It is no secret that the Israel lobby exerts enormous power over US policy in the Middle East. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt described the structure of the lobby, how it operates, and the results of its actions in their book The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy and you can read my three part review here and here and here. The power of the lobby is such that even the publication of such a book by two establishment scholars (Mearsheimer is at the University of Chicago and Walt is at Harvard University) caused controversy and their long article on this topic that was a precursor to the book was rejected by American publications that led to it eventually being published in England in the London Review of Books.
But despite this awareness of the dominance that the Israel lobby exerts over American foreign policy, there are occasions when the level of US obsequiousness to Israel surprises even seasoned observers. Last week President Obama made a speech on the Middle East in which, among other things, he called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue based on the 1967 borders plus mutually agreed swaps of land.
The speech caused Israeli Prime Minister Netanayhu to throw a major hissy fit and publicly rebuke Obama, and outline what he ‘expected’ him to say when the two met a few days later. And in the joint press conference following that meeting, Netanyahu proceeded to publicly lecture Obama on the Middle East, even though, as Mearsheimer points out, it is the Palestinians who had some justification in being disappointed by Obama’s speech.
Even Jeffrey Goldberg, an American journalist who writes for The Atlantic and is one who is extremely sympathetic to Israel and has even served in the Israeli army, thinks that Netanyahu went too far.
For whatever reason, I tend to react strongly when a foreign leader disrespects the United States, and its President. I didn’t like it when Hugo Chavez of Venezuela insulted President Bush; I don’t like listening to Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan lecture the U.S. on its sins, and I’m not happy when certain Pakistani leaders gin-up righteous indignation about American behavior when it was their country that served as a refuge for the greatest mass murderer in American history.
And so I was similarly taken aback when I read a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday that he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both House of Congress.”
So Netanyahu “expects” to hear this from the President of the United States? And if President Obama doesn’t walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the U.S.? Will he cease to fight for the U.S. in the United Nations, and in the many international forums that treat Israel as a pariah?
What we saw in this episode was the spectacle of a leader of a country that is the single largest recipient of US aid (both in absolute and per capita terms) and is entirely dependent on US aid and military support, having the temerity to humiliate the head of its benefactor country and spell out what he expects him to say. What makes this even more astounding is that just last November, Netanyahu had met with Hillary Clinton and the joint statement issued after the meeting had the identical phrasing that Obama used. (via Andrew Sullivan.)
If any other foreign leader, especially of a country that receives so much money from the US, had criticized the US president, political leaders and the media here would have been outraged and demand that aid be cut off immediately. But not when it comes to Israel. What Israel and its US lobby have come to expect is total acceptance of their agenda. This Onion item titled “Government Official Who Makes Perfectly Valid, Well-Reasoned Point Against Israel Forced To Resign” is meant to be a parody but is uncomfortably close to reality, since the head of AIPAC, the most powerful component of the Israel lobby actually warned Obama that he should not be even-handed when dealing with Israel and the Palestinians.
Look at how members of the US congress were falling over themselves to assure the head of a foreign government that they stood with him against their own president. Netanyahu was invited to speak to the joint session of Congress (a rare honor) and he received a reception that can only be described as adulatory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a rapturous reception worthy of a rock star from lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle on Capitol Hill on Tuesday – a stark contrast to last week’s tense White House visit.
His speech to a joint session of Congress was repeatedly punctuated by sustained applause, laughter and more than two dozen standing ovations. It also received some high praise from bipartisan admirers.
Harry Reid, the leader in Congress of the same party as the president that Netanyahu insulted, fawned over Netanyahu. Can you imagine this happening with any country other than Israel? As James Wolcott describes it:
So I turn on the TV and there’s Bibi Netanyahu addressing Congress–he had taken advantage of Obama’s absence to have himself sworn in as president of the United States!
And there was that traitor, vice president Joe Biden, sitting in the back with benign acceptance of that unprecedented coup d’tat!
I didn’t quite fathom the details of the speech but every time Netanyahu mentioned Israel, the assembled rose to their feet and fingersnapped approval like beatniks at a bistro.
What a sickening display of obeisance for a foreign leader crowning himself president-for-a-day while Obama is in Ireland drinking Guinness and flying to England to ask the royal newlyweds how things are going.
I will let Glenn Greenwald provide the final word: “In sum, the same faction that spent the last decade demanding fealty to the Commander-in-Chief in a Time of War upon pain of being accused of a lack of patriotism (or worse) now openly sides with a foreign leader over their own President. The U.S. Congress humiliates itself by expressing greater admiration for and loyalty to this foreign leader than their own country’s. And because this is all about Israel, few will find this spectacle strange, or at least will be willing to say so.” He ends, “In any event, please remember that you must not speak of the immense power of the Israel Lobby lest you reveal yourself to be a conspiratorial hatemonger. I hope that’s clear.”