Palestine, the Israel Lobby, Rachel Corrie, again…
Three years ago Thursday, Rachel Corrie was accidentally killed by an Israeli bulldozer after she entered a closed Israeli military zone to protect Palestinian homes that were sitting on top of tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists to smuggle illegal weapons to be used against Israeli civilians. Rachel Corrie was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISD), a firm supporter of Palestinian terrorism (what the ISD calls “resistance”), “by any means necessary.”….
Palestinian terrorism insures that Israeli bulldozers have very litlte visibility because of the need to protect the driver with metal shielding. Ms. Corrie chose to lay down in front of a bulldozer. Her act was not one of peace, but of suicide. Clearly Ms. Corrie spent too much time in the company of suicide killers and their supporters.
Now, a few weeks ago I had indeed mentioned the fact that the play based on Rachel Corrie’s writings had been censored in New York. This I had learned from a post by the Australian writer Alison Croggon on the Buffalo Poetics list — a post which generated a long and heated debate, with some of the truly ugliest posts I have witnessed since the inception of that list. Surprised? No. Whenever it comes to Palestine and the cynical, imperialist and repressive politics of the state of Israel, this place (the U.S. of A) acts like a famously stupid bird: it stuffs its head in the sand & refuses to acknowledge what is clear to the vast majority of people around the world.
And if the good denizens are not performing this act of self-blinding fast enough, they get help by having their heads shoved into the sand by a range of more or less anonymous orgs, both long-standing and ad hoc, with both access to the largest US media outlets and with an eye on the smallest places of resistamnce, such as my little-visited blog. Thus this “why palestinians usually get it wrong” post mentioned above. If you try to track back to the sender, all you get is a blog by the same name, started earlier this month — like when the Corrie play censorship started to make a little splash in the media? — and dedicated to anti-Palestinian, i.e. pro-Israel propaganda. Do I believe in a “conspiracy”? No, just in a very well organized pro-Israel lobby. Am I paranoid? Only in the sense in which William Burroughs proposed that “a paranoid is a man who knows the facts.”
It is interesting in this context to note that two American researchers, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, working at the University of Chicago and at Harvard, respectively, have just finished a major research paper on “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy,” a version of which was published, not by any major US media of the left (well, liberal center-right is the best it gets here) or the right (of course not), but by a European magazine, the London Review of Books. Here are several extracts from what is a very long essay:
Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain.
Other recipients get their money in quarterly installments, but Israel receives its entire appropriation at the beginning of each fiscal year and can thus earn interest on it. Most recipients of aid given for military purposes are required to spend all of it in the US, but Israel is allowed to use roughly 25 per cent of its allocation to subsidise its own defence industry. It is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent, which makes it virtually impossible to prevent the money from being used for purposes the US opposes, such as building settlements on the West Bank. Moreover, the US has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems, and given it access to such top-drawer weaponry as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the US gives Israel access to intelligence it denies to its Nato allies and has turned a blind eye to Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the IAEA’s agenda. The US comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel’s side when negotiating peace.
Some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a ‘neglectful and discriminatory’ manner towards them. Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights.
A third justification is the history of Jewish suffering in the Christian West, especially during the Holocaust. Because Jews were persecuted for centuries and could feel safe only in a Jewish homeland, many people now believe that Israel deserves special treatment from the United States. The country’s creation was undoubtedly an appropriate response to the long record of crimes against Jews, but it also brought about fresh crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians.
This was well understood by Israel’s early leaders. David Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann, the president of the World Jewish Congress:
If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country . . . We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?
So if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America’s support for Israel, how are we to explain it?
The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. We use ‘the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues….
Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence American
foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and best known. In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People, but ahead of the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington ‘muscle rankings’.
The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel’s rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God’s will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters.
In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers’ unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy: the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better. By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel Lobby’s task even easier.
The Lobby pursues two broad strategies. First, it wields its significant influence in Washington, pressuring both Congress and the executive branch. Whatever an individual lawmaker or policymaker’s own views may be, the Lobby tries to make supporting Israel the ‘smart’ choice. Second, it strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support, because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favour a different policy.
A key pillar of the Lobby’s effectiveness is its influence in Congress, where Israel is virtually immune from criticism. This in itself is remarkable, because Congress rarely shies away from contentious issues. Where Israel is concerned, however, potential critics fall silent. One reason is that some key members are Christian Zionists like Dick Armey, who said in September 2002: ‘My No. 1 priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.’ One might think that the No. 1 priority for any congressman would be to protect America. There are also Jewish senators and congressmen who work to ensure that US foreign policy supports Israel’s interests.
Another source of the Lobby’s power is its use of pro-Israel congressional staffers. As Morris Amitay, a former head of AIPAC, once admitted, ‘there are a lot of guys at the working level up here’ – on Capitol Hill – ‘who happen to be Jewish, who are willing . . . to look at certain issues in terms of their Jewishness . . . These are all guys who are in a position to make the decision in these areas for those senators . . . You can get an awful lot done just at the staff level.’
AIPAC’s influence on Capitol Hill goes even further. According to Douglas Bloomfield, a former AIPAC staff member, ‘it is common for members of Congress and their staffs to turn to AIPAC first when they need information, before calling the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, committee staff or administration experts.’ More important, he notes that AIPAC is ‘often called on to draft speeches, work on legislation, advise on tactics, perform research, collect co-sponsors and marshal votes’.
The bottom line is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. In other words, one of the three main branches of the government is firmly committed to supporting Israel. As one former Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, noted on leaving office, ‘you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.’ Or as Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, ‘when people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them: “Help AIPAC.”’
Some of what the article states will come as a surprise to citizens of this country. It doesn’t come as a surprise to most people elsewhere. Here is how it was received by Palestinian journalist Laila El-Haddad, who lives in Gaza City on the Gaza strip and writes on her blog named “Raising Yousuf: a diary of a mother under occupation”:
Hold your breath for this one folks, and prepare to be blown away: according to a truly earth-shattering new study published Thursday by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Chicago, U.S. Middle East policy is not in America’s national interest and is motivated primarily by the country’s pro-Israel lobby.
And it took Ivy League professors to figure this out? Tell us something we don’t know!
In all seriousness, though the conclusions couldn’t be more obvious if they were to hit them in the face (then, Einstein was self-admittedly a slow learner too), it took guts for Meirsheimer and Walt (with whom I took classes) to publish something like this given what lengths I’m sure Dershowitz and company will go to discredit them and label them anti-semites. In the report, they ‘dare’ to question the U.S.’s unqualified support for Israel as well as Israel’s strategic value, democracy, and alleged moral superiority, and surmise that the lobby may be damanging to the interests of Israel itself.
“Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a ‘neglectful and discriminatory’ manner towards them. Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights.”
Finally, someone saying it like it is.
I want to echo this last feeling: Finally, someone saying it like it is.