By Jeffrey Blankfort
Excerpted from “Yes, Blame the Lobby,” published by Dissident Voice, April 11, 2006
In March 2006, the London Review of Books published “Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” an article by Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Steven Walt, Academic Dean of the Kennedy Center at Harvard University, two nationally known academic figures with impeccable credentials. (The authors afterward wrote an even more thorough book on the same topic.)
This article, critical of the Israel lobby in the US, propelled into the mainstream an issue that had long been confined to the margins. This issue had been avoided not only by the efforts of the Israel lobby itself, but also by those on the Left who prefer to view US foreign policy as being determined by corporate elites and who had long worked to prevent public awareness of the Israel lobby and its role in driving U.S. policies.
Jeffrey Blankfort provided a detailed response to claims minimizing the role of the Israel lobby. Below are some of the facts that he provided:
Israel lobby critics do not deny US imperialism
Critics of the Israel lobby have no illusions about the evils of US imperialism that have and will continue to exist, irrespective of the lobby… Serious critics of the Israel lobby do not in any way exonerate the US from responsibility for its actions; however Middle East policies were formed under immense Israeli pressure. Israel and its lobby have pushed the US to launch policies that not in its own interest; US support for Israel has generated serious problems in the region, and has been costly in lives and money.
All presidents told Israel to end the occupation
Every US president since Richard Nixon, with the Rogers Plan in 1969, has made an effort to get Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967, not out of any love for the Palestinians, but because Israel’s continuing occupation of those lands, from the Sinai to the Golan Heights, was creating unnecessary problems in a region where maintaining stability of the regions’ oil resources was and remains a necessity. Every one of those plans was undermined by the lobby.
In 1975, Gerald Ford, upset because Israel was refusing to disengage from areas it had taken in the Sinai during the 1973 war, halted aid to Israel and publicly let it be known that he was going to make a major speech that would call for a downsizing of US-Israel relations and demanding that Israel to return to its 1967 borders. Within three weeks, AIPAC presented Ford with a letter signed by 76 senators, from liberal Democrats to extreme right wing Republicans, warning him not to take any steps that would jeopardize Israel’s security. Ford did not make the speech.
Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, was repeatedly in conflict with both Israel and the lobby. Neither wanted the Camp David treaty but Carter doggedly pushed it through, although it required a multi-billion dollar bribe to get Begin’s signature. In 1978, before the treaty went into effect, Begin invaded Lebanon, hoping, some speculated, that Egypt would react and the treaty would be nullified since Israel did not want to give up the Sinai. Carter further angered Israel and the lobby by demanding that Begin withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon three months later.
Andrew Young – When he told Begin, publicly, to halt settlement building, the Israeli prime minister responded by announcing the start of 10 new settlements while the lobby criticized Carter for bringing up the subject. When UN Ambassador Andrew Young violated an Israeli demand and a lobby-enforced rule that prohibited US officials from meeting with the PLO, (much like the lobby imposed rule about US officials meeting with Hamas officials today), he was forced to resign. When Carter, like Ford, was considering giving a televised speech in 1979 in which he planned to outline the divergence of interests between the US and Israel and denounce Israeli intransigence on the Palestinian issue, he was warned by the lobby, as one Jewish leader put it, that he would be the first president to “risk opening the gates of anti-Semitism in America.” Carter decided not to give the speech.
Donald McHenry – There was an exception to all those US vetoes and it came during the Carter administration. In March 1980, Young’s successor, Donald McHenry, also an African-American, voted to censure Israel for its settlement policy, including Jerusalem. The lobby was outraged and Carter was forced to apologize. The last straw for the lobby was when Carter called for an international conference in Geneva to settle the Israel-Palestine question that would include the Soviet Union. It didn’t matter that he was forced to apologize for that, too. In 1980, he received 48% of the Jewish vote, the poorest showing of any Democrat since they began counting such things.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982, both houses of Congress roared their approval, it being, after all, an election year. When the reports of the siege of Beirut were becoming too much to ignore, Reagan asked Sharon to call a halt. Sharon’s response was to bomb the city at 2:42 and 3:38 the next afternoon, those hours, coincidentally, being the numbers of the two UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. When Reagan, like Carter, also publicly called on Begin to halt settlement building, the Israeli prime minister announced the building of new settlements and sent the president a “Dear Ronnie,” letter letting him know who was making those decisions.
In Reagan’s second term, he tried again to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict with what came to be known as the Shultz Plan, named after his Secretary of State, George Shultz. It called for an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who had replaced Begin, was having none of it. One cartoon of the day depicted Shamir sitting in a chair, cutting up pieces of paper while Reagan and Shultz looked on. “How cute,” said Reagan, “he’s cutting up paper dolls.” “Those aren’t paper dolls,” responded Shultz. “That’s our peace plan.” Another showed Reagan and Shamir sitting in armchairs across from one another with Shamir holding a smoking gun in his hand while a dove falls from the sky. Reagan says, “You didn’t have to do that.” Shamir’s intransigence finally provoked 30 senators, including some of Israel’s biggest supporters, into sending him a letter asking him to be more cooperative. They were hardly prepared for the firestorm from the lobby that followed that sent each of them stumbling to apologize. The Shultz Plan was effectively dead.
George Bush Senior
When George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan, he made it clear that he wanted a halt to the settlements and for Israel to get out of the OT, as well. He arranged for the Madrid Peace Conference over the objections of the obstinate Shamir, making concessions as to the composition of the Palestinian delegation to appease both Israel and the lobby. Was this conference, like the one called for by Carter, like the one planned by Reagan just a charade? Before the conference took place, Shamir asked the US for $10 billion in loan guarantees. Bush made compliance with that request contingent on Israel agreeing to halt all settlement building, its agreement not to settle any Russian immigrants in the West Bank, and to wait 120 days, to see if the first two requests had been complied with. An enraged Shamir decided to go over his head to the lobby-controlled Congress.
After receiving a letter signed by 242 members of Congress urging the swift passage of the loan guarantees, Bush realized that the Lobby had enough votes to override his threatened veto of the request. This led him to take the unprecedented step of calling a national press conference on the day when an estimated thousand Jewish lobbyists were on Capitol Hill pushing for a swift passage of Israel’s request. In the press conference, Bush denounced the arrogance of the lobby and told the American people how much aid each Israeli man, woman and child was getting from the US Treasury. The polls the next day showed that 85% of the American public was with him and a month and a half later only 44% of the public supported giving any aid to Israel at all while over 70% supported giving aid to the former Soviet Union.
AIPAC, in the face of Bush’s attack, pulled back, but then launched a steady attack against him which began to be reflected in the US media where even old friends like the NY Times columnist William Safire would eventually desert him for Bill Clinton. Under tremendous pressure and with the election approaching, Bush finally consented to the loan guarantees, but it was too late. The Lobby blamed him for Shamir having been defeated by Rabin and his goose was cooked.
It is no secret that pro-Israel Jewish neocons have been heavily involved in creating the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and the IMF. Indeed, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Gulf War, is now the head of the World Bank.
Starving and then invading Iraq, threatening to invade Syria, raiding and then sanctioning Libya and Iran, besieging the Palestinians and their leaders must also be blamed on the Israeli lobby and not the US government.
While it was not well known, but no secret, that the Lobby played a key role in getting the votes for the first Gulf War, the reporting of which resulted in the firing of the Washington Jewish Week’s Larry Cohler at the behest of AIPAC inductee Steve Rosen, the orchestration of the current war by a handful of Jewish Likud-connected neocons with the support of the Israel Lobby was widely reported in the mainstream press. If there was a question as to who was the chief architect, it was a choice between Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Scooter Libby.
The “Clean Break” paper that Perle, Feith, and Meyrav Wurmser wrote for Netanyahu in 1996 called for the overthrow of Iraq, Syria and Iran, which Mearsheimer and Walt mention. The “Project for a New American Century,” was another document drawn up by pro-Israel Jewish neocons. The Office of Special Plans, set up by Feith and run by another Jewish neocon, Abe Shulsky, was directed to provide the phony intelligence that would justify the invasion when the CIA staff was not prepared to do it. Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9-11 commission, admitted that the war in Iraq was for “the security of Israel”: but that would have been a “hard sell” to the American people. And, as for implementing and maintaining the sanctions, the advocacy of the lobby was equally evident.
Lebanon, Iraq, Syria
In 1958, Pres. Eisenhower sent the Marines to Lebanon to prevent what was thought to be a radical nationalist move against the status quo, but the US has only invaded Arab countries twice, Kuwait in 1991, to oust the Iraqis and in 2003. The first required the assistance of the Israel lobby capped by the phony incubator story that was orchestrated by Rep. Tom Lantos, an author or co-sponsor of numerous Iraqi and Syria sanction bills and anti-Palestinian legislation. (According to the Jerusalem Post, Lantos represents Israel in countries where it has no diplomatic recognition.)
Israel and the lobby had anticipated that the Senior Bush would remove Saddam as called for in the Clean Break and when he didn’t they started criticizing him and planning for a future administration that would do the job and the record on that is very clear. AIPAC took credit for writing the anti-Syrian legislation that led to the withdrawal from Lebanon of the relatively small number of Syrian forces that were in the country and more recently the Lobby has been the only sector of US society actively calling for what is unmistakably an armed confrontation with Iran.
Weapons industry does not drive the policy
The Middle East is the only region where a stable environment is required to maintain the oil that fuels much of the world’s economy, including our own. The Middle East is also the only region where there is continued instability. The US has sought political stability, the kind of stability that provides a ready source of raw materials and an outlet for US products.
From the end of the Vietnam War to the beginning of the first Gulf War, the profits of the weapons industry continued to soar, proving that an actual shooting war was not necessary for the arms manufacturers to make windfall profits or the capitalist system to survive. Given that both US political parties are committed to what is euphemistically called “national defense,” there is no debate in Congress over the size of the military budget.
Other countries too prioritize national defense, and buy US-made weaponry, some of which may be used to quiet domestic rebellions, and some, like fighter jets, for national pride and kickbacks on both sides. It is only in the Middle East where a stable environment is required to maintain the oil that fuels much of the world’s economy, including our own, where there is continued instability, and this is the fault of Israel and its lobby.
The Cuba lobby which is, in fact, more properly called the anti-Cuba lobby, not coincidentally, has a strong working relationship with AIPAC for their mutual benefit, but it doesn’t begin to compare with the Israel Lobby’s power although it has seen to it that Florida will stay in the Republican column. Of course, if Israel was a communist or anti-imperialist country, the Jews in the US would no doubt be like the anti-Castro Cubans, calling on the US to liberate it.
Support for Israel endangers Americans
Regarding the families of the marines, soldiers and sailors killed in the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, as well as American diplomats who have been targeted in the region over the years: Had Israel not invaded Lebanon, these American servicemen killed in their barracks might still be alive, as well the members of the CIA who were wiped out in an earlier bombing of the US embassy in Beirut. Furthermore, without getting into the serious questions that remain unanswered about the 9-11 attack, it has been accepted by those who believe the official narrative that US support for Israel was one of the reasons behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. If the authors and others, including this writer have argued are correct, a significant portion of the responsibility for the dead and wounded on both sides in Iraq can be laid at the feet of Israel and the Israel Lobby, but the latter, in particular.
The US, as a country, is not loved or well liked anywhere except, perhaps, Israel. Much depends, of course, on an individual’s political consciousness, but most of the peoples of the world have had a love-hate relationship with the US, despising its policies but colonized by its materialism. The war on Iraq and the US voters’ re-election of Bush have put more weight in the “hate” column, and in Latin America, Bush has proved to be the most unpopular US president since they started taking polls. It is not unlikely that as the war continues and the US continues to make threats against Iran, again pressured by the Lobby, the degree of antagonism towards the US and US products is certain to increase.
Israel has never seen the US as its master. Not a single Israeli soldier has shed a drop of blood for US interests and as Ariel Sharon said on Israeli army radio several years ago, the US knows that no Israeli soldier ever will. At the time of Israel’s attack on Egypt in 1967, France was the major arms supplier and the certain sectors of the US government were engaged with members of Egypt’s military. To describe the defeat of Nasser as a service done by Israel for the benefit of the US, is a both an oversimplification as well as a distortion of history. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1973 war, when Israel, under attack by Egypt and Syria, threatened to use its nuclear weapons unless the US came through with a massive conventional arms airlift, that US support for Israel really took off. So did the oil prices as an Arab oil boycott was implemented in response. Was the very real threat of a nuclear war, which would have brought in the Soviet Union, in the US interest? Was the Arab oil embargo?
Latin America and South Africa
Israel’s arms sales in Latin America and South Africa were done to benefit Israel’s arms industry and that they were useful to the US was a secondary factor. What the Lobby was able to do was keep members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including the notable Ron Dellums, from publicly condemning Israel’s arms sales to South Africa in violation of international sanctions, and to silence those members of Congress who were quick to condemn US actions in Central America but afraid to do so when Israel was the malefactor. That fear is no less prevalent in Congress today where any member can get up to criticize George Bush but none dare say a negative word about the Israeli prime minister, irrespective of who holds that office.
Jordan & Syria
Israel’s role in the Jordanian-Palestinian conflict in 1970 is always raised by those who argue for Israel’s usefulness. We are told that Israel was acting at the behest of the US when it threatened to intervene if Syrian tanks moved south to defend the Palestinians under attack by Jordan’s King Hussein and that this prevented the possible overthrow of the US-friendly Hashemite regime. This fits neatly fits into the client state scenario, except it is missing a key element. What was crucial in that situation was the refusal of Hafez Al-Assad, then head of the Syrian air force, and not a supporter of the PLO, to back up the Syrian tank force that had entered Northern Jordan. Shortly thereafter, Al-Assad staged a coup against the pro-Palestinian president Atassi and proceeded to throw hundreds of Palestinians and pro-Palestinian Syrians in prison and break up the radical Syrian-supported militia group, Al-Saika. This bit of history has apparently now been written out of history.
When Israel neutralized the PLO in 1982, it was appreciated in the beginning by many Lebanese, particularly in the south who found some elements of the PLO heavy-handed and were tired of having a liberation war fought on their soil – until they began to experience Israeli occupation for themselves and began to resist. The Israeli attack violated an 11-month cease-fire that had been negotiated by Ambassador Philip Habib and to which the PLO had strictly adhered. The Senior Bush, then vice-president, opposed the Israeli invasion and wanted Israel to be censured and was overruled by Reagan and Alexander Haig. A year before Bush Sr. was angered by Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor and wanted Israel censured at that time, but was again overruled.
Israel did provide training to US troops on the techniques used to occupy and repress a hostile Arab population, only too pleased to have the US join it as the only foreign occupier of Arab soil which may have been one of the reasons the Israeli government (as well as the lobby) wanted the US to invade Iraq. With the US taking the same kind of harsh measures to repress the Iraqis, it would be less likely to complain about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and this has proved to be the case. Israel has been called by Chomsky America’s “cop on the beat” in the Middle East, but when military intervention has been thought necessary it has always been American soldiers that have done the fighting. In fact, US soldiers were sent to Israel during the first Gulf War to operate the Patriot missile batteries to defend the Israelis.
Read our history and see what has befallen those politicians who have challenged the lobby and were subsequently targeted and defeated beginning with Sen. J William Fulbright who in the early 60s sought to restrict the lobby’s growing power. There are several books written by both supporters of the lobby and its critics that clearly demonstrate its influence as well as the tales of former members of Congress who were its victims.
Edward Said on the Israel lobbyEvery two years, one hears or reads, regarding some issue that deals with Israel, that “the president” or “Congress” “is not likely to act [against Israel] due to domestic political considerations in an election year.” To a great extent, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a domestic US issue. That the Palestine solidarity movement has ignored that fact is a primary reason that to this point in time it has been an utter failure. This should be a source of embarrassment and reflection, but it so far there is no sign of it.
There was another Columbia professor who had a more profound understanding of the situation who is sorely missed and, perhaps, never more so than at this moment. I refer to the late Edward Said. In his contribution to The New Intifada, entitled, appropriately, “America’s Last Taboo,” he did not mince words:
What explains this [present] state of affairs? The answer lies in the power of Zionist organizations in American politics, whose role throughout the “peace process” has never been sufficiently addressed — a neglect that is absolutely astonishing, given the policy of the PLO has been in essence to throw our fate as a people into the lap of the United States, without any strategic awareness of how American policy is dominated by a small minority whose views about the Middle East are in some ways more extreme than those of Likud itself. (Emphasis added)
And on the subject of AIPAC, Said wrote:
[T]he American Israel Public Affairs Committee – AIPAC — has for years been the most powerful single lobby in Washington. Drawing on a well-organized, well-connected, highly visible and wealthy Jewish population, AIPAC inspires an awed fear and respect across the political spectrum. Who is going to stand up to this Moloch in behalf of the Palestinians, when they can offer nothing, and AIPAC can destroy a professional career at the drop of a checkbook? In the past, one or two members of Congress did resist AIPAC openly, but the many political action committees controlled by AIPAC made sure they were never re-elected… If such is the material of the legislature, what can be expected of the executive?
Although it is trying, the Israel Lobby does not yet control our academics. On the critical issue of the lobby’s power, it is time they stop acting like it does.
Jeffrey Blankfort is former editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin, long-time photographer, and has written extensively on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elephants Not in the Room (critique of journalist Greg Palast)