The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy
[These are my notes from the 2018 conference on “The Israeli Lobby and American Foreign Policy” held at the National Press Club in Washington DC on March 2. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentations and are not an attempted transcriptionÂ The entire program may be viewed here.Â ]
Grant F Smith (Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy). An Overview of the Israel Lobby Agenda
In 2012, the organizations that make up the Israel Lobby had 3.7 billion revenue, employed 14,000 paid staff, and 350,00 volunteers. Those numbers are all increasing. One asks why is the U.S. moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem now? In 1990s AIPAC got serious about passing a law to force the embassy move as a means of thwarting the Oslo peace process. The “Jerusalem Embassy Act” passed in 1995 with a presidential waiver provision “to avoid separation of power issues.” President Clinton allowed it to pass without signing it. All major party candidates campaigned on moving the embassy, but until Trump all winners invoked the waiver.Â In polls, Americans have never supported the move.
Now, the Lobby wants to pass a federal law equating certain criticism of Israel (especially on college campuses) with anti-Semitism. The “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” would withdraw federal funding from institutions of higher learning that permit certain criticism of Israel. 61% of American polled knowing that major civil liberties organizations oppose this law also oppose it. The government increasingly punishes truth-tellers about Israel. The Dept. of Energy already has a gag rule that any U.S. government contractor or employee who writes or says that Israel has a nuclear weapons program will lose their job, security clearances and will be treated as a criminal.Â That rule, WPN-136, impacts the nuclear proliferation debate.
70% of Americans do not consider themselves to be Zionists, so maintaining a contrary illusion is important to the Lobby. Thus the importance to the Lobby of cultivating Evangelicals. Support for Israel among college students has dropped 32%. On the other hand, support among Republicans has never been higher. Despite the wide partisan split, the Republican and Democratic platform planks on Israel are nearly identical.
Last year, Al-Jazeera’s investigation of the Lobby in the United Kingdom made a splash. They also did an investigation of the Lobby in the U.S. but the Lobby succeeded in suppressing the American report using threats that included “getting the U.S. government to deny landing right to Qatar Airways … [and] having the Justice Department register Al-Jazeera’s reporters as foreign agents [cutting] off their access to government officials and limiting their access to U.S. government facilities.”
The Lobby now seeks to criminalize support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement with fines of $1 million and sentences of 20 years in jail. It’s key backer Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) is heavily supported by Israeli affinity organizations.
There is also the issue of provoking confrontations with Iran. There was a Dec 12 secret agreement at the White House to take joint military action.
Massive unconditional foreign aid is on the table. 58% of Americans informed of the massive amounts of aid to Israel say foreign aid to Israel ($258 billion since 1948, even more than the U.S. spent on the Marshall Plan) is “too much” or “much too much.”
Dr. Virginia Tilley (Southern Illinois University). Does the US Support an Apartheid State?
Why is the U.S. (as well as some other countries) supporting an apartheid state in Israel-Palestine? While international law does not define “apartheid state” it defines “apartheid” and one may ask if a particular state engages in the practice. Legal definition of apartheid: Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines apartheid to include “inhumanÂ acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the crime of apartheid to mean “inhumane acts …. committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Israeli apartheid comprises a comprehensive system that ensures Jewish national privileges while dominating and oppressing Palestinians. Four interwoven discursive/territorial domains: (1) Palestinian citizens of Israel have the right to vote but not to eliminate Jewish national privileges nor their own minority status. in the question of their minority status. (2) Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have no national vote and no secure residency. (3) Palestinians in the occupied territories have no vote except for the Palestinian Authrity. (4) Palestinian refugees and forced exiles are denied the right of return.
The system requires Israel maintain the occupation lest population mixing threaten the system. Annexation would also threaten the system.Â The vision of stopping apartheid by a two state solution is fatally flawed. Under the apartheid regime, any Palestinian State is a bantustan. The apartheid imperative is to prevent racial mixing, and that is served by the system. The main function of the security forces is to suppress dissent. Oslo Accord areas were almost identical to the South Africa bantustans. Mandela warned Arafat of this. Settler colonial apartheid is ended only by by eliminating settler domination and racial discrimination. Palestininian must be recast as a multi-sectarian identity.
Ian Williams. The Israel Lobby and the UN
There is a good reason the Lobby concentrated on the UN. They canâ€™t get clear title without UN collusion. Remember East Timur. Israelis have a great respect for law, but in a Talmudic way of elevators that stop on every floor on the Sabbath. There are legal consequences to a finding of apartheid. Israel is the only state ever created by a UN resolution, yet they keep saying UN resolutions are not binding. We could say, “Amen!” In almost every resolution to which the U.S. is a signatory, Israel is an exception: nuclear nonproliferation, settlements, etc. At least the State Department still wonâ€™t identify Jerusalem as Israel on passports. Israel is running for a seat on the Security Council as a “Western Europe and Other.” The Israeli Ambassador is on the Legal Committee which is like putting Casanova on the Chastity Committee. Israel is running against Germany and Belgium. I am concerned Belgium may be leaned upon to withdraw. Because the UN is so unpopular with certain parts of US community, it serves as a great fundraising device. We have seen this with the reports that get quashed. Remember Robert Goldstone. But the embassy move is directly in contradiction to the UN charter. Trump has basically ripped up the UN charter. Yet at the same time Nikki Haley is arguing Iran is in violation of UN Resolutions. This is the road to World War III. UNWRA has been doing what Israel should be doing under the Geneva Conventions. The Israelis tried to keep Ban Ki-moon from going to Gaza, but once he went he was consistent that the drive against it must stop.
Noura Erakat (George Mason University; Jadiliyya e-zine; Journal of Palestine Studies). How Support for Israelâ€™s Violations of International Law Puts the U.S. on the Wrong Side of History.
Anything that the law tells us can be subjected to controversy by a lawyer. Occupation Law has failed to stem settlement, but has been used to advance settlement. The settler enters the colony with an intent to stay, to assert sovereignty and to remove the native. Settler colonization is the framework for apartheid and occupation toward the end of replacing the native with the settler.Â In the late 18th century, annexation fell into disrepute, but in any case annexation would require Israel absorbing the Palestinian people, making them the majority. Rather than annex or occupy the land Israel claims the land is sui generisÂ (distinct and unlike any other category), that the Palestinians are not a people and there is a sovereign void in which this is an occupation not by law but by fact, allowing them to incrementally take the land under two legal fictions, temporality and military necessity. The civilians are temporarily and indefinitely present, meaning that it is not permanent and yet has no end. The U.S. is central to this interpretation because the U.S. recognizes occupation as a matter of law but has failed to act accordingly seeking instead to maintain an Israeli qualitative military edge over its neighbors. The Johnson administration also inaugurated the “land for peace” framework enshrined in UN resolution 242. When Israel attacked and destroyed the Egyptian Air Force the issue of whether that was an act of aggression or a pre-emptive strike is pivotal. Johnson disagreed with Eisenhowerâ€™s Sinai policy that forced Israel (and its allies) to withdraw from the Suez Canal. Johnson saw the ’67 War as an opportunity to revisit the issue. In every UN draft resolution except the one that finally passed the definite article “the” appears before “Occupied Territories.” Its omission in the final draft allows the flexibility of “defensible borders” for Israel. This would not have been possible without Palestinian presence and acquiescence. It is the realization of autonomy without sovereignty. This has been rejected by the international courts, the Security Council, and human rights organizations, yet it stands because of American policy.
Panel on Suppressing Free Speech
Dr. Barry Trachtenberg (Wake Forest University). Challenging the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Pushing Back Against Jewish Exceptionalism Politics.
The effect of this bill is to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and Zionism with Judaism. The backers of this bill are less concerned with fighting white supremacy than with suppressing criticism of Israel. They conflate of Israelâ€™s right to exist with its right to exist as a Jewish State at the expense of non-Jews within its borders. In the same way they conflate rising pro-Palestinian activism on campus with bigotry against Jews. We must distinguish actual Israeli power from historically imagined Jewish power. Broadening the definition of anti-Semitism will only making fighting actual anti-Semitism more difficult. We have to see anti-Semitism as part of the history of modern bigotry rather than as something unique.
Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi (San Francisco State University). How and Why the Israel Lobby Is Suppressing Free Speech and Academic Freedom on College Campuses.
Dr. Abdulhadi demonstrated Dr. Trachtenberg’s point by describing in detail how the Israel Lobby has smeared pro-Palestinian activists at San Francisco State University, herself included.
Thomas R. Getman. When and How Did Evangelicals Become Zionists?
Dr. Getman said that he himself was a complicit Evangelical Zionist, albeit an unwitting one. Many years working in the Middle East opened his eyes. “Those who lay traps get their own feet ensnared.” American Christians speak in two theological languages. Mainstream Christians, and Evangelicals even more so, operate in a 2000 year-old tradition involving not only creed but social justice, but Zionism operates in recent one starting in the 19th century aimed at moving all Jews to Palestine towards the end of advancing the End Times. This view purports Christians suddenly disappear, presumably to Heaven, and Armageddon follows and then a 2000 year reign of the Messiah. In the process 2/3rds of Jews are killed and the rest convert to Christianity. Even Billy Graham declared himself as agnostic as to the end times, but silence in the churches has allowed Palestinians to be defined by the Zionists.Â Christian Zionism preceded by 50 years and influenced the development of Jewish Zionism. “How did we arrive here? The 200 year progression of this history is at once instructive and frightening. The law of Love has been replaced by violence.” It is the fault line running through Western civilization. “The majority has been silent. We must stir them up…. It is bad for Israel as well as America’s place in the free world…. It is important to see the progression ofÂ Christian Zionism’s development. It has roots at least as far back as the 16th century European reformations. The early literal readership of the local language translations like the King James Bible, later in Scofield reference editions, had footnotes and commentary that promoted dispensational Zionism. It led to several centuries of anti-Semite Jewish persecution, ultimately the Holocaust, and all the way to mid-twentieth century best-selling fictional works ofÂ The Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind.” Eccentric British restorationists lacking formal theological training led by John Darby “began to lobby for Jewish return to Palestine as the necessary precondition for the Second Coming of Christ.” They gained traction in the 19th century when Palestine became strategic to British, French, and German colonial interests. “These Christian Zionists who preceded Jewish Zionism were some of Theodore Herzl’s strongest advocates and ironically were both clergy and lay people who embraced the anti-Semitic theology and genocidal images around racial nationalism.” Herzl had an understandable resentment and anger over treatment of Jews in the previous centuries, but he undergirded his appeal to the British with misinterpreted scripture. Arthur Balfour and Lloyd George were predisposed towards Zionism, but their primary goal was the advancement of British imperialism. Billy Graham remained silent, not warning of the dangers. Harry Truman was influenced by his dispensations beliefs but even more by the campaign and Zionist contributors. Dispensationalist interpretation gained impetus with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1967. The election of Ronald Reagan, a convert to Christian Zionist beliefs was important. 9/11 sealed the marriage as both feared and hated Muslims. With the election of Donald Trump arose a movement against Christian Zionism among mainstream Christians. The Israeli Lobby is increasingly seen as an agent of the foreign power, especially as BDS has caused Israeli and American legislators to turn to Draconian suppression. The arc of history is being bent towards justice and young people, now even among Evangelicals are turning towards social justice texts. The promise that “God will bless those who bless you” was made to Abraham, not to Israel. The theological stance of Christian Zionism is now being explicitly rejected and even a body of Evangelical Christians has expressed unease at moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Evangelicals are working to reform or abandon their brand to distinguish themselves from the Michael Pences and the Roy Moores. “Anglican theologian Nadeem Atiq states we must oppose Christian Zionism by asserting one clear principle: ‘any religion that does not promote justice, truth, peace, justice and reconciliation among people has lost its rudder and is undeserving of respect. Their religion and teachings are a destructive rather than a liberating force in the world.”
Gideon Levy (Ha’aretz). The Zionist Tango: Step Left, Step Right.
“The only place on earth that Donald Trump is beloved, admired, adored, andÂ appreciated is Israel. The only place that Benjamin Netanyahu isÂ admired, adored, beloved is the United States. If this is not shared values, what is …? I can tell you in the United States, as an Israeli, we donâ€™t have a bigger enemy than the” Israeli Lobby. One has no worse enemy than the one who thinks it is an act to friendship to supply the addict with more drugs. He finds it hard to understand from the outside how an ideology became part of the DNA. He knows of no other case where an ideology is so unquestioned. The only difference between left and right in Israel is one of rhetoric. Labor and the left have a different rhetoric, but at the end of the day there is no policy difference. Shimon Perez could not stop talking about ending the Occupation, but he was the father of the settlements project. The old joke that two Israelis share three views is no longer valid. “Today three Israelis share hardly one view…. Even Israeli propaganda has lost its shame.” If Israel has sunk so low as to claim that the wound from shooting a child in the head actually came from a fall off a bicycle, then you know things have hit bottom. “In many ways the leftists are worse than the right wingers because feel so good about themselves” because they are not fascists, but they believe the crimes must continue “because we have no choice.” Levy thinks four values explain everything in Israel. First the belief that “We are the chosen people.” International Law is a wonderful thing, but it doesnâ€™t apply to Israel. Second, Israelis are not only the biggest victims but the only victims. Levy cannot recall another occupation in which the occupiers consider themselves the victims. Golda Meir could “never forgive the Arabs” for forcing her to kill their children. Third, there is a deep belief that Palestinians are not human beings like us. They donâ€™t love their children like us; they donâ€™t love life like us. Fourth, the lie that the situation is temporary. Our dreams will never come true as long these core issues do not change. Soldiers who bravely testify about the crimes they committed in the occupied territories lead to nothing. At least the left has some kind of commitment to democracy for Jews, but there is no incentive for change within Israel. Levy says his only hope is people like this audience. Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is a big victory for Israel and the Occupation. What it means is the U.S. has officially declared the funeral of the two state solution and that America cannot be a fair mediator. Levy sees it as he end of the hypocrisy. He says he feels sorry for Amb. David Friedman who must now move from a beautiful villa on the sea to Jerusalem, but adds that “he deserves it.” What better gift than to see him in midst of Orthodox and the soldiers than before the sea in Herzliya. Levy asked what kind of society criminalizes any one who speaks out for justice and praises those who violate International Law. He calls Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) the only game in town. One has the right to boycott what deserves boycott. Look how nervous Israel gets about BDS. That shows you it is the right way. We need you desperately to expose the lie that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It does not deserve to be called a democracy at all. Finally expose the lie that this is all temporary. The occupation is there to stay. This colonialist project has no intention of ending.
For many years Levy supported the two state solution as a reasonable if imperfect solution. Today there are six million Palestinians and six million Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Zionismâ€™s core principle is that one people is privileged over the other. That is apartheid. Letâ€™s challenge Israel to equal rights and to one person one vote, and when they say no they will have indicted themselves as an apartheid state with no desire for democracy.
In response to a question from the audience he said the occupation could not continue for even a few months without American support.
Andrew Kadi (U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights). The Palestinian BDS Campaign. What It Is, How It Is Growing, and Why the Efforts to Stop It Will Fail.
In 2005 a wide range of organizations formed the BDS coalition aimed at enforcing ICJ ruling on the wall and settlements. This is rights-based discourse influenced by discussions with South Africans. Unlike the South Africa boycott there are some exceptions to BDS.Â The website isÂ Bdsmovement.net.
Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada). Israel vs. Russian Media Influence.
Hilary Clinton was entirely capable of losing the 2016 election on her own. In 2006, two days after the Palestinian elections she told Jewish Press (that’s the name of a publication, not a conspiratorial code phrase), “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. And if we were gong to push for an election, we should have done something to determine who was going to win.”Â That’s what Russia stands accused of, but Max Blumenthal and Aaron Matte have shown there is nothing there. What the mainstream media doesnâ€™t want to talk about is Israelgate, where there is lots of evidence of collusion. Michael Flynn spoke to Russia on behalf of Israel at the behest Jared Kushner as a favor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Steve Bannon is quoted in Michael Wolfe’sÂ Fire and Fury that the entire Trump policy on Jerusalem was dictated Sheldon Adelson. That Adelson will buy the U.S. embassy is treated as something normal. The Russiagate hysteria helps the Israeli propaganda machine. RT was forced to register as s foreign agent, which strangely AIPAC has not done. In October Al-Jazeera revealed that they had done an undercover investigation in the U.S. akin to the one they did in Britain in which they busted an Israeli plot to bring down the British politicians. The RT registration is being cited as the precedent to force Al-Jazeera to register as foreign agents. Qatar and the Gulf states see the Israel lobby as the shortcut to Washington’s heart. Abunimah is willing to bet we are going to see the Al-Jazeera documentary, but only if we keep up the pressure. Electronic Intifada leaked two reports from ADL and another anti-BDS organization saying that despite their twenty-fold increase in spending to suppress the BDS movement they have been unable to do so. All decent people are deserting their cause and rather it is the far right of Richard Spencerâ€™s that is flocking to support Israel. Young people, including American Jews and even young Evangelicals are fleeing. I used to think it was a waste of time to talk to Congress but my mind as has been changed in part by the No Way to Treat a Child campaign. It prohibits use of US aid to be used for the detention and torture of Palestinian children. It now has 21 cosponsors. We are not powerless against the Israel lobby.
We are more locked out of the mainstream media than ever before, but the mainstream media is less powerful than ever before and the alternate media stronger than ever before. They are still strong but we have broken their monopoly.
Jefferson Morley (author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton). CIA and Mossad: Tradeoffs in the Formation of the US-Israeli Strategic Relationship.
James Angleton was an avatar of the Deep State. He embodied and shaped the CIA ethos. Deep State is a colloquial term for the array of intelligence agencies that operate covertly. The oversight is weak. Secret government is the norm in America. As a student at Yale he shared anti-Semitic sentiments of Ezra Pound, but the Holocaust transformed his attitudes when he joined the CIA he became Chief of Foreign Intelligence. While sympathetic to Jewish suffering, he was wary of Israel as untrustworthy in the Cold War. In 1950, Reuven Shiloah the founder of Israel’s first intelligence organization visited the CIA and organized what would become Mossad. Angleton became the CIA’s exclusive liaison with Mossad. His Israeli friend were the architects of the Israeli state. While he was seen as divisive in the CIA he was uniformly admired in Israel “as a stalwart friend.” His rise in the CIA got a huge boost when the Israelis provided him with a copy of Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Communist Party criticizing the cult of personality around Joseph Stalin. His “formative and sometimes decisive influence on U.S. policy towards Israel can be seen in many areas from nuclear proliferation policy in the region to Israel’s triumph in the ’67 Six-Day War, to the feeble U.S. response to the attack on the Liberty, to the intelligence failure represented by the Yom Kippur War in 1973.” Although the relationship of Angleton and Israel is enormous, one very important question is “why didn’t the CIA help the FBI investigate the diversion of U.S. weapons-grade material from the United States to Israel in the 1960s and 1970s? And The short answer is because Jim Angleton didn’t want them to. He played a key role in helping them to obtain nuclear weapons… He was not a man to investigate himself…. Angleton thought collaboration with Israel was more important than non-proliferation.” His friend Meir Amit called him “the biggest Zionist of the lot.”
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (formerly with U.S. Army and Department of State). Is the US Ramping Up Its Military Presence in Syria and Preparing to Attack Iran for Israel?
Is the U.S. ramping up its military presence in Syria in preparation to attack Iran on behalf of Israel? We believe that LBJ knew not only of the Israeli attack on the Liberty, but its diversion of U.S. nuclear materials. Avigdor Lieberman is the living face of Netanyahu’s policies. A Russian emigre, he is reminiscent of both Dick Cheney and Joseph Stalin. He is at the forefront of promoting this new war. Lieberman, Netanyahu, and their acolytes in this country (e.g., Nikki Haley) have declared that it is in the best interests of the U.S. to commit to make a regime change in Iran. Wilkerson believes that “the legitimacy of great power” is what Israel desires, and what Saudi Arabia and its “new boy king” desires. The excuse for war will be “Iran’s alleged existential threat to Israel in Syria, Hezbollah’s accumulation of some 150,000 missiles, the need to set Lebanon’s economy back … (look at what they’re deliberating right now regarding the new very, very rich gas find in the eastern Mediterranean)….”
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute