take place; however, paid in money that is losing value so rapidly that its expansion, even its re-opening, only succeeds at the expense of other competing businesses; the state counteracts this effect by increasing national credit, which, however, only devalues even faster as a result. International business can no longer be done with this type of means of payment, but national business can only be done where the state ensures far above-average business success through appropriate prices or subsidies. The entire economy would be internationally insolvent and nationally on a downward spiral of ever lower productivity. The fact that all this is not happening is, as already mentioned, not due to the special merit of Jewish financial genius, but to the massive subsidization of the state from outside. Although the external value of the Israeli pound is falling – 1974 = 0.6007 DM, 1978 = 0.0878 DM, 1979 = 0.047 DM, 1980 = 0.0238 DM, mid-1982 = 0.012 DM (tourist rate!) – the government still gets every loan it wants, usually even as a gift, and so the companies remain internationally solvent where this is important to the government – the government does anyway. Domestically, only those businesses that the state subsidizes are actually profitable, and to the extent that it does so; thanks to the generous foreign gifts, however, real profits and losses do not balance out to zero or minus: the state’s permanently inflated, actually fictitious subsidies at least transport “real” subsidies to exactly where it wants them.

That’s not into the wallets of its citizens. On the contrary, it is their responsibility to ensure that the rapidly devalued business funds of their employers are still good for business: First of all, they are the ones in whose hands the Israeli state money is devaluing faster than it is increasing, so that it is still the other way around in their company’s coffers. (And so much exemplary morality is also demanded of leading politicians that they successfully conceal their forbidden dollar accounts abroad in which they secure their private assets from a similar fate – after all, the last Prime Minister of the “Labor Party,” Yitzhak Rabin, fell over the exposure of such an account in the possession of his wife). But it is precisely thanks to foreign subsidies that this impoverishment of wage earners does not – as in other “emerging countries” of the modern world economy – lead to a pauperism which is ultimately useless for doing business. The national and trade union proletariat remains intact, along with the criterion for everything that is done with it in the country. However, this is always only and precisely under the conditions set by the public sector with its pricing and subsidy system. And this follows a clear criterion: the nation must be able to defend itself and become ever more able to defend itself – this supreme imperative was and remains the starting point for the exorbitant national debt, its “actually” ruinous effects on the national economy and the foreign subsidies that do not allow this to “actually” happen. The epitome of this Israeli war economy is the kibbutz: the agricultural settlement, purposefully established since the 1920s in strategically important corners of the state territory that was yet to be conquered at the time and, after 1948, secured and expanded, with the dual task of cultivating the land as productively as possible, if possible to at least secure its own livelihood, and at the same time to keep entire areas and sections of the front under control as a military center. It is clear that an internationally profitable agriculture cannot be run this way; these settlements could and can only survive economically through constant subsidies from their supporting organizations – the Zionist parties and the trade union – ranging from the free transfer of the purchased land and the necessary irrigation systems to the marketing of the surplus products. On the other hand, it is all the more clear that this economic welfare never makes the kibbutznik’s life pleasant: he is spared impoverishment so that he can serve his nation as a soldier-peasant.

What permanent military service means for the kibbutz and the use of its members, the 33 month military service for men and 20 month military service for women, the frequent reserve exercises and constant state of alert means for the nation’s “normal” businesses and their efforts to profitably exploit their workforces. Even there, advanced capitalist profitability criteria are only met because they are overridden by a system of government, trade union and other types of aid that can be understood and used only by specialists.

Finally, the “development” of Israel’s national economy has a clear focus that makes a mockery of the reproduction schemes of the second volume of Karl Marx’s “Capital,” i.e. the objective necessities of capitalist accumulation, as well as any bourgeois idealism about a uniform, crisis-free “economic growth”: the defense industry. The fact that more tanks and fighter planes are being built in the country than steel and aluminum are being produced means that the national wealth in the country is not exactly being used for its capitalist purpose of constantly expanding its reproduction. In bourgeois terms, this “use of national resources” is a single permanent “structural crisis.” Thanks to foreign aid, Israel can afford precisely this “disproportionate development,” up to and including the atomic bomb instead of nuclear power plants, without actually abolishing the procedures of the capitalist monetary economy and its “objective laws” of profitability.

From the kibbutz with its orange plantations to the “military-industrial complex,” Israel’s national economy is thus realizing the fascist dream of using the instruments of capitalism to harness all the productive forces of the nation for the needs of the state war machine. It can only do this because it has the results of the world’s most successful capitalist exploitation, namely in the “industrialized countries” of the “free West,” not against it, but on its side as an irrecoverable subsidy. Conversely: for this, billions of dollars are being injected; and it really can’t say that these are being used inappropriately.


As far as the human material of the state is concerned, its use for the benefit of the state, also in terms of war, takes place mainly in the military, without it being released from the “objective constraints” of exploitation, i.e. from productive performance increases and productive impoverishment. After all, world record achievements in this sector are not ultimately important. For this reason, and only for this reason, there is no fascist labor service in Israel, but rather the freedom to strike, which the state trade union Histadrut is the last to advocate, as well as the freedom for all kinds of unprofitable economic experiments, especially in agriculture – a refuge for the idealistic practice of the Zionist founding era of preparing the country as a “national homeland.” Compulsory military service, on the other hand, does not constitute the entire content of an Israeli’s bourgeois existence, but is so much the universal and unconditional prerequisite of a bourgeois existence that the exclusion of Arab citizens from military service is enough to keep them out of the bourgeois life of society. In particular, Jewish immigrants from Arab and other countries, in which the “will to achieve” and a civic “sense of responsibility” are not a matter of course, are accustomed to the appropriate “view of life”: the army is and is praised as the “school of the nation”! This civic militarism has its ideal image in the kibbutznik who – “one hand on the plow, one on the sword” or, more realistically, with the gun on the tractor – is committed with every fiber to serving the “regained” fatherland; he spends his free time accordingly, and this is not even pure fantasy, with military sports and the excavation of stone evidence of “his” “national” past; the kibbutz’s own children’s barracks relieve him of the burden of raising children, and the “community” also “supports” him in choosing a spouse. The legendary Israeli career from sheepish ghetto Jew or effeminate, unfit-for-life intellectual – a fascist topos that is of course part of it as a counter-image – to brave military farmer, like he was portrayed by Hitler in his “Mein Kampf” section on the results of national education, may indeed have become a reality in Israel more often than the rise “from rags to riches” ever did in the USA; yet Israeli society does not consist of character masks of its fascist ideal. It consists of enlightened, calculating and therefore democratic opportunists of all the constraints that their state offers them as an opportunity in life; with the difference, however, that this “opportunity” means military service. And it is not under the mendacious promise that its purpose is never really to be practiced – as a soldier in the German army is supposed to imagine – but on the contrary under the certainty of participating in at least one bloody campaign at the latest as a reservist. A loyal Israeli must therefore have already included the job of killing a few Arabs in the civil service in his life plan; in this respect, he is the perfect citizen in uniform. And this not only ensures the lasting validity of the kibbutznik ideal. It is also the guarantee that the standard career of the Israeli politician – first in the army to general, after retirement to a ministerial chair – will be democratic. For those who accept military service, and real military service at that, as an entry into their own civic career, a good civic opportunist will also honor service in the war at home as a decisive virtue of a rule to which they gladly submit.

And that is the decisive reason why Israeli militarism can afford truly and unrestrictedly democratic forms of procedure without any impairment.