Transcending the Israel Lobby at Home & Abroad
[These are my notes from the 2022 conference on “The Israeli Lobby and American Foreign Policy” held at the National Press Club in Washington DC on March 4. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentations and are not an attempted transcription The use of the first person in the paraphrase is mainly for convenience. I am completely responsible for any errors. The entire program may be viewed here.]
Dr. Walter L. Hixon (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs) What’s so important about the Israel lobby?
The “lopsided U.S. support for Zionism has fueled a long history of ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate violence …, an illegal occupation, a proliferation of illegal settlements, relentless police state repression, the emergence of a full-blown apartheid state, Israeli militarization from introducing nuclear weapons to the Middle East to worldwide arms trafficking, and, finally, determined effort to repress free speech and to smear critics of Israel’s egregious policies.” How is it that the self-professed freedom-loving people of America have provided so much unquestioned support (over $100 billion–before adjusting for inflation) “to a militarized police state that routinely violates international law, demeans and marginalizes its own Palestinian population, and regularly dispossesses, incarcerates, and kills Palestinian people, men women and children, in the illegally occupied territories? It is true that both countries have a settler-colonialist history. But Israel “inaugurated its violent removal policies at the very moment that the global community renounced racialized violence and embraced universal human rights.” The propaganda and disinformation disseminated by the Israeli lobby is essential to the denial and cover-up of its violent removal policies and shift of blame onto the indigenous people seeking to “defend or return to their homeland.”
“Israel’s status as a U.S. ally has been vastly overrated. Its main accomplishment has been encouraging American intervention in a series of disastrous ‘forever wars’…. Today Israel and the lobby are laying the groundwork for another war, this time involving Iran.”
“Faced with the palpable threat of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, the lobby has responded with smears and coordinated attacks on freedom of speech. Not content with taking away the rights of Palestinians, Israel and the Lobby want to take them away from Americans as well.”
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi (MIFTAH, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy). Changed policies since Trump & new hope for Palestine’s future.
Has anything changed between Trump and Biden? American policy has a continuity. The U.S. protects Israel from accountability. Since Camp David all American policy towards the Palestinians has been within the frame of limited self-government, with no recognition of any Palestinian right to self-determination or sovereignty. Trump emphasized the worst of these principles while disdaining others such as the role of international law, leaving UNESCO and the Human Rights Council when Palestinians were admitted there. His administration recognized and reinforced annexation, primarily of Jerusalem, not only moving the embassy there (an “American settlement”) but closing the consulate to Palestine which had been established in 1844, over a century before the creation of Israel. They recognized the nation-state law that says that Israel is state of all Jewish people rather than of its multi-ethnic and multi-religious citizens, with no self-determination for anyone in historical Palestine except the Jews. They sided with extreme Christian and Jewish fundamentalism. It was no longer a matter of the Executive caving in to a Congress influenced by the Israeli Lobby, but of right-wing Zionists in the White House. We see the emergence of anti-Semitic Zionists. They not only increased funding for Israel beyond the Obama administration promises but defunded the Palestinians and even UNRWA. They adopted the extreme Israeli right definition of Palestinians refugees as only those who left in 1948, only 20-40,000 people as opposed to the 5.5 million refugees registered with UNRWA (let alone the unregistered refugees). Kushner’s economic plan was premised on the Palestinian abandonment of any rights claims in exchange for a few handouts. Through blackmail and bribery they brought a few Arab countries into normalization, making peace where there had been no war, violating Arab League resolutions and weakening the Arab league.
What of Biden’s promises, policies and priorities? His promises are a two-state solution, opposition to unilateral steps and to settlement expansion, reinstating assistance to Palestinians (consistent with U.S. law) and aid to refugees, reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, and a pivot of U.S. policy away from the Middle East. That said the peace process is not a priority. They have bought Israel time for unilateral actions and de facto annexation and left Israel to fill the power vacuum and supported the status quo. Most dangerously, the Biden administration has allowed Israel to set the agenda, calling the Palestinian narrative “incitement” and proposing censorship of Palestinian textbooks as the means to peace. The promise to reopen the consulate has been indefinitely postponed on the lame pretext of the fragility of Israel’s bizarre governing coalition. The human rights discourse in the whole region rings hollow. They have not only allowed the assaults on Gaza and on Jerusalem and ethnic cleansing, settlers on the rampage, and executions of Palestinians with full impunity, but home demolitions now occur at twice the rate as during the Trump administration. They have become agents of Israel in denying accusations of Israeli crimes and apartheid while accepting the smearing of criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. They continue to pressure Palestinians not to join international organizations or appeal to international conventions. Appeals to both the ICC and the Rome Statute have been put on hold. It took six days to open an investigation into Russia’s aggression against Ukraine but six years to obtain an agreement that there should even be an investigation of Israel’s crimes. Nancy Pelosi called Israel “the greatest political achievement of the twentieth century.” More than the U.N.? They have increased aid for the Patriot missiles.
Despite the Biden administrations’ policies, there continues to be a growing awareness of the Israeli settler-colonial enterprise and apartheid system and displacement/replacement paradigm of the rogue state based on ethno-sectarian nationalism as an exclusivist and exclusionary system seeking to erase a whole people, their history and their culture.
Paul Noursi (Virginia Coalition for Human Rights ). The victorious battle for the 1st Amendment against Virginia’s anti-boycott bill.
“[T]his year there was another attempt to … suppress free speech by carving out an exception to the First Amendment in Virginia against … anyone who speaks out for Palestinian human rights or who criticizes Israel.” HB 1161 would have prohibited participation in the boycott of Israel by contractors (and all their subcontractors) doing more than $10,000 in business with the state. This restriction on contracts based on political views is clearly unconstitutional, as were three previous direct legislative attempts, an indirect attempt, and a fifth attempt is brewing in the Governor’s office now. Such attempts are being made across the country. In 2016 our coalition stopped an almost identical bill, which had been amended several times until it was basically an authorization for a blacklist to be maintained by a state government organization many of us didn’t even know existed called the “Virginia Israel Advisory Board.” In 2017 HB 2261 would have redefined the definition of anti-Semitism prohibited by Virginia law to include any criticism of Israel. We have been joined in this fight by the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace and the attempt this year was dropped in committee. Other states facing such attempts can contact us for advice.
Jeanne Trabulsi (Virginia Coalition for Human Rights Education Committee). The fight against Israeli propaganda in Virginia textbooks.
In the past the Israeli lobby has been highly successful in tampering with textbooks used in Virginia, deleting any reference to Palestine or to the occupation. VCHR has succeeded in preventing such censorship this past year. They are organizing a teacher-training institute at Shenandoah University for 2023. She gave advice on how to fight similar propagandizing in other states.
Jeanne Trabulsi (Virginia Coalition for Human Rights Eject Energix Committee). The fight against an Israeli human rights violator. One of Israel’s largest renewal energy companies, Energix Renewable Energies, is a UN designated human rights violator. Among their violations is seizing land in illegally occupied territory from its owners to build a solar energy farm and partnering with the IDF to build more illegal wind turbines. They have established 22 sites in Virginia by taking advantage of undue influence in the Virginia legislature, using taxpayer funding to promote an Israeli business over Virginia businesses. In 2020 Energix received one-third of all Federal PPP loans to the Virginia solar scale sector despite being flush with cash from overseas stock sales. While they cannot take land away from Virginians as they do from Palestinians, they do subject Virginians to environmental danger by their planned use of toxic CdTe panels on or near vulnerable or historic land. When such panels were destroyed by a tornado in California in 2015, they were treated as toxic waste.
Radihika Sainath (Palestine Legal). The Israel lobby’s attacks on freedom of speech and successful legal challenges.
There is a growing tide of support for Palestinian rights in the U.S. that has provoked accelerating attempts to suppress free speech. In 2021 Palestine Legal saw a 30% rise in attempts to suppress speech in favor of Palestinian rights. Now everyone understands the Palestinian exception to free speech in the U.S. From 2016-2019 the Israeli government allotted over $100 million to fight the BDS movement. 2021 saw record solidarity for Palestinian rights in the U.S. Palestinian Legal noticed some new trends in Israel’s tactics to stop it. One was smear tactics against ordinary people (farmers, make-up artists, therapists, nonprofit workers, doctors, K-12 teachers, etc.), for example, being fired for speaking out, or being ordered by their bosses to delete tweets. After Israel bombed the building housing the AP offices, journalist Emily Wilder was fired by AP for comments made in support of Palestinians years during her college years. The head farmer at a luxury resort was fired from his job of seven years after using the hashtags #endthe occupation and @End Zionism. 7amleh and Access Now have documented hundreds censored by social media companies and leaks by FaceBook revealed that posts by Palestinians have been censored. Even children’s book are censored. Since 2014, 32 states have adopted anti-BDS laws. In 2021, 20 new bills were introduced (of which 4 passed). Four would have defined virtually any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. None of these laws has been sustained by the courts.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell (Council on Islamic-American Relations): How to fight joint Israel/lobby espionage & infiltration.
An anti-Muslim hate group in the U.S., registered as a nonprofit organization, working for the benefit of a foreign government (Israel), spent over $100,000 over ten years to infiltrate and spy upon American Muslim organizations including mosques and civil rights groups and individual community leaders. The organization is Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism. The infiltrator was Romin Iqbal, director of CAIR Columbus OH. IPT was paying people not only to spy on CAIR but on a wide variety of Muslim organizations. They were providing information on any work in defense of Palestinian rights or against Islamophobia. This is not only unethical, but the recording of conversations without consent of other parties is in some states illegal. Emerson received and forwarded email from the Israeli PM and from Israeli intelligence officials seeking information about American college students hoping to connect them to Hamas. Emerson mentions in his emails his trips to Israel to meet with intelligence officials. Another informant came forward to confess that he he came to realize that he was being used not to defend the U.S. from terrorist threats, but to protect Israel from legitimate criticism. An example of the use they put to the intelligence they gathered was their release of a secret recording of Keith Ellison at a campaign fundraiser asserting his criticism of American foreign policy with regard to Israel and Palestine, leaked to prevent Ellison’s access to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. Another informant stepped forward to report that the purpose of IPT’s spying was to insure that there would never be a Muslim version of AIPAC, that is to insure the American Muslim community would never become powerful enough to alter American Middle East foreign policy. A 2017 CAIR study found that about $150 million of had been funneled from mainstream charities, foundations, and donor advised funds (a tax-advantaged vehicle for making charitable donations) to anti-Muslim hate groups. Since that report that amount has dropped to about $105 million. In ten years of spying they found no connections to terrorism, but that was never their main goal. The main goal was always defending Israel.
John Kiriakou (Author, journalist and former CIA officer specializing in the Middle East). Israel’s negative influence on the U.S. national security state.
I was recruited into the CIA by an undercover agent working as a grad school advisor. I started by writing papers no one read. Bored, I moved into counter-terrorism operations. After ten years in the field I came back and the 9/11 hit. When I joined the CIA in 1990 an FBI agent addressed us and said that the Israeli embassy was unusual in that it had two declared officers and 187 undeclared officers spread all over America in academia and the defense industry. I passed on the opportunity to go to Jerusalem and went to Bahrain instead. The man who took the position in Israel found himself subject to a campaign of harassments. They came home from a party one night to find all their furniture rearranged. On another occasion, they came home to find that someone defalcated in all four toilets. A third time they found their dog’s tail had been cut off and reattached with tape. On a fourth occasion they found thousands of dollars in Christmas presents stolen. The Israelis do such things all the time. We never do such things to the Israelis. In counter-terrorism we want lots of cooperation and we rarely said no to anyone who offered to cooperate. None were more cooperative than the Palestinians, and the State Department has found the same thing. The warm relationships with Palestinians (and all Arabs) at CIA and State is not duplicated at the White House or Congress where the Israeli Lobby prevents it.
I worked with Chas Freeman in Riyadh. He is an honest giant in diplomacy, but AIPAC prevented him from being confirmed as Obama’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for National Security, but Israel said no. Senators told Obama that there is no way they could confirm him over Israel’s objections.
Of fourteen people asked to be trained in the enhanced interrogation program, I was the only one to refuse. We learned those techniques from the Israelis. The CIA says they are not doing it any more, but we have no way of knowing.
Gideon Levy (Haaretz). The nature of democracy and human rights in Israel.
We can’t start this conversation without talking about Ukraine. On the second day of the war Israel’s foreign minister condemned the “violation of the international order.” Israeli has the highest level of self-denial, but Ukraine has left Israel naked. They have mainly remained silent because they need Russian indulgence for their attacks on Syria. The huge Israeli rescue operations on behalf of its own citizens in Ukraine and other Jews revealed Israel’s racism. Non-Jewish refugees must pay a $3,000 cash deposit at the airport and agree to leave within a months. This from the state that was built on condemning the world for (except for Sweden and Denmark) closing their gates to Jewish refugees in the 1930s. They salute the Ukrainians for throwing Molotov Cocktails at the occupiers while at the same time they shoot dead Palestinians for throwing Molotov Cocktails at the tanks of the occupiers of their country. Jewish Supremacy is the core of Zionism. Laws that apply to every other country of the world do not apply to Israel, because we are a special case. This government does not differ from its predecessors in this respect. It is not just the state, but citizens of Israel who believe Jewish lives are the most valuable of all and those of Palestinians the least valuable. It might be that Israel’s initial failure to stand with the West may have a positive outcome. Westerners might finally begin to ask, “This is our ally?” The main difference between these two occupations is that the Russian one has been for ten days and the Israeli one for 70 years. As has been noted the ICC is investigating Russian war crimes after one week, while we are still waiting for the investigation of Israeli war crimes that have gone on for over fifty years. All the the “peace efforts” were aimed not at ending the occupation but at making the occupation easier. There are no signs that the occupation will ever end, but we may be surprised as we were by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the fall of apartheid in South Africa. If you do not call it apartheid, what word do have for a village deprived of water and electricity next door to a settlement on land taken from those villagers with plentiful water and electricity? What is your word for the plight of a people who are citizens of no country whatsoever? Golda Meir said, “After the Holocaust the Jews have the right to do whatever they want.” Ask any Israeli Jew if Palestinians love their children like Israelis love their children and you’ll get a lecture. But I have never seen such devotion to their children as shown by Palestinians who struggle to care for and educate their children under unbelievable conditions.
How can Israelis be so oblivious to what is happening less than an hour from them? First, the Israel media self-censors. They can be very good at investigative reporting except when it comes to challenging Jewish supremacy. For example, everyone on Hamas is a “senior” official. This is not a joke. When the IDF killed a 7 year-old boy the press reported it had killed a “senior” Hamas official. Also at fault is the Israeli left. It pains me to say it. It was the left and not the right that started the settlement project. But worse, they are the “laundry” that allows Israelis to feel good about themselves. The last mechanism that enables Israeli self-delusion is the international community. Can you imagine the Israeli community disconnected from SWIFT? Would the occupation last ten hours or twenty hours? The hope of people like me is in people like you. The two-state solution might have been the best solution, but that train has left the station, and to continue to talk about it only serves to perpetuate the occupation. The only solution is one state, one person, one vote. You must choose between a Jewish state or a democracy. Sanctions must enter the international discourse. Why is it moral to boycott the meat industry for killing animals but immoral to boycott Israel for committing war crimes?
Sut Jhally (University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Media Education Foundation). Are U.S. news organizations getting better or worse in their Middle East reporting?
Students should not be the ones on the front lines defending against attempts to shut down free speech at universities. When I was on the front lines at U. Mass, the university president was happy to defend me against CAMERA and the rest of the right wing, but the moment pressure came from donors, he caved. When asked what he would do if he was ruler of the state, he said he rectify the language, that is control the language by which people understood the world. You need no police if you control peoples thoughts. The Israel Lobby has mastered this technique and reframed vicious settler-colonialism into the defense of civilization against Barbaric terrorists. This was not always the case. When Israel killed 17,000 and injured 30,000 mostly civilians in the 1982 war on Lebanon in the 1980s some in the media took note. This would not happen today. The “Hasbara” project, drawing on the expertise of marketing executive Carl Spielvogel (famous for rebranding Miller light), now frames the media response in advance. Talking points are developed with focus groups. Pollster Frank Luntz (famous for reframing the “estate tax” as the “death tax”) wrote up his recommendations in The Israel Project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary. The key recommendation is that Israel must talk about “terror not territory.” Israel will lose any discussion of the history of the land dispute. It will win if it keeps using the word “terrorism.” The only problem is the imbalance casualties on the Palestinian side. The solution is to express sympathy for the innocent Palestinians hurt and then immediately pivot to Israeli victims or, since there are relatively few of them, on “rockets raining down” on your cities. Israeli behavior must always be presented as a reaction to unprovoked Palestinian violence. The difference between advertising and Israeli propaganda is that in advertising you know who is speaking, but Israeli words are put into the mouths of “hapless and helpless” American journalists making propaganda appear like news. Does Jake Tapper know what he is doing or is he just completely deluded? But with the latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the land grab at Sheikh Jarrah something different has happened. The Palestinian-American community has managed to crack into the mainstream media. I think this is the result of work like Phillip Weiss and the voice of elected Palestinian officials, and of Bernie Sanders who actually mentioned Palestinian rights in a Presidential debate, as well as the Black Lives Matter Movement, which has put liberal Zionists in an awkward position. Israeli officials are terrified of the international consequences of the increasing use of the word “apartheid.” Social media is relatively free from the usual controls, although there are efforts now to impose control. There has even been a break on Fox News where Geraldo Rivera (!) shocked fellow Fox personality by just stating the facts about Gaza. I think that the shift is in part due to the establishment of context. When focus shifted to evictions at Sheikh Jarrah the story no longer started with Hamas rockets. It will be hard to get the genie back in the bottle, especially for younger generations. The categories of language are created by human beings and can be changed by human beings. It is there that the struggle will be fought.
Don Wagner (Recently retired national program director of Friends of Sabeel-North America). Christian Zionism and growing backlash inside American churches.
On March 2, Pat Robertson predicted that God is using Putin to prepare the way for Armageddon. I grew up with that. I pulled out of it at age thirteen, but when I went to seminary I was confronted with mainline Christian and Catholic Zionism rooted in a reaction to the Holocaust that forced progressives to be good on every issue except this one. For me the struggle between the Palestinians and the Zionists began not in Palestine at all, but in Europe in the 1840-1900 period when mainly Christian anti-Semitism provoked European Jews to conclude that they would never be safe outside a a homeland of their own due to “Judeophobia.” While political Zionism was formally launched in 1897, they were preceded by four hundred years of Christian Zionism. One practitioner was William Heckler who adopted political Zionism after meeting Theodore Herzl, who called Heckler the father of Christian Zionists. Another was William E. Blackstone who organized the first Zionist lobby in 1891, financed by John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan, petitioning to create a Jewish State in Palestine, six years before the first Zionist Congress. The movement of John Hagee has now become more numerical powerful than the Jewish Zionist Lobby, AIPAC and all of the others.
In 1967, Christians were 13% of the West Bank population. Today they are less than 1%, not because of militant Islam, as the Zionists would have us believe, but because of the brutality of the occupation. In 2020 a group of Christians met in Jerusalem and issued what they called “a cry for hope” calling on not just churches but the global Muslim and Jewish community as well to take urgent action to organize legislative action, theological analyses against misuse of the Bible, solidarity with Palestinians, and using all the tools of nonviolent action, especially BDS, stand with Jews in fighting anti-Semitism, and come and see the situation on the ground in Palestine. Three additional demands have come from churches in the US: declare Christian Zionism a heresy; close the tax loopholes that benefit Zionist organizations and the apartheid system; decolonize Palestine. Our hope is the next generation.
Roger Waters (Musician). The positive impact of artist boycotts targeting Israel and how to educate fans.
I need a microscope to find the positive impact of artist boycotts targeting Israel because for the most part my colleagues ignore me. One positive thing is principled pro-Palestinian stance by the the New Zealand Musician Lorde. Anyone who agrees with the UN Declaration of Human Rights must ask whether they will stand behind that agreement or cross over to the other side. The claim of some of my fellow performers that they perform in Israel to promote peace is BS. Such gigs are inordinately lucrative and doing them normalizes occupation, the apartheid, the ethnic cleansing, the incarceration of children, the routine slaughter of unarmed protestors. Accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against me are a smokescreen. My opposition to Myanmar persecution of Muslims does not make me anti-Buddhist. I urge all people young and old alike, including Madonna, to read the Declaration of Human Rights. Were we all to abide by that document we might yet save our home from its imminent destruction. Australian musician Nick Cave accused me of trying to censor his music, but this is not about music, it is about human rights. Would he have the same arrogant unconcern if it were his demolished home, his invaded country, his villages and trees razed to the ground, his brothers and sisters in refugee camps, victims of ethnic cleansing? Of all the social issues in which I am involved this is the one the provokes, by far, the most condemnation.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute