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Just How Powerful is the Israel Lobby?

by SHERWOOD ROSS

How large a role does the “Israeli Lobby” play in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East?

Some answers may be contained in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, reviewed in the Sept. 23 New York Times, and Rulers and Ruled in The U.S. Empire by James Petras, just published by Clarity Press. Mearsheimer teaches at the University of Chicago and Walt teaches at Harvard.

According to Petras, a sociologist at Binghamton University, New York, the pro-Zionist “power configuration” is not just the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC). The Zionist lobby is so powerful, Petras argues, it “calls the shots” and “supports the escalation of the Iraq war and the savaging of Palestine, Somalia and Afghanistan.”

“It (the Lobby”) has neutralized the biggest and most concerted efforts by big name centrist political figures to alter White House policy,” including James Baker, (former Secretary of State under the first president Bush,) former president Carter and “protesting former military commanders” in Iraq.

Petras charges, “the White House is putting into practice the war strategy presented by the American’ Enterprise Institute, which he dubs a Zioncon thinktank. Led by “arch-Zionist” Michael Ledeen a resident scholar of AEI, “some in the Jewish Lobby dismissed the Baker Iraq Study Group as the realists and anti-Semites.'” The ISG “was unable to deal with Israeli violence against Palestinians or enter into a dialogue with Syria and Iran on any but the most narrow and unpromising terms,” Petras asserted.

Petras goes on to say the Lobby includes investment bank Goldman Sachs, which exerts a “dominant presence” in the Bush government. Among its alumni are Joshua Bolton, White House Chief of Staff; Robert Steel, former GS vice chairman who advises Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on domestic finance; and Assistant Secretary of State Randall Fort, an adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Paulson is a former chairman and CEO of GS.

What’s more, Petras writes, high Bush officials from the Lobby have played top Pentagon policymaking roles and have “longstanding and deep ties with the Israeli state.” Elliott Abrams, President Bush’s deputy national security advisor, Petras writes, is a “stern defender of Jewish purity and intimate collaborator with the Israeli high command” and “gave full support in early summer to an Israeli plan to destroy Hezbollah,” a month before last year’s controversial border incident when two Israeli soldiers were captured. David Wurmser, former Mideast adviser to Vice President Cheney is also an “Israeli Firster”, according to Petras.

“An examination of AIPAC’s agenda shows a new war against Iran on behalf of Israel at the top of its list of priorities,” Petras asserts. “For the last three years, the publications, conferences and press releases of the Conference of Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations(CPMAJO) had urged their members to go all-out to fund and back candidates (mostly Democrats) who supported Israel’s military solution’ to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.”

CPMAJO consists of 51 national organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, several hundred local and regional Jewish federations, and the United Jewish Communities. Petras would doubtless include the Rabbinical Council of America.

“The Lobby,” Petras says, also includes seven major “think tanks” that “crank out” position papers arguing “Israel is always right” and “the Arabs and Muslims are a threat to peace.” Besides the AEI, these think tanks, Petras identifies as the New Citizenship Project, the Project for the New American Century, the Center for Security Policy, the National Institute for Public Policy, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, and the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.

In Congress, Petras cites the pro-Israeli stance of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D.-Ill.) and Senator Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.), campaign finance directors, and calls House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) “100% Israel supporters.”

Writing of Mearsheimer-Walt book, reviewer Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, says its authors contend “the lobby has made U.S. policy so lopsidedly pro-Israel that if fuels Muslim terrorism against the U.S., fosters the spread of nuclear weapons in Arab states and puts at added risk America’s critical energy supplies from the Persian Gulf.”

Gelb concedes “It’s true” the Lobby “has made America’s longstanding $3 billion annual aid program to Israel untouchable and indiscussible” but notes the U.S. is also giving $2 billion a year to Egypt. He also points out for several decades every occupant of the White House “has sold Saudi Arabia and other Arab states first-rate modern weapons, against the all-out opposition of Israel and the lobby.”

And, he adds, each of these administrations since the 1967 war when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip “has privately favored returning almost all of that territory to the Palestinians for the purposes of creating a separate Palestinian state.

Gelb says by asserting the dominance of the Israeli lobby, Mearsheimer-Walt “also minimize the lobbying influence of the Saudis and the oil companies” that, along with the Egyptians, have been significant voices in Washington arguing for a Palestinian state. As for war against Iran, Gelb says this has been urged as much by Saudi Arabia and the Lobby.

Gelb contends even if the U.S. quit backing Israel, American foreign policy would still be in disfavor because of its “deep ties with highly unpopular regimes in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, not to mention the war in Iraq.” The real play-callers behind the Iraq war, he said, are President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. “They hardly have a history of being in the pockets of the Jewish lobby (more like the oil lobby’s), and they aren’t remotely neoconservatives.” Finally, Gelb writes, Bush and Cheney favor “getting Iran” and, in the last analysis, they “neither need nor heed lobbying.”

SHERWOOD ROSS is a Miami-based writer who covers political and military affairs. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com

 

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