The Israel Lobby: What Everyone Needs to Know (video and transcript)

The Israel Lobby: What Everyone Needs to Know (video and transcript)

Pictures of the US and Israeli flags side-by-side are a common backdrop for speakers at Israel lobby events like AIPAC.

The Israel lobby is the most powerful and the most pernicious lobby representing the interest of a foreign nation in all of American history. Israel and its lobby have been primarily responsible for the failure to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace.

reposted from Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

 [If Americans Knew and the Council for the National Interest helped launch these conferences in 2014. For videos of the first one go here.]

This is part of WRMEA’s annual Israel Lobby conference for 2021. The full speaker list – with links to video and transcripts – is available here.

 

End U.S. Support for Israeli Apartheid? Session 1

Delinda Hanley:  Okay, I am ready to roll. I have the honor of introducing Professor Walter L. Hixson, the author of numerous foreign policy books, who taught history for almost 40 years achieving the rank of distinguished professor at the University of Akron. In 2019 he introduced his book Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict in that year’s National Press Club Conference. We were so impressed by his expertise on the Israel lobby and its impact on U.S. democracy that we asked him to become a contributing editor and pen a regular column he calls “History’s Shadows.” That column and his book reviews are now favorites in each issue of the Washington Report. His talk is called the “Israel Lobby, What Everyone Needs to Know.”

He will talk about his latest book which is on sale right now. You can see the book cover flashing by. It’s called Architects of Repression: How Israel and its Lobby Put Racism, Violence, and Injustice at the Center of the U.S. Middle East Policy. His book describes the most powerful lobby acting on behalf of a foreign government in all of American history. Most historians and professors steer clear of this taboo subject, but Professor Hixson dives right in to describe the role the Israel lobby plays to enable aggression, the suppression of Palestinian rights, and the failure to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace. Take it away, Walter.

Walter Hixson: Thank you, Delinda. And thank you to Grant Smith, and Dale Sprusansky, and Janet McMahon, and Julia Pitner for all the work you’ve done putting together this conference. It’s been a lot of effort and you’ve all done a great job. So here is 25 minutes on the Israel lobby and what everyone needs to know.

The Israel lobby is the most powerful and the most pernicious lobby representing the interest of a foreign nation in all of American history. The little state of Israel, not the behemoths Russia or China as many Americans might imagine or have been led to believe, intrudes more directly into American domestic politics than any other nation in the world. Through these intrusions, the Israel lobby has secured massive American funding for Israel even though it is an apartheid settler colonial state, a regional aggressor, and a major violator of human rights’ norms.

In addition, Israel and its lobby have been primarily responsible for the failure to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace.

Finally, Israel and the lobby have long propelled, in conjunction to be sure with U.S. support for reactionary but oil-rich Arab regimes, a disastrous American foreign policy in the Middle East replete with political instability and forever wars. While the self-serving purpose of the lobby is apparent, the Israel lobby itself is sprawling and complex. It is not a single monolithic entity but rather a multifaceted grouping of ideas, individuals, and organizations united by the commitment to dispense pro-Israel propaganda and simultaneously to discredit critical analysis of the Zionist state.

The largest and most well-funded Israel lobby organization of course is AIPAC. It’s not only far and away the most powerful foreign policy lobby in Washington; it is one of the most powerful lobbies—period. A colossus in the world of Washington politics, AIPAC is often mentioned in the same breath as the gun, pharmaceutical, and retired persons’ lobbies.

As M.J. Rosenberg, a man who should know having worked as an AIPAC propagandist himself for many years in the past, explains AIPAC uses the resources of wealthy people in the American Jewish community to enforce a kind of political orthodoxy in Congress, on the White House, and on the media. Its purpose is to make sure no one in a position of power deviates from the Israel line.

AIPAC has long worked closely with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Both groups typically act in lockstep with the Israeli government. The lobby also encompasses wealthy individual donors, political action committees, and a myriad of other Jewish and Christian Zionist organizations, federations, pressure groups, media watchdogs, college campus organizations and think tanks. There are literally hundreds of such entities in existence including city, regional, and statewide organizations throughout the country and in Europe as well.

In order to fully appreciate the role of the lobby, to understand why it is so large, so powerful, and so crucial to Israel, it is necessary to understand Israel’s identity as a settler colonial state. So bear with me for a little history. More than a trendy term, settler colonialism illuminates the essential mission of settler states which is to displace or otherwise eliminate the indigenous population.

Israel’s settler-colonial history

No one framed the issue more succinctly than the Israeli patriarch David Ben-Gurion who in 1937 declared in a letter to his son, “We must expel Arabs and take their place.” Thus, from the outset, more than a decade before the creation of Israel, the leaders of the Zionist settler colonial movement sought to gain control of as much land as possible with as few indigenous Palestinians as possible remaining on that land. From the Nakba to the efforts to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem this very day, Israel has manifested this fundamental core identity. In my view, Israel is thus best understood as a congenitally aggressive settler state.

While Israel had much in common with other settler societies throughout history, in certain crucial respects Zionist settlement was and remains unique. The demonization of Jews, which endured for centuries and reached its apogee in the Nazi genocide, was of course a distinctive and driving force behind the Zionist movement. Scarred by the traumas of historic anti-Semitism, Zionist leaders such as Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and many others vowed never again to be the victims. Instead, they became the relentless and unapologetic aggressors in Palestine.

The other distinguishing feature, and this is the one that is really crucial to fully appreciate why the Israel lobby is the colossus that it is today, pertains to timing. The Zionist settler state arrived on the international scene much later than the earlier settler societies. Unlike colonial North America, Australia and other settler societies of previous centuries, Israel and the American lobby encountered serious global challenges to settler colonial aggression. World War II and the Nazi genocide had highlighted the horrors of ethnic discrimination and mass killing spurring the creation of the U.N., recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, and the declaration of universal human rights.

The late arrival of Jewish settler colonialism in Palestine established Israel as a reactionary as well as a congenitally aggressive settler colonial state. The violent removal policies aimed at settling as many Jews with as few Palestinians as possible remaining on the land came in sharp contradiction to the post-war vision of decolonization, international justice and racial equality. Israel thus required powerful international support backed by determined campaigns of disinformation to counter the efforts to call the Zionist state to account for its aggression in Palestine.

US, “obvious and indispensable ally”

The United States—the most powerful country in the world, the nation with the largest Jewish population in the world, the heartland of Christian Zionism and an apartheid nation itself at the time—was the obvious and indispensable ally whose support or absence thereof could make or break the Zionist movement.

As Israel carried out its identity as a reactionary settler state, the U.S. State Department and other countries of the world and the U.N. attempted to reign in Zionist aggression which included ethnic cleansing, disdain for the plight of Palestinian refugees, borderland expansion, and laying claim to Jerusalem as the exclusive capital. A massive and perpetual propaganda effort thus arose for the expressed purpose of countering international pressure in the wake of the 1947 partition of Palestine.

Over time the lobby dramatically expanded in scope and sophistication in concert with the unfolding of Israel’s continuous settler colonial aggression. In addition to the assault on Egypt in the 1956 Suez or Sinai War, myriad attacks targeted Jordan and Syria in the years leading up to the June 1967 War, an expansive war that Israel wanted and could not be dissuaded from launching.

Friend and military partner

Under the influence of the increasingly powerful Israel lobby, the United States provided military assistance including sophisticated jet aircraft even as Israel illegally occupied and began to settle in the territories seized in the Six-Day War; even as it introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East thus thumbing its nose at the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty; even as it brutally repressed the Palestinian Intifada in the 1980s and 1990s; even as it repeatedly attacked Lebanon and the Gaza Strip killing and injuring tens of thousands of innocent people; and, even as it refused to make peace.

Israel’s American-backed aggression fueled the rise of Islamic militancy, heightened regional political instability; and, though it is often denied, played a prominent role in provoking the September 11th blowback attacks and the subsequent global war on terror. Today, Israeli aggression continues through blatant violations of international law in the construction of Jewish-only settlements, totaling some 700,000 people in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, as well as in military assaults on Iran and Syria and assassinations that have become routine.

None of this long history of regional aggression would have been possible without American support and largesse secured by the machinations of the metastasizing Israel lobby. In order to secure funding and political support, the lobby obscured Israel’s fundamental identity as a congenitally aggressive settler state running roughshod over indigenous Palestinians. The lobby instead depicted Israel as a beleaguered innocent surrounded by fanatical Arabs who sought to drive the Zionist state into the sea. This disinformation campaign obscured Israel’s history of aggression as well as its military supremacy which had been clearly manifested in the June 1967 War and became even more pronounced thereafter.

Propaganda

Far from the peace-loving sole democracy in the Middle East as lobby propaganda would have it, Israel has been the clear aggressor in the so-called Palestine conflict. Just as we do not blame indigenous North Americans for the centuries of so-called Indian wars, it is wrong to blame the native residents of Palestine for the Middle East conflict. They have been the victims, not the aggressors.

Lobby propaganda went on to promote Israel as a Cold War ally and national security asset of the United States paving the way for the continuous flow of massive U.S. military assistance which has far exceeded that provided to any other nation. As collaboration grew, the United States itself began to mirror the practices of the smaller security state as it instituted increasingly militarized methods of policing at home as well as targeted assassination abroad.

In the face of mounting criticism in recent decades, the Israel lobby has become increasingly aggressive, resorting to disinformation, lawfare, character assassination, attacks on freedom of speech, and cynical efforts to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Not content to repress Palestinians, the lobby now seeks to deprive their fellow Americans of the fundamental liberty of freedom of speech.

AIPAC’s domination of the US Congress

Over the years AIPAC and its allies have taken command of public discourse and undermined presidential authority, but the lobby has been most pronounced in its domination of the Congress of the United States. With rare and anomalous exceptions, Israel gets what it wants from the Congress including of course money. Beginning with the Truman administration, when the nascent lobby tapped the Congress for funding for the settlement of Jewish refugees even as the Zionist state drove some 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, Israel has taken hold of the congressional purse string from that time forward.

Over the ensuing years the increasingly powerful lobby ensured that Israel received annual allocations that eventually came to be provided through an early distribution process that was made available to Israel alone of all the nations in the world.

According to the Congressional Research Service, since 1948 Israel, a small nation of less than 9 million people, has been the most heavily subsidized foreign country in American history. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, the CRS notes the United States has provided Israel $146 billion current or non-inflation adjusted dollars in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. These massive allocations have enabled Israel to become one of the most powerful military regimes in the world.

Today the money continues to flow despite Israel’s ongoing aggression and blatant violations of international law through the construction of the Jewish-only settlements and attacks and assassinations that it carries on with impunity. Israel currently enjoys the fruits of a 10-year $38 billion package even though it already has far and away the preeminent military power in the region and does not face any legitimate threats to its security. Like a trained circus animal, the United States thus routinely doles out a billion-dollar annual welfare checks to a foreign country located some 7,000 miles from American shores, a country that has no compelling need for the assistance.

Those annual billions of dollars could of course be devoted instead to critically important domestic needs or be allocated to more deserving countries including, for example, impoverished Central American neighbors whose desperate refugees appear on American doorsteps.

So how can we explain an utterly irrational policy in which the United States routinely doles out billions of dollars to a small developed and militarized nation? One that openly represses 20 percent of its own population while illegally colonizing adjacent territory, terrorizing its neighbors in the process.

“Perversion of democracy”

What explains the unstinting support for apartheid Israel? Cultural affinity for Israel, including the religious motivations of Christian Zionism, plays an underlying role to be sure. But the main reason for the American largesse is because Israel and its lobby have a vice grip on the U.S. Congress. In Architects of Repression, I offer a detailed history of the tactics the lobby deploys to receive congressional funding including providing or withholding campaign funds, letter-writing campaigns for and against legislation, orchestrated public demonstrations, junkets to Israel and other effective lobbying techniques.

Make no mistake—and, of course, Brian Baird can weigh in on this—members of congress live in mortal fear of AIPAC. They are always made fully aware of AIPAC’s positions on any given matter relating to Israel. They are well trained to toe the pro-Israel line; otherwise, they know they will pay the political consequences. This deplorable situation is about more than money. Fundamentally, it is about the perversion of democracy and the abject failure of a pre-eminent American public institution, the people’s house, the United States Congress. With the exception of the squad, Representative Betty McCollum, Senator Bernie Sanders and a few others, the members of Congress, conservatives and liberals alike, learned to obey the golden rule which is this—Israel gets what it wants. No questions asked. Virtually no criticism allowed.

For decades, Israel and its lobby have been stunningly successful not only in generating lopsided support for Israel but also in deterring analysis of their role in manipulating the American political process. Israel has been enabled through the persistent disinformation campaigns, the chokehold on Congress, and the timidity of the majority of American journalists, academics, and publishers. Whenever an effort is made to critically analyze Israeli aggression, the lobby strikes back with disinformation and ad hominem attack as the distinguished scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt discovered some 15 years ago.

Winds of change

Despite their formidable power, in the long run of remarkable success the tide of history is however turning against Israel and its lobby. At the beginning of the 21st century Palestinians launched the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to mobilize worldwide economic and moral pressure against Israel’s annexationists and apartheid policies. Despite a fierce reaction from Israel and the lobby replete with intimidation and lawfare, the grassroots movement fueled by the global public awareness and the demand for human rights and international justice is not backing down.

In 2018 Israel became its own worst enemy by proclaiming itself an exclusively Jewish state with Hebrew as the official language. Ensconced in the constitution, the nation-state law legally marginalizes 20 percent of Israel’s population comprised of Palestinians, Christians, as well as Muslims and makes a mockery of the longtime Zionist propaganda claim that Israel is the sole democracy of the Middle East. In addition, by repeatedly reelecting Binyamin Netanyahu among other palpably racist politicians annexing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and by moving towards annexation of the West Bank, Israel has become, as we’ve just discussed, a de facto apartheid state.

Israel’s reactionary congenital aggression is complicating the lobby’s work. Although nearly all Republicans as well as mainstream or centrist Democrats led by President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi maintain virtually unquestioned loyalty to Israel and the lobby, the handful of progressive elected representatives advocating justice in Palestine are holding on to their seats despite AIPAC’s venomous attacks and targeting of them. In 2020 AIPAC also suffered some key defeats in congressional elections as its candidates far outspent their opponents but lost anyway.

A 2019 Center for American Progress poll found that 71 percent of Democrats and more than half of Americans as a whole favored conditioning U.S. aid to Israel if it continued to construct illegal settlements and followed through with plans to annex portions of the West Bank. The split between the Democratic Party elites and their base is fast reaching unsustainable proportions. In addition to confronting a loosening of their vice grip on Congress, Israel and the lobby are increasingly alienating a core constituency—American Jews. Traditionally politically progressive, more and more American Jews are acknowledging that Israel’s rejectionism has precluded a just peace.

Many Jews worldwide are acknowledging the crisis of Zionism as well as the failure of the sham peace process. Israel and the lobby thus face a future of growing grassroots Jewish opposition combined with the eventual passing of aging Jewish megadonors personified by the recent death of the 87-year-old casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Continuing struggle over Palestine thus lies ahead and may well pivot on what happens in the United States rather than the Middle East itself. AIPAC fully understands the threats that it faces. It has been mobilizing its resources to fight them and is accustomed to winning.

Since 2008 AIPAC has dramatically expanded its funding, physical facilities in Washington and more than doubled its number of employees. Prior to the cancellation of its 2021 Washington Conference owing to the pandemic, the AIPAC annual meeting was attracting more than 18,000 people including a majority of the members of Congress sitting alongside the members of the Israeli Knesset. In addition, the Israel lobby, as Grant Smith has revealed, is also expanding dramatically in the state governments.

Not exaggerating

Despite the clear and pernicious influence of the Israeli lobby that I have outlined today and explained in depth in my book, skeptics including sadly some well-known advocates for justice in Palestine inexplicably insist on downplaying the influence of the lobby. While few people question the clout of the gun, pharmaceutical and elderly person lobbies, applying the same logic to the Israel lobby is nonetheless too often derided as hyperbole if not a conspiracy theory. Deniers cite the rare and ephemeral defeats suffered by Israel and the lobby ignoring that they have prevailed for decades on far and away the most significant issue precluding a comprehensive Middle East peace accord while enabling the relentless expansion of Jewish-only settlements and Israel’s violent aggression in the region.

Allow me to channel Robert McNamara on Vietnam in response to all those who would deny lobby influence. You are wrong. You are terribly wrong. By clinging to the pretension that a focus on the lobby is for smaller minds and conspiracy theorists, you are part of the problem rather than of the solution. You are making the lobby’s job easier and the task of promoting justice in Palestine more difficult. Please, if you do not care to study the lobby and inform yourself as to the depth and significance of its activities, the best move you can make is to hit your mute button on this subject.

The stakes are high in the struggle for justice in Palestine and for understanding the power of Israel and the lobby within the United States. In addition to the financial costs to the American taxpayer, there are political, moral, and national security costs and consequences as well. The United States has undermined its oft-proclaimed commitment to liberty and democracy through its support of Zionist repression in Palestine and through its obeisance to a lobby serving the interest of a foreign power. The United States has also badly compromised the United Nations as a forum for peacemaking and promotion of international justice.

It remains possible to create a unified state or some form of negotiated political entity in which Jews, Muslims, Christians and others would be free to live, work, and worship in a shared space with Jerusalem and its special places open and accessible to all. Israel is located in the Middle East. Many of its citizens are Sephardic Jews who migrated from other Middle East countries. Israel, therefore, has the potential to become a decolonized Middle Eastern nation.

The dramatic changes that are required in the Middle East and Middle East politics depend to a great extent on a critical mass of Americans coming to understand that they are financing racial repression, aggression and attacks on free speech. At a minimum, the United States should make all future financial assistance and political support of Israel dependent upon a just solution in Palestine. In order to make this approach a reality, the lobby’s grip on Congress must be publicized, condemned, and broken. The liberation of Palestine and of Americans from an oppressive lobby is on the agenda of humanity. Thank you.

Delinda Hanley: Thank you very much, Walter Hixson. Your book should be at the top of the list for both beginning and knowledgeable readers seeking to understand U.S. policy in the region and the Israel lobby. I think you’ve also convinced us that there will never be peace in the Middle East until the Israel lobby is neutralized. We hope your prediction that the tide is turning is correct.


Walter L. Hixson since 2019 serves as columnist and contributing editor at the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. This is his second book on the Israel lobby following Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict. (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

He is the author of several books focused on the history of US foreign relations, including American Foreign Relations: A New Diplomatic History (Routledge, 2015), American Settler Colonialism: A History (2013, Palgrave-Macmillan), The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy (Yale University Press, 2008). The new book by distinguished historian Walter L. Hixson—Architects of Repression: How Israel and Its Lobby Put Racism, Violence and Injustice at the Center of U.S. Middle East Policy—offers a compelling history of the most powerful lobby acting on behalf of a foreign government in all of American history. Hixson will summarize the book’s finding that the Israel lobby has played and continues to play the crucial role in enabling aggression, the suppression of Palestinian rights, and the failure to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace. Hixson explains why there will never be peace in the Middle East until the monolithic Israel lobby is neutralized.


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