Paul Graham: Stephen, the title of your latest book pretty much says it all. “Israel serves Western imperialism” would be a, a shorter title perhaps. Can we begin at the beginning? Where did the idea of Israel as a modern Jewish state originate?
Stephen Gowans: It originates in the thought of Theodore Hertzel or not only him, but he has probably the most consequential figure. He was a 19th century secular Austrian Jew who was searching for a solution to the problem of antisemitism. And his solution was for Jews to get out of Europe and establish a Jewish majority state elsewhere. I think it’s important to note that his solution contrasts with an alternative solution of building a world of universal equality where all would be equal and free from prejudice and discrimination, as well as free from oppression and exploitation. This latter view was the view proposed by socialists and more robustly, by communists. And it’s a very different view from, the view espoused by Herzl and the solution that he proposed.
Paul Graham: In reading your book, I was amazed to learn that Napoleon Bonaparte was an early proponent of some kind of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Who were some of the other early Zionists?
Stephen Gowans: Well, Zionism was not originally an idea of Jews as one might think today, but of Christians, and they took their Zionist views from their reading of the Old Testament. Indeed, Western statesmen who were the most ardent supporters of political Zionism were usually men who read their Bible regularly. So they believed and evangelical Christians believe today that Palestine was promised to the Jews by their gods, that is, the god of the Christians and the Jews and the Muslims, and that the return of the Jews to Palestine fulfills a biblical prophecy. So you know, evangelical Christians today, and previous decades, believed that anti Zionism or any political position at odds with wholehearted support for Israel is against biblical prophecy. So consequently, they are ardent supporters of a Jewish state in Palestine.