FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Israel Lobby

by NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN

In the current fractious debate over the role of the Israel Lobby in the formulation and execution of US policies in the Middle East, the “either-or” framework — giving primacy to either the Israel Lobby or to U.S. strategic interests — isn’t, in my opinion, very useful.

Apart from the Israel-Palestine conflict, fundamental U.S. policy in the Middle East hasn’t been affected by the Lobby. For different reasons, both U.S. and Israeli elites have always believed that the Arabs need to be kept subordinate. However, once the U.S. solidified its alliance with Israel after June 1967, it began to look at Israelis ­ and Israelis projected themselves ­ as experts on the “Arab mind.” Accordingly, the alliance with Israel has abetted the most truculent U.S. policies, Israelis believing that “Arabs only understand the language of force” and every few years this or that Arab country needs to be smashed up. The spectrum of U.S. policy differences might be narrow, but in terms of impact on the real lives of real people in the Arab world these differences are probably meaningful, the Israeli influence making things worse.

The claim that Israel has become a liability for U.S. “national” interests in the Middle East misses the bigger picture. Sometimes what’s most obvious escapes the eye. Israel is the only stable and secure base for projecting U.S. power in this region. Every other country the U.S. relies on might, for all anyone knows, fall out of U.S. control tomorrow. The U.S.A. discovered this to its horror in 1979, after immense investment in the Shah. On the other hand, Israel was a creation of the West; it’s in every respect ­ culturally, politically, economically ­ in thrall to the West, notably the U.S. This is true not just at the level of a corrupt leadership, as elsewhere in the Middle East but ­ what’s most important ­ at the popular level. Israel’s pro-American orientation exists not just among Israeli elites but also among the whole population. Come what may in Israel, it’s inconceivable that this fundamental orientation will change. Combined with its overwhelming military power, this makes Israel a unique and irreplaceable American asset in the Middle East.

In this regard, it’s useful to recall the rationale behind British support for Zionism. Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann once asked a British official why the British continued to support Zionism despite Arab opposition. Didn’t it make more sense for them to keep Palestine but drop support for Zionism? “Although such an attitude may afford a temporary relief and may quiet Arabs for a short time,” the official replied, “it will certainly not settle the question as the Arabs don’t want the British in Palestine, and after having their way with the Jews, they would attack the British position, as the Moslems are doing in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India.” Another British official judged retrospectively that, however much Arab resentment it provoked, British support for Zionism was prudent policy, for it established in the midst of an “uncertain Arab world a well-to-do educated, modern community, ultimately bound to be dependent on the British Empire.” Were it even possible, the British had little interest in promoting real Jewish-Arab cooperation because it would inevitably lessen this dependence. Similarly, the U.S. doesn’t want an Israel truly at peace with the Arabs, for such an Israel could loosen its bonds of dependence on the U.S. , making it a less reliable proxy. This is one reason why the claim that Jewish elites are “pro”-Israel makes little sense. They are “pro” an Israel that is useful to the U.S. and, therefore, useful to them. What use would a Paul Wolfowitz have of an Israel living peacefully with its Arab neighbors and less willing to do the U.S.’s bidding?

The historical record strongly suggests that neither Jewish neo-conservatives in particular nor mainstream Jewish intellectuals generally have a primary allegiance to Israel ­ in fact, any allegiance to Israel. Mainstream Jewish intellectuals became “pro”-Israel after the June 1967 war when Israel became the U.S.A.’ s strategic asset in the Middle East, i.e., when it was safe and reaped benefits. To credit them with ideological conviction is, in my opinion, very naive. They’re no more committed to Zionism than the neo-conservatives among them were once committed to Trotskyism; their only ism is opportunism. As psychological types, these newly minted Lovers of Zion most resemble the Jewish police in the Warsaw ghetto. “Each day, to save his own skin, every Jewish policeman brought seven sacrificial lives to the extermination altar,” a leader of the Resistance ruefully recalled. “There were policemen who offered their own aged parents, with the excuse that they would die soon anyhow.” Jewish neo-conservatives watch over the U.S. “national” interest, which is the source of their power and privilege, and in the Middle East it happens that this “national” interest largely coincides with Israel’s “national” interest. If ever these interests clashed, who can doubt that, to save their own skins, they’ll do exactly what they’re ordered to do, with gusto?

Unlike elsewhere in the Middle East, U.S. elite policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict would almost certainly not be the same without the Lobby. What does the U.S.A. gain from the Israeli settlements and occupation? In terms of alienating the Arab world, it’s had something to lose. The Lobby probably can’t muster sufficient power to jeopardize a fundamental American interest, but it can significantly raise the threshold before U.S. elites are prepared to act ­ i.e., order Israel out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as the U.S. finally pressured the Indonesians out of Occupied East Timor. Whereas Israel doesn’t have many options if the U.S. does finally give the order to pack up, the U.S. won’t do so until and unless the Israeli occupation becomes a major liability for it: on account of the Lobby the point at which “until and unless” is reached significantly differs. Without the Lobby and in the face of widespread Arab resentment, the U.S. would perhaps have ordered Israel to end the occupation by now, sparing Palestinians much suffering;

In the current “either-or” debate on whether the Lobby affects U.S. Middle East policy at the elite level, it’s been lost on many of the interlocutors that a crucial dimension of this debate should be the extent to which the Lobby stifles free and open public discussion on the subject. For in terms of trying to broaden public discussion here on the Israel-Palestine conflict the Lobby makes a huge and baneful difference. Especially since U.S. elites have no entrenched interest in the Israeli occupation, the mobilization of public opinion can have a real impact on policy-making ­ which is why the Lobby invests so much energy in suppressing discussion.

Norman Finkelstein’s most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press). His web site is www.NormanFinkelstein.com.

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Obama’s Legacy
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Christopher Brauchli
Parallel Lives: Trump and Temer
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail