Motives and Justifications: A Critique of Fromkin’s Analysis of British Support for Zionism

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The issue of Israel and Palestine is extremely complex and a thorough understanding of its complexity requires a sound understanding of its historical roots. Many historians would agree that this conflict in its modern form dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Fromkin’s account of this initial stage in the conflict is certainly one of the most influential ones and it has to be studied and critically examined prior to forming a judgment about this immensely complex issue. By citing imperialist and racist tendencies alongside essentially idealistic motivations like religion and romantic nationalism, Fromkin provides a very through account of all the ways in which Zionism found political support in Britain and elsewhere; however, he does not explain which of these causes were truly dominant and which of them were merely excuses. It seems to me that imperialism was the main reason why Britain like other imperialist countries wanted to assert its influence in the Middle East and other reasons that Fromkin mentions were merely instruments of gathering political support.

A. Palestine 1923 B. UN Partition Plan 1947 C. Israel 1949 D. Israel 1967-1973 – Occupied territories (annexation of the West Bank) E. Israel 1993 – Occupied territories

Imperialism was, of course, one of the main reasons why Britain was interested in helping the Zionist cause. Supporters of British imperialism argued that establishing a Jewish under the protectorate of the British would ensure British presence in and control of the region. One strong reason for this interest was Palestine’s geographic location as. “with the addition of Palestine and Mesopotamia, the Cape Town to Suez stretch could be linked up with the stretch of territory that ran through British-controlled Persia and the Indian Empire to Burma, Malaya, and the two great Dominions in the Pacific—Australia and New Zealand (Fromkin 281), Next, during WWI it became clear just how important oil is as a resource and the British leaders soon learned that the Middle East might be a region extremely rich in oil reserves (Fromkin 261).

The choice to support the creation of small nation states like a Jewish state and Palestine was seen as a more appealing option than to initiate outright occupation because it could prevent pan-Islamism from rising as an ideology in support of resistance to imperialism. British diplomat Sykes stated,” I want to see a permanent Anglo-French entente allied to the Jews, Arabs, and Armenians which will render pan-Islamism innocuous and protect India and Africa from the Turco-German combine, which I believe may well survive Hohenzollerns (Fromkin 290). Outright annexation was impractical because of the possibility of revolt led by the Turks (Fromkin 290). It was believed that the Turks could use their prominent position in the Islamic world to fuel a rebellious movement that would unite various Middle-Easter nations and ultimately push Britain away from the region.

A kind of idealistic, consistent nationalism was, according to Fromkin, one motive for British support for Zionism. The ideology of nationalism called for each nation to have its own country.  Within this ideology most problems were explained by reference to the fact that a particular nation was subordinated to another one. Those who accepted nationalism truly argued that each nation has to have its own state, which would preclude imperialism. However, the question arose with respect to Jews because Jews of each Western European country were different than those from another country (Fromkin 272). Nationalists argued that Jews need to have their own state and they took the effort to come up with its geographic location. The Palestinian territories which were under Turkish rule were the choice. Based on agricultural research, nationalists argued that, “without displacing any of the 600,000 or so inhabitants of western Palestine, millions more could be settled on land made rich and fertile by scientific agriculture” (Fromkin 279). This meant that Palestinian territories could accommodate both the Jewish and the Palestinian nation state which was in accordance with the principles of nationalist ideology. One British dimplomat who espoused this view wrote, “most of us younger men who shared this hope were, like Mark Sykes, pro-Arab as well as pro-Zionist, and saw no essential incompatibility between the two ideals” (Fromkin 283).

Fromkin’s account of British support for Zionism also points to a paternalistic racist attitude of some British leaders towards the nations of the Middle East that was quite probably a remainder of traditional colonialist ideologies. The solution for the Middle East after WWI that the British proposed was to create a Palestinian and a Jewish state both under British protectorate. As Fromkin (263) points out, “Lloyd George, while employing the rhetoric of national liberation, proposed to give the Middle East better government than it could give itself”. In other words, the real meaning behind nationalistic romanticism that George advocated was a kind of alleged paternalistic benevolence based on a racist belief in superiority of Western peoples. The British Prime Minister who preceded Lloyd George, Asquith, once wrote about a justification for creating a Jewish and a Palestinian state as British protectorates that was penned by a British Cabinet Minister, Herbert Samuel, “it is a curious illustration of Dizzy’s [Disraeli’s] favourite maxim that ‘race is everything’ to find this almost lyrical outburst proceeding from the well-ordered and methodical brain of [Herbert Samuel]” (Fromkin 270). In other words, ancient racist excuses for colonial domination as a kind of benevolent paternalism were also used in this respect.

Finally, Fromkin argues that at least part of support for Zionism came from a peculiar brand of Protestantism that upheld the belief into the Promised Land as a powerful ideal. About Lloyd George, Fromkin (268) writes. “his Biblical knowledge and religion incited him to take the view that Palestine should not be divided and parceled after the war as it would be a sinful act”. This statement would suggest that George’s religion played an important role in the way he approached the issue of the Middle East. In addition, George was also connected to a Protestant line of thought that emphasized the need to return the Jews to Palestine in order to initiate the Second Coming of Christ by ultimately converting them into Christianity (Fromkin 268). Fromkin (269) writes that Zionism “became connected with” a mystical idea, never altogether lost in the nineteenth century, that Britain was to be the chosen instrument of God to bring back the Jews to the Holy Land”.

With regard to positive aspects of Fromkin’s analysis one first has to emphasize its thoroughness and scholarly quality. As has been demonstrated at least to an extent in this paper, Fromkin’s factual are always supported by an extraordinary amount of primary sources and data. For each of the motives that might have driven the British diplomacy in its choices regarding the Middle East, Fromkin finds ample evidence in addresses of politicians and other key figures, their letters and articles they wrote. For that reason, there is no doubt that the motives for support of Zionism outlined about were in fact publicly espoused by prominent British officials and other supporters of Zionism. Moreover, Fromkin’s account also has to be appreciated for the fact that it refrains from making strong factual or interpretative claims and indulging in speculation. Fromkin’s text adheres very tightly to historical facts and remains on the safe side when making interpretative claims.

Israel-is-born 1948

State of Israel born May 14th, 1948 – The Palestine Post

As far as weaknesses of this positon are concerned, it should be stated that the interpretative side however modest it might be does not match the level of factual accuracy of the account. Namely, despite the fact that Fromkin has indeed proven that British officials publically espoused all of these motives, his contention that “many roads led to Zion” (Fromkin 275) meaning that British support for Zionism was motivated by all of these reasons simply does not follow. It seems naïve to believe that politicians are always sincere in their public statements and it often happens that they express false reasoning behind a certain action merely to get wider support. In this sense, it is worth remembering all the different rationales for the invasion of Iraq that the Bush Administration gave many of which later turned out to be completely false. It seems to me that the real motive behind British support for Zionism was its imperial ambition in the region. This is evident not just in the fact that the Middle East is rich in resources and has an important geographic but in the way in which the entire political maneuver was executed. Choosing to create a Jewish state in the Middle of a Muslim majority region and to refrain from direct occupation introduces an array of complications for organizing resistance. In other word, British support for Zionism was a tactical decision about how to create the best possible situation in which to exert influence over the Middle East.

In conclusion, Fromkin’s account of British support for Zionism is very useful because it shows all the ways in which a Zionist movement could get political support in Britain and elsewhere; however, it is not as powerful in ranking those motives for support and identifying a crucial one. Zionism was clearly supported by imperial interests as it could ensure British presence in a region of remarkable geopolitical importance and with  rich  oil reserves. It also got support from various religious groups who believed that Britain has a biblical duty to help to return the Jews to their  Promised  Land. Also, some nationalists supported a Jewish state because they firmly believed that partitioning the world in such a way that each  nation gets its  own nation state will resolve most of the world’s problem. While Fromkin provides ample evidence to show that all of these motives  were publically stated by British officials, he is not so compelling when he says that all of them were equally important. It is quite clear that  imperial ambitions were the true cause of British support for Zionism and all other justifications were merely a way of ensuring wider political  support for that project.

 

Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922. New York: H. Holt, 1989. Print.

 

 

Has the Electoral College become a threat for the US democracy? Should it be eliminated by 2016 elections? or is it just seen unconstitutional by the founding fathers.

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It is a natural component of political debates to discuss how an electoral process could be improved in order to become more democratic and to reflect the will of the people more democratically. It is an entirely different thing to claim that the electoral system of one country is inherently undemocratic and constructed in such a way as to deliberately prevent the will of the people from expressing itself fully. Objections to the way in which the American electoral system works, particularly to the institution of Electoral College, have been made virtually since the day of signing of the Constitution by the Founding Fathers. However, with the election of George Bush in 2000, and a charge for a massive electoral fraud that could not be carried out if there were not for the Electoral College (Parenti). All of this calls into question the justifiability of this institution. By considering empirical data, it can easily be shown that the Electoral College has become a threat for the US democracy as it creates unjustified discrepancies in the significance of votes in individual states, it undermines the voting rights of minorities and stands as an unnecessary obstacle towards genuine expression of the will of the citizens.

At the outset of the discussion of the political effects of having the institution of Electoral College, it is important to explicate exactly what the notion of Electoral College presupposes and the way in which this institution functions in American political process. Section II of the United States Constitution determines that the President of the United States should be elected through the electoral body called the Electoral College. The citizens of each state vote for a list of Electors or the candidates for the people who will actually vote for the President (US Electoral College). The number of Electors that each state will have equals the number of Representatives that it sends to the Congress and the number of Senators. This makes the total number of Electors in the Electoral College 538. Presidential candidates need to amass 270 votes from electors to enter the White House. The fact that the citizens vote for one list of electors who represent one candidate means that the list with the largest number of votes in one state will actually give all the votes of that state to one presidential candidate thus effectively nullifying the votes that were given to the other candidate or candidates in that state. What happens as a result of this fact is that several states become the battle ground on which the elections are decided. These states are called “swing states” because the candidate who wins those states usually wins the elections. The reason why that is the case is because most of the states traditionally vote for one party so Southern states usually vote Republican and Northern states usually vote democratic. Therefore, the candidate who wins the swing states – those states in which the outcome of the election is always not that easily predictable, wins the election.

The disputes around Electoral College have a long history and its critics have launched some very powerful arguments that call for its abolition. As early as in 1968, Banzhaf (1968) pointed out that due to the existence of Electoral College the significance of votes in various states is not nearly as equal as it should be. By using a computer analysis he calculated the significance of one vote in all major states. The significance was measured by the likelihood that the vote will actually have an effect on the outcome. So for instance, in all Republican states that have voted Republican on every election for the past 50 years, voting either Democrat or Republican has virtually no impact on the outcome. However, voting Democrat or Republican in Florida, which is one of the most significant swing states, has a much greater chances of influencing the outcome of the entire election. By completing this analysis, Banzhaf (1968) has shown that one vote in a swing states can be worth as much as 3.312 votes in other states due to the way in which the Electoral College is structured.The Signing of the Constitution of the United States -September 17, 1787

As far as more recent calculations are concerned, Gelman et al (2012) did a study in which they tried to calculate the level of probability that an individual’s      vote will determine the election outcome. They postulated that this probability can be determined by multiplying the probability of the individual’s state  being  the decisive state and the chance of one individual vote having an impact on the outcome of the election in that state. The results of the study were  truly  devastating. Votes of individuals in some states counted almost 6 times as much as votes of average persons, while people in some states had several  times  lower influence than that of an average citizen. This study shows that today, the situation is not in any way better than it was 50 years ago.

The central objection that is leveled against the institutions of Electoral College is that it conflicts with democratic principles. Many authors including Banzhaf (1968) have advocated the abolition of Electoral College precisely on those grounds. Edwards (2004) described Electoral College as an instrument on the part of the power elites to suppress the power of democracy while still maintaining the formal character of a democratic process. In other words, the Electoral College is a covert way of nullifying, or at least substantially decreasing, the democratic power that comes with choosing the state officials through an election.

Next, some authors have offered historical claims that call into question the purpose of the Electoral College. Finkelman (2001) has argued that the Constitution made room for the Electoral College as a part of the political compromise with the Southern States. Southern States, according to Finkleman (2001), insisted on making it a part of the Constitution because they saw it as a means of defense against the Northern agenda to abolish slavery. They though that the consistency in voting of the people in Southern States will give them greater power in the political struggle with the North.

It can also be argued that the Electoral College is of the past and it is not appropriate for a modern democracy. For Pierce and Longley (1981) it is clear that the American society has undergone a tremendous transformation from a rural and developing country to the greatest industrial superpower in the world with a large urban population. This kind of transformation should oblige the society to examine its political tradition and do away with the practices that are no longer appropriate as they do not fit the transformed character of the country. The Electoral College is, according to them, the prime example of an outdate form of political organization that is no longer compatible with a highly industrialized and urbanized country. They also cite Banzhaf’s calculation to point out that it is obscene to have one nation in which some people’s voice is three thousand times more powerful than that of others. As an additional problem, Pierce and Longley (1981) stress that this kind of electoral process silences the voices of precisely those people whose voices need to be heard if the society is to be transformed in a progressive way. African-Americans and Native Americans are disproportionately settled in states in which a vote does not have much impact on the outcome. This fact alone should be enough to consider the dissolution of the Electoral College.

The popular preference for Electoral College reform is conditioned upon the perception whether or not the reform will make the individual’s vote more powerful. A survey conducted by Aldrich et al (2013) suggests that Electoral College reform is preferred only by those people whose votes are made purposeless. A person voting Democratic in an all Republican state will probably be in favor of abolishing the institution of the Electoral College while their Republican neighbor will not. This fact shows that there is little concern for establishing a real democratic process, and the popular opinion is mostly influenced by the desire to maximize one’s own power and influence even on the smallest scale. Despite the fact that the desire to maximize the significance of one’s own vote may influence the willingness to reform the Electoral College, it still does not mean that overall there is not democratic readiness to make such a move.

The advocates of the Electoral College have also provided arguments why it should remain in place. As a rule, these arguments come mostly from conservative politicians and commentators who cite the Constitution as the greatest authority. Diamond (1977) does just that. He states that every move towards changing the constitution is a dangerous step into the unknown that could lead to unexpected consequences. However, this argument cannot withstand a more serious historical analysis. As the history of amendments to the Constitution has shown virtually every amendment brought about more liberty and helped the society to progress. Next, Diamond (1977) also relates the attempt to abolish the Electoral College with the current that strives to increase the power of the president by citing the fact that the same groups who supported Roosevelt in his abuse of Presidential power through the New Deal are urging for the abolition of the Electoral College. This kind of argument is also not enough to persuasive as the rejection of a position based on the other views held by the group that advocates it without considering the logic of the position and its potential consequences amounts to an ad hominem argument. The call for more democracy in the process of electing the President and elimination of barriers towards the expression of popular opinion is certainly a democratic and emancipatory step.

In conclusion, the Electoral College should be abandoned and the election process should be reconfigured in a way that accommodates for more direct expression of popular opinion. The fact that votes in some states are several times more important than votes in other states is clearly a sign that there are serious impediments to democracy in the US. Also, as it has been shown, the Electoral College is inherently pointless to minorities as their votes are routinely nullified in the process of electing a President. As a relic of the past, the Electoral College should be considered an outdated concept and the authority of the Constitution should not be an impediment towards improving the American society as the tradition of Constitutional Amendments has consistently shown. The desire to prevent fiascos such as the affair of the Elections in 2000 should be enough of a motivation to carry out the long pending reform.

 

 

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Aldrich, John, Jason Reifler, and Michael C. Munger. “Sophisticated and myopic? Citizen preferences for Electoral College reform.” Public Choice (2013): 1-18.

Banzhaf iII, John F. “One man, 3.312 votes: a mathematical analysis of the Electoral College.” Vill. L. Rev. 13 (1968): 304.

Diamond, Martin. The Electoral College and the American idea of democracy. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1977.

Edwards, George C.. Why the electoral college is bad for America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004. Print.

Finkelman, Paul. “Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College, The.” Cardozo L. Rev. 23 (2001): 1145.

Gelman, Andrew, Nate Silver, and Aaron Edlin. “What is the probability your vote will make a difference?.” Economic Inquiry 50.2 (2012): 321-326.

Parenti, Michael . “The Stolen Presidential Elections.” The Stolen Presidential Elections. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <http://www.michaelparenti.org/stolenelections.html>.

Peirce, Neal R., and Lawrence D. Longley. The people’s President: the electoral college in American history and the direct vote alternative. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. Print.

“U. S. Electoral College: Presidential Election Laws.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/provisions.html>

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