Israel, US, and “the lobby”-1: Apartheid in the occupied territories?

The Washington Post had an interesting article that said how in 1941, David Ben-Gurion, one of the founders of Israel came to Washington DC and spent ten weeks in a hotel trying his best to get just a fifteen minute meeting with President Roosevelt to press the case for creating the state of Israel. He failed. The article used this to chart the steep rise of Israel’s influence in the US since then.

Discussions about the extent of this current influence, and whether it is a good thing for the US, Israel, or the Middle East in general was brought center stage in March 2006 by the article The Israel Lobby by academics John Mearsheimer of University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard. (I have written about this before here.)

The article provoked an angry reaction, with some people accusing the pair of being anti-Semitic, which in turn threw up another group who came to their defense. This resulted in what Mearsheimer and Walt always said they wanted and which was not happening: a public debate on the role of pro-Israel lobbies such as the AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on American politics.

In fact, a fascinating face-to-face debate was held on the topic The Israel Lobby: Does it have too much influence on US foreign policy?. The panelists were John Mearsheimer (Professor of Political Science and the co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago), Shlomo Ben-Ami (former Israeli foreign and security minister), Martin Indyck (Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution), Tony Judt (Professor in European Studies and Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University), Rashid Khalidi (Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University) and Dennis Ross ( Fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy). The moderator was Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

(You can see the full debate here and read the transcript here. Although long, viewing the debate is well worth it because it covers important questions.)

During the debate Mearsheimer pointed out an example of the problem, and that was that Dennis Ross (who has been a lead negotiator for the US State Department on Middle Eastern affairs) and Martin Indyck (who used to be US Ambassador to Israel) were simultaneously members of the Israel lobby while at the same time working for the US government in Middle East negotiations. Mearsheimer claimed that this destroyed the credibility of the US as an ‘honest’ broker in the negotiations, since as a result US proposals were often first vetted and approved by the Israeli side before they were even considered for presentation to the Palestinians. So ‘negotiations’ with the Palestinians, instead of being something where both sides were expected to concede something, essentially became a process in which the Palestinians were presented with a fait accompli.

Apart from the predictable allegations of anti-Semitism laid against Mearsheimer and Walt by people like Alan Dershowitz, there were also more thoughtful examinations of The Israel Lobby article and the ensuing debate, by people like Philip Weiss writing in The Nation, Michael Massing writing in the New York Review of Books, and former CIA analysts Bill and Kathleen Christison. The last two essays pointed out that not all the criticisms of Mearsheimer and Walt came from one side, and that people like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, themselves vocal critics of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories, had critiqued Mearsheimer and Walt on the grounds that they gave too much credit for Israeli influence. Chomsky and Finkelstein argue that while current US and Israeli policies are detrimental to peace, both feel that it is the US that is the dominant partner in the US-Israel relationship and that Israel follows US dictates in the Middle East, not the other way around as critics of the lobby assert.

The recent attacks on former president Jimmy Carter for his book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid has brought the debate about the power of Israeli lobbies in US politics to the surface again and shed more light on the complex issues of the relationship between Israel and the US. Some have taken strong exception to Carter’s use of the word ‘apartheid’ to describe what is happening in the occupied territories. Others have described it as a kind of Bantustan. As Alexander Cockburn points out, the outrage over the use of this word is somewhat disingenuous. “Israeli writers have used the word apartheid to describe arrangements in the occupied territories for years. Hundreds of prominent South African Jews issued a statement six years ago making the same link.” (italics in original)

Whatever one calls it, the similarities of the situation in the occupied territories now with what happened in South Africa are too disturbing to ignore and there is no doubt that the conditions of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza are truly awful and that the US government has done little about it except for some perfunctory and symbolic wringing of the hands, seemingly content to let the government of Israel do what it wishes with the people and lands under its military control.

John Pilger describes the appalling conditions right now in Gaza as a result of the embargo imposed on the people there, who are being punished by the US, Israel, and Europe for the crime of voting for parliamentary leaders who were not to their liking.

A genocide is engulfing the people of Gaza while a silence engulfs its bystanders. “Some 1.4 million people, mostly children, are piled up in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with no freedom of movement, no place to run, and no space to hide,” wrote the senior UN relief official, Jan Egeland, and Jan Eliasson, then Swedish foreign minister, in Le Figaro. They described people “living in a cage,” cut off by land, sea, and air, with no reliable power and little water, tortured by hunger, disease, and incessant attacks by Israeli troops and planes.
. . .
The excuse for the latest Israeli terror was the capture last June of an Israeli soldier, a member of an illegal occupation, by the Palestinian resistance. This was news. The kidnapping a few days earlier by Israel of two Palestinians – two of thousands taken over the years – was not news. A historian and two foreign journalists have reported the truth about Gaza. All three are Israelis. They are frequently called traitors. The historian Ilan Pappe has documented that “the genocidal policy [in Gaza] is not formulated in a vacuum” but part of Zionism’s deliberate, historic ethnic cleansing. Gideon Levy and Amira Hass are reporters on the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. In November, Levy described how the people of Gaza were beginning to starve to death: “there are thousands of wounded, disabled, and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment… the shadows of human beings roam the ruins… they only know the [Israeli army] will return and what this will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions.”

Philip Weiss writes in the New York Observer about the reasons why the word apartheid might be justified for the state of affairs in the occupied territories

As I went downtown to see the play “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” last night, I read the Forward’s coverage of Jimmy Carter’s much-awaited book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Forthcoming from Simon & God bless them Schuster. The article said that supporters of Israel are most upset by the characterization in the title, apartheid. That characterization used to upset me too, as being tendentious and emotional, till I went to Hebron last summer, the second largest city in the West Bank, where Arabs cannot set foot in large portions of the city center, and met a South African church worker who had lived through apartheid and who said that the conditions of the Israeli occupation were worse than apartheid. The people in the occupied territories have lived under Israeli administration for 40 years and had two elections in that time, yet we call Israel a democracy.

I believe that there will never be peace in the Middle East until we have a situation in which the Palestinians have a viable nation of their own in which they can live with dignity.

Next: An old state with an adolescent mentality

POST SCRIPT 1: Editorial cartoon round up

Bob Geiger rounds up editorial cartoons from around the nation and it is clear that Bush’s credibility is in free fall. Don’t miss Walt Handelsman’s animation at the end.

POST SCRIPT 2: The Mamas and the Papas

Denny Doherty of the 60s rock group The Mamas and the Papas died over the weekend, leaving Michelle Phillips as the lone survivor of one of my favorite music groups. I don’t know of any other group that blended four voices together in harmony as well as they did. Their hit Monday, Monday, in which Doherty sang the lead, was one of their best. Here is a video of them performing that song in 1966. (Thanks to Crooks and Liars.)


  1. Adam Ramsey says

    Thank you very much for this.

    I am growing very sick of our country’s continued support of Israeli criminality.

    It is time for a change. We need to support the Palestinian struggle to be able to achieve peace in the middle east, and prevent a wider catastrophe.

  2. says

    The Economist recently ran a long piece about the changing relationship of Diaspora Jews to Israel:

    I think it captures something important, and quite complementary to what you’re writing about: within the world Jewish community attitudes to Israel are a lot more complicated and less consistent than they were a generation ago. I think this echoes the gradual change in mainstream American attitudes to the country, and not a moment too soon.

  3. says

    I was very happy to read your excellent essay on a subject which needs to be brought to public attention as often as possible. I have expressed very similar opinions on my VIEW FROM THE MOON, and I feel heartened to discover your weblog. Until now I had not found another blog which shared my views.

  4. S Sayyed says

    Well done Mano Singham! An excellent article with good references. I hope more people read this article and the links provided therein to form a true and fair view of the Middle East situation.

  5. Anonymous says

    I’m reading your artcile much after the date of posting, but I’m incredibly grateful to have come across it. I spent Feb/March of this year in the West Bank and Israel. I witnessed the economic damage in Palestine, experienced the humilation of the check points, and was caught in a military exchange between IDF with bazookas, guns, firepower…and Palestinian men with rocks. I’m supposed to write about the trip and about the conflict, but feel absoultely overwhelmed with firsthand knowledge and obsessive research into the history that I’m now emotionally stagnated. Your article provided calm insight, reason and great resources, which have got me going again. Thank you.

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