Stage prior to the start of the plenary session at a conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
Ilhan Omar, the newly elected congresswoman from Minnesota at the centre of allegations of “anti-Semitism”, has drawn attention to a particularly sensitive topic at the heart of American politics: the power wielded by the American Israel-Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Zionist lobby groups. For while it is the case as Omar remarked that the influence of other powerful lobbies are often remarked upon and scrutinised, the same cannot be said of the Israel lobby and the clout wielded by operators of Jewish origin. But the impact of this influence, or even “control”, over members of congress so far as the conduct of the electoral process, as well as in foreign policy issues relating to the Middle East is concerned, justifies the need for open public scrutiny, which many are increasingly coming to believe has been long overdue.
American Politics and the Zionist Lobby
“...the thrust of US policy in the region (Middle East) derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country - in this case, Israel - are essentially identical.”
- John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby” in the London Review of Books, March 2006.
Four years ago when in March 2015, Binyamin Netanyahu stood before the United States Congress to deliver a speech, he offered his thanks to the gathered Democrats and Republicans for what he said was their “common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade”. He went on to say, “No matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel.”
Members of Congress interrupted to applaud 39 times; 23 of which were standing ovations. Each came not after a compelling episode of spoken eloquence, enchanting poeticism or other display of oratorical prowess, but were reactions to short, essentially mundane statements. It was a replay of Netanyahu’s previous address before a joint session of Congress in May, 2011 when he received a total of 28 standing ovations in 47 minutes.
While the mainstream media was content to portray the reception given by US lawmakers as befitting to a visiting world statesman, others saw in each and every exaltation of Netanyahu a shameful display of obeisance.
The idea of American congressmen demonstrating their servility to a foreign power featured in the background of Netanyahu’s 2015 visit. Contrary to established convention, he had been invited to speak before Congress by the Republican House Speaker John Boehner over the head of the serving president, Barack Obama. The subsequent fawning nature of the gathered members merely underlined the power dynamic which “decade after decade” has kept Congress in line: the power of the Israel lobby, and in particular, that of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC.
Formed in 1951, AIPAC is tasked with lobbying the legislative and executive branches of the American state. It does so to promote a special relationship between Israel and the United States, a goal which is justified on the basis that both nations share the same values, most important of which is a commitment to democracy and individual rights. It consistently works towards securing substantial military aid for Israel and maintaining other forms of material and moral support for that country.
Today, AIPAC has a ‘caucus’ in every congressional district from which it can apply pressure to each and every member of Congress. Its website recruits members to join its ‘Congressional Club’ and undertake to commit to providing monies to candidates in a “clearly pro-Israel context” to the tune of “$2,500 a year, or $5,000 per two-year election cycle.”
The requirement that its members join the Congressional Club along with its use of shell organisations are ploys used by AIPAC to avoid registering with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a political action committee.
AIPAC executes a number of tried and tested strategies which ensure the raising of large sums of money by a range of ad hoc groups that are tied to it, but which do not appear in public documents to be linked to it. In an Al Jazeera documentary which was pulped due to pressure emanating from the pro-Israel lobby, David Ochs, the founder of HaLev, an organisation which facilitates the transporting of young people to AIPAC’s annual conference, described one such group which had no official name as “definitely the wealthiest in D.C.”, adding, “It’s the AIPAC group. It makes a difference; it really, really does. It’s the best bang for your buck, and the networking is phenomenal.”
The Guardian noted that AIPAC spent around $3.5 million on lobbying during the 2018 election cycle, and that pro-Israel lobby groups spent about $5 million in 2018 -the highest recorded amount since tracking began in 1998.
According to Tom Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, a candidate with AIPAC backing can raise in three telephone calls what his opponent would need 50,000 calls to raise. AIPAC’s influence is so pervasive that on leaving office, Ernest Hollings, a former Democratic Senator, claimed that “you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.”
The promotion of Zionist interests extends further than AIPAC. There are a host of organisations emanating from Jewish communities within the United States, as well as among non-Jews, including Christian Zionist bodies, who lobby on Israel’s behalf. As John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt put it, the ‘Israel lobby’ is “a loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” So while the lobby is not a monolithic entity headed by a centralised leadership, the activities of AIPAC and others have ensured that the pro-Zionist lobby is arguably the most powerful influencing machine in Washington D.C.
Money of course plays a decisive role in ensuring influence within the American political system. The ‘pork-barrel’ culture of elected politicians being disposed to return favours to moneyed interests is long established. The way Huey Long, the celebrated governor of Louisiana and federal senator, put it was that officeholders are “dime a dozen punks”. Therefore, the powerful lobbies, including those related to the right to bear arms, the pharmaceutical, the oil and military industry, are consistently taken to task in regard to the extent of the influence which they have over serving congressmen. However, Ilhan Omar’s comments provide useful evidence that the same cannot be said of the pro-Israel lobby.
Present electoral laws mean that all congressmen are cognisant of the need to secure the greatest amount of funding. Being outspent in an election may almost certainly lead to being outvoted and either losing one’s seat or failing to get elected. This correlation between money and election results, for long underplayed by social scientists, has been confirmed in studies carried out in recent decades. Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist and professor emeritus of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has been providing empirical evidence on this matter since his book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition was published in 1995. In it, he argued that wealthy individuals and corporations strategically invest in political parties in anticipation of reaping tangible benefits.
Surveys conducted by Ferguson and his academic collaborators Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen in relation to elections from 1980 to 2012, establish a clear pattern: the party which outspends its competitor wins. It is no surprise that many members of the US Congress are the willing beneficiaries of money coming from pro-Israel donors.
But a crucial element of this narrative is that the Israel lobby funds candidates from both sides of the political divide. This win-win strategy, goes some way in explaining the “year after year, decade after decade” bipartisan support for Israel alluded to by Netanyahu in his speech before Congress in 2015.
The history of pro-Zionist leverage over members of Congress and the presidency is not often remarked upon by mainstream political scientists and historians. Yet, since the creation of the State of Israel, this lobby has always ensured that it has had a ‘linkman’ in the White House. David Niles fulfilled this role during the administration of Harry Truman, a part which was performed by Maxwell Rabb during the Eisenhower years. Myer Feldman was in place during the successive administrations led by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and it is a trend which has been continued in recent times by the appointment by Donald Trump of his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Successive presidents have had to grapple with the decidedly aggressive methods used by the Zionist lobby during the electoral process and when they are ensconced in office. President John F. Kennedy was treated with great suspicion by Zionist lobby groups. His father, the former ambassador to the Court of St. James, had been considered anti-Semitic because of his isolationist stance which was informed to a large degree by his belief that Jewish groups campaigned to push the United States into an ‘unnecessary’ war with Germany.
Unlike his younger brother Robert, who was viewed as philo-Semitic and a life-long advocate of the Jewish state, Kennedy’s support for Algerian independence was frowned upon by Israel, whose prime minister, David Ben Gurion, expressed his implacable opposition to the idea. Kennedy’s private opposition to Israel’s development of a nuclear capability would later set him on a collision course with Ben Gurion.
Although the son of a very wealthy businessman, Kennedy, like all politicians needed to raise campaign money, in his case for his presidential run, as well as for the general benefit of the Democratic Party. Only the second Catholic to run for the presidency, Kennedy’s campaign ran into difficulties on a number of occasions. One instance of difficulty led to a remarkable episode involving a meeting with about 20 prominent Jewish businessmen and financiers. It was arranged by Abraham Ribicoff, the governor of Connecticut, and took place at a hotel apartment rented by the businessman Abe Feinberg, the man credited with saving Harry Truman’s 1948 presidential run from ruin by organising a ‘whistle-stop’ fundraising tour.
At the meeting, Kennedy was carefully scrutinised by his potential benefactors who raised the issue of his father’s negative legacy among many Jews. In fact, at one point, the accusation that the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” was thrown at him. The group agreed to make an initial contribution of $500,000 with more to come. But, crucially, there were strings attached. This related to the policy that Kennedy would pursue in the Middle East if he won.
These details are missing from Feinberg’s recollections. While Feinberg claimed that Kennedy’s voice broke with emotion when expressing his gratitude while speaking to him by phone soon after the meeting, the newspaper columnist and JFK confidant, Charles C. Bartlett recalled a different reaction by Kennedy. “As an American citizen,” Bartlett recalled, “he was outraged to have a Zionist group come to him and say: “We know your campaign is in trouble. We’re willing to pay your bills if you’ll let us have control of your Middle East policy.”
“They wanted control”, Kennedy angrily told Bartlett.
This experience convinced Kennedy that the way forward was to reform the manner in which campaign monies were raised, and during his first year in office, he established a bipartisan commission to investigate the means by which “the financial base of our presidential campaigns” could be broadened. He would go on the record to criticize the method of campaign financing as “highly undesirable” and “not healthy” because it made candidates “dependent on large financial contributions of those with special interests.”
When in office, meeting the demands of the lobby and confronting Israel are activities which have taxed America’s presidents. Conscious of the power it wields in terms of the finances the lobby can raise for the political parties to which they belong, many presidents appear to be cowed into seriously challenging Israel to make fundamental shifts towards reaching a settlement with the Palestinians. Alan Hart, the late English journalist who closely covered the Israel-Palestine conflict, said that President Jimmy Carter had revealed to him that an American president has “only two windows of opportunity to confront the Zionist lobby: the first nine months of his first term because after that the fund raising for mid-term elections begins, and the last year of his second term if he has one.”
The power of the pro-Zionist lobby in the United States political system is one which can be objectively ascertained under each and every presidential administration since the Truman era. It is a phenomenon which was acknowledged by Binyamin Netanyahu himself when in a 2001 video, he was heard remarking:
I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.
Each American president has been moved “in the right direction” through pressure applied by the lobby on a range of critical issues including those related to Palestinian refugees, Israeli nuclear capability and the colonisation of occupied Palestinian territories through the construction of Jewish settlements.
A useful starting point would be to recall that Truman’s initial doubts over recognising Israel because of his belief that religion and state should not be joined were, as author John Judis’ book Genesis: Truman, American Jews and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict makes clear, overcome by pro-Zionist pressure; mainly through the offer of $100,000 campaign funds by donors Abe Feinberg and Ed Kaufmann. That was enough for Truman to overcome his misgivings over the Israeli policy of denying Palestinian refugees the right of return, as well as to break the promise given by his predecessor to the Saudis not to recognise a Jewish state.
Even Kennedy, who had battled Ben Gurion over Israel’s desire to acquire a military nuclear capability, reversed the policy of the Eisenhower administration relating to the repatriation of Arab refugees and the diversion of the Jordan River waters. Lyndon Johnson, a beneficiary of Zionist money from the time of his entry into Congress, repressed intelligence reports detailing Israeli’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. He also ensured that the deliberate and fatal Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was subjected to an official US government cover-up. Johnson’s dependence on lobby funding, as well as his closeness to Arthur and Mathilde Krim, two Israel lobbyists, ensured that he would be the most pro-Israel American president until Donald Trump.
Jimmy Carter’s attempts to prevent the expansion of Israeli settlements into occupied Palestinian land led to what Stu Eizenstat, a US diplomat, has referred to as a “painful experience”. It played a part in pro-Israel lobby money going to Senator Edward Kennedy’s primary challenge which damaged Carter. Kennedy was in the good books of the lobby given his hardline stance on behalf of Soviet Jewish Refuseniks.
This was in contrast to their view on Carter who earned their ire when without consulting American Jewish groups, he announced a summit on the Middle East with the Soviet Union. According to Eizenstat, “The American Jewish leadership went into open war against the president in ways rarely seen before or since.” It was a crisis that Eizenstat claims was orchestrated by Moshe Dayan, the former military leader, who was serving as Israel’s foreign minister. In October 1977, Dayan staged a brazen intervention in a manner only possible because of the power of the American pro-Zionist lobby. As Eizenstat wrote:
This was an amazing intrusion into domestic politics by a foreign minister; even from a friendly country. But it had been clearly based on Israel’s assiduous cultivation of American Jewish groups and Congress, and left no doubt how closely Middle East policy is intertwined with domestic politics.
Like Jimmy Carter, President George H. Bush opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements, and like Carter ended up serving a one-term presidency which some argue was brought about by the enmity his policy generated in the Israel lobby which, in the case of Bush, raised more money for his rival during the 1992 elections. The recollections of the journalist Tom Friedman, and David Steiner, a former AIPAC president, support this thesis.
It is hardly surprising therefore that Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did not oppose Israeli settlements even though the United States officially accepted it as being against international law and inherently subverting of any meaningful peace process. And while Obama briefly insisted that settlements be halted, he was ignored by Israel who, through the efforts of its lobby, received the largest ever aid package from any president. The reason why “a more assertive policy toward Israel” never evolved under the Obama administration was according to Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national-security adviser to Obama, because “the Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the (Jewish) donor class.”
The lesson learned by US presidents who stand in opposition to any issue considered of vital interest to Israel is perhaps best illustrated by Steiner’s recollection of a reflective Bush Snr. standing outside the White House and saying:
I’m one lonely man standing up against the Israel lobby.
Accusations of Anti-Semitism
“It’s a trick. We always use it. When from Europe someone is criticising Israel, we bring up the Holocaust. When in this country (the United States) people are criticising Israel then they are anti-Semitic.”
- Shulamit Aloni, Israeli politician speaking to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, August 14, 2002.
Ilhan Omar’s comments referring to Congressional support for Israel as being fuelled by campaign donations met with a series of condemnations from both major political parties. For instance, Juan Vargas, a Democrat, tweeted on March 4 that Omar was perpetuating “hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes that misrepresent our Jewish community”, adding that “questioning support for the US-Israel relationship is unacceptable.” Ted Deutch, another Democrat accused Omar of invoking “the classic anti-Semitic tropes (and) anti-Semitic language that Jews control the world, that Jews only care about money, that Jews cannot be loyal Americans if they also support Israel”.
Other pro-Zionist activists have followed a contrived modus operandi of not grappling with specific evidence related to Zionist or Jewish use of monies in seeking political influence, preferring to lecture all through the media on the dark history of anti-Semitism. Alan Dershowitz alluded to an ideological-based rationale in his analysis, telling Chris Salcedo on his Newsmax TV show broadcast on March 6th, that:
Historically, anti-Semitism has come much more from the right than from the left. The phenomenon of left-wing anti-Semitism is relatively new in our country, although historically in the world, the hard left has always been anti-Semitic going back to Marx and Voltaire.
Melanie Phillips, a neoconservative British Jew, wrote that:
Anti-Semitism currently comes from four groups: the left, the Islamic world, neo-Nazis and, in the United States, radicalized African-Americans.
The allegation of anti-Semitism forms a recurring theme against anyone who questions the power of the pro-Israel lobby. Yet when links are made between money and the activities of other powerful lobby groups, a similar accusation is not levelled.
So, absent from their discourse is any acknowledgement of the preponderance of ‘Jewish money’ in the American electoral process. For example, a 2016 study conducted under the auspices of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, found that Jewish donors contributed 50% of funds received by the Democratic Party. And while Jews have traditionally voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, Jews accounted for 25% of the Republican National Convention.
Also ignored are donations made to the major American political parties by Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson. Both men, billionaires with deep connections to Israel, have made massive contributions to the coffers to the Democratic and Republican parties; Saban to the former and Adelson to the latter.
Saban himself once set out the three ways to be influential in American politics. These he outlined as making donations to political parties, establishing think-tanks and controlling media outlets. The defensive posturing of those who claim that pointing these facts out are anti-Semitic because they allude to the sort of quest for control and domination attributed to Jews in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is one frequently utilised. Yet this was the analogy used by the late Uri Avnery, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, who in his Gush Shalom blog accused Adelson, a casino magnate, of acting like a figure “straight out of the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Avnery was alluding to an event which occurred in March 2014. As part of what several mainstream media outlets referred to as the “Sheldon Adelson Primary”, Adelson summoned four Republican politicians hopeful of running for the party’s nomination in order to make a decision as to which candidate he would offer financial backing. All four, including Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were present or former serving state governors. What followed Avnery described as “a shameless exhibition” during which “the politicians grovelled before the casino lord.”
It is seemingly verboten for anyone to comment on the fact that Jewish individuals and organisations donate significant amounts of money in the pursuit of political objectives. But they are occasionally uttered. Retired General Wesley Clark was on the receiving end of harsh criticism when in January 2007, he claimed that “New York money people” were pushing the United States into war with Iran. “The phrase ‘New York money people’ struck unpleasant chords with many pro-Israel activists,” noted the Forward, an online Jewish news site. “They interpreted it as referring to the Jewish community, which is known for its significant financial donations to political candidates.”
That same year, when being interviewed on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! program, Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, reacting in disgust at the fact that leading members of the Democratic Party were joining the Republicans in creating the conditions for a US military attack on Iran, made the following claim as to what was stimulating the shift:
Money. A lot of Jewish money from New York. Come on, let’s not kid about it. A significant percentage of Jewish money, and many leading American Jews support the Israeli position that Iran is an existential threat. And I think it’s as simple as that. When you’re from New York and from New York City, you take the view of -right now, when you’re running a campaign, you follow that line. And there’s no other explanation for it.
Donald Trump, himself accused of using anti-Semitic tropes during his campaign, sought to draw attention to the issue in order to win over the white identitarian vote during his presidential campaign. Speaking before the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in December 2015, Trump matter-of-factly told potential Jewish donors, “I know that you don’t like me because I don’t want your money,” adding “you want to control your own politician”.
Trump, whom the supposedly left-leaning Dershowitz supports for his extremely pro-Israel stance, was also accused of playing towards anti-Semitic sentiment by tweeting an image of Hillary Clinton superimposed on a background of wads of dollar notes accompanied by a modified ‘Star of David’ which was captioned: “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” It was a not unsubtle assertion that Clinton was being backed by ‘Jewish money’.
His diatribes against his competitors in the Republican primaries were couched in similar terms. “Goldman Sachs own him. Remember that!” he railed about Ted Cruz, and of Marco Rubio, Trump claimed Sheldon Adelson would mould him into his “perfect little puppet.”
Yet Trump himself was the direct and indirect beneficiary of donations made by Adelson and has proceeded to act, his detractors would claim, like Adelson’s “puppet”. Adelson donated nearly $83 million to the Republicans in the 2016 election. $20 million of this is said to have gone to a political action committee that supported Trump’s campaign in exchange for Trump’s promise to prioritise moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise that came to fruition in May 2018.
Despite all of this, Trump, whose inauguration fund received a $5 million contribution from Adelson, saw fit to call for Omar’s resignation from Congress, or failing that, her resignation from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. As if to prove the point they are at pains to deny, it appears that like Trump, pro-Israel funding may have influenced the negative responses to Omar’s comments made by her colleagues in the Democratic Party.
The Guardian newspaper noted on March 9th that “House Democratic leaders who drafted a resolution initially aimed at condemning Omar’s remarks received millions from the pro-Israel lobby throughout their congressional careers.” The article also mentioned that Congressman Eliot Engel, who accused Omar of using “a vile anti-Semitic slur”, has taken “about $1.07 million throughout his career, or about $107,000 per election.” Cory Booker, a senator who described Omar’s comments as “disturbing” received $445,000 during his sole campaign for the senate, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who said that criticisms of Israel should be made “without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money or influence”, has received $367,000, or $91,750 per campaign.
The Guardian article explains that the federal election records available at the website run by the Center for Responsive Politics (Open Secrets dot Org) suggest a correlation between the receipt or non-receipt of pro-Israel lobby money and the politician’s position on the Omar controversy:
Those candidates who have taken little money from the lobby defended Omar, while those who received money criticized her, or were quiet on the issue.
Given the reliance of politicians on financial donations, it is only logical to examine whether their attitudes, the policies they support, and the issues for which they vote are influenced by the political objectives of their sponsors.
The reactions of many of Omar’s accusers including the aforementioned Ted Deutch, included the tactic of attributing words to Omar which she never uttered. Omar’s words, which simply stated that support of Israel by Congress is fuelled by campaign donations from the Israel lobby, cannot be objectively ascertained as “anti-Semitic” in nature. They appear to be reflexive responses that attempt to pre-empt inquiry into a further, extremely delicate issue.
The sensitivity generated by any scrutiny of the Zionist lobby is inextricably woven into the reluctance to acknowledge Jewish power and influence; something which Alan Dershowitz has spoken of, and in regard to which he has asserted that Jews should “never apologize” for utilising their strength, in his words, “for peace.”
Unfortunately Dershowitz’s assumption fails to comprehend that the means and the methods by which such power is utilised do not always conform to moral and ethical standards.
The tactic of smearing those who disapprove of Political Zionism and its promoters has a lengthy history which predates the establishment of Israel. Their respective opposition to the partition of Palestine earned General George Marshall and James Forrestal, both appointees during the administration of President Harry Truman, the label of ‘anti-Semite’.
Prior to this, Brigadier-General Patrick J. Hurley, President Franklin Roosevelt’s special envoy to the Middle East who had opposed Zionist ambitions in Palestine, was subjected to a campaign of smears and innuendo aimed at destroying his influence on the president, as well as terminating his career as a statesman. As with Forrestal, the smears were conducted on several fronts in public and private. In the public realm, both men were targeted by the Zionist-friendly Drew Pearson, an influential columnist who was prone to manipulating the truth.
A wounded and irate Hurley wrote the following to Roosevelt on August 20th 1943:
From Mr. Pearson’s column and from the Washington Daily News of August 19th, I notice that certain Congressmen and Senators, especially Congressman Emanuel Celler of New York, have made various false charges against me, all I presume, based on the Pearson falsehood. In addition to all that, they threaten me with a Congressional investigation. Besides that which is appearing in the press, I am receiving letters from Zionist Jews. Every one of these contains an attack or at least language that is intimidating. I am being baited by the Jews.
A recurring counterpart to the strategy of smearing perceived opponents through intimidation and character assassination is to threaten to withdraw electoral support. Thus, when Truman appeared to be prevaricating over whether to support the proposed partition of Palestine, he was threatened with the cessation of campaign donations. The president also received hate mail, with one letter accusing him of “preferring fascist and Arab elements to the democracy-loving Jewish people of Palestine.”
This modus operandi was put to full effect in the aftermath of the deliberate attack on the USS Liberty by Israeli air and naval power during the Six Day War of 1967. In order to ensure a cover-up and minimal investigation into the 34 dead and 174 wounded crew, President Lyndon Johnson was pressured by the threat of an accusation of ‘blood libel’ and a refusal by Jewish organisations to fund his election campaign if he chose to run for re-election the following year.
Shulamit Aloni, an Israeli politician, explained in 2002 that the charge of anti-Semitism was strategically used against those who spoke out against Israel; anti-Semitism, according to Victor Ostrovsky, a renegade member of Mossad, being the “one stain you cannot wash (away)”.
Ostrovsky revealed that while in the service of Israel’s foreign intelligence bureau, he had himself been involved in launching smear campaigns against those who posed inconvenient questions about Israeli policy. For instance, one person who was very critical of Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s was dealt with using the following modus operandi:
So what you do is you get in touch with the guy in the station in New York or in the station in Washington and say, “Tell the guys at B’Nai B’rith to ‘label him’. And of course the campaign starts and before you know it the guy is ‘labelled’. And he’s an ‘anti-Semite because that’s what we say he is. And that’s one stain you cannot wash. Now it shames me as a Jew to tell you that, but that’s the fact, and it’s wrong.
The fact that an official of the Israeli embassy was filmed in 2016 discussing ‘taking down’ a British political figure who is a critic of Israel, has invited a not unreasonable assumption on the part of some that a similar campaign is being presently orchestrated against Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party in Britain. Corbyn, a life-long supporter of anti-racism, has been targeted because of his criticism of the State of Israel and his stance on Palestinian rights.
Those who support Palestinian rights are targeted for denunciation and harassment by pro-Israel groups like Canary Mission, a website established in 2014 for the purpose of compiling an online dossier of activists, professors and organisations primarily associated with universities in North America. While its operators conduct their operations in secrecy, their efforts at blacklisting, which can stymie careers and obstruct employment opportunities for former students, has led to some being compelled to write anonymous confessions where they repent for having being ‘led astray’ in return for being removed from the list. It is a strategy which is redolent of the methods employed during the era of McCarthyism.
But the policy of smearing those who go against the interests of Israel is one which has the effect of stymieing debate and historical inquiry. It also exposes its perpetrators as defamers whose actions devalue the meaning of anti-Semitism and ultimately serves to undermine the case for Israel.
“I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform … All we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.”
- Sheldon Adelson, Casino magnate who is the biggest donor to the Republican Party.
In a letter dated March 4th 2019 and addressed to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, charged that Ilhan Omar’s comments about “political influence” allowing for “people to push for allegiance to another country” had effectively accused Jews of “having allegiance to a foreign government”. It was a charge of ‘dual loyalty’ which Greenblatt continued “has long been a vile anti-Semitic slur that has been used to harass, marginalize, and persecute the Jewish people for centuries.”
The charge of ‘dual loyalty’ against Jews is one that predates the establishment of the State of Israel and the germination and entrenchment in the American political system of the pro-Israel lobby. It is rooted in the age old suspicion of Jews as a scattered people living within ‘host’ nations which were predominantly either Christian or Muslim. Although belonging to an Abrahamic faith that is the root of Christian and Muslim religions, their rejection of Christ and refusal to accept the Muslim prophet, meant that their loyalty to the nations within which they resided was constantly questioned. Jews were in the popular imagination ‘a nation within a nation’.
Accusations of ‘dual loyalty’ continued in the post-Medieval world where the idea of the “International Jew” who was loyal not to his country of birth or residence, but to the mutually shared interests of members of his tribe who lived beyond the borders of his ‘nominal’ country took hold. It was commonly used when referring to the powerful Jewish banking houses of Europe, most notably those owned by the Rothschild family.
The spectre of Jewish dual loyalty became a recurring theme during the mid-20th century during the ideological struggle between the West and the Soviet Union. The overrepresentation of Jews in Communist parties and the popularity of Marxism among large swathes of Jewish communities was reflected in the number of American Jews who spied for the Soviet Union. George Koval, Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass and most notorious of all, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were all involved in passing on atomic secrets related to the Manhattan Project.
And the transformation in terms of widespread loyalty among many Western Jews from international communism to that of Political Zionism, a form of Jewish nationalism, created another route through which Jewish loyalty could be questioned. It was not only the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin who thought that the formation of the State of Israel posed a threat to the loyalty of that country’s Jewish population, questions began to be raised in the United States even before the birth of Israel. Among those who thought the issue of double loyalty a legitimate one was the Jewish American philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt who predicted the rise of the Israel lobby in her 1944 essay “Zionism Reconsidered”.
Arendt based her belief on the grounds that since the Zionist state was to be created by force of arms, without the consent of surrounding Arab populations, it would compel American Jews to be “the lobbies” for what would be an embattled Jewish state. The double loyalty issue she warned would be an “unavoidable one”:
Here enters the double-loyalty conflict, never clearly answered, which is an unavoidable problem of every national movement of a people living within the boundaries of other states and unwilling to resign their civil and political rights therein…
Arendt was not the only one to predict the rise of the lobby. On March 31st 1948, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States presented a paper entitled “Force Requirements for Palestine”, part of which read as follows:
Zionist strategy will seek to involve (the United States) in a continuously widening and deepening series of operations intended to secure maximum Jewish objectives.
The import of this was that America’s most important military commanders were of the opinion that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine would adversely affect the strategic interests of the United States in “the Near and Middle East” and that Zionists would lobby the American government to pursue actions and policies that would not be in the country’s interests. This was clearly the opinion of General George Marshall, a Chief of Army Staff, who later as Secretary of State clashed with President Harry Truman over US recognition of Israel.
Other statesmen such as James Forrestal, for a time the Secretary of Defense under Truman, voiced their opposition to the partition of Palestine. Again, the reasoning like Marshall’s was based on American national security and economic interests.
These early objections make clear what for many is a buried issue today: that the national interests of the United States can never always be the same as that of another state, in this case, Israel. Further, that the lobby which predictably was created, and which has endured as a powerful force within the American political system, is one that is effectively acting in the service of a foreign power.
Figures in both administrations led by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy understood this and demanded that leaders of the American Zionist Council, the precursor to AIPAC, register with the US Justice Department as agents of a foreign government.
Perhaps the last senior serving American political figure to speak about this was Senator William Fullbright, who was a chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fullbright worked hard to get the Zionist Organisation of America registered under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). This legislation provides that agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a “political or quasi-political capacity” should provide disclosure of the activities and finances which transpire from the relationship.
Of particular concern to Fullbright was the role played by the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency in funding a range of initiatives through miscellaneous “conduits”. These conduits included organisations such as the American Zionist Council and individuals like Isaiah Kenen, the founder of AIPAC. Fullbright and his senate committee discovered that the Jewish Agency, which had been required to file periodic declarations related to FARA, was covertly funding pro-Israel media campaigns designed to influence the US government, as well as lobbyists such as Kenen, all of which was not being disclosed in FARA filings as stipulated by law.
The danger of the sort of ‘dual loyalty’ envisage by Hannah Arendt is one which potentially arises with those associated with the Israel lobby including non-Jews. Public utterances of this potential conflict of loyalties has diminished over the decades in the United States. The trial, conviction and imprisonment of Jonathan Pollard provided one example of the topic being brought up and publicly debated, but there have been many examples of how the pro-Zionist lobby including AIPAC itself, has facilitated spying on the United States through civil servants and public officials.
Espionage under the auspices of the pro-Zionist lobby and the passing of sensitive information to Israel has even involved high-ranking American politicians. While in a different era the Jewish congressman, Samuel Dickstein was persuaded to spy for the Soviet Union, the authors Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon revealed that the late Republican Senator John Tower was recruited to acquire for Israel, top-secret, cutting-edge American technology that was being developed at Los Alamos. Some politicians such as the congressman Charlie Wilson have been directly handled by Mossad. In the case of Wilson, Zvi Rafiah, Mossad’s station chief in Washington, is claimed by the late writer George Crile in his book Charlie Wilson’s War to have “always acted as if he owned Wilson’s office”.
The use by AIPAC of its own officials to conduct espionage against the United States and the role played by elected American politicians in facilitating or covering up such activities was revealed in indictments brought in 2005 against Steven Rosen, a former foreign policy director of the organisation, and Keith Weissman, Rosen’s assistant and former AIPAC Iran specialist. Rosen was charged with two counts of conspiracy to communicate classified information to a foreign power, while Weismann was charged with a single count.
The foreign power was Israel, and three officials who Rosen and Weisman were dealing with were referred to in the indictment. The most prominent one was later identified in the media as Naor Gilon, the chief political officer of the Israeli embassy who was later recalled by Tel Aviv.
Although the charges were eventually dropped without a plea bargain, and both men later fired by AIPAC, the man who passed on the information to Rosen and Weissman, an employee of the Department of Defense named Lawrence Franklin, was convicted of espionage related charges under the Espionage Act (1917) and sentenced to almost 12 years and 7 months imprisonment, which was later reduced to ten months’ house arrest and 100 hours of community service.
The indictment against Franklin, whose sharp reduction in legal penalty was related to the decision not to prosecute Rosen and Weissman, revealed that the investigation had been ongoing since 1999. It also suggested that other individuals at AIPAC, the Defense Department and the Israeli embassy had been involved. The indictment alleged that Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA intelligence analyst who worked at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and who was the director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, had provided information to Rosen and Weissmann. The case against Pollack was dropped in April 2009.
In December 2004, FBI agents entered AIPAC’s offices and seized computer equipment and files belonging to its senior officials who they suspected of being intermediaries between Franklin and Israel. Charges were not brought and both AIPAC and Israel denied the allegations; the former claiming that they were “baseless and false” and the latter that they were “completely false and outrageous”.
AIPAC’s refutation of the allegations were contradicted some years later by Rosen in court documents filed in a $20 million defamation suit against the lobby group in 2010. In it, Rosen maintained that AIPAC staffers routinely trafficked classified information to Israel and others when relevant. It should also be noted that members of AIPAC supported Rosen and Weissman during the period they were under indictment.
The strenuous denial of espionage by the Israeli state rang hollow to those who recalled Israel’s 13-year long claim that Jonathan Pollard had not spied on its behalf before it admitted complicity. The Franklin scandal was, some believe, part of a wider investigation into the transfer of sensitive military and dual-use technologies to Israel, including powerful case-management software.
Jim Lobe, a veteran journalist, wrote of concerns about Israeli companies re-selling sensitive American developed technology to rival powers such as Russia and China. This somewhat mirrors the claims by Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon that Robert Maxwell, the Czech-born Jewish media magnate and former British Labour Party Member of Parliament, had been a high-placed Israeli spy who sold PROMIS, an American-developed state-of-the-art surveillance software stolen by Mossad, to many countries including the Soviet Union. The same scenario, of US technology being transferred to unauthorised foreign powers pervades the Pollard scandal.
The scandal surrounding AIPAC ‘s Rosen and Weissman did not end with Franklin’s conviction. Both men had to wait until May 2009 before the threat of indictment was lifted. But a number of intrigues which occurred behind the scenes provide further evidence of the Zionist lobby’s ability to exert pressure on the governmental apparatus of the United States through the issuing of threats and the offering of inducements. It has also consistently demonstrated a skill at suborning legislators or otherwise getting them to work in the interests of Israel. The former Congresswoman, Jane Harman, who throughout her career was heavily funded by AIPAC, provides such an example.
In 2006 and again in 2009, National Security Agency (NSA) wiretaps captured Harman telling an Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce the espionage-related charges against Rosen and Weissman in consideration of which the agent would help lobby for Harman to become chair of the House Intelligence Committee. At the end of one of the meetings, Harman reportedly said: “This conversation does not exist.”
In 2006, the New York Times reported that Haim Saban, the wealthy pro-Israel Democratic Party donor, had made an attempt to get Harman the chair of the -committee and threatened to withdraw all financial support for Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic Party in the US House of Representatives, unless Pelosi named Harman as chair. Harman, a long-term advocate for Israeli interests and a frequent speaker at AIPAC events, was investigated by the Justice Department after the NSA handed it tapes of her conversation with the Israeli agent. However, the US Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales decided not to continue with the investigation. While Harman eluded potential prosecution for activities, it says quite a lot about the power of the lobby that her name would later be mentioned as a possible replacement for General David Petraeus as the director of the CIA.
The pro-Zionist lobby has also worked behind the scenes to have Lawrence Franklin pardoned. In 2017, it came to light that two California congressmen, Dana Rohrabacher and Juan Vargas, the former a Republican and the latter as Democrat, had secretly pressed the outgoing President Barack Obama to pardon Franklin.
This effort came to nothing.
It would be remiss not to note also that four of the leading Jewish neoconservative figures in the United States who have held influential positions in the government have faced accusations in the past of illegally providing classified information to Israel. They are Richard Perle, Stephen Bryen, Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz.
In Perle’s case, FBI wiretaps captured the future Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs discussing classified information with an official of the Israeli embassy in 1970. Bryen, who would serve as Perle’s deputy at the Department of Defense, was in 1979 overheard offering classified documents to a staff member of the Israeli embassy. A Senate Foreign Relations staff member at the time, he narrowly avoided indictment. In 1982, Feith was fired from the National Security Council after falling under suspicion of passing confidential documents to the Israeli embassy. But he was speedily re-hired by Perle at the Pentagon. Paul Wolfowitz was investigated in 1978 over allegations that he has provided a classified document to the Israeli embassy under the auspices of AIPAC and in 2004, the Washington Post, reported that Wolfowitz (along with Feith, David Wurmser and Harold Rhode) had been questioned by FBI counterintelligence about the passing of classified information to AIPAC.
None was prosecuted.
Yet each man was in the future permitted to hold sensitive positions in government, and in the case of Wolfowitz and Feith, both were able to create an ad hoc office within the Pentagon. This entity, named the Office of Special Plans (OSP), was given the responsibility for sending raw intelligence data pertaining to Iraq directly to senior officials of the administration of George W. Bush. However, the OSP, which existed between September 2002 and June 2003, was accused of working towards the neoconservative agenda of creating a justification for a war against Saddam Hussain’s Iraq, while according to Seymour Hersh, the CIA, was working towards disproving a “linkage between Iraq and terrorism”.
That the secular regime of Saddam was unlikely to have had associations with Islamist organisations of the sort that are claimed to have perpetrated the atrocities of 9/11, would have been apparent even to the casual observer of the situation. Yet, the destruction of Iraq, a top priority for the State of Israel, meant that the OSP contributed to the illegal war which followed. Feith’s operation with the OSP included facilitating a relationship with a parallel organisation within the office of Ariel Sharon, the then Israeli prime minister, with the objective of bypassing Mossad in order to filter Israeli-originated intelligence on Iraq to the Bush White House which Mossad was not prepared to authorise.
Yet, mainstream charges of what should have been a prima facie case of the ‘dual loyalty’ of Jewish neoconservative ideologues possessing an especial focus on the interests of Israel were barely existent.
On this issue, recourse often has to be made to the Israeli press to obtain a frank set of facts and accompanying analysis. For instance, the manner in which Jewish members of the neoconservative movement straddle a terrain where on the one hand, they serve as members of think-tanks through which they lobby government, and on the other, as government appointees who are involved in implementing policy. The consistent objective of these roles is to best serve the interests of Israel.
In a 2002 article for Ha’aretz entitled “Perles of Wisdom for the Feithful”, Akiva Eldar, examined the role played by Richard Perle and Douglas Feith with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, which had offices in Washington and Jerusalem. It noted that Perle and his colleagues used one position paper to provide Binyamin Netanyahu with specific ideas for speeches, as well as advice on how to foresee and best manage American reactions.
“The two Jewish experts (meaning Perle and Feith)”, Elder opined, “are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments and Israeli interests.”
‘Dual loyalty’ among certain American Jews was a present but publically unknown factor at the time of the crisis caused by Israel’s destruction of the USS Liberty in 1967. Recent research has revealed the existence of several high-placed moles who were close to President Johnson and used by Israel as informants. One was Abe Feinberg, the earlier mentioned key fundraiser for the Democratic Party, who was codenamed ‘Hamlet’. Another was Arthur Goldberg, ‘Menasche’, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. David Ginsberg, a high-profile Washington D.C.-based lawyer was ‘Harari’, while Abe Fortas, a Supreme Court justice, went by the moniker ‘Ilan’. Fortas had dinner with Johnson on the eve of the war.
Outside of the United States, the pro-Zionist lobby has an often unacknowledged formidable influence on the major political parties in countries such as Britain. In fact, Michael Mates, a veteran Conservative Party Member of Parliament once proclaimed the pro-Israel lobby to be “the most powerful political lobby. There’s nothing to touch them.”
The Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) are both parliamentary groups which are affiliated to the Conservative and Labour Parties. Described in 2013 by journalist Peter Oborne as “by far Britain’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group”, it was estimated four years earlier that approximately 80% of Conservative MPs were members of the CFI.
While each body has a range of goals including that of strengthen ties with their right- and left-wing mainstream ideological counterparts in Israel and combating anti-Semitism, the main objective of both CFI and LFI is to promote strong bilateral ties between Britain and Israel. In fact in 2003, the LFI described itself as “a Westminster based lobby group working within the British Labour Party to promote the State of Israel.” That Israel and its interests are paramount to this group has been made clear in recent times despite LFI’s rebranded appendage “For Israel, For Palestine, For Peace.”
The Al Jazeera documentary, “The Lobby” which examined the workings of the Israel lobby in Britain recorded Shai Mascot, a staff member of the Israeli embassy plotting to take down British MPs who favour recognising a Palestinian state. One name mentioned by Mascot was Alan Duncan, a Conservative member of government who has been critical of Israel, likening its attitude towards Palestinians to that of Apartheid-era South Africa.
Such actions, which constitute a flagrant level of interference in the internal politics of Britain, would necessarily involve using not only Israeli assets in the media, but also those in the political sphere. The documentary caught a former LFI Chair, Joan Ryan discussing the receipt of $1 million from the Israeli embassy to fund a campaign to promote Israeli influence. The issue of Ryan working as an agent of a foreign government has never being made a point of serious discussion by the British mainstream press, which instead publicised her recent defection from the Labour Party as having being related to allegations of anti-Semitism within the party. Instead, Ryan’s former colleague, the Labour MP Ruth George was excoriated for suggesting that the “Independent Party” to which Ryan and other MPs have defected, may be funded by Israel.
As is the case with American legislators and members of government, the links between Israel and British MPs should be open to greater scrutiny, given the danger that they may objectively considered to serve the interests of a foreign nation and be made to act against the interests of their own countries. This was clearly at issue when Priti Patel, a Conservative Party MP, was forced to resign from her role as International development minister having had at least 12 meetings with Israeli officials which had been arranged by a Stuart Polak, a British Israeli lobbyist. She breached ministerial protocol by meeting Israeli ministers when British civil servants were not present.
In her resignation statement, Patel admitted that her actions “fell below the standards of transparency and openness” expected of ministers.
Patel’s meetings exposed how the promise of political funding serves as a means of bending the priorities of elected officials towards a pro-Israeli stance. A BBC News report of November 3rd 2017 noted that several ministers and MPs “accused Ms. Patel of trying to win favour with wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors who could fund a potential future leadership campaign.”
The Patel episode also showed how the government’s officially stated policy towards the Middle East is subverted in favour of Israel. On her return, Patel had suggested that some of Britain’s aid money should go to the Israeli Army operating in the Golan Heights. Apart from the fact that Britain officially considers the area to be illegally occupied territory and does not recognise Israel’s annexation of 1981, it was revealed during the Syrian conflict that Israel provided medical, financial and logistical aid to al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebels operating in the vicinity of the Golan Heights. Thus to provide what Patel couched as “humanitarian aid” would have provided an indirect means of aiding the ideological counterparts of a group held by Britain and the West to have been responsible for the 9/11 attack, as well as other outrages in Western Europe including the London bombings of 2005.
The question of the perversion of loyalties by the pro-Israel lobby is thus not only an issue that is confined to those of Jewish heritage, it is a more expansive one involving the potential corruption of public officials by powerful and influential groups with an international reach.
Such reach extends to other countries such as France where the Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF), an umbrella organisation of French interest groups wields a great deal of political influence. It is also where Bernard-Henri Levy, a media intellectual, claimed credit for persuading President Nicholas Sarkozy’s decision to attack Libya. Speaking before a national convention of the CRIF in November 2011, he said, “It is as a Jew that I participated in the political adventure in Libya. I would not have done it had I not been Jewish. I wore my flag in fidelity to my name and my loyalty to Zionism and Israel.”
The notion of ‘dual loyalty’ among Jews endures not least because of a tendency to conflate Diaspora Jews with Israelis, as well as merging the interests of the Jewish state of Israel with Jews around the world. This tendency is not restricted to some anti-Zionists, but also applies to those with pro-Israel views. For instance, in early April 2019, as he attempted to make political capital out of the Ilhan Omar controversy, Donald Trump, while speaking before a gathering of Republic Jewish groups in Las Vegas, referred to Binyamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister”. Trump’s precise words were:
I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
His follow up comment that the Democrats “very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves” merely confirmed his assumptions. Not surprisingly, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted that Trump’s statement could “feed bigotry”.
The charge of ‘dual loyalty’ is of course not historically limited to Jews. Adherents to the Roman Catholic faith were often subjected to the accusation that their first loyalty was to the Pope. It was a significant obstacle to surmount for those who sought to be elected outside of their ethnic bastions in a Protestant-dominated America. But increasing secularization and John Kennedy’s presidential victory in 1960 have contributed to making it a non-issue in contemporary times.
However it continues to be a live one for American Jews because of Israel, a foreign state which Zionist lobbyists consistently argue has interests that are identical to those of the United States. And although the term is resurrected from time to time, it is an old-fashioned expression which has been largely supplanted by the more contemporary ‘Israel Firster’.
The U.S.-Israeli Alliance - A Dark Side
“... This was an insane war that brought us low economically (and) morally. We went to war against a guy who had absolutely nothing to do with 9-11. It was a total pretext. It’s inexplicable. And there you go to Cheney, there you go to Bush, there you go to the Jewish neocons who wanted to remake the world...”
- Carl Bernstein, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” programme, April 26th, 2013.
Critics of the US-Israel relationship cite a litany of flaws in the way it has been conducted over the decades. The apparent taboo regarding the criticism of Jews and of Jewish power has, they allege, operated to the detriment of American regional and global interests. They claim that the relationship is ‘one-sided’; that the United States does more for Israel than it gets in return. America, they argue, is seemingly forever shielding Israel from criticism; a country, they add, which places a financial burden like no other nation ever has.
So far as shielding Israel from criticism is concerned, they point not only to the numerous occasions when the United States has blocked motions relating to international condemnation for Israel’s actions, but also to the series of domestic legislations aimed at combating the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This has ramifications for freedom of speech. They also allege that that the privileges afforded to Zionist lobbies and lobbyists for Israel, as well as what they refer to as the “Jew Taboo” (the reluctance of the mainstream media to criticise Jewish individuals or Jewish groups), has meant that important decisions pertaining to America’s national security have been made to the country’s detriment. This includes decisions related to the United States taking military action.
In 2015, while making a speech defending the international agreement reached by the United States and other world powers with Iran over its development of nuclear power, President Barack Obama claimed that “many of the same people who argued for war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” It was a not very veiled attack on the many pro-Israel groups led by AIPAC, which had sent hundreds of activists to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill to reject an about to be voted on bill on the nuclear deal in Congress.
Obama’s accusation, repeated by him on several occasions, led to expressions of concern by several American Jewish organisations that his rhetoric could lead to a backlash against American Jews who are sensitive to suggestions of warmongering or placing ties to Israel over the interests of the United States.
The charge of being warmongers is of course one which Jews have been especially sensitive about. It was made about both World Wars. In 1915, while the First World War was still raging, the industrialist John Ford blamed Jews for starting the war: “I know who caused the war,” Ford asserted, “German-Jewish bankers” (The American Zionist movement was instrumental in lobbying the US to enter the war as part of a bargain with the beleaguered British government which made a promise that led to the Balfour Declaration). And in the 1930s prior to World War 2, many figures associated with the initially prevailing public sentiment of Isolationism made repeated claims that Jewish groups were lobbying for American intervention in the war being fought by the European powers. They included individuals such as Father Charles Coughlin and Joseph Kennedy. The anti-war America First movement boasted the celebrity aviator, Charles Lindbergh as a chief advocate.
But Obama’s claim was not without evidence.
In an article entitled “White Man’s Burden” published in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in April 2003, Ari Shavit claimed that the war in Iraq was “conceived by 25 neoconservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history.” Among the instigators named by Shavit –in his words “a partial list”- were Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Elliot Abrams and Charles Krauthammer. So crucial were these group in instigating the war that Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, claimed that had 25 of them been exiled on a desert island a year and a half previously, “the Iraq war would not have happened.”
Friedman was also quoted as saying the following in the article:
It’s the war the neoconservatives wanted. It’s the war the neoconservatives marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11th came, and they sold it. Oh boy, did they sell it. So this is not a war the masses demanded. This is a war of an elite.
It was an analysis which was alluded to by the journalist Carl Bernstein on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show in 2013. Bernstein opined that “Jewish neocons who wanted to remake the world” had played a part alongside George Bush and Richard Cheney in launching the war. His reference to the war as having been based on a “total pretext” given that the secular Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sunni Islamist ideology motivating the al-Qaeda cell which was claimed to have been behind the attacks of 9/11 was borne out by the recollections of General Wesley Clark who revealed that former colleagues in the Pentagon had alerted him to the existence of a memorandum detailing how the United States was going to “take out seven countries in five years”. This list included the secular states of Iraq, Syria and Libya, as well as the Shi’ite nation of Iran, none of which had links to al-Qaeda, but all of which were implacable foes of Israel.
The creation of the earlier mentioned Office for Special Plans was criticised for its neoconservative agenda. Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer, told the Scottish Sunday Herald in June 2003 that the OSP was “dangerous for US national security and a threat to world peace. It lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda for removing Saddam. It’s a group of ideologues with pre-determined notions of truth and reality. They take bits of intelligence and support their agenda and ignore anything contrary. They should be eliminated.”
While the OSP was disbanded in the month Johnson’s interview was published, another similar entity, the Iranian Directorate, was created in 2006 to perform what appears to many to be a similar task in fomenting conflict with Iran. It is staffed by persons who are neoconservative in outlook including Abram Shulsky and Reuel Marc Gerecht.
The neoconservative agenda is one which clearly supports the idea of American interventionism with a special focus on the Middle East and the security goals of the State of Israel. It was the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC) which earmarked a course for taking down governments in the Middle East who were hostile to Israel such as Syria and Iran.
Back in the 1990s, the country earmarked for destruction was Iraq because it came closest to offering a modicum of challenge to Israel’s undisputed hegemony. In January 1998, members of PNAC wrote an open letter to President Bill Clinton urging him to remove “Saddam Hussein and his regime from power”. This plea was part of a sustained campaign by neoconservative think-tanks and pro-Israel lobby groups which bore fruit later that year in October with the passage by Congress of the Iraq Liberation Act which made it official US policy to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
It is important to note not only the virtually identical nature of the geopolitical policies constructed by American neoconservatives with those pursued by the Israeli state, but also at times that the same individuals may be involved in the preparation of ideas.
A useful starting point is to note that an overriding aim of Zionist thinking even before Israel’s birth was to balkanise the surrounding region. This initially was focussed on breaking up the Ottoman Empire, and after Israel’s birth, on splintering its neighbours for the purpose of weakening potentially powerful nation states as well as the acquisition of land. Thus in Israel’s early years, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan sought to split Lebanon along religious lines with the prize being the territory south of the River Litani.
The object of balkanisation and “rolling back” of enemy states as set out in the “Yinon Plan” of 1982 and the “Securing the Realm” paper of 1996 cohere with neoconservative-inspired papers such as those produced by PNAC and the scholar Bernard Lewis. Two PNAC members, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith were prominent members of the “Clean Break” study team. Both men would also be among a sizeable number of members of PNAC (which was succeeded in 2009 by the now dissolved Foreign Policy Initiative) who became members of the administration of George W. Bush.
Thus, first as members of influential think-tanks who lobbied for military intervention, and later as members of an administration which went to war, the neoconservative ideologues, a large percentage of who have been of Jewish origin, had a decisive role in influencing America’s move towards militarism and its ill-judged, illegal intervention in Iraq for the benefit of the state of Israel.
References to the ‘neocons’ as being a vital driving engine, if not quite the sole instigators of the Iraq war, was taken not inaccurately as a codeword for “Jews”. And use of this codeword only served to underline what many privately considered to be an intolerable situation: the failure to comprehensively address the causes of the ill-fated intervention in Iraq, as well as subsequent interventions in Libya, Syria and the proposed war with Iran.
The pro-Israel lobby was aided in its effort to destroy Iraq not only by neoconservative ideologues in the Bush administration, but also by Jewish journalists such as Judith Miller and Thomas Friedman. And while most American Jews with their enduring Democratic Party affiliation and devotion to liberal causes -including miscellaneous peace movements- are not neoconservative, most appear to have followed the lead given by mainstream American Jewish groups who with near unanimity supported military action against Iraq. As Salon news reported in 2002, “If there’s a peace movement, it will have to get started without them.”
AIPAC, ever sensitive to the warmongering accusation, maintained an official non-committal position in regard to Iraq, preferring to support whatever path the Bush administration chose to take.
But there is evidence that it did in fact push for war.
For instance, in September 2002, Rebecca Needler, a spokeswoman for the group, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “if the president asks Congress to support action in Iraq, AIPAC would lobby members of Congress to support him.”
Needler spoke before Congress began considering the administration’s proposal for war. However, after authorisation had been granted by Congress, AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr was reported by the New York Sun to have boasted of his organisation’s efforts in lobbying for war:
According to Mr. Kohr, AIPAC’s successes over the past year also include guaranteeing Israel’s annual aid package and ‘quietly’ lobbying Congress to approve the use of force in Iraq.
The pro-Israel lobby’s promotion of an attack on Iraq was not limited to the United States. In Britain, the other key participant in the invasion, Tam Dalyell, a British Labour Party member of Parliament grumbled at the time of the defeat of Saddam that “there is far too much Jewish influence in the United States”, and in a thinly veiled reference to Lord Michael Levy, the leading fundraiser of the Labour Party between 1994 and 2007, he added, “one over-influential Jew in Tony Blair’s entourage”. He claimed that Levy’s influence had been “very important on the prime minister and has led to what I see as this awful war and sack of Baghdad.” It was a situation which he insisted many Jews were “desperately unhappy about”.
The respective predictions made by Hannah Arendt and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1940s would appear to have come to fruition. The belief by senior army officials that the “Zionist strategy” of involving the United States “in a continuously widening and deepening series of operations” on behalf the soon-to-be created state is one that can be largely vindicated.
What many mainstream historians and geopolitical analysts continually fail to comprehend, or at least to acknowledge, is that Israel possessed a long-term strategy aimed at getting the United States to be militarily involved in the Middle East. But to do this, it needed, with the help of pro-Zionist lobbies, to fundamentally alter perceptions of the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In other words, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people needed to be reframed from one predicated on the legitimate struggle of a people dispossessed of their land and denied the right to self-determination to one based on a clash of values; that is, of one between the values of the Western world as supposedly represented by ‘democratic’ Israel on the one hand, and values antithetical to the West as represented by Arab ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘fanaticism’.
Military intervention was posited as being necessarily on a global scale. This construct of what would come to be known as a ‘war on terror’ was promoted by the Jonathan Institute, a think-tank founded in 1976 and run by members of the Netanyahu family. The Jerusalem Conference of 1979, which was held under the auspices of the institute, represented a concerted effort aimed at re-shaping the mindset of American policymakers in order to make them amenable to staging pro-Israeli interventions in the Middle East on a scale which the papers produced by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had hinted at three decades earlier.
The institute published papers and Binyamin Netanyahu wrote books which sought to persuade the United States that Israel’s battles were America’s and that the United States should take the lead by ways and means including sending its military to fight in the Middle East.
It is through such standpoint that the policy to take down Iran has been formulated as one which Israel would not undertake by itself, but which has to involve the lead participation of the United States. This is why AIPAC and other pro-Zionist groups strenuously lobbied against the international agreement with Iran over nuclear production as such a deal effectively puts off the table, the possibility of American military action against Tehran.
The existential threat posed by Iran to Israel purportedly rests on Iran’s development of nuclear energy which it is claimed has inexorably led to a nuclear armaments programme. Yet, the irony is that it is Israel which introduced nuclear weapons into the region, a development which had been strenuously opposed by President Kennedy, but which since the time of Lyndon Johnson has been studiously ignored by each and every administration. Israel and its lobby pressure the United States government on Iran, a nation which is a signatory state to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and its stricture, while Israel itself is not.
Israel’s acquisition of nuclear materials and technology has been shrouded in decades-long acts of criminality committed by its agents against the United States. This includes spying on American nuclear installations and the theft of nuclear materials which have been smuggled out of the country to aid Israel’s Dimona nuclear project.
Declassified Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) files identified Binyamin Netanyahu as a member of an Israeli smuggling ring which operated in the United States under the overseeing eye of Hollywood producer and long-time Israeli agent (for the now disbanded LAKAM), Arnon Milchan. Codenamed Project Pinto, this enterprise involved a network of Israeli front companies smuggling nuclear triggers to Israel.
Here Israel, purportedly America’s ‘staunchest ally’ was doing precisely what it would later falsely claim (through its dissident Iranian proxy, the MEK) Iran was doing in order to ratchet up the case for an American-led imposition of sanctions, and ultimately, war.
Project Pinto was a continuum of the collaboration between Israel lobby groups and Israeli spy networks in smuggling American resources. Grant F. Smith’s Spy Trade: How the Israel Lobby Undermines America’s Economy which was published in 2009 utilised secret government files to chart a history that began with an operation to funnel stolen and illegally purchased surplus US Army stocks of World War 2 munitions to Jewish militias in Palestine. A threatened FBI crackdown led to covert meetings with Zionist lobbyists in which a bargain was reached: convictions for minor operators in return for immunity for the masterminds.
The result Grant argues has been a consistent perversion of the rule of law. The FBI consistently identifies Israel as a “friendly nation” whose espionage against the United States is the most persistent. However, prosecutions are rare because of political pressure. In the case of Project Pinto, Richard Kelly Smyth, an American physicist who exported the relevant material to Israel received a federal prison sentence of 40 months after spending 16 years as a fugitive. Milchan on the other hand had his US 10-year residential visa revoked, only to have it restored in 2016 through the intervention of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu himself has never been made a person of interest despite the evidence of his involvement.
As was the case with the Zionist operation to illegally smuggle munitions into Mandate-era Palestine, culpability was affixed on the working level, but not the architectural planning level of the operation.
Another malign way in which pro-Zionist activity affects the US body politic is the threat to freedom of speech. The spate of legislations seeking to punish individual or corporate support for the BDS movement presents such a threat. The movement, which has the objective of promoting all forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its “obligations under international law”, has been targeted through laws passed (as of April 10th 2019) by 27 states including New York, Texas and South Carolina.
Each of these laws require businesses contracting with or seeking to contract with the relevant state and local government to affirm that they are not participating in a boycott of Israel. “The language,” wrote Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept on December 21st 2018, “reads like Orwellian -or McCarthyite”- self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading.”
Many expressed similar feelings when it was revealed in 2017 that the authorities in Texas were refusing to give public financial aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey unless they pledged not to boycott Israel. Such stipulations in a domestic setting infringe upon the relationship between citizen and state and tend to underline the veracity of Ilhan Omar’s reference to “political influence” within the United States which “says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country”.
At federal level, the Combating BDS bill, while not seeking to impose restrictions on BDS advocates, does provide cover for states who have passed anti-BDS laws while implicitly encouraging those who have yet to pass legislation to do so. The Combating BDS legislation is a top priority for AIPAC which published a memo insisting that such legislation “in no way impedes the right of any American to boycott or criticize Israel.”
Such an assertion is disputed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), each of which issued rebuttals highlighting what they consider to be the proposed law’s infringement of the First Amendment. The ACLU’s statement noted that the bill “encourages states to adopt the very same anti-boycott laws that two federal courts blocked on First Amendment grounds,” while the FMEP’s fact-check of AIPAC’s memo provided a forensic refutation of each assertion. Criticism of the bill as an affront to the First Amendment has also come from Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders.
While anti-BDS state laws do not expressly penalise individuals from joining the BDS movement, the case of Bahia Amawi, a speech therapist working as an independent contractor with a school district in Texas, highlights how individuals electing to boycott Israeli goods can be put into a position of choosing between their right to freedom of expression and their ability to earn a living.
On Thursday, April 25th, a federal judge issued an injunction against the Texas law, saying in a 56-page opinion that it is likely unconstitutional. It was the third court to strike down anti-BDS legislation.
It is also worth noting that the nature of America’s often touted ‘special relationship’ with Israel is perceived as being fundamentally one-sided in nature. This can be examined in relation to the amount of money America gives to Israel in aid; a figure which surpasses the combined aid given to other countries. The conditions by which such aid is given are extremely favourable to Israel. Much of this has been down to the constant pressure applied for decades on the legislative and executive branches of government by lobby groups such as AIPAC.
Yet, some high-ranking US officials have expressed disdain at Israeli ingratitude for America’s largesse. While speaking during a meeting of the National Security Council Principal’s Committee in 2011, the former US Secretary of State for Defense, Robert Gates, asserted that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu was an “ungrateful ally” which had offered the administration of Barack Obama “nothing in return” for its generous security aid which included access to top-quality weapons, assistance in developing missile-defence systems and high-level intelligence sharing. Significantly, the report by Bloomberg said that Gates’s analysis was not contradicted by those present.
According to the Congressional Research Service’s report “US Foreign Aid to Israel” which was produced in April 2018, the United States gives aid totalling $10.5 million a day to a Israel, a country with a per capita income that is slightly below that of the European Union and which provides its citizens with a free college education and free healthcare.
To put matters into perspective, America has given Israel, a nation of just over 8 million people more aid than it has to the combined regions of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean which have a total population of over a billion people. In recent decades such aid moved from economic assistance to purely military aid. The anti-BDS bill initiated in Congress by the Zionist sponsored Senator Marco Rubio incorporates the $38 billion package promised in 2016 by the then outgoing Barack Obama.
Gates’ criticism of Israel for its ingratitude is resonant for some not merely because of the frustration of the Obama administration’s expectation that Israel would aid the peace process by suspending the extension of Jewish settlements within the occupied territories, but also due to the conduct of Israel in instances where it has profited at America’s expense.
In 2016, a source from the US government estimated that Israel was using about $1.2 billion annually, that is, 38.7% of the aid it receives from America, to directly support its domestic budget rather than to build on its arsenal of advanced US equipment.”
It is also pertinent to note that the effective subsidizing of the Israeli defence industry (it was the seventh largest arms supplier to the world between 2001 and 2008, and in 2015, sold $5.7 billion in military items) has meant that the United States is effectively helping another nation to compete against it on the international arms market.
“How inexplicable is it that we are competing against the Israelis in the Indian defence procurement market at the same time we are subsidizing the Israeli defence industry?” asked Mary Beth Long, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.
To compound things, the United States does not compel Israel to use the aid it receives to buy American goods. While it is true that the United States has at times insisted on certain tradeoffs -for instance, passing legislation requiring that Israel share its related intellectual property with American defence firms in regard to the Iron Dome Project- and Israel argues that its technology has assisted in the development of certain US military development projects, the sheer cost of giving colossal subsidies to a foreign nation at a time of general economic austerity is critics argue no longer tenable.
Furthermore, the argument has been made that the giving of aid to Israel by successive US administrations has amounted to a breach of the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act which was passed in 1976. This legislation expressly prohibits aiding nuclear powers who have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is an open secret that Israel has long acquired a nuclear weapons capability through its establishment in Dimona in the Negev. However, no American president has ever acknowledged this. When pressed on the issue by a journalist in February 2009, Barack Obama could only reply that he did not want to “speculate” on the matter.
It is a state of affairs which even the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the late 1940s, wary of the United States being steered towards an ever deepening commitment to the Zionist state, would have conceived as possible. Yet, no top brass American military figure has publicly voiced any criticism of the US-Israeli relationship since that period except General George Brown, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff who in the 1970s considered continual military aid to Israel to be a burden to the Pentagon.
Using forceful language, Brown claimed that the reason lay in the fact that members of the Jewish community controlled America’s banks, newspapers and elected officials. Speaking before an audience at Duke University in November 1974, Brown’s words were as follows:
It’s so strong you wouldn’t believe now. We have the Israelis coming to us for equipment. We say we can’t possibly get the Congress to support that. They say, “Don’t worry about the Congress. We will take care of the Congress.” Now this is somebody from another country, but they can do it. They own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers. Just look at where the Jewish money is.
Brown, who survived the outcry that followed (he was reprimanded by President Gerald Ford), later explained that his remarks had been prompted by the depletion of US military equipment stocks after their transfer to Israel during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, something he resented because the United States was still prosecuting a war in South East Asia.
Many would argue that the entwining of US and Israeli interests has been solidified since the time General Brown raised his objections. The projection of this through the political and diplomatic reach of the United States is complemented in terms of military objectives. The US intervention in Iraq and its support for uprisings against the governments of Libya and Syria tend to support this. Such is the identification of American interests with those of Israel that the Jerusalem Post in March 2018 quoted US Air Force General Richard Clark as saying that US troops deployed in Israel under the terms of a mutual pact would be prepared to die for the Jewish state.
However, there is evidence that not all high level military officials in the Pentagon share Clark’s sentiments. In 2010, while he was head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus made the following observation before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the “challenges to security and stability” faced by the United States:
The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR (Area of Operations). Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.
Petraeus' words, which were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League as being “dangerous and counter-productive”, have not been repeated by any senior military figures. Yet, they testify to the existence of a viable alternative approach as to how US interests may be calibrated without an insistence of these interests always been synonymous with those of the State of Israel.
This is what figures within the American high command such as George Marshall were at pains to stress and which politicians such as James Forrestal understood would be a problem for the United States, if the Zionist lobby was allowed to develop and entrench itself within American domestic politics. As Forrestal told J. Howard McGarth, a senator, “No group in this country should be permitted to influence our policy to the point it could endanger our national security.”
It underscores how far circumstances have changed when a serving American National Security Advisor is given a “Defender of Israel” award by the Zionist Organisation of America.
While the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt was correct to remind Nancy Pelosi of George Washington’s statement that America would be a country “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”, a far more pertinent Washingtonian sentiment which the US-Israeli relationship raises concerns the special warning he gave to America’s citizens during his farewell Presidential address; that is, that they should be wary of attachments and entanglements with other nations.
“The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfil God’s plan for both Israel and the West … a biblically prophesised end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.”
- John Hagee, National Chairman of the Christian Zionist organisation, Christians United for Israel at an event on July 19th, 2006.
Israel has from the time of its creation worked tirelessly to ensure that it has the political, economic and military backing of America. One important channel which has been utilised to achieving these ends has been through a particular brand of the Christian faith. The alliance between Jewish-Israeli interests and conservative Christian evangelicals has been crucial to fortifying support for Israel within the United States.
It is an alliance which many view as unusual and unholy. For in Christian Zionism, Political Zionism has formed a bond with an ideological partner which is ultimately antithetical to Judaism. A fundamental plank of Christian Zionist-Dispensationalist philosophy is that following the creation of the modern State of Israel, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem must serve as a necessary precursor to the end days during which Christ’s chosen will be secretly raptured. Their eschatological doctrine is premised on the belief that the Jews, who rejected Jesus, will in the end times be given a final opportunity to accept Christ, failing which they will be put to the sword.
The roots of Christian Zionism is composed of disparate figures such as John Nelson Darby, whose dispensationalist theology was influential in its spread among American Protestants, and Cyrus Scofield, whose reference bible forms a bedrock of the dispensational premillennialism of today’s Christian fundamentalists.
Not all Christian Zionists are dispensationalists. But they are united in a belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of Israel in 1948 accord with biblical prophecy. They believe, as those who believed in Christian Restorationism did, that Jews should be actively encouraged to return to the land of Israel.
While John Hagee, the chairman of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is vociferous in proclaiming Christian love for the Jewish people, others such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, although strongly pro-Israel in their utterances, let slip their latent antipathy towards Jews. For instance, Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) once referred to the Jewish founder of the US Military Religious Foundation as a “little Jewish radical” for promoting secularism in the American military, while Falwell once stated that “most evangelicals believe the antichrist will, by necessity, be a Jewish male.”
It is a bizarre relationship that nonetheless is mutually beneficial.
The nurturing of American evangelicals has been worthwhile because of the importance of the Christian right in American politics. American evangelical support for the Zionist state has been unconditional. They have exercised influence on American foreign policy over the years, and their members have given millions of dollars to groups in Israel which are opposed to any form of concessions to the Palestinians, and encourage the colonisation of Palestinian land by the most fanatical Jewish settlers.
Many influential American political leaders right up to the present vice president, Mike Pence are adherents of Christian Zionism. Jewish individuals and groups have forged close ties with Christian Zionist organisations in the cause of Israel. Indeed, it speaks volumes that David Brog, the cousin of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was for nine years, the executive director of CUFI, the largest Christian Zionist lobby group. His appointment as the head of the Maccabee Task Force, an organisation formed by the billionaire duo, Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban to combat BDS activities on American college campus’ confirms that Brog’s link to CUFI was based not on the rationale of promoting interfaith dialogue, but in solely serving the interests of Israel.
The partnership between Israel and the evangelicals, assiduously developed from the time of Menachem Begin’s tenure as leader of Israel’s Likud Party, has, some have argued, long since peaked. But it is one which shows every sign of enduring. As Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Israeli right-wing Home Party stated in early 2018:
We need to use the opportunity to the best of Israel’s national interests and security.
Criticism of Zionism
“It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism.”
- Yehoshafat Harkabi, Director of Israeli Military Intelligence (1955-1959), in his book Israel’s Fateful Hour.
Whereas criticism of the pro-Zionist lobby is based on evidence of the aggressiveness of its agents and the intimidating power that it wields among legislators, criticism of the State of Israel is often predicated on the belief that it is a colonial-settler project which has involved the continuous policy of ethnic cleansing the indigenous Palestinian population, as well as its persistent defiance of international law.
The lobby often proclaims that criticism of Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel and its existence are inherently anti-Semitic since such criticism denies the Jewish people the fundamental right to self-determination. However, this is a position an increasing amount of people are beginning to view as being untenable. Political Zionism, one expression of Jewish nationalism, is a political ideology and as such cannot logically be ring-fenced from any criticism. It is distinct from the idea of 'Spiritual Zionism’ espoused by Asher Ginsberg, and its philosophy was and is not based on the idea of a multi-racial society. Indeed, as a result of the passage of its nation-state law, Israel has officially pronounced itself as an ethno-state.
This earned the admiration of many purveyors of the creed of white nationalism. Comparisons between Israel and the aspirations of white nationalists are frowned upon by Zionist lobbies. In an interview conducted by the New York Times Magazine in March 2019, Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organisation of America, said that he considered it to be “utterly racist and despicable” to support white nationalism. But when he was challenged that white nationalist aspirations paralleled that of a state created solely for Jews, Klein’s response was to state that Israel “is a unique situation”. He continued by stating that Israel “is really a Jewish state given to us by God. God did not create a state for white people or for black people.”
This belief that Political Zionism and its creation, the State of Israel, are above criticism, is of course mirrored by the attitude of Zionist lobby groups such as AIPAC in their refusal to register as political action committees and as agents of a foreign country.
It is pertinent to remind that at one time in history, most Jews were against the philosophy of Political Zionism for religious reasons, as well as what they deemed would be the inevitable outcome of creating a state by force of arms.
Henry Morgenthau Sr, a former US ambassador to Turkey, considered it to be “the most stupendous fallacy in Jewish history”. It was, he felt, “fanatical in its politics” and “sterile in its spiritual ideas”.
Edwin Samuel Montagu, a Jewish-English politician who served in the coalition government during the First World War described it as a “mischievous political creed” which he opposed because he foresaw the trouble which what he believed to be a chauvinist ideology would cause in Palestine. Not only would it create an enmity with those who would necessarily be dispossessed of the land on which they had lived for centuries, the accusation of dual loyalty would be made against those Jews who lived in other countries. It was, he believed, a project which would unleash the beast of anti-Semitism.
Israel’s creation involved the use of terrorism and foreplanned ethnic cleansing. It has since existed as a militaristic state which claims a unique right to live above international law, customs and convention. Since the failure of the Oslo Accords, it has been ruled by right-wing governments -heirs to the hardline Revisionist Zionism espoused by Vladimir Jabotinsky- which have disavowed all pretence of ever wanting a peaceful settlement with the Palestinian people and has conducted its military to act in ways which pervert the moral order. For instance, the recent targeted murders of unarmed Palestinians protesting for the right of return is somehow construed as the exercise of legitimate self-defence. As Gideon Levy has often put it, Israel is an “aggressor-victim”.
Levy recently stated in an interview that the “the Israeli lobby, the Jewish lobby are by far too strong and too aggressive,” adding that it is “not good for the Jewish community (and) it is not good for Israel”.
For Levy, Ilhan Omar spoke the truth when raising legitimate questions about the Zionist lobby.
“The best service our Russian friends give to us is never to speak aloud about us.”
- Vladimir Jabotinsky, early Zionist leader.
The reaction to the comments made by Ilhan Omar has revealed in great measure that the pro-Israel lobby is not a conventional lobby. For those who may not have been previously aware of it, the fallout, which included serial denunciations and the passing of two house resolutions, provided ample evidence of the unique place it inhabits in the American political process and the way it insists on framing any criticism that is directed at it.
For instance, there was a tendency among Omar’s critics to import certain meanings to her actual words which did not objectively flow from her actual pronouncements. In particular, there was the implication of what they referred to as agelong “stereotypes”, “tropes” and “canards” about Jews. Furthermore, many of her detractors appeared to be lecturing others about how and how not to criticise the Israel lobby. This, needless to say, is something which does not occur when criticising the gun lobby or the military lobby.
They all suggest that sensitivity over criticism of pro-Zionist interest groups are intrinsically linked to fears over the negative results which may flow from resulting perceptions of Jewish power and influence. Thus, in a sense Omar’s detractors reflect what Vladimir Jabotinsky, an influential figure in the development of Political Zionism, once advised:
The best service our Russian friends give to us is never to speak aloud about us.
Jabotinsky’s analysis, made in the context of the brutal experience of Jewry in the Russian empire, has a fatalistic ring to it. He seemed to be stating that any overt, public scrutiny of Jews inevitably led to a reaction, and that such reaction would be a negative one.
Yet the employment of the accusation of anti-Semitism as a reaction to those who raise legitimate questions in regard to ascertaining the extent to which their legislators are influenced by a particular lobby only serves to illuminate the extraordinary levels at which such influence persists. The very thing which is claimed to be minimal or even non-existent, is ironically revealed in its great expanse by the high-level political figures and the media houses who rise up in unison to offer their unequivocal condemnation of a presumed transgressor.
It also effectively exposes a longstanding ban; subtle, yet rigorous, on anything critical of Jewish groups or Jewish individuals.
But given that the issues raised have grave implications pertaining to the health of American democracy, the sanctity of free speech and the promotion of the American national interest, it is a barrier which has long exceeded the limits of logic.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.