Israel and You and Me

If the United States fails to take advantage of the opportunity to come to terms with Iran over its nuclear program it will be because of pressure from Israel. If the unthinkable happens and Washington actually attacks Iran, initiating another major war that will have far reaching and possibly disastrous consequences, it will likewise be because of Israel. Folks in the progressive media who find that fact unpalatable or, quite frankly scary, tend to attribute the White House’s inability to articulate a more benign and responsible foreign policy that would serve true national interests to other factors, including imperialism, capitalism, the military industrial state and misguided humanitarianism, but they are possibly deliberately missing the point. Imperialism and capitalism do not explain Syria, nor does the increasingly militarized American national security state, witness the fact that the Pentagon knows its limitations and is actually reluctant to get more involved anywhere in the Middle East.

Max Blumenthal, whose recent widely discussed book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which is highly critical of the type of state Israel has become, in an interview dismisses the Israel Lobby in the United States as a "paper tiger." This is common among progressives of the Chomsky persuasion, possibly because they are reluctant to address the disturbing role of American Jewish organizations in embracing dual loyalty while pushing for new wars. This line of thinking accepts that it is safe to describe how Israel is following the wrong path while being careful not to delegitimize it. More important still, it turns the discussion away from consideration of how prominent Jews have contributed to Israel’s missteps while severely damaging American interests lest there be some kind of backlash. This rationalization leads inevitably to the proposition that only Jews should be able to criticize Israel, put forward recently in a debate in Britain by former Knesset member Einat Wilf. She described criticism of the activities of the Israel Lobby by gentiles as ipso facto anti-Semitism.

Progressives and others who dismiss the power of the Israel Lobby are wrong, as any congressman who is willing to be candid can surely attest. Israel is the sine qua non for the rush to war and its allies in the US have been the enablers of a long running conflict that has used 9/11 as an excuse and which now embraces the entire Muslim world, creating new terrorists every time a drone strikes. Without the well organized and funded push provided by the Israel Lobby and its friends in congress and in the media there would be no drive to disarm Iran, no serious plan to intervene in Syria, and, in all likelihood, there would have been no invasion of Iraq.

The evidence for the Israeli hand in what passes for US foreign policy is visible in many places, witness the recent letter from fifty Senators warning the White House that they would not ratify the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibits the sale of arms if they might be used to commit "genocide, crimes against humanity [or] attacks directed against civilian objects" because it could "harm" Israel. Israel even pops up in some places that don’t actually have a foreign policy. New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, a progressive on everything except Palestine, has declared that "Our obligation as New Yorkers is to stand by the State of Israel and its security." The comment might be explicable in terms of New York City politics but it is an alleged obligation that defies all logic. A long time de Blasio associate commented that the candidate cannot possibly believe what he was saying. Across the river in New Jersey, the special election to replace "Israel’s Senator" Frank Lautenberg saw Newark Mayor Corrie Booker, a Baptist, taking on ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as a spiritual adviser and stressing his affinity to all things Jewish and Israeli.

Last week, also in New York, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) centennial gathering. Abe Foxman, the League national director, was a bitter foe of the Hagel nomination because of its perceived impact on the relationship with Israel. Now Hagel, who once while Senator said that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," has been forced to do his Canossa act, begging Foxman for forgiveness. Hagel told his audience that "Iran is a state sponsor of terror, responsible for spreading hatred and extremism throughout the region" while Israel is taking "important steps towards peace and the two state solution." Chuck, whose tenure in the Obama cabinet has evidently taught him how to lie, introduced another liar former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta, who enthused that there is "no friend, no better ally in the world than Israel" before receiving ADL’s William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute service award

At the end of October President Obama also did his share of the heavy lifting, demonstrating yet again that Jewish organizations are not regarded quite like other ethnic or religious groups. He hosted a private briefing with five leaders of major Jewish organizations – Foxman, Howard Kohr of AIPAC, Malcolm Hoenlein and Robert Sugarman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee. Fundraiser Alan Solow was also present. Obama sought to explain his Iran policy and was also playing defense over a comment by Secretary of State John Kerry that might be construed as having implied that Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu had been using "fear tactics" to scuttle talks with Iran, though Netanyahu was not named and the comments were generic. Foxman, who nevertheless perceived a threat, called the Kerry comment "inappropriate," meaning that it is unacceptable for the American Secretary of State to criticize Israel in any way.

Obama promised the Jewish leaders that he would neither lift sanctions on Iran nor unlock frozen funds, which suggests that he will have no cards to play when negotiations resume in Geneva today. In return the four organizations agreed to defer any campaigning or lobbying of congress for tougher sanctions on Iran for sixty days. But they also indicated that if the Senate moves ahead on planned tougher sanctions on its own initiative, they would support such a move. If it sounds like Obama lost all around while Israel’s friends are setting out markers for an acceptable US foreign policy in the Middle East, it should.

Israel’s frequently high minded explanations for its behavior with its neighbors in which it always portrays itself as the victim do not pass the smell test but have nevertheless successfully contributed to restraining Washington’s ability to act independently. Syrian peace talks are set to begin soon in Geneva, with some possibility that they might actually be serious this time around as Damascus has demonstrated a measure of good faith by complying with an agreement to destroy its chemical weapons production facilities. Israel will do its best to derail the talks.

In foreign and defense policies, nothing happens in a vacuum and every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Syria has chemical weapons in the first place because they are a deterrent to attack by Israel, which has its own secret arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as overwhelming military superiority in every other category. So Israel supports the destruction of the chemical weapons but it also plays at being the spoiler on peace talks because it would like Syria’s civil war to go on indefinitely, eliminating that country as a front line enemy. Last week it muddied the waters by bombing a Syrian air base near Latakia claiming that it was destroying missiles bound for Hezbollah. The missiles were reported to be Russian made SA-125s, which are used for air defense, not for attacking targets on the ground. So Tel Aviv has decided that it is willing to commit acts of war to deny to its neighbors the means to defend themselves against air attack, which, of course, would come from Israel. In terms of actual American interests, the Obama Administration should have condemned the Israeli action as "not helpful" for peace talks but, beyond confirming that the bombing had taken place, not a peep came out of the White House.

Israel is also trying to derail any peace talks with Iran. It is by no means clear whether the Obama administration actually wants to cut a deal with the Mullahs, but the Israel Lobby is using its tame congressmen and media pundits to undercut the president’s ability to do anything to reward Iranian cooperation. A bloc of influential Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, all closely tied to Israeli interests, has declared that it will take on the White House if it attempts to lift sanctions on Iran. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who has been coordinating his strategy with AIPAC, leads the group together with Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. Menendez and Kirk are pressing for new legislation that will tighten and extend existing sanctions on oil sales to cripple the Iranian economy. It is a move that will effectively end any chance for an agreement as Tehran’s negotiators must be able to go back to the Iranian people and demonstrate that they have obtained something tangible in exchange for concessions on their nuclear program. An opportunity to obtain a real breakthrough in a troubled part of the world will have been wasted.

All of the above is intended to demonstrate that what passes for United States national interests have been manipulated and distorted, so much so that they have little or nothing to do with reality. Where is the "you" and "me" in what the White House is doing? We Americans have an interest in peace and prosperity but instead the president sits down with five heads of organizations who only want war on behalf of a foreign land, with more American soldiers likely dying for nothing as a result as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there is domestic blowback that comes part and parcel with the fractured foreign policy: homeland security in the United States is a response to the international terrorism that has plagued our country in large part because of Washington’s uncritical support of Israel. Our national security state not surprisingly incorporates many Israeli practices as America becomes more and more like Israel, not vice versa. And Washington pays for making us "safe" on a credit card, as the economy sinks and burns.

Washington’s view of the Middle East and much of the world is unfortunately a reflection of how Israel sees it. A leading funder of the Israel Lobby, Sheldon Adelson, has even publicly called for unilaterally using American nuclear weapons on Iran, with no one in the White House or in either political party rebuking such insanity. The audience at Yeshiva University in New York City applauded the suggestion. That Israel has been able to dominate the debate over US foreign policy is a tribute to the effectiveness and power of its Lobby, manifest in the exclusive meetings and outreach deemed necessary to "explain things" since America took faltering steps to speak with Iran. Those who doubt the Lobby’s power because they are obsessed with other, seemingly more transcendental malignancies in the American political and economic system should think again. A small, focused and well-funded group that has only one goal in mind, i.e. to support a foreign government no matter what policies it pursues, can be a viper in one’s bosom. In his Farewell Address George Washington warned about "cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men…enabled to subvert the Power of the People" and then went on to advise that "…permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded; and that in place of them just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave." He also provided a description of a state affairs that fits the asymmetrical relationship of Israel and the US to a "T", stating "So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and Wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification: It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which… injure(s) the Nation making the concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained…" Washington’s insights and his warning should be required reading for everyone in congress as well as in the White House.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.