Gaza and the Israel lobby


The main thesis of the book The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy by University of Chicago professor of political science John J. Mearsheimer and Harvard University professor of international affairs Stephen M. Walt can be summarized as follows:

The US gives Israel a level of unconditional military, economic, and diplomatic support that far exceeds what it gives to any other country, both in absolute and per capita terms. This level of support cannot be justified on strategic or moral grounds and in fact has resulted in actual harm being done to the long-term interests of the US and even Israel. The existence of the current policies can only be explained as due to the successful lobbying efforts of a powerful group that they call the ‘Israel lobby’. A frank discussion would quickly reveal the negative consequences of these policies but this has not occurred because the lobby not only has the ability to influence the speech and actions of the administrative and legislative bodies, it also tries to stifle in the media any examination of its role in influencing policy by accusing critics of the policy and the lobby of being anti-Semitic, and lumping them with Holocaust deniers and purveyors of various conspiracy theories.

An example of how the Israel lobby reacts to any criticisms of the actions of Israel can be seen in what happened recently to Bill Moyers when he spoke about the human cost of war in general and in Gaza in particular. Here is the original Moyers clip.

I thought it was extremely moving. Not so Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League who immediately fired off a letter to Moyers hauling out the usual charges and accusing him, among other things, of anti-Semitism, ‘moral equivalency’, and historical revisionism. Moyers is an old hand who knows that anyone who criticizes the actions of the Israeli government has to expect this kind of thing from people like Foxman and responded in his usual tempered manner. You can see the correspondence here and Glenn Greenwald’s reaction to the episode here.

But Foxman is refreshingly candid in his demand that the US must not have an impartial stance when it comes to the Middle East. He said that he was “concerned” that Obama might appoint former Senate majority leader George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East, which was announced yesterday. Why? Because he says “Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed. But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed’ — it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support. So I’m concerned. I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.” Fairness is a bad thing? John Rawls must be turning in his grave.

The type of response of Foxman to Moyers (or to anyone who advocates for even slightly more balanced treatment in the Middle East) is actually routine. In 2006 Kenneth Roth of the group Human Rights Watch was attacked when his group produced a report critical of Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon. Roth was promptly accused of making a ‘blood libel’, participating in the ‘de-legitimization of Judaism’ and employing ‘a classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews.’ This was despite the fact that not only is Roth Jewish but his father was a refugee from Nazi Germany.

As Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks said of such responses:

But what’s most troubling about the vitriol directed at Roth and his organization isn’t that it’s savage, unfounded and fantastical. What’s most troubling is that it’s typical. Typical, that is, of what anyone rash enough to criticize Israel can expect to encounter. In the United States today, it just isn’t possible to have a civil debate about Israel, because any serious criticism of its policies is instantly countered with charges of anti-Semitism.

Writing recently in The American Conservative Mearsheimer analyzes the real purpose of the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The campaign in Gaza is said to have two objectives: (1) to put an end to the rockets and mortars that Palestinians have been firing into southern Israel since it withdrew from Gaza in August 2005; (2) to restore Israel’s deterrent, which was said to be diminished by the Lebanon fiasco, by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and by its inability to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

But these are not the real goals of Operation Cast Lead. The actual purpose is connected to Israel’s long-term vision of how it intends to live with millions of Palestinians in its midst. It is part of a broader strategic goal: the creation of a “Greater Israel.” Specifically, Israel’s leaders remain determined to control all of what used to be known as Mandate Palestine, which includes Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians would have limited autonomy in a handful of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves, one of which is Gaza. Israel would control the borders around them, movement between them, the air above and the water below them.

The key to achieving this is to inflict massive pain on the Palestinians so that they come to accept the fact that they are a defeated people and that Israel will be largely responsible for controlling their future.

Mearsheimer recites the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict and why the attack on Gaza might well turn out to be a major setback for Israel. The whole article is well worth reading as is this article titled Israel’s Lies by Henry Seigman, former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

One sometimes finds a barbarous way of thinking by those who should know better that if some people are made to suffer on a massive scale, they will simply give up their struggle to achieve justice and let the people inflicting the suffering do what it wants to them. As an example, see Glenn Greenwald’s evisceration of the despicable Tom Friedman, who seems to think that raining death and destruction on ordinary Palestinians to achieve political and military ends is just fine, that if you “inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population” their elected representatives Hamas can be “educated” into giving up, despite the fact that punishing civilian populations to achieve political and military aims is about as clear a definition of a war crime as you can get.

Oddly enough, this is exactly the same kind of ‘logic’ of people like bin Laden and groups like al Qaeda, who seem to think that killing huge numbers of American civilians by means of crashing airplanes into buildings would cause Americans to feel defeated, turn on their own political leaders, and reverse their policies in the Middle East. Columnist Mark Steel also noticed this parallel and pointed out in a column laced with black humor, that if you replace “Gaza” with “western” in Friedman’s comments, his words could have been written by al Qaeda.

We know how well that strategy turned out. The events of 9/11 resulted in Americans rallying around Bush and unifying them against the terrorists. Even the ever-clueless Friedman earlier said that the 9/11 attacks caused him to rally round his own government and want to lash out in retaliation, using the macho, tough language that seems to come so easily to these armchair warriors safely ensconced in their suburban mansions.

So it’s time we got tough. It’s time that we looked people in the eye. It’s time that the terrorists were the ones who are always afraid, always looking over their shoulder, and to create that, you do have to fight a different kind of war. I was a critic of Rumsfeld before, but there’s one thing…that I do like about Rumsfeld. He’s just a little bit crazy, OK? He’s just a little bit crazy, and in this kind of war, they always count on being able to out-crazy us.

Friedman does not draw the obvious conclusion from his own reaction to 9/11 to what is likely to be the Palestinian reaction to the events in Gaza. As Jonathan Schwarz notes sardonically, “Huh. Well, I’m sure it will work differently on the filthy wogs, given that they’re subhuman.”

POST SCRIPT: Tide turning?

There are hopeful signs that a more balanced discussion on the Middle East may be starting to take place in the mainstream media. On a recent episode of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, thanks to the absence of the regular obnoxious host Joe Scarborough, a surprisingly reasonable discussion took place about what is happening in Gaza.

Part 1:

Part 2:

It was interesting that Richard Haass could say unchallenged that the problem is that Israel has no partners for peace to negotiate with in Gaza since it ‘obviously’ could not negotiate with Hamas. The idea that Israel has the right to decide who should represent the Palestinians was not challenged. No one had the temerity to ask him whether it would be acceptable if Hamas said that they cannot negotiate with the Israeli government but would only talk with the peace groups in Israel. To pose such an audacious question would be to commit ‘moral equivalency’, that dangerous sin of applying the same standards to all parties in a conflict.

But things are changing. Veteran Australian war correspondent John Pilger says:

Across the world, people once indifferent to the arcane “conflict” in the Middle East, now ask the question the BBC and CNN rarely ask: Why does Israel have a right to exist, but Palestine does not? They ask, too, why do the lawless enjoy such immunity in the pristine world of balance and objectivity? … In France, 80 organizations are working to bring war crimes indictments against Israel’s leaders. On 15 January, the fine Israeli reporter, Gideon Levy, wrote in Ha’aretz that Israeli generals “will not be the only ones to hide in El Al planes lest they are arrested [overseas].”

Let’s hope this trend continues.

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