Israel, US, and “the lobby”-3: The silence in the US


(See part 1 and part 2.)

It is undoubtedly the case that most Americans, especially those who are critical of Israeli government policies, find it difficult to discuss the US-Israel relationship in the same way that they might discuss, say, the US-Pakistan relationship. Ira Chernus writes about how non-Jews in the US are reluctant to talk about Israel-Palestine issues, and gives them advice in an article titled How to talk to your Jewish friends, an article that was triggered by the appalling lack of action by the US government when Israel unleashed its massive assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, and the silence of Americans who failed to demand that the US government call for an immediate ceasefire to stop the killing. Condoleeza Rice’s statement that the death and destruction caused by the fighting in Lebanon signaled the “birth pangs of a new Middle East” was as grotesque a statement in the midst of crisis as was Marie Antoinette’s reputed “Let them eat cake.”

Chernus says:

When one hears criticism of any action of Israel by elected officials and the mainstream media in the US, it is almost always very cautiously worded and qualified by saying that the other side is worse. It seems as if public officials and media personalities in the US are afraid that criticizing Israel government policies is to risk being called anti-Jewish, although Jews as people, the people of Israel, and the actions of the Israel government are three different things and one can criticize the third without inferences being drawn about the other two. One has to look to the peace movements in Israel (10,000 of whom marched in Tel Aviv against the invasion of Lebanon on August 5, 2006) for criticisms of the actions of the Israeli government.

This is not the case in the rest of the world. The Economist magazine gives two main reasons for the near-unanimity of almost unconditional support among US elites for anything that Israel does.

Why is America so much more pro-Israeli than Europe? The most obvious answer lies in the power of two very visible political forces: the Israeli lobby (AIPAC) and the religious right. AIPAC, which has an annual budget of almost $50m, a staff of 200, 100,000 grassroots members and a decades-long history of wielding influence, is arguably the most powerful lobby in Washington, mightier even than the National Rifle Association.

“Thank God we have AIPAC, the greatest supporter and friend we have in the whole world,” says Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister. The lobby, which is the centrepiece of a co-ordinated body that includes pressure groups, think-tanks and fund-raising operations, produces voting statistics on congressmen that are carefully scrutinised by political donors. It also organises regular trips to Israel for congressmen and their staffs.

What Chernus says is true. One is far more likely to find critiques of Israeli government actions in Israeli newspapers like Ha’aretz than in the mainstream US media. As another example, see this blistering critique titled Stop the Jewish Barbarians in Hebron of the way that Arabs are being treated in Hebron, that appeared in the Jerusalem Post by Yosef Lapid, a holocaust survivor and former Israeli justice minister.

When we decide, and rightly so, to never under any circumstances compare the behavior of Jews to that of Nazis, we are forgetting that anti-Semitism only reached its height at Auschwitz. It had existed, was active, frightening, harmful and disgusting. . .in the years that preceded Auschwitz too. And behind shuttered windows hid terrified Jewish women, exactly like the Arab woman of the Abu-Isha family in Hebron.

It is unthinkable that the memory of Auschwitz should serve as a pretext to ignore the fact that living here among us are Jews that behave toward Palestinians exactly the way that German, Hungarian, Polish and other anti-Semites behaved toward Jews.

I am not referring to crematoria or pogroms, but rather to the persecution, hounding, stone-throwing, undermining of livelihood, scare tactics, spitting and contempt.

It was all of these things that made our lives in the Diaspora so bitter and harrowing, even before they began the wholesale killing of Jews. I was afraid to go to school because little anti-Semites lay in wait on the way and beat us. In what way is a Palestinian child in Hebron any different?

This kind of article shows the wide range of discussion that exists in Israel, but one would be hard pressed to find its equivalent in the mainstream press in the US. Critics of the AIPAC lobby charge that it is responsible for stifling the debate in the US and as a result the search for meaningful solutions to the problems in the Middle East have been hindered, leading to the chronic instability and violence.

But the signs are that this situation is changing.

Next: How the Mearsheimer-Walt article and Carter book has broadened the discussion.

POST SCRIPT: What do you mean, three days on the cross?

Yesterday, Mr. Deity explained the reasons for allowing so much suffering. Today he asks Jesus for a really big favor.

Tomorrow: Mr. Deity has trouble turning on the light.

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