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Is the Israel Lobby Only a Chimp Among Gorillas?


Some friendly criticism of our article “The People Against the 800 Pound Gorilla” provides a welcome opportunity to clarify the discussion.  Shamus Cooke, while largely agreeing with the points made by Jean Bricmont and myself, reproaches us for focusing on the pro-Israel lobby as the major factor promoting U.S. war against Syria to the detriment of much bigger factors: the U.S. capitalist class, the big banks, “empire”, oil, the military-industrial complex – in a word, capitalism.

The problem with our article, writes Shamus Cooke, “is that the authors elevate the Israeli gorilla to a weight class it doesn’t belong in; and in so doing the authors are forced to minimize the size of several other giant gorillas, whose combined weight overshadows the Israeli chimp.”

Of course, “capitalism”, however you want to define it, vastly dwarfs the Israel lobby. So do the military-industrial complex, the oil business, or U.S. imperialism, all of which have existed prior to and independently of the Israel lobby.

But is weighing the Israel lobby against “capitalism” a valid comparison?  The Israel lobby is a clearly identifiable pressure group, with names, addresses and policies that are clearly stated.  Capitalism is an economic system that at present, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, prevails in almost the entire world.  Today, every specific policy in most countries is defined within a capitalist context, and some of those policies, notably on highly emotional issues, are opposed to each other, without challenging for a moment the existence of “capitalism”.

So it is with policy toward the Middle East and the war in Syria.  Capitalism is not at stake in those conflicts, and “the system” is resilient and elastic enough to profit from whatever policy is adopted.

The very existence of the gigantic U.S. military machine constitutes a constant danger of being used to meet some “threat” cooked up by think tanks, interest groups and foreign lobbies. At the start of the Cold War, the notorious China Lobby personified by Mme Chiang Kai-Shek exerted a negative influence on U.S. policy in the Far East. More recently the Cuban lobby of anti-Castro exiles has influenced US policy to the detriment of U.S. export sectors such as agribusiness. Today, the politically powerful Israel lobby stimulates and exacerbates the worst tendencies in a divided political establishment. If the American people had the awareness, and American politicians the courage, to say “no” to that lobby and its specious arguments, the less belligerent forces in Washington would have a better chance of prevailing.

A century ago, denouncing capitalism as the source of war found an echo in large, active political parties which theoretically aspired to replacing capitalism with socialism. But even those massive parties failed to prevent the First World War. And today, there is no significant political force in any Western country prepared to carry out a coherent program of replacing capitalism with something else.  So if stopping war depends on first getting rid of capitalism, we are doomed.

One can always argue that capitalism is an underlying factor that promotes war.  Perhaps one can say the same about “human nature”.   But we do not care to wait until capitalism collapses or human nature changes in order to prevent the disaster of greater war in the Middle East.

What interests us now is to expose and oppose the single most significant political influence promoting ongoing war in the Middle East. That is unquestionably the Israel lobby, which overlaps on the right with the so-called neo-conservatives, and on the left with the “humanitarian” interventionists. To argue against war, it is therefore the Israel lobby that needs to be confronted.

Shamus Cooke says that strategists “such as the Project for a New American Century” (the neo-cons who dominated the Bush II administration) are “the ‘vanguard’ of American capitalism, and their geopolitical outlook is firmly rooted in the economic interests of the corporations that most benefit from overseas investing.”

I would say, rather, that PNAC, and its various reincarnations, is a cohort of fanatically pro-Israel strategists aspiring to control U.S. foreign policy by claiming to promote the interests of a capitalist class which has no unified strategic outlook of its own.  There is no reason for American capitalism, which has interests on all continents, to focus so single-mindedly, and so aggressively, on the Middle East.  The United States needs Middle Eastern oil less than those countries need to sell it. Many sectors of Western capitalism actually suffer from the sanctions imposed on a country like Iran. The focus on the alleged Iranian “threat” serves only to maintain Israel’s status as sole nuclear power dominating the Middle East, backed up by the United States.

To oppose war, it is necessary to oppose those who advocate it.  And that is the Israel lobby, not “capitalism”.  Why is there so much more reluctance to criticize the Israel lobby than to criticize capitalism?  These days, criticism of capitalism is accepted even in mainstream media.  But criticism of capitalism has never stopped a war.

Defeating the Israel lobby and changing U.S. policy in the Middle East from a policy of bullying, sanctions and bombing to a policy of diplomacy and compromise would not put an end to capitalism, to the military-industrial complex or to U.S. imperialism.  But such a victory would be a good basis for going on to oppose the huge network of overseas U.S. military bases, the encircling of Russia and China, the exploitation of Africa and any return to the traditional imperialist treatment of Latin America.

The political fight against the Israel lobby is not the only campaign for peace, but it is the one that is most urgently necessary today.

Diana Johnstone can be reached at



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